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Chapter 6


At dawn we were gathered together, more meal issued to us, which we
cooked in the same way, and then were started under heavy guard to march
on foot over the mountains to Bristol, a station at the point where the
Virginia and Tennessee Railroad crosses the line between Virginia and

As we were preparing to set out a Sergeant of the First Virginia cavalry
came galloping up to us on my horse! The sight of my faithful "Hiatoga"
bestrid by a Rebel, wrung my heart. During the action I had forgotten
him, but when it ceased I began to worry about his fate. As he and his
rider came near I called out to him; he stopped and gave a whinny of
recognition, which seemed also a plaintive appeal for an explanation of
the changed condition of affairs.

The Sergeant was a pleasant, gentlemanly boy of about my own age.
He rode up to me and inquired if it was my horse, to which I replied in
the affirmative, and asked permission to take from the saddle pockets
some letters, pictures and other trinkets. He granted this, and we
became friends from thence on until we separated. He rode by my side as
we plodded over the steep, slippery hills, and we beguiled the way by
chatting of the thousand things that soldiers find to talk about, and
exchanged reminiscences of the service on both sides. But the subject he
was fondest of was that which I relished least: my--now his--horse. Into
the open ulcer of my heart he poured the acid of all manner of questions
concerning my lost steed's qualities and capabilities: would he swim?
how was he in fording? did he jump well! how did he stand fire?
I smothered my irritation, and answered as pleasantly as I could.

In the afternoon of the third day after the capture, we came up to where
a party of rustic belles were collected at "quilting." The "Yankees"
were instantly objects of greater interest than the parade of a menagerie
would have been. The Sergeant told the girls we were going to camp for
the night a mile or so ahead, and if they would be at a certain house,
he would have a Yankee for them for close inspection. After halting,
the Sergeant obtained leave to take me out with a guard, and I was
presently ushered into a room in which the damsels were massed in force,
--a carnation-checked, staring, open-mouthed, linsey-clad crowd, as
ignorant of corsets and gloves as of Hebrew, and with a propensity to
giggle that was chronic and irrepressible. When we entered the room
there was a general giggle, and then a shower of comments upon my
appearance,--each sentence punctuated with the chorus of feminine
cachination. A remark was made about my hair and eyes, and their
risibles gave way; judgment was passed on my nose, and then came a ripple
of laughter. I got very red in the face, and uncomfortable generally.
Attention was called to the size of my feet and hands, and the usual
chorus followed. Those useful members of my body seemed to swell up as
they do to a young man at his first party.

Then I saw that in the minds of these bucolic maidens I was scarcely,
if at all, human; they did not understand that I belonged to the race;
I was a "Yankee"--a something of the non-human class, as the gorilla or
the chimpanzee. They felt as free to discuss my points before my face as
they would to talk of a horse or a wild animal in a show. My equanimity
was partially restored by this reflection, but I was still too young to
escape embarrassment and irritation at being thus dissected and giggled
at by a party of girls, even if they were ignorant Virginia mountaineers.

I turned around to speak to the Sergeant, and in so doing showed my back
to the ladies. The hum of comment deepened into surprise, that half
stopped and then intensified the giggle.

I was puzzled for a minute, and then the direction of their glances, and
their remarks explained it all. At the rear of the lower part of the
cavalry jacket, about where the upper ornamental buttons are on the tail
of a frock coat, are two funny tabs, about the size of small
pin-cushions. They are fastened by the edge, and stick out straight
behind. Their use is to support the heavy belt in the rear, as the
buttons do in front. When the belt is off it would puzzle the Seven
Wise Men to guess what they are for. The unsophisticated young ladies,
with that swift intuition which is one of lovely woman's salient mental
traits, immediately jumped at the conclusion that the projections
covered some peculiar conformation of the Yankee anatomy--some
incipient, dromedary-like humps, or perchance the horns of which they
had heard so much.

This anatomical phenomena was discussed intently for a few minutes,
during which I heard one of the girls inquire whether "it would hurt him
to cut 'em off?" and another hazarded the opinion that "it would probably
bleed him to death."

Then a new idea seized them, and they said to the Sergeant "Make him
sing! Make him sing!"

This was too much for the Sergeant, who had been intensely amused at the
girls' wonderment. He turned to me, very red in the face, with:

"Sergeant: the girls want to hear you sing."

I replied that I could not sing a note. Said he:

"Oh, come now. I know better than that; I never seed or heerd of a
Yankee that couldn't sing."

I nevertheless assured him that there really were some Yankees that did
not have any musical accomplishments, and that I was one of that
unfortunate number. I asked him to get the ladies to sing for me,
and to this they acceded quite readily. One girl, with a fair soprano,
who seemed to be the leader of the crowd, sang "The Homespun Dress," a
song very popular in the South, and having the same tune as the "Bonnie
Blue Flag." It began,

I envy not the Northern girl
Their silks and jewels fine,

and proceeded to compare the homespun habiliments of the Southern women
to the finery and frippery of the ladies on the other side of Mason and
Dixon's line in a manner very disadvantageous to the latter.

The rest of the girls made a fine exhibition of the lung-power acquired
in climbing their precipitous mountains, when they came in on the chorus

Hurra! Hurra! for southern rights Hurra!
Hurra for the homespun dress,
The Southern ladies wear.

This ended the entertainment.

On our journey to Bristol we met many Rebel soldiers, of all ranks,
and a small number of citizens. As the conscription had then been
enforced pretty sharply for over a year the only able-bodied men seen in
civil life were those who had some trade which exempted them from being
forced into active service. It greatly astonished us at first to find
that nearly all the mechanics were included among the exempts, or could
be if they chose; but a very little reflection showed us the wisdom of
such a policy. The South is as nearly a purely agricultural country as
is Russia or South America. The people have, little inclination or
capacity for anything else than pastoral pursuits. Consequently
mechanics are very scarce, and manufactories much scarcer. The limited
quantity of products of mechanical skill needed by the people was mostly
imported from the North or Europe. Both these sources of supply were
cutoff by the war, and the country was thrown upon its own slender
manufacturing resources. To force its mechanics into the army would
therefore be suicidal. The Army would gain a few thousand men, but its
operations would be embarrassed, if not stopped altogether, by a want of
supplies. This condition of affairs reminded one of the singular paucity
of mechanical skill among the Bedouins of the desert, which renders the
life of a blacksmith sacred. No matter how bitter the feud between
tribes, no one will kill the other's workers of iron, and instances are
told of warriors saving their lives at critical periods by falling on
their knees and making with their garments an imitation of the action of
a smith's bellows.

All whom we met were eager to discuss with us the causes, phases and
progress of the war, and whenever opportunity offered or could be made,
those of us who were inclined to talk were speedily involved in an
argument with crowds of soldiers and citizens. But, owing to the polemic
poverty of our opponents, the argument was more in name than in fact.
Like all people of slender or untrained intellectual powers they labored
under the hallucination that asserting was reasoning, and the emphatic
reiteration of bald statements, logic. The narrow round which all from
highest to lowest--traveled was sometimes comical, and sometimes
irritating, according to one's mood! The dispute invariably began by
their asking:

"Well, what are you 'uns down here a-fightin' we 'uns for?"

As this was replied to the newt one followed:

"Why are you'uns takin' our niggers away from we 'uns for?"

Then came:

"What do you 'uns put our niggers to fightin' we'uns for?" The windup
always was: "Well, let me tell you, sir, you can never whip people that
are fighting for liberty, sir."

Even General Giltner, who had achieved considerable military reputation
as commander of a division of Kentucky cavalry, seemed to be as slenderly
furnished with logical ammunition as the balance, for as he halted by us
he opened the conversation with the well-worn formula:

"Well: what are you 'uns down here a-fighting we'uns for?"

The question had become raspingly monotonous to me, whom he addressed,
and I replied with marked acerbity:

"Because we are the Northern mudsills whom you affect to despise, and we
came down here to lick you into respecting us."

The answer seemed to tickle him, a pleasanter light came into his
sinister gray eyes, he laughed lightly, and bade us a kindly good day.

Four days after our capture we arrived in Bristol. The guards who had
brought us over the mountains were relieved by others, the Sergeant bade
me good by, struck his spurs into "Hiatoga's" sides, and he and my
faithful horse were soon lost to view in the darkness.

A new and keener sense of desolation came over me at the final separation
from my tried and true four-footed friend, who had been my constant
companion through so many perils and hardships. We had endured together
the Winter's cold, the dispiriting drench of the rain, the fatigue of the
long march, the discomforts of the muddy camp, the gripings of hunger,
the weariness of the drill and review, the perils of the vidette post,
the courier service, the scout and the fight. We had shared in common

The whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The insolence of office, and the spurns

which a patient private and his horse of the unworthy take; we had had
our frequently recurring rows with other fellows and their horses, over
questions of precedence at watering places, and grass-plots, had had
lively tilts with guards of forage piles in surreptitious attempts to get
additional rations, sometimes coming off victorious and sometimes being
driven off ingloriously. I had often gone hungry that he might have the
only ear of corn obtainable. I am not skilled enough in horse lore to
speak of his points or pedigree. I only know that his strong limbs never
failed me, and that he was always ready for duty and ever willing.

Now at last our paths diverged. I was retired from actual service to a
prison, and he bore his new master off to battle against his old friends.


Packed closely in old, dilapidated stock and box cars, as if cattle in
shipment to market, we pounded along slowly, and apparently interminably,
toward the Rebel capital.

The railroads of the South were already in very bad condition. They were
never more than passably good, even in their best estate, but now,
with a large part of the skilled men engaged upon them escaped back to
the North, with all renewal, improvement, or any but the most necessary
repairs stopped for three years, and with a marked absence of even
ordinary skill and care in their management, they were as nearly ruined
as they could well be and still run.

One of the severe embarrassments under which the roads labored was a lack
of oil. There is very little fatty matter of any kind in the South.
The climate and the food plants do not favor the accumulation of adipose
tissue by animals, and there is no other source of supply. Lard oil and
tallow were very scarce and held at exorbitant prices.

Attempts were made to obtain lubricants from the peanut and the cotton
seed. The first yielded a fine bland oil, resembling the ordinary grade
of olive oil, but it was entirely too expensive for use in the arts.
The cotton seed oil could be produced much cheaper, but it had in it such
a quantity of gummy matter as to render it worse than useless for
employment on machinery.

This scarcity of oleaginous matter produced a corresponding scarcity of
soap and similar detergents, but this was a deprivation which caused the
Rebels, as a whole, as little inconvenience as any that they suffered
from. I have seen many thousands of them who were obviously greatly in
need of soap, but if they were rent with any suffering on that account
they concealed it with marvelous self-control.

There seemed to be a scanty supply of oil provided for the locomotives,
but the cars had to run with unlubricated axles, and the screaking and
groaning of the grinding journals in the dry boxes was sometimes almost
deafening, especially when we were going around a curve.

Our engine went off the wretched track several times, but as she was not
running much faster than a man could walk, the worst consequence to us
was a severe jolting. She was small, and was easily pried back upon the
track, and sent again upon her wheezy, straining way.

The depression which had weighed us down for a night and a day after our
capture had now been succeeded by a more cheerful feeling. We began to
look upon our condition as the fortune of war. We were proud of our
resistance to overwhelming numbers. We knew we had sold ourselves at a
price which, if the Rebels had it to do over again, they would not pay
for us. We believed that we had killed and seriously wounded as many of
them as they had killed, wounded and captured of us. We had nothing to
blame ourselves for. Moreover, we began to be buoyed up with the
expectation that we would be exchanged immediately upon our arrival at
Richmond, and the Rebel officers confidently assured us that this would
be so. There was then a temporary hitch in the exchange, but it would
all be straightened out in a few days, and it might not be a month until
we were again marching out of Cumberland Gap, on an avenging foray
against some of the force which had assisted in our capture.

Fortunately for this delusive hopefulness there was no weird and boding
Cassandra to pierce the veil of the future for us, and reveal the length
and the ghastly horror of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, through
which we must pass for hundreds of sad days, stretching out into long
months of suffering and death. Happily there was no one to tell us that
of every five in that party four would never stand under the Stars and
Stripes again, but succumbing to chronic starvation, long-continued
exposure, the bullet of the brutal guard, the loathsome scurvy, the
hideous gangrene, and the heartsickness of hope deferred, would find
respite from pain low in the barren sands of that hungry Southern soil.

Were every doom foretokened by appropriate omens, the ravens along our
route would have croaked themselves hoarse.

But, far from being oppressed by any presentiment of coming evil, we
began to appreciate and enjoy the picturesque grandeur of the scenery
through which we were moving. The rugged sternness of the Appalachian
mountain range, in whose rock-ribbed heart we had fought our losing
fight, was now softening into less strong, but more graceful outlines as
we approached the pine-clad, sandy plains of the seaboard, upon which
Richmond is built. We were skirting along the eastern base of the great
Blue Ridge, about whose distant and lofty summits hung a perpetual veil
of deep, dark, but translucent blue, which refracted the slanting rays of
the morning and evening sun into masses of color more gorgeous than a
dreamer's vision of an enchanted land. At Lynchburg we saw the famed
Peaks of Otter--twenty miles away--lifting their proud heads far into the
clouds, like giant watch-towers sentineling the gateway that the mighty
waters of the James had forced through the barriers of solid adamant
lying across their path to the far-off sea. What we had seen many miles
back start from the mountain sides as slender rivulets, brawling over the
worn boulders, were now great, rushing, full-tide streams, enough of them
in any fifty miles of our journey to furnish water power for all the
factories of New England. Their amazing opulence of mechanical energy
has lain unutilized, almost unnoticed; in the two and one-half centuries
that the white man has dwelt near them, while in Massachusetts and her
near neighbors every rill that can turn a wheel has been put into harness
and forced to do its share of labor for the benefit of the men who have
made themselves its masters.

Here is one of the differences between the two sections: In the North man
was set free, and the elements made to do his work. In the South man was
the degraded slave, and the elements wantoned on in undisturbed freedom.

As we went on, the Valleys of the James and the Appomattox, down which
our way lay, broadened into an expanse of arable acres, and the faces of
those streams were frequently flecked by gem-like little islands.

John McElroy