|[This is the last of a series of
papers which have been widely read and complimented for their vivid pictures
of the life of the private soldier.]
Bitter grief for the past, which seemed to be forever
lost, and present humiliation could not long suppress the anxious thought
and question. "What now?" The discussion of the question brought relief
from the horrid feeling of vacuity, which oppressed the soldier, and introduced
him to the
new sensations of liberty of choice, freedom of action
full responsibility. For capital he had a
a brave heart, health, strength, and a good record. With
these he sought his home.
Early in the morning of Wednesday the 12th of April, without
the stirring drum or the bugle call of old, the camp awoke to the new life.
Whether or not they had a country these soldiers did not know. Home to
many, when they reached it, was graves and ashes. At any rate there must
be, somewhere on earth, a better place than a muddy, smoky camp in a piece
of scrubby pines - better company than gloomy, hungry comrades and inquisitive
and something in the future more exciting, if not more
hopeful, than nothing to eat, nowhere to sleep, nothing
to do and nowhere to go. The disposition to start was
apparent, and the preparations were promptly begun.
To roll up the old blanket and oilcloth, gather up the
haversack, canteen, axe, perhaps, and a few trifles, in
time of peace of no value, eat the fragments that
remained and light a pipe, was the work of a few moments. This slight employment,
coupled with pleasant anticipations
of the unknown, and therefore possibly enjoyable future,
served to restore somewhat the usual light-hearted manner of soldiers and
relieve the final farewells of much of their sadness. There was even a
smack of hope and cheerfulness as the little groups sallied out into the
world to combat they scarcely knew what.
As we cannot follow all these groups, we will join
ourselves to one and see them home.
Two "brothers-in-arms," whose objective point is Richmond,
take the road on foot. They have nothing to
eat and no money. They are bound for their home in city,
which, when they last heard from it, was in flames. What they will see
when they arrive there they cannot imagine; but the instinctive love of
home urges them. They walk on steadily and rapidly and are not diverted
It does not even occur to them that their situation,
surrounded on all sides by armed enemies and walking
a road crowded with them, is at all novel.
suddenly roused to a sense of their situation by a sharp
- "Halt! show your parole!" They had struck the cordon of picket posts
which surrounded the surrendered army. It was the first exercise of authority
by the Federal army. A sergeant, accompanied by a couple of muskets, stepped
into the road, with a modest air examined the paroles and said quietly,
The strictly military part of the operation being over,
the social commenced. As the two "survivors" moved on they were followed
by numerous remarks, such as "Hello" Johnny, I say! going home?" "Ain't
you glad!" They made no reply, these wayfarers, but they thought some very
From this point "on to Richmond!" was the grand
thought. Steady work it was. The road, strangely enough
considering the proximity of two armies, was quite lonesome, and not an
incident of interest occurred during the day. Darkness found the two comrades
Some time after dark a light was seen a short distance
ahead and there was a "sound of revelry." On approaching, the light was
found to proceed from a large fire, built on
the floor of an old and dilapidated outhouse, and surrounded
by a ragged, hungry, singing and jolly crowd
of paroled prisoners of the Army of Northern Virginia,
who had gotten possession of a quantity of corn meal
and were waiting for the ashcakes then in the ashes. Being liberal, they
offered the new comers some of their bread. Being hungry, they accepted
and eat their first meal that day. Here seemed a good place to spend the
night, but the
party in possession were so noisy and finally so quarrel
-some and disagreeable generally, that the "survivors," after a short
rest, pushed on in the darkness, determined,
if possible, to find some shelter more quiet. The result
was a night march, which was continued till the morning dawned.
Thursday morning they entered the village of Buckingham
Courthouse and traded a small pocket-mirror for a substantial breakfast.
There was quite a crowd of soldiers gathered around a cellar door, trying
to persuade an ex-Confederate A. A. A. Commissary of Subsistence
that he might as well, in view of the fact that the army
had surrendered, let them have some of his stores; and
after considerable persuasion, and some threats, he forego the hope of
keeping them for himself and told the men to help themselves. They did
The people of the village did not exactly doubt the fact
of the surrender, but evidently thought matters had been
somewhat exaggerated, facts suppressed and everything allowed to fall into
a very doubtful condition. Confederate money would not pass, however; that
was settled beyond doubt.
As the two tramps were about to leave the village and
were hurrying along the high road which led through
it, they saw a solitary horseman approaching from their rear. It was easy
to recognize at once General Lee. He rode slowly, calmly along. As he passed
an old tavern on the roadside some ladies and children waved their handkerchiefs,
smiled and wept. The General raised his eyes to the porch on which they
stood, and slowly raising his hand to his hat, raised it slightly and as
slowly again dropped his hand to his side. The "survivors" did not weep,
but they had strange sensations. They passed on, steering, so to speak,
for Cartersville and the ferry.
Before leaving the village it was the sad duty of the
survivors to stop at the humble abode of Mrs. P., and
tell her of the death of her husband, who fell mortally
wounded, pierced by a musket ball near Sailor's creek.
She was also told that a comrade who was by his side
when he fell, but who was not able to stay with him,
would come along soon and give her the particulars. That
comrade came and repeated the story. In a few days the dead man reached
home alive and scarcely hurt. He was originally an infantryman, recently
transferred to artillery, and therefore wore a small knapsack as infantrymen
did. The ball struck the knapsack with a "whack!" and knocked the man down.
That was all.
Some time during the night the travelers reached the
ferry at Cartersville. Darkness and silence prevailed
there. Loud and continued shouts brought no ferryman, and
eager searchings revealed no boat. The depth of the water
being a thing unknown and not easily found out, it was obviously prudent
to camp for the night.
On the river's edge there was on old building, which seemed
a brick one - one wall near the water's edge. A flight of steep, rough
steps led to an open door on the second floor. Up these steps climbed the
Inside there was absolute darkness, but the floor was
dry and there was shelter from the wind. Feeling about
on the floor they satisfied themselves of its cleanliness
and dryness. The faithful old blankets were once more
spread, their owners laid down and at once fell into a
deep sleep which was not broken till morning. The room
was surprisingly small. When the soldiers entered they
had no idea of the size of it, and went to sleep with
the impression that it was very large. The morning revealed
its dimensions - about ten by twelve feet. The ferryman
was early at his post and put the travelers across cheerfully without charge.
Soon after crossing, a good silver-plated tablespoon,
bearing the monogram of one of the travelers, purchased from an aged colored
woman a large chunk of ashcake
and about half a gallon of buttermilk. This old darkey
had lived in Richmond in her younger days. She spoke
of grown men and women there as "children whar I raised."
"Lord! boss, does you know Miss Sadie? Well,
I nussed her and I nussed all uv them chillun; that I
did, sah! Yawl chillun does look hawngry, that you does.
Well, you's welcome to them vittles, and I'm powful
glad to git dis spoon! God bless you, honey!" A big log
on the roadside furnished a seat for the comfortable
consumption of the before-mentioned ashcake and milk. The feast was hardly
begun when the tramp of a horse's hoofs were heard. Looking up, the survivors
saw with surprise General Lee approaching. He was entirely alone, and rode
slowly along. Unconscious that any one saw him, he was yet erect, dignified
and apparently as calm and peaceful as the fields and woods around him.
Having caught sight of the occupants of the log, he kept his eyes fixed
on them, and as he passed, turned slightly, saluted and said, in the most
gentle manner: "Good morning, gentlemen; taking your breakfast?" The soldiers
had only time to rise, salute and say: "Yes, sir!" and he was gone.
Having finished as far as they were able the abundant
meal furnished by the liberality of the good "old mammy,"
the travelers resume their journey greatly refreshed.
It seems that General Lee pursued the road which the "survivors"
chose, and starting later than they, overtook them, he being mounted and
they on foot. At any rate it was their good fortune to see him three times
on the road from Appomattox to Richmond. The incidents introducing General
Lee are peculiarly interesting, and while the writer is in doubt as to
the day on which the next and last incident occurred, the reader may rest
assured of the truthfulness
of the narration as to what occurred and what was said
After the feast of bread and milk, the no longer hungry
men pressed on. About the time when men who have
eaten a hearty breakfast become again hungry - as good
fortune would have it happen - they reached a house pleasantly situated
and a comfortable place withal. Approaching the house they were met by
an exceedingly kind, energetic and hospitable woman. She promptly asked:
"You are not deserters?" "No," said the soldiers, "we have our paroles;
we are from Richmond; we are homeward bound, and called to ask if you could
spare us a dinner?" "Spare you a dinner? Certainly I can. My husband is
a miller; his mill is right across the road there, down the hill, and I
have been cooking all day for the poor, starving
men. Take a seat on the porch there and I
will get you something to eat." By the time the travelers were seated,
this admirable woman was in the kitchen at work. The "pat a pat, pat, pat,
pat, pat-a-pat-a-pat" of the sifter, and the cracking and "fizzing" of
the fat bacon as it fried, saluted their hungry ears, and the delicious
smell tickled their olfactory nerves most delightfully. Sitting thus, entertained
by delightful sounds, breathing the fragrant air and wrapped in meditation
- or anticipation rather, the soldiers saw the dust rise in the air and
heard the sound of an approaching party.
Several horsemen rode up to the road-gate, threw their
bridles over the posts or tied to the overhanging boughs
and dismounted. They were evidently officers, well
dressed fine looking men, and about to enter the gate.
Almost at once the men on the porch recognized General Lee and his son.
They were accompanied by other officers. An ambulance had arrived at the
gate also. Without delay they entered and approached the house, General
Lee preceding the others. Satisfied that it was the General's
intention to enter the house, the two "brave survivors"
instinctively and respectfully, venerating the approaching man, determined
to give him and his companions the porch. As they were executing a rather
rapid and undignified flank movement to gain the right and rear
of the house, the voice of General Lee overhauled them
thus: "Where are you men going?" "This lady has offered to give us a dinner,
and we are waiting for it," replied the soldiers. "Well you had better
move on now - this gentleman will have quite a large party on him to-day,"
said the General. The soldiers touched their caps, said
"Yes, sir," and retired, somewhat hurt, to a strong position on a hen-coop
in the rear of the house. The party then settled on the porch.
The General had of course no authority, and the surrender
of the porch was purely respectful. Knowing this the soldiers were at first
hurt, but a moment's reflection satisfied them that the General was right.
He no doubt
had suspicions of plunder, and these were increased by
the movement of the men to the rear as he approached.
He misinterpreted their conduct.
The lady of the house (a reward for her name!) hearing
the dialogue in the yard, pushed her head through the
crack of the kitchen door, and as she tossed a lump of
dough from hand to hand and gazed eagerly out, addressed the soldiers:
"Ain't that old General Lee?" "Yes, General Lee and his son and other officers
come to dine with you," they replied. "Well," she said, "he ain't no better
than the men that fought for him, and I don't reckon he is as hungry; so
you just come in here. I am going to give you yours first and then I'll
get something for him!"
What a meal it was. Seated at the kitchen-table, the
large hearted woman bustling about and talking away, the ravenous tramps
attacked a pike of Old Virginia hoecake and corn-dodger, a frying pan with
an inch of gravy and slices of bacon, streak of lean and streak of fat,
very numerous. To finish - as much rich buttermilk as the drinkers could
contain. With many heartfelt thanks the survivors bid farewell to this
immortal woman, and leaving the General and his party in quiet possession
of the front porch, pursued their way.
Night found the "survivors" at the gate of a quite handsome,
framed, country residence. The weather was threatening, and it was desirable
to have shelter as well as rest. Entering and knocking at the door they
were met by
a servant girl. She was sent to her mistress with a request
for permission to sleep on her premises.
The servant returned, saying: "Mistis say she's a widder,
and there ain't no gentleman in the house, and she can't
let you come in." She was sent with a second message,
which informed the lady that the visitors were from Richmond, members of
a certain company from there,
and would be content with permission to sleep on the
porch, in the stable or in the barn. They would protect
her property, &c., &c., &c.
This message brought the lady of the house to the door.
She said: "If you are members of the --- ---, you must know my nephew;
he was in that company." Of course they knew him. "Old chum," "comrade,"
"particular friend," "splendid fellow," "hope he was well when you heard
from him; glad to meet you, madam!" These and similar hearty expressions
brought the longed for "come
in, gentlemen, you are welcome. I will see that supper
is prepared for you at once." (Invitation accepted.)
The old haversacks were deposited in a corner under
the steps and their owners conducted down stairs to a
spacious dining-room, quite prettily furnished. A large
table occupied the centre of the room, and at one side
there was a handsome display of silver in a glass-front
case. A good, big fire lighted the room. The lady sat
quietly working at some woman's work, and from time
to time questioning, in a rather suspicious manner, her
guests. Their correct answers satisfied her and their respectful manner
reassured her, so that by the time
supper was brought in she was chatting and laughing
with her "defenders."
The supper came in steaming hot. It was abundant,
well prepared and served elegantly. Splendid coffee,
hot biscuit, luscious butter, fried ham, eggs-fresh milk!
The writer could not expect to be believed if he should
tell the quantity eaten at that meal. The good lady of
the house enjoyed the sight. She relished every mouthful,
and no doubt realized then and there the blessing which
is conferred on hospitality and the truth of that saying
of old: "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
The wayfarers were finally shown to a neat little chamber.
The bed was soft and glistening white. Too white and
clean to be soiled by the occupancy of two Confederate
soldiers who had not had a change of underclothing for many weeks. They
looked at it, felt of it, spread their old blankets on the neat carpet
and slept there till near the break of day.
While it was yet dark the travelers, unwilling to lose
time waiting for breakfast, crept out of the house, leaving their thanks
for their kind hostess, and pressed rapidly on to Manikin Town, on the
James River and Kanawha canal, half a day's march from Richmond, where
they arrived while it was yet early morning. The green sward between the
canal and river was inviting and the survivors laid
there awhile to rest and determine whether or not they
would push on to the city. They decided to do so as soon as they could
find a breakfast to fit them for the day's march.
A short walk placed them at the yard gate of a house prominent
by reason of its size and finish. Everything indicated comfort, plenty
and freedom from the ravages
of war. The proprietor, a well fed, hearty man of not
more than forty-two or three, who, as a soldier could
tell at a glance, had never seen a day's service, stood
behind the tall gate, and without a motion towards
opening it replied to the cheery "good morning, sir!"
the soldiers with a sullen "morn - what do you want
here?" "We are from Richmond, sir, members of the - -
- -. We are on our way home from Appomattox, where the army was surrendered,
and called to ask if you could
spare us something to eat before we start on the day's
march." "Oh! yes! I know about the surrender! I do.
Some scoundrels were here last night and stole my best
mare - d --- em! No, I don't want any more of such cattle here," replied
the patriot. (A large reward for his name). The foragers, having worked
for a meal before and
being less sensitive than "penniless gentlemen" sometimes
are, replied: "We are not horse thieves or beggars. It
you do not feel that it would be a pleasure and a privilege
to feed us, don't do it! We don't propose to press the matter."
At last he said: "Come in then; I'll see what I can do."
The seekers after food accepted the ungracious invitation,
followed the dog through his yard and into his house and took seats at
his table. At a signal from the master a
servant went out. The host followed and, it is supposed,
instructed her. The host returned and was soon followed
by the servant bearing two plates, which were placed
before the "survivors." Alas! that they should "survive"
to see the plates contained the heads, tails, fins and
vertibrae of the fish, fresh from the river, which the
family of this hero and sufferer from the evils of war
had devoured at their early and no doubt cosy breakfast.
"Survivors" No. 1 looked at "Survivors" No. 2, Survivor
No. 2 looked at "Survivor" No. 1, and simultaneously
they rose to their feet, glanced at the "host" and strode
to and out of the door. The "host" followed amazed. "What's
the matter, gentlemen? You did not eat!" The "poor soldiers" replied: "No,
we didn't eat; we are not
dogs. Permit us to say we are satisfied it would be an
injustice to the canine race to call you one; you deserve
to lose another mare; you are meaner than the language
at our command will express."
The man fairly trembled. His face was pale with rage,
but he dared not reply as he would. Recovering himself,
and seeing an odorous name in the future, he attempted apology and reparation
for the insult and complete reconciliation. "Oh! come in, come in! I'll
have something cooked for you. Sorry the mistake occurred! All right! all
right, boys, come in!" - pulling the patting at the boys."
But the boys wouldn't "go in." On the contrary they staid
out persistently, and, before they left that gate, heaped on its owner
all the contempt, disdain and scorn which they could express; flung at
him all the derisive epithets which four years in the army places at a
man's disposal; pooh poohed! at his hypocritical regrets, and shaking off
dust of that place from their feet, pushed on to the
the smoke of which rose to heaven.
At 11 A. M. of the same day two footsore, despondent
and penniless men stood facing the ruins of the home
of a comrade who had sent a message to his mother:
"Tell mother I am coming." The ruins yet smoked. A relative
of the lady whose home was in ashes and whose
son said "I am coming" stood by the survivors. "Well,
then," he said, "it must be true that General Lee has surrendered." The
solemnity of the remark, coupled with the certainty in the minds of the
survivors, was almost amusing. The "relative" pointed out the temporary
residence of the "mother" and thither the survivors wended their way.
A knock at the door startled the mother, and with agony
in her eyes she appeared at the opened door exclaiming,
"My poor boys!" - "are safe and coming home," said the survivors. "Thank
God!" said the mother, and the tears flowed down her cheeks.
A rapid walk through ruined and smoking streets, some
narrow escapes from negro soldiers on police duty, the satisfaction of
seeing two of the "boys in blue" hung up
by their thumbs for pillaging, a few handshaking, and
the survivors found their way to the house of a relative,
where they did eat bread with thanks.
A friend informed the survivors that day that farm hands
were needed all around the city. They made a note of
that and the name of parlor floor. Sunday morning, the
16th of April, they bid farewell to the household and
started for the farmer's house.
As they were about to start away, the head of the
family took from his pocket a handfull of odd silver
pieces, and extending it to his guests, told them it
all he had, but they were welcome to half of it! Remembering
that he had a wife and three or four
children to feed, the soldiers smiled through their tears
at his, bade him keep it all and "weep for himself rather
than for them." So saying, they departed, and at sundown were at the farmer's
house, fourteen miles away. Monday morning, the 17th, they "beat their
swords" (muskets in
this case) into plow-shares and did the first day's work
of the sixty which the simple farmer secured at a cost
to himself of about half rations for two men. Behold
the gratitude of a people! Where grow now the shrubs
which of old bore leaves and twigs for garlands? The
brave live! are the fair dead? Shall time or calamity,
downfall or ruin annihilate sacrifice or hatch an ingrate brood?
from the Southern Historical Society Papers -
Richmond, VA.: Rev. J. WILLIAMS
Secretary Southern Historical Society
Volume VII, April, 1879 pages 176 - 185
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