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Richmond

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

"From lightning and tempest; from plague, pestilence and famine from battle and murder, and from sudden death,

"Good Lord, deliver us."

By most the words were sobbed out. May the eighth, and the Wilderness vast in the minds of all, and fresh battle impending, now at Spottsylvania! It was a congregation of men and women, dusky in raiment, bereaved, torn by anxieties, sick with alternating hope and fear. Only on one's bed at night, or here in church, could the overladen heart speak without shame or acknowledgment of weakness. Outside, one must be brave again. The over-laden heart expressed itself not loudly but very truly. The kneeling women looked crushed and immobile in that position. Over them was flung a veil of black, and a hand, potent from the beginning of ages, seemed yet more heavily to press downward their bowed heads. The men knelt more stiffly, but they, too, rested their foreheads on their clasped hands, and the tears came from between their closed lids.

On rolled the service, through to the benediction. Richmond in Saint Paul's came out of church into the flower-perfumed sunlight. Here, men and women, they took up life again, and took it up with courage. And as the proper face of courage is a smiling one, so with these. Laughter, even, was heard in Richmond — Richmond scarred and battle-worn; Richmond, where was disease and crowding and wounds and starvation; Richmond ringed with earthworks; Richmond the city contended for; Richmond between her foes, Army of the Potomac threatening from the Wilderness, Army of the James, lesser but formidable, threatening from the river gate; Richmond, where the alarm bell was always ringing, ringing! Two days ago it had pealed the news that Butler, bringing up a fleet from Fortress Monroe, had made a landing at Bermuda Hundred. Thirty-nine ships there were in all —thirty-eight, when a gunboat, running upon a torpedo, was blown into fragments. They landed thirty-six thousand troops and overran the narrow ground between the Appomattox and the James. Petersburg was threatened, and from that side Richmond. The bell told it all with an iron tongue. Pickett was at Petersburg, reinforced by Hagood's brigade, and troops were coming from the Carolinas — some troops, how many no one knew save that they could not be many. Yesterday again the thrilling, rapid, iron tongue had spoken. The enemy had seized and was wrecking the Petersburg railroad. . . . So many words had come forward in this war, had their day, or short or long, and gone out of men's mouths! Now the word "Petersburg" came for-ward, it being its turn. The alarm bell called out the militia and the City Battalion and the clerks from the various departments. They were all ready if the blue cannon came nearer.

Storm and oppression were in the air — and yet the town on its seven hills was fair, with May flowers and the fresh green of many trees in which sang the mating birds. The past winter and early spring there had existed, leaping like a sudden flame, dying to a greying ember, and then leaping again, a strange gaiety. It had seized but a certain number in the heavy-hearted city, but these it had seized. Youth was youth, and must sing some manner of song and play a little no matter what the storm. There were bizarre "starvation parties," charades, concerts, dances, amateur theatricals, an historic presentation of "The Rivals." It was all natural enough; it had its place in the symphony of 1864. But now it was over. The soldiers had gone back to the front, the campaign had begun, and no one could really sing, watching the wounded come in.

Judith and Unity Cary walked up Grace Street together. They were not wearing black; Warwick Cary had never liked it. More-over, in this year of the war a black gown and bonnet and veil would cost a fearful amount, and there were known to be women and children starving. The day was bright and warm, with drifts of perfume. An officer of the President's staff lifted his cap, then walked beside them.

"Isn't it a lovely day? — If I were a king with a hundred palaces, I should have around each one a brick wall with wistaria over it!"

"No, dark red roses —"

"I shouldn't have a wall at all — unless it were one with a number of gates — and only one palace! A reasonable palace, with an unreasonable number of white roses —"

A lieutenant-colonel, aged twenty-six, with an arm in a sling, and a patch over one eye, here joined them. "Good morning! Is n't it a lovely day! I was just thinking it was n't half so lovely a day as the days are at Greenwood, and to and behold! just then it became just as lovely!— What do you think! It's confirmed that Beauregard is on his way from North Carolina —"

"Good!"

"`Beau canon, Beauregard ! Beau soldat, Beauregard !
Beau sabreur! beau frappeur! Beauregard! Beauregard !'

Now I've shocked that old lady crossing the street! Harry, tell her it was a Russian hymn!"

They walked on beneath the bright trees. "The -- wedding has been postponed," said Unity. "They thought there was time, but two days before the day they had set, he had to go. It will be as soon as he comes back."

"By George! but I was at a wedding out in Hanover!" said the lieutenant-colonel. "The bride was dressed in homespun, with a wreath of apple blossoms. The bridesmaids were in black, just taken as they were from all the neighbouring families. The groom had lost his arm and a piece of shell at Mine Run had cut away an ear, just as neat! The best man was a lame civilian who had somehow inherited and held fast a beautiful black broadcloth suit, — very tight pantaloons and a sprigged velvet waistcoat! He had acted, he told me, as best man at thirty weddings in the last year `because he had the clothes.' The wedding guests had come in what they had and it was a wonderful display. The bride had six brothers and a father marching on the Wilderness, and the groom was just out of hospital. There were three wounded cousins in the house, and in the stable a favourite war-horse being doctored for a sabre cut. Most of the servants had left, but there was a fiddler still on the place, and we danced till midnight. There was a Confederate bride-cake, and a lot of things made with dried apples and sorghum. By George, it was fine!"

" The bell ! "

The iron voice rang through the city. Faces came to the open windows, questioning voices arose, men passed, walking rapidly, the aide and the lieutenant-colonel said good-bye in haste and went with the rest. The loud ringing ceased; it had not lasted long enough to mark anything very terrible. Judith and Unity waited by a honeysuckle-draped gate until the clamour had ceased, and then until there came reassurance from a passer-by. "Nothing alarming! A slight engagement at Drewry's Bluff, and a feint this way!"

The kinsman's house where Judith had stayed before sheltered now the two sisters. Judith was here because, during the weeks of inaction preceding the opening of the campaign, Cleave could now and again come to Richmond for a day. Unity was here because of sheer need of change, so weary long had been the winter at Greenwood. Change was change, even if both plays were tragedies. Now they went into the house that, like all houses in Richmond, was filled with people. Of the three sons, one had died in prison and the others were with Lee. The house was murmurous with the voices of women and quite elderly men, across which bubbled the clear notes of children. So much of the great State was overrun now by the foe, so many homes were burned, so much subsistence was destroyed, so impossible was it to stay in the old home region, that always, every-where, occurred a movement of refugees. There was a tendency for the streams to set toward Richmond; unwise but natural. Almost every quarter was now threatened; one went into peaceful fields to-day, and to-morrow one must move again. Richmond! Richmond was surely safe, Richmond would surely never fall... . There was a restless straining, too, toward the heart of things. So the refugees came to Richmond and, with the troops coming and going, and Government and the departments and the inmates of the great hospitals and the inmates of the mournful prisons, crowded the city.

Judith and Unity had together the small, high-up, white room behind the tulip tree that had been Judith's before and during and after the Seven Days. Now they climbed to it, laid away their things, and prepared for the three o'clock dinner. Judith sat in the window-seat, her hands about her knee, her head thrown back against the white wood, her eyes on the shimmering distance seen between the boughs.

"Once this window faced as it should," she said; "I could watch the campfires each night — and I watched — I watched. But now I wish it were a northwest window."

Unity, at the mirror, coiled her bright, brown hair. "By the time it was cut you might need another."

"That is true," said Judith. "The sky reddens all round, and one needs a room all windows."

They went downstairs. As they approached the cool dining-room, with its portraits and silver and old blue china, a very sweet voice floated out. "He said, `Exactly, madam! You take your money to market in the market-basket, and you bring home what you buy in your pocketbook!'

The next day and the next they spent in part at a hospital, in part breathlessly waiting with the waiting city for news, news, news! — news from Spottsylvania, where the great fighting was in progress; news from south of the river, where Butler, most hated of all foes, was entrenched, where there was fighting at Port Walthall; news, on the tenth, of Sheridan's approach, of much burning and destroying, news that Stuart was countering Sheridan. "Oh, it is all right, then!" said many; but yet by day and by night there was tenseness of apprehension.

All the town was hot and breathless. The alarm bell rang, the dust whirled through the streets. The night of the tenth, Judith and Unity were wakened by a drum beating. A minute later a voice spoke outside their door. "Sheridan is within a few miles of Richmond. He is moving on us with eight thousand horse. Your cousin says you had better get up and dress."

All of the household except the sleeping children gathered on the porch that overhung the pavement. It was two o'clock. The drum was still beating and now there came by soldiers. We're going out the Brook Turnpike, said the drum. Out the Brook Turnpike. Meet them! We're going to meet them! Three or four regiments passed. The drum turned a corner and the sound died, going northward. The streets were filled with people as though it were day. They went up and down quietly enough; without panic, but seized by a profound restlessness. Toward four o'clock a man came riding up the street on horseback, stopping every hundred yards or so to say in a loud, manly voice, "The President has heard from General Stuart. With Fitzhugh Lee and Hampton and Munford, General Stuart has taken position between us and a large cavalry force under Sheridan. There has been a fight at Ashland in which we were victors. General Stuart is now approaching Yellow Tavern. The President says, `Good people, go to bed, Richmond's got a great shield before it!'"

The eleventh dawned. Richmond now heard the cannon again, from the north and from the south. Judith and Unity heard them from the hospital windows. There was a delirious soldier whom they had to hold in bed because he thought that it was his battery fighting against odds, and Pegram was calling him. "Yes, Major! I'm coming! Yes, Major! I've got the powder. I'm coming!" By ten o'clock ran through the excited ward the tidings that they were fighting, fighting in Spottsylvania, "Fighting like hell." The sound of cannon came from the south side. "Butler over there — New Orleans Butler! When's Beauregard coming?"

"General Beauregard has come. He is at Petersburg."

"Miss What's-your-name, why don't you warm your hands ? That ain't any way to touch poor sick soldiers with them icicles like that! — O Lord, O Lord! Why'd I ever come here ?"

"Them cannon 's getting louder all the time. Louder 'n', louder 'n', louder —"

"Shoo! They can't cross the river. Where's Jeb Stuart? What 's he doing ?"

"He's fighting hard, six miles out, at Yellow Tavern. Uptown you can hear the firing!"

A young man struggled up in bed, first coughing, then breathing with a loud, whistling sound. The doctor glanced his way, then looked at a nurse. "It's come. I'll give him something so he can go easily. Let him lean against you. Tell the men to try to be quiet."

Out at Yellow Tavern, six miles north of Richmond, Sheridan was formed in line of battle. Over against him was Stuart, his men dismounted. The blue delivered a great volley, advanced, volleyed again, advanced, shouting. The grey returned their fire. James Stuart, sitting his horse just behind his battleline, swung his hat, lifted his voice that was the voice of a magician, "Steady, men, steady! Give a good day's account of yourself! Steady! Steady!"

The firing became fiercer and closer. There was a keening sound in the air. Stuart's voice suddenly dropped; he swayed in his saddle.

A mounted courier pressed toward him. "Go," he said; "go tell General Lee and Dr. Fontaine to come here." The courier spurred away and the men around Stuart lifted him from his horse, and, mourning, bore him to the rear.

That evening they brought him into the city and laid him in the house of his brother-in-law. His wife was sent for, but she was miles away, in the troubled, overrun countryside, and though she fared toward him in haste and anguish, she spoke to him no more alive. Friends were around him — his mourning officers, all the mourning city. The President came and stood beside the bed, and tried to thank him. "You have saved Richmond, General. You have always been a bulwark to us . . ." He asked for a hymn that he liked — "I would not live alway." He had lived but thirty-one years. He asked often for his wife. "Is she come?" . . . "Is she come?" She could not come in time. The evening of the twelfth he died, quite peacefully, and those who looked on his dead face said that the sunshine abided.

They buried Jeb Stuart in Hollywood, buried him with no pageantry of martial or of civil woe. One year ago there had been in Richmond for Stonewall Jackson such pageantry. Today "We could not pause, while yet the noontide air
hook with the cannonade's incessant pealing...

"One weary year ago, when came a lull,
With victory in the conflict's stormy closes,
When the glad spring, all flushed and beautiful, First mocked us with her roses —

"With dirge and bell and minute gun we paid
Some few poor rites, an inexpressive token,
Of a great people's pain, to Jackson's shade,
In agony unspoken.

"No wailing trumpet and no tolling bell,
No cannon, save the battle's boom receding,
When Stuart to the grave we bore, might tell,
With hearts all crushed and bleeding."

But the people thronged to Hollywood, above the rushing river. Hollow and hill, ivy-mantled oaks and grass purpled with violets, the place was a good one in which to lay down the outworn form that had done service and was loved. Flowers grew there with a wild luxuriance. Today they were brought beside from all gardens—

"We well remembered how he loved to dash,
Into the fight, festooned from summer's bowers.
How like a fountain's spray, his sabre flash,
Leaped from a mass of flowers —"

Today flowers lined the open grave; they covered the coffin and the flag.

Back in the hospital a man with three wounds wailed all night. " I had a brother and he was living up North and so he thought thater-way. And he wrote that he held by the Nation just as hard as I held by the State. And so he up and joined the Army of the Potomac and came down here. And in the Wilderness the other day — and in the Wilderness the other day — oh, in the Wilderness the other day — I was sharpshooting ! I was up in a tree, close to the bark, like a 'pecker. There was a gully below with a stream running down it, and on the other side of the gully was an oak with a man in it, close to the bark like a 'pecker. And we were Yank and Johnny Reb, and so every time one of us showed as much as the tip of a 'pecker's wing, the other one fired. We fired and fired. And at last he wasn't so cautious, and I got him. And first his musket fell, down and down, for he was up high. And then the body came and it hit every bough as it came. And something in me gave a word of command. It said `Go and look.' I got down out of the oak, for I was in an oak tree, too, and I went down one side of the gully and up the other. And he was lying all doubled up. And I got another word of command, ` Turn him over.' And I did, and he was my brother... . And I'm tired of war."

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