was the bravest man I ever knew: General Kilpatrick also used
to say that of him. But he will not talk about himself—so
you may not get what you want; but come up and try." That
was in the letter that sent me all the miles to see John Landegon.
did not believe in getting into the papers—he said—and
all that sort of thing; people would say, "Here's another
old vet lying about the war"—more of that sort;
he hadn't got into print, and he wouldn't now.
led him on—or tried to—Captain Northrop and I.
do you remember anything about the six Confederates you and
one of the boys captured in a barn? What about that?" And
old John Landegon, with never a smile, answered, dryly:
was there. That was in the spring of '62, and soon after that we
broke camp and marched to—"
and dates, and the movements of armies and of corps—but never
an "I" in it all, and he would have it so. Evening came—the
hours I had looked for-. ward to all the long, profitless afternoon;
but it seemed it was to bring only more dates, and the proper
spelling of the names of officers long forgotten and long dead.
Through it all, like a tortuous river-bed, empty, bone-dry,
there ran his modest estimate of his service:
enlisted for three months in the First Regiment,
Volunteer Infantry, Company D, and there I got a little notoriety
cheap. How? Oh, I got a prisoner; and so I was detailed as
a headquarters scout under General Tyler; and because of that,
when I re-enlisted in Company C of the Second Regiment, New York
Volunteer Cavalry—better known as the 'Harris Light '—I
was once more detailed as a scout, this time under Colonel Judson
Kilpatrick. That was in the spring of '61, and I served with him
until—" Discouraged, I threw the note-book
down, and said that I had done. There were hours to wait until
the train should come and carry my ruined note-book and myself
away. The time dragged; we smoked, and talked in a desultory
way, and then some chance idle word impelled John Landegon
to tell me his stories.
was as though an unexpected current had carried him out of
his depth, and the tide had caught him and swept him back
through nearly fifty years, until he rode again in the great
war. And I was with him as though I rode at his side. Sentences
were whole scenes; words were sensations, emotions. He had
gone back into it—was
living it over again, and he had taken me along.
was the dry griminess of dust rising in clouds from the parched
Virginia roads; . . . there was the acrid smell of sweating
horses and of men. .. creak of rain-soaked saddles . . .
the loneliness of wind in the trees at night along dark-flowing
rivers; his words brought the shimmer of heat above unfenced,
untended fields . . . brought the feel of cool gray aisles
in forests of Georgia pine . . . stiffened bandages . . .
pungent whiffs of blue-white powder-smoke . . . the confusion
and absorption of men fighting at close range—fighting
was such a simple, boyish beginning that he made! A story to
be told with chuckles, to be' listened to with smiles. So
like those early, lost-to-memory days of the great war—the days when
war was a pastime, a summer muster to end with a skirmish and a
hoorah; the days when the first volunteers had not yet made the
first veterans, and "Black-horse Cavalry," "masked
batteries," and the "Louisiana Tigers" were
specters that stalked round each camp-fire; the days before
men had seen their comrades die.
would not enlist John Landegon. He was too young, too thin,
too poor food for powder. And so he saw the company of heroes
march away in triumph from the little Connecticut village;
they left him raging and grieving behind. He went to Waterbury;
they were raising a company there. Would they enlist him?
No, they would not. But the rush of the first enthusiasts
slackened, applications became less frequent; the captain
fumed—before he could get
his company into the field the war would be over and done—would
the quota never fill! The last few enlistments came in, hours apart,
and the whole country-side fretted for the honor of the town—all
but Landegon; each hour was bringing nearer to him his chance.
At last they took him; he was under age and looked it; he had not
the necessary parental consent, he was not even from Waterbury—but
they took him; and it was thus that he went to war.
at Vienna, Virginia, a few miles out from Alexandria; it was just "camp "—not
more. The army that was to be was then but companies of individuals,
groups of neighbors, friends. The welding of war had not yet
begun. Rumor was the one excitement of the dragging weeks;
camp life palled; the three-months period of enlistment was
after time Landegon was passed over when picket and scouting
detachments were detailed. At last he went to the captain — a
stout, fussy, kindly little man.
said, "I want to go out with the scouting party; I can
scout as good as any of them." The captain shook his head.
can't do that, John." Then, kind and confidential, he went
on: "You see, it's this way: those fellows are all prominent
citizens back in Waterbury, and they've got to have a chance.
Waterbury expects a lot from some of us; the fellows have got
to have something to write home; the papers up in our town
have got to tell about our citizens doin' things, and scoutin'
is the nearest to fightin' that there is just now."
protested earnestly that his town expected just as much of him.
nothin' much is expected of you, John—you're too young." Then,
with finality, "This war is nearly over; I got to give
our citizens a chance."
of a solemn, impressive march by ten or a dozen prominent citizens
along the front of the camp, half a mile or so in advance of
the pickets; but it was a deed filled with fine thrills.
the two camps—Federal and Confederate—there stretched
four miles of no man's land, filled with all the terrors that go
hand in hand with untried ground. But John Landegon found it to
be a land of woods and fields and low, rolling hills—a
land empty of friend or foe. He had gone out into it alone
many times before he begged of the stout captain the privilege
of making the dignified scouting. Something of latent daring,
some restlessness within him, had sent him stealing out beyond
the pickets time after time to wander among the hills. He says
he wanted to see a Confederate before he went home again! Sometimes
he wandered far enough to see long black lines creeping along
the side of a distant hill; but they never seemed to be coming
his way, so he would go back to the camp, content and silent.
day after he was rejected from the official scout he wandered
out farther than ever before, driven perhaps a little by pique,
a little resentful, a little sullen, maybe. At last he turned to
go back. He had kept to the woods, and now among the trees he caught
a glimpse of moving gray. He leaped behind a tree, and stood there
trembling with excitement and, he says, with fear. Once he stole
a look, and as quickly dodged behind again; the glimpse had shown
him a man in full uniform—a very new, very elegant uniform—a
hat turned jauntily up on the side, and with a highly polished
musket lying across his arm. The young blade of the Confederacy
was returning from some lone-hand scout of his own. Landegon pressed
close against the bark of the tree and humbly prayed that the man
might change his course; he came straight on. Behind lay the Confederate
army‑ he could not run; from in front advanced the very devil
of a fighter, one that would never surrender (camp-fire authority
for that! "They'll never surrender; we'll just have to mow
them down"). He would have to mow this one down; would
have to kill him. He had never even seen a man die. Somehow
it had never seemed that war would be like this. The man was
almost to the tree.
would have to mow him down; he would have to—he leaped out,
leveling his musket as he sprang. "Sur-ren-der!” he
brightly polished Confederate musket fell to the ground; the
hands waved, beseeching to be seen. "I surrender!" screamed
the gray-clad youth, in reply.
Landegon says the reaction almost made him giddy, and he wanted
to dance and yell. But he warily picked up the musket, and
he marched the unhappy man the three long miles back to the
camp. And on that march, in his elation, he evolved the philosophy
that was to carry him to such distinction through the war: "The other fellow
is just as much afraid of me—maybe more." I should
like to have seen that home-coming! I think I can see it now:
the prisoner stumbling in front; lank John Landegon stalking
like Death behind; men running from regiments a mile away to
see the captor and his prize.
after that," said he, in his dry, shy way, "I was the
big fellow; I went on all the scoutings that were made." Waterbury
claimed him for its own.
philosophy did not always hold good. It was a rank failure at Bull
Run. He climbed a tree there, and it was not philosophy that brought
him down. The battle had been fought and lost. Long, late afternoon
shadows lay heavy on the trampled, bloody grass; shadows from west
and south, toward north and east, blighting the path, pointing
the way to Washington.
that portion of the field where Landegon was when the battle ended,
he says that there seemed no cause to hurry away. The Confederates
were in plain sight on the distant hillsides, but came no nearer,
content to shell the fugitives from afar. Some distance back, he
came upon a church, about which a score of abandoned, plunging
cavalry horses were tied. He was plodding past, when an officer
rushed to him.
a horse!" the officer was urging all who were passing;
many ran close by and never turned their heads; men were running
a horse! take a horse!" the officer kept calling, as they
passed. "The rebels 'II get them if you don't." He was
a thrifty soul. Landegon stopped; he selected one, and tied his
gun to the saddle, then galloped for the rear. The officer was
still querulously calling, "Take a horse! take a horse!" as
he rode away.
came a great crowd, running. From behind them at the blocked
they had been headed by some Confederate cavalry—there came
the turmoil of fighting, mob-like fighting, so different from a
battle's roar. Those who were running had been behind, or had broken
away, and now, the forefront of the rout, came running, sheep-like,
back in panic over the way they had just, in panic, gone. Some
were running stolidly, mechanically, as though stiff with
fear; others, plunging; others, running profitlessly—shoulders
forward, elbows stiffly back, and ghastly, sweatless faces upturned
to the blinding sky; of these, their mouths were gaping open
like banked fishes sucking at the air. There was little sound save
the pounding of the footfalls on the sun-baked Virginia fields.
Cries of terror could have added nothing to the horror; the very
sight of such is contagion of the plague—Panic.
slid from his horse, and, without untying his gun, turned and
ran. The mob was scattering, each seeking his own hiding-place;
Landegon ran for the woods. He says that just then he feared
nothing so much as capture—death was not so dread.
ran into a tree, staggered back, then began in frantic haste
to climb it; if only they would not come till he could reach
the top ! Among the slender branches he screened himself
with leaves, and clung there swaying in the wind, like some
strange arboreal animal. In the great, hot dome of the sky
there was no sign of the darkness
whose coming should save him; through the maze of branches and
the fluttering leaves beneath him he could see the earth, still
sun-flecked and wholly light. Suddenly he began to scramble down.
On the instant with his elated thought, "They'll never take
me here," had come, "There's never a chance to be taken—I'll
be shot. They'll not be able to resist the temptation to see me
tumble from so high." It sent him sliding and swinging
and dropping from branch to branch until he reached the ground
and threw himself into a thicket.
was a long, hard road from the top of the tree to the position
of Sheridan's chief scout. What happened during that journey
I shall never know; he was not telling me the history of
his career, remember. What he told were just incidents plucked
from here and there—a half-dozen days out of the thousand
days and nights of his service.
wanted him to tell me more about his work as scout—the
messages he had carried, the information he had obtained.
can't do that," he said. "Why? because I don't remember
it—how could I? I couldn't keep copies of despatches, and
I can't remember the verbal messages‑now. Landegon, take
this to General So-and-so over back of Such-a-place.' Maybe I wouldn't
ever know what was in the message, even though the result of an
engagement had been decided by it; maybe it was in cipher; maybe
I didn't care what was in it. My business was to get it there.
Perhaps it was only such a message as an aide-de-camp would have
been sent with if he could have kept in our lines while delivering
it. But here's the thing: us scouts risked our lives to deliver
those messages. We did it sometimes every day ; sometimes only
once every week. If we got caught we got hanged, or maybe only
shot; if we got through without any close call that was out of
the ordinary—like losing our chum or our horse, or something
like that—why, then, that was just part of a day's work,
and by next week we wouldn't remember anything about it except
the roads we had been on and the fords crossed and the lay
of the hills and ravines.
the same way. 'See if you can find out when Magruder is going to
move '—something o' that sort. And I'd go out through the
country between the lines—in just as much danger from our
own scoutin' parties, mind, as from the enemy—and I would
get through their pickets and mix in with any I'd find, and
when I got what I wanted to know I'd come back and report.
there would be a fight that day or the next, and maybe my report
had something to do with it, but I wouldn't know that for sure.
Like as not I wouldn't be able to see that my report had any attention
paid to it. So why should I remember now about such things? But
here's a letter that I'm going to let you read; I don't want you
to think us scouts risked our necks for just nothing those days—even
if we can't remember what reports we made forty-five years
hesitated a moment, then drew from its envelope a single worn
sheet. It was written from the Metropolitan Hotel, New
York, under date of April 20, 1869. The contents were intimately
personal, but there is this much which seems by right to
belong in the pages that are to record John Landegon's service:
, . From the first time you reported to me as scout in 1861
until the close of the war I had frequent occasion to acknowledge
your distinguished services, and I know of no man who has
manifested more devotion to the cause of the Union or braved
greater dangers than yourself. At Fredericksburg,
on the Rapidan, and in the Shenandoah Valley, you displayed
great courage and enterprise in obtaining within the enemy's
lines intelligence of his intended movements, and I can
freely say that much of the success of my cavalry, in the
campaign of General Sherman from Savannah to the surrender
of Johnson's army, was owing to the information obtained
by you for me as scout and spy. . . .
I had done, I looked with new eyes at the man whom General
Judson Kilpatrick had freely accredited with much of the
success of the brilliant cavalry campaign of the Carolinas.
was characteristic of John Landegon at such a time to force an
abrupt change of subject.
mind one report I made," he said. "My first report to
General Sheridan. I'd been out for three days—somewhere
in the enemy's lines, I don't remember where, or why—and
when I came in to report to the General I thought it would be my
last report. 'Well,' he says, `what did you find? 'Nothin',' I
answered—just that. `By Gee!' he yelled, and he jumped up
from his chair. `That's the best report I ever heard a scout make!'
I thought he was mad and just making fun of me, and I stood still
and didn't say anything. He walked close up to me. 'Do you know
why I think so much of that "nothin' " of yours? It's
because you didn't think you had to make up a lot of lies for fear
I'd think you hadn't been working. If you saw "nothin' " in
three days, that means there was nothing to see, and that's
the one thing I wanted to know!'
remembered that little talk of General Sheridan's, and it helped
me all the rest of the war. I never exaggerated anything,
and soon they got to count on what I said. Well"—abruptly,
as though he had again said too much—"there was only
twice after that day I climbed the tree that I was as bad scared.
There was often enough that I'd think: 'Well, by Gee! if ever I
get back safe from this fool scout I'll never go out again. I'll
go back to my regiment, I'll stand guard, do picket, I will clean
camp'—more of that sort—'but I'm darned if I go in
gray out of the lines.' But I would get in all right, and loaf
around a few days and watch the other boys work, and then I'd get
restless or think of the big money, and then the order would come
and out I'd go—like as not into worse than before. The next
time I was so badly scared was the night after I had been shot.
I was Sheridan's chief scout then, but when I got shot I was
with Meade's scouts of the Army of the Potomac. I'd been sent to
General Meade with despatches—I'll tell you about that.
we left General Sheridan at Ground Squirrel Bridge, on the South
Anna—this was Sheridan's raid around Lee in May, '64—Patrick
Myers, my best scout, and I rode around the flank of the Confederate
cavalry where they were fighting with our rear guard. They had
been fighting the rear guard ever since we had got in the rear
of Lee's lines on the 9th. This day I'm telling you of was the
10th—late afternoon of the 10th—the day before
Yellow Tavern, where Jeb Stuart fell, six miles from Richmond.
We missed that fight.
country was so rough that, to make time, we swung into the road
behind the Confederate cavalry, and ordered the stragglers forward
to their regiments. Y' see, I was in the full uniform of a Confederate
officer, and Patrick Myers was my orderly; we kept hurrying the
stragglers forward, and all the time we were getting farther to
the rear. It was the best fun I ever had!" It was the pinnacle
of a jest. Landegon chuckled as he told of it; I chuckled as I
heard. It seemed a jest in the telling; since then I have set it
down as one of the shrewdest, coolest deeds that men have
stopped at dark at a farm-house and asked for something to
eat. The owner of the house was too old to go to war; he
gave them a good meal, and gladly assented to put them up for as much
of the night as they could remain. After the meal they all sat
about the table talking. In some way they misunderstood their host—something
he said; they believed him to be a Union sympathizer who, because
of their gray uniforms, dared not come out and say that he
was against the South.
not Confederates," one of them blurted out; "we are Union
soldiers." The old man rose from his chair.
lied to me," he said.
both sprang, startled, to their feet at his sudden movement,
and it must have been a dramatic moment as they faced each
other across the lamp-lit table—the scouts with their
hands on their revolvers, the white-bearded old man majestic
in his indignation.
given you food and offered you bed: and you have lied to me!
You yourselves say that you have been telling me lies all
the evenin' ! I wouldn't have you sleep in my barn. It isn't
which side you're on; ye lied to me!"
drove them from his house by the sheer weight of his scorn.
They sulkily rode away; but in the stillness of the night
they heard a horse, hard ridden, leave the farmhouse,
and they rode aside into the woods and waited. Presently
a troop of Confederate cavalry swept by on the road they
had just been on.
was night of the next day—the 11th—when they got
through the Confederate pickets and struck the Mattapony River
some miles below the Army of the Potomac.
stripped, and put their clothes on a bit of board, which they pushed
before them as they swam the river; it was storming fiercely; in
the dark the rain lashed the river into pale foam.
made their painful way through the tangled thickets, now dazed
by the lightning, now blinded by the streaming rain. Federal
pickets made them prisoners, and finally, to their insistence,
yielded and took them under guard to General Grant—to
Grant, though they asked to be taken to Meade.
wish that Landegon had told me more of that meeting; I
wish that I had asked.
was the night before that battle which was to surpass in its
terrors all others of those terrible days of the Second Wilderness
and Spottsylvania Court-house—the battle of the "Bloody
the meeting I learned only that Grant thanked them and praised
them for bringing the message through Lee's army. Then Landegon
swung off into a vehement panegyric of the great leader; it
was as though he had lowered a curtain; I was left with but
a dim-seen picture of the lantern-lighted tent ; the Grant
of my own imagination,
bending low to smooth out and read by the flickering light
a crumpled despatch . .. two dripping, gray-clad soldiers—just
that, and an intruding consciousness of the confused beating
of the rain outside.
is the despatch that they had borne through the Confederate armies:
CAVALRY CORPS, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, May 10, 1864. MAJ.-GEN. GEORGE
Army of the Potomac.
turned the enemy's right and got into their rear. Did not meet
sufficient of cavalry to stop me. Destroyed from eight to ten
miles of Orange Railroad, two locomotives, three trains, and
a large amount of supplies. The enemy were making a depot of
supplies at Beaver Dam. Since I got into their rear there has
been great excitement among the inhabitants and with the army.
The citizens report that Lee is beaten. Their cavalry has attempted
to annoy my rear and flank, but have been run off. I expect to
fight their cavalry south of the South Anna River. I have no
forage. Started with half rations for one day, and have found
none yet. Have recaptured five hundred men, two colonels.
am, General, very respectfully,
H. SHERIDAN, Major-General, Commanding.
brought out a big book, and his long, thin fingers fluttered the
pages till he had found the place he sought; I watched him in surprise.
He handed me the book, open.
said. "That won't surprise you like it did me the first
time I saw it!"
and Guides with the Army of the Potomac," I read under
bought that book about a year ago, and I was looking through it,
and all of a sudden, by Gee ! there was I! I got shot the very
next day after the picture was taken —the only one I had
taken during the war—and I hadn't thought about the photograph
from that day until I looked out at myself after all these years.
I had just about forgotten what sort of a young fellow I was those
days." He commenced a chuckle of infinite amusement that ended
in a sigh. He took the book gently from me and closed it, shutting
away the boy that had been. For a moment his thin fingers fumbled
the white beard. "That was a long time ago," he said.
Then, abruptly, "The next day I made my last scout'in
of Meade's scouts, together with Landegon and Myers, were sent
out to learn if Lee was being reinforced from the south. If,
by the time the Army of the Potomac scouts were ready to
return, Sheridan had not been met, then Landegon and Myers
were to go on until they found him. Had he and Myers gone
to Sheridan, the whole trip would have gone the way of a
day's work; but, instead, every incident
of the day is fixed sharp and clear in his memory; the De Jarnett's,
where they stopped to get feed for their horses, and where they
were "given" wine; the "contraband," who
showed them a blind ford of the Mattapony, where Landegon and
Knight (Meade's chief scout) crossed to interview the lonely
figure on the distant hillcrest, whom they took to be a vedette,
until the man, not knowing of his danger, unconsciously saved
himself by raising a huge cotton umbrella that showed him to
be a planter overseeing the hands at work in his fields.
turned to ride back to their men, awaiting them on the river's
bank, when there suddenly came out of a lane a man and a girl,
who stared at them in surprise.
you seen any troops come by ?" the scouts asked, politely:
It was the girl who answered:
yes! More than I ever saw before at one time! South Carolina soldiers.
How many? Why, they would reach from there to there!" The
space indicated a brigade of four regiments. It was the information
they had come out to gain; Knight was elated at the ease with
which it had been obtained.
Yankees!" he 'suddenly said. The girl looked at Landegon's
gray uniform, at Knight's wheat-straw hat, his coat—purpled
by the rain and sun; she laughed.
as much Yankees as we are!" she said.
are Yankees!" they sternly told her. Her eyes grew wide
shall not—I—you will not take the Doctor- my husband?" she
reassured her—they would only take dinner, and pay for
it, they said. But she still was very much afraid. Landegon
waved a handkerchief, and the rest of the scouts came up at
a gallop from the river. Young Doctor Dew and his wife fled
in terror. The scouts shouted with laughter, and trotted after
them to the house, where presently they had dinner. Trivial
little details, these, but I dare say such things stick in
a man's mind if he is shot that day.
rode to Penola Station. not more than d mile away, and there lay
the parting of the ways: Landegon and Myers must start south to
find Sheridan, Knight and his scouts go back to the army of Grant
small band of Confederates dashed out of a crossroad,
fired a bravado volley at them, and galloped away.
have a fight!" one of the scouts yelled, "before you
fellows leave." In a moment they were riding hard after
the Confederates, shouting and yelling like frolicking boys.
says he had the best horse of them all. As a brave man and
a modest should, he lays it to the horse; I lay it to the
man who rode. He drew farther and farther ahead; the road,
grew choked with dust that rose all about them like smoke-filled
fog. The fleeing Confederates
had been reinforced, had turned, and were corning back. In the
dust Landegon flashed full tilt into them before he found what
he had done. Horses reared and backed and shied; there was a tangle
and confusion that sent up blinding clouds in which no man knew
friend from foe. Landegon whirled his horse about and fired a revolver
in a man's face, and then some one shot him, and his paralyzed
hand dropped his pistol, and the whole thing grew confused. He
knows that one man followed him, shooting at him at every bound;
and when his revolver was empty, the man rose in his stirrups
and threw the pistol whirling over and over, and it struck
him, barrel end on; it seemed to break his spine.
knows something of two of his scouts riding one on either side
holding him in his saddle; and then all he knew was that he
was back at Doctor Dew's under a tree in the yard, and all
his men had gone; and he was quite sure that very soon he
would be found and hanged. He told this to the Dews,
and they took his gray clothes and buried them in the garden;
but still he knew that very soon he would certainly be hanged.
says that he had once before nearly gone by the rope route, and
it was the memory of that other time that now filled him with such
thought that his men might have made some arrangement
to take him away; he found afterward that they had stood off
the reinforced Confederates until he had been gotten out of
sight on his way to the Dews; then they had ridden for the
safety of the Union lines. They had been sure, from his wound,
that Landegon was to die; but they promised the Dews that they
would come back for him in a few days. When they came he was
afternoon waned; the young doctor had managed to get him into
the house; they wanted to put him to bed up-stairs, but he
would not have it so; he begged to be left in the hall. It
was a long, straight hall through the house; at one end the
front door, at the other the back. He felt that unless the
house were surrounded he had some chance there for his life.
Yet when the time did come he was without the strength to
raise himself from the couch. The night had grown threadbare
gray and old before they came; he had known all along that
they would come, yet when he heard the feet on the gravel
walk he was more afraid than he thought he could ever be.
The Dews had gone to their room for a little rest; Landegon
lay alone in the long, black hall—alone, listening to the
footsteps coming nearer; he heard them reach the door. He raised
himself on one elbow—it was as far as he could go. The
angry knocks on the door sounded like thunder; without waiting
for a reply, the door was burst open by a booted foot, and
a man stood for a moment black against the graying sky.
any one live in this house?" he roared. Landegon fell back
limp and helpless; he answered almost hysterically, "Yes,
Jack, I do!"
was Jack Williams, one of his own scouts with Sheridan—a
comrade from the "Harris Light," his own old regiment.
was coming back that way; Williams had been sent ahead to
find out about the roads, and he had stopped at the house
to inquire his way. Within a few hours Landegon was in an
ambulance, riding in safety in the midst of ten thousand
smoked for a time in silence, and I sought to set him talking
said you were nearly hanged once—?" He shook his
head and frowned slightly, but said nothing.
was it ?" I persisted.
12, '62," he answered, dryly. He lay back in his big chair,
with his eyes closed as though to shut out something he did
not care to see. For a long time neither of us spoke; suddenly
he opened his eyes and sat sharply forward in the chair.
you know that there are nights even yet when I dream of that day?
Do you know—but of course you don't! Well, you've got
me to thinking of it again, and I might as well tell you, even
of that, too.
was a cavalry skirmish a couple of miles from Massaponax Church—about
twelve or fifteen miles south of Fredericksburg; it was going hard
against us, and I was sent back to bring up help. I was about half-way
to the church when I saw a lot of dust, and I rode harder —thinking,
you understand, it was the advance of some of our troops; there
was so much dust that I rode right into them before I found that
they were Confederates that had got round our flank and were coming
up behind our men. It was just a scouting party . .. more coming,
I learned. There wasn't a chance to get away, or even to fight;
they had never made any mistake about me . . . grabbed me the minute
I got in reach. I was in my gray uniform, mind! They were in a
hurry, but they said they had time to hang me. They just hauled
off to the roadside and said they would have a trial, anyway—that
they always tried the men they hanged. So they got up a drumhead
court that wasn't any more a court than is our talking here. There
was a lot of laughing and joking-the rest of the men all sitting
around on the grass at the side of the road, holding their horses
by the bridles to let them graze; some of the men smoked their
pipes—it was all good fun for them.
around the hills I could hear the popping of the carbines of
the men of my regiment-that I'd left not half an hour before.
didn't get five minutes of trial; they asked me again where I'd
been going, and I told them again—lying the best I knew—that
I was only a camp servant . . . it had got too hot for me up
there at the front, and I was scared, and getting back to the
camp where I belonged.
one yelled, 'He's a spy; look at his clothes.'
I turned on him and says: 'I'm no spy. I'm just a servant, an'
these 's all the clothes I have—I don't get a uniform; I
got to wear just what I can find '—all that sort of thing.
Anyway, if I wasn't a spy, one of 'em said, I was a 'damned
Yankee, that had stole the clothes off some pore dead Confederate
soldier.' And they all said: 'That's so, all right! Stole 'em
off some pore dead soldier. He had ought to be hung!'
president of the court got up and said, 'You're guilty, Yank,
and it is the sentence o' this court that we hang you by
the neck until you're dead.'
all laughed at that, and got up and stood around to see me get
hung. We all moved over a hundred yards or so to a tree, and some
one started to climb up with a rope—they had a rope, all
right—and then some one said `they'd ought to have some grease
for the rope—noose wouldn't slip good without the rope
was greased,' and one of the men was sent riding hard across
the fields to a farm-house to get some. They got the rope tied
to a limb, then they kept showing me the noose . . . telling
me how I'd dance on air-they weren't going to tie my hands
and feet, they said; and they danced and waved their hands
to show me how I'd do.
weren't guerrillas; they were regularly enlisted men. But it
was '62, mind, and they were a lot more bitter in those days
than they were later in the war; but I never did see, before
or after, such ones as these.
had been scared nearly to death up till then, but when they got
to talking like that I got mad—they might hang me, all right,
but they weren't going to torture me that way before I died. I
tried to pull away from the fellows holding me, and I cursed
them all, and called them murderers and cowards, and I told them
I'd fight any three of them—any five—any number
at once, if they would give me my saber and pistol, but that
I wouldn't be hung.
then the man with the grease got back; he'd only been able
to get some butter! 'Don't waste good butter hanging a damn
Yankee; string him up without greasing the rope, and be quick
about it,' some one said.
they dragged and lifted me onto a horse, and led it under the limb,
and they put the noose around my neck. I didn't see anything or
think anything from the time I got put on the horse, and I didn't
see that some of them were standing in a little party off to one
side. Just then one stepped out and said that I was not to be hung;
that I was a brave man; and it wasn't so much that they didn't
want me to be hanged, but the other fellows weren't going to do
it; I was as much their prisoner as I was theirs—that they
hadn't any of them been selected for the court . . . more
of that sort of thing (they were from two regiments—do you
understand?) ; and that they had decided to send me back to the
main column and have me tried right! Some of the fellows drew their
revolvers, and some got on their horses, and it looked as if there
was going to be a fight right there. But they talked it over—with
me sitting on the horse, and the rope around my neck all the time—and
finally decided that they would send me on.
took the rope off, and I began to get some of my senses back, and
I saw that the man who was to take me forward was a great, surly-looking
devil—one of them that had been so anxious to hang me; he
was standing talking to his officer, and they looked over at me,
and he kind of smiled and nodded his head; I knew right there that
he meant to kill me on the way—was getting ordered to
started—he and I—and the others rode away.
whole business hadn't taken more than twenty minutes, but
it was a month to me. They wouldn't give me a horse; the fellow
rode, but I had to run along at the horse's head. The horse he
rode was one of the biggest I ever saw—when it walked I had
to trot, and when he rode at a trot I had to run. I had lost my
hat, and the sun hurt my head, and the dust choked and blinded
me; I was so sick and weak—mind you, the reaction from such
fear is a sickening thing—that I staggered as I ran,
and the fellow kept leanin' over and prodding me with his saber
to make me go faster; that began to make me mad when I got
conscious of it, and I felt my strength coming back again.
kept on the off side of the horse, so that he would have to cut
across with his saber instead of down, when the time came for me
to try to run. I can see that road now—long and straight,
with the unfenced fields sloping down to the road on either
side, and sumac bushes along where the fences had been before
the war; ahead, the road ran like a tunnel into a big woods
that looked all hazy and blue. Beyond the woods a little way
was Massaponax Church; I made up my mind that what was to be
would take place in that woods, and I sort of felt that the
Confederate had made up his mind to end it in the woods, too.
then he called to me: 'Halt, Yank! Till I tighten the girth—saddle's
was dismounting—you know, of course, how a man gets off a
horse? his left foot in the stirrup, and swings his right leg back
over the horse—for just a second his back was toward
me, and at that moment he dropped his drawn saber to the ground.
. . . He died right there!
three years' term of enlistment was just about up before I
got out of the hospital at Portsmouth Grove, Rhode Island-that
time I got shot and left at the Dews', remember?"
was scarcely a moment's pause in his story; he seemed to be
hurrying on to efface something from his mind and mine. I
scarcely heard his words; I could see nothing but the sprawling
figure that lay like a blot under a pall of slowly settling
dust in a long, straight, sunlit road—a road that ran
like a tunnel into a great woods all blue with haze.
was a few miles west of Harper's Ferry when I found him "—so
the story was going on when I heard it again-"and when I walked
up to his tent he ran out and put his hand on my shoulder—impulsive,
like he always was—and he said: `Landegon! I'm glad you're
back! I've got a lot of work for you to do!' And then I told him
that I wasn't coming back to him—that I was through.
Ye see, Sheridan was now in command in the Shenandoah Valley,
and he had reorganized the scouts, and put them on a strictly
military footing, with Major H. H. Young in command.
too, General Kilpatrick—whose chief scout I had been
for two years before Sheridan had got me to go with him-and
Captain Northrop here, who now was `Kil's' chief scout, had
both written for me to come to them; they were with General
Sherman down in Georgia, and I had made up my mind to go. Sheridan
was very angry-said something about deserting in the face of
the enemy-more of that sort of thing-and turned and walked
away from me. I never saw General Sheridan again.
did not march to the sea. General Sherman, with `Kil in command
of his cavalry, was at Savannah before I joined him there. What?—tell
you of the 'most important, most dangerous' work I did
in the war? It wasn't in the war-it was after the war was done!"
told of a period which history has so abridged that it is now
well-nigh lost to men's minds—a time that is dwarfed
by the war just past, that is overshadowed by the black period
of reconstruction that was to come. Peace had been declared.
But the great, all-wise Lincoln was dead. The one hand which
could have beckoned and led the turbulent victors home, which
would, have reached out to, guide and guard the broken, gloomy
South, was gone. There were weeks in the South when anarchy
days before there came the inevitable end to the Confederacy,
men-bitter, broken-hearted men, who foresaw the swift coming of that end—had
deserted the Southern armies, in order that they might
never desert their Cause. In twos and threes and little bands
they streamed through the country, swearing to commence, from
the mountains, a guerrilla warfare that should not end until
With less high principles joined them on the way; men who had
abandoned all and lost all to the war were now abandoned
by the war, and they stood bewildered by the double
loss; they had nowhere to turn but to the weapons in their
hands; they, too, fled for the mountains.
the Northern armies, chiefly those in the Middle South, hundreds
deserted. Men who would never have deserted in the face of
the enemy, now, dreading months of inactivity before being
mustered out, or for the first time permitting the longing
for home to come between them and discipline, stole out between
the considerate pickets and, with their arms in their hands
on the way, began the long journey.
the armies of both sides, the dissolute and the vicious, the discouraged
and unreconciled, fled from peace as from a pest; armed, skilled
in war, calloused to war's horrors, they swarmed out over the country
and turned it into hell.
bands going north met sullen parties coming south, and they fought
for the sheer love of fighting. There was no discipline anywhere;
worse, there was the license and liberty that came as a reaction
from the sudden removal of strict military law. From simple foraging,
in order to live, it was but a step to pillage and murder.
who under good officers had fought bravely in the ranks now
turned cowardly assassins—became common cutthroats and thieves.
For them there was now no North or South; by twos and threes they
joined themselves to partyless bands of marauders that turned
aside for nothing but more powerful bands. Dejected, paroled Confederates,
making their best way south to their ruined homes; buoyant Federal
deserters going north—blue or gray, it was all one to
these bandits; they robbed and killed on every hand.
into this land of lurking, ignominious death, John Landegon, alone,
except for little black Ben, rode for three hundred terrible miles.
distracted Federal government, at last heeding the persistent
rumors of organized guerrilla bands in the Blue Ridge, demanded
authentic information, and Landegon was chosen by Kilpatrick
to find out the truth.
the tent with General Kilpatrick when he gave Landegon the
order was a negro boy whom Landegon had picked up or,
rather, who had picked up Landegon —at Barnsville, South
Carolina. He had pleaded to be taken North; and Landegon, unable
to care for him himself, had taken him to Kilpatrick, whose
body-servant he had become. But the boy's admiration for Landegon
had never swerved; he heard the order that was to send Landegon
away from him—out of his life—and he sprang forward,
and with all the abandon of his emotional race he begged and
pleaded to be taken along.
leave me, Marse Landegon," he cried. "Y' saaid y' would
take me when yo' went Norf, an' now you're goin' to leave little
Ben, an' I'll never see yo' agaain. Take me with yo', Marse Landegon—take
me Norf with yo'!"
him, John; you're to go as a Confederate officer returning to Maryland—it
will be a good thing for your story to have your servant along."
night the two rode out of Lexington on their way to the Blue Ridge
followed days of steady riding over and around and between
for miles along some wind-swept range crest from which on either
hand it seemed that the whole world had wrinkled itself into
endless chains upon chains of mountains. Now through some valley—scarce
a rift in the heaped-up, tree-clad walls. Nights when they slept
under the stars, solemn, lonely nights, such as come only in a
waste of mountains; nights when the boy sobbed in his sleep from
the loneliness, and from homesickness for his "cousins," and
for the South he was leaving behind.
the most part Landegon's skill and watchfulness kept them out
of grave peril, but there was once when they nearly met the
end. Darkness was coming on, and they had obviously mistaken
the road; the road they were on led up and ever up the mountain-side,
until they were above the evening mists of the valley. They
passed a barn, and a few yards farther, topping a steep rise,
came suddenly upon a house close by the roadside. On the
porch and in the yard were a dozen men, waiting, with their
guns across their arms; to have hesitated or to have turned
to run would have meant certain death. There were several
faded blue uniforms among the butternut and gray; it was
one of the cutthroat bands. Landegon rode forward to the
fence; he asked for supper; the men avariciously eyed the
fine horses, and half a dozen lounged down to the fence and
gathered round him. He dismounted coolly and asked for a lantern that
he might find feed for the horses. It completely disarmed the suspicions
of the men; one of them brought the lantern and walked beside Landegon
down the road toward the barn. At the top of the steep grade he
struck down the man, and he and Ben rode for their lives—the
drop in the road saved them from the volley that passed over
had trouble in Maryland at a ferry, but they braved it down;
and at last the futile ride game to an end; futile, for there
was nothing found, no organized resistance to the Union.
The war was over.