WHILE rector of the Church of the Advent, Nashville, I was elected chaplain of a military company of somewhat more than local fame, known as the "Rock City Guard." This election was only a compliment shown me by the men who composed the Guard. I was not a military man nor had I any fondness for military life. So I regarded myself as chaplain only by courtesy. But on Thanksgiving day, 1860, the Rock City Guard and other military organizations of Nashville requested me to officiate at the Thanksgiving services to be held under their auspices.
The services were held in the Hall of Representatives in the State Capitol, and there was an immense congregation present. It was a time of great anxiety and the occasion was a memorable one. Rumors of approaching war were abundant, and the newspapers were filled with discussions as to the course the South would pursue in case Mr. Lincoln, then recently elected, should take his seat as President of the United States. The subject of my discourse was: "Obedience to Rulers," - my text being: "Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people." (Proverbs, xiv, 34.) My sermon was what might be called "a strong plea for the Union."
In December, South Carolina seceded, and on the 18th of the following April, - after a bombardment of thirty-four hours, - Fort Sumter surrendered and the Civil War was fairly begun. President Lincoln at once called for seventy-five thousand volunteers to serve for ninety days and put down the insurrection in South Carolina. Tennessee being called upon for her quota, responded through her Governor, Isham G. Harris: - "Tennessee will not furnish a single man for coercion, but fifty thousand, if necessary, for the defence of her rights or those of her Southern brethren." This undoubtedly expressed the sentiments of the vast majority of Tennesseeans, who did not favor secession and deplored war, but who were nevertheless determined to stand with the people of the South.
In the Spring of 1861, the States of Virginia, North Carolina and Arkansas, which had hitherto refused to secede, joined their fortunes to those of the already seceded states; and in June, Tennessee decided to unite with the Southern Confederacy. She was slow to draw the sword. In April, the Rock City Guard, now enlarged into a batallion, was mustered into the service of the State. Subsequently a regiment was formed, consisting of the Rock City Guard and the following companies; - The Williamson Greys, of Williamson County; The Tennessee Riflemen, and the Railroad Boys of Nashville; The Brown Guards, of Maury County; The Rutherford Rifles, of Rutherford County; and The Martin Guards, of Giles County.
This was known as the First Tennessee Regiment. The field officers elected were: Colonel George Maney (afterwards made a Brigadier-General); Lieutenant-Colonel, T. F. Sevier; Major, A. M. Looney. Lieutenant R. B. Snowden, of Company C., was appointed Adjutant; Dr. William Nichol, Surgeon, and Dr. J. R. Buist, Assistant Surgeon.
On the 10th of July, 1861, orders were received by the regiment to repair to Virginia. Being very urgently pressed by members of the Rock City Guard and their friends in Nashville to accompany the regiment as chaplain, I resolved to do so. This, of course, made it necessary for me to break up my household. I removed my family to Georgia, left my parish in the hands of the Rev. George C. Harris, and prepared to join my regiment in Virginia.
My friend, General Washington Barrow, who had formerly been Minister to Portugal, thinking that I would have need of a weapon for my defence, sent me his old courtsword, which had enjoyed a long and quiet rest, - so long, indeed, that it had become rusted in its scabbard. I remember well my first attempt to unsheath the sword. I seized the handle and pulled with might and main, but to no effect. A friend came to my assistance. I took the sword handle, - he the scabbard. We pulled and we pulled, but the sword refused to come forth. I am not aware that I ever succeeded in drawing that sword "in defence of my country." On my departure for Virginia I left it at home.
The first battle of Bull Run was fought July 21, 1861. My cousin, Captain Thomas Edward King, of Georgia, having been severely wounded, I went to Richmond to look after him, leaving Nashville on the 1st of August. After he had sufficiently recovered to return to his home, I joined my regiment at Valley Mountain on the 23rd of August. Some of the entries made in my pocket diary while on this trip are not devoid of interest as illustrating the condition of the Southern army and of the Southern country at this early stage of the war.
My route was through Knoxville and Bristol. At the latter place, which is on the boundary line between Tennessee and Virginia, I missed the train for Lynchburg by an hour, found all the hotels crowded, and the railroad pressed to its utmost in conveying troops.
While waiting I visited two sick men from Nashville of whom I had heard, and then strolled out to camp, a mile from the town. There I witnessed the execution of the sentence of a court-martial upon two private soldiers convicted of selling whiskey to other soldiers. The culprits were drummed around the camp, riding on rails, each with three empty bottles tied to his feet, and a label, "Ten Cents a Glass," pinned to his back.
At Lynchburg I missed connections for Richmond Saturday night and so spent a very pleasant Sunday in the former place. I found Lynchburg a very quaint old town, built on steep hills, from the foot of which the James River finds its way sluggishly to the sea. I preached at St. Paul's Church on "The Love of God."
Arriving at Richmond, I found the place so crowded that I began to think I would not be able to get even a lodging. The Spottswood and Exchange Hotels were crowded to overflowing, and I could not get the sign of a room, though I did succeed in getting some dinner at the latter house. But calling on the Rev. Mr. Peterkin, I was asked to stay with him, and had for a co-guest the Rev. A. Toomer Porter, chaplain of the Hampton Legion, - after the war a prominent educator and founder of a famous school in Charleston, S. C.
At the Rev. Mr. Peterkin's I had the pleasure of meeting the Rev. William Nelson Pendleton, then a Colonel in the Confederate Army, afterwards a Major-General in command of Lee's Artillery. He had been in command of the artillery that did such execution at the battle of Manassas, and gave me a most interesting account of that fight. There was not a masked battery on the ground. His guns were within two hundred yards of the nearest of those of the enemy and within four hundred yards of those that were at the greatest distance. Yet he did not lose a man.
I learned from Mr. Peterkin where to find my wounded cousin, and with him found two other wounded soldiers. I made daily visits to the wounded during my stay in Richmond; met Bishop Atkinson; called, with the Rev. Mr. Porter, upon Mrs. Wade Hampton, who was a daughter of the Honorable George Duffie; and visited Mr. John Stewart in his princely establishment four miles out from Richmond, where I attended services at the church built by Mr. Stewart and his brother at a cost of fourteen thousand dollars. It was at this time that I received and accepted my appointment as Chaplain in the Confederate Army.
On the Sunday I spent in the city that was shortly afterwards to become the capital of the Confederate States, I preached at St. James' Church in the morning, at the Monumental Church in the evening, and again at St. James' at night.
Another interesting incident of this visit to Richmond was in regard to the Rev. John Flavel Mines, a chaplain in the Federal army, who had been captured, released on parole, and had been for two days at the Rev. Mr. Peterkin's house, where I met him. By order of General Winder he was rearrested, and the poor fellow was quite crushed by the idea of having to go to prison. He was especially fearful of contracting consumption, of which some of his family had died. He wrote two piteous letters to me begging me to intercede on his behalf. After two efforts I succeeded in visiting him in the afterwards famous "Libby" prison, where I found him in company with the Hon. Alfred Ely, a member of Congress from Rochester, N. Y., who had been captured at Manassas. I did all I could to cheer the prisoners up. Mr. Mines subsequently renounced the ministry and accepted a colonel's commission in the Federal army. After the war he entered upon a literary career, and wrote some charming books under the nom de plume of "Felix Oldboy."
On my way to my regiment I found in Staunton, Virginia, that the Deaf and Dumb Asylum was used as a hospital, and I wrote to the Editor of the Nashville "Banner" asking contributions from the citizens of Tennessee for the sick and wounded and advising the establishing of a depository at Staunton under the supervision of the Rev. James A. Latané. The citizens of Staunton made up two boxes of stores and comforts for the sick of my regiment. I preached in Staunton Sunday morning and night and left for Milboro. I went thence to Huntersville, which I reached on the 21st of August after a bit of just the toughest travel I had ever made. I found Jackson's River so swollen by rains that it was impossible to ford with the stage. The passengers mounted the horses, - two on each horse, - and forded the stream.
My travelling companion the night of this occurrence and the following day was Colonel Wheeler, Ex-Minister to Nicaragua, Vestryman in Dr. Pinckney's Church in Washington, D. C., one of the most agreeable men to take a trip with I had ever met. His wife was a daughter of Sully the artist.
We were again delayed at Back Creek, and while waiting for a chance to cross, I read "Master Humphrey's Clock," a volume found in a knapsack on Jackson's Mountain. The owner's name on the fly-leaf was "B. B. Ewing, Comp. I, 12th Miss. Reg't." The book was wet and mouldy. I finally mounted one of the stage horses and swam the creek and so reached Gatewoods, - a delightful place, - a valley shut in on all sides by most picturesque mountains. It was twelve miles from Huntersville.
I finally reached Colonel Fulton's camp, over the worst road I ever travelled, and thence found Huntersville, - a most wretched and filthy town in those days, where there were many sick soldiers in a meeting-house, in public and private buildings and in tents. Huntersville was twenty-seven miles from Valley Mountain where our troops were stationed. I was very anxious to get on for there was a battle daily expected.
Resuming the journey in an ambulance, I had to leave it within a mile in consequence of the wretched state of the roads, and walked all day over the most horrible roads, the rain at times coming down in torrents. I felt occasionally that I must give out, but finally reached Big Springs and received a warm welcome from General Anderson, General Donelson, Colonel Fulton, Major Duval and other officers. My clothes were so wet that the water could be wrung out of them and my first care was to dry them. That done, I set out for the camp at Valley Mountain three miles distant, and reached it on the morning of Friday the 23rd of August, which happened to be the first clear day I had seen for more than a week.
The following Sunday I began my duties as chaplain, and had services in camp which were well attended. That week our scouts had a running fire with the enemy's pickets, and one of our lieutenants captured a Federal soldier. As it was the first achievement of the kind by any of our regiment, our camp was greatly enlivened by it. About this time I was appointed Assistant Surgeon, but I did not wish to accept the office as I felt that it might separate me from my regiment. I do not remember, however, any time throughout the war, when there was any opportunity offered for me to assist the work of the surgeons that I did not do it.
One afternoon a courier arrived at Colonel Maney's headquarters with orders for the regiment to report to General Loring. While Colonel Maney was reading the order, a sudden volley of small arms resounded through the mountain, and some one, thinking the Federal forces had attacked General Lee's position, ordered the long roll beaten. This startled the camp, every man seized his gun and cartridge box, and the regiment was at once in line. For at that time the boys were all spoiling for a fight.
I well remember how good Mrs. Sullivan, the wife of an Irish private and a kind of "daughter of the regiment," drew off her shoes and gave them to a soldier who was barefoot. The boys started off for General Lee's headquarters without rations, without blankets, and many of them without coats or shoes. In this plight they reported for duty. It was altogether a false alarm. A regiment had been on picket duty and was firing off guns in order to clean them. Nevertheless it happened that the action of our boys was in conformity to an order received regularly enough about five minutes later, requiring our regiment to take position within a very short distance of the enemy's entrenchments, and the regiment remained out in consequence from Friday morning until Sunday, in full view of the enemy.
A few days after this General Lee determined on a movement on the enemy holding a fortified position on Cheat Pass. The camp became a scene of great animation in anticipation of an important impending battle. To me it was a memorable week beginning on Monday September 8th - a week of such experiences as I had never dreamed would fall to my lot, and of such fatigues as I never imagined myself capable of enduring.
General Lee's plans were undoubtedly well and skilfully laid, but "the wisest schemes of mice and men gang aft aglee." The plan, to my mind, was somewhat complicated inasmuch as it demanded concerted action on the part of too many commanders far removed from each other. Thus General Henry R. Jackson of Georgia, with Rust of Arkansas, was to attack the enemy at Cheat Pass where he was strongly entrenched. General Loring with Donelson was to engage the enemy at Crouch's and Huttonville and force his way up to Cheat Pass, while Anderson with his brigade was to pass over Cheat Mountain and engage the enemy in the rear.
The Rock City Guard, with the regiment, left camp at Valley Mountain on Monday, and moved to a new camp three or four miles in advance. I remained behind for a day to care for the sick and then followed the regiment. At nine o'clock on Tuesday morning General S. R. Anderson's Brigade, consisting of Colonel Maney's regiment and two others, started on. The route was not by a road but through fields and over mountains the most precipitous, in going up which we had to wind single file along the sides and reach the top by very circuitous paths. The paths were exceedingly steep, rocky and rough, and our horses had to be taken to the rear. At one time I reached the top of the mountain and sat down for a little rest under a great boulder that projected out into the pathway. An officer in front called out to me, "Tell them that the order is to 'double quick!'" I passed the command to another officer, who turned to those behind him who were struggling up the mountain pass and called out to them, "The order is to 'double quick' back there !" Whereupon the rear of the regiment turned and rushed down the mountain. In the flight the Major was upset, and flat on his back and with heels in the air he poured forth benedictions of an unusual kind for a Presbyterian elder.
Our first night out, after I had travelled twelve miles on foot, (I had lent to a less fortunate officer the horse that had been presented to me but a few days previously), we halted at 10 o'clock. Soon after it began to rain heavily. I had been carrying the blankets of Lieutenant Joe Van Leer, who had been exceedingly kind to me throughout the march, and when I came up to him he said, "I have a capital place where we may sleep. I'll put my blankets on the ground and we'll cover with yours, as they are heavier." So he cleaned out a hollow on the side of the mountain, and there we lay down for the night. We had my blanket and his rubber coat for a covering. Shortly after midnight a little river began running down my neck. The rain was pouring in torrents, and the basin Van Leer had scooped out was soon filled; so I spent the night as did the Georgia soldier who said that he had slept in the bed of a river with a thin sheet of water over him. This was not altogether a unique experience for me as we shall soon see.
The next morning, after breaking our fast on cold meat and "gutta percha" bread, we took up our line of march and had gone but a mile or so when we heard the fire of musketry at our left. We supposed this was by the scouts sent out by General Donelson. This day, (Wednesday), was the severest of all upon our men. We made slow progress and the march was very toilsome. We kept perfect silence, expecting every moment to come up with scouting parties of the enemy. At about three o'clock the order was passed along the line, just as one half the regiment had reached the top of the mountain, to "double-quick forward!"
The drums of the enemy were distinctly heard, and we moved as rapidly as possible, and were about an hour in descending. All the horses were left behind, as the mountain was found so steep and rocky that it was impossible for them to go any further. We clambered down the rocks, clinging to the bushes and jumping from rock to rock, and at nine o'clock we halted for the night.
Not a word was spoken above a whisper, nor a fire lighted, although it was very cold. Van Leer arranged our blankets as on the previous night, and with much the same result. For soon after we lay down the rain came as though the windows of heaven were opened, and about eleven o'clock we were thoroughly saturated. A rivulet ran down my back and Joe and I actually lay in a pool of water all night. I thought it impossible for me to stand it, but as there was no alternative, I kept quiet and thought over all I had ever read of the benefits of hydropathy. I consoled myself with the reflection that the water-cure might relieve me of an intense pain I had suffered for some hours in my left knee, - and so it did. At the same time I would hesitate long before recommending the same treatment for every other pain in the left knee.
In the morning I was well soaked, my finger ends were corrugated and my whole body chilled through. I was very hungry also, but all I could get to eat was one tough biscuit that almost defied my most vigorous assaults. We were ordered to be on the Parkersburg Pike that day, (Thursday), at daybreak. To show how little we understood the art of war at that time, soon after we started, a well mounted horseman passed halfway down the line of the regiment without detection. He proved to be a Federal courier. Lieutenant-Colonel Sevier finally halted him and said in surprise: "Why, you're a Yankee!" To which the courier coolly replied: "I'm so thankful you found me out; I was so afraid of being shot."
The Colonel took from him a fine pair of pistols, sword, carbine and his horse, which he gave to Major Looney who was thoroughly knocked up. Half a mile further on brought us to the Parkersburg Pike, three miles and a half from Cheat Mountain Pass. The brigade was, as rapidly as possible, put in position. The First Tennessee was at the head of a column towards Cheat Pass. In about ten minutes a body of the enemy, about one hundred strong, in ambush on the opposite side of the road and only about twenty-five yards from our troops, began firing into our left, composed of the companies from Pulaski, Columbia and Murfreesboro. The enemy were completely concealed but our men stood the fire nobly. Not a man flinched. After two or three volleys had been fired, Captain Field ordered a charge and the enemy fled.
We lost two killed, two missing and sixteen wounded. We captured Lieutenant Merrill of the Engineer Corps, U. S. A., attached to General Rosecrans' command. I fell into conversation with him, and found him not only a most intelligent gentleman but also a most genial and pleasant companion, - as most West Pointers are. We also captured seven privates, and left on the roadside two wounded men of the enemy who were so disabled that they could not be moved, though we dressed their wounds and made them as comfortable as possible. The enemy lost some eight or ten killed, - how many wounded I do not know.
My first experience in actual battle was very different from what I had anticipated. I had expected an open field and a fair fight, but this bushwhacking was entirely out of my line. The balls whistled in a way that can never be appreciated by one who has not heard them. We held our position until four o'clock in the afternoon, anxiously listening for General H. R. Jackson's fire, upon which the whole movement depended; but not a gun was heard in that direction. General Donelson, however, met a party of the enemy and engaged them, killing seventeen and taking sixty-eight prisoners. He then waited for us, - of course waited in vain, and like us withdrew.
When we left the turnpike, we took with us our wounded, all but five of whom were carried on horses, the others on litters. About two miles from the highway we came to the house of a Mr. White, where we deposited seven of our wounded men and left them. The brigade halted in a meadow. After attending to the wounded, I lay down by a wheat-stack with Joe Van Leer, who made a very comfortable bed for us. At daylight I returned to the house to assist the surgeons in dressing the wounds of our men. This occupied us until nine o'clock.
The brigade in the meantime had moved forward and left us. We supposed that they had stationed a guard for our protection, but it had been neglected, and when we left, a man suggested to us that we better remove the white badges from our caps, for we might come across some scouting party of the enemy. We took his advice and in addition I took the precaution to tie a white handkerchief to a stick, and so I led the way. After winding about over the hills for a mile or so, we came upon a body of men behind a fallen tree with their guns pointed at us ready to fire. We heard the click of the locks and I instantly threw up the white flag, and this possibly saved our party from being shot down by our own men. It was a detachment that had been sent back for us, and as they saw us winding along without our badges, they supposed us a party of the enemy on the trail of our forces. One man was very much overcome when he found out who we were.
About a mile further on we came up with the main body of our troops, which had been halted for us by Colonel Hatton, who, on discovering that we were in the rear, ran the whole length of the column to inform General Anderson of the fact. It felt mighty good to get with the brigade again.
In less than half an hour after we left Mr. White's house, a party of the enemy was in possession there. At half past twelve word was passed along the line that the enemy were following us. Immediately a line of battle was formed, but very shortly we moved on to get a more advantageous position. We rolled down one precipice and climbed up another and again the line of battle was formed. Then it was discovered that a small part of the enemy's forces was on its way by a route that crossed ours to reinforce Crouch's, so there was no fighting.
Friday night we camped about one mile from the place we occupied our first night out. I had no provisions, but various persons gave me what made up a tolerably good supper, to wit, - a roasting ear, a slice of bacon and a biscuit; and in the morning I found on a log a good-sized piece of fresh meat, not strikingly clean, but I sliced off a piece of it and cooked it on a long stick. The fire, I reckon, removed all impurities; and Joe Van Leer brought me half a cup of coffee and another biscuit. We rested here until seven o'clock at night, when we took up our march for Brady's Gate. At about eleven o'clock we rested for the night and had the pleasure of meeting two men from Nashville who had brought out a couple of ambulances loaded with nick-nacks for the Rock City Guard. Out of their supplies we had a comfortable breakfast, and again started for Brady's Gate and reached it at 1 p. m.
At this point the enemy had been in great numbers, - some three or four thousand. Everywhere in the woods they had erected comfortable booths and rustic benches. Our brigade took position expecting an attack, and waited until half-past six, and then once more started on our march. About eight o'clock the rain poured down in torrents and once more we were thoroughly drenched. The brigade remained all night in an open meadow, but Colonel Sevier insisted upon my taking his horse, and so I rode forward with Major Looney and some other officers to a house half a mile further on, and Dr. Buist, Van Leer, myself and five others took up quarters for the night in a smoke-house. Unfortunately the shingles were off just over my head and the rain came through pretty freely. The next morning we started for our old camp at Valley Mountain, which we reached at eleven o'clock. It really seemed like getting home. The tents looked more than familiar, - inviting even. I rested well and ate well and felt well generally.
The march left many of our men bare-footed. Some of them made the last of the tramp in their stocking feet, and when we reached our quarters they had not even a thread to cover them. One of Captain Jack Butler's men made the remark that if the enemy took the Captain prisoner they would not believe him if he told them his rank; and when I looked at the dear fellow, ragged and barefooted, with feet cut and swollen, I thought so too. But then when I looked down at my own feet and saw my own toes peeping, - nay, rather boldly showing themselves, - as plain as the nose on my face; - and found that almost a majority of our regiment were bootless and shoeless by the hardness of the march, I realized what we had gone through.
The path by which we ascended to the top of Cheat Mountain was one which the foot of man probably never trod before. The guide said that he knew that he could cross it but did not think that the brigade could. I would not have undertaken the march, I presume, could I have foretold what it would be. I made the whole trip, with the exception of a few miles, on foot; for the morning we started out, Lieutenant John House, of Franklin, a noble fellow, was very weak from an attack of fever from which he had not entirely convalesced. I insisted upon his taking my horse and so I did not ride at all until Sunday the 15th. My horse proved a most valuable one. On our return one of the wounded men rode her down the steepest hills and she did not once miss a foot. Being raised in that region she had the faculty of adapting herself to the provender, while other Tennessee horses grew thin and became useless.
As a result of the expedition, our forces had driven in all the outposts of the enemy, made a thorough survey of all their works, had killed, wounded and captured about two hundred of their men, and all with a loss of less than thirty on our side. But the campaign in that section was abandoned and all our forces were transferred to another section.
I was very glad to believe that my labors among the soldiers as their chaplain were not all thrown away. It was very delightful to see how well our regular daily evening service in camp was attended. And I was greatly pleased to find so many of the young men anxious to receive the Holy Communion when I celebrated on the fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, the day before we started on the expedition. The whole regiment seemed devoted to me. One of the Captains told the Major that he believed every man in his company would lay down his life for me. Certainly I met nothing but kindness from officers and men. And so I was led to hope that some good would yet grow out of the seed sown in those wild mountains.
On Friday the 13th of September, General Loring was anxious to have a reconnoissance made, and assigned the duty to Major Fitzhugh Lee, son of General Robert E. Lee. Colonel J. A. Washington, a brother-in-law of General Lee and one of his personal aides, asked permission to accompany the party, which was granted. They had advanced a considerable distance when Major Lee told the Colonel that it was unsafe for them to proceed further. But the Colonel was anxious to make a thorough exploration. Major Lee, however, decided not to endanger the lives of his men by taking them along, and so halted them and rode on with Colonel Washington, accompanied by two privates.
They had not gone far when they were fired upon by a large picket guard lying in ambush by the roadside. Colonel Washington was instantly killed, being pierced by three balls through the breast. Major Lee's horse was shot under him and one of the privates also lost his horse. Major Lee escaped on Colonel Washington's horse.
A flag was sent to the Federal camp the next day by General Lee, and Colonel Washington's body was given up. The enemy offered to send it the whole distance in an ambulance, but this offer Colonel Stark, the bearer of the flag, declined.
This sad occurrence was the occasion of my first acquaintance with General Lee, the most conspicuous character in the struggle between the States. I saw him at Cheat Mountain when he had just learned of the death of Colonel Washington. He was standing with his right arm thrown over the neck of his horse, - (a blooded animal, thoroughly groomed), - and I was impressed first of all by the man's splendid physique, and then by the look of extreme sadness that pervaded his countenance. He felt the death of his relative very keenly and seemed greatly dispirited.
It was my high privilege later on to be brought in contact with this great and good man and to learn most thoroughly to appreciate his exalted character and to understand why his life is to-day an enduring inheritance of his country and of the Church of Christ. Personally he was a man of rare gifts, physical and mental. To these were added the advantages of finished culture. He was a very Bayard in manner and bearing. The habits of temperance, frugality and self-control, formed by him in youth, adhered to him through life.