Camp-Fires of General Lee



WHEN the lull in the terrific fighting came, it was near ten o’clock in the evening; the stillness which succeeded was oppressive from its contrast with the infernal uproar that shook the earth and air but a brief while before. A few ragged clouds drifted in front of the moon, which looked down on one of the saddest scenes that had greeted it during all the long ages, it had swung-round this planet.

Stonewall Jackson was intent on completing the movement which we have already explained. He was burning with eagerness to swing his troops around, so as to cut off the Federals from United States Ford, and thus capture the entire army. So anxious was he to learn the precise position of his enemy that while his troops were forming for the assault he rode forward to reconnoitre, instructing his men not to fire unless cavalry approached from the direction of the enemy. He was accompanied by a few officers, and advanced quite close to the Federal lines. When the little group dare go no farther, they reined up and listened intently for sounds from the direction of Chancellorsville. Suddenly a volley was fired at them by the Confederate infantry, who took them to be Federals on a reconnaissance. Several of the party were struck, and fell from their horses; and Jackson, seeing the danger, wheeled to the left and galloped into the woods to escape a renewal of the fire. A minute later the men fired again, when lees than a hundred feet distant. Jackson was struck three times—twice in the left arm, and once in the right hand. He dropped the bridle-reins with his left hand, but caught them again with the bleeding, tremulous fingers of the right. His startled horse wheeled and dashed toward Chancellorsville, and an interposing limb struck Jackson in the face, brushed off his cap and came near sweeping him from his horse. By a great effort, however, he retained his seat until he reached the road, where Captain Wilbourn, one of his staff-officers, tenderly helped him from his steed and laid him at the foot of a tree. All was still again, and only Captain Wilbourn and a courier were with the stricken chief, whose wounds were more severe than was supposed.

On the edge of the wood, a short distance off, were seen the dark outlines of a horse and rider as silent and motionless as if carved in stone. Captain Wilbourn called to this horseman to ride back and learn what troops had fired on them. Without speaking, the stranger rode away, and was seen no more. The identity of this mysterious person was unknown for a long time, and caused much speculation and wonder; but after the war, when the matter was discussed, Captain Revere, of the Federal army, stated that it was himself. He was on a reconnaissance, when he came upon the group at the foot of the tree, and was not long in learning they were Confederates. When ordered to find out who had fired the destructive volley, he rode off, and took good care not to return.

General Jackson was supported by his officers, but speedily became so weak that he was unable to walk even when leaning on the shoulders of his friends; he was therefore placed on a litter and carried toward the rear. A short distance only was passed when the artillery-fire from the direction of Chancellorsville became so fierce that the bearers were forced to lower the litter and lie down beside it. In a few minutes the fire slackened, and the bearers resumed their work. They walked slowly and with great care, but in the darkness they sometimes stumbled, and Jackson suffered dreadfully. When the moonlight fell upon his ghastly face, his friends were shocked, believing he was dying; but he rallied, and when borne to a place of safety sent a note to General Lee informing him of his misfortune. The note did not reach Lee until near daylight the next morning.

When Jackson fell, the command naturally devolved upon General A. P. Hill; but almost the next moment he was wounded, and it then went to General Rodes, but, brave and capable as he was, he was so unacquainted with Jackson’s command and his plans that he sent for General Stuart, to whom the command was formally relinquished. In consequence of the confusion and darkness, Stuart was, unable to do anything, and deferred all operations until morning. As it was necessary that General Lee should know the particulars of Jackson’s misfortune, Captain Wilbourn was sent to give him the sad information. The following is Captain Wilbourn’s interesting statement, as furnished by J. E. Cooke:

Lee was found lying asleep in a little clump of pines near his front, covered with an oilcloth, to protect him from the dews of the night, and surrounded by the officers of his staff, also asleep. It was not yet daybreak, and the darkness prevented the messenger from distinguishing the commander-in-chief from the rest. He accordingly called for Major Taylor, Lee’s adjutant-general, and that officer promptly awoke, when he was informed of what had taken place. As the conversation continued the sound aroused General Lee, who asked,

“Who is there?”

Major Taylor informed him, and, rising upon his elbow, Lee pointed to his blankets and said,

“Sit down here by me, captain, and tell us all about the fight last evening.”

He listened without comment during the recital, but when it was finished said with feeling,

“Ah, captain, any victory is dearly bought which deprives us of the services of General Jackson even for a short time.”

From this reply it was evident that he did not regard the wounds received by Jackson as of a serious character—as was natural, from the fact that they were only flesh-wounds in the arm and hand—and believed that the only result would be a temporary absence of his lieutenant from command. As Captain Wilbourn continued to speak of the incident, Lee added with greater emotion than at first,

“Ah! don’t talk about it. Thank God it is no worse!”

He then remained silent, but, seeing Captain Wilbourn rise as if to go, he requested him to remain, as he wished to “talk with him some more,” and proceeded to ask a number of questions in reference to the position of the troops, who was in command, etc. When informed that Rodes was in temporary command, but that Stuart had been sent for, he exclaimed, “Rodes is a gallant, courageous and energetic officer,” and asked where Jackson and Stuart could be found, calling for pencil and paper to write to them. Captain Wilbourn added that, from what he had heard Jackson say, he thought he intended to get possession, if possible, of the road to United States Ford, in the Federal rear, and so cut them off from the river that night or early in the morning. At these words Lee rose quickly and said with animation,

“These people must be pressed to-day!”

About this time a messenger arrived from Wilderness Tavern with a note from the wounded general. Lee read it with much feeling, and dictated the following reply:

GENERAL: I have just received your note informing me that you were wounded. I cannot express my regret at the occurrence. Could I have directed events, I should have chosen, for the good of the country, to have been disabled in your stead.

I congratulate you upon the victory, which is due to your skill and energy.

R. E. LEE, General.

General Jackson’s wound soon assumed a grave character. His arm was amputated, but the relief was only temporary. Pneumonia set in, and he died on the following Sunday, May 10. In the delirium of his last moments he called out,

“A. P. Hill, prepare for action!”

When Stonewall Jackson breathed his last, Lee exclaimed, “I have lost my right arm!” and he spoke the truth. He was the ablest of the many brilliant lieutenants that gathered around the illustrious leader of the Southern armies. No man aroused such enthusiasm among his troops, nor was ever a commander more idolized by his men than was the fiery Virginian, whose sweep was as resistless as that of the Alpine avalanche. He was not a great general like Lee, with the power to plan and combine immense campaigns, but as an executive officer the world has never seen his superior. His intense piety resembled at times the fanaticism of Cromwell. He believed in the righteousness of the Southern cause with all his heart, body, mind and soul. He felt no more doubt of its triumph than he had of the rising of the sun. Next to his God and the Confederacy, he rested his faith in General Lee. No man was ever more warmly loved than was the commander of the Confederate armies by Stonewall Jackson. He ardently believed that a better man or an abler military leader than Lee had never lived, and Jackson was thrilled by an exalted joy in carrying out in his own resistless fashion the plans and orders of his superior.

“General Lee is not slow,” said Jackson, in discussing the military question with a friend; “no one knows the weight upon his heart, his great responsibilities. He is commander-in-chief, and knows that if an army is lost it cannot be replaced. No! There may be some persons whose good opinion of me will make them attach some weight to my views; and if ever you hear that said of General Lee, I beg you will contradict it in my name. I have known General Lee for five and twenty years. He is cautious—he ought to be—but he is not ‘slow.’ Lee is a phenomenon. He is the only man whom I would follow blindfold.”


Colonel A. R. Boteler, in the Philadelphia Weekly Times, tells the following story concerning General Jackson;

“Having lingered to the last allowable moment with the members of my family ‘hereinbefore mentioned’—as the legal documents would term them—it was after ten o’clock at night when I returned to headquarters for final instruction, and before going to the general’s room I ordered two whiskey-toddies to be brought up after me. When they appeared, I offered one of the glasses to Jackson; but he drew back, saying,

“‘No, colonel, you must excuse me: I never drink intoxicating liquors.’

“‘I know that, general,’ said I; ‘but, though you habitually abstain, as I do myself, from everything of the sort, there are occasions—and this is one of them—when a stimulant will do us both good. Otherwise, I would neither take it myself nor offer it to you. Bo you must make an exception to your general rule, and join me in a toddy to-night.’

“He again shook his head, but, nevertheless, took the tumbler and began to sip its contents. Presently putting it on the table, after having but partially emptied it, he said,

“‘Colonel, do you know why I habitually abstain from intoxicating drinks?’ and, on my replying in the negative, he continued: ‘Why, sir, because I like the taste of them; and when I discovered that to be the case, I made up my mind at once to do without them altogether’.”


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