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The Story of a Connoneer Under Stonewall Jackson by Edward A. Moore

The Story of a Connoneer Under Stonewall Jackson
Edward A. Moore

Chapter I

Washington College Lexington — Virginia Military Institute

At the age of eighteen I was a member of the Junior Class at Washington College at Lexington, Virginia, during the session of 1860-61, and with the rest of the students was more interested in the foreshadowings of that ominous period than in the teachings of the professors. Among our number there were a few from the States farther south who seemed to have been born secessionists, while a large majority of the students were decidedly in favor of the Union.

Our president, the Rev. Dr. George Junkin, who hailed from the North, was heart and soul a Union man, notwithstanding the fact that one of his daughters was the first wife of Major Thomas J. Jackson, who developed into the world-renowned "Stonewall" Jackson. Another daughter was the great Southern poetess, Mrs. Margaret J. Preston, and Dr. Junkin' s son, Rev. W. F. Junkin, a most lovable man, became an ardent Southern soldier and a chaplain in the Confederate Army throughout the war.

At the anniversary of the Washington Literary Society, on February 22, 1861, the right of secession has attacked and defended by the participants  in the discussion, with no less zeal than they afterward displayed on many bloody battlefields. 

We had as a near neighbor the Virginia Military Institute, "The West Point of the South," where scores of her young chivalry were assembled, who were eager to put into practice the subjects taught in their school. Previous to these exciting times not the most kindly feelings, and but little intercourse had existed between the two bodies of young men. The secession element in the College, however, finding more congenial company among the cadets, opened up the way for quite intimate and friendly relations between the two institutions. In January, 1860, the corps of cadets had been ordered by Governor Wise to be present, as a military guard, at the execution of John Brown at Harper's Ferry. After their return more than the usual time was given to the drill; and target-shooting with cannon and small arms was daily practised in our hearing.

Only a small proportion of the citizens of the community favored secession, but they were very aggressive. One afternoon, while a huge Union flag-pole was being raised on the street, which when half-way up snapped and fell to the ground in pieces, I witnessed a personal encounter between a cadet and a mechanic (the latter afterward deserted from our battery during the Gettysburg campaign in Pennsylvania, his native State), which was promptly taken up by their respective friends. The cadets who were present hastened to their barracks and, joined by their comrades, armed themselves, and with fixed bayonets came streaming at doublequick toward the town. They were met at the end of Main street by their professors, conspicuous among whom was Colonel Colston on horseback. He was a native of France and professor of French at the Institute; he became a major-general in the Confederate Army and later a general in the Egyptian Army. After considerable persuasion the cadets were induced to return to their barracks.

Instead of the usual Saturday night debates of the College literary societies, the students either joined the cadets in their barracks at the Institute or received them at the College halls to harangue on the one absorbing topic. 

On the top of the main building at the College was a statue of Washington, and over this statue some of the students hoisted a palmetto flag. This greatly incensed our president. He tried, for some time, but in vain, to have the flag torn down. When my class went at the usual hour to his room to recite, and before we had taken our seats, he inquired if the flag was still flying. On being told that it was, he said, "The class is dismissed; I will never hear a recitation under a traitor's flag!" And away we went.

Lincoln's proclamation calling for 75,000 men to whip in the seceded States, was immediately followed by the ordinance of secession, and the idea of union was abandoned by all. Recitation-bells no longer sounded; our books were left to gather dust, and forgotten, save only to recall those scenes that filled our minds with the mighty deeds and prowess of such characters as the "Ruling Agamemnon" and his warlike cohorts, and we could almost hear "the terrible clang of striking spears against shields, as it resounded throughout the army."

There was much that seems ludicrous as we recall it now. The youths of the community, imbued with the idea that "cold steel" would play an important part in the conflict, provided themselves with huge bowie-knives, fashioned by our home blacksmith, and with these fierce weapons swinging from their belts were much in evidence. There were already several organized military companies in the county. The Rockbridge Rifles, and a company of cavalry left Lexington April 17, under orders from Governor John Letcher, our townsman, who had just been inaugurated Governor of Virginia, to report at Harper's Ferry. The cavalry company endeavored to make the journey without a halt, and did march the first sixty-four miles in twenty- four hours.

The students formed a company with J. J. White. professor of Greek, as their captain. Drilling was the occupation of the day; the students having excellent instructors in the cadets and their professors. Our outraged president had set out alone in his private carriage for his former home in the North.

Many of the cadets were called away as drillmasters at camps established in different parts of the South, and later became distinguished officers in the Confederate Army, as did also a large number of the older alumni of the Institute. The Rockbridge Artillery Company was organized about this time, and, after a fortnight's drilling with the cadet's battery, was ordered to the front, under command of Rev. W. N. Pendleton, rector of the Episcopal Church, and a graduate of West Point, as captain.

The cadets received marching orders, and on that morning, for the first time since his residence in Lexington, Major Jackson was seen in his element. As a professor at the Virginia Military Institute he was remarkable only for strict punctuality and discipline. I, with one of my brothers, had been assigned to his class in Sunday-school, where his regular attendance and earnest manner were equally striking.

It was on a beautiful Sunday morning in May that the cadets received orders to move, and I remember how we were all astonished to see the Christian major, galloping to and fro on a spirited horse, preparing for their departure.

In the arsenal at the Institute were large stores of firearms of old patterns, which were hauled away from time to time to supply the troops. I, with five others of the College company, was detailed as a guard to a convoy of wagons, loaded with these arms, as far as Staunton. We were all of the same size, and with one exception members of the same class. In the first battle of Manassas four of the five present—Charles Bell, William Wilson, William Paxton and Benjamin Bradley—were killed, and William Anderson, now Attorney-General of Virginia, was maimed for life.

There was great opposition on the part of the friends of the students to their going into the service, at any rate in one body, but they grew more and more impatient to be ordered out, and felt decidedly offended at the delay.

Finally, in June, the long-hoped-for orders came. The town was filled with people from far and near, and every one present, old and young, white and black, not only shed tears, but actually sobbed. My father had positively forbidden my going, as his other three sons, older than myself, were already in the field. After this my time was chiefly occupied in drilling militia in different parts of the country. And I am reminded to this day by my friends the daughters of General Pendleton of my apprehensions "lest the war should be over before I should get a trip."

Edward A. Moore, The Story of a Connoneer Under Stonewall Jackson (Lynchburg, Va.: J. P. Bell Company, Inc., 1910), 19-24.


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