Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Three Years in the Confederate Horse Artillery — George Michael Neese.

July 4 — When the first rays of the rising sun gilded the Massanutten I had already commenced my last day’s tramp. About four o’clock this afternoon I stood on top of the Massanutten Mountain, and once more fondly looked with enraptured gaze over the land of my native home, the grand old Valley of the Shenandoah, with its pleasant fields, winding, tree-fringed streams and verdant hills. Man and nature have both been busy in obliterating the ugly scars of war since the last sound of battle has died away.

The broad landscape, dotted with a thousand harvest fields and diversified with fields of growing corn, is fast shaking off the ashes of war and spreading its summer treasures in the golden sunshine, and ere long General Sheridan’s “waste and howling wilderness” will again blossom as the rose. Summer with lavish hand has already spread a verdant robe on the fields and hillsides where charging squadrons devastated nature’s finest handiwork on the ornate and adorning garb and where camp-fires blazing on emerald hearths stained and flecked the living carpet.

If I have written anything that may ruffle the placid temperament of my Northern brethren who stood in the forefront of their country’s ranks and bravely bared their breasts to Southern bullets, I wish them always to remember that the sentiments expressed are but the honest thoughts of a humble private who stood in the ranks and fought for home and native land. There and then these reflections and impressions were woven into a variegated tapestry, while the gloomy war cloud shrouded my native skies and dipped low over the land that gave me birth while now and then the fire of battle flashed fiercely across the forming woof. No, no, I never bowed at the shrine of a Southern fire-eater nor learned at the feet of a political Gamaliel who thought he knew it all; neither did I worship at the footstool of an out-and-out disunionist, nor welcome the last arguments of kings and potentates; nor did I applaud or wink at the expressed sentiments of traitors that boldly proclaimed the Constitution of the United States a “League with Hades.”

I arrived at home this evening, and unslung the very same blanket that I started with to the war, on the 19th of July, 1861. Fifteen days more and I would have been in service just four years, and in all that time I never saw the inside of a hospital.

Now that our common country has been drenched with human blood, may the costly sacrifice so nurture our Liberty-tree that it will bloom brighter and bear sweeter fruit than it ever did before, and may it exhale and diffuse the incense of brotherly love, unity, and harmony, unalloyed by the poisonous breath of sectional hatred, which never fails to breed an arrogant and selfish spirit of I am better and holier than thou.

July 3 — I renewed my march early this morning, with an entirely empty haversack, and I am ashamed to beg, consequently I walked all day without anything to eat except some spontaneous gatherings, such as fruit, berries, and cherries along the wayside. Between Crigglersville and the Blue Ridge I met a lady going to market with some pears. She gave me a dozen of them and as they were not very large I ate the whole dozen while I was talking to her.

I crossed the Blue Ridge to-day, and just little before sunset I struck the farm lands at its western base in Page County. I was then so hungry that I could just make out to tell the truth as I called at a wayside farmhouse for some bread and milk. The kind lady told me to tarry a while, and she set me a good supper, and that was the first square meal that I had eaten for nine months, and the first time that I sat at a table in fourteen months. I took my position without maneuvering and made the attack without any skirmishing, and it proved to be the most successful, pleasant, and satisfactory engagement that I have been in for many weary days. After supper I walked about half a mile, unrolled my blanket and nestled down in a fence corner to spend my last night of outing in this campaign.

July 2 — This morning a lady in Gordonsville sent us a bucket of buttermilk, and some six or eight of us had a few crackers left, which we put in the bucket in a sort of joint stock soup company style. After the crackers soaked a while we gathered around the bucket and squatted on the floor and cleaned up the soup in the twinkling of an eye. That was our last soldier meal together.

Soon after breakfast we said farewell, and disbanded, perhaps the last squad of the Army of Northern Virginia. We struck out in various directions, some with their faces turned to southwest Virginia, others to the upper Shenandoah. One man has a good long march to make, as his home is in Braxton County, West Virginia. Two Rockingham men went out on the Standardsville road; I am the only one on the New Market pike. I walked steadily all day, browsed once or twice in a blackberry patch, and about an hour before sunset I passed through Madison Court House, and to-night I am sweetly reclining on my blanket bed in a quiet balmy pine thicket about three miles northwest of Madison Court House.

July 1 — This morning at sunrise we renewed our boat march. From City Point at the mouth of the Appomattox up to Drewry’s Bluff the river is very crooked and winding, and the surrounding country is much more undulating than it is on the lower James. Coming up the river to-day I saw the Dutch Gap Canal -— or at least the top part of it — that General Ben Butler was trying to dig a year ago. The canal was not finished,— the bottom of it is mostly rock,— and is now only a little lower than the surface of the water in the river at flood tide.

General Butler’s object in digging the canal was to cut off some five or six miles of a big bend in the river that was good soil for Confederate torpedoes, and in the distance around the bend there are some first-class positions for batteries on the Chesterfield hills close to the river, which the use of the canal would have shunned entirely. The canal is about three hundred and eighty feet long, and its completion would have enabled General Butler’s flotilla to creep some five or six miles closer to the heart of Dixie without much peril. At Drewry’s Bluff we had to wait several hours for high tide, which came in at last, and about midday our boat arrived at the Rockets at the lower end of Richmond. There we immediately disembarked and bade a hasty farewell to our craft, and marched up into the city, first to headquarters of the provost marshal to secure transportation, then to the Central Depot, and had not long to wait for the train that landed us in Gordonsville this evening at dusk.

There were twenty-one of us ex-Rebels on the train, and when the train stopped here at Gordonsville, United States soldiers garrisoned here, our brethren and comrades now, were very kind and friendly to us and hospitably welcomed us to Dixie and courteously conducted us to our quarters.

This is Saturday evening. If we would have remained in Richmond until Tuesday we could have gone on the train to Staunton, but as it is we had to stop here at Gordonsville, as the train runs to Staunton only twice a week. The transportation man in Richmond told us that if we would wait until Tuesday he would send us through to Staunton, but some of our ex-Rebels in the squad were so anxious to get home that they thought it a sin to waste a few days in Richmond merely to save a good long walk. I was willing, and wanted to stay in Richmond a few days, but the majority ruled, and I obeyed.

June 30 — I did not sleep a wink last night. The sweet thought of freedom, the bright hope of seeing homeland once more, and the glorious vision of new sorts of viands played around me and chased away every vestige of slumber. The soothing god refused to be wooed and positively declared that he could not be won by me on such a night as this. This morning about eight o’clock we passed Fortress Monroe, which is situated at the mouth of James River, or rather on Hampton Roads. It is on the north side of the Roads in Elizabeth City County, and right at the entrance into Hampton Roads; it is a delightful place, for the exterior escarp of the fortress is covered with sod and appears more like the grassy terrace of a pleasure ground than the front of chamber where the engines of war are sleeping. Right opposite the fortress, about a mile distant, is the Rip Raps, a pile of rocks with cannon on it, situated in midwater, commanding the entrance to Hampton Roads. About eleven miles due south and across the waters of the Roads is the City of Norfolk. Fortress Monroe is on Old Point Comfort, and about seven miles nearly southwest of it a point of land reaches out boldly into the waters of Hampton Roads, on which the little town of Newport News is pleasantly and advantageously situated; it is in Warwick County. Old Point Comfort and Newport News are both favorably located for seaside health resorts, being in a mild, genial climate where the refreshing and salubrious sea breezes sweep in from the blue waves of the Atlantic, which makes a man feel good all over. This morning as we steamed through Hampton Roads a delightful cool breeze was blowing gently in from the sea. Hampton Roads affords first-class anchorage for large ocean steamers, and is one of the best harbors on the Atlantic coast. When we came through this morning an English man-of-war was anchored between Fortress Monroe and Newport News, and we passed close by its side. Everything about the whole ship, deck and all, looked as clean and fresh as though it has just come from the builder’s hand.

We steamed up the James River all day. The land along both sides of the river is mostly low and flat and vast levels stretch away to the dim distance unbroken by hills. We passed Old Jamestown this afternoon; I saw nothing there but old crumbling ruins. Jamestown is about four miles a little west of south from Williamsburgh and in James City County. Our boat stopped for night at Harrison’s Landing, which is on the left bank of the river, in Charles City County.

June 29 — About twenty thousand prisoners have been released here since the 9th of June, and to-day I was released, one of the very last ones of the whole vast throng; when I came out through the gate wagons were driving in to haul out the tents. The releasing operation was conducted in the following manner: When thirty-two names were called and answered to, the men were formed in a double-line squad and marched into the building that we used here for a church.

After I arrived on the inside of the door I was measured, and my height, color of hair and eyes, and my complexion were all recorded on my certificate of release. When the squad of thirty-two had all gone through with the preliminary operation we were marched deeper into the building, where a large United States flag was stretched horizontally overhead. Under this we formed in groups of four, when a Bible was handed to each group, on which we took the following oath, administered to the whole thirty-two at one time:

“I …. do solemnly swear that I will support, protect, and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign; that I will bear true faith, allegiance, and loyalty to the same, any ordinance, resolution, or laws of any State, Convention, or Legislature to the contrary notwithstanding; and further that I will faithfully perform all the duties which may be required of me by the laws of the United States; and I take this oath freely and voluntarily without any mental reservation or evasion whatever.


“Subscribed and sworn before me, this twenty-ninth day of June, A. D. 1865.

“A. G. Brady, Major and Provost Marshal.

“The above-named has fair complexion, brown hair, and hazel eyes, and is 5 feet 7 inches high.”

After we were through with the oath-taking we were turned loose on a green grassy sward outside of the prison gate, and the men were so wild with joy that old veterans playfully tumbled and rolled on the grass like young schoolboys. Every man is furnished free transportation as near home as he can go by boat and rail. Now as I have taken a solemn oath to love, adore, honor, and protect Uncle Sam with all my powers, I intend henceforth to stick to him through evil as well as good report, with all the patriotism and allegiance that I saved from the wreck of the Southern Confederacy.

The following is a certificate of release that was given to every prisoner:


Just at nightfall the steam transport that is bearing us away from our winter resort drew up to the wharf, and the gangplank had hardly touched the shore before the newly made citizens of the United States rushed up the gangway like Rebels, crowding and pushing each other like cattle, everyone trying to get aboard first, for fear that the boat would not hold us all. At ten o’clock to-night our boat left Point Lookout, and now at midnight it is plowing through the long heaving swells of Chesapeake Bay, bound for Richmond, Virginia.

June 9 — The authorities here commenced releasing prisoners to-day. The prisoners are released by taking the oath of allegiance to the United States. There were about eleven hundred released to-day.

June 4 — A preacher from Massachusetts preached for us to-day. Preaching is a good thing when it is well done and its axioms and truths are well adhered to and its injunctions practiced. I wish that some great minister would come along here and preach a kind of redemption that would have the potential effect of getting us away from here, for Death is still swinging its fatal scythe with a deadlier stroke in this patch than it does beyond these prison gates, and many a man in here to-day will go through the prison gate dressed in a coffin before we all get out.

The weather is warm now and in a favorable condition for the musical buzz of the green fly that is already busy at its favorite occupation of blowing everything that it sees which suits its taste. The fresh beef rations that we get are some days full of the little fly’s life-giving work neatly and evenly deposited in every little interstice throughout the ration, and so numerous, and too tedious to extract with any degree of satisfaction, that we eat the meat, fly-blow and all in conjunction, without any squeamish hesitation whatever, as this is no time nor place for the indulgence of bodily idiosyncrasy, fastidious appetite, or exquisite taste. Some of my comrades think that we might get the bots by eating hatchable fly-blow, but I know that I have eaten a thousand in the last month and I feel no sign of any bots yet.

May 7 — The Rev. Mr. McCulloch of Baltimore preached here in prison to-day. Text, third chapter of John and eighteenth verse.

May 3 — The whole camp registered to-day for the purpose of taking the oath of allegiance to the United States. It seems that the war is over outside of the prison, but we are kept here and treated just as we have been before the war closed; it looks a little like as if the Yanks are afraid to turn us loose.