« PreviousContinue »
“ You've heerd about Harrow; he was Confederate commissary; he stole mo'e hosses f’om the people, and po'ed the money down his own throat, than would have paid fo' fo'ty men like him, if he was black.”
A mile or two farther on, we came to another house.
“Hyer's whar the man lives that killed Harrow. He was in the army, and because he objected to some of Harrow's doin's, Harrow had him arrested, and treated him very much amiss. That ground into his conscience and feelin's, and he deserted fo' no other puppose than to shoot him. He's a mighty smart fellah! He 'll strike a man side the head, and soon 's his fist leaves it, his foot's thar. He shot Harrow in that house you see burnt to the ground, and then went spang to Washington. O, he was sharp!”
On our return we met the slayer of Harrow riding home from Fredericksburg on a mule, - a fine-looking young fellow, of blonde complexion, a pleasant countenance, finely chiselled nose and lips, and an eye full of sunshine. “Jest the best-hearted, nicest young fellah in the wo'ld, till ye git him mad; then look out!” I think it is often the most attractive persons, of fine temperaments, who are capable of the most terrible wrath when roused.
The plank-road was in such a ruined condition that nobody thought of driving on it, although the dirt road beside it was in places scarcely better. The back of the seat was cruel, notwithstanding the corn-stalks. But by means of much persuasion, enforced by a good whip, Elijah kept the old horse jogging on. Oak-trees, loaded with acorns, grew beside the road. Black-walnuts, already beginning to lose their leaves, hung their delicate balls in the clear light over our heads. Poke-weeds, dark with ripening berries, wild grapes festooning bush and tree, sumachs thrusting up through the foliage their sanguinary spears, persimmon-trees, gum-trees, red cedars, with their bluish-green clusters, chestnut-oaks, and chincapins, adorned the wild wayside.
So we approached Chancellorsville, twelve miles from Fredericksburg. Elijah was raised in that region, and knew every.
“Many a frolic have I had runnin' the deer through these woods! Soon as the dogs started one, he'd put fo’ the river, cross, take a turn on t' other side, and it would n't be an hour 'fo'e he'd be back ag’in. Man I lived with used to have a mare that was trained to hunt; if she was in the field and heard the dogs, she'd whirl her tail up on her back, lope the fences, and go spang to the United States Ford, git thar 'fo'e the dogs would, and hunt as well without a rider as with
But since then a far different kind of hunting, a richer blood than the deer's, and other sounds than the exciting yelp of the dogs, had rendered that region famous.
"Hyer we come to the Chancellorsville farm. Many a poo' soldier's knapsack was emptied of his clothes, after the battle, along this road!” said Elijah, remembering last winter's business with his mule.
The road runs through a large open field bounded by woods. The marks of hard fighting were visible from afar off. A growth of saplings edging the woods on the south had been killed by volleys of musketry: they looked like thickets of bean-poles. The ground everywhere, in the field and in the woods, was strewed with mementos of the battle, — rotting knapsacks and haversacks, battered canteens and tin cups, and fragments of clothing which Elijah's customers had not deemed it worth the while to pick up. On each side of the road were breastworks and rifle-pits extending into the woods. The clearing, once a well-fenced farm of grain-fields and cloverlots, was now a dreary and deserted common. Of the Chancellorsville House, formerly a large brick tavern, only the half-fallen walls and chimney-stacks remained. Here General Hooker had his headquarters until the wave of battle on Sunday morning rolled so hot and so near that he was compelled to withdraw. The house was soon after fired by a Rebel shell, when full of wounded men, and burned.
“Every place ye see these big bunches of weeds, that 's whar tha' was hosses or men buried,” said Elijah. “ These holes are whar the bones have been dug up for the bone-factory at Fredericksburg."
It was easy for the bone-seekers to determine where to dig. The common was comparatively barren, except where grew those gigantic clumps of weeds. I asked Elijah if he thought many human bones went to the factory.
“ Not unless by mistake. But people a'n't always very partic'lar about mistakes thar 's money to be made by.”
Seeing a small enclosure midway between the road and the woods on the south, we walked to it, and found it a buryins. ground ridged with unknown graves. Not a head-board, not an inscription, indicated who were the tenants of that little lonely field. And Elijah 'knew nothing of its history; it had been set apart, and the scattered dead had been gathered together and buried there, since he passed that way.
We found breastworks thrown up all along by the plankroad west of the farm, — the old worn planks having been put to good service in their construction. The tree-trunks pierced by balls, the boughs lopped off by shells, the strips of timber cut to pieces by artillery and musketry fire, showed how desperate the struggle on that side had been. The endeavors of the Confederates to follow up with an overwhelming victory Jackson's swift and telling blows on our right, and the equally determined efforts of our men to retrieve that disaster, rendered this the scene of a furious encounter.
Elijah thought that if Jackson had not been killed by his own men after delivering that thunderstroke, Hooker would have been annihilated. “Stonewall” was undoubtedly the enemy's best fighting General. His death was to them equa! to the loss of many brigades. With regard to the manner of his death there can be no longer any doubt. I have conversed with Confederate officers who were in the battle, all of whom agree as to the main fact. General Jackson, after shattering our right wing, posted his pickets at night with directions to fire upon any man or body of men that might approach. He afterwards rode forward to reconnoitre, returned inadvertently by the same road, and was shot by his own orders.
they were the needful price paid for it. We had learned the dread price, we had duly weighed the worth of the object to be purchased; what then was the use of hesitating and higgling?
We were approaching the scene of Grant's first great blow aimed at the gates of the Rebel capital. On the field of Chancellorsville you already tread the borders of the field of the Wilderness, — if that can be called a field which is a mere interminable forest, slashed here and there with roads.
Passing straight along the plank-road, we came to a large farm-house, which had been gutted by soldiers, and but recently reoccupied. It was still in a scarcely habitable condition. However, we managed to obtain, what we stood greatly in need of, a cup of cold water. I observed that it tasted strongly of iron.
“ The reason of that is, we took twelve camp-kettles out of the well,” said the man of the house, “and nobody knows how many more there are down therė.”
The place is known as Locust Grove. In the edge of the forest, but a little farther on, is the Wilderness Church, -a square-framed building, which showed marks of such usage as every uninhabited house receives at the hands of a wild soldiery. Red Mars has little respect for the temples of the Prince of Peace.
“Many a time have I been to meet'n' in that shell, and sot on hard benches, and heard long sermons !” said Elijah. “But I reckon it 'll be a long while befo'e them doo's are darkened by a congregation ag'in. Thar a'n't the population through hyer thar used to be. Oncet we'd have met a hundred wagons on this road go'n' to market; but I count we ha'n't met mo'e 'n a dozen to-day.”
Not far beyond the church we approached two tall guideposts erected where the road forks. The one on the right pointed the way to the “ Wilderness National Cemetery, No. 1, 4 miles," by the Orange Court-House turnpike. The other indicated the “ Wilderness National Cemetery, No. 2," by the plank-road.
“ All this has been done sence I was this way," said Elijah.