Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pennsylvanian's pen was mightier than sword

    Nothing humanizes a war quite like the letters and journals of ordinary folks who went through it. When Ken Burns produced his PBS epic on the Civil War, he drew deeply from the writings of people such as South Carolina's Mary Chesnut and Maine's Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.
     In Stoneman's Raid, the defining voice I hear is that of Capt. Henry K. Weand (1838-1914), a lawyer from Norristown, Pa., who eventually became a judge. He kept a meticulous, wry, and eloquent journal that has been preserved in Charles Kirk's 1906 book on the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry.
     I've designated Capt. Weand as the war correspondent for The Stoneman Gazette. He is quoted frequently in our daily reports on Stoneman's Raid. Here are a few more of his random observations and insights, starting and ending in graveyards: 

March 22 (Mossy Creek TN)

Crossed the Holston River today and went into camp at Mossy Creek, where we had a hard fight over a year ago. Here, in a rude graveyard, Lieut. Harvey Lingle, killed in that battle, sleeps his last sleep. His old company sodded and planted flowers on his grave.

March 30 (North Wilkesboro NC)

Rained hard all night and everything was wet when we moved, early in the morning, down the stream four miles to a point opposite Wilkesboro, crossing Reddies River. The water rose so rapidly that the balance of the command could not cross, and we were on this side alone, but in no danger, unless the enemy should come at us in boats.

March 31 (North Wilkesboro)

Still raining, but it is impossible for the men to get any wetter than they were yesterday.

April 1 (Elkin NC) 

We miss our “hard-tack” very much, now that it is all gone. In place of it, flour and cornmeal are issued, which usually is mixed with water and fried, but if we stop long enough the colored women bake it for us, and how good it tastes!

Capt. C.M. Stigleman, who used this poster
 to recruit volunteers in Jacksonville, Va.,
 surrendered the town in regulation form.
April 4 (Jacksonville/Floyd VA)
At noon we entered the pretty village of Jacksonville, where we were met by two citizens—a lawyer and a doctor—who, in regulation style and with the aid of a large white flag, surrendered the town to us. It was not necessary for them to have done this. It looked to us ridiculous, as just now anything we wanted we took. But these people have been so deluded by their papers that they are under the impression that to burn houses and rob them of all we can carry off is our mission here, and they are relieved when they find the mistake.

April 5 (east of Big Lick/Roanoke VA)
We marched to Buford’s, camping at 10 p.m. near the Peaks of Otter. Mr. Buford had relatives—Colonels and Generals—in both the Northern and Southern armies, and treated us courteously. Before breakfasting with him he took several of the officers into his yard, where there was a great slab of granite, on the side of which was inscribed “Peaks of Otter,” and on the upper surface were two depressions used as basins. We washed in these, so we could say we had bathed our faces in the “Peaks of Otter.” This granite slab had been intended a few years before as Virginia’s contribution to the Washington Monument, but had been broken in bringing it down from the peaks.

April 8 (near Martinsville VA)
If we are working hard we are living well. There are chickens, ham, eggs, and biscuit for the men and plenty of forage for the horses.

April 10 (Winston-Salem NC)

At 6 p.m. we reached Winston and Salem. Each has a name of its own, but the two towns are really one. Here we met with the most cordial reception, very different from the usual greetings we receive. The ladies cheered us, and brought out bread, pies, and cakes. The towns were settled by Moravians from Bethlehem, Pa. The people showed much enthusiasm at the sight of the flag we carried, and many were the touching remarks made about it. Old men wept like children and prominent citizens took off their hats and bowed to it. Some women got on their knees, while we heard such expressions as “Look at the old flag!” “God bless it!” “Let me kiss that flag.” “Once more the flag goes through our town.” It was a charming place and they were good Union people, but we had no time then to do more than acknowledge it. 

April 11 (Conrad's Ferry, near Cooleemee NC)
In crossing the South River in the darkness and rain, the horses swimming, one man was captured. He had lost his horse, and the mule he rode would not swim, and while he debated what to do, the rebels came up and settled the question for him.

April 17 (Lincolnton NC)
The advance guard entered the town without any disturbance, but when the column appeared a half hour after, with General Palmer at its head and the buildings of the town in sight, one shot was fired from the side of the road in front which came near ending the career of our General. Without waiting for an order to do so, the orderlies under Sgt. James Agnew dashed forward. The bushwhacker running across the field was in plain sight, and in a few moments our men were across the fence and had him surrounded. The prisoner, a beardless boy of 15 or 16, was taken along, the General ordering that he be brought to him as soon as we were quartered in town. To this hearing his mother came also, and her pleadings for the boy’s life were so strenuous that the General told her to take the boy home and keep a better watch over his actions.

April 19 (Lincolnton NC)
We buried Corp. George French today with military honors, in the Episcopal graveyard, and several of the ladies in the town contributed wreaths of flowers to place on the coffin. [French had been killed by a bushwhacker the day before and was the last casualty of the 15th Pennsylvania regiment.] It is pleasant to record this of them, and also of the change in their feelings toward us in twenty-four hours. They say we are not destructive and are so gentlemanly, and wish their own soldiers were more like us.

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