Reminiscences of Jackson's Infantry by Colonel John M. Patton
| At the banquet of the Army of Northern Virginia, October 29th, 1879, Colonel John M. Patton was called upon to respond to the following toast:|
"The Infantry - Though often half fed and half clad, they did their whole duty. We can never forget their heroic tread on the march, their bravery in battle, and the wild yell of enthusiasm and devotion which often sent dismay to the lines of the enemy."
He spoke as follows:
Mr. Chairman -
It would be a vain and presumptuous task were I, on this occasion, to essay an eulogy on the "half fed and half clad" infantry of the Army of Northern Virginia. They had written their own eulogy in imperishable lines on every sod of every battlefield of Virginia. That eulogy has been heard in the princely halls of imperial courts, and it had been rehearsed with pride around the camp-fires of every army, great and small, throughout the world. It has been piped to the four quarters of the earth by the winds that contend for mastery in the passes of the Alps and the Appenines, the Himalayas and the Andes, and it has been murmured as a requiem by the gentle breezes that blow at their base.
It has thrilled the hearts of the brave wherever self - sacrificing devotion to duty is cherished, and it has heaved with emotion the gentle breast of woman, and dimmed with sympathetic tears the bright glances of her eyes. It has found an echo in the pathless desert around the tents of the wandering Arab, and it had even penetrated as a household tale into the most secret recesses of the zenanas of the east and the harems of the Turk. Indeed, Mr. Chairman, the infantry of the Army of Northern Virginia, in common with their comrades of the other arms of the service, may well adopt the language of the heroic son of Venus - the princely warrior who led the shattered remnants of the Trojan hosts from smitten Troy and their desolated homes to found imperial dominion in distant lands-
... Quis jam locus ...
Quae regio in terris nostri non plena laboris.
Instead of attempting such an eulogy, therefore, I will, with your permission, Mr. Chairman, narrate an incident which fell under my own observation, one like so many which are familiar to us all, and illustrative, as I think, of the tone and temper of the brave hearts that beat beneath the ragged jackets of gray - gray only for a time, and then stained with every hue from cloud and storm, from rain and sunshine, from the dust of the march and from the patriot blood that flowed through diminished veins from honorable wounds.
In May, 1862, just after the battle of McDowell, the army of the immortal Jackson lay near Harrisonburg in the Valley of Virginia, while the magnificently equipped army of the enemy, commanded by General Banks, was entrenched at Strasburg, meditating a further advance, while harassing and humiliating the noble people of the Valley in their rear. In order to dislodge him, or, if possible, to get in his rear at Middletown, by way of the Page Valley, and destroy him, Jackson ordered his army to cook three days' rations, and to be placed in light marching order. The next morning at dawn the march commenced - no man but Jackson knowing whither. The troops were accustomed to severe marches, but this was a most trying one. All day long they pushed forward under a broiling sun -unusual at that season - and with a dense and stifling dust.
Men frequently staggered from the ranks overcome by the heat, and many, footsore and weary, were left behind. The second night, about 9 P. M., after a very severe march, we encamped at Front Royal - the leading regiment having "gobbled up," as the soldiers called it, one of Banks' outlying regiments stationed at that point - about twelve miles from him left-rear.
Thus far the movement had been entirely masked by the cavalry. Early the next morning the march was directed again towards the Valley turnpike, and the troops, sore and limping, were yet pressed forward with vigor, in the hope of cutting Banks off from his line of retreat and crushing his army demoralized by such a calamity. By some means he got information about this time which induced him to retreat towards Winchester, but not early enough to prevent the advance of Jackson's army from cutting his rear in two at Middletown and capturing and dispersing it. Then commenced that hot pursuit of the main body of the flying enemy - seeking by two roads a refuge behind his entrenchments at Winchester. Jackson's immortal fame had then only begun to bud, and he was habitually severely criticized both by officers and men. Thus far the brigade to which my own regiment (the Twenty-first Virginia) belonged had not "pulled a trigger." The well known Company "F," of Richmond, was on the right of the regiment. As the men limped along with weary limbs and feet throbbing with pain, on what seemed to them an aimless march, I heard them denouncing Jackson in unmeasured terms for "marching them to death to no good end." It was my duty no doubt to have rebuked these manifestations in subordination, but, feeling that their sufferings in some measure condoned their offense, I took no notice of the breach of discipline. Presently there appeared at every point where county-roads, bridle-roads or foot-paths entered the great Valley road, as if they had sprung from the earth, the venerable fathers and mothers, and wives, and little boys and girls of that heroic Valley - all the able-bodied men were in the army - wild with the joy of a delivered people, their hair disheveled, their features convulsed, their voices hoarse with exultant shouts, their arms loaded with pies and biscuits, and buttered bread and buttermilk, and their lips and eyes raining down blessings and tears commingled with the gifts gleaned from their rushed by. For a while my murmurers were dumb with mingled emotions, and then I heard them say, with broken voices and streaming eyes, lit with the light of battle, while they raised their heads and with quickened steps stamped beneath them the pain of their weary limbs and aching feet, "Ah! boys, we can go anywhere with him now, we can follow him into the "mouth of hell."" I could not help it - unbidden tears burst from my eyes in response to the diamond drops that fell from those gallant cheeks.
All that night that entire army - pain and weariness forgotten - pressed on, with a zeal renewed and inflamed by those touching sights, through burning wagons and pontoons and through repeated night ambuscades, fought and won the battle of Winchester at early morning, pursued the enemy through that noble little city, where similar wayside scenes were exhibited by gentle and tender women, regardless of the running fight going on in the streets where they were, left the city behind them and went into bivouac six miles beyond after twenty-seven consecutive hours of marching and fighting, including two pitched battles; but from the time of that pathetic march down the Valley, no murmur was heard in his command. Ever afterwards, to the bitter end - even when incorporated with that grand Army of Northern Virginia under the immortal chief to whom they equally with Jackson looked up with reverence - they felt unshaken confidence in their corps commander. If at any time the thin ranks on their right or their left or in their own line were broken by overwhelming numbers, they would comfort one another with the words, "never mind, boys, old Stonewall is here."
Mr. Chairman, in the army of Italy there once fell a soldier of the ranks, fighting grandly beneath the eye of his General - afterwards the imperial master of Europe. Next morning orders came from headquarters that henceforth forever, when the roll of his regiment shall be called, the name of that fallen hero should be called among them, and that the answer should come back from the ranks - "Dead upon the field of glory." On, Mr. Chairman! Oh, God! if a solemn roll-call could be had this night of the regiment to which belonged the gallant boys of whom I have told you and of the many other regiments in which marched their comrades in peril and in trial, the answer would come back from the ranks in the great majority of cases, "Dead upon the field of glory."
One might there lay in the outer trenches, conforming a dark redan, "Brave hearts from Severn and from Clyde, and from the banks of Shannon," who "sang of Annie Laurie." Next day they married immortality, and the music of their bridal march was the sharp crash and rattle of the rifles and the musketry. These men illustrated for the thousandth time, Mr. Chairman, not more than the dear boys of whom I have told you, the precious truth that "the bravest are the tenderest, the loving are the daring."
Taken from the Southern Historical Society Papers Volume VIII, Richmond, Va, April, 1880 pages 140-143