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Civil War Harper's Weekly, May 9, 1863

Welcome to our online collection of original Civil War Harper's Weekly newspapers. This archive serves as a valuable tool for researchers and students of the Civil War. The papers contain unique content which is simply not available anywhere else.

(Scroll Down to See Entire Page, or Newspaper Thumbnails below will take you to the page of interest)

 

Louisiana Swamp

Louisiana Swamp

England Warning

Warning to England

Anglo Saxon

Loss of the Steamer "Anglo-Saxon"

Brashear City

Brashear City

New Jersey Cavalry

New Jersey Cavalry

Monitor Poem

Monitor Poem

Hospital Ship

Hospital Ship

Escort

The Steamer "Escort"

Runaway Slaves

Runaway Slaves

General Hooker's Staff

General Hooker's Staff

Patent Medicine

Patent Medicine Advertisements

Jeff Davis

Jeff Davis Cartoon

 

 

 

 

HARPER'S WEEKLY.

[MAY 9, 1863.

298

A NIGHT WITH THE NEW JERSEY CAVALRY.

WE have seen hard service in this regiment, and have had few periods of repose. It has, too, been mostly a thankless labor, with less than its fair share of glory. I know nothing more unlike the picture of cavalry life given by authors and artists than is the reality, both in its incidents and its effects upon the character. To head a squadron on a scout of thirty or forty miles beyond the lines; to examine the direction and discover the termination of each road and by-path; to hunt up every trace of the enemy, and study every horse-track that may reveal their whereabouts; to pick up every horse that is fit for service, and excite rebellious indignation by the assurance that the United States will pay on proof of their loyalty; to invite yourself to dinner with any resident household, and flirt with the young ladies while the troopers steal the chickens; to be always ready for fight, fun, or scamper; to starve to-day, and feast upon the fat of the land to-morrow; to be as temperate as an anchorite this week, and tap a confiscated whisky-barrel the next; never to stir saddle, sword, or boots for days, and be roused from rest by the bugle-call "To arms!" and then again to lounge away life in a round of eating, sleeping, and grooming horses—all this in an atmosphere of profanity, rude license, and reckless joviality, alternating with an absolute dead monotony of thought and habit—may, it is easy to conceive, have an effect upon character very different from the fancies of our friends at home, who read "Charles O'Malley" and "Tom Burke of Ours."

And yet all this external evil, no doubt, makes men seem worse than they really are; and some of us are probably better men now than when we loitered on at home, with no real excuse for our careless self-indulgence and heartless levity. I think the man who drinks with a relish whisky out of a canteen is not really more dissipated than when he would spend thought as well as money in arranging a costly revel; that the frightful profanity of the lips is perhaps a lighter sin in God's eyes than the habitual hardening the heart against His Word for the sake of our own gain or our own indulgence; that yielding to temptations here, with few safeguards against their power, does not so completely enthrall our nature as when we sought them out for the relief of our ennui. I know that many have prayed more earnestly on the battle-field than they have in church, have worked more honestly in the saddle than in the counting-house, have been more grateful for blessings, less discontented under trials, than would ever have been the case at home. Plenty of good resolutions have been formed, that may be carried into effect in the future of our lives, though I must confess most of us postpone action upon them until after we shall have left the army.

These reflections are natural enough at any time, but they have no very apparent connection with the talk of a body of officers who met together one evening lately in camp. In fact, there was more than the one reason for their gathering together for enjoyment on this particular night.

Our division commissary had imported among his officers' stores a considerable supply of whisky, which could be purchased for little more than government price. Now, as for months we had been paying about two dollars a pint for the vile composition vended by our sutlers, this abundance seemed to us too good to be true; and we were consequently continually endeavoring to convince ourselves of its reality. To such an extent had this been carried, that a general order had been issued, restricting each officer to a gallon a week. This regulation was to take effect on the first of January; so the officers determined to have a carnival before their entrance upon the new year and a course of comparative sobriety.

Head-quarters was a very comfortable place for our gathering. A wall-tent and a Sibley had been combined into quite a spacious apartment, and the floor was neatly covered with boards obtained from a barn in the neighborhood of another regiment. The people who lived around our camp had nothing to complain of except the apparent migration of their small live-stock the day after our arrival. Woe be to the man who was caught stealing, or even straying out of camp; so it was only by long practice that our men learned the art of making themselves comfortable, and at the same time keeping up appearances. However, there the floor was, and there were tables and benches of the same materials. There was also the roasted body of a pig, which had attempted to pass our pickets without the countersign, paying for his rashness with his life. Opposite smoked a noble round of commissary beef, presented by that official in return for the compliment of an invitation. Our vegetables were beans and potatoes, and the side-dishes consisted of fried pork and hard biscuit. Camp appetites soon demolished this unusually magnificent entertainment; and the reliable contrabands removed its fragments to make room for a mess-kettle filled with noble punch, whose fragrance awakened a longing for closer acquaintance. The surgeon being invited to preside over the administration of the draught, and requested to regulate its distribution in accordance with the laws of health and the principles of justice. We filled up the stove, and drew together with that sense of comfort, derived from memory, of many a weary march and many a bitter night on picket.

"Here, Doctor, just fill this up again, if you please," begged B—, the chief of the Fourth Squadron. "I know that I am in advance of my allowance; but the effects of that last cup were swallowed up by painful recollections, and it must not be counted against me."

"I don't know what right you have to have more melancholy recollections than the rest of us," interposed A—: "and unless you prove your assertion you must go dry, besides suffering such other punishment as the court may inflict."

"Since Frank has been judge-advocate he is frightfully rigid and technical," answered B—;

"but for all that, I maintain that ever since the night of the 8th of August I am justified in assuaging the memory of that thirst in addition to any that may exist at present."

"That was certainly a pretty tight place, Bob; but I do not know that you have a right to make this a tighter one," adjudicated the surgeon.

"I say, tell us about that affair, B—, "begged the Adjutant, who had but lately joined the regiment. "Here are half a dozen of us who never heard the particulars, and you can improve our minds by imparting to us your experience."

"Considering your youth and ignorance, Adjutant," said the Major, solemnly, "you will be pardoned this time for bringing upon the company one of B—'s stories, especially as we are well assured that you will under no circumstances repeat the offense after having once endured the consequences. Now, B—, fill up your can, and cut the story as short as it is possible for you to do."

"In the first place, gentlemen, I desire indignantly to repel the Major's insinuation that I am long-winded. No one is so careful as I to exclude all irrelevant matter from my narratives; but there is a certain amount of necessary detail required to prevent those interruptions and inquiries which are so disconcerting to a narrator; and also certain alternations of light and shade requisite for the artistic presentation of the incident, which, in their own bare outline, would be displeasing to the cultivated taste, which I must presume to be possessed by the distinguished officers whom I see around me. Gentlemen, I intend to continue these introductory remarks until the Doctor returns to me a full cup, instead of sipping—abstractedly, of course —the one which I lately handed up to him to be replenished. Ah, thank you. Now here is the story:

"I suppose that you all remember that Jackson and Ewall crossed fifteen thousand men over the Rapidan, at Barnett's and Cave's Fords, during the night of the 7th of August. They drove in the Pennsylvania pickets, who were, however, so used to being driven in that they did not examine closely how many men were doing it until toward daylight. Thus it happened that Bayard did not send a courier with information to me or picket at Rapidan Station until it was too late for him to get through. The regiment on our left had not yet connected with our pickets, so that the rebels got round both our flanks while we remained there as innocent as lambs. Now M'Dowell had just got somewhere in our neighborhood, and, being of an inquiring disposition, wanted to find out for himself a little more of the country than Crawford could tell him. It was rather late in the day, like all the operations under Pope; but still, as he no doubt thought, better late than never. So on the morning of the 8th that topographical engineer, whom the chaplain had been carrying about the road to Barnett's, came trotting down to our post, asking all sorts of questions, and scrawling over a sheet of paper what, to initiated eyes, was probably a sketch of the country. At last he wanted to be put upon the road from the station to Culpepper, along the east side of Cedar Mountain; in which desire I was as anxious as he that he should not be balked. So I started with him myself, to make sure that he would not wander back in search of further information. I carried him a mile or two, telling him whither the cross-roads led, and then with a sense of relief left him to his own devices. As I was quietly riding back, I heard a bang, bang, bang, which was rather significant, coming as it did from the direction of my pickets. As you may fancy, it did not take long for me to cut across to my reserve post. It seemed to me, however, as I approached it, that it was rather more to the right than I had established it; and a sudden gleam of sunshine flashing through the trees, revealed to me faces with which I was entirely unacquainted. Just at that moment, too, a Who comes thar?' in unmistakable Virginian, let me know that I had run my head into a hornet's nest. The rapidity with which I made a flank movement would have won me honorable mention from those tacticians of the newspapers who are so determined to introduce that manoeuvre, right or wrong, into every engagement. The fact that a bullet went through my hat, and that the gallop of half a dozen horses could be distinguished in my rear, did not moderate the speed of my retreat. I was cut off from my pickets; I could not tell whether they had been taken or not; and the only road open appeared to be that toward camp. My time along that road beat the race at Harrisonburg hollow; but as I soon threw out my pursuers, I came down to a trot as I got into the neighborhood of what I considered safety. You know the old house that stood on the other side of the road to the Station from our camp. As I came up an old negro wench stole out from the quarters, and beckoned to me, warningly. 'For de good Lord's sake, Massa Officer,' whispered she, 'don't you go up dar. Dey's jus' as thick as bees dar.' She had hardly got away from me, and I had just begun to dodge through the pines, when a party of them caught sight of me and started with a yell in chase. Happily there was pretty good cover in that belt of woods that runs all the way up to the mountain from our camp; and as they were in the fields I could trace them by the clouds of dust, when they could not tell where I was heading."

"Yes," interrupted the Major; "they kicked up such an awful dust that we thought it was a force trying to flank us in the woods where we lay just beyond; and we fell back a mile to strengthen our position."

"I wish that I had known where you were," continued B—, "for I would have risked my chance of cutting across to join you. As it was, I did not know whether the whole brigade was killed, or captured, or what. Backward and forward I doubled among those woods and thickets, my horse covered with foam, and a cold sweat breaking out over all my body. I gradually managed to edge over to the left, while my pursuers kept more and more to the right; and at last I crossed between two parties, and plunged into the thick growth that covered the advance of their right wing the next

morning. Then I threw myself from my horse, utterly unable to go any further; and feeling that if they found me I would have to give up unresistingly. The sun was getting low, and the darkness that I longed for slowly began to creep on. I had had nothing to eat or drink since early morning; and I did not dare even then to move from my concealment in search of a draught of water. I tied my sabre fast to my saddle to keep its jingle from betraying me, and crouching low, kept a vigilant watch in every direction. I knew it could do no good, but I could not help gazing anxiously around, starting at every rustle of the trees, and trembling in every nerve at each stamp and movement of my horse. I was overpowered by fatigue, and yet it was impossible to sleep. Whenever I lapsed into a momentary forgetfulness, I would wake with a start that thrilled me all over, fancying a pistol at my head, and a heavy hand upon my shoulder. Ardently as I had wished for night, I now longed still more for daylight. My thirst had become absorbing, and I resolved at all risks to assuage it as soon as I could discover water any where. How horribly slow was the gradual whitening of the eastern sky, and how long it was before the first gleam of light heralded the glorious sunrise of that bloody day! As the earth became distinguishable, I could see indistinctly, far ahead of me, rising above the mist of the valley, a line of cavalry forming in the fields. It was too misty and distant for me to recognize their uniforms; but I could see that each man had something white strapped behind his saddle. The Rhode Islanders had joined only the day before, so, of course, I could not recognize them; and I thought that the rebels must have advanced beyond my hiding-place. However, I must have a drink of water, and I could see the line of bushes which bordered that little brook, which winds round the base of the hill upon which we camped. It was only a couple of hundred yards off, and the mist was pretty thick; so leaving my horse, I stole down to it. Deep in I plunged my head and neck, feeling its freshness cool my fevered blood; and then I drank, and drank, and drank, as if I could never satisfy the delight with which my palate welcomed the delicious draught. When I rose up I was like a new man. All my nervousness had gone, and my coolness and presence of mind returned to use at once, and I tell you there was need of it. I turned to go back to my horse, but before I left the shelter of the bushes there was a flash of light between him and me that is not easily mistaken by a man who has once seen it. Right and left as I looked I could see the same gleam, each time coming a little closer. There was no mistaking the shining of the muskets of the rebel skirmishers as they began to advance. With a bound of my heart I knew that the cavalry I had seen must be our fellows, and I felt that I must reach them at once. Crouching beneath the bushes I followed up the stream till I came to a fence, and, protected by that and the last of the fog, made my way toward the skirmishers. You may fancy how I felt when the fog suddenly lifted, and there, within stone-throw, stood B—l, with the carbineers of the First Squadron. I believe that I could have cried if I had not been ashamed. When you gave me that cup of coffee, Major, you seemed to be giving me a new lease of life, and I was able to borrow a remount and report to Bayard. He did not seem happy at the idea that one of his best squadrons was missing, but still he sent me back to report to Pope without many words. And there the first men that I saw, on entering Culpepper, were my own boys resting by the road-side. The rebels had attacked from both sides, from Raccoon Ford and Barnett's, and had driven in our pickets three several times. But L—, with his quiet coolness, had deliberately reposted them each time, as if he had a brigade at his back instead of sixty men. This actually seemed to paralyze the rebels, and they manoeuvred about without advancing all the afternoon. It was not till evening that their reinforcements came up, and in the darkness they did not venture any thing except to try whether our men were still at their places. The next morning L— found one regiment half a mile on one side of him, and two about the same distance on the other. Quietly withdrawing his pickets, he marched through the woods between their two forces, and got into Culpepper before the enemy had found out that the road was clear for their advance. I shall always think that the delay occasioned by his steadiness saved us the loss of the day; for if their right had been able to flank us around the mountain early in the morning we would have been overwhelmed before Banks could have joined us."

"We have listened with interest to the text, B—," interrupted J—, of Company L; "don't spoil it by commentary. I fancy if you had been with us that same morning of the 8th you could have made an equally thrilling history. The Jersey boys were amusing themselves on the right as well as on the left, and had our hands about as full—in fact fuller—by twenty odd prisoners."

"By-the-way, J—, you might as well tell that as an appendix to B—'s story, and as materials for the history of the campaign upon the Rapidan. I want to know exactly who took those prisoners, whether it was Lieutenant-Colonel K—, or you, or B—n, or the whole batch of you combined. I know that we had got very tired of holding the rebels in front till you should get back; and if we had not believed that Jersey boys had as many lives as a cat we would have given you all up half an hour before we welcomed you in."

"I can not, like B—, tell a story so smoothly and categorically," began Captain J—. "I must give up all attempts at pathos and harrowing descriptions, and make a very plain statement of fact. As the Lieutenant-Colonel told us afterward, Bayard had informed him late that night that the rebs had crossed a tolerably large party, and were annoying our pickets; so old K— proposed that he should take one battalion, sweep round in their rear, and drive them right into the mouth of the General and the rest of the brigade. About three o'clock

we heard 'To arms!' and we sprang to our horses faster than we had ever done before. The Colonel took my company and the first battalion, leaving the rest of the regiment in charge of the Major. As we got up to the cross road before you reach Slaughter's house, the General met K— and whispered a few words to him. As he was just ordering me forward as advance-guard, I could hear the answer. Screwing up his face and shoulders after his foreign fashion, he said, 'I will try it, and run ze chance. Let us know vat zyou about.' I thought something was up, but had no idea that the General had told K— that there were at least ten thousand men, where we had planned for a few hundred. We had scouted the course which we took a few days before, so I went on without any trouble—sent B—n ahead with some carbineers. When we came into the road from Barnett's Ford to Madison Court House, I noticed, without much thinking, the tracks of a strong body of horse; and, pushing on, took across direct for Cave's Ford. When the main body came up, instead of following me into the lane, they turned off upon the main road, following the tracks I speak of. They had not gone far before K— began to fancy that something was wrong. The road showed plainly that a large regiment of cavalry had been along it within a few hours, but did not display any perfectly fresh indentations. Then a strong detachment had been sent up a road to the right, on which he knew I could not have gone. He stopped his column, sent Br—l out with one reconnoitring party, and W— with another, while at the same time he himself rode up a convenient hill from which to observe what was going on toward the river. All this time I was pushing my way forward around the edge of the woods. How the rebs ever left their flank so unguarded I can not understand; but we did not come upon a picket or even a vidette, though we must have gone over two miles. At last we came suddenly on that large house with a portico, where there were so many women and children, when we passed to get to Cave's Ford once before, and where those pretty two-year-old colts awakened our covetousness. As B—n turned the corner, he saw a rebel soldier lounging on the porch, and some few more, without arms, standing around the kitchen-door. Without a moment's pause he clashed forward, and I, seeing him, came at speed in his rear. There were more than twenty men at the place, and the nice old secesh lady was getting them a breakfast. They were nearly all too surprised to run, never having fancied that a breakfast, two miles in rear of their advance, and within rifle-shot of their camp, could be interrupted by a party of Yankee cavalry. The Lieutenant was the only one who ran, and his legs certainly carried him well; but they could not go as fast as my black. So, when he saw my sabre over his head, he gave up, and quietly returned with me. We were in too great a hurry to sit down to table; but, assuring the mistress of the house that we could not allow her preparations to be useless, we transferred every thing portable to our pockets and haversacks. I must confess she was not as flattered as she might have shown herself at our polite consideration. The best of the joke was, that the proprietor of the house, a tall and very corpulent man, who had made himself very active in the rebel service, had returned home with this party, consoling himself with the thought that he might now live there in safety. Not knowing much about him, we should have left him undisturbed if he had not been betrayed by his own fears. He managed, under the stimulus of apprehension, to creep between the underpinning of the house and the ground, and there he lay gasping, finding it an uncommonly tight fit. Now whether he had shrunk while the panic was on him at first, or swelled with his suppressed emotion afterward, it is certain that while we were stowing away the breakfast we heard the most extraordinary gaspings from beneath the floor; and an investigation revealed to us the master of the house, and a Colonel of Virginia Militia, in the unmilitary and undignified situation which I have just described. I assure you it took six stout men to extricate him, with his plumage ruined, and numerous abrasions of his cuticle. Unmoved by his melancholy plight to any emotion but laughter, we carried him along with us, rejoined K—, marched through woods and hollows for miles, and, no less to our own surprise than that of our prisoners, marched them right up to General Bayard in the face of their whole army. Now I think that the occurrences of that day, and our behavior during the battle on the next, are things of which we ought to be prouder than we are; and I believe if we did let people know what we really were doing, we would not have them turning up their noses at our cavalry in the way in which they do. But I have just been lecturing B— for making a speech, and I will not commit the same fault myself. Doctor, give me a drink."

As J— refreshed himself after his unusual exertion, the Captain of Company I, with a half-jocular sneer, muttered audibly enough to be heard, "I am beginning to think that we are all heroes without our knowing it. B— is a hero for not getting captured; J— is distinguished for dodging around the enemy's lines. I think I ought to be made a brigadier at least for what 1 did."

"Hallo, Y—!" exclaimed his bosom-friend, Lieutenant A—, of Company L, "have we been hurting your delicate sensibilities? Reveal to us the injustice, and we will rectify it, if possible. I will engage to use my private influence with the Secretary to make your claims known and appreciated."

"Bother your influence! I will wait to use it until I find it gets you a leave of absence to go and comfort a certain person at home. But I will say that I dodged about among the rebs for three days under aggravating circumstances, and brought myself and my home and all my men out safe; and, as I am in a talking mood, I will tell you more about it than I have done yet.

"When Pope had permitted Jackson to march in his rear for twenty-four hours before the intelligence (Next Page)


 

 

 

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