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.

Monday, August 12, 2019

He almost got away: Holcombe Legion and the night after South Mountain.

    Sometimes you just find accounts that make a person laugh out loud. As I was reading through an account by a member of Holcombe Legion (SC), I stumbled across one such account. William P. Dubose was adjutant of the infantry portion of Holcombe's Legion (he later served as chaplain). In September 1862, he had been ordered to take a small group of his soldiers and scout towards the battle field of the previous day at South Mountain, trying to ascertain if Federal troops are still around. Dubose has moved his men forward, and then leaves then while he scouts on ahead. He actually flanks a Federal line, coming up in their rear.
Private Jackon A. Davis of Co. E, Holcombe Legion (LOC)

   In the darkness, Dubose has not seen anything, when all of a sudden, he hears "Halt!"

   I stopped immediately, wondering whether it was the voice of the enemy or one of my own men in search of me. I could see one or two figures not more than twenty steps in front of me, but I could not distinguish the uniform. Robert Rutledge's cloak [which Dubose had borrowed] as a civilian's, with a c cape falling over the arms with slits in the side of the body for armholes. My arms were within the slits, holding the pistol [also borrowed]. I quietly cocked it and slowly moved over to the figures before me, which were between me and my own men. They made no movement as I approached and I hoped very strongly still that they were my men. As I approached to within a very few feet my immediate antagonist and myself, simultaneously recognized each other as enemies. He thought I was one of his own men. As he jerked up his gun, I was near enough to ward it off with one hand and with the other attempt to draw my pistol from without the cloak. In the necessary scuffle, the pistol being cocked, discharged itself prematurely. At once, thinking himself shot, with a load yell, the man dropped his gun and precipitated himself upon me. Instantly the woods were alive. My effort then was simply to get away. In the scuffle that ensued, I several times nearly did so, but my antagonist was a much larger and stronger man that I was, and I finally had to surrender to numbers."

Dubose was captured, and spent the next several weeks at Fort Delaware as a prisoner of war. This account was found in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Surprisingly, there appears to be no history of Holcombe Legion.