Before I begin some writing about the Fredericksburg conflict in December, I’m going to post five parts of a new (to me) War reminiscences collection – one that I’ll likely also use from time to time moving forward through the next couple years. I’ve needed to add more Confederate reading to my list and references, and I’ve enjoyed the following as that of a fellow who writes well. To write well – that is something I really respect about anyone of any generation, and I believe that reading the incredibly descriptive prose of so many Civil War writers is something I enjoy essentially as much as the content of their accounts.
These posts will be from “Reminiscences of the Civil War: by Judge John W. Stevens, a Soldier in Hood’s Texas Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia.” Stevens served in the 5th Texas Infantry. He was wounded at Antietam and captured on the second day at Gettysburg. He was later a Judge in Hill County, Texas. He was also a Methodist Preacher (the preacher part accounting for his descriptive abilities – at least that’s my belief, and I’m sticking to it!).
This publication was from 1902. Sensing that some folks might believe his memory was poor or that he embellished or fabricated his stories, the foreword of the book references a number of veterans who affirm they have read his manuscript and can validate the accuracy of his remarks.
I am going to include four excerpts that talk about South Mountain, skirmishing on the 16th, the Battle of Antietam, and the departure from Maryland, but first I’m going to share the preface to the book. As always when I do these sorts of posts, the italicized text is Stevens’ writing, whereas my remarks will be in regular type, enclosed within [brackets].
It is not without some misgivings, that I have given out to the public, in book form, these sketches. Some five or six years ago I began writing them, for the entertainment of the young folks, and run them through the “Picayune,” a little Daily published in this city by Mr. Preston Ivy. [The city he is talking about in Hillsboro, TX. He later references also writing up these sketches in better, more corrected form for a publication called the “Hillsboro Mirror, and comments that the demand for printing them in book form has been so flattering, that I have yielded, and here it is.]
At the beginning I had no thought of their reaching beyond half a dozen chapters; but as my pen moved over the paper, the matter grew upon me, and I continued to write, and as I wrote, the matter continued to grow; the great conflict passed before me in panoramic view. The city of Richmond, the great lines of breast work, the army in camp, the fields, the mountains, the valleys of Old Virginia, the grand old James as she moved along to the sea, the broad Shenandoah whose banks were stained with the blood of patriots, the majestic Potomac, the sanguinary fields of conflict all over this grand old state, also the bloody “Lane” at Sharpsburg. The placid waters of the Antietam, red with the South’s best blood, the rugged heights of Gettysburg, down whose rocky faces, rivers of our most sacred blood run in torrents. All these scenes passed before my vision as vividly, and as fresh as if it were now taking place… until I was completely lost in reverie. Arousing myself from this mental slumber, I see two vast armies in martial array. The colors are fluttering in the breeze. Drums are beating; fifes are blowing, all to the tune of Dixie. The very air is redolent with martial music. For miles in every direction vast lines of men are moving into position in quick step.
I look again; I see the world’s greatest military leader mounted on old “Traveler” calmly riding to the front, surrounded by his official staff. Majesty sits enthroned upon his noble brow, his countenance is as serene and quiet as a babe in his mother’s arms—with one sweep of his field glass he takes in the situation—he orders in a calm tone the attack, like a lightning flash, his aids-de-camp move with his orders to A. P. Hill, to Longstreet, to Jackson, to Ewell. Two vast lines of men rush together in titanic conflict—the small arms are deafening, the thunderous roar of a hundred batteries is jarring the very heavens. The prostrate forms of thousands of dead and dying cover the ground. Hampton and Stewart, with Pelham’s horse artillery are on the flank—they are not idle. All this passes swiftly before my mind, as though it were now transpiring. You ask me how it is I can remember so much—my reply is how could I ever forget it?
I could have written a hundred chapters just as well as what I have written, and then, the half would not be told.
That is beautiful writing! (And yes, at Antietam, on Nicodemus Heights, was J.E.B. Stewart with Pelham’s horse artillery.) Truly, the grand spectacle of participation in the Civil War forged indelible stamps upon the minds and souls of its participants. I do not doubt at all that their memories, even 40 years or more later when many of them at long last wrote their reminiscences, were fairly sharp and reliable. In that the War has such capacity to engage our imaginations here some 150 years later, what are but four decades to an eyewitness participant of the national drama?