ARCHIBALD ROWAND, Company "K"
Medal of Honor Recipient, Archibald Rowand
Medal of Honor Recipient
ON HAZARDOUS SERVICE
Scouts and Spies of the North and South
By William Gilmore Beymer
Chapter I. - ROWAND
To Major H. H. Young, of my staff, chief of scouts, and the thirty or forty men of his command, who took their lives in their hands, cheerfully going wherever ordered, to obtain that great essential of success, information, I tender my gratitude. Ten of these men were lost. -From Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's report of the expedition from Winchester to Petersburg, Virginia. February 27 - March 28, 1865. Official Records, Vol. 46: I: 481.
"THIRTY or forty men, of whom ten were lost." It was not chance which worded that phrase. Sheridan has chosen his words well. Of the ten, no one of them died as do men in battles; two were found by their comrades hanging by their own halter-straps; several more died like trapped animals, fighting desperately, at bay. And the others - never returned. Until the Great Book opens it will never be known where, or how, they died; they never returned, that is all. Of the ten, not a man was wearing the uniform of the country for which he died.
How many more went down in the remaining twelve days of the war I do not know; those twelve savage days that saw Five Forks and Sailor's Creek, Dinwiddie Court House, Deep Creek, Farmville, and Appomattox Station and the Court House; those days when the scouts worked night and day and were in their own lines only long enough to give "information."
To-day, of all that brave band to whom Philip Henry Sheridan tendered his gratitude, there remain but four - Sergeant McCabe, "Sonny" Chrisman, Jack Riley, and Rowand. This is the story, in part, of Archie Rowand - "Barefoot" Rowand of "the Valley," one of the two scouts for whom Sheridan himself asked that greatest distinction the nation can give a soldier - the little bronze star on whose reverse is read:
"The Congress - to - Archibald H. Rowand, Jr. - FOR VALOR."
When the dusk of the winter day had fallen, and we had thrown away our cigars, when the story - such a small part of which I may retell here - was done, I asked two questions:
"Should war come now, would there be found men who could do as you have done?"
"Yes," he said, and the answer came grimly, "if they begin as young as I began, and have no better sense."
And, "Why did you ever begin?"
"It was as I told you - Company K had been on detached service - scout duty - for some time. When the company was drawn up in line, and the captain called for volunteers for extra dangerous duty, I looked at Ike Harris and Ike looked at me, and then we both stepped forward. They took us to headquarters and gave us two rebel uniforms - and we wished we had not come."
"But why did you volunteer?"
He peered at me over his glasses. "I don't know! We were boys - wanted to know what was the 'extra dangerous duty,' and" -- chuckling to himself at a hidden recollection - "when we found out we hadn't the face to back down." And that's how it all began.
This, you must know, is not the story of a spy, but, gray clothes and all, of a scout! The point was rather insisted upon.
"This," he said, "is what I would say is the difference between a scout and a spy: The regular spy was a man who generally remained inside the enemy's lines, and was not supposed to fight except in self-defense. [And, let me add, was usually a civilian.] We scouts were men who dressed in the enemy's uniform in order to deceive their pickets and capture them so that the main body could be surprised. Or, we would ride up to a Southern citizen, man or woman, for information, and since we were dressed in the Confederate uniform they would tell us everything they knew. Of course, under strict military law, we were subject to the penalty of spies if taken within the enemy's lines."
It was in the fall of '62 that Rowand and Ike Harris had looked into one another's eyes, discovered that they were of one mind, and had stepped forward - into the gray uniform. Since July 17th of that year Rowand had been with Company K of the First West Virginia Cavalry, under General Milroy. He had come to the cavalry from a Pennsylvania infantry regiment, which - he all but whispered it, lest Disgrace should find him out - was "not much better than a home guard," and where "the musket was too heavy to tote." But the cavalry just suited him, and in the rough scouting through rugged West Virginia he grew from the stoop-shouldered, cough-racked railroad clerk into the tireless young daredevil who would volunteer for extra dangerous duty just to see what was extra dangerous about it.
"It was exciting," he said.
It must have been! With each day of service in the ranks of the scouts danger became more imminent; the chances increased of meeting again some party of Confederates with whom previous lies and explanations would not tally with present movements. Also, in the Federal army there were sure to be Southern spies whose business it was to report descriptions of the scouts, and, if possible, their movements; within the Confederate lines recognition because of these descriptions might take place at any moment. That meant death by the noose, or, at best, to be shot down in a last-stand fight. Rowand tells how a man rode into their lines at Salem and claimed to be one of Averell's scouts. He was recognized as being a particularly dangerous Confederate spy, and they shot him where he stood, without even the formality of a drumhead court martial.
And then there was the danger of meeting death at the hands of their own men. It happened not once, but many times, that, discovered and hard pressed by the enemy, the scouts in their gray uniforms rode for their lives for the safety of the Union lines, only to be met by the murderous volley of their own mistaken pickets. But it was exciting!
As compensation they had freedom and privileges beyond those of any men in the army. For them there were no camp drudgeries, no guard or picket duty; their courage and their duties bought them immunity from camp discipline; and their quarters, where they all lived together, were the best that could be obtained in the field. Each man was entitled to keep four horses - the pick of the command. In their scoutings through the countryside they lived on the best that the land afforded; in those parts nothing was too good for the "boys in gray," and the gulled Confederate sympathizers fed them like wedding-guests.
Then there was the money, good gold - no less. They were paid in proportion to the value of the information they brought in and the services they performed; expense money was portioned out with a prodigal hand from the Secret Service chest. They were the Aristocracy of the Army! But most of all they risked their necks because it was exciting.
Training came chiefly from dear-bought experience, except that given them by "Old Clayton," one of the scouts who had come with General Fremont from the West. He conceived a great fancy for "the boys," and gave them a deal of advice and instruction. There was one thing that even old Clayton could not give Rowand - Rowand's command of the Southern manner of speech. The years spent at Greenvi1le, South Carolina, as a child of from two to seven, stuck the speech to his tongue - so that not even the next ten years in Pittsburgh could entirely efface the mark of the South, and now, with the need, he slipped easily back into the tongue that seemed to identify him with the gray; it was too obviously unassumed not to deceive. To this Rowand attributes his great success as a scout.
Courage, too, must have had something to do with it! It was Rowand and Ike Harris who carried General Milroy's despatches to Halltown, West Virginia. They were discovered and recognized as couriers the moment they left the Union lines, and a rebel battery turned its entire fire on them in an effort to check the message known to be for help; theirs was a wild ride under the bursting shells.
It was Rowand who, in the Winchester battle the next week, rode General Milroy's wounded and hobbling horse across the battle-field, and brought back the great white charger of the General. In that same fierce fight the man on either side of him was killed, and Ike, poor Ike Harris - that was his last battle. He was killed soon afterward. The Confederates, Lee's advance, brushed aside and scattered Milroy's little command, and swept on unchecked till rolled back from the high-water mark of the northern field of Gettysburg. Rowand was back in his regiment, but Custer needed scouts, and Rowand was chosen. And there he proved that he possessed the great qualification of the born scout - the illusive seventh sense. He had been in the locality but once before, and at that in the confusion of a fight at Piedmont Station, yet he established a "V" of couriers through nineteen miles of a country cross-hatched by innumerable byways, and reported them placed that same dark night. That was no small achievement."
But it was in "the Valley" (the Shenandoah) that he felt at home, and he was glad when he was ordered back there to report to General Averell in the fall.
"Nothing much happened to me that winter," he said. (I wonder what really did!) "So I'm going to tell you about the second Salem raid in the next spring.
"To begin with, I hanged a man. It was this way: On the first Salem raid a citizen named Creigh had, with an ax, killed a Union soldier and thrown his body into a well. The scouts now discovered this; Creigh was captured, tried by a drumhead court martial, and sentenced to be hanged.
"As I was going up to headquarters the next morning I met Captain Jack Crawford, of Averell's staff, who said to me, 'Rowand, you hang the prisoner.' I indignantly told him I would do nothing of the sort - I hadn't enlisted for an executioner. It was the General's order, he told me angrily; and of course that settled it. I sent a couple of the boys for some rope from a bed (have you ever seen the beds of that day? - with an interlacing of rope in lieu of bed-springs), and put the rope around the prisoner's neck, tied the other end to the limb of a tree, mounted him on the scout's wagon, and drove the wagon from under him." He paused; then, more slowly, "I have seen civil executions since, but then I didn't know enough to tie the hands and feet of the condemned."
I hastened to break the silence. "After all, it was the General's order - you could only obey." I spoke in sympathy - if I could see, how much more clear would the sight be to the eyes that had really seen!
He only said: "That was the joke of it! Averell had never mentioned me; it was Crawford's job, and he foisted it off on me.
"Well," he went on, "I was captured that raid - for the first and last time. Four of us were started in the late afternoon, about dark, to get through Breckinridge's lines and bring back General Duffie, whose brigade had peen sent to go around Lynchburg. We did not know then that Hunter's scouts had tried to get through and had been driven back. We rode for some hours, and then, about half past ten, spied a light in a house; we rode up and asked for something to eat - offering to pay. There was a woman sitting up with a sick child; she looked at our gray uniforms; then, her eyes shining, 'Pay?' she said. 'I do not charge our boys anything!' The other two were left outside to watch; Townsend and I went in. The woman gave us bread and cold meat, and milk to drink; we thanked her and went out to take our turn at watching while the others ate. The men were gone. There was a fence about twelve feet from the house, and from behind the fence came the order to surrender; it was very dark, but we could see a dozen heads above the top of the fence and the gleam of the leveled carbines.
"'Are you Yanks?' I called.
"'Oh'- as though relieved. 'That's all right, then; we surrender!' They came in and took away our revolvers. Then I remembered that in my pocket there was a pass, naming me as scout and passing me through the Union lines at all times; I managed to get the small pocketbook and by a flip of my fingers shoot it up my sleeve and hold it in the hollow of my arm. Then they took us into the house and the inquisition began."
As he talked, the memory of that night seemed to grow and brighten till he lived it in the present - yes, and made me live it, too.
"See," he said, getting to his feet and moving swiftly about the room. "Here is the fireplace, a big one, and there is a window - there where that one is; and there another one, and here is the door into the hall - open, and there is one into the next room that is closed. And here am I with the light strong on my face, so that they could see the flicker of an eyelid or the twitch of a muscle, and the captain, with his back to the light, sits facing me, with our chairs close together. Townsend and a scout, close facing too, are over there more in the shadow."
See? Of course I saw: the guards at the windows, dim seen in the night outside; the guards at the door into the big bare hall; behind them, peeping in, the frightened, white-faced woman with the sick child in her arms; and, strong in the glare of the unshaded lamp, the slender boy of eighteen, lounging easily in his chair, fighting coolly and shrewdly for his life - a half-smile on his face, and the damning pass held in the hollow of his arm.
"Townsend and I never even glanced at one another, but each strained his ears for the other's answers. If we had been examined separately, we would have contradicted each other in something, and - been hanged. But we kept our stories straight. Townsend was in grave danger, because he was a deserter from the Confederate General Jenkin's command, and the man who was questioning him was one of Jenkin's scouts; but that very fact saved him, for he was so well posted that he quickly allayed suspicion.
"We were couriers from McCausland - I told the captain - with verbal messages. Why were they not written ? - ask McCausland that! As to what the messages were, that was different; they were for General Breckinridge at the Rockfish Gap, and could not be told to any captain met in the road who asked for them. Describe General McCausland? Certainly; and the number of his regiments and the number of guns - (that was easy; I had been in his camp two nights before!)
"The scout examining Townsend called over, 'This man is all right, Captain.' But the captain shook his head over me - he was troubled; something did not ring quite true. 'Where are you from?' he sharply asked. 'Lewis County - West Virginia,' I told him. In Weston? Yes, I know Lawyer Jackson, and old Doc Hoffman, and - Describe them? Sure! (You see, we had been camped there in August and September, '62.)
"'My name is Hoffman,' the captain said. 'Lee Hoffman, of Hampton's Legion.' He was still looking at me with a frown of perplexity, and I laughed in his face. 'You think I am a deserter?' I asked. 'No, I don't. I don't understand you - you puzzle me. You are a Southerner - you are no Yankee, I am sure of that.' 'Then to make sure what we are, you had better send us under guard to Breckinridge's headquarters.' It was that that shook down his last doubts. 'I have a letter,' he said, abruptly, 'for General Breckinridge. Take it and get through as quick as you can. Hurry.'
"'Hurry!' I sneered. 'We'll need to! - you've kept us here an hour and a half now.' We took the letter. It is the one found on page 759, vol. xxxvii, of the Official Records; it begins: 'New Fairfield, Va., June 12, '64.- 11 P.M. Major-Gen. J. C. Breckinridge. General: - The enemy are now at Lexington, camped; not moving to-day. . . .'"
Rowand gleefully gave this letter to General Averell next morning, but not before he and his companion had again come near to being hanged. They gave up the attempt to reach Duffie, and trusted that their comrades had got through. All the rest of that night they rode by a circuitous route over the mountains to the Lexington and Staunton Pike, and so toward Lexington. At dawn they struck the Union pickets - an Ohio volunteer infantry regiment, by whom they were arrested, haled before the colonel, who would believe nothing except that they were in gray uniforms, and who cursed them for spies, and vowed to hang them both within the hour. Rowand demanded to be sent to headquarters; the colonel said he was insolent, and cursed him again. But finally they were sent to Averell-footing it, while their captors rode their horses; and then "somebody else caught -."
He told how Jubal Early had defeated them at Lynchburg, and of how, in that awful retreat through a world of mountains to Charleston, he had seen men and horses in the very midst of the army fall down in the road and die of fatigue and starvation.
He told of lying in a clump of bushes on a little hill in Pennsylvania at the edge of ill-starred Chambersburg - he and his partner, John Lamis - momentarily expecting Averell at the head of his cavalry to come and save the town. They had sent their companion to tell him to hurry, but still he did not come. Nor did he come all the long, hot July morning, and they lay in the bushes and watched the Confederate cavalrymen of McCausland and Bradley Johnson burn and pillage the town.
He told of the nine-day pursuit back into West Virginia, and of how, near Moorefield, the scouts had captured the picket without firing a shot; and of the surprise of the camps at dawn, and the scattering of the commands of Bradley Johnson and McCausland to the four winds.
His face wreathed in smiles and he shook with laughter as he told of the snake and the frog. How he and four other scouts had reconnoitered the enemy near Bunker Hill, and were riding leisurely back to Averell in Maryland; how, as they rode through Hedgesville, he had stopped to chat with a young girl who was an old friend; and then had rejoined his men in a great wood near the Potomac, and there they had found a big black-snake which had half swallowed a large bullfrog that was fighting stoutly against taking the road that lay before it. And instantly there was no war, and they were not scouts in an enemy's country in peril of their lives, but they were boys again and it was summer, and here in the cool woods was one of nature's fierce battles - to be wagered on! In a moment they were off their horses, and now they cheered the snake, and now for the frog; Mike Smith held the stakes. He told how there had suddenly flamed a volley from out the wood, and they had flung themselves on their horses and made a dash out of the ambush - all but Smith; Smith the stakeholder! His horse was down, shot through the side, struggling and thrashing on the ground; Smith ran in silence for the river. And how as he passed he caught Smith by the collar and dragged him across his own big gray horse; then, firing as they rode, they all had dashed for the ford. The disappointed enemy maliciously told the girl in Hedgesville that they had killed the Yank on the big gray horse, and she grieved for many a day.
He told of a lonely duel in the middle of a great, sunny field. There was neither sight nor sound of armies nor of war: only summer sights and sounds - wind in the long grass, and bees; and the great white clouds overhead. And he was going toward the rebel lines, and that other boy was headed for the lines of the Blue. Each knew that the other must not go on; they fired. Of all the memories of those harsh, savage days, the one of most bitter regret is that of the lonely, sunlit field where lay the huddled body of the other boy.
"And now this," said Rowand, "is the last scouting I did for Averell; it came near being the last that I ever did."
He told how he and John Lamis had been sent to go around Martinsburg, get in the Confederate rear, and find what cavalry were there. And how as they rode through a wood, believing themselves to be in the rear of the rebel army, there sounded the rebel yell behind them, and the cavalry came charging through. They were swept into the charge against their own men. They yelled as loud as anyone, but kept edging out to the flank so as to drop out at the first chance. But they had to keep right on into the town, and as they went charging through he was next the sidewalk, and a young lady whom he knew - her name was Miss Sue Grimm - stood with her mother at their doorway. She was so surprised to see him in such a place that she called, "Why, Archie Rowand, what are you doing with-"
"Shut up your mouth!" he yelled - he was frightened half to death; had she finished - "with the rebels" - he would not have been with the rebels long; he would have been with the angels! But she was too astonished and too angry to say another word, and so he and Lamis got through and joined the Federals a mile and a half north of the town. It took him three months to make peace with that young lady.
Of such stories a score, and I reluctantly pass them by. All that he had done up to this time was but the novitiate of his service.
Then Sheridan came to the Valley. His coming meant much to the nation; it meant much to Rowand, too. It meant the opportunity to do work that was of great value to his flag; it meant such an increase of the dangers and the excitement he loved as to make most of what had gone before seem but playing. For him it meant friendship - almost intimacy - with this greatest of cavalry generals; and a hero-worship begun as a boy has continued to this day.
From their first interview Sheridan seemed to take to the boy, perhaps for his very boyishness, perhaps for his audacity and independence of speech, as much as for his cool daring in his work. "I'd like to report to you personally, General, or not at all; if not, please send me to my regiment," he said at that interview. This was because under Averell the scouts reported to Major Howe, who repeated the reports to the general. He got one of Rowand's mixed; as a consequence Averell lost a number of men, and angrily ordered Rowand to his regiment in disgrace. Rowand was able to prove he had reported correctly, and that he had reached a certain point (he proved it by the dead body of his comrade who fell at that place). After that he refused to report except to Averell, and his demand was acceded to. He meant to start right with Sheridan.
"I wanted to stay with Averell; begged to stay. He said he was sorry to lose me, but that I would have to go. I went accordingly. I had never seen General Sheridan, never had him described. Averell and Milroy were big men - somehow I expected to find another big man; he was big only in fight. (Sheridan was but five feet five.) He was pointed out to me in front of headquarters, and I went up and saluted. He looked me up and down.
"'I asked General Averell for his oldest scout,' was all he said.
"'I am his oldest in point of service - in knowledge of the Valley,' I answered.
"'How old are you? How long have you served?' he inquired. I was nineteen, I told him, and had scouted for over two years in the Valley. He took me into headquarters and pumped me for an hour and a half; then sent me for four or five good men as 'quick as you can get them. ' I got Jack Riley, Dominic Fannin, Jim White, Alvin Stearns, and John Dunn. A scout named James Campbell came to Sheridan from the Army of the Potomac."
These men, and two or three others, seem to have been the nucleus of Sheridan's scouts in the Valley of the Shenandoah - the Secret Service organization which a little later, having been recruited up to forty, under command of Major H. H. Young, became the most efficient, the most noted, in the Federal army.
"Months afterward General Sheridan asked me what I supposed he saw when I first reported to him: 'Two big brown eyes and a mouth, Rowand; that was all!' I weighed less than a hundred and forty then - you mightn't believe it now - and I was six feet tall. He had that way with us, that easy friendliness; we would have done anything for him. He was a fine man!"
Silence fell; he stared unseeing out the window, musing; the office, and me, and the stenographer with poised pen, I saw he had quite forgot. And I envied him that inner sight of the great dead leader - the chance to live over again in memory his close service with Philip H. Sheridan, the beau-ideal of the war.
Presently he began again, slowly: "General Sheridan was the best officer by all odds that I have served under. He stood by his scouts in everything, and they one and all would have gone to any ends to get for him the information that he desired. He himself gave his orders to us - his 'old' scouts, that is, those of us who were with him before Major Young took command - and he personally received our reports. He was impulsive, but not in the least the rough bully that some writers have tried to make him out. I saw him very angry only once - and that was at me. [The chuckle left no doubt as to how it had come out.] It was on the James River Canal Raid, one very dark night just after a storm - it did nothing but storm those days (early March, '65) - that a party of us scouts found, unguarded, a great warehouse containing about three hundred thousand dollars of supplies. We galloped back, and I was sent in to Sheridan to report.
"'Did you burn them?' he asked, sternly.
"'Why, General,' I said, 'we did not have orders-' He was getting madder all the time; and at that he roared: 'Orders hell! Why didn't you burn those things - why didn't you think!'
"It was only a couple of days afterward that we ran across more stores. Of course we burned them... When I came to that part of my report about finding the stores he gripped the arms of his chair and, leaning forward, asked, 'You didn't burn those?'
"'Yes,' I said, proudly, 'I set them on fire.'
"He leaped from his chair and shouted: 'What in hell did you burn those for! I'm going up that way tomorrow.' He kind of glared at me for a minute, and then he remembered the last time I had reported to him, and he burst into a big laugh.
"After General Sheridan came to the Valley I made several uneventful trips into the enemy's lines. [Unless he escaped by a hair's-breadth any trip was "uneventful," and he could not be got to say much about it.] The night before Cedar Creek I had got in from a hard trip to Moorefield and Romney; Sheridan was away, and I came back to scouts' headquarters and went to sleep. About 2 A.M. or later I was wakened by Dominic Fannin and Alvin Stearns getting in, and damning Crook right and left. They had been sent up the Valley to New Market and Woodstock at the same time I was sent to Romney, and when coming back they fell in with some of Early's stragglers at Fisher's Hill, where the enemy was camped, and with them, under cover of night, they had worked their way into the Confederate lines, and discovered that the Federals were about to be flanked in their camp on the banks of Cedar Creek. With all speed they withdrew from the enemy's lines and made for the Union camp. Sheridan was in conference with Halleck in Washington, and so they reported to General Crook, who commanded the Eighth Corps - known as the Army of West Virginia. 'The enemy will attack at dawn!' said they. Crook pooh-poohed the idea; treated the news very lightly; made them feel like a five-cent shinplaster, as Fannin said to us at the scouts' headquarters.
"'We'll be attacked at daylight - you see!' they grumbled, and then they fell to swearing at Crook again, and wishing Sheridan had received their report. They made such a fuss that I said, finally: 'Lie down, you two fools, and let me sleep. If Crook can stand it, we ought to!' And I fell asleep."
In the light of what followed it is not surprising that General Crook has made no report of the information brought him by the scouts that night before Cedar Creek. That he should have treated their report so lightly is because he had, as he believed, good reason to think such an attack impossible. At eight o'clock that very evening he had reported to General Wright that a brigade reconnoissance sent out by him that day had returned to camp, and reported nothing was to be found of the enemy in their camp, and that they had doubtless retreated up the Valley. This seemed sound, General Wright goes on to say in his official report, because the enemy was known to be without supplies. Yet the mistake was not easy to explain. Probably the reconnoitering party had not advanced so far as it supposed - had not really reached the enemy's lines, which were some miles in advance of the Federal.
This reconnoitering party from the Army of West Virginia returned to camp through its own lines (where the first blow fell next day), and undoubtedly, as they passed the pickets, confided their belief that the Confederates were in retreat up the Valley. How else, except for this fancied security and lulled suspicion, could the enemy next morning have swept over their entire picket-line without firing a single shot?
This is the new story of what might have been, what should have been, at Cedar Creek, October 19, 1864. General Crook was given by these two scouts the chance to redeem the incomprehensible blunder of his reconnoitering brigade, but he refused to credit their report, and the battle of Cedar Creek was fought and lost, and fought again and won, between day-dawn and dark. Had Crook heeded the scouts, there would have been no surprised army in the cold fog of an autumn morning, no routed and panic-shaken army to pour down the Valley to Winchester twenty miles away, no chance for General Phil Sheridan to make his famous ride on Rienzi and turn the tide of fugitives, and with them at his back change defeat into victory. . . .
That night there came down through the deep, wooded ravines of Fisher's Hill an army as gray and as silent as the river fog that rolled to meet it and envelop it with a cold, sheltering veil. The march was a march of gray shadows; canteens and the very swords of the officers had been left behind lest their jangle sound a warning; the fog muffled into a low patter the rush of thousands of footfalls. In the half-light of coming dawn they struck - in flank, in front, in rear. Solid battle-lines, without skirmishers, swept up and over every picket-post, swallowing picket, patrol, and reserve, whose scattered firing was as pebbles flung into the sea. So swift and certain was the attack, so sure the surprise, that they were in the camp and upon those regiments of the Army of West Virginia, where reveille had been sounded, ere the unarmed men at roll-call had time to arm and form. It was but a matter of minutes before all were swept together into a panic-stricken mob, on whom the Confederates turned their own cannon and mowed them down as they ran. In other regiments men heavy with sleep, their arms laden with their clothing - having been wakened only by the attack - plunged out of their tents into a twilight of fog and low-rolling, ever-densening smoke, in which they ran here and there in bewilderment. Officers, no less confused, raged about, desperately trying to rally the fleeing men; here and there groups held for a moment and turned to fight, but, overwhelmed by numbers and attacked on two sides, they scattered, and, like the rest, fled once more for the support of the Nineteenth Corps. The wreck of the Army of West Virginia, like driftwood on the crest of a wave, shattered and demoralized the Nineteenth; surprised and already attacked in flank, they too crumbled and ran; and the unchecked Confederates swept victorious over the camps of plenty. Pillage began.
To the sleeping scouts the attack, expected though it was, came in its suddenness with equally bewildering surprise. Rowand tells how a bullet that cut through a blanket over the window was their first warning that the enemy was so near. There was no time to change to blue uniforms; capture for them meant certain death; they made a rush for the door and flung themselves on their horses and galloped away. Once across the creek, they rode more slowly, often looking back.
And he tells of General Wright, harassed though he was with the anxiety of command, yet recognizing them as they passed, and shouting, "You scouts had better fall back - this will be no place for those uniforms in a few minutes!"
The roads were filled now with struggling teams fighting for a passage to the rear; long lines of wounded staggered and lurched along the roadsides, desperately afraid of the plunging teams, and of the enemy behind, and of their own bleeding wounds. On either side, and far out into the fields that bordered the roads, there hurried hundreds of uninjured stragglers in groups of twos and threes and tens - groups of hundreds. Now and again the cry would go up, "They're coming!" and the panic would spread, and in a moment every man would be running again, flat-footed, furious, in a blind haste to escape from the terrified comrades who pressed hard on his heels; in the roads, teamsters stood up on the seats of the lurching wagons and lashed their horses and screamed at drivers of wagons ahead who blocked the way; from where the wounded, frantic at being left behind, struggled to keep up, there rose one long wail of pain and terror. From behind there came ever the roar of battle where the Confederates who would not pillage fought the Federals who would not run.
And then Sheridan came up the Valley. Rowand and Campbell, who had stuck together all the morning, were already north of Newtown when they met him.
"I looked across a large clear field and saw a black horse at full speed coming out of the woods, and I said to Campbell, 'There comes the "Old Man"' - we always called General Sheridan the' Old Man'; and he said, 'Can't be; he's in Washington.' I looked again for a moment, and then said, 'It's him; there come a couple of his staff officers a hundred yards behind.' We stopped, and General Sheridan came up, pulled in his horse, and said, 'Boys, how is it?' Campbell replied, 'General, it's a rout!' He threw his eyes quick at me and said, 'Not quite that bad! The Eighth and Nineteenth are scattered, but the Sixth is solid!'
"A young lieutenant, with a Nineteenth Corps badge on his cap, was hurrying by; Sheridan wheeled around to him. 'Lieutenant, where is your command?' 'I don't know,' the lieutenant shouted, and was hurrying on again. 'Damn you, turn back and find it!' Sheridan yelled, and passed on. The lieutenant stopped. 'Who was that, scout?' 'That was General Sheridan,' I said. 'I'll turn back!' he cried.
"It was the same all along the road; the men were coming back up the Valley faster than they had run down it; ahead of us they were running toward the road, and lining up on either side, and as we rode along there was just one great roar of cheers."
He told of the ride back to the front, where the Sixth Corps and remnants of the Nineteenth had been sullenly battling - holding off the Confederate army all the day; of how the ebb-tide that had turned came roaring back to the fight in a flood of men who could scarce be held back from the attack until the lines were sufficiently reinforced and reformed. And when he told of Sheridan, bareheaded, riding along in front of his battle-line where it waited the command to advance, he rose from his chair, and his eyes alight with the old battle-fire, he pounded the desk with his fist. "There has been a lot told and a lot written of what Sheridan said that day, but here is what he did say - the very words; I was there, I heard, and these are his very words. A man, out of the ranks, called, 'General, where will we sleep tonight?' General Sheridan stopped his horse and turned; he didn't speak loud, but in the hush that fell his words seemed to ring: 'We'll sleep in our old camps to-night, or we'll sleep in hell!' And a moment or two after that he gave the signal to advance, and the whole line moved out, cheering like mad. History tells the rest."
What a different story history would tell of the battle of Cedar Creek if General Crook had heeded the message of the two long-since-forgotten men of the Secret Service!
There was little enough for the army to do for a time, but for the scouts there was no rest. For as many times as they left the Federal lines so are there stories - nearly all untold. Untold, because familiarity breeds contempt - they were just scoutin', like the day they shot Captain Stump. They had been in the mountains - "Oh, just some little scout, I don't remember why!" - and at a house where they had stopped they had "gathered in" a Confederate captain - Stump. It was bitterly cold that day, the roads heavy with snow; to have bound his hands would have meant that he would freeze; they put him in their midst and rode swiftly away. He was an oddly genial soul - he kept up a continual gay chatting with the men. An angry shout went up from one of the scouts; the prisoner had been caught in the act of stealing a revolver from a drowsy member of the band. He was defiant, yet laughing as he talked: he had a right-he had not surrendered, only been overpowered, and they would never get him into the Federal lines, he said.
"I'll have you killed if you try that again," Major Young told him.
It was savagely cold; the worn men, drowsy with the frost, nodded in their saddles; only the prisoner was wide awake; he rode now at Major Young's side, talking gayly, laughing at his own jests. Rowand, close behind, woke from a doze in time to see the prisoner straighten in his saddle and snatch his hand from behind Major Young's back.
"He's trying to get your gun," Rowand called, sharply. Young reined in his horse with a jerk. "I told you!" he calmly said. "Ride aside, boys - plug him, Rowand!"
Half a dozen men fired on the instant. They left him lying in the snow where he fell.
This is a good place to tell the story of Sergeant Richards. Major Harry Gilmor had just been captured within his own lines - that story will be told further on. Prisoner Gilmor was being brought along by the Federal cavalry several miles behind Major Young and Rowand and the other gray-clad scouts. Rowand spied a Confederate soldier on the door-step of a house in the fields back from the road. "I'm going to get that fellow!" Rowand said. The scouts reined in their horses and watched with amused interest; they foresaw a fight. Rowand, in his gray uniform, rode over to the unsuspecting Confederate. Of all Confederate soldiers who should it be but Sergeant Richards, the man whom Rowand had captured two years before at Cheat Mountain near Monterey! The recognition was not mutual. Comedy was too scarce those days to overlook such an opportunity.
"Sergeant Richards," Rowand saluted - "Major Gilmor wants to see you." The name of Harry Gilmor was a potent one in that county.
"Wait till I get my horse," said Sergeant Richards. Rowand, chuckling, waited. Presently they rode over to the group of scouts, and Rowand, with a wink, introduced Sergeant Richards to Young: "This is the man Major Gilmor wants to see!" Young and the scouts rode on, laughing boisterously. Then suddenly from around the bend came the Federal cavalry, in their midst prisoner Gilmor. Too late, Sergeant Richards saw the trap.
"You've got me," he said, sullenly. "But what I want to know is, how did you know my name? 'twas that that fooled me so!" Rowand told him. "It's tough," said Sergeant Richards. "For two years I've been in the prison where you sent me; now, less'n a month after I'm freed, along you come again and send me back!"
Rowand thoughtfully rode ahead to his place with the scouts. "I don't want to send that fellow back again," he finished, when he told Major Young the story. "All right," Young said, good-naturedly.
Rowand galloped back to the cavalry: "I want this fellow. Ride aside, Richards!" No mere cavalrymen were permitted to question the doings of a scout; they turned Richards over to him. When the cavalry was out of sight he paroled his astonished prisoner - set him free on his promise to fight no more until properly exchanged.
As he told me the story Rowand laughed delightedly: "I hadn't the authority, by any manner o' means, to parole anyone. I just did it anyhow!"
Night after night the "Jessie Scouts" rode out. The odd name they bore was an inheritance handed down to them since the days of Fremont in the Valley; in the command of this general of pomp and panoply there had been a company dear to his heart because of their rich uniforms faced with velvet, and to them, in honor of his wife, he gave the name "Jessie Scouts." Long after Fremont and his Jessie Scouts had left the Valley the name lingered in the minds of citizens and soldiery, and at last it came to be attached to those Federal scouts who wore the gray uniform. Where they rode and what they did no man now remembers - few men but themselves ever knew - and they left no written record of their service; the vague memories of those many nights are held in dusty, inner chambers of the mind, to which, long since, the tongue has lost the key.
But one night - the 21st of January - is in no danger of being forgot. It is not because they captured the enemy's picket-reserve at Woodstock that I tell it here; nor because of the desperate fight that followed in the cold winter dawn, when two hundred Confederate cavalry swooped down on them before they had left Woodstock a mile behind. Some one had blundered; the fifty "picked cavalrymen" sent for the scouts' support were but the rawest of raw recruits, who stampeded at the first fire. The twenty scouts covered their panic-stricken flight, fighting like madmen when overtaken, breaking away and pushing their jaded mounts to topmost speed until overtaken again. For ten miles the fight lasted, until at Fisher's Hill the pursuit was given up and those that were left were safe. Those that were left! The prisoners were all gone; among the cavalry there galloped wildly many riderless horses; and of the scouts one was dead, two mortally wounded, one seriously hurt, and in the hands of the enemy were four, of whom one was Cassidy, the only one dressed in full Southern gray. And it is because of Cassidy, and because of a keen-eyed Southern girl who nearly ended Rowand's story here, that I tell what follows.
He would be hanged! - Cassidy, one of the best of them all. Sheridan, in an effort to save him, sent a staff officer, Major Baird, under a flag of truce with an offer of exchange. And Rowand, wearing again his blue uniform, was sent as part of the escort, to pick up any information that might come to his trained hand; among the escort he would never be recognized - nor would he have been by men.
At Woodstock Major Baird was met by Major Grandstaff of the Seventeenth Virginia Cavalry, who received his offer of exchange.
"Cassidy was taken in our uniform inside our lines; we will hang him," he said.
"He was not in your lines, for we captured your pickets," Major Baird argued.
Grandstaff laughed. "We will hang Cassidy," he jeered, "Then, by God! there'll be a rebel officer swing in Winchester to-night," shouted Baird.
They had met in the street of Woodstock; as they talked, a group of town-folk gathered close about them, listening in eager curiosity; there were men and many women, even some children too. Suddenly a young girl ran forward and pointed her finger almost in Rowand's face.
"Hang this one, too," she cried. "He is one of their 'Jessie Scouts.' I saw him here yesterday in gray. He is a spy - spying now!" She stood, still pointing; her shawl had fallen back and the wind was whipping her hair across her angry eyes; she, too, would serve her South - let this be "one" for her. It was a shocking surprise; it seemed long before anyone moved or spoke. A Confederate cavalryman pushed his way through Grandstaff's escort; a sullen, vindictive fellow he was, with murder in his eyes.
"I'll kill him now; he is one of them that killed my brother yesterday," he snarled.
Rowand, glad of any distraction, drew his revolver and sprang to meet him half-way. "Step out to one side and we'll settle it, then," he challenged.
Major Grandstaff rode between them and drove them to their respective commands, then he turned angrily to Major Baird. "Is this one of your scouts - one of your spies?" he asked. It was Rowand himself who answered; the place was a bit too tight to trust anyone else's wit than his own.
"You know, or ought to know, that I belong to the First West Virginia Cavalry. I was one of the thirteen men under Lieutenant Smith that charged through your command on the top of Fisher's Hill!" And this story was true, and it was one the Confederates much preferred to forget.
Grandstaff curtly closed the interview, and the Federals rode slowly back. Rowand was safe in their midst, but Tom Cassidy they had to leave behind.
Rowand was fumbling among a bundle of old letters, and I sat silent and watched eagerly; such worn, yellow letters they were - broken at all the creases, frayed along the edges; the faded words had been written in a vigorous boyish hand.
"Letters home - from the front!" he said. He picked one up and cleared his throat to read, then sat silent, staring at it in his hand. . . . The boy of nearly fifty years ago is to come back and speak again of deeds that were done but yesterday - not of what happened in the Civil War, but what he did yesterday. What weight have words written to-day to compare with those faded letters on that yellow page? "At the front!" - that front to which we cannot follow even could he lead the way; that front where for four years - Four Years, you reader - letters home were written by men with weapons in their hands, by men with throbbing, unhealed wounds. By some this letter will be read aright, as I and you may not read it. Old grayheads will read and nod: the Grand Army of the Republic, they will know - they know! . . .
My DEAR FATHER - I received a letter from you some days since. As I had just written to you the same day, I thought I would wait a few days before answering it. I have just returned from a three days' trip to Wardensville, Moorefield, and Romney.
Our trip was a perfect success. Succeeded in capturing the notorious Major Harry Gilmor and fifteen men of different commands. On Tuesday I was ordered with one man to go to Moorefield. By order of Gen. Sheridan, went to Moorefield and returned on Thursday, reported to the General the whereabouts of Harry Gilmor and command. The General requested me to send in a written report to be filed. On Saturday morning a force of cavalry (300) and twenty scouts left this place for Moorefield, distant fifty-eight miles. Traveling all Saturday night, we arrived at Moorefield Sunday morning just before day. Leaving the town surrounded by a strong picket, we struck the South Fork river road. I advanced with five scouts. Two miles from town we came in sight of two large, fine houses: William's and Randolph's, where Major Gilmor was supposed to be.
On coming in sight of them we started on a gallop for Randolph's house, when an order came from Major Young to go to William's house. Dashing across the fields, we surrounded William's house and caught one of Rosser's men. Major Young went on to Randolph's and there caught Harry in bed. He was a little astonished, but took things coolly. You may be sure that we gave him no chance to escape. He is now under strong guard in our quarters. To-morrow three of us will take him to Baltimore, so I will have a pleasant trip. I spoke to you of going to Edenburg and capturing the picket-post and of being followed and whipped by a superior rebel force.
The following Sunday we again surprised them and captured the lieutenant and twenty-two men. So we more than got even with them, as they got only sixteen of our [first] party. So, you see, for the last three Sundays I have had some doing in the fighting line. On the last trip I captured two fast horses; I have now three number one horses. . . .
Your son, ARCHIE H. ROWAND.
Not as we would have written it? Years of fighting, of marches, and of hardships make details seem trivial and commonplace; the result is the thing. His "to Moorefield, distant fifty-eight miles," sounds like a railroad journey. It was a forced march of hardship and exhaustion, in bitter cold, and over mountain roads that were alternately sheeted with ice and deep in snow-drifts. It would have been good reading for us had he described the imminent, constant peril he was in during all the lonely trip when gathering "that great essential of success - information"; the letter was not written to us; it was to the father and mother at home, and it is kinder and braver as it stands. My quarrel with his letter is in not telling how well he did his work; it was great work to have done.
Sheridan in his Memoirs says: "Harry Gilmor(e) was the most noted of these [West Virginia guerrillas] since the death of McNeill. . . . Thus the last link between Maryland and the Confederacy was carried a prisoner to Winchester, whence he was sent to Fort Warren. The capture of Gilmor(e) caused the disbandment of the party he had organized at the 'camp-meeting'; most of the men he had recruited returned to their homes, discouraged. . . ."
This "camp-meeting," Rowand had learned, was nothing less than the rendezvous of Gilmor's band, who were reorganizing and preparing for the spring campaign. A party of about twenty young Marylanders were expected soon; the Federal scouts in their gray uniforms, by their own story, became these expected Marylanders; their desperate haste was caused by the pursuit of Yankee cavalry - no other than Colonel Whitaker's support of three hundred cavalrymen, who followed the scouts at a distance of fifteen miles. The whole country-side gave the gray-clad scouts Godspeed and much help on their way; coming back, they shot at them from the dark!
Nor does the letter tell of the quarrel between the scouts and the cavalry as to the custody of the prisoner; it ended by Major Young and his scouts angrily riding away from the cavalry with whom they had been obliged to leave him. But by the time they had reached Big Capon Springs, Rowand and Young were so fearful for the safe keeping of the prisoner that Rowand, in spite of his exhaustion from having been almost constantly in the saddle for a week, went back with three men to take charge of Gilmor; they arrived in the very nick of time. It was years afterward before they knew how critical had been the moment.
In his book, Four Years in the Saddle, Gilmor says: "We were then some distance ahead of the main column . . . none in sight except the colonel and his orderly, the surgeon, H- [Gilmor's cousin, who had been captured with him], and myself. We halted, and the orderly was sent back to hurry up a fresh guard for me. The doctor and H- were on their horses, while the colonel and I were standing in the road in advance of them. The place, too, was a good one, on the side of a small mountain, and I made up my mind to seize the colonel before he could draw his pistol, throw him down, and make my escape. I was about three paces from him when I formed this plan, and I moved up close to carry it into effect. . . . I put my hands on H-'s horse, when suddenly up dashed four scouts."
It was the end of Maj. Harry Gilmor's military career. "it is growing late," Rowand said. "Just time for one more letter - my big letter - and then that must be all. It is dated 'City Point, Virginia, March 13, 1865,' and it begins:
My DEAR MOTHER, - I suppose you will be surprised to receive a letter from me from this place.
I arrived here yesterday afternoon from Gen. Sheridan's raiding forces with despatches for Gen. Grant. There were two of us. We left Gen. Sheridan at Columbia on the James River Canal, one hundred miles west of Richmond. At the time we left he had destroyed the Virginia Central Railroad between Charlottesville and Staunton; blew up both bridges of the Rivanna River near Charlottesville. It will be impossible for the Rebels to rebuild their bridges during the war. We were forced to stay in Charlottesville two days on account of the heavy rain. Leaving there, we struck out for Lynchburg, destroying the Railroad as we went; burned the large bridge over the Tye River, eighteen miles from Lynchburg. By this time the Rebels had collected a large force of infantry and cavalry at Lynchburg. When Gen. Sheridan got all of the Rebels at Lynchburg he turned around and came north, destroying the Canal beyond repair during the war. He burned and blew up every lock, culvert, and aqueduct to Columbia - a distance of forty miles.
We left at one o'clock Saturday morning and came into our pickets near Harrison's Landing on Sunday morning at eleven o'clock. Came from there here in a special boat under charge of Gen. Sharp of Gen. Grant's staff. On arrival at Headquarters, after delivering our despatches, the Acting Adjutant-General took us around and introduced us to Mrs. Gen. Grant and several other ladies whose names I have forgotten. They had expressed a wish to see the two men that came through the Rebel lines in open day. Gen. Grant was well pleased with our success in getting through. The staff was surprised at our getting through at all. They quite lionized us last night. Several of them invited us to drink with them. We took supper with them. Then the Sanitary Commission took charge of us. We had a nice bath, good underclothes given us, and a bed that felt better than all, considering we had no sleep for forty-eight hours. We rode one hundred and forty-five miles in thirty-six hours, and walked ten miles, and came north of Richmond. Of course we came a roundabout way, or rather a zigzag way. Several times we were within ten miles of Richmond and talked to some fifty Rebels; gained valuable information. We had quite a confab with four of Gen. Lee's scouts; passed ourselves off for Gen. Rosser's scouts. Being dressed in gray, they never suspected us. They, in fact, never expected to see two Yankees right in the midst of their lines in broad daylight. We were never suspected until we were within two miles of the Long Bridges, where suspicion was raised, and we were forced to leave our horses at the Bridges and paddle across in a small boat to the south side. When we came to the river there was a small boat floating down the river. I swam with my horse to the boat, got off my horse into the boat, and went back for my partner. We left our horses and made quick time across these swamps. We got into the woods before the Rebels got to the river. They, of course, got our horses - the two best in the Sixth Cavalry. The fleetness of our horses alone saved us, as we had time to get across the river before the Rebels got to the bank. Although we could see them coming down the road, they did not follow us any further than the bank of the river, as there is no boat, and they could not swim their horses across. Then we got from there to our pickets, most of the time being in the woods; the compass father gave me has done me great service, as I have a military map of Virginia. With both, it is not difficult to go the nearest way to any point. When I swam my horse I got my clothes wet and boots full of water. When I got to our pickets I was perfectly dry, but was so crippled in my feet I could scarce walk. I am all right to-day.
We are to-day quartered with Gen. Grant's scouts. They think it is the biggest and boldest scout trip of the war.
We will start back in a couple of days. We are to be sent to the White House [Landing] on the York River gunboat, and with good fast horses start for pur command again.
Love to all. Hoping that these few lines will find you in good health, I remain,
Your Affectionate Son,
ARCHIE H. ROWAND."
It was as though I had heard read a crisp, succinct scenario of one act of a brilliant drama. I wanted to take the letter in my own hands and read it over and over in order to bring back such pictures - the boy on the horse in the river, struggling in pursuit of a drifting boat - a boat which only a great God could have placed in reach at such a moment. . . . The man on the shore, pistols drawn, grimly waiting, his eyes on the road, and his ears strained for the sound of galloping hoofs. . . .
I have read it again, a score of times, have planned where to amplify and detail; it is not for me to meddle with; the story is told, the pictures already painted for those who care to see.
He was talking again, and I but half heard.
"Of the wind-up of the war, when we were around Petersburg, I could tell as many stories as I've told already, but - not to-night. Every proper story should have a climax, and this is the climax of mine. I missed the Grand Review! I had to leave Washington the very day before. General Sheridan had sent for a few of us 'old' scouts - he needed us along the Rio Grande. But I didn't stay long, for I was tired of war, tired of fighting, and half sick besides. August 17, 1865, I got myself mustered out at New Orleans, and came home.
"And now," he said, good-humoredly, "I am tired again. My tongue has made a long march to-day. Look at this, if you want to, and then we must say good night." It was a copy of a letter of Sheridan's, and I give it here, because its terse, soldierly words form a greater and finer appreciation than could any words of mine:
To THE ADJUTANT-GENERAL OF THE ARMY, WASHINGTON, D. C.;
SIR, - I respectfully recommend that a Medal of Honor be given to private Archibald H. Rowand, Jr., First W. Va. Cavalry, for gallant and meritorious services during the War.
During the James River Raid, in the winter of '64-5, private Rowand was one of the two men who went from Columbia, Va., to General Grant, who was encamped at City Point.
He also gave information as to the whereabouts of the Confederate scout Harry Gilmor(e) and assisted in his capture, besides making several other daring scouts through the enemy's lines. His address is L. B. 224. Pittsburg, Penna.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
(Signed) P. H. SHERIDAN,
When I had done he handed me in silence a small morocco case. Its contents stood for so much of work, and of achievement, and of honor, that I took it almost with reverence; presently I closed the case softly and said good night.
I looked back when I had reached the door. All the room was vague in shadows except where, from the shaded lamp, there fell on the desk before him a circle of brilliant light in which he was slowly reopening the little leather case, and with him I seemed to read, graved in the dark bronze, the shining words, "FOR VALOR."
See Secrets of a Union Spy