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War Years With JED Stuart By William Willis Blackford

War Years With JED Stuart
William Willis Blackford


The war found me, at the age of thirty, a prosperous man with a lovely young wife and four sweet and beautiful children, engaged as a partner with my father-in-law, Governor Wyndham Robertson, in mining Plaster of Paris from his mines in Washington County, Va. I was surrounded by every attraction of family affection and interest and, until the mighty war tempest arose, considered myself settled for life. Looking back to those days, and with the lights then before me, I should do the same again, but it was a great and terrible sacrifice to leave it all and go into the army.

We read much in the papers about the excited political feeling in Kansas upon the slavery question; and there was the usual supply of inflammatory gas exhaled from the so-called representative men, on both sides, in Congress — all of which was read by the businessmen of the country about as they read of horse races and prize fights, and with about as little idea that such folly could involve the country in war, in the one case or the other.

We have all seen a half drunken crowd quarrelling around a bar-room door by the hour, and cooling down when their senseless gabble ceases to attract attention from passers-by — but let a blow be struck, by even the most worthless vagabond of the lot, and a general fight ensues. This was what happened at Harpers Ferry, Oct. 16, 1859. In all human probability the election of Lincoln would have been accomplished without serious results but for the spark applied to the inflamed public mind, at that time, by John Brown’s crazy attempt at instigating the negroes of Virginia to servile insurrection.

So far as the negroes were concerned the attempt was a perfect failure, and Brown was caught and hung as he deserved; but what was the surprise of the people of the South to see his course endorsed by a large portion of the northern people — to see requiems over the death of the “martyred hero , as they called him, from pulpit, press and rostrum, and bells tolling from steeples in almost every large city in the North, the day he was hanged. When we reflect what negro insurrection meant, as Brown wished it to be, we can readily understand the revelation this evidence of feeling in his behalf was to our people. That a large part of our countrymen should allow themselves to sympathize with a plot involving the indiscriminate rape of innocent women, their subsequent murder, and the murder of all children, before the men of the country could collect to prevent it, is a stain forever upon our country. That all this was the inevitable sequence of successful negro insurrection no one who has ever taken the trouble to look into the history of such events in other countries can deny. The abolition fanatics had worked themselves up into the belief that the negroes had a grievance and that opportunity was all that was lacking to make them rise and rid themselves of it. But unfortunately for this theory the negroes had no grievance — they were happy and contented with their lot, and the plan failed. Throughout the four years of war, when whole counties were left with scarcely an able-bodied white man, in not one single instance in all the slave states was there the slightest hostile demonstration made by the slaves. Can any stronger evidence be wanted of the kindly feelings existing between the races? And could such feelings have found place under a yoke felt to be oppressive by those who wore it?

I am heartily glad that slavery is gone on my children’s account, though they would have inherited a goodly number, and on account of the white race of the South, because I think they are better without them. But, when time removes the fog of fanaticism that has surrounded the subject, the world will see that never before were labor and capital brought together under circumstances more advantageous to the development of the laborer — nor was there ever a greater blessing bestowed on the negro race. If it was not a blessing, but an evil, then logically it should not have been. Now can any unprejudiced person, who wishes the negro well, wish them to have remained in heathenism and barbarism as they were when slavery rescued them from it?

After the John Brown affair I was so firmly convinced that there might be trouble that I took active steps to raise a cavalry company in Washington County. There was living not far from me a gentleman who had, some years before, resigned his commission as Lieutenant in the U. S. cavalry service and was a frequent visitor at my house, Mr., afterwards Maj. General, Wm. E. Jones. I conceived the idea of raising a cavalry company and making him the captain. He agreed to it provided I would take all the trouble of getting it up. At that time I knew nothing of cavalry tactics and thought his instruction was absolutely necessary, though as it turned out, he took little interest in either raising or drilling the company and almost the whole burden fell upon me.

I canvassed for it and then called a meeting in Abingdon. Jones did not attend but we elected him Captain. I became 1st Lieutenant, Beese B. Edmondson 2nd Lieutenant, and George Victor Litchfield 3rd Lieutenant. We named the company The Washington Mounted Rifles. I procured a copy of Hardee’s tactics and studied it intently, drilling the men every court day. At first only a dozen or so took interest in it but during the winter of 1860-61 many more joined.

The Harpers Ferry affair occurred on the night of the 16th of October, 1859. Lincoln’s election followed; the cloud thickened and darkened. State after state seceded with a shock like the bursting of sail after sail on a ship in a mighty tempest. Then with the flash and the thunder from the bombardment of Fort Sumter the war burst upon us.

I was opposed to secession and voted against the secession candidate to the convention, Ex-Gov. John B. Floyd. I thought that Lincoln, though a sectional candidate, was constitutionally elected and that we ought to have waited to see what he would do. But when he called for troops from Virginia and we had to take one side or the other, then of course I was for going with the South in her mad scheme, right or wrong.

The country was red hot with excitement. In every county from the mountains to the sea, men were preparing for war. Long trains on the railroads, loaded with troops, came from the South to join the army assembling at Manassas, and at every station they met an ovation.

Going to Abingdon one day a short time after the Virginia convention passed the ordinance of secession on April 17, 1861, and expecting to return that night as usual, I found the place in a blaze of excitement, and it was years and years before I saw my home again. We went into barracks and a few weeks after marched off to the seat of war, a company one hundred strong and superbly mounted. The most of this time our Captain was in (Richmond trying to get higher rank, but failing in this he returned and took command of the company a short time before we started. After taking command, however, he made a very efficient officer. John S. Mosby, the future brilliant partisan leader, was a private soldier in our company. He was a lawyer, living at Bristol at the time. There was nothing about him then to indicate what he was to be — he was rather a slouchy rider, and did not seem to take any interest in military duties. He had been but seldom at our drills before starting, and we all thought he was rather an indifferent soldier. I remember there was another man in the company who everybody said was an acquisition, and would make a splendid fighter — he was a noted bar-room bully, and fist fighter; but the very first time we were under fire this fellow ran away, and by pretending sickness got on a hospital detail and was never seen again, while Mosby distinguished himself in every affair we had.

My dear wife came down to the “Meadows,” her father’s country residence near Abingdon, to be near me for the few weeks we were still to be together, and devoted herself nobly to the cause in which I was embarked, and to my encouragement in the many trials it involved. The day of parting came at last. The company halted in town for the men to take leave of their friends. Mary and the children were at Mrs. Trigg’s watching with streaming eyes the martial array pass by, and there I found her when the halt was made. There was not a dry eye to be seen on the crowded street as the flower of the county marched away — many of them never to return.

We marched to Richmond where we remained a few days and drew a supply of fine Sharp’s carbines, breechloaders; we were then at the camp of instruction at Ashland a week or two; and were then ordered to join the 1st Regiment of Virginia Cavalry under the command of Lieut. Col. J. E. B. Stuart, operating with Gen. J. E. Johnston’s army in the valley of Virginia, near Shepherdstown. Upon reaching our destination we had marched altogether five hundred miles. We had drawn, in Abingdon, a supply of sabres, and many of us had Colt’s army pistols, five shooters, so we were well armed. The march was a continuous ovation — ladies lined the streets of the towns and showered flowers upon us — every delicacy the country could afford was spread before us, and we imagined ourselves heroes. The only care we felt was the dread that the war would be over before we got there. It is amusing now to recall how general this feeling was — every one seemed to think one battle would settle it, and those in authority, who had brought on all the trouble, who ought to have known better, unfortunately thought so too. In Richmond I saw for the first time Gen. R. E. Lee and a handsomer man than he was, mounted on a superb bay stallion he then rode, I never saw. I also saw President Davis in church. Walking along the street one day I happened to be behind a lady as she reached a cross street. A negro boy was coming along the cross street mounted on a beautiful blooded horse which he was, after the manner of his kind, when unobserved, fretting and jerking to make him prance. The lady burst out into a fury of invective, the like of which I never before heard from lady’s lips, and made the groom dismount and lead the horse away. It was Mrs. Jeff Davis and the groom and horse belonged to the President’s stables. Richmond was overrun with people from the Cotton States connected with the new Confederate government, and some of them were rather a shock to the refinement of Richmond. The tone of society in Richmond has never recovered from this inroad.

Just as the sun was setting one evening in June, 1861, we came in sight of Colonel Stuart’s camp at Bunker Hill, nine miles north of Winchester — the first troops we had seen engaged in actual warfare. We had seen plenty of camps around Richmond and Ashland, but they had the air of holiday parade about them — tents handsomely furnished and the men’s trunks around the walls inside, after the fashion of the volunteer of that period of the war — but here all looked like business. The camp was in a little valley — between the rows of company tents picket ropes were stretched, to which were haltered the horses, while over a detached group of tents on a little rise near by floated the headquarters flag. Before these tents some forty or fifty horsemen were drawn up for inspection, and the young officer in a U. S. undress uniform was Lieutenant Colonel Stuart. He was giving the men their final instructions for the night, for this was the guard going out for the relief on the picket posts. This was the man whose fame was afterwards to rank with that of Lee and Jackson and who will probably be regarded in history as the greatest cavalry leader of modern times. He was a little above medium height, broad shouldered and powerfully built, ruddy complexion and blue-gray eyes which could flash fire on the battlefield, or sparkle with the merry glance which ladies love.

Stuart was then about twenty-nine years of age and our Captain was very much his senior in age; so, true to the spirit of the average West Point man, he regarded our Colonel with intense jealousy when placed under his command, a feeling which ripened afterwards into as genuine hatred as I ever remember to have seen in my experience in life. The feeling finally led him into such a flagrant piece of official insolence that even Stuart’s magnanimity could stand it no longer. He was tried by court-martial and sentenced to receive a reprimand from General Lee. This was given personally and soon after Jones was sent elsewhere. This occurred after he became a Brigadier General, in 1863, I think it was.

When we joined Stuart’s command he had already attracted some attention by his connection with the capture of John Brown, and by some brilliant little cavalry affairs in the valley. With our fine company he had about 500 men, well mounted and of the best material the state could afford. I remember with what interest and respect I looked at those men going out on picket duty that night in the presence of an actual enemy — people they might kill like game if they could.

Colonel Stuart received me very cordially, and then began the friendship between us which lasted until his death, without a break. It so happened that in one or two little affairs soon after this, I had opportunities of eliciting his commendation and he appointed me his Adjutant, making my commission date the twenty-first of July in compliment of my services in the battle that day, though I had been appointed a few days before. The first of these affairs occurred the first night I went on picket. I took twenty men to a post eight miles from camp in a little village at a crossroads two or three miles from the enemy’s lines. By the time I had examined the front I was to cover, and had relieved the men on duty at the outposts, it was dark. After chatting with the people in the place until bedtime, I spread my blanket on the floor of the porch of the store at the corner and stretched out for a nap. Just then came the sound of the clatter of a horse’s hoofs away up the turnpike, and presently the peremptory order to halt from the vidette, and the corporal of the guard brought in a citizen. He was a man left in charge of an estate half way between us and the enemy, whose owner was a refugee, and he had come to tell us that a cavalry scouting party of the enemy had just arrived at his house and that he had barely made his escape.

I sent the man on to Colonel Stuart with a note saying that I would investigate the matter and report later. After getting some citizens as guides I took ten men and started, keeping a vidette in front and my main body ready to charge instantly if we met the enemy, knowing that in the dark they could not tell how small our number was, and that we could throw them into confusion, ascertain their force and withdraw before they recovered from their surprise. But we reached the vicinity of the house without meeting any one. I sent a couple of men, dismounted, to reconnoitre. Presently they were halted and an explanation followed. It was a party from our own regiment. They had been vigilant enough to discover our approach and the officer in command had withdrawn his party from the house, where they had made arrangements to pass the night, until our status could be ascertained. We all then went in and had a good supper, while I sent a report back to Colonel Stuart. As it was now past midnight I determined to join my late supposed enemy in a night’s rest upon the floor of the beautiful parlor of this elegant country house, and we all slept there. Colonel Stuart was much pleased with the whole affair and complimented both myself and the officer commanding the other party for our vigilance and for not getting into a mess by firing into each other out there in the dark.

A week or two after this another little matter occurred which seemed to please our Colonel. We were out on a scout and the Colonel had his whole command dismounted in an apple orchard behind a hill half a mile from the enemy’s lines. He was watching an opportunity to make an attack, after getting reports from some spies he had sent in, and we were all grazing our horses or dozing in the warm sunshine. It seems that the man of the house nearby was a “Union man,” not an unusual thing around that part of the valley, and he had gone over to their camp and told them of our presence. They formed a column of infantry, and with a battery of artillery, dashed across towards us at the double quick. Having no artillery then attached to the cavalry and being greatly inferior to them in numbers, the only thing to do was to get out of the way. Stuart was on the hill watching and saw them start; he galloped down to us, laughing, and gave the order for each company to get back to some woods, half a mile in the rear, as fast as possible. There was no time lost, but before we got out of the orchard their battery was in position on the hill above us and pounding away at our fleeing troopers. The companies being separated saved us from much loss but it was the first time any of us had been under artillery fire and most of the command were a good deal demoralized. Our company was the only one which came off in perfect order, due in a large measure to my efforts, as I brought up the rear. Some of them stampeded utterly and did not stop for miles. When we halted in the woods I found I had lost my pistol — pistols were hard to get in those days, and I remembered exactly where it must have fallen out of my belt as I jumped “Comet” over a fence; so I applied for leave to go back for it. The shelling was still going on and Stuart looked at me with a surprised and pleased expression as he gave permission, but I knew it was a long way from their battery and there would be small chance of their hitting me at that distance. I found the pistol exactly where I thought it was and returned, the shells all passing high over my head. These incidents led no doubt to his appointing me his Adjutant not long after.

The enemy threatened us from two points — from Alexandria and from the lower valley. Our forces under Beauregard were at Manassas confronting the Alexandria column, and those under Joseph E. Johnston were confronting the other. McDowell commanded their advance from Alexandria, and Patterson in the valley. Our plan was for Johnston to hold Patterson in check, and at the last moment to come over to Beauregard’s assistance, if possible without letting Patterson find out he was gone. To effect this Stuart drew a curtain of cavalry across the valley, cutting off all communication until Johnston’s army crossed the Blue Ridge, and then by rapid marches followed, leaving enough cavalry, however, to keep up a thin line to hold the enemy in check. The road was full of infantry and artillery and we had to pass through the fields. All night long they marched forward, and we were compelled to encounter the fatigue of constantly crossing ditches and fences and the uneven ground on the side. Hundreds of men from the infantry, who had slipped out of the road to sleep, were scattered about everywhere and we had constantly to be on the lookout to keep from riding over them in the dark. The first day our wagons did not meet us and we were without rations; I was famishing when we halted for rest, but just then a man passed by with a huge bullfrog he had caught in a creek we had crossed and told me I might have it if I liked, as he would not eat one for the world. It was but the work of a few moments to kindle a fire, dress the frog and broil him, not the hind legs only but the whole body; it was delicious, and quite enough to serve as a pretty good meal.

In passing Mill Wood Mrs. Randolph was at the door of her house and I stopped to speak to her. She asked me to take some money to her grandson, Randolph McKim, who was a private soldier in a Maryland infantry regiment and was then a mere boy. She sent him five dollars which I found a chance to hand him a few days after the battle.

The morning of the day we reached Manassas, the irregularity of diet, loss of sleep, and the march all the night, brought on a severe attack on my bowels, and to my intense mortification I found myself scarcely able to keep my saddle. Colonel Stuart had just appointed me Adjutant of the regiment and it was dreadful to think of being taken sick the day before the great battle; it would look so suspicious — so much like the battle had brought on the attack. I never shall forget the look our Colonel gave me when I applied for leave to drop out of the column and catch up when I was able, and the meaning glance of his eye when he said, “Yes, but remember there is going to be a battle tomorrow.” Just then we came in sight of a pretty country house, barely visible in the early dawn, half a mile from the road and I rode over to it and aroused the inmates. I had been in the saddle all the day before and all night, and without food during that time except the bullfrog; this together with my attack of sickness made me so weak that I could scarcely walk across the front yard of the house to knock at the door. Some charming girls in wrappers, aroused from their slumbers, appeared at the upper windows and after hearing my tale hastened to dress and come down. They received me most cordially and, with the assistance of their mother, who soon appeared also, seemed ministering angels.

A basin of cold water fresh from the well and snowy towels refreshed me inexpressibly, for the roads were suffocating in dust. Then a delicious breakfast, hot strong coffee in a huge cup, seemed to bring new life into my bones. Then two hours profound sleep, by the watch, on the sofa in the sweet cool parlor with the birds to sing me to sleep, and the softest little hand to fix my pillow ; how could I help kissing it ? and all the while Comet running his nose up to the eyes in a great trough full of oats, and a darky, earning the half dollar I promised, rubbing him for dear life. What a haven for a sick and weary soldier to drift into ! After many heartfelt thanks to my kind friends I mounted and pushed on my way, finding to my inexpressible relief that health and strength had returned to me. I am sorry I cannot remember the name of this family, but all records of that period, in the shape of my frequent letters to my wife, were destroyed by fire when my office in Lynchburg was burned, when I was Chief Engineer of the Lynchburg and Danville R. IL in 1867.

But I must now tell who Comet was, for to a cavalry officer in active service his horse is his second self, his companion and friend, upon whom his very life may depend. A few days before leaving home the horse I had showed symptoms of weakness about the eyes and I had to look around for another. The supply of good animals in the county had been much diminished by the pick having been bought up by the members of our company, so my father-in-law, Mr. Robertson, agreed to let me have Comet, an animal of his own rearing, and I executed my note at sixty days for his price; but after the horse bore me so gallantly in the battle of the twenty-first, he canceled the note and sent it back to me, asking me to accept Comet as a present from him. Comet was by Mr. T. L. Preston’s horse Hamlet, out of a daughter of Prima Donna, belonging to Mr. Robertson, and was consequently of the best blood in Virginia. He was a dark mahogany bay, almost brown, with black mane, tail and legs and a small white star in his forehead — great eyes standing out like those of a deer, small delicate muzzle — delicate ears in which you could see the veins, and which were constantly in motion with every thought which passed through his mind — small and beautiful feet — and legs as hard as the bone itself. He was compactly and powerfully built — his action superb — head and tail carried high in air, and he had a way of tossing his head and champing his bit, and tossing the foam over his breast that set your blood to tingling in sympathy with his spirit. When we halted in towns people would collect around to admire his beauty, and one evening when Colonel Stuart and myself were riding out together, after a brisk gallop he watched the horse for some time, and then said, “Well, Blackford, that is a perfect model of a war horse.” A fence as high as his withers he would take me over like a bird. His beauty and strength were equaled by his mental and moral qualities; Comet was a horse of high order, and as gallant a gentleman in his feelings as ever wore a horse’s hide. The winning ways he had, the ease with which he would learn anything, and his strong attachments were very remarkable. When other horses were crowding around an exhausted pump, or hydrant trough, awaiting the scanty flow. Comet would put his mouth to the spout and drink his fill. When I would be eating on the march his eyes would watch me, and if I did not soon lean forward and hand him a taste, he would stop deliberately and reach his mouth up for his share ; nothing seemed to come amiss; bread, crackers, meat, sugar, and fruit, all seemed to be relished. I could tie the halter strap to my leg and lie down to sleep while he would graze around, step over me or lie down by me without ever treading on me. Sometimes when he would lie down he would lay his head in an affectionate if uncomfortable manner upon me, and though it was disagreeable I could never have the heart to push it off. I had taught him to pull my handkerchief out of my pocket or take my hat off to look for sugar, and the trick amused people who did not know what he was after, which Vas a secret between Comet and me. The horse of one of the members of the company, Gilbert Greenway, formed an alliance, offensive and defensive, with Comet and when the horses of the regiment were turned out to graze, these two trotted about to select a choice piece of grass and, planting themselves there, would attack furiously any intruder. In cold, rainy weather, when the other horses would be drawn up and shivering, Comet attracted the attention and applause of the whole regiment by his plan for warming himself, and the cheers of the men seemed to be fully appreciated. He would begin by pawing with one fore-foot as fast as he could do it for five minutes; then the same with the other fore-foot; then with both hind feet, for a like time, he would kick as high in the air as he could get, and with a vigor and rapidity that was laugh- able; and wind up by a toss of the mane and tail and loud snorts, while the steam came pouring from him in the restored warmth and glow his exercise had produced. A year after this time poor Comet was desperately wounded and I rode him no more during the war.

After leaving my kind friends I pushed on to overtake the command, which I did before they reached Manassas that evening. Manassas Junction, on the evening of the 20th of July, 1861, presented a busy scene of martial preparation. Troops were arriving by the cars and marching out to the lines along Bull Run, six miles away. Great trains of wagons were hauling supplies of food and ammunition. Great crowds of men stood around everywhere, who seemed to have nothing to do, and among them, pushing their way regardless of imprecations showered upon their heads, rode orderlies, quartermasters and commissaries with the pompous gravity of those who believed the cares of the nation rested upon their sleek, well-greased heads. The clouds of suffocating dust, the bustle, and the knowledge of what it was the preparation for, made all this an impressive scene to us, whose eyes were yet unaccustomed to such sights.

As we marched by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s quarters, he and his staff came out to see us pass. I stopped to speak to Capt. T. L. Preston, of General Johnston’s staff, who was there, and also shook hands with the General, whom I had known in Abingdon. We went into bivouac before sundown, about a mile from the stone bridge over Bull Run. We had been thirty-six hours in the saddle and were very tired and hungry, but plenty of rations for man and horse were sent us from the Junction, and the tall thick broomsedge grass furnished a luxurious couch to sleep upon, and to some it was to be their last in this world. I had often read of the feelings of a soldier on the night before a battle, and particularly his first one, but after a hearty supper, stretched out on my blanket on the soft grass smoking a pipe of excellent tobacco, I must say I felt pretty comfortable, and before the pipe was finished the stars above melted into dreams of profound slumber.

As Adjutant of the regiment I no longer had my quarters with my company but had joined the Colonel’s mess and lived at regimental headquarters. In marches I always slept next the Colonel so as to be within reach of his hand if wanted during the night. The next morning was Sunday, the eventful 2lst of July. About daylight I was awakened by Colonel Stuart’s springing up and exclaiming, “Hello! What is that?” It was rapid musketry firing away off several miles on our left near Sudley Mills in an entirely different direction from that we expected. They had crossed Bull Run at Sudley and were coming down on our left flank. The horses were fed and we took breakfast, and wishing to know something of the country, our Colonel then took us oi^ a scout across the Bull Run. Our route lay through open fields and woodland without a commanding point from which to see around for any distance, just such a place as a cavalry command might fall into an ambuscade. Our Colonel halted and told me to take twelve men and push on until I found the enemy and then come back and report. I cut them off from the head of the column and trotted off, throwing out an advance guard of two, and a right and left flanking party of two each; retaining six as a reserve. The outriders were to hold up their hands if they saw anything, and no firing was to be done without special orders from me. We had not gone far when I saw the advance guard pull up and begin peering about over a hill, and I joined them. They said they thought they had caught sight of a man with a musket through an opening in the woods. I then rode about carefully, keeping the crest of the hill before me until at last I caught sight of a skirmisher, and then another and another about one hundred yards off and then about twenty more. My men were armed with rifled carbines and were capital shots and I did long to take a crack at them, but the Colonel’s orders were positive that we must avoid attracting attention; so without making them aware of our presence by a little reminder of that kind, we galloped back and reported. It not being a part of Stuart’s plan to make an attack, he recrossed the Bull Run and dismounted the regiment near where we spent the night, and here we remained until about two o’clock that evening. Most unfortunately, as it turned out, Stuart was ordered to make a detachment to serve in another place and had to send two of his companies away under Swann, our Major, and under such a commander of course they did nothing.

The Warrenton pike, by which the enemy had advanced from Alexandria, passes through Centreville and a few miles southward crosses Bull Run at the Stone Bridge obliquely, Centreville being nearer Bull Run at its nearest point than it is to Stone Bridge. From Stone Bridge to where Bull Run empties into the Potomac its valley is bounded by abrupt hills, the fords are few, and the line is strong for defence. Above Stone Bridge the valley rises more nearly to the level of the country, the fords are more frequent and the line is not so strong defensively as below. Our line of battle had been drawn along the lower reaches, with strong outposts at Sudley, some miles above Stone Bridge, and at Stone Bridge. On the 18th the enemy had made a demonstration at Blackburn’s ford opposite Centreville. Fully appreciating the difficulties of this crossing after their repulse on the 18th, the enemy had moved a large force during the night by a wide circuit up to Sudley, intending to sweep down rapidly on our side of Bull Run, uncover Stone Bridge, march their remaining force across there, and attack the flank of our main body below, on ground of their own choosing.

The plan was well devised and well carried but up to their reaching Sudley but sufficient allowance had not been made, from there on, for the part we were to play in the game. Instead of sweeping all opposition away at Sudley and coming right on, as they expected, they encountered stubborn resistance from the small force there, which slowly retired down towards Stone Bridge, affording ample time for reinforcements from below to reach them there. We can now understand what Stuart meant when he exclaimed, “Hello! What is that?” Our position as before stated was about opposite the Stone Bridge; as the morning advanced the firing from Sudley approached nearer and nearer and troops from below were seen hurrying up to meet them, and it soon became apparent that the battle was to be fought just opposite us — and all we could do was to await the time when the cavalry could come into action with effect, for the infantry and artillery of course would have to meet the main shock of the conflict.

The duty of cavalry after battle is joined is to cover the flanks to prevent the enemy from turning them. If victorious, it improves the victory by rapid pursuit. If defeated, it covers the rear and makes vigorous charges to delay the advance of the enemy — or in the supreme moment, in the crisis of the battle, when victory is hovering over the field, uncertain upon which standard to alight — when the reserves are brought into action and the death struggle has come, then the cavalry comes down like an avalanche, upon the flanks of troops already engaged, with splendid effect.

A skirt of woods hid the battlefield from our view, but occasionally a shell would burst high in air, and sometimes the wind wafted the clouds upward above the trees, the roar of the conflict becoming louder and louder. Stuart was uneasy for fear that he would not be called into action; so every time a body of troops appeared he sent me over to tell the commanding officer that he was there and to ask him to let him know when he could be of service with the cavalry. He also rode over several times to the field to confer with the generals and watch the progress of the action. On one of my trips to a large body of troops moving into action, which one of the men told me was commanded by Colonel Jackson, I pushed on to the head of the column and found Colonel Jackson riding along holding up his hand which was wrapped in a bloody handkerchief, for his finger had just been shot off. This was the man who had just been christened “Stonewall” in the baptism of fire. I gave him Colonel Stuart’s message and request, and his stern face lit up with a smile and he said, “That’s good I That’s good! Tell Stuart I will. That’s good!” and rode on into action. “That’s good 1” was his favorite exclamation at anything which pleased him. Once during the morning, to our horror, we saw a great crowd of fugitives come pouring out of the woods and fleeing across the fields until they were out of sight. My heart seemed to stand still — was the battle lost? But presently they ceased coming — they were some South Carolina troops.

The battle roared louder and louder but still in the same spot. It was about two o’clock: Stuart was striding backwards and forwards in great impatience. Presently we saw a staff officer dash out of the woods and come spurring towards us. The men all sprang to their feet and began tightening their saddle girths, for we had a presentiment he was coming for us. The supreme moment had come at last. Colonel Stuart stepped forward to meet the officer. He reined up his horse and asked if that was Colonel Stuart and then, with a military salute, said, “Colonel Stuart, General Beauregard directs that you bring your command into action at once and that you attach where the firing is hottest

The bugle sounded “boots and saddles” and in a moment more we were moving off at a trot in a column of fours in the direction indicated plainly enough by the firing. It was our fate, however, to pass through a sickening ordeal before reaching the field. Along a shady little valley through which our road lay the surgeons had been plying their vocation all the morning upon the wounded. Tables about breast high had been erected upon which screaming victims were having legs and arms cut off. The surgeons and their assistants, stripped to the waist and all bespattered with blood, stood around, some holding the poor fellows while others, armed with long bloody knives and saws, cut and sawed away with frightful rapidity, throwing the mangled limbs on a pile near by as soon as removed. Many were stretched on the ground awaiting their turn, many more were arriving continually, either limping along or borne on stretchers, while those upon whom operations had already been performed calmly fanned the flies from their wounds. But among these last, alas ! some moved not — for them the surgeons’ skill had not availed. The battle roared in front — a sound calculated to arouse the sublimest emotions in the breast of the soldier, but the prayers, the curses, the screams, the blood, the flies, the sickening stench of this horrible little valley were too much for the stomachs of the men, and all along the column, leaning over the pommels of their saddles, they could be seen in ecstasies of protest.

Upon reaching the edge of the wood a view of the battle burst upon us, and Stuart halted to take a look. Smoke in dense white clouds lit up by lurid flashes from the cannon wrapped the position of the artillery; while lines of thin, blue, misty vapor floated over infantry, pouring out their deadly hail. At one moment all beneath would be invisible — at another the curtain, lifted by a passing breeze, revealed the thousands of busy reapers in the harvest of death. Colonel Stuart and myself were riding at the head of the column as the grand panorama opened before us, and there right in front, about seventy yards distant, and in strong relief against the smoke beyond, stretched a brilliant line of scarlet — a regiment of New York Zouaves in column of fours, marching out of the Sudley road to attack the flank of our line of battle. Dressed in scarlet caps and trousers, blue jackets with quantities of gilt buttons, and white gaiters, with a fringe of bayonets swaying above them as they moved, their appearance was indeed magnificent. The Sudley road was here in a deep depression and the rear of the column was still hid from view — there were about five hundred men in sight — they were all looking toward the battlefield and did not see us. Waving his sabre, Stuart ordered a charge, but instantly pulled up and called a halt and turning to me said, “Blackford, are those our men or the enemy?” I said I could not tell, but I had heard that Beauregard had a regiment of Zouaves from New Orleans, dressed, I had been told, like these men. Just then, however, all doubt was removed by the appearance of their colors, emerging from the road — the Stars and Stripes. I shall never forget the feelings with which I regarded this emblem of our country so long beloved, and now seen for the first time in the hands of a mortal foe. But there was no time for sentiment then. The instant the flag appeared, Stuart ordered the charge, and at them we went like an arrow from a bow.

As we were in column of fours it was necessary to deploy, and our gallant Colonel waved his sabre for the rear to oblique to the left, “on right into line,” so as to strike the enemy in “echelon” and this they did. While a Lieutenant in my company, I had carried a Sharp’s carbine slung to my shoulder and this I still wore; I also had my sabre and a large sized five-shooter. In the occupation of the moment I had not thought which of my weapons to draw until I had started, and as it does not take long for a horse at full speed to pass over seventy yards, I had little time to make the selection. I found in fact that it would be impossible to get either my sabre or pistol in time, and as the carbine hung conveniently under my right hand I seized and cocked that, holding it in my right hand with my thumb on the hammer and finger on the trigger. I thought I would fire it and then use it for a crushing blow, in which it would be almost as effective against a man standing on the ground as a sabre.

Half the distance was passed before they saw the avalanche coming upon them, but then they came to a “front face” — a long line of bright muskets was leveled — a sheet of red flame gleamed, and we could see no more. Capt. Welby Carter’s horse sprang forward and rolled over dead, almost in front of Comet, so that a less active animal would have been thrown down, but Comet recovered himself and cleared the struggling horse and his rider. The smoke which wrapped them from our sight also hid us from them, and thinking perhaps that we had been swept away by the volley, they, instead of coming to a “charge bayonet,” lowered their pieces to load, and in this position we struck them. The tremendous impetus of horses at full speed broke through and scattered their line like chaff before the wind. As the scarlet line appeared through the smoke, when within a couple of horse’s lengths of them, I leaned down, with my carbine cocked, thumb on hammer and forefinger on trigger, and fixed my eye on a tall fellow I saw would be the one my course would place in the right position for the carbine, while the man next to him, in front of the horse, I would have to leave to Comet. I then plunged the spurs into Comet’s flanks and he evidently thought I wanted him to jump over this strange looking wall I was riding him at, for he rose to make the leap ; but he was too close and going too fast to rise higher than the breast of the man, and he struck him full on the chest, rolling him over and over under his hoofs and knocking him about ten feet backwards, depriving him of all further interest in the subsequent proceedings, and knocking the rear rank man to one side. As Comet rose to make the leap, I leaned down from the saddle, rammed the muzzle of the car- bine into the stomach of my man and pulled the trigger. I could not help feeling a little sorry for the fellow as he lifted his handsome face to mine while he tried to get his bayonet up to meet me; but he was too slow, for the carbine blew a hole as big as my arm clear through him.

Just beyond their line was a fence, and Comet, exasperated to frenzy by the unusual application of the spur, was almost beyond my control, and entirely beyond the control of one hand; so I had to drop the carbine in its sling, and use both bands to swing him away from the fence which he seemed bent on clearing: the field beyond was filled with their troops and if he had gone over, there would have been small chance for return. With both hands I managed to turn the horse enough to bring him up to the fence so obliquely that even he did not like to attempt it, and he came round.

We now charged back, taking their line in the rear at another place, but they had begun to break and scatter clear down to the Sudley road before we reached them; all order was gone and it became a general melee or rather a chase. I might have put in some effective work with my revolver but it got hung in the case at my belt, and as I wanted to try the effect of a downward blow with the barrel of the carbine when swung high in air, I caught it up again; but the fellows dodged or parried every blow I got close enough to attempt, and I accomplished no more than chasing some of them back into the road where the rear of the regiment stood, and where I had no disposition to follow. This regiment — they say it was the Fire Zouaves — was completely paralyzed by this charge, and though their actual loss in killed and wounded was not very great, their demoralization was complete. The arrest of their dangerous move upon the exposed flank of our main line of battle was a result of the utmost importance and, I shall always think, saved the day. We had only two companies, commanded by Capt. Welby Carter and Capt. J. B. Hogue, actually engaged. Our loss was nine men and eighteen horses killed — the number of wounded is not recorded. It seemed strange that the fire from five hundred muskets, at thirty yards, should not have been more effective, but they had to shoot in a hurry and they were no doubt a little nervous at seeing the dreadful “Black Horse,” as they then called all the Southern cavalry, coming down on them in that style, and I don’t wonder at it. The mistake they made was in lowering their pieces to load; if they had come to a “charge bayonets,” even with only two ranks, they would have given us trouble. But going at the speed we were, we could not have stopped after we got through their smoke, and would certainly have broken through, though with greater loss. The bayonets would have stuck so deep into the first horses that they could not have been recovered in time to meet the others, and the death struggle of the first horses falling into their line would, of itself, have broken it a good deal.

My duty as Adjutant of the regiment was now to re-form it, back of the woods from which we had charged. In the charges all formation was of course lost and in the return each man got back as he saw fit. The men had behaved well in attack but when the time came for withdrawal some of them did not want to stop at all, short of Manassas. I rallied about half of them back of the wood, and then found that the other half were going on down the road ; so I dashed off after them, calling on all I overtook to return. When I stopped in front of them, they halted, but when I went on after more, they followed. As soon as I found out this I pushed on as fast as I could until I got ahead of all of them, and then halted them as they came up, until there was a squad of a dozen or so, and these I marched back, sweeping up all we met. When I got back, Colonel Stuart laughed in his jovial way and said as I met him, “Bully for you, Blackford.”

He had been a little scandalized at what had happened, but he was so brave a man himself that he never seemed to attribute unworthy motives to his men, and this was one of the secrets of his great influence over them in action. They were ashamed to be anything but brave where he was. I had the names of one or two officers who had refused to return, but he would not let me prefer charges against them, saying they would be all right next time, and with one exception sure enough they were. Colonel Stuart came up to me a little after this and told me he would make my appointment as Adjutant, dated that day — a compliment I felt quite proud of.

It was now all-important that the efforts the enemy were making to extend their lines so as to outflank us should be frustrated until the reinforcements, which were coming from down Bull Run, could arrive. Stuart had secured a couple of guns under Lieut. R. F. Beckham, from a battery attached to the infantry, for at that time we had no horse artillery with the cavalry, and as soon as the men were formed, he moved forward to a hill across the Sudley road, from which a full view of the field could be had, at a distance of about five hundred yards from their right, and somewhat in their rear. Here he masked the guns behind a clump of pines, the foliage of which so entangled the smoke that they did not find out where we were for a long time; and behind these trees the cavalry support was also hid.

Beckham soon got the range, and then worked his pieces as fast as they could load them, with terrific effect upon the dense masses so near. Their lines were enfiladed by this fire; the fuses were cut long and the shell went skipping along through as round shot as far as we could see, and then did what execution they could in bursting. It was a grand and exciting spectacle. In their passage the shot opened a gap from end to end which remained open for an appreciable instant like the splash produced by striking the surface of water with a stick. This appearance was caused not only by the fall of the men struck by the shot, but from the involuntary dodging of those close to its path in opposite directions on each side. Their batteries were so closely engaged that they took no notice of us whatever, indeed from the way our guns were masked by the pines it is quite probable they never discovered our position at all. The effect of our fire was none the less destructive and materially delayed the extension of their flank at a time when delay was of vital importance. But for our charge and the fire of these guns, there can be no question that the flank of Jackson’s “stone wall” would have been turned before Early arrived with his brigade, in which case the day would have been lost.

now found myself almost perishing from thirst from the intense heat and the violence of my exertions during the charge. It seemed that water I must have or die, and Comet was suffering as much as his master. -In rear of the enemy there was a small branch and to this I determined to venture. Its banks were lined with the enemy’s wounded who had crawled there to drink, and many had died with their heads in the water,’ the dark blood flowing into and gradually mingling with the stream. I looked for a clear place in vain, and at last, driven to desperation, had to lie down and watch for the blood stains to pass, then drink until others came, lift my head for them to pass, and drink again. It was a long time before I could get Comet to touch it, but at last, succeeded, and after much snorting, pawing and tossing of head he drank his fill, by following pretty much my plan when the stained water floated by. Then drawing a long breath he turned and looked me full in the face, as much as to say, “Who would have thought, master, that we would ever have had to drink such water as that?” It was. indeed, literally drinking the blood of our enemies, for the clearest of it was suspiciously tinted and flavored. It was now about four o’clock and the battle raged with unabated fury. The lines of blue were unbroken and their fire as vigorous as ever while they surged against the solid walls of gray, standing immovable in their front. It was on that ridge earlier in the day Jackson won the name of Stonewall.

But now the most extraordinary spectacle I have ever witnessed took place. I had been gazing at the numerous well formed lines as they moved forward to the attack, some fifteen or twenty thousand strong in full view, and for some reason had turned my head in another direction for a moment, when some one exclaimed, pointing to the battlefield, “Look! Look!” I looked, and what a change had taken place in an instant. Where those “well dressed,” well-defined lines, with clear spaces between, had been steadily pressing forward, the whole field was a confused swarm of men, like bees, running away as fast as their legs could carry them, with all order and organization abandoned. In a moment more the whole valley was filled with them as far as the eye could reach. They plunged through Bull Run wherever they came to it regardless of fords or bridges, and there many were drowned. Muskets, cartridge boxes, belts, knapsacks, haversacks and blankets were thrown away in their mad race, that nothing might impede their flight. In the reckless haste the artillery drove over every one who did not get out of their way. Ambulance and wagon drivers cut the traces and dashed off on the mules. In crossing Cub Run a shell exploded in a team and blocked the way and twenty-eight pieces of artillery fell into our hands.

By stepping or jumping from one thing to another of what had been thrown away in the stampede, I could have gone long distances without ever letting my foot touch the ground, and this over a belt forty or fifty yards wide on each side of the road. Numbers of gay members of Congress had come out from Washington to witness the battle from the adjacent hills, provided with baskets of champagne and lunches. So there was a regular chariot race when the rout began, with the chariots well in the lead, as was most graphically described by the prisoners I captured and by citizens afterwards. We found, occasionally, along the road, parasols and dainty shawls lost in their flight by the frail, fair ones who had seats in most of the carriages of this excursion. Some of their troops, north of Bull Run, did not participate in the panic, and some did not throw away their arms, but the greater part must have done so, from the quantities we found.

Stuart was uncertain whether this was a general or a partial rout, at the moment, and told me to go as fast as I could to either General Johnston or General Beauregard, report what had happened and ask if he must pursue. He, like every one else at that period of the war, did not feel the confidence in himself that we did a little later. I gave Comet the rein and struck a bee line to where he said I would probably find the Generals, taking fences, ditches, and worse than all some fearful gullies as they came.

I found General Beauregard, who of course knew what had happened before I got there, for by that time all musketry firing had ceased, though the batteries were still pounding away at long range at the disappearing fugitives. The General was sitting on his horse, his handsome face beaming with pleasure as staff officers came dashing up from every direction with reports and asking for orders. It was the first time I had seen General Beauregard and I looked at him with much interest. He was then looked upon as the “coming man” but his fame never rose higher than it stood after that battle. He was rather a small man and had a good deal of the manner and appearance of a Frenchman. His friends say that Jeff Davis became jealous of him after this battle and never gave him a chance afterwards, which is quite probable : he certainly behaved with great gallantry that day. He returned my salute very politely and told me to tell Colonel Stuart to pursue at once with all speed. I retraced my steps as fast as I had come and though it was not over half a mile, Stuart was gone before I got in sight of our hill. Knowing well enough which direction he would take, I dashed after him and overtook the command before it reached Bull Run and regained my place at its head before it had risen the hill on the other side, though they were moving at a rapid trot. As soon as we appeared on the crest of the hill one of our batteries, mistaking us for the enemy, opened on us. I felt rather queer. It was bad enough to be killed by the enemy, but that could not be helped ; but to be bowled over by our own people, and hit in the back at that, was disgusting. There was no way in the world of stopping them in time; so Stuart, with great presence of mind, gave the order “gallop — march ’ and away we scurried. Our fellows at the battery, seeing this, redoubled the rapidity of their fire and were getting our range closer and closer, and but for the fact that we had not far to go, would in a moment more have torn us pretty badly. One shot passed between Colonel Stuart’s head and mine as we rode together at the head of the column, and burst just beyond.

After crossing the crest of the hill we were safe and resumed the trot. Just then an amusing incident occurred to me. We saw a man run across the road in front of us and take down a little bridle path for dear life. Stuart told me to catch him and find out what made him run so. I went after him; and finding he would not stop by calling and not caring to race Comet who was still panting heavily, I sent a pistol ball over his head which had the desired effect instantly. As I rode up to him, I found a little man in a semi-military blue dress, scared almost to death. His teeth chattered so that it was a long time, impatient to get off as I was, before he could tell me he was chaplain of some Yankee regiment. I had never taken a prisoner before and I felt him rather an elephant on my hands, small as he was. So I asked him if he was armed. He hurriedly produced a broken-handled pocket knife which I pitched into the bushes, and I then pointed to the road we had come and told him to double quick down it and give himself up to the first of our men he came across, that I would stand there and watch, and if he stopped or looked back I would shoot him dead. When he had gone a little way I turned, and keeping on the grass so he could not hear me, galloped on after the command.

Stuart had taken a road parallel to the line of retreat and about half a mile therefrom, and was pushing along to overtake and strike them in flank. We had gone four or five miles when there appeared, on a hill near the road they were on, some horsemen waving a white flag. Stuart told me to take a dozen men and go over and see what they wanted, and then he rode on. By the time we had nearly reached the flag, we struck a broad stream of stragglers, extending forty or fifty yards on each side of the road. The main body had just passed and the stream I now struck was the wake. We struck it crossing a meadow and my men went wild. They were like a pack of hounds when they see a fox, and I turned them loose. There were at least a hundred foxes in sight and a most exciting chase began. They were running to get over a very large staked and ridered worm fence on the boundary of the meadow, and over it many escaped. All of these men were fully armed infantry, the disorganized fugitives having all passed by. After the chase began I stopped to watch the scene, but just then saw three Zouaves start to run across the meadow, my men being so much engaged they did not observe them; so I drew my pistol and gave chase, overtaking them as they reached the fence. One, a little in advance, had gotten over, but the other two faced about with their backs to the fence and cocked their muskets. I began to feel a little sheepish, hut saw instantly that they were uncertain what to do, and that the only chance was to be prompt and peremptory and at the same time let them see I was cool and would not hurt them if they surrendered. I reined up within ten feet of them and fixing my eye on one of them said, in a quiet but commanding tone, “Throw down your musket, sir.” He dropped it like a hot potato. When I turned to the other, he did likewise, to my great relief. In the meantime the fellow over the fence was running as fast as he could, but halted and returned when I threatened to shoot him if he did not. I then found that each one of them, after the fashion of the volunteer foot-soldier of the period, was encumbered with a multiplicity of blood-thirsty weapons, a musket and bayonet, a Colt’s five-shooting revolver, and a bowie knife a foot long. I took the pistols, threw the knives away, and stuck the bayonets, with muskets attached, in the ground so our ordnance people could see them, and so they would be saved from rust in the meantime. I wore one of these pistols as a trophy throughout the war and have it still, and gave my own of the same kind to a man in my company.

These men belonged to the same regiment we charged that day. Their uniforms were very handsome and showy. During the evening I had a good deal of chat with them and they were very intelligent men. My men now began returning with their captures, in a great hurry to turn them over to me and be off after more. I kept a couple of them as a guard; the rest dashed off, and I proceeded on my mission and found they were some surgeons who wanted a guard for a hospital they had established for their wounded at a house near by. I told them we had at the time no men to spare for a guard, but just then a Lieutenant of our regiment rode up who had been sent with a detail to pick up prisoners; he begged me to relieve him of some twenty five or thirty he had captured, and as I was already encumbered with about the same number I consented. What it was my duty to do in this unexpected situation was a matter of serious consideration. My orders to investigate the flag and return had been given with no expectation of such an event as had occurred. We were five miles from the battlefield; it would never do to turn the prisoners loose, and it would be out of the question to attempt to take them on after the command with the great uncertainty about finding it before dark.

I thought our army would certainly follow up the victory and that I had better take the prisoners back until I met the infantry and turn them over to them. Acting on this, I started back by the road their army had just passed over, but soon found to my dismay that only the guard of two men were with us: the rest were still in pursuit of more captives. I waited awhile, hoping some, at least, would return, but the evening was far advanced, it was nearly sundown, and I could wait no longer. The road was strewn with all sorts of arms and ammunition, and nothing would have been easier than for our captives, after they had time to find out how matters stood, to pick up some of the muskets and take us as prisoners on to Washington — and a most humiliating and disgusting ending this would have been to the day’s adventures. To guard against this danger, I separated the men from the officers, of which latter there were about half a dozen, and then concluded it would be wise to double quick out of them any spirit they might have left. After half a mile of this treatment, through dust ankle deep, with the thermometer in the eighties, they were as gentle as lambs. I took my place at the rear of the column so as to see all in front, keeping my pistol in hand ready for immediate use. One man was placed at the head of the column with orders to capture all single stragglers and to report to me any large number we might come in sight of, the other man was kept with me in the rear.

^Presently the man in front halted and beckoned to me. On approaching a bend in the road, he had gone forward to look ahead, and he said that the yard of a house we were approaching was full of Yankee soldiers. I rode forward with him to look around the bend of the road and there, sure enough, were some twenty-five or thirty men reclining under the trees, all armed and evidently an organized body, as several officers were resting, detached from the rest, near the gate. The yard was surrounded by a whitewashed paling fence and was several feet higher than the road, so that those in the yard would have to look through the fence to see those below, passing along the road.

The prisoners were so covered with dust that it was difficult to tell the color of their uniforms, and their number, now increased to about sixty, made quite an imposing array, so I determined to charge down the road with the prisoners at double quick, and capture the occupants of the yard if possible, before they had time to discover the ruse. I told my front man to halt the head of the column just before he got opposite the yard gate, so that if we succeeded, the new prisoners could march out without passing their comrades and discovering who they were. I then rode back and gave the order to double quick, and after getting them well closed up, took my rear man with me to the front, telling him to keep close to my side all the time, and telling the other man to watch the prisoners in the road as soon as we halted, and to shoot down instantly any one who did not keep in ranks or showed signs to those in the yard. The column came up to the yard in fine style, at double quick, wrapped in a cloud of dust, while the canteens of the prisoners produced quite a martial sound as an accompaniment to the tramp of their marching.

Just as they discovered us and sprang to their feet with their muskets cocked, I dashed up to the fence and presented my pistol to the nearest officer with a peremptory order to throw down his arms, which he did ; the other officers and the men in turn did likewise except two at the far side of the yard, who jumped the fence and made their escape, l then ordered the privates to march out in the road at the head of the column, which was immediately moved forward, the officers falling in at the rear with the other officers as they passed. It then occurred to me that to prevent conversation and unsafe revelations, some more double quicking would be desirable ; so as much was administered as they could stand. We found an ordnance wagon and four superb mules, abandoned by the driver on our approach, and these I brought along for our headquarters team, and found it very useful in transporting such of the men as gave out from the heat and the pace at which they marched.

After this capture a few more stragglers were taken, the last remnant of the flying army, and then the road became lonely in the extreme. There were all the evidences of the flight of large bodies of men and not a soul in sight: the road and a space of considerable width on each side trodden into liquid dust several inches deep, the trees, bushes, and fences covered with it, and in every direction abandoned articles, from a broken wagon to a canteen.

The sun was setting and we were still four miles from the battlefield and ten from Manassas, where I now saw we would have to go. Before it got dark I made a list of the prisoners’ names and the commands they belonged to, and found there were eighty-seven in all, and nine among them captains and lieutenants. As I was still absolutely in their power, had they only known it, I adopted a ruse to make them think they were near our troops. After a private understanding with my front man, I called to him in a loud voice from the rear, so they could all hear me, to ride over to General Beauregard’s headquarters and ask him what I must do with the prisoners. He galloped off through the woods and in a few moments came back and called to me that General Beauregard said I must taken them on to Manassas and turn them over to the provost marshal there. After this I became satisfied there was no further danger of their attempting to escape, or of taking us prisoners, which they could easily have done, and I relaxed the discipline, letting them stop occasionally to rest.

I also entered freely into conversation with them. The Captain commanding the company in the yard, introducing the subject himself, was loud in his admiration of the way he was taken. “Well, Lieutenant,” he said, “you did play the damnedest trick on us I ever heard tell of. Captured us with our own men I” and then they all laughed from one end of the line to the other. The officers being at the rear I talked a good deal with them about the battle and the effect it would have, and there were various opinions expressed. Most of them thought the war was over and the Confederacy established. They told me of the carriage-loads of people who had come out from Washington to see the fight, and laughed a great deal at the way they went back. Both men and officers were all intelligent, members of city volunteer companies mostly. There were four or five Zouaves, and they expressed great admiration for our cavalry and their charge that day on their regiment, and were pleased to find that I had been in it; they said that they “had no cavalry that was worth a damn.”

It was after dark when we reached the Bull Run, and as the prisoners were terribly used up and footsore, I halted for nearly an hour to let them drink, cool off, bathe their feet, and rest, for which they were very grateful. While there, many of them brought me delicacies they had in their haversacks, which were very acceptable, for though I had plenty of ordinary rations, I had nothing so nice as what they had. Eight or ten of the prisoners were so badly used up that they had to ride in the wagon, but the rest were now. able to move on. Our march now led right through the battlefield, and they begged me to let them stop and minister to the wants of their wounded comrades. Fontaine Beaty of my company joined us here and informed me that our troops had been withdrawn back to their camps, around Manassas, and we were still six miles outside of our lines. But I believed I could trust these prisoners in their fatigued and demoralized condition, so with their promise not to try to escape, and to return in half an hour promptly, I halted for half an hour. I told them they were now in the midst of our army and that if they were caught wandering away they would run great risk of getting shot. Nearly all then dispersed over the field to find their friends, fill their canteens, fix their blankets and receive last messages from those who were mortally wounded.

It was a dismal place, there in the night, listening to the mournful sounds which reached the ear from every direction — groans, sighs, prayers and curses, particularly the latter, with an occasional scream of pain from some poor fellow. Most of them were the wounded of the enemy for ours had been removed. Occasionally a skulking figure could be seen passing noiselessly about the field, the vampires who infest all such places, men in search of plunder, to whom friend and foe are alike, and to whom murder, in the accomplishment of their purpose, is a ready resort.

As we waited here, a party of half a dozen soldiers, bearing a wounded Colonel in a blanket, came by — the first of our troops I had seen, except Beaty of my company who had joined us at Bull Run. I explained my situation to the Colonel and proposed that he should get in the wagon and let his men help me guard the prisoners to Manassas, a proposition he agreed to most thankfully, and I was relieved of all remaining anxiety about their escape. All my men reported promptly on time and very grateful for the opportunity afforded them for seeing their friends.

It was midnight when we reached Manassas and yet the place was more crowded and in greater commotion than when we saw it the day before. The railroad trains were coming in with supplies and being hastily unloaded and sent back with the wounded. Trains of commissary wagons were awaiting or starting out with food for the troops. Ambulances, horsemen, footmen, herds of cattle, trains of captured artillery, long lines of prisoners, and all making a noise — locomotives screaming, drivers cursing, cattle bellowing, and mules braying. Every tent and board shanty was still lighted and the occupants busy attending to business or discussing the events of the day. I reported at headquarters and was ordered to turn the prisoners over to the provost marshal. There I found a space of an acre or so surrounded by a close line of sentinels, and inside were the prisoners. I marched my lot into the ring. They all came forward to tell me good-bye, and many thanked me for my treatment of them and begged me, whenever I came North, to let them know. The list of their names and addresses, much to my regret, was lost by the fire which consumed my office In Lynchburg, when I was Chief Engineer of the Lynchburg and Danville R. R. in 1867. I then went to the tent of the surgeon of our regiment, Dr. Ed. Campbell from Abingdon. He received me most hospitably, and I was furnished with what I needed most of all — food for my noble horse. Comet, who had not eaten a mouthful, except the crackers I got from captured haversacks, since daylight. After seeing him well cared for, I went into the Doctor’s tent, where I found Capt. Welby Carter, a good deal bruised by the fall he got when his horse was killed in the charge, but not seriously hurt. They all listened with much interest to my account of all that had happened to me, and it was long after midnight when sleep, for a few hours,

1 Many years have passed since then. Many who were with me that night no doubt are dead; but if these pages should meet the eyes of survivors I hope they will let me hear from them. — Wm. W. B. came to restore strength after the exhaustion of this, the longest and most eventful day I had then ever experienced.

The noise of the camp, which never ceased during the night, was mingled, as I awoke the next morning, with the patter of rain on the tent, rendering the place if possible more wretchedly uncomfortable than before. After a hasty breakfast with Dr. Campbell, I started out to look for Colonel Stuart, knowing that he would be “at the front” under all circumstances, but nothing could I hear as to exact position. My road lay again through the battlefield, and I availed myself of the opportunity to examine it. A battlefield immediately after a battle is always an interesting and instructive study for a soldier. There is to be seen, by the results, the relative strength of positions, and the effect of fire; and nothing cultivates the judgment of topography, in relation to the strategic strength of position, so well as to ride over the ground while the dead and wounded still remain as they fell. You see exactly where the best effects were produced, and what arm of the service produced them, for there lies the harvest they have reaped, each sheaf distinctly labeled with the name of the reaper in the wound received. Artillery tears its sheaves out by the roots and scatters the fragments, while infantry mows them down in well heaped windrows. I made it a point throughout the war, whenever practicable, to ride over the battlefields immediately after the firing ceased, and acquired much valuable information in this way.

On this occasion I saw the field about nine o’clock and all of our wounded had been removed ; so I could not study the subject on both sides. But the dead of both sides and the wounded of the enemy were still there, which gave me a pretty fair idea of the action; and to me, then unused to such incidents of war, it was a dismal sight. While I rode among the wounded of the enemy, some begged so piteously for water that I collected their canteens and filled them for them. Several, who were expecting death, asked me to write for them to their friends, but this I had not the time to do, nor can I say that I felt much inclination. I recognized the claims of humanity and was willing to minister to the sufferings of a wounded soldier, but writing to friends they had left to come as invaders of our soil was going a little too far. I drew the line at letters.

I had always felt a horror at taking anything from the dead, not that I thought it was wrong, but I disliked touching them. That morning, however, as I rode through a little grove of pines there lay, with his head covered by an oilcloth, the body of a handsomely dressed Federal officer, and buckled to his neat boots were an elegant pair of gilt spurs. Oh, how I did want those spurs! Then I could get them without touching the body, for there was only one buckle to undo at the instep. Mine were good, strong cavalry spurs, but how coarse they looked after seeing these. I looked all around — no one in sight — it must be done — I could not leave such spurs as those to fall into the hands of the infantry burial party who would be along to bury him. So down I sprang from my horse and began taking them off. “What are you doing there?” said the officer in a weak voice, pulling the oilcloth from his face. I felt the hot blood rush to my cheeks and turning my face quickly aside, so he could not recognize me again, jumped on my horse and galloped away. I ought to have offered to do something for him but I felt so ashamed at having been caught, I could not.

Two of my brothers, Charles and Eugene, were with the army; Charles, a Captain of cavalry in the 2nd Virginia Regiment, and Eugene, a Captain of infantry in the 5th Alabama Regiment. I had not heard from either. Informed that some wounded from an Alabama regiment were at a field hospital near by, I rode over to it. It was a large, old-fashioned, brick house with a porch in front and back, the floor of the porches being about as high as my horse. I rode into the yard of what had once been a handsome residence, but abandoned by its owners and pillaged by the troops, its appearance was forlorn. It was still raining, and not wishing to get my saddle wet by dismounting, rode up to the front door and called. There were many wounded in the house and everybody was busy and I could get no answer, so I rode round to the back door. As I rode up to the porch, Comet snorted and sprang back at seeing what looked like a nice, fat leg of mutton on the floor of the porch behind a pillar of the same. I am fond of good mutton, and not having had fresh meat for some time, my mouth watered for a steak. I concluded to get it and then ride out in the woods and broil it, for it looked uncommonly white and nice. I thought the surgeons were very careless* to let their hospital supplies lie about in that manner, but if they placed such a temptation in the way they could not blame a hungry soldier for helping himself. I opened my knife, and with much patting and coaxing got Comet close enough and leaned over to cut my steak; but what was my horror to discover on the other end of my joint, previously concealed by the post, a. sock! a dirty cotton sock, with holes in the heel and toe. It was a man’s leg cut off half way above the knee. I was bitterly disappointed as well as shocked, but could not help laughing.

I could find out nothing about Eugene and had to push on. It was almost night before I found Colonel Stuart. He was much interested and pleased at my report of operations, particularly with the ruse of charging with the prisoners; when I got to that, he rolled over and shouted with laughter, for he was stretched out on his blanket under a porch of a country house where he had his headquarters at the time. He said I did the right thing in going back with the prisoners. I showed him the list and he counted them and laughed again. After I left the command, nothing of importance had occurred; they had taken some prisoners, but not near so many as I had.

We now daily expected a general advance upon Washington. An advance was made as far as Fairfax C. H. by the infantry, and Stuart occupied Falls Church and Munson’s hill with a strong outpost of a mixed command, but nothing more was attempted. Our victory had been complete, but among our over-sanguine politicians from the far South, it seemed only a pretext for a relaxation of preparations for war. Encouraged by our overconfidence as well as stung by the reverse, the North redoubled its preparations. The cry among the controlling element from the Cotton states was, “Cotton is King. England can’t afford to do without cotton. She will make war on our side to get it,” and all sorts of foolish ideas of this kind.

At that time the Government could have bought any quantity of cotton for Confederate money or bonds; this cotton could then have been sent to England to furnish the means for supplying all our wants. Instead of that, the “King Cotton” men said cotton must remain on the plantations to starve England into coming to our assistance. That men who claimed to be leaders, and who had gone so far in getting the country into the trouble, should make such a mistake is unpardonable: they will go down to history as shallow politicians with scarcely a statesman among them. There was over one hundred million dollars worth of cotton in the South in the fall of 1861, one half of which in England would have given us success, for cotton soon rose to four or five times the usual price.

I am glad now we did not succeed in establishing the Confederacy, but I shall always think it was the absence of wisdom on the part of our rulers which prevented it. In my judgment a great mistake was made in not advancing upon and taking Washington, as we could have done, after the battle of Manassas. Our wooden-headed rulers, however, thought a strictly defensive policy was the true one and the fruits of our victory were never gathered. From Munson’s hill we could see Washington, and Stuart slept for weeks on that hill, expecting every day the order would come for the advance, but it never came.

While we were at Fairfax C. H. before going down to Munson’s, we, that is Colonel Stuart and myself, took our meals at a house in town where General Longstreet boarded. He impressed me then as a man of limited capacity who acquired reputation for wisdom by never saying anything — the old story of the owl. I do not remember ever hearing him say half a dozen words, beyond ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ in a consecutive sentence, though often in company with his old companions of the old army. About this time I saw General Fitz. Lee for the first time, on visits he made to Colonel Stuart’s headquarters. He was then a captain on Elzey’s staff, I believe.

My wife paid me a visit not long after the battle and we both looked forward to the war soon being over, a hope, alas, not to be fulfilled for long years after. Stuart was soon promoted to a colonelcy and as Adjutant of his splendid regiment I found a great change for the better in the comfort of my life. I got as a servant Gilbert, the son of 46 Aunt Charlotte,” my wife’s ^Mammy,” and a more faithful attendant never was. He remained with me until the end of the war, and was with me in both campaigns north of the Potomac where he could, at any time he chose, have secured his freedom by leaving me. But he not only never showed any disposition to do so but on several occasions, while out foraging for our mess, ran the risk of his life in escaping from foraging parties of the enemy. X now found that one horse was not enough, and hearing one day that a Union man, just outside of our lines, had a number of horses, and among them one which was represented as a very fine animal, I got leave from the Colonel to make a cavalry detail of a dozen men to capture them.

The enemy occupied one side of the farm and the horses were out in a field near their lines. I kept my party concealed, and sent one man, without arms, with his coat off to look like a countryman, to drive them up, telling him to keep his horse at a walk to keep up appearances. He drove the horses out without attracting attention and I then sent some men on back with them at a gallop, bringing up the rear with the main body to prevent recapture. There was no pursuit, however, and I brought in five, turned four over to the quartermaster and kept the fine one I had heard so much about. She turned out to be a large draught horse, very heavy, and entirely unsuited to cavalry; so I swapped her for a dun horse in a battery which had been captured at the battle, and I named him Manassas. He was a dappled, yellow dun with white mane and tail, both of which he carried well up and presented a showy appearance, while his action was good. If I had not had Comet I should have thought him a fine horse, but alongside of Comet all horses seemed inferior. Manassas had none of Comet’s engaging ways, in short he was not a gentleman by either birth or education. Still he did very well to relieve Comet and for Gilbert to ride on marches. Colonel Stuart drilled the regiment now regularly, and the camp routine of drills in the morning and dress parade in the evening vrith picket duty on the outposts occupied our time. Stuart then organized the horse artillery which under Pelham made such a splendid record. As Adjutant, I met all the officers of our army frequently, either when they were visiting Stuart, or when I accompanied him on visits to them.

Then began the impression, which has ripened into conviction since, 'that the average West Point officer who had reached the age of forty in the discharge of the duties of the army officer,, in time of peace, is worthless in war. Of course there are brilliant exceptions in both the Northern and Southern armies, but they are exceptions. They are brought up to think that after graduating at West Point there is nothing left for them, in this world, to learn; and twenty years garrison life in the West, in contact with inferiors, and with nothing to stimulate to exertion, leaves them selfish, narrow-minded, and bigoted. To look at the numbers in our army, and then to count those who were even moderately successful as soldiers, one is astonished at the smallness of the proportion; and still more is this astonishment increased when we count how many were absolutely disastrous failures. The same number of graduates from our best colleges, who had never opened a military book at equal ages with the West Pointers, and taken from the successful businessmen of the country and placed in the same positions at the beginning of the war would, in my opinion, have done better on the average. The young men from West Point, who had to win their way and had not been fossilized by garrison or bureau life, as a rule did splendidly, those of thirty and under, say. The “old soldiers are so intensely jealous of each other; they look at everything through green glasses! The country or their cause is nothing to them when opposed to their feelings, and it is so deeply seated that they really are not aware of its existence, I verily believe, in many cases. Then, when high in rank, some of them are so afraid of losing their reputation that they won take the risks necessary in war, and avoid a battle they are not certain of winning, when the chances are still in their favor. We had some brilliant exceptions to this of course, but they were still exceptions. As long as we have Indians, we will have to keep an army, and after that a few to take care of the ordnance, but then, I should say, keep West Point up to its full capacity and return the graduates to civil life, or perhaps give them a year or two of employment in going round to see the forts. They would make far better soldiers when called upon in war.

But changes took place in the autumn which again made a great change in my life and put an end for a time to the gay life I led as Stuart's Adjutant, and though my promotion was the cause I felt some regrets. Stuart was made a Brigadier General, Wm. E. Jones, the Captain of my company, was appointed Colonel, and I became Captain of the company. It was a fine company, and I felt great pride in it. My commission dated Oct. 3, 1861. Fitz Lee was appointed Lieutenant Colonel and at once became very popular in the regiment, but Jones was not at all so. Colonel Lee was a fine drill officer and drilled us all the time, and I learned more about it than I had ever done before. We were then picketing at Fairfax C. H., with camp four or five miles back. The Natchez troop from Mississippi, Captain Martin, joined the regiment about that time, and a fine company it was, I remember, though we were all amazed at their bringing two wagonloads of trunks, and this after having left the most of their baggage behind in Richmond. They were the best mounted company I ever saw, even better than mine. General Stuart’s headquarters were not far off, and I often visited there. Stuart had now organized the band of stringed instruments and singers which afterwards became so well known and so associated with him. Sweeny, a brother of the celebrated Joe Sweeny, the banjo player who had brought the banjo into European notice by his skill upon it, was one of the band; he played the banjo and sang. Bob, the General’s mulatto servant, worked the bones, and then there was a violin player and a guitar player and quite a number of singers among the staff and couriers.

The cavalry command was extended over a long front, sometimes as much as thirty or forty miles in each direction, and to convey dispatches and orders it was necessary to keep at headquarters a considerable number of men detailed from the regiments of cavalry. In making these details, Stuart would have an eye not only to the reliability of the man and horse, but sometimes to the man’s accomplishments in the line of enlivening a march, or beguiling the time around a campfire. Whenever he would hear of a man who had any amusing specialty and was willing to come, he would have him detailed as courier at headquarters. For such duty, of course, the wishes of the man were consulted. In this way he collected around him a number of experts, not only in music, but in theatricals and tricks of various kinds, and they added much to the pleasure of camp life. Sweeny and his banjo and his negro melodies were the favorites ; and Sweeny always carried his instrument slung at his back on marches, and often in long night marches the life of the men was restored by its tinkle.

I have mentioned before that Jones disliked General Stuart and an opportunity was soon found, now that he was a Colonel, for showing it. Colonel Jones was not popular with his regiment, and the contrast between our ugly, surly Colonel and our handsome, dashing Lieutenant Colonel Lee made him appear in a still more unfavorable light. It was expected that our wooden headed demagogues in Congress would have a reorganization of the army by having an election of company and regimental officers. Just at that time, not six months after most of the raw recruits had entered the army, some of the officers who had exerted themselves most to establish discipline had become unpopular with their men, for there had not been time enough for the advantage of good discipline to become understood by them. Jones knew that he would stand no chance of election, so he canvassed the men of my company with a view of having it as a nucleus to fall back upon. His assigned plan was to take my company out to southwest Virginia, raise a new regiment and officer it from the men of the company, and this, of course, was hailed with delight by them. I was opposed to leaving Stuart and the grand army for the wretched sort of service in out-of-the-way places, to fight obscure, nameless, little battles. I always felt that if I was to be killed I wanted to fall in a great battle and to have my name connected with the history of the war.

To accomplish his purpose, Jones found it would be necessary for him to break down my influence in the company, for at that time I was very popular with the men, and he soon found an opportunity not only of doing this, but of wounding General Stuart by making me a sufferer from one of his general orders, as he knew that Stuart was very fond of me.

As cold weather approached, General Stuart issued a general order prohibiting fires on the picket line. A case had occurred of a sentinel being shot while standing in the light of a fire, and hence the order. It referred, of course, to the vidette posts and not to the post of the reserve, some hundreds of yards in the rear, out of sight and range of the enemy. Our camp was six miles south of Fairfax C. H. and the regiment picketed at the courthouse, and for two miles on each side. The enemy was at Falls Church, five or six miles north of the courthouse, the space between being neutral ground. A company went down to relieve the guard every morning. Company headquarters were in the village and the outposts half a mile beyond. Each outpost consisted of from four to six men under command of a non-commissioned officer, and each of these kept a vidette, always mounted, one or two hundred yards in advance; the men on the post could dismount, but kept their reins in their hands. These posts were relieved every four hours from company headquarters in the village. At the reserve in the village a sentinel was kept on duty to listen for firing on the line of outposts. In case the enemy appeared, the vidette fired, the men on his post galloped to his rescue and began skirmishing, the sentinel at headquarters gave the alarm and the reserve then mounted their horses ready for action.

One day, a week or two after the frosty weather began in the fall, I took my company down in its turn for picket duty. Accompanied by the Captain of the company I relieved, I rode along the line of outposts, putting my men in place of his, and he rode back to camp. On the Falls Church road, where the post was at some period in the past, a pit for a cannon had been dug about four feet deep, and in this pit, to shelter them from the wind, the men of the post were stationed, and there, entirely out of sight and a couple of hundred yards back of the vidette, the men had kept up a fire ever since it got cold at night. After I had been relieved and had returned to camp, Colonel Jones went down to inspect the picket line and found the fire with the men of the other company around it, not one of mine being within six miles of the place.

This was the chance he had no doubt been waiting for, slim as it was, of hitting me and by good luck, he thought, at the same time hitting General Stuart by making me suffer by violating his order. So he passed by the officer under whose command he found the fire, and in whose command it had been burning several hours, and, making no attempt to find out who started the fire orginally, preferred charges of disobedience of orders against me and placed me in close arrest; that is, in confinement to the walls of my tent. Colonel Fitz was going out on a scout with the regiment and I was getting ready to start when Jones sent his Adjutant with the written order, putting me under close arrest for violation of General Order No. 16 (I think it was). Knowing exactly what it all meant, I felt like doing a little murder. It would have been most grateful to me to have run him through with my sabre, but under such circum stances a duel was of course impossible. The next day he sent his Adjutant to me,to say that if I would apply for extension of limit he would grant an extension to the limits of the camp. I told his Adjutant to present my compliments to Colonel Jones and to say to him “that I would see him in Hell before I would make any such application.” So, afraid to keep me in close arrest, he issued an order extending my limits.

Courts-martial at that time had to be made by detail of officers, and there was much delay in getting one convened. I was under arrest five or six weeks. Jones, in the meantime, would take the company down on picket himself, assigning as a reason that the lieutenants were inexperienced men, and he soon disorganized and demoralized it to such an extent that my influence was undermined and destroyed. After resuming command any attempt at restoring discipline was resented as a tyrannical assumption of power, and the men would go over to pay the Colonel a visit and receive his condolences. They were received and entertained in his tent, he using every means in his power to ingratiate himself with them.

General Stuart called to see me several times and showed plainly enough in his manner his sympathy, though of course the subject of my arrest was not mentioned. The court at last met and, after hearing the evidence, unanimously granted me an honorable acquittal, and then came in a body and dined with me by my invitation. John S. Mosby, who was a private soldier in my company, acted as my counsel. But Jones had accomplished all he desired and expected. I found, on resuming command, a complete change in the men; my influence was gone. On every exercise of discipline I could see them slipping over to the Colonel’s tent for consultation, and for the short time I remained with them after this, all pleasure in the service was lost.

General Stuart’s headquarters was always a pleasant place to visit and there a cordial welcome ever awaited me, and I spent a good many evenings there.

We went into winter quarters near the battlefield of Manassas and took much pains to build log cabins, thinking they would be more comfortable than tents, a mistake I never made again in the other winters of the war. The tent with a fireplace and chimney at the same end as the entrance is far more comfortable in every way. The fireplace and entrance should never be at opposite ends.

In December, Stuart took a force composed mainly of infantry to Dranesville and there had a severe skirmish with a foraging party of the enemy, but my command was not called out on that occasion.

The battlefield of Manassas lay about a mile from our camp on the road to Manassas Junction and I had often to pass that way, and sometimes at night, my path leading across the spot where we made the charge on the Zouaves. Their graves were shallow, and the rains had washed the earth away in many places, leaving the bones exposed. Just at the point, as nearly as I could judge, the most to the right of any, where I had passed through their line, lay a skeleton with head, shoulders and feet exposed, draped in stained and moldering fragments of a gaudy Zouave uniform. These were in all likelihood the remains of the man I sent into eternity. But such is war! I must confess it made me feel a little queer to see that skull grinning at me through the darkness as I rode alone through the dreary placer — and yet his bullet might have placed me in a similar position.

W. W. Blackford, War Years With JED Stuart (New York: Schribner’s Sons, 1945), 11-55.


Unknown said…
Fabulous account

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