Confederate Brigadier General William H. Payne wrote and signed this letter to General Jubal A.
Early in 1867 upon review of Early's A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence in the Confederate States of America, published in 1866. Payne, who had been wounded at Williamsburg in 1862 and Gettysburg in 1863, had commanded a brigade of Virginia cavalry during Early's Shenandoah Valley Campaign in 1864 and wished to discuss his brigade's role in it. "It is a matter of pride to me, my dear General, " Payne writes, that your recollection of your old comrades embraces me among the emeriti. Payne continues to lay the praise on thick. This letter can tell you that I was one of those who from the beginning, throughout, & after your Campaign, knew thoroughly the work you had to do, & its difficulties, and came from the Campaign with my former admiration for you so much greatly increased.Payne then asks Early why he was "so sparing" with his opinions in the book. Of your campaign are of course invaluable, " he writes, "but your opinions, sitting as you now do, above & beyond the reach of Federal bloodhounds, are very interesting to us. While Payne was "struck with the general accuracy" of Early's memoir, he asks his former commander's pardon in bringing up a matter "not for the purpose of correcting your narration, but of doing myself justice with one whose good opinion I highly value, " then referring to " the closing scenes of the Battle of Winchester.
" Payne then sets the record straight with a lengthy narrative of his brigade's action. My Brigade was the first cavalry on the field on the morning of the 19th & occupied the position along the Red Bud [Run], supporting Breathed's Battery & where the Yankee cavalry broke through Lomax on my left.
I was withdrawn by Fitz Lee, carried across at a gallop, & trained. We were informed that Patton's Brigade of infantry was behind us & that we would reform upon it. In advancing to the charge we came suddenly upon the rail-road cut, through which we had to straggle, & from which, without time to reform, we continued our charge.Although it checked the enemy for a moment, yet we in our turn were charged & upon falling back to where we expected to find Patton, [but] were disappointed. Indeed there were not 50 infantry near us, and it was under cover of this rail-road cut that we reformed. The charging and counter charging was incessant until the battle ceased. My men never broke except to rally immediately behind Breckinridge's left, & frequently, when the enemy's charges were in rapid succession, our infantry & cavalry, mixed together in a confused mass, [moved] forward to meet & repulse them. It was toward the 5th act of the drama that guns were brought over to our left and for awhile relieved our flank.
My recollection of this scene is so vivid that I expect your pardon for stating that my command at [the] time I refer to had its left touching the old rail-road bed at a small white cottage near the Martinsburg pike. My right joined Breckinridge, a small redoubt separating us. In one of the lulls of the fight, I galloped to my friend, Major McLaughlin (of Lexington), pointed out this redoubt, & urged him to put a battery in it. He asked me, "Can you protect it"?
I replied to him If six hundred men can do it, it shall be done, & at any rate it can pay for itself before it is lost. He rode with me into the work, & there, massed before us, in beautiful range, was the Yankee cavalry. He did not hesitate an instant, but ran two guns into it, & although one was disabled & could not be brought out, I have the satisfaction of knowing that the guns in the opinion of all who saw them, made good my prediction that they would pay for themselves.I never saw more rapid & effective firing. I have thought that these were the guns you referred to as King's. Payne next describes how his brigade "fell back gradually through the town, driving all of our own stragglers out of it that could be seen, " while the enemy were firing through the cross street as we retired. " Payne writes that he then reported to his division commander, Brigadier General Williams Wickham, who Payne argues hadn't "covered the retreat & saved the army, as he claims.
He then further criticizes Wickham. Will you permit me to say, dear General, that the part which you have ascribed to his Brigade is very different from the outside opinion at the time.Late in the day they came into action & were perched upon the hills above [the] Martinsburg road, and there he remained, a spectator in the dress circle, watching the strife of the gladiators in the arena. It was the opinion of those who saw the whole [thing], that there was opportunity after opportunity presented, in the flux & reflux of the Battle tide below, to have dashed in, aye to have swooped down, with terrible effect upon the exposed flanks of the Yankees. One regiment left upon his hill would have held back the force in his front as effectively as his whole command.
Our daring, headlong rushing charge, with the impetus of the hill would have so routed the main body below as to have checked for some time the determination on the hill. Even in the heat of the conflict, the movement was described by those below, & eagerly watched for. I was so extravagant at the time as to have thought it would have at least left us masters of the field at dark. Payne then lets the numbers do the talking, stating that In this engagement I lost nearly one sixth of my men. The other Brigade did not have a single casualty.
He then turns his attention to the portion of Early's book about the Battle of Cedar Creek, seeking to redeem his brigade's reputation with an explanation of the facts as he saw them. In your account of Gordon's flank march at Cedar Creek, you speak of delay at the river, & ascribe it to one of two causes, of which one was, that the Cavalry was delayed in passing to [the] head of the column. I assure you, so fare as the Cavalry is concerned, this is a mistake.
The Cavalry was ahead of time in the march. The men had been standing in ranks to their horses for more than half an hour before the arrival of the Infantry.I was very anxious to be in time. I had had reveille sounded ahead of [the] necessary time. We passed to the front of the Infantry and rested in the field near the ford [a] full 30 minutes before we were ordered forward. I was [illegible] in company with Generals Gordon, Ramseur, & Pegram for some time, received my altered orders (my first you will remember were to march forward & capture Sheridan) and immediately moved forward. Now at any time thereafter was there an instant pause on our account.
Embarrassed that although his "dear General" might think him "egotistic or captious about trifles, " Payne remarks how inexpressively precious these things are to us poor Confederates now. He closes the letter with inquiries about Early's welfare in Toronto. Wishing to help he insists that although our means are limited.
The letter was written on 6 pages of a blue letter sheet measuring about 8" x 10 1/2". It is in overall good condition, but with a vertical fold tear with minor paper loss and a chip at the lower left corner affecting a small portion of text. Creased at the original folds. The letter's full transcript follows.
I seize this moment to send you my warm thanks for the honor you have done me, in making me one of the distributors of your book. After many meanderings it came safely to my hand, but I had previously muttered to my friend Capt. Sam Early to give me the pleasure of reading the copy which I supposed you had sent him, not knowing that one was on its way to me with the compliments of the author.
It is a matter of pride to me, my dear General, that your recollection of your old comrades embraces me among the emeriti. It was certainly my purpose, in the terrible task which was allotted to you, & which you had to perform in the fire and danger of a "forlorn hope, " to aid & serve you to the extent of my power. There were, of course, in the Campaign mysteries which I could not fathom then; maneuvers which I could not postulate, but I had what in a subordinate was better; trust, faith in the commander.
And the feature of your book which pleases me most is that [it] evokes in me [portion illegible] for the faith that was in me. Why have you been so sparing of your notes? Of your campaign are of course invaluable, but your opinions, sitting as you now do, above & beyond the reach of Federal bloodhounds, are very interesting to us. It is a great comfort to know that [illegible] has a clear head, true heart, & sharp tongue to speak, yet in the tone and language we once called our own.I have been struck with the general accuracy of your recollection on matters of small detail, and with one or two trifling exceptions your account is as minutely accurate as if written from the Battlefield. You will pardon me if I call your attention to an instance & not for the purpose of correcting your narration, but of doing myself justice with one whose good opinion I highly value. I refer to your account of the closing scenes of the Battle of Winchester, the report of which I suppose came from Wickham. Indeed there were not 50 infantry near us, and it was under cover of this rail-road cut that we reformed. The Yankee Cavalry did not effect a crossing of this cut (except some were [corner of page missing] who never got back) but obliqued to the Martinsburg road. From this point & from this hour, the charging and counter charging was incessant until the battle ceased. When Wharton's division fell back to the works fronting [the] Martinsburg Road, my Brigade remained until they retired, & then halted in line [along the] pike until after Wharton retired from the works. We then fell back gradually through the town, driving all of our own stragglers out of it that could be seen, & the enemy, who had entered by the Berryville pike were firing through the cross street as we retired.
When we got out of the town on the opposite side, I reported to Genl. In this engagement I lost nearly one sixth of my men. You would be a little surprised & perhaps angered, at my [corner of page missing] in this mater, but it was so deeply improper in my mind by contemporaneous discussion, & even wrangling, that I recall it now as vividly as then. When the route occurred in the evening, my Brigade, thought itself in part of Wharton's division & continued until it crossed the river, Col.
It never lost its aggregation & I think you will remember that it was from your lips around the camp fire at Fisher's Hill, to which place you had summoned me that night, that I learned [of] the disaster on the turnpike. My dear General, do not think me egotistic or captious about trifles, but you know not how inexpressively precious these things are to us poor Confederates now, and although you have no longer the power to [illegible].Your good [corner of page missing] is still inestimable to me. I tried hard to earn it. Will you pardon me for enquiring into your domestic affairs? I can't help feeling that we Confederates have a considerable right in you & seeing you a wanderer & an Exile, the question will come up, as to whether you are in [illegible]. Our means are limited, of course, but our hearts are willing. Can we serve you in any way? If you should think this letter worth answering (for which I would feel very much flattered) do me the favor to say whether you see any light. Are we damned forever a cross in Purgatory? My dear General, I have more good [illegible] for you than I like to express. I hint that you may be [compelled] to tell a longer story of our glorious struggle. In any event permit me to call myself. Respectfully your friend & comrade.
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