Copyright© 2022 by Joe J
JC and I were frequent visitors to Richmond during the year of 1862. The war was going well for the Confederacy in northern Virginia as the Union Army was in disarray while its commander was changed almost monthly. Every time they made an incursion into Virginia we sent them running back to Washington with their tails between their legs. Our soldiers were still being supplied and equipment was constantly being marshaled out of the railroad hub in Richmond.
Commodore Spooner was still locked out to sea by the naval blockade at Hampton Roads so Constance was continuing my training in the art of women. I was over the initial burst of love for Connie that I’d felt after she made me a man and she still loved her husband, but our passions so perfectly meshed that it was as if we were newlyweds every time we spent time together. I once asked her how she could love her husband and still mate with me so lustily.
“My husband is much older than I, and as we’ve grown older his desires wane while mine wax. It was he who suggested a younger lover for me. How could I not love a man like that?”
How indeed? Heck, I didn’t even know him and I loved him for what he was doing for me. On the other hand, Prudence was seriously in love with the dashing Captain Colbert. This is how much she loved him: she started introducing JC to her female friends knowing that he would try to have his way with them, too. Make no mistake about it, if a woman didn’t jump up and slap his face in the first ten minutes of knowing JC, it was a safe bet that he’d end up under her bustle. Prudence told me that words left JC’s mouth and went straight to a woman’s heart.
Where Prudence openly shared her friends with JC, Constance discreetly shared me with hers. You would be surprised at the number of proper ladies who enjoyed the company of a strapping sixteen-year-old boy with boundless energy. I happily accommodated them all, from the dowdy to the ravishing. I was never disappointed in what the women offered and strove mightily to show each my utmost appreciation. I am still that way today, and I plan to remain that way for the rest of my life.
I met some marvelous women, women who took a personal interest in me and helped me become a more rounded individual. My favorite beyond a doubt was Millicent Silvestry. Millicent was the widow of a merchant who had died four years previously from diphtheria. Millie was younger than Connie Spooner and quite attractive. She had a lithe, willowy figure and these big brown eyes that radiated smoky sensuality. I couldn’t help but fall in love with her. Millie was an incredibly bright and educated woman and she challenged me constantly to read and advance my knowledge. One of my fondest memories of those halcyon days was of us snuggled under a blanket as I read to her.
I was crushed when Millicent accepted the marriage proposal of a wealthy older man from Tennessee. She told me the news after we had spent two of the most glorious days of either of our lives together. She cried when she told me that she loved me but couldn’t marry me.
“I am too old for you, Dear Heart, and you are so swept up in this ghastly conflict. Better I lose you like this than to be around if you are one of those killed or maimed. This way at least we’ll always have the sweet memories of our time together, and I will always have the hope that you survived this senseless, horrid war.”
Millie was gone when I next visited Richmond, but she had left a trunk full of books with Constance Spooner for me. Pressed in the leaves of a book of sonnets by Shakespeare was her final short note to me. In an elegant calligraphy she wrote:
My Dearest Jeremiah,
Expand your horizons, my love; not just your mind - but also your heart and soul.
Connie comforted me as I cried as only a heartbroken sixteen year old could. I wasn’t even embarrassed by my unmanly display. Over the next few visits the resilience of youth, and Connie’s sweet attention, softened Millie to a bittersweet memory.
It was during this time that another one of Constance Spooner’s friends named Lenora Quiller gave me a fiddle (of course Lenora called it a violin) as a gift. Miss Lenora was the oldest of Connie’s friends but she took no back seat to Connie or anyone else, in the affairs of the boudoir. Miss Lenora loved to pamper me and I ate it up as if the attention were rock candy. Lenora gave me a few rudimentary violin lessons and from the minute I held the fiddle in my hand I had an affinity for it. I took the fiddle back to camp with me and spent a lot of my spare time learning how to play it. I had a good ear and within a month I could scratch out a few tunes. In six months I could sit with the old time fiddlers and keep up on Sally Goodin’. I reckon that fiddle is still my most prized possession.
I had various and sundry duties during actual battle, everything from dispatch rider to sharpshooter to bodyguard for staff officers. As a sharpshooter, I had a sweet handling British made Enfield rifle and keen vision, so I could challenge a union soldier out to almost half a mile. I also had a Colt Navy revolver that I took off a dead Union officer. Our biggest source of weapons, ammunition and equipment by then was what we scavenged from our fallen foes. Blockades and lack of resources severely limited arms production in the Confederacy.
At Fredericksburg I was attached to General Barksdale’s 13th Mississippi Brigade as a sharpshooter. We sharpshooters were assigned the job of disrupting the Union Army’s attempt to construct pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock River. We set up in groups of three, occupying houses along the riverbank to pick off the Yankee engineers as they strove to construct two separate bridges in front of us. Being in a group of three always allowed one man at the ready while the other two reloaded.
Picking the engineers off the pontoons was a distasteful duty, as the Yankees made it target practice easy for us. Worse for the Union soldiers was the fact that the closer they came to us the easier they were to pick off. We dropped scores of them into the river as the bridges moved slowly out from the far shore before they suddenly stopped working and cleared the partially completed bridges. The fog that had blanketed the hills above the river had slowly dissolved, so we waited tensely for the artillery barrage we knew was coming.
We held fast to our position as the Union cannoneers started firing registration rounds to sight in their field guns. When the first rounds fell among the houses, we sharpshooters moved out of the houses and forward to our secondary fighting positions nearer the river. It was a terrible idea to wait out an artillery bombardment inside a building unless you wanted to be buried under a pile of rubble. We laid ourselves flat in the two-foot deep trench we had dug behind a low stone wall and huddled there as the intense barrage began.
The roar and explosions of the artillery fire seemed to last forever as over two hundred field guns fired a total of five thousand rounds. We saw and survived the biggest artillery engagement in history that day. When the bombardment lifted we cautiously raised our heads and saw hundreds of union soldiers rowing across the river in small boats. We engaged them out on the water but there were too many of them to stop. We were forced to fight a delaying action as the Union soldiers secured the houses nearest the river and established a presence on the southern shore to protect the engineers now rushing to complete the pontoon bridges. I shook hands with my fellow sharpshooters and returned to General Lee’s headquarters on Marye’s Heights when the 13th Mississippi retired from the battlefield.
Later that afternoon I stood off to the side of the general staff at the top of the small knoll, my rifle at the ready. We were all watching in horrified fascination as wave after wave of blue clad soldiers hurled themselves across an open four hundred yards against the two Confederate divisions dug in along a sunken roadbed. It was as stunning a display of futile bravery as I would ever hope to see. In all that day, five union divisions made fourteen brigade sized charges into the withering fire of dug in infantry and well registered artillery. I heard two of the truest things in my life that day. One was a remark by Lieutenant Colonel Porter, the chief artillery officer for General Longstreet.
“A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it,” Porter bragged.
The other was a remark General Lee also made to General Longstreet.
“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it,” Lee said.
Things started going down hill for the Confederate Army in 1863. Once on the way down that slippery slope there was no way back up. Every soldier in the army knew that our only hope was to make the price of victory too high for the Union. We underestimated the resolve of the Yankees in that regard but we never underestimated the bravery of the Union soldiers. What frayed us the most was the sheer number of soldiers the Union could keep throwing into the line. Not just warm bodies either, but fully equipped, well-fed, determined men. It did not deter them that we were killing them three and four to one during each engagement. It did not bother them because they had the replacements and we did not.
I will not bore you with more descriptions of the carnage each side inflicted on the other as we fought to defend Richmond. But I will tell you that whether we won or lost, every day was worse for us than the one before. I think the blow that effectively ended it for us was Gettysburg. True, the war lasted for almost two more agonizing years after that battle, but the tide clearly turned that infamous week in the gently rolling hills of Pennsylvania.
When we started moving north up the Shenandoah Valley in early June of 1863, we were ecstatic that we were taking the fight to the Yankees for a change. General Lee’s thinking was that a strong attack into the heart of the Union would weaken the Federals’ resolve, while at the same time removing the heat of battle from Virginia and Mississippi. For three weeks his plan worked to perfection as we drove through western Maryland into southern Pennsylvania. Then at Gettysburg, in early July 1863, it all came undone. This time it was the proud Army of Northern Virginia that limped back across the Mason-Dixon Line licking its wounds.
While we were fighting for our lives at Gettysburg, US Grant and the Union Army of Tennessee split the Confederacy in half when he captured Vicksburg, Mississippi. The loss of the western states for supplies and soldiers was a serious blow to our fortunes. Starting in the autumn of 1863, even trips to Richmond were no longer fun as the city filled with refugees. Shortages and rationing were commonplace. Commodore Spooner finally found a way through the Yankee blockade and smuggled his wife and daughter out of Richmond and into West Virginia.
Strangely enough, during our later visits to Richmond, JC did not encourage me to accompany him when he went carousing. Instead, he religiously delivered me to Lenora Quiller’s loving hands when we visited the city and then went on his wastrel way. It was just as well he did because I never developed his taste for drink and gambling. Not to mention that Miss Lenora was an expert in the French manner of lovemaking and was diligently making me one as well. Lenora also began to teach me the rudiments of reading music. I never became adept at sight-reading music but with a sheet of music and some time to practice I was able to play nigh on anything.
On June 1, 1864 my brother Joshua was wounded and captured during the Battle of Cold Harbor. Joshua’s Regiment, the 17th Georgia Infantry, was decimated when they counterattacked a Union Brigade that breached the Confederate lines. Over seven hundred and fifty Georgians were captured. I never saw my brother again. After the war my ma told me that he had died in a Union hospital during the amputation of his leg. Cold Harbor was another example of us winning the battles while losing the war. Union losses at Cold Harbor were over thirteen thousand while ours were less than three thousand. Yet all thirteen thousand men from the 120,000 man Army of the Potomac were replaced while only about ten percent of the losses to the 65,000 man Army of Northern Virginia were.