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The Burial of the Guns
Lee surrendered the remnant of his army at Appomattox, April 9, 1865, and yet a couple
of days later the old Colonel's battery lay intrenched right in the mountain-pass where it
had halted three days before. Two weeks previously it had been detailed with a light
division sent to meet and repel a force which it was understood was coming in by way of
the southwest valley to strike Lee in the rear of his long line from Richmond to
Petersburg. It had done its work. The mountain-pass had been seized and held, and the
Federal force had not gotten by that road within the blue rampart which guarded on that
side the heart of Virginia. This pass, which was the key to the main line of passage over
the mountains, had been assigned by the commander of the division to the old Colonel
and his old battery, and they had held it. The position taken by the battery had been
chosen with a soldier's eye. A better place could not have been selected to hold the pass.
It was its highest point, just where the road crawled over the shoulder of the mountain
along the limestone cliff, a hundred feet sheer above the deep river, where its waters had
cut their way in ages past, and now lay deep and silent, as if resting after their arduous
toil before they began to boil over the great bowlders which filled the bed a hundred or
more yards below.
The little plateau at the top guarded the descending road on either side for nearly a mile,
and the mountain on the other side of the river was the centre of a clump of rocky,
heavily timbered spurs, so inaccessible that no feet but those of wild animals or of the
hardiest hunter had ever climbed it. On the side of the river on which the road lay, the
only path out over the mountain except the road itself was a charcoal-burner's track,
dwindling at times to a footway known only to the mountain-folk, which a picket at the
top could hold against an army. The position, well defended, was impregnable, and it was
well defended. This the general of the division knew when he detailed the old Colonel
and gave him his order to hold the pass until relieved, and not let his guns fall into the
hands of the enemy. He knew both the Colonel and his battery. The battery was one of
the oldest in the army. It had been in the service since April, 1861, and its commander
had come to be known as "The Wheel Horse of his division". He was, perhaps, the oldest
officer of his rank in his branch of the service. Although he had bitterly opposed
secession, and was many years past the age of service when the war came on, yet as soon
as the President called on the State for her quota of troops to coerce South Carolina, he
had raised and uniformed an artillery company, and offered it, not to the President of the
United States, but to the Governor of Virginia.
It is just at this point that he suddenly looms up to me as a soldier; the relation he never
wholly lost to me afterward, though I knew him for many, many years of peace. His gray
coat with the red facing and the bars on the collar; his military cap; his gray flannel shirt -
- it was the first time I ever saw him wear anything but immaculate linen -- his high
boots; his horse caparisoned with a black, high-peaked saddle, with crupper and breast-
girth, instead of the light English hunting-saddle to which I had been accustomed, all
come before me now as if it were but the other day. I remember but little beyond it, yet I