MOHUN - OR - THE LAST DAYS OF LEE
MOHUN - OR - THE LAST DAYS OF LEE
JOHN ESTEN COOKE
AUTHOR OF "SURRY OF EAGLE'S NEST."
_Nec aspera terrent._
On the wall over the mantel-piece here in my quiet study at
Eagle's-Nest are two crossed swords. One is a battered old sabre worn
at Gettysburg and Appomattox; the other a Federal officer's dress
sword captured in 1863.
It was a mere fancy to place them there as it was a whim to hang upon
that nail yonder the uniform coat with its stars and braid which
Stuart wore on his famous ride around McClellan in 1862. Under the
swords hang portraits of Lee Jackson and Stuart. Jackson wears his
old coat and his brow is raised as though he were looking out from
beneath his yellow old cadet cap. Stuart is seated grasping his sabre
with his plumed hat resting on his knee. His huge beard flows on his
breast his eyes are clear and penetrating and beneath the picture I
have placed a slip cut from one of his letters to me and containing
the words "Yours to count on J.E.B. Stuart." Lastly the gray
commander-in-chief looks with a grave smile over his shoulder the eyes
fixed upon that excellent engraving of the "Good Old Rebel" a private
of the Army of Northern Virginia seated on a log after the war and
reflecting with knit brows on the past and the present.
From this sketch of my surroundings worthy reader you will perceive
that I amuse myself by recalling the old times when the Grays and Blues
were opposed to each other. Those two swords crossed--those pictures of
Lee Jackson Stuart and the "Old Rebel"--you are certain to think
that the possessor of them is unreconstructed (terrible word!) and
still a rebel!
But is it wrong to remember the past? I think of it without bitterness.
God decreed it--God the all-wise the all-merciful--for his own
purpose. I do not indulge any repinings or reflect with rancor upon
the issue of the struggle. I prefer recalling the stirring adventure
the brave voices the gallant faces: even in that tremendous drama of
1864-5 I can find something besides blood and tears: even here and
there some sunshine!
In this last series of my memoirs I shall deal chiefly with that
immense campaign. In the first series which I trust the reader of
these pages will have perused I followed Jackson through his hard
battles to the fatal field of Chancellorsville. In this volume I shall
beg the reader first to go with Stuart from the great review of his
cavalry in June 1863 to the dark morning of May 11 1864 at Yellow
Tavern. Then the last days will follow.
I open the drama with that fine cavalry review in June 1863 on the
Plains of Culpeper.
It is a pleasure to return to it--for Gettysburg blackened the sunshine
soon. The column thundered by; the gay bugles rang; the great
banner floated. Where is that pageant to-day? Where the old moons of
Villon? Alas! the strong hours work their will. June 1863 is long
dead. The cavalry horses if they came back from the wars are
ploughing. The rusty sabres stick fast in the battered old scabbards.
The old saddles are shabby--and our friends take them away from us. The
old buttons are tarnished and an order forbids our wearing them. The
brass bands clash no more; and the bugles are silent. Where are the
drums and the bugles? Do they beat the long roll at the approach of
phantom foes or sound the cavalry charge in another world? They are
silent to-day and have long disappeared; but I think I hear them still
in my dreams!
It is in June 1863 therefore worthy reader that I open my volume.
Up to that time I had gone with Jackson's "foot cavalry" marching
slowly and steadily to battle. Now I was to follow the gay and
adventurous career of the Virginia Rupert--Stuart the Knight of the
Black Plume! If you are willing to accompany me I promise to show you
some animated scenes. You will hear Stuart laugh as he leads the
charge or jest with his staff or sing his gay cavalry songs. But
alas! we shall not go far with him; and when he leaves us a sort of
shadow will fall upon the landscape. From that May 1864 laughter will
seldom be heard. The light which shines on the great picture will be
red and baleful. Blood will gush on desperate fields--men will fall
like dry leaves in the winds of autumn.
The crimson torrent will sweep away a whole generation almost--and the
Red Cross flag will go down in blood.
The current of events will drag us to Petersburg and those last months
which witnessed the final wrestle in this war of the giants.
Let us bask in the sunshine before breasting the storm. The pages of
blood and mourning will soon be opened--meanwhile we will laugh.
In this June 1863 faces smile still and cheers resound. Bugles are
ringing swords clashing cannon thundering.
Lee's old army is full of ardor and seventy thousand men shout!
THE LAST DAYS OF LEE AND HIS PALADINS.
THE CAVALRY REVIEW.
On a beautiful day of June 1863 the plains of Culpeper in Virginia
were the scene of an imposing pageant.
Stuart's cavalry was passing in review before Lee who was about to
commence his march toward Gettysburg.
Those of my readers who were fortunate enough to be present will not
forget that scene. They will remember the martial form of Stuart at the
head of his _sabreurs_; how the columns of horsemen thundered by the
great flag; how the multitude cheered brightest eyes shone the merry
bands clashed the gay bugles rang; how the horse artillery roared as
it was charged in mimic battle--while Lee the gray old soldier with
serene carriage sat his horse and looked on.
Never had the fields of Culpeper witnessed a spectacle more
magnificent. The sunshine darted in lightnings from the long line of
sabres lit up beautiful faces and flashed from scarfs and waving
handkerchiefs rosy cheeks and glossy ringlets. All was life and joy
and splendor. For once war seemed turned to carnival; and flowers
wreathed the keen edge of the sword.
Among the illustrious figures gazed at by the crowd two were the
observed of all the observers--those of Lee and Stuart.
Lee sat his powerful horse with its plain soldierly equipments
beneath the large flag. He was clad in a gray uniform almost without
mark of rank. Cavalry boots reached nearly to his knees; as usual he
wore no sword; over his broad brow drooped a plain brown felt hat
without tassel or decoration. Beneath you saw a pair of frank and
benignant but penetrating eyes ruddy cheeks and an iron gray
mustache and beard both cut close. In the poise of the stately head
as in the whole carriage of his person there was something calm
august and imposing. This man it was plain was not only great but
good;--the true type of the race of gentlemen of other times.
Stuart the chief of cavalry of the army was altogether different in
appearance. Young ardent full of life and abandon he was the true
reproduction of Rupert said to be his ancestor. The dark cavalry
feather; the lofty forehead and dazzling blue eyes; his little
"fighting jacket" as he called it bright with braid and buttons made
a picture. His boots reached to the knee; a yellow silk sash was about
his waist; his spurs of solid gold were the present of some ladies of
Maryland; and with saber at tierce point extended over his horse's
head he led the charge with his staff in front of the column and
laughing as though the notes of the bugle drove him forward.
In every movement of that stalwart figure as in the glance of the blue
eyes and the laughter curling the huge mustache could be read youth
and joy and a courage which nothing could bend. He was called a "boy"
by some as Coriolanus was before him. But his Federal adversaries did
not laugh at him; they had felt his blows too often. Nor did the
soldiers of the army. He had breasted bullets in front of infantry as
well as the sabre in front of cavalry. The civilians might laugh at
him--the old soldiers found no fault in him for humming his songs in
battle. They knew the man and felt that he was a good soldier as well
as a great general. He would have made an excellent private and did
not feel "above" being one. Never was human being braver if he did
laugh and sing. Was he not brave? Answer old sabreurs whom he led in
a hundred charges! old followers of Jackson with whom he went over the
breastworks at Chancellorsville!
Some readers may regard this picture of Stuart as overdrawn; but it is
the simple truth of that brave soul. He had his faults; he loved
praise even flattery and was sometimes irascible--but I have never
known a human being more pure generous and brave.
At sunset the review was over. The long columns of cavalry moved slowly
back to their camps. The horse artillery followed; the infantry who had
witnessed the ceremony sought their bivouacs in the woods; and the
crowd on foot on horseback or in carriages returned toward the
Court-House whose spires were visible across the fields.
Stuart had approached the flag-staff and doffing his plumed hat had
saluted Lee who saluted in return and complimented the review. After
a few moments' conversation they had then saluted a second time. Lee
followed by his staff rode toward his quarters; and Stuart set out to
return to his own.
We had ridden about half a mile when Stuart turned his head and called
me. I rode to his side.
"I wish you would ride down toward Beverly's Ford Surry" he said
"and tell Mordaunt to keep a bright lookout to-night. They must have
heard our artillery on the other side of the river and may want to
find out what it means."
I saluted and turned my horse. Stuart cantered on singing.
In a few minutes he was out of sight and I was riding toward the
HOW I BECAME A MEMBER OF GENERAL STUART'S STAFF.
If the reader has done me the honor to peruse the first volume of my
memoirs I indulge the vanity of supposing that he will like to be
informed how I became a member of General Stuart's staff.
When oaks crash down they are apt to prostrate the saplings growing
around them. Jackson was a very tall oak and I a very humble sapling.
When the great trunk fell the mere twig disappeared. I had served with
Jackson from the beginning of the war; that king of battle dead at
Chancellorsville I had found myself without a commander and without a
home. I was not only called upon in that May of 1863 to mourn the
illustrious soldier who had done me the honor to call me his friend; I
had also to look around me for some other general; some other position
in the army.
I was revolving this important subject in my mind when I received a
note from General J.E.B. Stuart Jackson's friend and brother in arms.
"Come and see me" said this note. Forty-eight hours afterward I was at
Stuart's head-quarters near Culpeper Court-House.
When I entered his tent or rather breadth of canvas stretched beneath
a great oak Stuart rose from the red blanket upon which he was lying
and held out his hand. As he gazed at me in silence I could see his
"You remind me of Jackson" he said retaining my hand and gazing
fixedly at me.
I bowed my head making no other reply; for the sight of Stuart brought
back to me also many memories; the scouting of the Valley the hard
combats of the Lowland Cold Harbor Manassas Sharpsburg
Fredericksburg and that last greeting between Jackson and the great
commander of the cavalry on the weird moonlight night at
Stuart continued to gaze at me and I could see his eyes slowly fill
"It is a national calamity!" he murmured. "Jackson's loss is
[Footnote 1: His words.]
He remained for a moment gazing into my face then passing his hand
over his forehead he banished by a great effort these depressing
memories. His bold features resumed their habitual cheerfulness.
Our dialogue was brief and came rapidly to the point.
"Have you been assigned to duty yet my dear Surry?"
"I have not general."
"Would you like to come with me?"
"More than with any general in the army since Jackson's death. You
know I am sincere in saying that."
"Thanks--then the matter can be very soon arranged I think. I want
another inspector-general and want _you_."
With these words Stuart seated himself at his desk wrote a note
which he dispatched by a courier to army head-quarters; and then
throwing aside business he began laughing and talking.
For once the supply of red tape in Richmond seemed temporarily
exhausted. Stuart was Lee's right hand and when he made a request the
War Office deigned to listen. Four days afterward I was seated under
the canvas of a staff tent when Stuart hastened up with boyish ardor
holding a paper.
"Here you are old Surry"--when he used the prefix "old" to any one's
name he was always excellently well disposed toward them--"the
Richmond people are prompt this time. Here is your assignment--send for
Sweeney and his banjo! He shall play 'Jine the Cavalry!' in honor of
the occasion Surry!"
You see now my dear reader how it happened that in June 1863 Stuart
beckoned to me and gave me an order to transmit to General Mordaunt.
BLUE AND GRAY PHANTOMS.
As I rode toward the Rappahannock to deliver Stuart's order to General
Mordaunt the wide landscape was suddenly lit up by a crimson glare. I
looked over my shoulder. The sun was poised upon the western woods and
resembled a huge bloodshot eye. Above it extended a long black cloud
like an eyebrow--and from the cloud issued low thunder.
When a storm is coming the civilian seeks shelter; but the soldier
carrying an order wraps his cape around him and rides on. I went on
past Brandy and Fleetwood Hill descended toward the river entered a
great belt of woods--then night and storm descended simultaneously. An
artillery duel seemed going on in the clouds; the flickering lightnings
amid the branches resembled serpents of fire: the wind rolled through
the black wood tearing off boughs in its passage.
I pushed my horse to full speed to emerge from this scene of crashing
limbs and tottering trunks. I had just passed a little stream when
from a by-road on my left came the trample of hoofs. It is good to be
on the watch in the cavalry and I wheeled to the right
listening--when all at once a brilliant flash of lightning showed me
within fifty paces a column of _blue_ cavalry.
"Halt!" rang out from the column and a pistol-shot followed.
I did not halt. Capture was becoming a hideous affair in June 1863. I
passed across the head of the column at full speed followed by
bullets; struck into a bridle-path on the right and pushed ahead
They had followed me nearly half a mile firing on me and ordering me
to halt when suddenly a sonorous "Halt!" resounded fifty yards in
front of me; and a moment afterward a carbine ball passed through my
I drove on at full speed convinced that these in front were friends;
and the chest of my horse struck violently against that of another in
"Halt or you are dead!" came in the same commanding voice.
Another flash of lightning showed me a squadron of _gray_ cavalry: at
their head rode a cavalier well mounted; it was his horse against
which I had struck and he held a cocked pistol to my breast.
The lightning left nothing in doubt. Gray and blue quickly recognized
each other. The blue cavalry had drawn rein and at that moment the
leader of the grays shouted--"Charge!" A rush of hoofs and then a
quick clash of sabres followed. The adversaries had hurled together.
The wood suddenly became the scene of a violent combat.
It was a rough affair. For ten minutes the result was doubtful. The
Federal cavalry were apparently commanded by an officer of excellent
nerve and he fought his men obstinately. For nearly a quarter of an
hour the wood was full of sabre-strokes carbine-shots and yells
which mingled with the roll of the storm. Then the fight ended.
My friend of the cocked pistol threw himself sabre in hand upon the
Federal front and it shook and gave back and retreated. The weight
of the onset seemed to sweep it inch by inch away. The blue squadron
finally broke and scattered in every direction. The grays pressed on
with loud cheers firing as they did so:--five minutes afterward the
storm-lashed wood had swallowed pursuers and pursued.
The whole had disappeared like phantom horsemen in the direction of the
MOHUN AND HIS PRISONER.
Half an hour afterward the storm had spent its fury and I was
standing by a bivouac fire on the banks of the Rappahannock conversing
with the officer against whom I had driven my horse in the darkness.
Mounted upon a powerful gray he had led the attack with a sort of
fury and I now looked at him with some curiosity.
He was a man of about thirty of gaunt face and figure wearing a hat
with a black feather and the uniform of a colonel of cavalry. The
features were regular and might have been called handsome; the eyes
hair mustache and imperial--he wore no beard--coal black; the
complexion so pale that the effect was startling. More curious than all
else however was the officer's expression. In the lips and eyes could
be read something bitterly cynical mingled with a profound and
apparently ineradicable melancholy. After looking at my new
acquaintance for an instant I said to myself: "This man has either
suffered some great grief or committed some great crime."
His bearing was cold but courteous.
"I recognized you as soon as I saw you colonel" he said in response
to my salute. "You probably do not know me however as I have just
been transferred from the Army of the West. Colonel Mohun at your
I exchanged a pressure of the hand with Colonel Mohun or speaking
more correctly I grasped his. It did not return the pressure. I then
thanked him for his timely appearance and he bowed coldly.
"It was lucky that my scout led me in this direction" he said "that
party is whipped back over the river and will give us no more trouble
to-night--the woods are full of their dead and wounded."
As he spoke he took a cigar case from his pocket and presented it.
"Will you smoke sir?" he said.
I bowed and selected a cigar. Colonel Mohun imitated me and was about
to commence smoking when two or three cavalry men were seen