« PreviousContinue »
es," which alleged that a few months prior I had been attached to Gen. Averill's command as a scout; had desert. ed, joined the enemy and had that day been captured with arms in my hand. I was ordered to plead. I entered an emphatic and indignant "not guilty." I was first questioned on my personal history and told the ourt briefly that I was a native of Richmond, Va. That I had left college at the outbreak of the war and enlisted as a private in Company A, 52nd Va. Capt. James A. Skinner's Company and Colonel John B. Baldwin's regiment; that at the reorganization of the army in the spring of 1862 I had joined Company D, of the 62nd Virginia, and that I was color bearer of my regiment.
The Court then asked our intentions in the raid. I replied that when the Valley campaign closed, some six hundred of us with broken down horses had been sent to highland county to recruit them; that a gentleman who came. through the lines had reported there was a Federal cavalry regiment at Beverly, handsomely mounted; and that being in need of horses, some three hundred and eighty of us had volunteered to come over and "give them a brush," hoping to surprise, capture and parole the garrison and go back mounted, but they had "turned the tables on us." Lieutenant Robert Gamble, Acting Adjutant, had been killed in the fight and the muster-roll of our little command found on him. I was questioned fifteen or twenty minutes on this roll, and having answered all questions put to me, I turned to the Court and said: "Gentlemen, it stands to reason that if I had been a deserter from your army for two or three months as the man for whom I am taken, is reported to be, it would be impossible for me to place to their companies and regiments, men from twentysix or twenty-eight companies and three or four different regiments. Instead of three months it has taken me three years to obtain this knowledge." The
Court gave no consideration to this remark. I reminded them that there were ninety prisoners in the guard house, who could testify that I had never served a day in the Federal army, and requested that they be called as witnesses in my behalf. My request was refused. I then told them that if I were given the opportunity I could prove my innocence by an uncle in the North, a resident of Philadelphia, Pa., and such a radical Union man that he would like to see the whole Southern army exterminated. They would listen to nothing that I advanced, nor accede to any of my requests, and seemed to be rushing the trial through as quickly as possible, as if to verify Daniel Webster's assertion that "Courts-martial are only convened to convict." Two names were now called be the pudge-advocate; a man of twenty-two and one of twenty-eight came forward, and were asked if I were the man who had scouted for Gen. Averill in the valley last summer. The scrutinized me closely and replied, "yes." "Are you certain of it?" asked the Court. They took another look and again answered "yes." The judge-advo. cate then reached for a Bible to swear them to the truth of their statements. In another minute I would have been convicted. Now thoroughly aroused and desperate, I was unable longer to restrain myself, and jumping to my feet and riveting my eyes on my accusers, exclaimed: "Gentlemen, it is in your power to swear away my life, but remember in so doing you murder an innocent man," and turning to the Court I continued defiantly "and gentlemen, I want you to understand, that shooting down prisoners is a game that two can play at, and this farce of a trial will not avail you. You've got not only to murder me, as you seem intent on doing, but you will also have to mur. der my ninety comrades in the guard house, or they will carry to Gen. Imboden my request to hang ten Yankees for me. Now go on with your proceed
ing. This is all I have to say." And I stood before them with folded arms and blazing eyes. My words fell like a bomb. That was a phase of the case they had not considered, and doubtless recalled Mosby having hung six Yanks along the Valley Pike the previous summer, in retaliation for six of his men taken prisoners and hung at Fort Royal. The proceedings were instantly halted, the witnesses slunk to one side. The Court arose and went to the further end of the room, where after a whispered consultation of a few minutes they returned, resumed their seats, and the President announced that the Court had decided to send me for trial to Gen. Averill. "Thank you, gentlemen," I said, "that is all I ask; if Gen. Averill will say that I ever scouted an hour for him (I fought him repeatedly in the Valley last summer) he is at liberty to shoot, hang or quarter me." I was then sent back to the guard house and rejoined my comrades. The two witnesses against me now seemed to take a fancy to me, brought me a blanket and food, and vied with each other in kindly attention.
I had no faith in the Court or its announced intention, and believed that it was but a ruse to detain me until after my comrades had been sent off, and then to shoot me secretly. From their action and treatment I judged that they had seen little service and were utter strangers to the gentle courtesy, and chivalric bearing of the true soldier. They had refused my request of the morning to be allowed to go under guard to view our killed and wounded, so we could report their fate and save their being classed "missing." They appeared very jubilant over their victory, and I felt sure that they were bent on topping it off with a "shooting match," with me as the star attraction. So little faith had I in the Court's announced decision, and so confident was I that they intended to murder me, that I would have attempted to escape had I had the free
use of my legs, although there would not have been one chance in a hundred of success, as I would have had to scale the four foot wall of the gaurd house, taking the fire of the guard at a few paces, then traverse a half mile plain to the river, wade or swim it, and then go another half mile before reaching the mountains, and once there, make my way back to our lines without guide or compass. I had sprained my left ankle badly in the charge of the early morn, and in my present crippled condition, I saw that one chance vanish and so resigned myself stoically to whatever fate awaited me. I wrote a farewell letter to my now sainted mother, and one to my commanding General, reciting briefly the facts and requesting him to make good my threat to the Court, by invoking the "Lex tallionis." These I gave to one of my comrades for de-. livery, and being utterly exhausted by fatigue and the excitement of the day, I rolled myself in my blanket and slept soundly all night. The next morning we arose early as our men were to be sent to the rear. Shortly before the line formed, the two witnesses called on me and said, "Johnny, let us look at your teeth." On my complying with their request, they exclaimed, "We know now we were mistaken and that you are not the man we took you for, as that fellow had lost his front teeth," (they had not asked to see my teeth at the trial) and I replied, "Well, my friends, you came near making the discovery after I was under ground." They reported their error to the Colonel and I was sent off with my comrades. We were marched some six miles over the mountains without a halt, they being mounted while we were afoot. By this time my ankle had become so painful and swollen that my boot had to be cut from my foot, and I was unable to walk further, and indignantly refused so to do, telling the guard that they could shoot me, but I could not and would not walk another step. They then put me
in a wagon and I rode until we went into camp at sundown. The next day we were turned over to the Fifth Virginia Federal Cavalry, grim old veterans with hearts like women (God bless them) who treated us royally. I rode one of their horses and we chatted pleasantly over army experiences and sampled together some army "poteen," with which they seemed to be liberally supplied. We struck the railroad at Parkersburg, went from there to Wheeling and thence to our destination at Camp Chase from which I was liberated a month later on parole by the martyr President, the gentle, kindly Lincoln, and rejoined my mother and sisters, whom I had not seen for four years, in Philadelphia, Pa.
There was no exchange of prisoners after December, '64, and when our flag was furled forever at Appomattox, I took the oath of allegiance to the United States government. Forty-seven years have since passed, but the memory of that drum-head court-martial is, and will be to my dying day a vivid and frightful memory. I will do the witI will do the witnesses the justice of saying I believe they were honest, and that it was a case of mistaken identity. I have never since met any of the actors in that drama. Should this meet their eyes, they will doubtless recall. the October day in '64 when they came so near convicting and shooting an innocent prisoner, as a deserter.
THOMAS H. NEILSON, Co. D, 62nd Va. Regt., C. S. Army.
How I Got My Parole
It may not be uniniteresting to your readers, although not germain to my narrative, to learn how I got my parole, as paroles were rarely granted. My mother, through the kindly offices of Gen. Frank Blair, secured an interview with Mr. Lincoln and pleaded for the release of her only son. Mr Lincoln Mr Lincoln promised to give the matter considera
tion and when she called the next day he informed her he had ordered my discharge upon taking the oath of allegiance. My mother told him that she knew I would not take the oath, to save her, nor my life, and that his kind order was therefore valueless and requested my release on parole. The President said that gave a new phase to the matter. She replied she knew it did, but that she would answer with her life for my keeping honorably any promise I might make, and so the parole was granted. She had sent me a new suit of clothes, some toilet articles, a box of cigars, etc., but had never hinted in her letters that she was making an effort for my release, knowing I would veto it. There were a number of prisoners in Camp Chase, dubbed by us "razor backs," who had been vainly seeking release for months by offering to take the oath and who had on more than one occasion, informed the prison authorities and frustrated the attempts of our boys to escape, by tunneling under the enclosure. So you may imagine my surprise one morning, early in December when a Yankee sergeant came into our barracks and called loudly my name, company and regiment. I came forward and announced myself as the soldier wanted. Whereupon Mr. Yank asked, "Johnny, what would you give to get out of here?" "What do you mean," said I, "foot-loose and in Dixie? I would give a good deal for that." Yank replied, "No, by taking the oath." I said "Nary oath." After some parley, I told him that I could not understand the matter, that I had made no application for the oath, and would not take it, but that I would go with him and see the commander, and try to solve the mystery. He took me to the command. ing officer, who informed me that he had an order from the War Department to release me upon taking the oath. I answered I had volunteered at the beginning of the war and had followed and carried the "Southern Cross" through
too many hard fought battles to desert it, at this late day, and that I could not conscientiously take the oath. So after thanking him for his kindness in letting me have the clothing, etc., sent me, I returned to prison. A half hour later in comes the same sergeant and asked me how I would like to get out on parole. I pondered a few minutes, being wholly ignorant of what it meant. I wondered if I was again to be courtmartialed or transferred to some other prison. I knew I could hardly get into a worse one, for we were having "hard lines" and scant rations at Camp Chase, where rats were esteemed luxuries and commanded fifty cents apiece, but the prospect of a few days freedom with plenty to eat, was so alluring that I announced that I would go out "on parole." I washed up, put on my new suit, giving my old one to one of my comrades, and went with the sergeant. At headquarters I was given the money and box of cigars which had been sent me, and shown two orders from the War Department, and saw at a glance that the dates had been changed, the parole being made the earlier and the oath the later order, so after failure to get me to take the oath, they had to release me on parole. After treating the Yanks to cigars, and thanking them, I took the coach to Columbus, four miles distant, where I got the first "square meal" I had eaten in months, at
How long have I loved thee?
How long have his billows
the old Eagle hotel. I paid fifty cents for my dinner, beforehand. Had I settled later, I think the proprietor would have charged me five dollars, as being half starved, I ate ten men's share and in consequence nearly died with colic that night. This was my first expereince of Northern freedom and customs. The head waiter was a "big buck negro" as black as coal, the waiter girls being white. He stood at one end of the dining room yelling, "Mary," "Sal," "Fanny," to the white girls and pointing to the various guests needing attention. It was difficult for me to maintain silence and refrain from violence, but deeming this a phase of Northern civilization I thought it not best to attempt its reformation. After dinner I took the first train from Columbus to Pittsburg, thence to Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del., where by the terms of my parole I reported to General Samuel M. Bowman (commandinng that department) who ordered me to rejoin my family in Philadelphia, to pay no visits, to receive no callers, to go to no places of public amusement and to report to him daily by letter. A month later he ordered me to report weekl This continued up to the time of Lee's surrender, when I took the oath, thereby becoming a full-fledged American citizen and ending my career as a Johnny Reb. THOMAS H. NEILSON, Co. D, 62nd Va. Regt., C. S. Army.
How deep have I loved thee?
Yet in vain have I loved thee?
But thine answer can change not
The Boy Scouts
Capt. Jack Crawford
VERY day I am asked by people who do not seem to know: "What is this Boy Scout movement? Is it to prepare our boys for war, does it stand for militarism, etc? Is it to teach our boys how to use fire arms so that they can get out into the woods and kill game and birds just for the sport of it?" Now, all these questions and many others can be answered by visiting any meeting of any camp of "Boy Scouts" in America or in England.
When the Boy Scouts were first organized by General Baden Powell, although for more than thirty years I have preached the "Boy Scout" doctrine all over the United States, Canada, and especially commented upon my work on these lines at the Savage club in England in the year of the World's Fair in Chicago, I believe I am capable of and competent to tell what this movement represents; but first let me. illustrate what first suggested the idea
At the age of eight, I was left with an uncle by my Christian mother when she sailed from the north of Ireland to join my father in America, he having preceeded her five years earlier. At nine I was hired out to a farmer; at ten I was sent to school and was flogged by an old Irish schoolmaster for four days in succession, after which I ran away, fearing that the old master might kill me before I could master the alphabet. At fourteen, I sailed with my brothers and sisters, five of us, in charge, of my cousin, Davy Wallace. I landed on a sailer, the "Zered," Capt. McConagle, at Philadelphia, twenty-one days from Londonderry, the record for a sailing ship up till 1861. Twice I was flogged on board ship for climbing the main-mast and once I reached almost
to the spindle on top. My father was gone with the Ringolds of Minersville, Pa., in the first three months' service, having enlisted about the time we sailed. Two weeks after landing I was picking slate at Pott's Colliery on Wolf Creek, at $1.75 a week, to help mother keep the pot boiling while daddy was fighting for his beloved lopted country and Old Glory. In less than three years I was fighting alongside of my father. Was wounded on May 12, 1864, at Spottsylvania and taken to the Saterlee Hospital, West Philadelphia, where a black-robed angel of mercy not only saved my life but soon taught me to read and write, for when I enlisted I had to make my cross; and before I was fit, I ran away from the hospital and was reported as a deserter, but when I joined my regiment in front of Petersburgh at Fort Hell within a week, my colonel, the gallant Harry Plesents, the hero of the Petersburg Mine, wrote to Dr. I. I. Hayes, the Arctic explorer in charge of the hospital. that I had deserted to the front, and was then doing duty as a sharpshooter.
On April 2nd I was again wounded in the assault on Fort Mahone within twenty feet of where my Colonel was killed, and although I was offered my discharge on my fractured hip wound before I ran away from the hospital, I refused it and it was because I feared that they would discharge me that I ran away and joined my regiment and my fighting Scotch-Irish daddy. He was twice wounded, at Antietem and Cold Harbor, and soon after the war, died from the effects of the wound in his head. Soon after the war, like many other soldier boys, I became disgusted with the mines; after working as a mule driver, fireman, load