Thinking still of the fighting in the Wilderness this week, I recall a passage in a book of mine (Ups and Downs of a Confederate Soldier) in which a Valley man (James Huffman) reflected on his youth and one of his passages through the Wilderness, around 1854.
When I was about fourteen, I began to feel very mannish and begged my father to let me drive this team. When he consented, I felt considerably bigger than President Taft or any other that ever occupied the President’s chair. All the horses were large, fat and sleek. When told to fix, feed and load to go to market, to say that I was proud does not express it at all. If no trouble occurred, it required four days to go to Gordonsville, four to Orange Courthouse, six to Winchester and eight to Fredericksburg. We always fixed feed enough for the trip… The thing I feared most on these trips when I was young, was a sick horse. I had a large saddle horse that often was ailing and I would stick something in his mouth until he quit grunting. I thought sometimes he quit to get rid of the nuisance.
On my way to Fredericksburg with father one time in August, I nearly froze; at least I thought I was as near to freezing as I ever was in my life. It was down in the Spotsylvania Wilderness, a day’s drive this side of the city, on that detestable, old, plank road. It was raining a little when we got up and I fed and harnessed while father got breakfast under the end of the wagon. We ate hurriedly and I hooked up while he washed and put things away. We pulled out in one of the worst Northeastern summer storms I ever was in. The rain came down in sheets, and being on the plank road (which as too narrow to allow me to walk by the side of the horse and keep out of the loose clay mud), I had to sit in the saddle all the time. The road was graded like a railroad and required watching to keep on it. I was soaked to the skin, although I had on a light overcoat. My fingers shrank to about half their size and I was chilled to the marrow of my bones. I was saved, however, when it stopped raining about four o’clock and the sun came out. Father being in the wagon and dry, did not know how near I was to being frozen and I was too independent to tell him.
Great stuff… and from one of my favorite books… not to mention a book that provides some great prewar stories from a Valley native.
It’s ironic, but ten years after that, James Huffman was back in the Wilderness. Furthermore, as it turns out, I walked along the line where Huffman stood on May 5, 1864, with Co. I, of the 10th Virginia Infantry.
Of that day, Huffman recalled:
On the 5th, Grant crossed at several fords and a desperate battle was begun and raged all day – mostly in the jungles and thick brush, where with fog an smoke of battle one could not see far ahead. On May 5th we were again ordered to march. Arriving, we were suffering more from hunger than I, at least, ever did while well and hearty. The first views was of our Colonel [Edward Tiffin Harrison] Warren, Captain Sellers and several other officers of our company and regiment, all lying along in a row in silent death. All these men had stood together with us in so many hard-contested battles, but they would no more unsheathe their swords or raise their voices in battle-cry in defense of rights, home, and liberty. A great many others had been taken to the hospitals, some mortally wounded and other less seriously so. These scenes are horrible to look upon, yet with all the hardening processes of soldier life one can sit down alongside them, eat and relish a meal as we did that evening. After relieving our hunger, we took our places in the broken and shattered ranks and were constantly in line. Charge after charge was made here. They were determined to force our lines. The ground was strewn with bluecoats, so close to our lines that they could not be moved and the men were as black as Negroes. it was said the cause of their turning black was that they were full of whiskey. Anyway, it was a horrible sight to look upon.
I find the reference to “Captain Sellers” most interesting… as there was no Captain Sellers in the 10th Virginia Infantry. Could it be that the remains of my third great grand uncle had been laid together with the men of the 10th? Sellers… Shuler… hmmm.
Nonetheless, I thought I would share this story, considering the story of a man in a particular place, and the different experience he had in the decade since his first trip through, when he felt rather “mannish” as a fourteen year-old.