Memories of War Times

Personal Reminiscences of Happenings That Took Place From 1861 to the Grand Review

by Reub Williams

Our flag on the land and our flag on the ocean,
An angel of peace wherever it goes--
Nobly sustained by Columbia's devotion,
The Angel of death it shall be to our foes!
True to its native sky,
Still shall our eagle fly
Casting his sentinel glances afar;
Though bearing the olive-branch,
Still in his talons stanch
Grasping the bolts of the thunder of war!
---T. Buchanan Read

The arrival of the party of prisoners, at Martinsburg-at which point we reached in the sketch of last week-created no little excitement in that very important place on the line of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad. I allude to it as important for the reason that it was the place where, were located the shops of the road and where following the "First Bull Run Battle" the Confederate government was enabled to secure many locomotive engines. At the time it was reported that they captured ninety engines, but I conclude this to be greatly more than the facts. That they did secure a great number is, however, true, and what is more they were a god send to the Confederacy, for engines were not only scarce within the limits of the Confederate States, but none could be secured from abroad after the blockade was established and it was very doubtful whether there was a shop within the lines of the seceded States that could turn out a brand new engine.

All the Southern shops could do was to repair broken and disabled locomotives, and for this purpose the Tredegar Iron Works, located at Richmond, Va., was the central point for repairing engines. Looking back at the war, it can readily be seen that the constant depreciation and wearing out of locomotives; the destruction of railroads by tearing up the rails, the blowing up of bridges along the lines, and the breaking down of long lines of trestles, was at all times a serious blow to the Confederacy, especially after the Federals learned the trick of heating and twisting the rails, thus putting them in a condition that no machinery within the Confederate lines could straighten or repair them, so that when this was done the rails were useless for railroad purposes and this destruction went on constantly after the first battle of the war. The engines secured at Martinsburg were placed on trucks and as there was a good pike road from that place to Winchester and Strasburg, they were hauled by horses and ox-teams to the latter place where they were placed on other roads and taken via Manassa Junction to Richmond and thence south to where they were most needed. the intelligent reader can readily perceive how seriously the transfer of troops and supplies was impeded by the wholesale destruction of everything connected with railroads. the demolition of the railroads and also their motive power had as much to do with the shortening of the war as the inability of the Confederate soldiery to continue it.

But in return to my tale, let me say that I, at least, was considerably amused when we prisoners arrived at Martinsburg. I have already stated that a brigade of infantry belonging to Stonewall Jackson's division was stationed at that place. The party in command of Captain Baylor, arrived there in charge of us, an hour or so before dark. Although the town was nine miles distant from Dam No. 4, yet the people of the place had heard the artillery fire throughout the afternoon and of course the members of the brigade referred to were anxious to learn the cause as well as the result, if any engagement of any kind had been in progress; and hence the arrival of Captain Baylor and his prisoners created much excitement among the people, and as the news spread a large number of citizens gathered on the streets anxious for intelligence of any kind and the arrival of several "Yankee" prisoners was an incident that had never occurred before.

The point that amused us most was the fact that none of the landlords of hotels in that place would care for us prisoners and take Confederate money for pay! There was a strong Union sentiment in all that section of Virginia, and the majority of the people refused to recognize the new money; but the presence of a Confederate brigade had the effect to close the mouths of a good many people against refusing to use Confederate money in their business; so that after being turned away from three public houses, the fourth finally acceded to Captain Baylor's request and agreed to furnish the prisoners with money and lodging in exchange for Confederate money. It should be stated that the destination of the party of prisoners was Winchester, the headquarters of Stonewall Jackson's division and from which point he was conducting his operations against the dams.

Captain Baylor had decided to remain at Martinsburg all night and proceed at an early hour the next morning to Winchester a distance, if I remember right, of forty miles. After dark the hotel was surrounded by hundreds of people all anxious to get a peep at the "Yankees," and as the crowd enlarged the noise and confusion outside increased, also. After supper the prisoners assembled in the hotel parlors and were very kindly treated by all who called, among whom were several citizens and quite a number of Confederate officers belonging to the brigade that was encamped in the suburbs of the town. Of course the curiosity to see the prisoners became very great and among the callers were a number of ladies who, added to the regular boarders there, made quite a crowd in the large parlor. There was also a piano in the parlor and a young lady, to whom I had been introduced, who claimed her home as Alexandria, Va., a town near Washington; was invited to play and sing something. The very first thing she selected was "Yankee-doodle came to town on a little pony," and as the selection fitted my own case so closely, she came over to where I sat and apologized, declaring there was nothing personal in the words. She afterward rendered "Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light?" as a salve to my wounded feelings, if they had been ruffled.

All this time the crowd outside had been accumulating and as usual under such circumstances, the rougher element was beginning to get in the ascendant. I stepped to the window and could hear many threats of mobbing us and I could also see that some of the young fellows--generally boys from about 16 to 20--were well prepared with stones and some of them with eggs, which they intended to use upon our party. I called Captain Baylor's attention to the matter and, although he had intended to have us remain over night he decided right then to change the program, and get out of the place as soon as possible. Like all old-fashioned taverns, in Virginia, there was a barn and barn-yard connected with the house.

His plan, he told me, was to place a wagon in the barn-yard, very quietly, and put the six men into it, giving to myself a horse. All this he conducted so quietly that not one of the large, yelling crowd in front of the tavern either knew of or expected the movement. The crowd was growing larger and larger all the time, especially with those who would delight in stoning Captain Baylor's prisoners, and I could perceive that the latter, although determined to do his duty, and protect his prisoners, was growing quite nervous over the situation. He told me that he had procured a half-dozen mounted men, which, added to his own guard of ten men, made a very respectable guard for the party.

When everything was in readiness the men were placed in the wagon and told to lie down until they got outside of town, and myself mounted on a very handsome and spirited, although small mare. Captain Baylor gave the order to start on a dead run, the mounted men bringing up the rear. the move was so well executed that the howling crowd in front of the hotel never knew what was up until the wagon shot out into the main street, the continuance of the pike road to Winchester. The mob hollered and hooted for some time, but only a few small boys followed us, and they only for a short distance. I was then, and I am still, thoroughly convinced that but for Captain Baylor's skillful movement the part would certainly have been mobbed; perhaps some of them killed, or at least hurt, and it was also a wise move for us not to stay all night, for in all probability the crowd would have greatly increased during the night. After we got safely beyond pursuit on the fine highway, on several occasions, I was tempted to make a dash for liberty by turning my horse and taking the road back at full speed. Of curse, I would have had to take my chances of a volley from the guard, but, on the other hand, unless they hit me or lamed my horse I reasoned that I could be beyond their reach before they could reload for a second fire. T

Then came the thought that as I was the only commissioned officer present, it would be unfair to dessert the men I had brought over the river. Still, again and again, I was tempted, and it is quite likely if I had thought I could have found the way back to the Potomac river without passing through Martinsburg, where I would be almost sure to meet Confederate soldiers, I am of the opinion now, that I would have made the attempt, for the temptation to do so was very great at times.

The longer the idea of escape was deferred, the narrower became the chance, of course, so I allowed it to depart from my mind. The night was a beautiful one; clear and cold, with as bright a moonlight as one often sees, and a well kept pike made traveling easy. Just before daylight the party approached Winchester, and in the suburbs of the town--a place made historic during the Revolutionary war as the region where General Morgan organized the Mounted Riflemen that rendered such efficient aid to General Washington, and the arrival of which at his headquarters directly after the investment of Boston, confining the British army within the town limits so greatly cheered him, coming, as they did, from his section of Virginia, and was again to hand its memory down in all the histories of the War of the Rebellion, we passed through a large body of Confederate troops, their tents shining white on both sides of the road in the splendid moonlight

Just as Captain Baylor's command in charge of us reached the encampment, I heard him order his bugler to play something, and the latter at once struck up the then popular air of the Confederacy of "Dixie's Land," and what is more he played it so well that I at once knew that he was not a novice on the instrument. What is more, in the still, cold, morning air it reached far and wide and awoke the sleeping camp, which soon discovered us and gathered along the highway on both sides so fast that we had to press through a big line of spectators all of whom had to be informed that Captain Baylor had "brought in a batch of Yankee prisoners." Of course, this announcement was of a character that induced hundreds more of the men of the cam to come out to see the "Yanks," the first captives they had yet beheld, and as a result the road into town was so impeded by them that Captain Baylor found it difficult at times to pass through the constantly growing crowd.

This, however, was finally accomplished, and the gentlemanly and kind-hearted officer reported at General Stonewall Jackson's headquarters for further orders and when these were given the party of prisoners were given the party of prisoners were taken to what had been the "Sons of Temperance Hall" previous to the war. Into this large building we were turned only to find it already full of men in confinement for offenses of a military nature. Two of them were accused of desertion from the Confederate army and were awaiting their trial and others, the charges against whom were of a less grave nature. Captain Baylor apologized to me for putting us into such a pen, and promised his assistance in getting us better quarters during the day, were it possible. This, however, he failed to do, although I am satisfied that he would have done so if he could, for he was a perfect gentleman, but, of course, in Winchester just then, there were many officers who outranked him and whose word, instead of his was law.

Day had not fully dawned when Captain Baylor left us and I was quite sorry to see him go as I thought quite probable that whoever took command of us henceforth might in all probability be a very different sort of a person. Along about 8 o'clock in the morning a commissioned officer and a sergeant, as I saw by the chevrons on his arm, came into the room and looked us over, calling for the late arrival of "Yankee prisoners" to show themselves. It should be understood that there were nearly a hundred people in confinement in the room into which we were placed and amongst them there was not a single one with a blanket nor were the quarters supplied with anything on which a man could rest except the bare floor. Of course my party were lightly clad, having left their overcoats in camp before crossing the river. for myself, in standing before a camp-fire, a few days before our capture, I had so badly burned one of the tails of my uniform coat that I had got ex-Sheriff George W. Scott, whom the older settlers of this county will remember, to convert it into a roundabout by taking off both tails, and he had done his work so creditably that the roundabout coat not only looked well, but was really an improvement. However it was not a warmth-giving garment, but it was the one I had on when I was taken prisoner, and I felt the need of those "tails" very badly during those cold December days.

The officer placed us in line and told us that we could receive our rations through the sergeant. This officer called a Negro to him and as we prisoners stood in line, the man cut each of us a piece of fresh beef, gave us come crackers, and on asking how many there were of us, added what I thought at the time was a quarter of a pound of tea, a dish which our soldiers learned to forego and take to coffee like fiends in the later part of the war. There was a very large fireplace--an old-fashioned one--in the end of the hall and the officers told us that we could cook our meat there. There were but two stewing pans for all the party, and, of course, those had to be used by turns, save those who could relish their meat by cooking it on the coals or on the end of a stick. A colored man seemed to take pity on me and when it came my turn to use the pan he offered to cook my piece of meat for me, which he did, and for which I thanked him. I am fully aware that these are small matters to write about, but the biggest war of modern times was made up of small events, and bigger ones will come as the story progresses and the war grew more and more fierce.



Warsaw Daily Times December 27, 1902

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