What Our Veterans Have to Say About Their Old Campaigns.
WITH THE SCOUTS
Sergn't Knight's Adventures In the Swamps of the Pamunkey.
AFTER the fighting at Spottsylvania Courthouse was over, I cannot remember how the country looked, or what roads we took until we approached the Pamunkey River. In my mind's eye I am see the road for about a mile leading across a river bottom, filled with doughboys, as the infantry were called, who had been halted to let Army Headquarters pass. They had been marching in column of fours, and had separated, so that two were on the right and two on the left of the road. After Headquarters came a motley group of servants, all mounted, which appeared to excite the ire of the infantry. The day was hot, and they had had a long march that morning. As a general thing the scouts were not with headquarters when on the march; only a lot of so called guides, most of them negroes, although there were quite-a number of white men and boys, Virginians by birth. The negroes were guides, in some cases.
After crossing the Pamunkey Headquarters were established on a farm called Gold Hill. Soon after we had settled down, I mounted my horse and took a ride westwardly to see what the topography of the country was like. Just as I came to the first place west of Gold Hill, Gen. Grant and a number of his staff came out of a house; as I passed them Grant was saying: "I told her that I considered our losses about equal. As we had all the time been the attacking party, we had lost more in killed and wounded" but we had taken many more prisoners than Lee had." Afterward I learned Mrs. Newton was the name of the lady he was speaking of.
About 10 a. m. on the nest day, an Orderly from Gen. M. R. Patrick, the Provost Marshal General of the Army of the Potomac, came over to our camp, and said to me: "Gen. Patrick wants to see you." On reporting to him, he said: "Mr. Dana wants to see you." Mr. Dana was Assistant Secretary of War. and had been at Headquarters of the Army from the opening of the Wilderness campaign. When I reached Headquarters, I asked for Mr. Dana. Gen. Rawlings pointed to him, and he (Dana) said: "I am Mr. Dana." Gen. Grant and Col. Rufus Ingalls, Chief Quartermaster of the Army, were also in the tent. I said to him: "Gen. Patrick ordered me to report to you."
"You are a scout. "We want to send dispatches to Yorktown. That is the nearest point that we can reach a telegraph."
Yorktown was about 70 miles away, and the country between in full possession of the enemy. I am free to confess that there was no craving on my part for the job. All that I knew of the country was what an infantry man, serving with his regiment, that lauded at West Point, at the junction of the Pamunkey and York Rivers, would naturally learn in going from there to New Kent Courthouse; from thence to Cumberland Landing; from there to Gaines's farm; from Gaines's farm to Mechanicsville: from thence to Fair Oaks and Harrison's Landing, by way of Savage Station, White Oak Swamp, and Malvern Hill. Two years had elapsed since. I thought over our guides, and the different scouts not a man of them knew a thing of the country, and told Mr. Dana that there was not a horse in our party in fit condition to make such a trip, and said my own horse had a sore back in fact, they all had. Gen. Grant, I could see, was listening to our conversation. When I mentioned the condition of the horses in our party, he said: "Ingalls, haven't yon got fresh horses in the corral?" "Yes," said he. Then to me: "When you get through here, I will go with you to the corral, and show you what I have."
That settled it, and I could see there was no way to get out of it, and might as well put on a cheerful air as any other. Mr, Dana then showed me a lot of dispatches, and marked them, saying, "This is to be telegraphed, and this !s to be mailed," until ho had all but three marked. Then he showed me those, saying as he did so: "If you are caught with these, you "will be hung." I did not believe anything of the kind, and came near telling him that his telling me that would not make we one particle more diligent in endeavoring to get through without being captured. My impression was then, as it is now, that he thought I was a detailed soldier, and that if he could scare me into thinking I was in danger of losing my life by being captured with those documents, I would try harder to get through with them than otherwise. He was careful to not tell me that a Lieutenant with 16 men had been sent with the same dispatches the night before, and had returned with only half his men the same morning.
He wanted to know how many men I would take with me, and I said one. When Col. In galls saw that he had got through with me, he jumped from his seat, saying: 'Come with me, now, and I will show you what horses I have."
On our arrival at the corral I picked out the largest and strongest looking horse there. The Colonel said: "That is a rough rider you have got there." I told him I know it, but he had no bottom, I thought, and also remarked that I was not a lightweight 'No," said he, " that is so. He will serve you if you can can stand the jolting. What kind of a man is the one going with you?"
"No better living. He will never leave one in the lurch. He is good as gold."
"That, is not what I mean," said the Colonel, smilingly. "How large is he? What will he weigh?"
Why, he is a little fellow; won't weigh over 115 pounds."
"Let me pick him a horse," said the Colonel.
In a few minutes he selected one that one could see with half an eye, if he knew any thing about a horse, would be an easy one to ride; then telling negro to deliver the horses to any place I directed, he said to me: "Let me see the pass Rawlings gave you." After looking at it for a moment, he said, "Strange that some people never appear to think. Now, I am going to tell you something that may be of bet vice to you, and I hope it will. We expect Baldy Smith with the Eighteenth Corps to land at the "White House soon. My advice to you is to go by the way of the White House. You may find him there. You have three dispatches for him in your bundle. If you should find him show him this."
He was busy writing on the back of the pass, and when he handed it to me he had written an order on any Quartermaster in the "United States service to furnish us with a steamboat, horses, or any transportation in their power, and to facilitate these men in the discharge of their duty" by any means in their power, and a request to all Captains of gunboats to do the same. When I had read it I thanked him for his thoughtfulness and ready appreciation of the difficulties in the way of the accomplishment of our mission, which might be very much easier for Hatton and myself by his forethought. Then, his way of doing it was so friendly.
How it became so well known Hatton and I were going to try and reach Yorktown we never found out; but in some way it became noised around that we were going, and several people came to us asking that we should carry letters for them; among others, Col. Collis, at that time commanding a regiment of zouaves attached to Headquarters as a guard, soon afterward prompted Brigadier-General, asked me to carry a letter for him directed to his wife, who had not heard from him in some weeks. He never forgot it, and more than a quarter of a century afterward did not forgot what he at that time considered a great favor.
After getting the horses we hastily swallowed not a "plate of soup," but our dinner, and started. About two or three miles from Headquarters we had to halt to let the Fifth Corps pass. Many of them had gone by when we came to the road they were marching out. The very last man in the corps was Joe Beggs, an old friend of mine. Capt. McDonagh, who was killed at Mine Run in the fall of 1863, had told me before his death that Joe was in the army. He (Capt. McDouagh) and myself had boarded in he same house before the war, and I had been on the lookout for Joe for months. It was a very "hot day, and in addition to his regular load of blankets, cartridge-boxes, haversack, musket, I etc, Joe had a camp kettle clung on his musket. He was hot, covered with dust, and tired.
After the natural greetings of old chums who had not seen each other since the war began, I said: "Joe, will you have a drink of whisky?"
"Will a duck swim? Have you got any?"
"Yes; but it is hot."
"That don't matter, so it is not boiling."
Unslinging a canteen from the saddle, I passed it over to him, apologizing at the same time for its being so hot. When he handed it back he said, "You have saved my life. I will have to hurry now to catch up; good-by," and he was off.
Hatton and I crossed the road, and after going about two miles farther we came to a cavalry videt in the road. After showing our pass Hatton asked him what his regiment was, and the answer showed he was one of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade. I said: "Where is Gen. Custer?" He pointed into the woods on the left of the road, and answered: "In there, where you see that group of horsemen." As I had known Custer very well in 1861, while I was at Gen. Kearny's Headquarters, where he for a lime was Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, and at the same time commanding a company of the 2d Cav, of which he was Second Lieutenant, this was the first time I had had a chance to see him since September, 1861, and I availed myself of it. He did not know me until I asked if he remembered Serg't Knight, at Kearny's Headquarters. There was no nonsense about Custer. I could sec he was pleased to see me. After asking a number of questions, he said: " Where are you going?" I told him to Yorktown, and he replied, "I should not care to take such a trip," and said ho hoped we would got through all right, wished us "bon voyage," and we parted. I never saw him afterward to speak with, and only once at all, after the fall of Richmond, when his command had started for Washington.
After leaving Gen. Custer we made good time and saw no one to interfere with us until we came to a place called, _____ which was the name of an estate. The house stood on a high hill commanding a view of the road for some distance, both above and below it. Here we met a Pamunkey Indian. We stopped him to see what we could learn about the situation of affairs. He told us that someone was always on the watch from the house on the hill; also, that there was a line of couriers from the White House to Richmond. In answer to a question ho said the couriers belonged to Col. Shingler's command, and he believed Col. Shingler was from South Carolina. He also told us that he had just come up the road from where it crossed the railroad leading from the White House to Richmond, and that there was stationed therefrom 35 to 20 men; ho had not counted them, but was sure that there was at least 15 of them. We bade him good day and went on. We could not turn back from hearsay.
As we went along, we found that we both had the same impression in regard to the Indian's truthfulness. Neither of us had a doubt but what he had told the truth as far as he knew it. About two miles from where we met the Indian we came upon the cavalry he had told us of. There was but one man who was mounted, but I counted 16 horses, including his. The remainder of the men were lying around under trees, endeavoring to keep cool. As soon as they saw us halt, they commenced getting up and running to their horses. We saw that it would be but a short time before they would be after us, so we turned and started back on a gallop, which we kept up until we passed the place where we had met the Indian. As we were ascending a small hill I noticed the ground was of such a nature that the tracks of our horses could not be seen without very close observation. Small pines were on both sides of the road, which was narrow at that point. We turned out of the road and led our horses into the pines about 100 yards and waited. In a few minutes about eight or 10 of oar Confederate friends came dashing up the road and went right on past. It was very nearly dark when they passed, and we knew that they would come back soon as wise as they went. We came back within a few feet of the road and waited. It was nearly 9 o'clock when we heard them returning. We caught our horses by the nose to keep them from whinneying, or, as our Confederate friends called it, nickering. They were not in as great a hurry going back as they had been in coming, and were very much chagrined that they had not succeeded in overtaking us, and were wondering who and what we were.It was finally decided that we were couriers, for one fellow said he had noticed the "big man" had a bundle in front of him that he felt certain was dispatches. He settled the matter by saying: "You need not say they were deserters, either from the Yankees or our army. They are couriers, and they have not gone far. They will be trying to get past us to-night, and if we keep a good lookout we will stood a chance to see them again." They little imagined we were then so close that we could hear every word they were saying.
After they had passed out of hearing we came out into the road and held a consultation. Jim said to me: "What shall we do now?" After thinking the situation over for a time I said: "Jim, you had better take the horses and go back. You will be able to reach our lines early in the morning."
"Well, what will you do!"
"The best thing to do will be for yon to do as I say; take the horses and return. I will go down to the Pamunkey River and swim over, then work my Way down to Pamunkeytown and get one of the Indians to land me on the south side of the York River, and depend on finding a horse in some stable and confiscating him, and then go on, provided I see nothing of Smith in the. mean time. You know, there is a chance of meeting him at the White House. I am sure that I don't know this country well enough to attempt to flank those fellows down there at 'Tunstalls' in the dark."
Said Jim: "What will they think of me at Headquarters, to come back and leave you alone, when we have not gone more -in fact-,less than one-third of the way? I hate to do it, old boy."
I argued with him some time, and finally he agreed to go back. I said to him, "The Pamunkey can't be more than two or three miles over there," pointing in a northeast direction. "I can perhaps reach the Indian village by daylight, and get to the south side of the York early in the morning, always provided Baldy Smith don't arrive in time to save going there. You can tell them at Headquarters that I said to you that they could rest easy about the dispatches being delivered, and you can tell them where and when you left me."
By this time it was about 10 o'clock at night. He wanted me to take the canteen, which I refused on account of its weight, although we had reduced that by some ounces, and parted. I plunged into the pines upon the other side of the road, and Jim started off on a gallop in the direction from which we had come.
When I started for the river I felt certain I would find it about two miles off. It was very slow time I made through the pines, which at that point must have been quite a mile through. When at last I came to a clearing I was not far from a house, so near that the dogs heard me, and I was escorted to the boundary of that plantation by curs of every degree, and they kept up a continual yelping as long as I was on the place. They stopped at a point I supposed to be the boundary of what they considered their bailiwick, and the choros(sic) was immediately taken up by another set, who welcomed me to the hospitalities of their place. In this way I was escorted from one place to another, and several times was in danger of being bitten. It was only by the exhibition of "eternal vigilance" that I escaped it. The river was much farther off than I had anticipated, a bend in it that I know nothing of causing me a much longer walk than I had expected. At last the river was before me and I hunted for a fence; one was soon found, from which I selected about a dozen suitable rails, which I placed in the water, keeping one end on the bank, then undressing, placed my dispatches and loiters on them, my pistol on clothes on the cud of the rails on shore, my top of the whole outfit, and taking the heft went down in the water and strapped the rails together lightly; then going to the end of the rails in the water bore down my weight on them until I had the raft afloat.
In a short time I had crossed the river, and nothing wet, with the exception of the belt. Resuming my clothes, and taking the dispatches under one arm, I started inland to find a road leading down stream. It was much farther than I anticipated; should think it nearly two miles before coming lo one. When I at last found it I started down stream and walked fast. I had no idea that I was over three miles above Pamunkey town. After going about a mile daylight overtook me, but I kept on for a short distance, when I heard a hello in my rear, looking hack I saw four horsemen coming along the road, and as they were evidently Johnnies, there was not the slightest desire on my part for an interview.
As good luck would have it, I discovered there was a swamp only a short distance ahead, that extended for some distance toward the river. Immediately I sprang for the fence, which was a high one, "staked and ridered." As soon as they saw me climbing the fence, they started into a gallop and came for me. They were walking their horses when they first yelled at me. If they had said nothing they might have come close enough to me before I discovered them to have capt u roil me before it would have been possible for me to get away-from thorn. Evidently they had expected me to stop and wait for them to come up with me. When the long-drawn-out "O-h-h-h-h, thar!" first struck on my ears, I felt under many obligations to them for their warning, which I would not have gotten, most likely, had it not been from the disinclination that all Confederate cavalrymen showed to exerting their horses except when obliged to. The reason probably was, that the horse he rode was private property.
Before they got the fence torn down I was in the swamp. The first jump took me into water and mud above my knees. The surface water was clear, and the whole surface of the swamp was dotted over with small hummocks of bushes, with long grass growing in the soil among the roofs. I passed several of the hummocks, as being not only too small for my purposes, but not far enough from the shore. About 50 yards in I came to one which appeared to me to be the most suitable of any in sight. Passing along to the farther end, I crawled in among the bushes, so as to lie with my head toward the shore. As I crawled in three largo water moccasins crawled out and wiggled their way through the water to an other hummock, and disappeared among the bushes and grass. I had got myself very comfortably settled, and knew that there was no motion among the tops of the bushes that could betray my hiding-place, when I heard the sound of the horses' hoofs on the ground as they rode up to the spot where I had entered the swamp. From my covert I could not see them, and consequently know they could not see me, so that I nearly laughed aloud, when I heard a voice saying, "Come out hyar. I see you. If you don' come I will fire."
At intervals of a few seconds the same voice would repeat the command to "Come out hyar," and breathe dire threats of vengeance if I did not. I was near enough to hear every thing they said while they spoke in their ordinary tone of voice, but it was always the same voice that invited me to "Come out hyar,' from which I came to the conclusion that my very persistent friend, who after each invitation would lie like Ananias by saying, "I see you."
He finally became very profane, and cursed "like a trooper." Had it not been for the dispatches there were times when I would have returned his "curses in kind, like the Confederate tax," and dared them to come in and take me out; and should they attempt it, had no fears as to the result, for I knew they could only come, at the most, two abreast, and I was good with a pistol at 60 yards for the size of a man's palm of the hand every shot.
I know they were up to 9 a.m. right on the shore of the swamp; then all noises ceased for nearly an hour. All of a sudden those mo voice sang out: "Do you see anything of him?" "No," came back the answer from some place east of me at a considerable distance. I could judge that they had sent three of their number around on the borders of the swamp east of me to see if I had come out, which I felt certain they could tell easily, for a look at the water in the vicinity of the hummock I was on looked roily yet. I heard them shouting to each other occasionally, until about 3 p.m., after which hour everything was silent.
-Judson Knight, Washington, D. C.
(to be continued.)
-The National Tribune. (Washington, D.C.), January 12, 1893