With Lee in Virginia: A Story Of The American Civil War, by G. A. Henty, Chapter 5

With Lee in Virginia: A Story Of The American Civil War.

Chapter V.

While Vincent had been occupied with the affairs of Tony and his wife, public events had moved forward rapidly. The South Carolina Convention met in the third week in December, and on the 20th of that month the Ordinance of Secession was passed. On the 10th of January, three days after Vincent returned home from his expedition, Florida followed the example of South Carolina and seceded. Alabama and Mississippi passed the Ordinance of Secession on the following day; Georgia on the 18th, Louisiana on the 23d, and Texas on the 1st of February.

In all these States the Ordinance of Session was received with great rejoicing: bonfires were lit, the towns illuminated, and the militia paraded the streets, and in many cases the Federal arsenals were seized and the Federal forts occupied by the State troops. In the meantime the Northern Slave States, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri, remained irresolute. The general feeling was strongly in favor of their Southern brethren; but they were anxious for peace, and for a compromise being arrived at. Whether the North would agree to admit the constitutional rights of secession, or whether it would use force to compel the Seceding States to remain in the Union, was still uncertain; but the idea of a civil war was so terrible a one that the general belief was that some arrangement to allow the States to go their own way would probably be arrived at.

For the time the idea of Vincent going to West Point was abandoned. Among his acquaintances were several young men who were already at West Point, and very few of these returned to the academy. The feeling there was very strongly on the side of secession. A great majority of the students came from the Southern States, as while the sons of the Northern men went principally into trade and commerce, the Southern planters sent their sons into the army, and a great proportion of the officers of the army and navy were Southerners.

As the professors at West Point were all military men, the feeling among them, as well as among the students, was in favor of State rights; they considering that, according to the constitution, their allegiance was due first to the States of which they were natives, and in the second place to the Union. Thus, then, many of the professors who were natives of the seven States which had seceded resigned their appointments, and returned home to occupy themselves in drilling the militia and the levies, who were at once called to arms.

Still all hoped that peace would be preserved, until on the 11th of April General Beauregard, who commanded the troops of South Carolina, summoned Major Anderson, who was in command of the Federal troops in Fort Sumter, to surrender, and on his refusal opened fire upon the fort on the following day.

On the 13th, the barracks of the fort being set on fire, and Major Anderson seeing the hopelessness of a prolonged resistance, surrendered. The effect of the news throughout the United States was tremendous, and Mr. Lincoln at once called out 75,000 men of the militia of the various States to put down the rebellion—the border States being ordered to send their proportion. This brought matters to a climax. Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri all refused to furnish contingents to act against the Southern States; and Virginia, North Carolina, and Kansas a few days later passed Ordinances of Secession and joined the Southern States. Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware were divided in their counsels.

The struggle that was about to commence was an uneven one. The white population of the Seceding States was about 8,000,000; while that the Northern States were 19,614,885. The North possessed an immense advantage, inasmuch as they retained the whole of the Federal navy, and were thereby enabled at once to cut off all communication between the Southern States and Europe, while they themselves could draw unlimited supplies of munitions of war of all kinds from across the Atlantic.

Although the people of Virginia had hoped to the last that some peaceful arrangement might be effected, the Act of Secession was received with enthusiasm. The demand of Mr. Lincoln that they should furnish troops to crush their Southern brethren excited the liveliest indignation, and Virginia felt that there was no course open to her now but to throw in her lot with the other Slaves States. Her militia was at once called out, and volunteers called for to form a provisional army to protect the State from invasion by the North.

The appeal was answered with enthusiasm; men of all ages took up arms; the wealthy raised regiments at their own expense, generally handing over the commands to experienced army officers, and themselves taking their places in the ranks; thousand of lads of from fifteen to sixteen years of age enrolled themselves, and men who had never done a day’s work in their life prepared to suffer all the hardships of the campaign as private soldiers.

Mrs. Wingfield was an enthusiastic supporter of State rights; and when Vincent told her that numbers of his friends were going to enroll themselves as soon as the lists were opened, she offered no objection to his doing the same.

“Of course you are very young, Vincent; but no one thinks there will be any serious fighting. Now that Virginia and the other four States have cast in their lot with the seven that have seceded, the North can never hope to force the solid South back into the Union. Still it is right you should join. I certainly should not like an old Virginian family like ours to be unrepresented; but I should prefer your joining one of the mounted corps.

“In the first place it will be much less fatiguing than carrying a heavy rifle and knapsack; and in the second place, the cavalry will for the most part be gentlemen. I was speaking only yesterday when I went into Richmond to Mr. Ashley, who is raising a corps. He is one of the best riders in the country, and a splendid specimen of a Virginian gentleman. he tells me that he has already received a large number of applications from young volunteers, and that he thinks he shall be able without any difficulty to get as many as he wants. I said that I had a son who would probably enroll himself, and that I should like to have him in his corps.

“He said that he would be glad to put down your name, and that he had had many applications from lads no older than yourself. He considered that for cavalry work, scouting, and that sort; of thing age mattered little, and that; a lad who was at once a light weight, a good rider, and a good shot was of as much good as a man.”

“Thank you, mother. I will ride into Richmond to-morrow morning and see Ashley. I have often met him at one house or another, and should like to serve under him very much. I should certainly prefer being in the cavalry to the infantry.”

Rosie and Annie, who were of course enthusiastic for the South, were almost as pleased as was Vincent when they heard that their mother had consented to his enrolling himself. So many of the girls of their acquaintance had brothers or cousins who were joining the army, that they would have felt it as something like a slur upon the family name had Vincent remained behind.

On the following morning Vincent rode over and saw Mr. Ashley, who had just; received his commission as major. He was cordially received.

Mrs. Wingfield was speaking to me about you, and I shall be glad to have you with me—the more so as you are a capital rider and a good shot. I shall have a good many in my ranks no older than you are. Did I not hear a few months since that you bought Wildfire? I thought when I heard it; that you would be lucky if you did not get your neck broken in the course of a week. Peters, who owns the next estate to mine, had the horse for about three weeks, and was glad enough to get rid of it for half what he had given for it. He told me the horse was the most savage brute he ever saw. I suppose you did not keep it many days?”

“I have got it still, and mean to ride it with you. The horse was not really savage. It was hot-tempered, and had, I think, been badly treated by its first owner. Whoever it had belonged to, I found no difficulty with it. It only wanted kindness and a little patience; and as soon as it found that it could not get rid of me, and that I had no intention of ill-treating it, it settled down quietly, after running away a few times and giving me some little trouble at starting. And now I would not change it for any horse in the State.”

“You must he a first-rate rider,” Major Ashley said, “to be able to tame Wildfire. I never saw the horse, for I was away when Peters had him, but from his description it was a perfect savage.”

“Are we allowed to bring a servant with us” Vincent asked.

“Yes, if you like. I know that a good many are going to do so, but you must not make up your mind that you will get much benefit from one. We shall move rapidly, and each man must shift for himself, but at the same time we shall of course often be stationary; and then servants will be useful. At any rate I can see no objection to men having them. We must be prepared to rough it to any extent when it is necessary, but I see no reason why at other times a man should not make himself comfortable. I expect the order to-morrow or next day to begin formally to enroll volunteers. As I have now put down your name there will be no occasion for you to come in then. You will receive a communication telling you when to report yourself.

“I shall not trouble much about uniform at first. High boots and breeches, a thick felt hat that will turn the edge of a sword, and a loose coat-jacket of dark-gray cloth. That is the name of the tailor who has got the pattern, and will make them. So I should advise you to go to him at once, for he will be so busy soon that; there is no saying when the whole troop will get their uniforms.”

Upon his return home Vincent related to his mother and sisters the conversation that he had had with Major Ashley.

“Certainly you had better take a servant with you,” his mother said. “I suppose when you are riding about; you will have to clean your horse, and cook your dinner, and do everything for yourself; but when you are in a town you should have these things done for you. Who would you like to take?

“I should like to take Dan, mother, if you have no objection. He is very strong and active, and I think would generally be able to keep up with us; besides, I know he would always stick to me.”

“You shall have him certainly, Vincent; I will make him over formally to you.”

“Thank you, mother,” Vincent said joyfully; for he had often wished that Dan belonged to him, as he would then be able to prevent any interference with him by the overseer or any one else, and could, if he liked, give him his freedom—although this would, he knew, be of very doubtful advantage to the lad as long as he remained in the South.

The next morning the necessary papers were drawn up, and the ownership of Dan was formally transferred to Vincent. Dan was wild with delight when he heard that Vincent was now his master, and that he was to accompany him to the war. It had been known two days before that Vincent was going, and it seemed quite shocking to the negroes that the young master should go as a private soldier, and have to do everything for himself—“just,” as they said, “like de poor white trash;” for the slaves were proud to belong to an old family, and looked down with almost contempt upon the poorer class of whites, regarding their own position as infinitely superior.

Four days later Vincent received an official letter saying that the corps would be mustered in two days’ time. The next day was spent in a long round of farewell visits, and then Vincent mounted Wildfire, and, with Dan trotting behind, rode off from the Orangery amid a chorus of blessings and good wishes from all the slaves who could on any pretext get away from their duties, and who had assembled in front of the house to see him start.

The place of meeting for the regiment was at Hanover Courthouse—a station on the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railway, close to the Pamunkey River, about eighteen miles from the city.

The Orangery was a mile from the village of Gaines, which lay to the northeast of Richmond, and was some twelve miles from Hanover Courthouse.

A month was spent in drill, and at the end of that time the corps were able to execute any simple maneuver. More than this Major Ashley did not care about their learning. The work in which they were about to engage was that of scouts rather than that of regular cavalry, and the requirements were vigilance and attention to orders, good shooting and a quick eye. Off duty there was but little discipline. Almost the whole of the men were in a good position in life, and many of them very wealthy; and while strict discipline and obedience were expected while on duty, at all other times something like equality existed between officers and men, and all were free to live as they chose.

The rations served out were simple and often scanty, for at present the various departments were not properly organized, and such numbers of men were flocking to the standards that the authorities were at their wit’s end to provide them with even the simplest food. This mattered but little, however, to the regiment;, whose members were all ready and willing to pay for everything they wanted, and the country people round found a ready market for all their chickens, eggs, fruit, and vegetables at Hanover Courthouse, for here there were also several infantry regiments, and the normally quiet little village was a scene of bustle and confusion.

The arms of the cavalry were of a very varied description. Not more than a dozen had swords; the rest were armed with rifles or shot-guns, with the barrels cut short to enable them to be carried as carbines. Many of them were armed with revolvers, and some carried pistols so antiquated that they might have been used in the revolutionary war. A certain number of tents had been issued for the use of the corps. These, however, were altogether insufficient for the numbers, and most of the men preferred to sleep in shelters composed of canvas, carpets, blankets, or any other material that came to hand, or in arbors constructed of the boughs of trees, for it was now April and warm enough to sleep in the open air.

In the third week in May the order came that the corps was to march at once for Harper’s Ferry—an important position at the point where the Shenandoah River runs into the Potomac, at the mouth of the Shenandoah Valley. The order was received with the greatest satisfaction. The Federal forces were gathering rapidly upon the northern banks of the Potomac, and it was believed that, while the main army would march down from Washington through Manassas Junction direct upon Richmond, another would enter by the Shenandoah Valley, and, crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains, come down on the rear of the Confederate army, facing the main force at Manassas. The cavalry marched by road, while the infantry were despatched by rail as far as Manassas Junction, whence they marched to Harper’s Ferry. The black servants accompanied the infantry.

The cavalry march was a pleasant one. At every village through which they passed the people flocked out with offerings of milk and fruit. The days were hot, but the mornings and evenings delightful; and as the troops always halted in the shade of a wood for three or four hours in the middle of the day, the marches although long were not fatiguing. At Harper’s Ferry General Johnston had just superseded Colonel Jackson in command. The force there consisted of 11 battalions of infantry, 16 guns, arid after Ashley’s force arrived, 300 cavalry. Among the regiments there Vincent found many friends, and learned what was going on.

He learned that Colonel Jackson had been keeping them hard at work. Some of Vincent’s friends had been at the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington, where Jackson was professor of natural philosophy and instructor of artillery.

“He was the greatest fun,” one of the young men said; “the stiffest and most awkward-looking fellow in the institute. He used to walk about as if he never saw anything or anybody. He was always known as Old Tom, and nobody ever saw him laugh. He was awfully earnest in all he did, and strict, I can tell you, about everything. There was no humbugging him. The fellows liked him because he was really so earnest about everything, and always just and fair. But he didn’t look a bit like a soldier except as to his stiffness, and when the fellows who had been at Lexington heard that he was in command here they did not think he would have made much hand at it; but I tell you, he did. You never saw such a fellow to work.

“Everything had to be done, you know. There were the guns, but no horses and no harness. The horses had to be got somehow, and the harness manufactured out of ropes; and you can imagine the confusion of nine battalions of infantry, all recruits, with no one to teach them except a score or two of old army and militia officers. Old Tom has done wonders, I can tell you. You see, he is so fearfully earnest himself every one else has got to be earnest. There has been no playing about anything, but just fifteen hours’ hard work a day. Fellows grumbled and growled and said it was absurd, and threatened to do all sorts of things. You see, they had all come out to fight if necessary, but hadn’t bargained for such hard work as this.

“However, Jackson had his way, and I don’t suppose any one ever told him the men thought they were too hard worked. He is not the sort of man one would care about remonstrating with. I don’t know yet whether he is as good at fighting as he is at working and organizing; but I rather expect a fellow who is so earnest about everything else is sure to be earnest about fighting, and I fancy that when he once gets into the thick of it he will go through with it. He had such a reputation as an oddity at Lexington that there were a lot of remarks when he was made colonel and sent here; but there is no doubt that he has proved himself the right man so far, and although his men may grumble they believe in him.

“My regiment is in his brigade, and I will bet any money that we have our share of fighting. What sort of man is Johnston? He is a fine fellow—a soldier, heart and soul. You could tell him anywhere, and we have a first-rate fellow in command of the cavalry—Colonel Stuart—a splendid dashing fellow, full of life and go. His fellows swear by him. I quite envy you, for I expect you will astonish the Yankee horsemen. They are no great riders up there, you know, and I expect the first time you meet them you will astonish them.”

Here he suddenly stopped, stood at attention, and saluted.

Vincent at once did the same, although, had he not been set the example by his friend, he would never have thought of doing so to the figure who passed.

“Who is it?” he asked, as his companion resumed his easy attitude.

“Why, that’s Old Tom.”

“What! Colonel Jackson!” Vincent said in surprise. “Well, he is an odd-looking fellow.”

The figure that had passed was that of a tall, gaunt man, leaning awkwardly forward in his saddle. He wore an old gray coat, and there was no sign of rank, nor particle of gold lace upon the uniform. He wore on his head a faded cadet cap, with the rim coming down so far upon his nose that he could only look sideways from under it. He seemed to pay but little attention to what was going on around him, and did not enter into conversation with any of the officers he met.

The brigade commanded by Jackson was the first of the army of the Shenandoah, and consisted of the 2d, 4th, 5th, and 27th Virginians, to which was shortly afterward added the 33d. They were composed of men of all ranks and ages, among them being a great number of lads from fifteen and upward; for every school had been deserted. Every boy capable of carrying a musket had insisted upon joining, and among them were a whole company of cadets from Lexington. The regiments selected their own officers, and among these were many who were still lads. Many of the regiments had no accouterments, and were without uniforms, and numbers carried no better arms than a double-barreled shot-gun; but all were animated with the same spirit of enthusiasm in their cause, and a determination to die rather than to allow the invaders to pass on through the fertile valleys of their native land.

Of all these valleys that of Shenandoah was the richest and most beautiful. It was called the Garden of Virginia; and all writers agreed in their praises of the beauties of its fields and forests, mountains and rivers, its delicious climate, and the general prosperity which prevailed among its population.

It was a pleasant evening that Ashley’s horse spent at Harper’s Ferry on the day they marched in. All had many friends among the other Virginian regiments, and their camp-fires were the center toward which men trooped by scores. The rest was pleasant after their hard marches; and, although ready to do their own work when necessary, they appreciated the advantage of having their servants again with them to groom their horses and cook their food.

The negroes were not less glad at being again with their masters. Almost all were men who had, like Dan, been brought up with their young owners, and felt for them a strong personal attachment, and, if it had been allowed, would gladly have followed them in the field of battle, and fought by their side against the “Yankees.” Their stay at Harper’s Ferry was to be a short one. Colonel Stuart, with his 200 horse, was scouting along the whole bank of the Potomac, watching every movement of the enemy, and Ashley’s horse was to join them at once.

It was not difficult for even young soldiers to form an idea of the general nature of the operations. They had to protect the Shenandoah Valley, to guard the five great roads by which the enemy would advance against Winchester, and not only to save the loyal inhabitants and rich resources of the valley from falling into the hands of the Federals, but what was of even greater importance, to prevent the latter from marching across the Blue Ridge Mountains, and falling upon the flank of the main Confederate army at Manassas.

The position was a difficult one, for while “the grand army” was assembling at Alexandria to advance against Manassas Junction, McClellan was advancing from the northwest with 20,000 men, and Patterson from Pennsylvania with 18,000.

In the morning before parading his troop, 100 strong, Ashley called them together and told them that, as they would now be constantly on the move and scattered over a long line, it was impossible that they could take their servants with them.

“I should never have allowed them to be brought,” be said, “had I known that we should be scouting over such an extensive country; at the same time, if we can manage to take a few on it would certainly add to our comfort. I propose that we choose ten by lot to go on with us. They must be servants of the troop and not of individuals. We can scatter them in pairs at fire points, with instructions to forage as well as they can, and to have things in readiness to cook for whoever may come in off duty or may for the time be posted there. Henceforth every man must groom and see to his own horse, but I see no reason, military or otherwise, why we shouldn’t get our food cooked for us; and it will be just as well, as long as we can, to have a few bundles of straw for us to lie on instead of sleeping on the ground.

“Another ten men we can also choose by lot to go to Winchester; which is, I imagine, the point we shall move to if the enemy advance, as I fancy they will, from the other side of the Shenandoah Valley. The rest must be sent home.”

Each man accordingly wrote his name on a piece of paper, and placed them in a haversack. Ten were then drawn out; and their servants were to accompany the troop at once. The servants of the next ten were to proceed by train to Winchester, while the slaves of all whose names remained in the bag were to be sent home at once, provided with passes permitting them to travel. To Vincent’s satisfaction his name was one of the first ten drawn, and Dan was therefore to go forward. The greater part of the men evaded the obligation to send their servants back to Richmond by despatching them to friends who had estates in the Shenandoah Valley, with letters asking them to keep the men for them until the troop happened to come into their neighborhood.

At six o’clock in the morning the troop mounted and rode to Bath, thirty miles away. It was here that Stuart had his headquarters, whence he sent out his patrols up and down the Potomac, between Harper’s Ferry on the east and Cumberland on the west. Stuart was away when they arrived, but he rode in a few hours afterward.

“Ah! Ashley, I am glad you have arrived,” he said, as he rode up to the troop, who had hastily mounted as he was seen approaching. “There is plenty for you to do, I can tell you; and I only wish that you had brought a thousand men instead of a hundred. I am heartily glad to see you all, gentlemen,” he said to the troop. “I am afraid just at first that the brightness of your gray jackets will put my men rather to shame; but we shall soon get rid of that. But dismount your men, Ashley; there is plenty for them and their horses to do without wasting time in parade work. There is very little of that here, I can tell you. I have not seen a score of my men together for the last month.”

Vincent gazed with admiration at the young leader, whose name was soon to be celebrated throughout America and Europe. The young Virginian—for he was not yet twenty-eight years old—was the beau ideal of a cavalry officer. He was singularly handsome, and possessed great personal strength and a constitution which enabled him to bear all hardships. He possessed unfailing good spirits, and had a joke and laugh for all he met; and while on the march at the head of his regiment he was always ready to lift up his voice and lead the songs with which the men made the woods resound.

He seemed to live in his saddle, and was present at all hours of the night and day along the line he guarded seeing that the men were watchful and on the alert, instructing the outposts in their duty, and infusing his own spirit and vigilance among them. He had been educated at West Point, and had seen much service with the cavalry against the Indians in the West. Such was the man who was to become the most famous cavalry leader of his time. So far he had not come in contact with the enemy, and his duties were confined to obtaining information regarding their strength and intentions, to watching every road by which they could advance, and to seeing that none passed north to carry information to the enemy as to the Confederate strength and positions, for even in the Shenandoah Valley there were some whose sympathies were with the Federals.

These were principally Northern men settled as traders in the towns, and it was important to prevent them from sending any news to the enemy. So well did Stuart’s cavalry perform this service, and so general was the hostility of the population against the North, that throughout the whole of the war in Virginia it was very seldom that the Northern generals could obtain any trustworthy information as to the movements and strength of the Confederates, while the latter were perfectly informed of every detail connected with the intentions of the invaders.

The next morning Ashley’s troop took up their share of the work at the front. They were broken up into parties of ten, each of which was stationed at a village near the river, five men being on duty night and day. As it happened that none of the other men in his squad had a servant at the front, Vincent was able without difficulty to have Dan assigned to his party. A house in the village was placed at their disposal, and here the five off duty slept and took their meals while the others were in the saddle. Dan was quite in his element, and turned out an excellent cook, and was soon a general favorite among the mess.

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