Friday, August 30, 2019

The Generals and their Farmyard Animals

   I sometimes wonder how many Confederate generals kept livestock close by during the war. We know that there were horses and mules, used by officers, artillery, and to pull wagons, but actual livestock?

Robert E. Lee
   The most famous of these stories would undoubtedly be Robert E. Lee and his chicken. This story first appears in A, K, Long’s Memoirs of Robert E. Lee (1886). Long served on Lee’s staff. According to Long, the headquarters staff (or maybe just Lee), had received a mess of chickens. Lee’s cook, Bryan lynch, “Discovered that she daily contributed an egg, spared her life.” The chicken :selected the general’s tent to make her daily deposit… Every day she would walk to and fro in front of his tent, and when all was quiet, find a place under his bed, and deposit her egg; then walk out with a gratified cackle.” The hen went with Lee all the way to Gettysburg and back. During the winter months of 1864, Lee “had a distinguished visitor to dine with him” and Bryan, Lee’s cook, “finding it extremely difficult to procure material for a dinner, very inhumanly killed the hen, unknown to any of the staff. At the dinner the general was very much surprised to see so fine a fowl; all enjoyed it, not dreaming of the great sacrifice made upon the altar of hospitality. When she was missed and inquiry made, Bryan had to acknowledge that he had killed her in order to provide something for the gentlemen’s dinner.” (241-242)

William N. Pendleton
      But there other stories as well of generals keeping livestock close at hand. Brig. Gen. William N. Pendleton was sent to inspect the artillery of the Army of Tennessee, near Dalton, Georgia, in the late winters months of 1864. He noted in a letter home that he had stayed at Johnston’s headquarters cottage. One morning, “After washing, etc., we shared breakfast with the general’s mess. Very good; real coffee, and butter made from the general’s own cow, toast, corn-bread, etc.” (315) Not only was there someone milking the cow, but for Johnston, churning butter as well.

   Probably the most famous, or interesting accounts of Generals and livestock come from Maj. Gen. William Mahone. According to Westwood A. Todd, of the 12th Virginia Infantry, Mahone kept a flock of turkeys. “General Mahone, who throughout the war was not unmindful of creature comforts, had about Christmas time provided himself with several turkeys, which he was fattening in a pen just outside of his tent. Rash man that he was to leave those turkeys so exposed. When he stepped out of his tent Christmas morning with a view of selecting his roaster, his turkeys were all gone. Who stole Mahone's turkeys? was a favorite 'conundrum' in the Division the balance of the war."

William Mahone
   Moxley Sorrel, a member of Longstreet’s staff until the last few months of the war, recalled the Mahone “A cow was always by his quarters and laying hens cackled loud, besides many luxuries.” (277)

   So I wonder if other Confederate generals kept livestock penned near their personal quarters, and how that livestone was tended to while on campaign? Maybe time will tell.

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