Read CHAPTER II of The Last Leaf‚ Observations, free online book, by James Kendall Hosmer, on ReadCentral.com.

SOLDIERS I HAVE MET

In speaking of soldiers I shall do better to pay slight attention to the men of chief importance; for them the trumpets have sounded sufficiently and I came into personal contact with only one or two. Grant, I saw once, after he was Lieutenant-General, on the platform of a railroad station submitting stoically to the compliments of a lively crowd of women. Once again I saw him, in academic surroundings, sturdy and impassive, an incongruous element among the caps and gowns; but it was among such men that he won what is to my mind one of his greatest victories. What triumph of Grant’s was greater than his subjugation of Matthew Arnold! I rode once on the railroad-train for some hours immediately behind Sheridan, and had a good chance to study the sinewy little man in his trim uniform which showed every movement of his muscles. Though the ride was hot and monotonous I was impressed with his vitality. He seemed to have eyes all around his head. The man was in repose, but it was the repose of a leopard; at a sudden call, every fibre would evidently become tense, the servant of a nimble brain, and an instant pounce upon any opposition could be depended upon. What a pity, I found myself thinking, that the fellow has no longer a chance for his live energy (the war was then well over), and I had to check an incipient wish that a turmoil might arise that would again give a proper scope to his soldierly force. Happily there was no longer need for such service, but I feel that Sheridan was really more than a good sword. One finds in his memoirs unexpected outbursts of fancy and high sentiment, and he could admire the fine heroism of a character like Charles Russell Lowell. It is fair to judge a man by what he admires.

At the Harvard commemoration of 1865, standing under the archway at the northern end of Gore Hall, I encountered the thin, plainly clad figure of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I was in soldier’s dress and as he gave me a nod of recognition he said, looking at my chevrons, very simply but with feeling, “This day belongs to you.” Passing around then to the west front, I had before me a contrast in a brilliant group marshalled by my friend and classmate Colonel Theodore Lyman, in the centre of which rose the stately figure in full uniform of Major-General Meade. “Ah, Jimmy,” said Theodore with the aggressive geniality which his old associates so well remember, “come right here,” and catching me by the arm he pulled the corporal into the immediate presence of the victor of Gettysburg. “This is Corporal Hosmer,” said he, “and this, Jimmy, is Major-General Meade,” introducing us with much friendly patting of my shoulder and a handling of the Major-General almost equally familiar. He had long been a trusted member of Meade’s staff but the war was over and a close friendship held them on common ground. “He has written a book, General, about the war.” Then came a word of commendation and the tall General, as he gave my hand a cordial pressure, beamed down upon me with pleasant eyes. In the peaceful time that had come, we were all citizens together; the private and the General were on a level, though that aquiline face had been called upon not long before to confront, at the head of one hundred thousand men, the hosts of Lee.

Of our other great commanders I never saw Thomas, but my knowledge of Sherman was something more than the mere glimpse I had of the figures of his compeers. His home was in St. Louis, in which city I was then residing, and he was much in society. He was really a Connecticut Yankee though transplanted to Ohio, and he was, in figure and character, thoroughly a New Englander. He was tall and slender, his prominent forehead standing out from light straight hair, a stubby beard veiling a well-pronounced and well-worked jaw (for he was one of the readiest of talkers), it would require little scratching to get to the uncontaminated Yankee underneath. A New Englander of the best type, shrewd, kindly, deeply concerned for the welfare of his country and of men. A fashionable lady invited him to dine without his wife. Sherman, on arriving, found other ladies present; to his hostess, who came forward to receive him with effusion, he said: “Madam, I dine with Mrs. Sherman to-night,” and the party went forward without the lion who was to have given it distinction. He would not have his wife slighted; nor in more important things would he endure to see a lame outcome when he might set things in better shape. He encouraged schools and worthy charities by giving them his hearty countenance. No arm was more potent than his in saving the country, nor was his patriotism selfish. He saved his country because he believed it was for the good of the world.

Sherman has been criticised for his ruthlessness, but no one can say that he was not effective. He bore on hard but with the belief that only such action could bring the war to a close. No one could come in contact with him without feeling that he was a soft-hearted man. It was one of the most interesting evenings of my life when, as a guest of N.O. Nelson, the philanthropic captain of industry in St. Louis, I was one of a company of a dozen to hear Sherman tell John Fiske his story of the war. We sat at table from seven o’clock until midnight, the two illustrious figures with their heads together exchanging a rapid fire of question and answer, but the rest of us were by no means silent. Sherman was full of affability and took good-naturedly the sharp inquiries. “How was it, General, at Shiloh; was not your line quite too unguarded on the Corinth side, and was not the coming on of Sidney Johnston a bad surprise for you?” “Oh, later in the war,” said Sherman, “we no doubt should have done differently, but we got ready for them as they came on.” “Was there not bad demoralisation,” I said, “ten thousand or more skulkers huddled under the bluff on the Tennessee?” “Oh,” said Sherman, “the rear of an army in battle is always a sorry place; but on the firing line, where I was, things did not look so bad.” “Your adversaries, General, were often good fellows, were they not, and you are good friends now?” “The best fellows in the world,” said Sherman, “and as to friendship, Hood wants me to be his literary executor and take care of his memoirs.”

He was ready to confess to mistakes, and with frank and proper exultation pointed out the gradual improvement and the triumphant result. Plenty of good stories and much hearty laughter came in among the more tragic episodes. We saw John Fiske take it all in, swaying in his chair ponderously back and forth, but the War in the Mississippi Valley, which came out soon after, showed that his memory retained every point. On another occasion, as Sherman on a stormy night took me home in his carriage, we skirted the blocks which had been the site of Camp Jackson, the first field of the Civil War that Sherman had witnessed. That was the beginning of things in the West, and he on that day only a by-stander. He was at the time possibly irresolute as to what he should do, and he certainly had no premonition of the large part he was destined to play. As he looked out of the window that night into the driving storm on the spot where once he had brooded so anxiously, I wondered if he had any memory of the soul struggle of that crisis.

After his death, there took place in the streets of St. Louis an imposing military funeral. As the cortege paused for a moment, I stood at the side of the gun-carriage which bore the coffin wrapped in the flag, and paid my tribute to this good man and great citizen who had played his part well.

A controversy, which has now died away, used to be waged during and soon after the Civil War as to whether West Point had really vindicated a place for itself. Many an American, full of that over-confidence which besets us, maintained that a man could become a good soldier by a turn of the hand as it were. Given courage, physical vigour, and fair practical aptitude, a lawyer, a merchant, or a civil engineer could take sword in hand and at short notice head a squadron or muster an army. This view has so far as I know been set forward by no one more plausibly than by Jacob D. Cox, a stout civilian soldier who led well the Twenty-third Corps and later became Governor of Ohio and a successful Secretary of the Interior. I once met General Cox in an interesting way, on a Sunday afternoon, at the home of Judge Alfonso Taft at Walnut Hills, a pleasant suburb of Cincinnati. Judge Taft in those days was a somewhat noteworthy figure. He had served the country well as Minister to Russia and also as a member of the Cabinet at Washington, and was one of the foremost men of the fair city where he lived. His sister-in-law married an intimate friend of mine, and there were other reasons which gave me some title to his notice, and I was for the time his guest. A sturdy white-haired boy of ten or so sat at the table at dinner and hung with his brothers about the group of elders as they talked in the afternoon. This boy was William H. Taft taking in the scraps of talk as the chatting progressed on his father’s porch. General Cox dropped in for an afternoon call and I scanned eagerly his scholarly face and figure, well knit through the harshest experiences in camp and battle. He was a man of fine tastes and well accomplished both in science and literature with a substratum of manly tenacity and good sense, who did noble duty on many a field and produced, in his Military Reminiscences one of our most satisfactory books on the Civil War period. The manner of the veteran was simple and pleasant. Nothing betrayed that he had been the hero in such an eventful past. I have of course no thought of sketching his career or criticising his account of it. As to the point to which I have referred, his claim that a peaceful American can be turned into a soldier off-hand and that the West Pointers no more made good in the war than did the civilians, he sets forth the case calmly. He takes the curriculum at West Point as it was sixty years ago and plainly shows that as regards acquirements in general it bears a poor comparison with that of civilian universities and colleges of that period. As to especial military education, he claims that the instruction at West Point was comparatively trifling; the cadets were well drilled only in the elements, while as regards the larger matters of strategy and the management of armies there was slight opportunity to learn. The cadet came out qualified to drill a company or at most a regiment, while as to manoeuvring of divisions and corps he had no chance to perfect himself. The cadet, moreover, had this handicap he had been made the slave of routine and his natural enterprise had been so far repressed that he magnified petty details and precedents and was slow to adapt himself to an unlooked-for emergency. He cites an example where he himself was set to fight a battle by a West Point superior with old-fashioned muzzle-loading guns, the improved arms which were at hand and which might easily have been used with good effect remaining in the rear. His conclusion is that a wide-awake American trained in the hustle of daily life, with a good basis of common sense and some capacity for adaptation, could, with a few month’s experience, undertake to good advantage the direction of soldiers, and that the West Point preceding 1861 had an influence rather nugatory in bringing about success. It is perhaps sufficient answer to arguments of this kind that while during our Civil War there was a most relentless sifting of men for high positions, little regard being paid to the education and antecedents of those submitted to it, the men who finally emerged at the front were almost exclusively West Pointers. Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and Thomas, the Union champions par excellence, were West Pointers. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, the Johnstons, and Longstreet are no less conspicuous among the Confederates. Civilians for the most part were not found in the high places, or if they were so placed the results were unfortunate, as in the cases of Butler, Banks, and McClernand. There were of course good soldiers who came from civil life. Cox himself is a conspicuous instance, and there were Terry, John A. Logan, and other good division commanders. On the Southern side may be instanced N.B. Forrest and J.B. Gordon; but these men rarely attained to more than secondary positions, the highest places falling, as if by gravitation, into the hands of West Pointers. An influence there was in the little academy on the Hudson which somehow brought to pass a superior warlike efficiency. The training at West Point, supplemented as it usually was by campaigning on the plains, although duty was done only by men in squads, and the hardships and perils were scarcely greater than those encountered by the ordinary pioneer and railroad-builder, somehow evoked the field-marshal quality and made it easier to grapple with the tremendous problems with which the army was so suddenly confronted.

A certain pathos attaches to the story of some of those civilian soldiers. In my youthful days, I had often seen N.P. Banks, who had risen from the humblest beginning into much political importance. No large distinction can be claimed for him in any direction, and for elevation of character he was certainly not marked; but he was a man of respectable ability and he climbed creditably from factory-boy to mechanic and thence (through no noisome paths) to Congress, to the post of Governor, and to the Speakership at Washington.

He had military ambition and with the beginning of the war went at once into the army, unfortunately for him, as major-general and commander of a department. Could he have gone in as captain or colonel, his fortune would probably have been different. But, sent to command in the Shenandoah Valley, it was his fate to meet at the outset the most formidable of adversaries, Stonewall Jackson. He was sorely hoodwinked and humiliated, but so were several of his successors. At Cedar Mountain, understanding that his orders were peremptory, he threw his corps upon double their numbers and fought with all the bravery in the world though with defective tactics. Another corps should have been at hand, but it failed to arrive. There was a moment when Banks, weak though he was, was near to victory, but he failed in the end in an impossible task and was made scapegoat for the blunders of others. He was sent to supersede Butler in Louisiana with a force quite inadequate for the duty expected. It was here that I came into contact with him. Interested friends had laid my case before him, as one who might serve well in a higher position than that of a private, and he good-naturedly sent word to me to report to him at a certain hour in the rotunda of the St. Charles Hotel at New Orleans. The city was in the firm grasp of the Union, as our transport had sailed up the evening before. The ships of Farragut, their decks crowded with blue jackets held under their broad-sides a dense and sullen multitude. A heavy salute reverberated from the river as the new commander took his place, but conditions were precarious.

As I walked up the street in my soldier’s dress, a handsome Southern girl almost ran me off the sidewalk with a look in her face which, but for fear of the calaboose, might have been backed up by words and acts of insult, while the faces of the men were full of hate. I stood at last in the rotunda of the St. Charles Hotel and presently the commander-in-chief, threading his way through a throng of officers, was at my side. I was much dishevelled and still ill after a stormy passage in a crowded ship, but the General was very courteous to the private. He had heard of my enlistment and indicated that he would be glad to utilise me, as he desired to utilise every man, for the best welfare of the service. What did I desire? I told him I had no thought but to do my duty as well as I could wherever I might be put. He discussed the situation reasonably, then offered me a clerkship at headquarters, where I might escape the chief perils of the campaign and where perhaps my education would serve the public. For a moment I hesitated and he passed on, leaving me to decide. My friends felt that I had not the physical strength for work in the field; should I accept the snug place back of the firing-line or risk it at the front? By the next day, I had fully determined to stick to my regiment. I sought the General again at headquarters. Colonel Irwin of his staff at the moment was arranging around his shoulders the yellow sash of the major-general for the formal ceremony of taking command, which was close at hand. But the General had a kindly recognition of the private, assented to my decision, and gave me a pass to the regiment, which had already been hurried onward to the front. I laid my knapsack down by the side of that of my young brother in the camp, which was then at the front.

Banks was a kindly man who meant and did the best he could for the humblest soldier in his army. His further military career I can only briefly sketch. He planned two fierce and calamitous assaults upon Port Hudson; errors no doubt, but Grant and Lee at the moment were making just such errors. The Red River campaign was a disastrous failure, but Banks had every handicap which a general could suffer: an insufficient force, a demand from the Administration that he should attend to a civil reordering when only fighting was in place, subordinates insolent and disobedient. And finally nature herself took arms against him, for the Red River fell when, by all precedents, it should have risen. It was an enterprise which his judgment utterly disapproved, the difficulties of which he faced with good resolution. It ended his career, for though once at a later time he went to Congress, he ever afterwards stood a discredited figure, dying, as I have heard, poor and broken-hearted in obscurity. His State has tried to render him a late justice by setting him up in bronze on Beacon Hill. It was done through opposition and the statue is sneered at more often than admired. He was an able man I believe and meant well, and I for one find it pathetic that the lines of my old commander did not fall more pleasantly.

Butler, on the other hand, I do not regard as a pathetic figure. On the night of my arrival in New Orleans, strolling about the strange city, I found myself at headquarters, and a Massachusetts boy standing sentry on the porch in a spirit of comradeship invited me up. As I ascended the steps Butler, who had been standing at the door, closed it with a crash and retired within. Through a crevice in the blinds he was plain to be seen seated at his desk in profound thought, his bull-dog face in repose, his rude forcefulness very manifest. His rule at New Orleans had come to an end and no doubt he was pondering it and dreaming of what the future had in store for him. His burly frame was relaxed, his bluff unshaken countenance with the queer sinister cast of the eyes fully lighted up by the lamp on his table. I studied him at leisure, his marvellous energy for a moment in repose. In those days his name was much in the mouths of men, and whatever may be said in his disfavour, it cannot be denied after fifty years that his rule of New Orleans was a masterpiece of resolution, a riding rough-shod over a great disaffected city which marked him as full of intrepidity and executive force. In the field he was a worse failure than ever Banks had been. In my idea he deserves in 1864 the characterisation by Charles Francis Adams. He was the Grouchy who made futile Grant’s advance upon Richmond and he blundered at Fort Fisher, but he was a pachyderm of the toughest too thick-skinned to be troubled by the scratches of criticism, always floundering to the front with unquenched energy, sometimes a power for good and sometimes for evil. It is hard to strike the balance and say whether for the most part he helped or hindered, but our past would lack a strong element of picturesqueness if old Ben Butler were eliminated.

There were pathetic figures among the West Pointers as well as among the civilian generals. At St. Louis, in the seventies, I used to see sometimes an unobtrusive man in citizen’s dress, marked by no trait which distinguished him from the ordinary, a man serious in his bearing, who one might easily think had undergone some crushing blow. This was Major-General John Pope. His son was in our university and his sister, a most kind and gracious lady, was a near friend. Pope seems destined to go down in our history merely as a braggart and an incompetent. Probably no man of that time meant better or was more abused by capricious fate. Cox, whose daughter married the son of Pope and who therefore came to know him well in his later years, defends him vigorously. In the early years of the war he showed himself bold and active. The capture of Island Number Ten with its garrison was rather a naval and engineering exploit than an achievement of the army, but Pope seems to have done well what was required of him and probably deserved his promotion to the command of a corps at Corinth when an advance southward was meditated in the early summer of ’62. It was with deep unwillingness that he received the summons of the Administration to command an army in Virginia, and only assumed the place from the feeling that a soldier must stand where he is put. Arrived at Washington, he found himself in an atmosphere hot with wrath and mortification. The Peninsular campaign had failed and strong spirits like Stanton and Ben Wade, Chairman of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, were on fire through disappointment. The new General, whose position until within a few months had been a humble one, was brow-beaten and dominated by powerful personalities and forced to stand for acts and words which were not really his own. He declared, said Cox, that his bombastic and truculent orders were practically dictated by others. The declaration that his headquarters would be his saddle, which Lee so wittily turned, saying, “then his headquarters would be where his hindquarters ought to be,” Pope declares he never made. When his environment had in this way aroused prejudice against him, he was set to command an army whose higher officers felt outraged at his sudden rise over their heads and whose soldiers were discouraged by defeat. He was expected to oppose skilful and victorious foes with instruments that bent and broke in the crisis as he tried to wield them. Only supreme genius could have wrought success in such a situation, and that Pope did not at all possess. He was only a man of resolution, with no exceptional gifts, who desired to do his best for his country. In the West he had proceeded usefully and honourably, and it was the worst misfortune for him that he was taken for the new place. I hope that history will deal kindly with him and that, since he was a worthy and strenuous patriot, he will not live merely as an object of execration and ridicule.

In August, 1863, my too brief term of service having expired, I came home to the Connecticut Valley and resumed my pulpit, which I had left for a vacation and powder-smoke. Gettysburg and Vicksburg had taken place, and we at the North too fondly hoped that all was over and that we might confidently settle down to peace. When going west to Buffalo for a visit I was delayed a few hours at Syracuse and took the occasion to call on an intimate friend of my father and myself, the Rev. Samuel J. May. Mr. May, a bright and beautiful spirit, was by nature a strong peace man, but, fired by the woes of the slave, he had become an extreme abolitionist and was ready to fight for his principles. Entering Mr. May’s quiet study I found him in intimate talk with a man of unassuming demeanour, in citizen’s dress, marked by no distinction of face or figure. He might have been a delegate to a peace convention, or a country minister from way-back calling on a professional brother. What was my astonishment when Mr. May introduced him as Major-General Henry W. Slocum, commander of the Twelfth Corps, who, taking a short furlough after Gettysburg, was at home for the moment and had dropped in for a friendly call. Slocum had been in the thick of most of the bitter Virginia battles from the first, and all the world knew that at Gettysburg, by beating back the thrust of the Stonewall division toward the Baltimore pike, he had secured the threatened rear of the army of the Potomac and averted defeat. This had taken place in the preceding month, and I naturally marvelled that the unpretending, simple man could be that victorious champion, but for the time being we were there plain citizens, and, American fashion, the Major-General and the Corporal shook hands and fraternised on equal terms. It probably helped me with Slocum that I too had been in danger. About the time he was defending Culp’s Hill, I had been in the ditch at the foot of the Port Hudson rampart.

While reticent as to his part at Gettysburg, he spoke with feeling of what his corps had been through, and knowing that both Mr. May and I were Massachusetts men took an evident pleasure in commending the regiments from that State. Of the 2d Massachusetts he spoke with high appreciation; it was an admirable body of men and thoroughly disciplined. It was always ready; its losses were fearful and he felt that he ought to spare it if he could, but a crisis always came when only the best would answer, and again and again the 2d Massachusetts was thrown in. Particularly at Gettysburg its services had been great and its sacrifice costly. He spoke feelingly of the young officers who had been slain and also of humbler men. Since that time I have stood by the simple stone at the “bloody swale at the foot of Culp’s Hill,” which marked the position held that day by the 2d Massachusetts. It takes no trained eye to see that it was a point of especial difficulty and importance. Some of the men of that regiment who fell that day were my own college comrades. I was glad to know from his lips that the commander thought their work heroic.

One naturally brackets the name of Slocum with that of Howard, secondary figures of course in the great Civil War drama and yet both steadfast and worthy soldiers. They rose together into places of responsibility during the Peninsular campaign, became commanders of corps about the same time, served side by side at Gettysburg, went together to the West, and finally, one at the head of Sherman’s right wing and the other at the head of the left, made the march to the sea and through the Carolinas. Neither perhaps was a brilliant soldier. So far as the records show, Slocum always did his work well, was increasingly trusted to the last, and nowhere made a grave mistake. In Howard’s case, the rout at Chancellorsville will always detract from his fame; he was, however, on that day new in his place, and the infatuation of Hooker by an evil contagion passed down to his lieutenants. But he too steadily improved, refusing resolutely to be discouraged by his mistakes and always doing better next time. Perhaps no one act during the war was more important than the occupation of Cemetery Hill on the morning of July 1, 1863, by a Federal division. I think that the credit of that act cannot be denied to Howard. In a later time he passed under the control of Sherman in the West, a shrewd and relentless judge of men, and Sherman trusted him to the utmost. To a group of officers in their cups who were chaffing Howard for being Puritanical, Sherman curtly said: “Let Howard alone; I want one general who doesn’t drink.”

I saw General Howard at Gettysburg on the fortieth anniversary of the battle. We were under the same roof, and during the evening I sat close to him in the common room and heard him talk, a strenuous old man, his empty sleeve recalling tragically the combats through which he had passed. Close by under the stars could still be traced the lines occupied by Steinwehr’s division, the troops which with such momentous results Howard had posted on Cemetery Hill. I might easily have talked with him, for he was affable to old and young, but I preferred to study the good veteran from a distance and let others draw out his story while I listened.

In the winter of 1861 I went to Port Royal, through the good offices of my friend Rufus Saxton, then a captain and quartermaster of the expedition under which Dupont had taken possession of the Sea Islands in South Carolina. The capture of Port Royal had taken place a few weeks before and the army was encamped on the conquered territory. Saxton was an interesting figure, who in an unusual way showed during the war a fine spirit of self-sacrifice. At the outbreak, a high position in the field was within his grasp; he was second in command to Lyon in St. Louis, and being intimate with McClellan might have held a position of responsibility in the field. He was indeed made a general. Once in 1862 he was in command of a considerable force, and when Banks was driven out of the Shenandoah Valley by Stonewall Jackson he withstood at Harper’s Ferry the rush of the Confederates into Maryland. But at the solicitation of Lincoln and Stanton he gave up service in the field, for which he was well fitted and which he earnestly desired, to act as Military Governor of the Sea Islands, where his work was to receive and care for the thousands of negroes who by the flight of their masters in that region had been left to themselves. Here he remained throughout the war, while his old comrades were winning fame at the head of divisions and corps, a patient, humane teacher and administrator among the nation’s wards. He was content to live through the stirring time inconspicuous, but he won the respect of all kindly hearts at the North and deep gratitude from the helpless blacks whom he so long and humanely befriended.

I came in contact during that visit with a number of soldiers soon to be famous. In the boat which carried me from the transport to the shore I had as a fellow-passenger James H. Wilson, then a lieutenant but soon to be a famous cavalry commander. He was a restless athletic young man, who when I met him was on fire with wrath over the giving up of Mason and Slidell, the news of which had come to the post by our steamer. I tried to argue with him, that we had enough on our hands with the South without rushing into war with England besides, but he was impetuously confident that we could take care of all foes outside and in, and maintained that the giving up of the envoys was a burning shame. His vigour and confidence were excessive, I thought, but they carried him far in a time soon to come.

I talked with General Thomas W. Sherman, the commander of the expedition, in his tent, but was more interested in a dispute which presently sprang up between the General and a companion of mine, Jonathan Saxton, father of Rufus Saxton, an abolitionist of the most perfervid type, a good talker and quite unabashed, plain farmer though he was, by a pair of épaulettes.

Among our regular officers there were few abolitionists. Rufus Saxton told me that Lyon was the only one of any distinction who could be so classed among the men he knew. T.W. Sherman was like his fellows and listened impatiently to what he felt was fanaticism gone mad, but the fluent old farmer drove home his radicalism undauntedly. T.W. Sherman before the war had been a well-known figure as commander of Sherman’s flying artillery, which was perhaps the most famous organisation of the regular army, but his name scarcely appears in the history of the Civil War, more perhaps from lack of good fortune than of merit. He was crippled with wounds in the first important battle in which he was concerned. The two brigadiers at Port Royal, Horatio G. Wright and Isaac I. Stevens, both became soldiers of note. Wright was a handsome fellow in his best years, whom I recall stroking his chin with an amused quizzical expression while Jonathan Saxton poured out his Garrisonism. His brigade lay well to the south and his headquarters were at the old Tybee lighthouse which marked the entrance to the harbour of Savannah. I climbed with him up the sand hill, from the top of which we looked down upon Fort Pulaski then in Confederate hands and within short range. We peered cautiously over the summit, for shells frequently came from the fort. Wright held in his hand a fragment of one which had just before exploded. “How well it took the groove!” he said, pointing out to me the signs on the iron that the rifled cannon from which it had come had given the missile in the discharge the proper twist. Wright’s after-career is part of the war’s history, always strenuous and constantly rising. The fame which attaches to the Sixth Corps is largely due to the leadership of Wright. If he fell short at Cedar Creek in 1864 it was a lapse which may be pardoned in the circumstances. Sheridan retrieved the day and magnanimously palliated the misfortune of Wright. “It might have happened to me or to any man.” The good soldier deserves the fine monument which stands by his grave in the foreground at Arlington.

I had at Port Royal a long and friendly talk with Isaac I. Stevens. He was already a man of note. After achieving the highest honours at West Point he had gone to the West, and in the great unexplored Pacific Northwest had conquered, built, and systematised until a fair foundation was laid for the fine civilisation which now sixty years later has been reared upon it. He was modest in his bearing, with well-knit and sinewy frame, and possessed at the same time refined manners and a taste for the higher things of life. Before the year had passed, his life went out in the second battle of Bull Run. In the end of that terrible campaign, he essayed with Phil Kearny to stem at Chantilly the rush of Stonewall Jackson upon Washington. The attempt was successful, but Stevens died waving the colours at the head of his men. It is said that Lincoln had marked him for the command of the Army of the Potomac. He had made good in all previous positions, and perhaps would have made good in the chief place, but here I stumble once more upon a might-have-been and am silent.

Dear ghosts of old-time friends swarm in my thought as I dream of those days. The white marbles in Memorial Chapel solemnly bear the names of Harvard’s Civil War soldiers and tell how they died. There was one of whom I might say much, an elder companion, a wise and pleasant spirit who did something toward my shaping for life. A cannon-ball at Cold Harbor was the end for him. There was another, a brilliant, handsome young Irishman, bred a Catholic, who under the influence of Moncure D. Conway had come out as a Unitarian and left his Washington home for a radical environment in the North. He was brilliant and witty with small capacity or taste for persistent plodding, but forever hitting effectively on the spur of the moment. He was as chivalrous as a palladin and went to his early grave light-hearted, as part of the day’s work which must not be shirked. I have his image vividly as he laughed and joked in our last interview. “Dress-parade at six o’clock; come over and see the dress-paradoes!” He fell wounded at Chancellorsville, and while being carried off the field was struck a second time as he lay on the stretcher, and so he passed.

There were fine fellows, too, in those days who stood on the other side: McKim, President of the Hasty Pudding Club, who fell in Virginia; W.H.F. Lee, who was in the Law School and whom I recall as a stalwart athlete rowing on the Charles. It helped me much a few years ago when I visited many Southern battle-fields that I could tell old Confederates “Rooney” Lee and I had in our youth been college mates. My classmate J.B. Clark of Mississippi was a graceful magnetic fellow who had small basis of scholarship, perhaps, but a marked power for effective utterance. He fascinated us by his warm Southern fluency, and we gave him at last the highest distinction we could confer, the class oration. He left us then and we did not see him for fifty years. He enlisted in the 21st Mississippi and passed through the roughest hardships and perils. We felt afterwards that he held coldly aloof from us through long years. At our jubilee, however, he came back wrinkled and white-haired, but quite recognisable as the fascinating boy of fifty years before. He had a long and good record behind him as an officer of the University of Texas, and we gave him reason to think that we loved him still. The most cordial meetings I have ever known have been those between men who had fought each other bitterly, each with an honest conviction that he was in the right, but who at last have come out on common ground.

Among the Harvard soldiers three stand out in my thought as especially interesting, William Francis Bartlett, Charles Russell Lowell, and Francis Channing Barlow. Bartlett was younger than I, entering service when scarcely beyond boyhood, losing a leg at Ball’s Bluff, and when only twenty-three Colonel of the 49th Massachusetts. I remember well a beautiful night, the moon at the full, and the hospital on the river bank just below Port Hudson where hundreds of wounded men were arriving from a disastrous battle-field close at hand.

Bartlett had ridden into battle on horseback, his one leg making it impossible for him to go on foot, and he was a conspicuous mark for the sharpshooters. A ball had passed through his remaining foot, and still another through his arm, causing painful wounds to which he was forced to yield. He lay stretched out, a tall, slender figure with a clear-cut patrician face, very pale and still but with every sign of suffering stoically repressed. He was conscious as I stood for a moment at his side. It was not a time to speak even a word, but I hoped he might feel through some occult influence that a Harvard brother was there at hand, full of sympathy for him. He afterwards recovered in part, and, with unconquerable will, though he was only a fragment of a man, went in again and was still again stricken. He survived it all, and to me it was perhaps the most thrilling incident of the Harvard commemoration of 1865 to see Bartlett, too crippled to walk without their support, helped to a place of honour on the stage by reverent friends.

Charles Russell Lowell was in the class preceding mine; his father had been my father’s classmate, and had done me many a favour; his mother was Mrs. Anna Jackson Lowell, one of the best and ablest Boston women of her time. In her house I had been a guest. Charles and James, the sons, were youths of the rarest intellectual gifts, each first scholar of his class, of whom the utmost was expected. How strange that fate should have made them soldiers! They both perished on the battle-field. As I remember Charlie Lowell, the boy was fitly the father of the man. We were playing football one day on the Delta, the old-fashioned game of those days, at which modern athletes smile, but which we old fellows think was a good tough game for all that. I had secured the ball, and thinking I had time, placed it rather leisurely, promising myself an effective kick. A slight figure bounded with lightning rush from the opposing line, and from under my very foot drove the ball far behind me to a point which secured victory.

How little I knew that I had just witnessed a small exhibition of the quickness and prompt decision which no long time after on critical battle-fields were to be put to splendid use. He proved to be a nearly perfect soldier; Sheridan said of him, that he knew of no virtue that could be added to Lowell. To us he seems one of the manliest of men, thoughtful for others, even for dumb beasts. In Edward Emerson’s charming life of him, nothing, perhaps, is sweeter than his affection for his horses, of which it was said that thirteen were killed under him before he came to death himself. He studied their characters as if they had been human beings, and dwells in his letters on the particular lovable traits each one showed these mute companions who stood so closely by him in life and death.

When our class first assembled in 1851 there was a slight boy of seventeen in the company, Francis Channing Barlow. He was inconspicuous through face or figure, but it early became clear that he was to be our first scholar, and a wayward deportment with an odd sardonic wit soon made him an object of interest. Barlow came admirably fitted, and this good preparation, standing back of great quickness and power of mind, made it easy for him almost without study to take a leading place. As a boy he was well grounded, outside of his special accomplishments, in Latin, Greek, and mathematics. I remember his telling me that his mother read Plutarch to him when he was a child, and that and many another good book he had thoroughly stored away. Such accomplishments were an exasperation to us poor fellows who had come in from the remote outskirts and found we must compete for honours with men so well equipped. We perhaps magnified the gifts and acquirements of the fellows who had been more favourably placed. Barlow seemed like a paragon of scholarship, and the nonchalance with which he always won in the classrooms was a constant marvel. He had a queer way of turning serious things into fun. With a freshman desire for self-improvement, a thing apt to evaporate in the college atmosphere, we had formed a society for grave writing and debate and hired for our meetings the lodge-room of the “Glorious Apollers” or some such organisation. At an early meeting of the society, while we were solemnly struggling through a dignified programme, Barlow suddenly appeared from a side-door rigged out most fantastically in plumes and draperies. He had somehow got hold of the regalia of the order and drawlingly announced himself as the great panjandrum who had come to take part. He danced and paraded before the conclave and had no difficulty in turning the session into a wild revel of extravagant guffaws and antics, and after that time the occasions were many when Barlow gave a comic turn to things serious. It was said that Barlow, going back and forth on the train between Concord and Boston as he did at one time, got hold of an impressionable brake-man, and by exhortation brought about in him a change of heart, after the most approved evangelical manner, counterfeiting perfectly the methods of a revivalist, which he did for the fun of the thing. The story, of course, was an invention, but quite in character.

He was no respecter of conventions and sometimes trod ruthlessly upon proprieties. “What will Barlow do next?” was always the question. In the class-room he was never rattled in any emergency, his really sound scholarship was always perfectly in hand and in a strait no one could bluff it with such sang-froid and audacity. He kept his place at the head of the class to the very end, but there Robert Treat Paine came out precisely his equal. Among the many thousand marks accumulating through four years the total for both men was exactly alike a thing which I believe has never happened before or since.

Before the Arsenal in Cambridge stood an innocent old cannon that had not been fired since the War of 1812, perhaps not since the Revolution. The grass and flowers grew about its silent muzzle, and lambs might have fed there as in the pretty picture of Landseer. Any thought that the old cannon could go off had long ceased to be entertained. One quiet night a tremendous explosion took place; the cannon had waked up from its long sleep, arousing the babies over a wide region and many a pane of glass was shivered. What had got into the old cannon that night was long a mystery. Many years after Barlow was discovered at the bottom of it it was the first shot he ever fired.

Dr. James Walker, the college president, said to a friend of mine at the beginning of the war, speculating on the probable futures of the boys who had been under his care, “There’s Barlow, now he’ll go in and come out at the top.” Barlow had been a sad puzzle to the faculty, good men, often perplexed to know what to do with him or what would become of him. Dr. Walker’s astuteness divined well the outcome. As I review those early years I can see now that Barlow then gave plain signs of the qualities which he was later to display. I remember sleeping with him once in a room in the top story of Stoughton in our sophomore year and he talked for a great part of the night about Napoleon. The Corsican was the hero who beyond all others had fascinated him, whose career he would especially love to emulate. We were a pair of boys in a peaceful college, living in a time which apparently would afford no opportunity for a soldier’s career. I have often thought of that talk. Barlow was really not unlike the youthful Napoleon, in frame he was slender and delicate, his complexion verged toward the olive, his face was always beardless. I never saw him thrown off his poise in any emergency. The straits of course are not great in which a college boy is placed, but such as they were, Barlow was always cool, with his mind working at its best in the midst of them. He was never abashed, but had a resource and an apt one in every emergency. He was absolutely intrepid before the thrusts of our sharpest examiners and as I have said could bluff it boldly and dexterously where his knowledge failed; then the odd cynicism with which he turned down great prétentions and sometimes matters of serious import, had a Napoleonic cast. In ’61 he enlisted as a private but rose swiftly through the grades to the command of a regiment. At Antietam he had part of a brigade and coralled in a meteoric way on Longstreet’s front line some hundreds of prisoners. His losses were great but he was in the thick of it himself, his poise unruffled until he was borne desperately wounded from the field. The surgeon who attended him told me, if I remember right, that a ball passed entirely through his body carrying with it portions of his clothing, if such a thing were possible; but, with his usual nonchalance he laughed at wounds and while still weak and emaciated went back to his place again in the following spring at the head of a brigade. He underwent Chancellorsville, and for the Union cause it was a great misfortune that his fine brigade was taken from its place on Hooker’s right before Stonewall Jackson made his charge. Had Barlow been there he might have done something to stay the disaster. At Gettysburg, however, he was in the front in command of a division. An old soldier, a lieutenant that day under Barlow, told me that he had charge of the ambulances of the division and on the march near Emmitsburg Barlow put into the lieutenant’s especial charge the ambulance of his wife who, with a premonition of calamity, insisted on being near at hand to help. When the battle joined and Gordon swept overwhelmingly upon Barlow’s division, the lieutenant had difficulty in restraining Mrs. Barlow from rushing at once upon the field among the fighting men. He held her back almost by force but she remained close at hand. Barlow was again desperately wounded, so hurt that his death seemed inevitable, and when the faithful wife, at last making her way, presented herself even in the rebel lines with a petition for her husband, supposed to be dying, Gordon chivalrously gave him up. It was magnanimous, but for him ill-timed. Again Barlow laughed at his wounds. In May, 1864, he was in the field at the head of the first division of Hancock’s corps and on the 12th of May performed the memorable exploit, breaking fairly the centre of Lee’s army and bringing it nearer to defeat than it ever came until the catastrophe at Appomattox. He captured the Spottsylvania salient together with the best division of the army of northern Virginia, Stonewall Jackson’s old command, two generals, thirty colours, cannon, and small arms to correspond. John Noyes, a soldier of a class after us, told me that in the salient he and Barlow worked like privates in the confusion of the capture, turning with their own hands against the enemy a cannon that had just been taken. Barlow was as cool as when he fired off the old cannon in Cambridge ten years before. This stroke proved futile, but from no shortcoming of Barlow’s. A few weeks later at Cold Harbor he effected a lodgment within the Confederate works when all others failed. That too proved futile, but his reputation was confirmed as one of the most brilliant of division commanders. There is a photograph in existence portraying Hancock and his division generals as they appeared during that terrible campaign. It was taken in the woods in the utmost stress of service. Barlow stands in the group just as he looked in college, the face thin and beardless, almost that of a boy, and marked with the nonchalance which always characterised him. There are no military trappings, a rough checked shirt, trousers, slouching from the waist to campaign boots, hang loosely about the attenuated limbs. Soon after that he was carried from the field, not wounded, but in utter exhaustion after exposures which no power of will could surmount. A few months’ respite and he was at his post again, intercepting by a swift march Lee’s retreating column, almost the last warlike act of the Army of the Potomac before Appomattox. In this “Last Leaf” I do not deal with “might-have-beens.” I only remember, but we old classmates of Barlow have a feeling that had the war continued, if only the bullets to which he was always so hospitable had spared him, he would have gone on to the command of a corps, and perhaps even to greater distinctions. The photograph of Barlow, published after his death in the Harvard Graduates’ Magazine, presents him as he was soon after the war was over. He had recovered from the hardships, the face is fairly well rounded but still rather that of a beardless, laughing boy than of a man. A stranger studying the face would hear with incredulity the story of the responsibilities and dangers which that face had confronted. He laughed it all off lightly, and that was his way when occasionally in his later years he came to our meetings.

I recall a reunion in 1865, ten years after our graduation. We sat in full numbers about a sumptuous banquet at the Parker House in Boston, and naturally in that year the returned soldiers were in the foreground. In our class were two major-generals, four colonels, a distinguished surgeon, and many more of lower rank. Barlow was the central figure. Theodore Lyman, who presided, introduced him with a glowing tribute, recounting his achievements, a long list from the time he had entered as a private to his culmination as a full Major-General. He called at last for nine cheers for the man who had captured the Spottsylvania salient, and we gave them with a roar that shook the building. Barlow was the only man in the room who showed not the slightest emotion. He stood impassive, his face wearing his queer smile. Other men might have been abashed at the tumultuous warmth of such a reception from his old mates; a natural utterance at such a time would have been an expression of joy that the war was over and that the country had been saved, coupled with modest satisfaction that he had borne some part in the great vindication, but that was not Barlow’s way. He laughed it off lightly, as if it had been a huge joke. My classmate, the late Joseph Willard of Boston, told me of a reunion of the class at a time much later. The men were discussing the stained-glass window which it had been decided should be put in Memorial Hall. Since the class had a distinguished military record it was felt that there should be martial suggestion in the window and the question was what classic warrior should be portrayed. The face, it was thought, should have the linéaments of our most famous soldier. Barlow, who was present, pooh-poohed the whole idea, especially the suggestion that his face should appear, but someone present having suggested Alcibiades, probably not seriously as a proper type, that seemed to strike Barlow’s sense of humour. That reckless classic scapegrace to his cynical fancy perhaps might pass, he might be Alcibiades, but who should be the dog? Alcibiades had a dog whose misfortune in losing his tail has been transmitted through centuries by the pen of Plutarch. “Who will be the dog?” said Barlow and called upon someone to furnish a face for the hero’s canine companion. The scheme for the window came near to going to wreck amid the outbursts of laughter. It was carried through later, however, but Alcibiades and the dog do not appear, although Barlow does. No other Harvard soldier reached Barlow’s eminence, and probably in the whole Army of the Potomac there were few abler champions. He was a strange, gifted, most picturesque personality, no doubt a better man under his cynical exterior than he would ever suffer it to be thought. His service was great, and the memory of him is an interesting and precious possession to those who knew him in boyhood and were in touch with him to the end.