George Eggleston.

A Rebel's Recollections

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The boyishness to which I have referred ran through every part of his character and every act of his life. His impetuosity in action, his love of military glory and of the military life, his occasional waywardness with his friends and his generous affection for them, – all these were the traits of a great boy, full, to running over, of impulsive animal life. His audacity, too, which impressed strangers as the most marked feature of his character, was closely akin to that disposition which Dickens assures us is common to all boy-kind, to feel an insane delight in anything which specially imperils their necks. But the peculiarity showed itself most strongly in his love of uproarious fun. Almost at the beginning of the war he managed to surround himself with a number of persons whose principal qualification for membership of his military household was their ability to make fun. One of these was a noted banjo-player and ex-negro minstrel. He played the banjo and sang comic songs to perfection, and therefore Stuart wanted him. I have known him to ride with his banjo, playing and singing, even on a march which might be changed at any moment into a battle; and Stuart's laughter on such occasions was sure to be heard as an accompaniment as far as the minstrel's voice could reach. He had another queer character about him, whose chief recommendation was his grotesque fierceness of appearance. This was Corporal Hagan, a very giant in frame, with an abnormal tendency to develop hair. His face was heavily bearded almost to his eyes, and his voice was as hoarse as distant thunder, which indeed it closely resembled. Stuart, seeing him in the ranks, fell in love with his peculiarities of person at once, and had him detailed for duty at head-quarters, where he made him a corporal, and gave him charge of the stables. Hagan, whose greatness was bodily only, was much elated by the attention shown him, and his person seemed to swell and his voice to grow deeper than ever under the influence of the newly acquired dignity of chevrons. All this was amusing, of course, and Stuart's delight was unbounded. The man remained with him till the time of his death, though not always as a corporal. In a mad freak of fun one day, the chief recommended his corporal for promotion, to see, he said, if the giant was capable of further swelling, and so the corporal became a lieutenant upon the staff.

With all his other boyish traits, Stuart had an almost child-like simplicity of character, and the combination of sturdy manhood with juvenile frankness and womanly tenderness of feeling made him a study to those who knew him best. His religious feeling was of that unquestioning, serene sort which rarely exists apart from the inexperience and the purity of women or children.

While I was serving in South Carolina, I met one evening the general commanding the military district, and he, upon learning that I had served with Stuart, spent the entire evening talking of his friend, for they two had been together in the old army before the war.

He told me many anecdotes of the cavalier, nearly all of which turned in some way upon the generous boyishness of his character in some one or other of its phases. He said, among other things, that at one time, in winter-quarters on the plains of the West I think, he, Stuart, and another officer (one of those still living who commanded the army of the Potomac during the war) slept together in one bed, for several months. Stuart and his brother lieutenant, the general said, had a quarrel every night about some trifling thing or other, just as boys will, but when he had made all the petulant speeches he could, Stuart would lie still a while, and then, passing his arm around the neck of his comrade, would draw his head to his own breast and say some affectionate thing which healed all soreness of feeling and effectually restored the peace. During the evening's conversation this general formulated his opinion of Stuart's military character in very striking phrase.

"He is," he said, "the greatest cavalry officer that ever lived. He has all the dash, daring, and audacity of Murat, and a great deal more sense." It was his opinion, however, that there were men in both armies who would come to be known as greater cavalry men than Stuart, for the reason that Stuart used his men strictly as cavalry, while others would make dragoons of them. He believed that the nature of our country was much better adapted to dragoon than to cavalry service, and hence, while he thought Stuart the best of cavalry officers, he doubted his ability to stand against such men as General Sheridan, whose conception of the proper place of the horse in our war was a more correct one, he thought, than Stuart's. "To the popular mind," he went on to say, "every soldier who rides a horse is a cavalry man, and so Stuart will be measured by an incorrect standard. He will be classed with General Sheridan and measured by his success or the want of it. General Sheridan is without doubt the greatest of dragoon commanders, as Stuart is the greatest of cavalry men; but in this country dragoons are worth a good deal more than cavalry, and so General Sheridan will probably win the greater reputation. He will deserve it, too, because behind it is the sound judgment which tells him what use to make of his horsemen."

It is worthy of remark that all this was said before General Sheridan had made his reputation as an officer, and I remember that at the time his name was almost new to me.

From my personal experience and observation of General Stuart, as well as from the testimony of others, I am disposed to think that he attributed to every other man qualities and tastes like his own. Insensible to fatigue himself, he seemed never to understand how a well man could want rest; and as for hardship, there was nothing, in his view, which a man ought to enjoy quite so heartily, except danger. For a period of ten days, beginning before and ending after the first battle of Bull Run, we were not allowed once to take our saddles off. Night and day we were in the immediate presence of the enemy, catching naps when there happened for the moment to be nothing else to do, standing by our horses while they ate from our hands, so that we might slip their bridles on again in an instant in the event of a surprise, and eating such things as chance threw in our way, there being no rations anywhere within reach. After the battle, we were kept scouting almost continually for two days. We then marched to Fairfax Court House, and my company was again sent out in detachments on scouting expeditions in the neighborhood of Vienna and Falls Church. We returned to camp at sunset and were immediately ordered on picket. In the regular course of events we should have been relieved the next morning, but no relief came, and we were wholly without food. Another twenty-four hours passed, and still nobody came to take our place on the picket line. Stuart passed some of our men, however, and one of them asked him if he knew we had been on duty ten days, and on picket thirty-six hours without food.

"Oh nonsense!" he replied. "You don't look starved. There's a cornfield over there; jump the fence and get a good breakfast. You don't want to go back to camp, I know; it's stupid there, and all the fun is out here. I never go to camp if I can help it. Besides, I've kept your company on duty all this time as a compliment. You boys have acquitted yourselves too well to be neglected now, and I mean to give you a chance."

We thought this a jest at the time, but we learned afterwards that Stuart's idea of a supreme compliment to a company was its assignment to extra hazardous or extra fatiguing duty. If he observed specially good conduct on the part of a company, squad, or individual, he was sure to reward it by an immediate order to accompany him upon some unnecessarily perilous expedition.

His men believed in him heartily, and it was a common saying among them that "Jeb never says 'Go, boys,' but always 'Come, boys.'" We felt sure, too, that there was little prospect of excitement on any expedition of which he was not leader. If the scouting was to be merely a matter of form, promising nothing in the way of adventure, he would let us go by ourselves; but if there were prospect of "a fight or a race," as he expressed it, we were sure to see his long plume at the head of the column before we had passed outside our own line of pickets. While we lay in advance of Fairfax Court House, after Bull Run, Stuart spent more than a month around the extreme outposts on Mason's and Munson's hills without once coming to the camp of his command. When he wanted a greater force than he could safely detail from the companies on picket for the day, he would send after it, and with details of this kind he lived nearly all the time between the picket lines of the two armies. The outposts were very far in advance of the place at which we should have met and fought the enemy if an advance had been made, and so there was literally no use whatever in his perpetual scouting, which was kept up merely because the man could not rest. But aside from the fact that the cavalry was made up almost exclusively of the young men whose tastes and habits specially fitted them to enjoy this sort of service, Stuart's was one of those magnetic natures which always impress their own likeness upon others, and so it came to be thought a piece of good luck to be detailed for duty under his personal leadership. The men liked him and his ways, one of which was the pleasant habit he had of remembering our names and faces. I heard him say once that he knew by name not only every man in his old regiment, but every one also in the first brigade, and as I never knew him to hesitate for a name, I am disposed to believe that he did not exaggerate his ability to remember men. This and other like things served to make the men love him personally, and there can be no doubt that his skill in winning the affection of his troopers was one of the elements of his success. Certainly no other man could have got so much hard service out of men of their sort, without breeding discontent among them.


The story goes that when Napoleon thanked a private one day for some small service, giving him the complimentary title of "captain," the soldier replied with the question, "In what regiment, sire?" confident that this kind of recognition from the Little Corporal meant nothing less than a promotion, in any case; and while commanders are not ordinarily invested with Napoleon's plenary powers in such matters, military men are accustomed to value few things more than the favorable comments of their superiors upon their achievements or their capacity. And yet a compliment of the very highest sort, which General Scott paid Robert E. Lee, very nearly prevented the great Confederate from achieving a reputation at all. Up to the time of Virginia's secession, Lee was serving at Scott's head-quarters, and when he resigned and accepted a commission from the governor of his native State, General Scott, who had already called him "the flower of the American army," pronounced him the best organizer in the country, and congratulated himself upon the fact that the Federal organization was already well under way before Lee began that of the Southern forces. This opinion, coming from the man who was recognized as best able to form a judgment on such a subject, greatly strengthened Lee's hand in the work he was then doing, and saved him the annoyance of dictation from people less skilled than he. But it nearly worked his ruin, for all that. The administration at Richmond was of too narrow a mold to understand that a man could be a master of more than one thing, and so, recognizing Lee's supreme ability as an organizer, the government seems to have assumed that he was good for very little else, and until the summer of 1862 he was carefully kept out of the way of all great military operations. When the two centres of strategic interest were at Winchester and Manassas, General Lee was kept in Western Virginia with a handful of raw troops, where he could not possibly accomplish anything for the cause, or even exercise the small share of fighting and strategic ability which the government was willing to believe he possessed. When there was no longer any excuse for keeping him there, he was disinterred, as it were, and reburied in the swamps of the South Carolina coast.

I saw him for the first time, in Richmond, at the very beginning of the war, dining with him at the house of a friend. He was then in the midst of his first popularity. He had begun the work of organization, and was everywhere recognized as the leader who was to create an army for us out of the volunteer material. I do not remember, with any degree of certainty, whether or not we expected him also to distinguish himself in the field, but as Mr. Davis and his personal followers were still in Montgomery, it is probable that the narrowness of their estimate of the chieftain was not yet shared by anybody in Richmond. Lee was at this time a young-looking, middle-aged man, with dark hair, dark moustache, and an otherwise smooth face, and a portrait taken then would hardly be recognized at all by those who knew him only after the cares and toils of war had furrowed his face and bleached his hair and beard. He was a model of manly beauty; large, well made, and graceful. His head was a noble one, and his countenance told, at a glance, of his high character and of that perfect balance of faculties, mental, moral, and physical, which constituted the chief element of his greatness. There was nothing about him which impressed one more than his eminent robustness, a quality no less marked in his intellect and his character than in his physical constitution. If his shapely person suggested a remarkable capacity for endurance, his manner, his countenance, and his voice quite as strongly hinted at the great soul which prompted him to take upon himself the responsibility for the Gettysburg campaign, when the people were loudest in their denunciations of the government as the author of that ill-timed undertaking.

I saw him next in South Carolina during the winter of 1861-62. He was living quietly at a little place called Coosawhatchie, on the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. He had hardly any staff with him, and was surrounded with none of the pomp and circumstance of war. His dress bore no marks of his rank, and hardly indicated even that he was a military man. He was much given to solitary afternoon rambles, and came almost every day to the camp of our battery, where he wandered alone and in total silence around the stables and through the gun park, much as a farmer curious as to cannon might have done. Hardly any of the men knew who he was, and one evening a sergeant, riding in company with a partially deaf teamster, met him in the road and saluted. The teamster called out to his companion, in a loud voice, after the manner of deaf people:

"I say, sergeant, who is that durned old fool? He's always a-pokin' round my hosses just as if he meant to steal one of 'em."

Certainly the honest fellow was not to blame for his failure to recognize, in the farmer-looking pedestrian, the chieftain who was shortly to win the greenest laurels the South had to give. During the following summer General Johnston's "bad habit of getting himself wounded" served to bring Lee to the front, and from that time till the end of the war he was the idol of army and people. The faith he inspired was simply marvelous. We knew very well that he was only a man, and very few of us would have disputed the abstract proposition that he was liable to err; but practically we believed nothing of the kind. Our confidence in his skill and his invincibility was absolutely unbounded. Our faith in his wisdom and his patriotism was equally perfect, and from the day on which he escorted McClellan to his gun-boats till the hour of his surrender at Appomattox, there was never a time when he might not have usurped all the powers of government without exciting a murmur. Whatever rank as a commander history may assign him, it is certain that no military chieftain was ever more perfect master than he of the hearts of his followers. When he appeared in the presence of troops he was sometimes cheered vociferously, but far more frequently his coming was greeted with a profound silence, which expressed much more truly than cheers could have done the well-nigh religious reverence with which the men regarded his person.

General Lee had a sententious way of saying things which made all his utterances peculiarly forceful. His language was always happily chosen, and a single sentence from his lips often left nothing more to be said. As good an example of this as any, perhaps, was his comment upon the military genius of General Meade. Not very long after that officer took command of the army of the Potomac, a skirmish occurred, and none of General Lee's staff officers being present, an acquaintance of mine was detailed as his personal aid for the day, and I am indebted to him for the anecdote. Some one asked our chief what he thought of the new leader on the other side, and in reply Lee said, "General Meade will commit no blunder in my front, and if I commit one he will make haste to take advantage of it." It is difficult to see what more he could have said on the subject.

I saw him for the last time during the war, at Amelia Court House, in the midst of the final retreat, and I shall never forget the heart-broken expression his face wore, or the still sadder tones of his voice as he gave me the instructions I had come to ask. The army was in utter confusion. It was already evident that we were being beaten back upon James River and could never hope to reach the Roanoke, on which stream alone there might be a possibility of making a stand. General Sheridan was harassing our broken columns at every step, and destroying us piecemeal. Worse than all, General Lee had been deserted by the terrified government in the very moment of his supreme need, and the food had been snatched from the mouths of the famished troops (as is more fully explained in another chapter) that the flight of the president and his followers might be hastened. The load put thus upon Lee's shoulders was a very heavy one for so conscientious a man as he to bear; and knowing, as every Southerner does, his habit of taking upon himself all blame for whatever went awry, we cannot wonder that he was sinking under the burden. His face was still calm, as it always was, but his carriage was no longer erect, as his soldiers had been used to see it. The troubles of those last days had already plowed great furrows in his forehead. His eyes were red as if with weeping; his cheeks sunken and haggard; his face colorless. No one who looked upon him then, as he stood there in full view of the disastrous end, can ever forget the intense agony written upon his features. And yet he was calm, self-possessed, and deliberate. Failure and the sufferings of his men grieved him sorely, but they could not daunt him, and his moral greatness was never more manifest than during those last terrible days. Even in the final correspondence with General Grant, Lee's manliness and courage and ability to endure lie on the surface, and it is not the least honorable thing in General Grant's history that he showed himself capable of appreciating the character of this manly foeman, as he did when he returned Lee's surrendered sword with the remark that he knew of no one so worthy as its owner to wear it.

After the war the man who had commanded the Southern armies remained master of all Southern hearts, and there can be no doubt that the wise advice he gave in reply to the hundreds of letters sent him prevented many mistakes and much suffering. The young men of the South were naturally disheartened, and a general exodus to Mexico, Brazil, and the Argentine Republic was seriously contemplated. General Lee's advice, "Stay at home, go to work, and hold your land," effectually prevented this saddest of all blunders; and his example was no less efficacious than his words, in recommending a diligent attention to business as the best possible cure for the evils wrought by the war.

From the chieftain who commanded our armies to his son and successor in the presidency of Washington-Lee University, the transition is a natural one; and, while it is my purpose, in these reminiscences, to say as little as possible of men still living, I may at least refer to General G. W. Custis Lee as the only man I ever heard of who tried to decline a promotion from brigadier to major general, for the reason that he thought there were others better entitled than he to the honor. I have it from good authority that President Davis went in person to young Lee's head-quarters to entreat a reconsideration of that officer's determination to refuse the honor, and that he succeeded with difficulty in pressing the promotion upon the singularly modest gentleman. Whether or not this younger Lee has inherited his father's military genius we have no means of knowing, but we are left in no uncertainty as to his possession of his father's manliness and modesty, and personal worth.

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