"The Irish Ninth in Bivouac and Battle"
by Michael H. Macnamara
Arlington. -- General Lee's House. -- A Negress. -- How Lee kept a dying Wish. -- A good Breakfast. -- Negroes and Negro Minstrels. -- We resume our March.
WE awoke from the enjoyment of a most comfortable night's sleep to behold the sun glimmering in through the interstices of the trees, and to hear the birds chirping their morning melodies from the branches above our heads. It was early morning, and scarcely any one had risen, for the bugle had not yet sounded the reveille, and until its ringing blast is heard by the soldier, he will sleep on and on, until, like Rip Van Winkle, he wakes in another age, and looks around him upon other scenes. A few of the officers had risen, drawn from their blankets by the beauty of the morning; and, in imitation of these admirers of nature, we arose and joined them, when it was proposed that a search should be made for some habitation, where, by the expenditure of a few dimes, we might achieve the matutinal meal. This weighty and important proposition, having been duly considered, was adopted, and in a few moments we were working our way along a footpath through the wood, which, we sincerely trusted, would lead to some "local habitation," we cared not whether with or without a name. We followed the path for some distance, and suddenly found ourselves on the verge of the wood, and directly before us a large, solid, square-looking building, architecturally plain, the surface covered with a kind of rough cement. There was nothing inviting in the appearance of the building, but the scenery by which it was surrounded at once filled us with admiration.
It stood upon a high hill, from the base of which ran undulating valleys, dotted here and therewith patches of green wood, and likewise interspersed with rich fields in an advanced state of cultivation. The view from the front of the mansion was supremely beautiful, the scenery being the only pleasing characteristic. The house itself looked more like a huge public building than the residence of a private gentleman.
From the building itself we turned our attention to a group of small, wooden houses, of a very dilapidated appearance. They had, at some anterior period of their history, received a careless whitewashing, patches of which, scattered here and there, alone remained. At the door of one of these houses stood an ancient negro -- ancient in aspect, ancient in dress, ancient in his method of speech, with a very ancient stick in his hand, in an attitude of meditation.
We courteously accosted him, and asked if he resided there. He told us that he did, and was a farm hand of Massa Lee's (since General R. E. Lee). We learned from him that he had been a slave from boyhood in the Lee family, and had passed nearly all his life on that estate. In the course of conversation, he informed us that General Lee was very arbitrary with his slaves, and recognized no rights of theirs, and further told us that the "gal" over the way -- pointing to another of the wooden houses -- would have been free upon the death of a certain Mrs. Custis, but that, although it was her dying wish, General Lee, notwithstanding he had consented to her wishes *before* her death, absolutely refused to recognize them on being called upon to do so after her decease; so the girl had ever since remained a slave. The old negro enumerated many other of the general's characteristics, which, in our opinion, did not redound to his (General Lee's) honor or humanity. We left the old man, and went to the "house over the way," and saw the "gal" referred to; -- a strapping wench, about thirty-five years old, -- and her husband a man of about the same age. They invited us to take a seat, with which invitation we complied; and as a warm and enticing breakfast was upon the table, we suggested the propriety of partaking of it, and under the influence of several glittering silver quarter dollars, they very cordially acquiesced. A tender steak, beautiful yellow butter, spread plentifully upon nice corn-cake, rich cream submerged in a cup of delicious coffee, sharpened with witty and genial conversation, -- for which the officers of the Ninth are proverbial, -- these were the component parts of that memorable breakfast. The negroes narrated that phase of her misfortune referred to by the old negro without, and while she eulogized the memory of her "dear departed mistress," she anathematized, without stint, the treacherous and dishonorable conduct of General Lee; who, she said "would never be concerned with anything good, and if he was, it would be sure to go to the bad." She was very intelligent, and had none of that idiom so unsparingly used by the so-called "minstrels" when delineating negro life and character. In fact, though we have seen nearly all kinds of negroes, and have had a genuine plantation boy in our own service, we have never yet met with any who can approach the absurdities, in action, feature, or distorted language, so unsparingly thrust upon the general public by these pseudo darkies. We remained in conversation there some time, and when our drums sounded, came away with a very bad opinion of the moral character of General Lee, however great our admiration may be respecting his military abilities.
We marched from the grounds of the Lee estate, about ten o'clock on the morning of the 23d, to that part of Arlington Heights where that noble monument of Irish energy and industry stands in frowning might, -- Fort Corcoran, -- where, after a slow and weary march over bad roads, we arrived about five o'clock, halted, and camped for the night a short distance from the Heights, on the hill fronting the Fort, and went to sleep, highly pleased with our reception by the forces of Colonel, afterwards Brigadier-General Corcoran, who thronged the roads and cheered us on our way to camp.
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