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November 3, 2011
A Slight Demonstration (5)By Greyhawk
"About the 17th or 18th of October I became satisfied that there was a movement on foot in the army, and a fight impending. I announced my determination to return to my regiment. It was violently opposed, but I felt it to be my duty to make an effort to go with the brave boys who had stood so nobly by me at Manassas..."
Colonel Eppa Hunton was a Virginian, sir. One who would cut a dashing figure in the uniform of the Confederacy, mounted or on foot, leading fellow Virginians into battle. At this moment, however, he was bedridden, in his brother's home 25 miles - as the crow flies - from Leesburg and the regiment he commanded. But if his sense of a pending fight was correct then his regiment was threatened, and Virginia was in danger. Ailing or well, there was only one place for a true Virginian at such a time, and it was not in a sickbed.
Certain things were expected of a Virginian, after all, and Huntons had been Virginians for over 150 years. Eppa was thirty-eight years old, married with a young son (Eppa Hunton III) at the outset of the Civil War. After starting out as a school teacher, he had established a home - and a law practice - in Brentsville, the county seat of Prince William County. He had made something of himself there, and as was common with Virginians of his day, was well versed and deeply involved in politics. "I was a Democrat from my earliest youth," he could say with pride. "My father before me was a Democrat. All of the Hunton name were Democrats. I took an active interest in politics from the time I was grown, and was put upon the stump by my party in every presidential canvass from 1840."
In 1856 I was one of the delegates to the National Convention at Cincinnati. Franklin Pierce was President, and I favored his renomination, though my ultimate choice was R. M. T. Hunter, of Virginia. Mr. James Buchanan, of Pennsylvania, was nominated and elected.
Mr. Buchanan of Pennsylvania would prove himself a disappointment to many Virginians. "He was a good man, but timid," was Eppa's judgment.
"After the 'Cotton States' had all withdrawn from the Union they formed the Confederate States government at Montgomery, Alabama, with Jefferson Davis as President, and sent Commissioners to Washington to treat with the Buchanan administration for recognition as a nation. Mr. Buchanan promised time and again that he would recognize them, but his timidity interfered, and he postponed it until his term as President expired."This, unfortunately, left things in the hands of President Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, who in the opinion of any true Virginian (and most certainly that of Eppa Hunton) was "a rough man." In fact, "He was one of the most vulgar men that ever attained high position in the United States," Hunton declared forty years later. After his election a rift was certain; where Virginia stood on this most critical divide - with the vulgar northerners or with their sister states of the glorious South - was to be determined by a convention in Richmond. The voters of Prince William County elected Eppa Hunton as a delegate.
The morning I went to the convention, which was held in the Mechanics' Institute, a building on Ninth Street near Main, I found the lower room crowded with ladies. We had to pass through this room to get to the convention hall above. We found it impossible to pass. I made an appeal to the ladies to let me get by, explaining that unless the members of the convention could get upstairs there could be no convention. One of these ladies said to me, "Are you a secessionist?" I replied, "If I had my way I would vote the State out of the Union tomorrow morning before breakfast." She exclaimed, "Ladies, let him pass; he'll do!" They made a way for me to pass, and I went up to the convention.
Most of what followed amounted to what Hunton called "useless debate up to the time the ordinance was passed" - though the chivalrous Hunton would recall that those who delivered stirring speeches calling for secession would be favored with "beautiful flowers" from the fine ladies of Richmond, while an opponent would discover "There wasn't a lady of Virginia who sent him a flower."
Still, the result was uncertain until Lincoln called for troops in response to the taking of Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The ordinance then passed by a vote of 88 to 55. However, it was signed by all the delegates in a show of solidarity - except for "a few from the northwestern part of the State" (hardly the behavior of true Virginians) who departed the convention rather than add their names to the instrument of secession, and were of no account. ("These ... became violent Unionists in the war," Hunton added. Actions by certain other individuals from his state were more worthy of his condemnation. For example, "The command of the Union forces organizing to make war on the Confederacy in Virginia, was given to General Winfield Scott." Decades later, Hunton, perhaps with a hint of pride that the Yankees could find no one better suited to the task, declared General Scott to be "a renegade Virginian" and "degenerate son of Virginia.")
Though without any real military experience, since 1857 Hunton had also held the position (elected by the Virginia legislature) of Brigadier-General of Militia. But having affixed his name to one important document he immediately did so to another, resigning that commission. In the war he foresaw, Colonels would lead regiments of men in battle, and that was the place for him. "The Governor sent word to me that he would have plenty of work for me as Brigadier-General of Militia, and refused to accept my resignation," Hunton recalled - but he was persistent. "I sent again a peremptory resignation, informing him that if he would not appoint me a Colonel, I intended to resign as Brigadier-General of Militia and go into the ranks as a private."
The governor relented, and appointed him Colonel, with command of the Eighth Virginia Infantry Regiment. Before the delegates to the secession convention had rightly completed dotting I's and crossing T's he'd left Richmond to organize that regiment at Leesburg, in Loudoun County, Virginia, along the Potomac. He found himself commanding six infantry companies from Loudoun County, one company from Prince William, two from Fauquier, and one from Fairfax - along with Loudoun's cavalry and a battery of artillery to boot.
They were soon joined by a unit from Maryland - that somewhat conflicted state having failed to secede prior to being overwhelmed by Yankee troops, its true patriot sons were crossing the Potomac to join the rebellion. Though not Virginians, "This was a very fine company of soldiers" in the opinion of Colonel Eppa Hunton.
Captain Gaither's Maryland company, was stationed at Edwards' Ferry to prevent any crossing from the other side on the part of the Union soldiers. One night in June about 12 o'clock I received a dispatch from Gaither that the enemy was preparing to cross the river at Edwards' Ferry in large force. I instructed him to keep a sharp lookout and advise me if there was any real effort made to cross the river. I received a sensational dispatch from him every half hour, in which he said that the force was very large and was prepared to embark across the river. At last he reported that the force was crossing the river in large numbers, and he was about to be surrounded and captured.
This would prove to be a false alarm. However, Hunton had responsibility for the only train cars in Confederate hands on the Alexandria to Leesburg railroad (the Alexandria end being in Union posession) and orders from General Lee himself (of Virginia, sir) to burn them if necessary to keep them from the Yankees. On receiving Captain Gaither's warning Hunton promptly carried out that order. However, shortly thereafter Captain Gaither appeared "with his company unhurt." On further examining the situation, Hunton concluded the Yankees had not invaded, and declared himself "deeply indignant and mortified" that valuable assets critical to the conduct of the war (and eventual peace-time commerce) had been reduced to embers and ashes at his hands.
I was criticized for this, especially by the "Fire-side Generals," who said that I had become panic-stricken in Leesburg and burnt up the cars."I had no reason to doubt Captain Gaither in any particular and up to this time had thought very highly of him," Hunton reflected. Now, however, he could see his subordinate was "absolutely worthless as a military man, being excitable, emotional and unreliable in his reports."
"I sent Gaither with his company away, and he reported to General Joseph E. Johnston at Harpers Ferry. I went back into camp and resumed my regular duties."
As a true Virginian, he would carry on. "I never heard that any military man criticized me" for that action, he added.
Shortly after this incident, a second regiment was sent to Leesburg - the 4th South Carolina, commanded by a Colonel J. B. E. Sloan. Along with them came Colonel N. G. Evans of South Carolina. By date of rank he was Hunton's junior, but Colonel Evans was a West Pointer - a professional military man who had been present at the bombardment of Sumter. He was sent to Leesburg to assume command of all forces in Loudoun. For a Virginian - further, one who had so strongly urged his state to come to the aid of her southern sisters, this would prove a somewhat trying situation. It seems the gentlemen from South Carolina had opposite ideas about which state had come to the aid of the other...
The South Carolinians boasted very strongly of what they were going to do. They said they had come there to fight the war and to conquer a peace. They did not want the Virginians to do any of the fighting, but just to stand back and look on and furnish them with bread and meat. They would win the independence of the Confederacy.As if this barely tolerable situation wasn't bad enough on its own merit (or rather lack thereof), these non-Virginians managed to attract the attention of the fairer portion of the local population...
This talk was very captivating to the outsiders -- especially to the young ladies who had up to that time been very attentive to the young men of my regiment, but they deserted us and went over to the South Carolina boys bodily. They went so far as to call mine the "Cornstalk Regiment," Our boys were "cast down, but not dismayed." They pursued the even tenor of their way, became very efficient in drill, and anxious to do their duty as soldiers of the Confederacy.Clearly Colonel Eppa Hunton was an officer and a gentleman, and would soldier on without complaint. This entirely unacceptable situation did not last long, however. The real Yankee invasion was soon underway, and the regiments were ordered to Manassas - a railroad junction just north of Colonel Hunton's home in Brentsville.
We left Leesburg on the 18th of July. One of my companies in passing through the town put corn-stalks in their muskets to remind the girls that they called us 'The Corn-stalk Regiment.' Everybody knew that we were going down to fight, and the girls were very sorry for what they had said and wept sorrowfully about it.
The Corn-stalk Regiment would certainly make a distinct impression on those who witnessed their march: "When we went down from Leesburg to the fight at Manassas, Major Norborne Berkley, afterwards Colonel of the Regiment, insisted upon taking a daguerrean saloon, an old-time photograph gallery on wheels, as my headquarters..."
Colonel Eppa Hunton was familiar with the territory through which his Eighth Virginia Infantry marched.
I had been a resident of Prince Willam County for eighteen years preceding the war, and knew of the blind-road that led from Centreville to Sudley, and concluded that McDowell might use that road in a flank movement on Beauregard's left. I sent a picket of five mounted men some distance on this road. On the morning of the 21st this picket was driven in, and reported to me the advance of McDowell's army by this blind-road. I immediately reported it to General Beauregard; and I believe that this was the first information he had of McDowell's flank movement.Still, Colonel Hunton was deeply mortified to discover that in spite of his extensive knowledge of the area his regiment was assigned to act as a mere reserve force for the battle - perhaps destined to be the only battle of the war, and one fought in his own back yard.
General Cocke ordered me to take a position in reserve. I felt that I was no manner of use, and was deeply mortified that I was held in sound of the fighting and not allowed to take part. I sent word to General Cocke three times to let me go to the front. He replied that I must hold my position at all hazards; that it was a very important one. I could not see the importance of it at the time. Colonel Smith, of the 49th Regiment, rode by and when he saw me said: "What on earth are you doing here?" I replied, "Nothing in the world, and I'm exceedingly anxious to go to the front, but General Cocke won't allow me. He ordered me to stay here and hold this position at every hazard." "Well," said Colonel Smith, "General Beauregard wants you at the front." I replied, "I want to go and will be a thousand times obliged if you will report me to General Beauregard and get him to give me orders to go to the front." He said he would do it, and off he went.
Meanwhile, the first blow struck by the Yankees fell on none other than Colonel N.G. Evans of South Carolina, who distinguished himself that day by fighting valiantly enough against overwhelming odds to slow the Union advance long enough for Generals Beauregard (who was from Louisiana, sir) and Johnston (by grace of God a Virginian) to adjust their plan and deliver troops to where they were most needed. Eventually, Hunton's men were needed for the final charge on Henry House - a piece of property that had changed hands multiple times throughout the day. Along with several other regiments, the gallant Virginians "charged upon the Federal forces, carried the place, drove them entirely from the field, and held possession there for the balance of the day."
Following the battle, Colonel Hunton returned to his field headquarters in the mobile daguerrean saloon.
After the fight was over and I moved my regiment to the little town of Manassas, I occupied the saloon as my headquarters. It rained heavily the next day after the fight, and the old saloon leaked dreadfully. It was supposed by the victorious army of Beauregard to be an enterprise of some daguerrean artist, and hundreds of soldiers came to my headquarters to have their pictures taken to be sent home to their wives, their sisters, their mothers or their sweethearts. I was very much annoyed by it, and on our return to Leesburg the old saloon gave out and broke down about every five miles, and we had to incur a delay to repair it; but we finally got it back, to my very great relief. I never fooled with a daguerrean saloon as headquarters during the balance of the war.
Once again they were quite a spectacle - but this time a cheerful one. "We made our march to Leesburg, the citizens all along the road greeting the victorious soldiers with tumultuous joy, and welcoming their safe return to the County of Loudoun."
"I was then again in command of that portion of the country embracing Loudoun County and the Potomac River from Harper's Ferry to Drainesville," Hunton could say with rightful pride.
We were all perfectly delighted to get back to dear old Loudoun, and the people were all delighted to see us. They were amongst the best people I ever saw. A portion of them were disloyal to the Confederacy, but these were Germans and Quakers. Their religious belief put them in opposition to the war, and finally put them on the other side in hostility to the Confederate forces. With the exception of these the people of Loudoun were a unit in support of the Confederate cause, and sent as many troops, in proportion to the population, as any other part of the State."I felt very proud of my dear boys," Hunton declared of his regiment's performance at Manassas, "and believe they felt proud of me. I hope so." He could also cite General Beauregard's official report of the battle with some satisfaction:
"Colonels Harper, Hunton and Hampton, commanding regiments of the reserve, attracted my notice by their soldierly ability, as with their gallant commands. They restored the fortunes of the day, at a time when the enemy by a last desperate onset, with heavy odds, had driven our forces from the fiercely contested ground around the Henry and Robinson houses. Veterans could not have behaved better than these well led regiments."
Still, shortly after Hunton's own return to Leesburg Colonel Evans - now an acknowledged hero of Manassas - followed, with three regiments of Mississippi infantry, "a portion of cavalry, and one battery of the Richmond Howitzers" in tow. Hunton noted that "many of the soldiers were laid up with the measles. They were sent to Leesburg to increase the force there, and to give the sick soldiers a chance to get well in that fine country."
There was talk of a promotion to General in the works for Evans (and some talk of his conspicuous whiskey consumption on the battlefield, too), and Colonel Eppa Hunton was now merely one of four regimental commanders serving below the valiant South Carolinian.
Soon after this I was taken with a violent attack of fistula. I suffered from this trouble during the entire war, and, although I was operated on several times, it never healed until after the war. I suffered intensely, and was laid up in Leesburg for some time while my regiment was six or eight miles to the west of the town. I was attended by Dr. Armistead Mott, of Leesburg. Under his advice, about the 10th of October I borrowed a spring wagon from Mrs. George Carter, of Oatlands, hitched my war horse, old "Morgan," to it, and went down to my brother's, Silas B. Hunton, at "Mt. Hope." I had to put my camp bed into this wagon, and was carried there on the bed.
He was reunited with his wife and son there. He had seen them only briefly following the battle at Manassas. Even though they were only five miles away from the field at that time, General Beauregard had "refused positively" Hunton's first request for leave to visit them, reminding the colonel that "There are no such things as wives now; you are wedded to the Confederate cause."
And so there he was, near New Baltimore in Fauquier County Virginia, about the 17th or 18th of October, when he "became satisfied that there was a movement on foot in the army, and a fight impending."
I announced my determination to return to my regiment. It was violently opposed, but I felt it to be my duty to make an effort to go with the brave boys who had stood so nobly by me at Manassas.
There was more war to be fought after all, and worse things than being held in reserve. The heroic image would be that of Colonel Hunton bidding farewell to his loving family (who could no more stop him than the Yankees could - but unlike the Yankees had at last accepted the fact), saddling his horse and riding off to battle. But from his own account (written solely for those very family members), "I put my bed in my wagon and took leave of them all, and lying down made my trip to Leesburg..."
(Part six is here...)
Autobiography of Eppa Hunton (1933)
General Beauregard's mention of Colonel Hunton in his report on Manassas: The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 - Volume 2 page 500.
See also Beauregard's account of the battle in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War vol 1. Excerpt:
It was now between half -past 2 and 3 o'clock; a scorching sun increased the oppression of the troops, exhausted from incessant fighting, many of them having been engaged since the morning. Fearing lest the Federal offensive should secure too firm a grip, and knowing the fatal result that might spring from any grave infraction of my line, I determined to make another effort for the recovery of the plateau, and ordered a charge of the entire line of battle, including the reserves, which at this crisis I myself led into action. The movement was made with such keeping and dash that the whole plateau was swept clear of the enemy, who were driven down the slope and across the turnpike on our right and the valley of Young's Branch on our left, leaving in our final possession the Robinson and Henry houses, with most of Ricketts's and Grriffin's batteries, the men of which were mostly shot down where they bravely stood by their guns.
Posted by Greyhawk / November 3, 2011 1:23 AM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
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