Reminiscences of a Long Life
By James M. Pendleton
I remained in Murfreesboro till General Bragg left Chattanooga on his Kentucky expedition, and General Buell moved his forces from near Huntsville, Alabama, to thwart General Bragg’s plans. I concluded that by the time two such armies passed through Middle Tennessee it would be a desolation, and rapid preparation was made for our departure. Strange to say, United States’ soldiers had something to do in making our departure a necessity. They began to appropriate the little crop that I had raised, and they did this, I have no doubt, without official authority; but, in one sense, it was the same to me. But there was official authority at a later day. After the battle of Stone River General Rosecrans’ army occupied Murfreesboro and must have fuel. My farm was fenced with valuable cedar rails and the soldiers were ordered to take only the top rail. They obeyed and took the top rail till there was not a rail left. The United States Government in compensating me put the rails in the category of green cord wood. This was a little business for a great nation. How I was to support my family became a serious question.
Here I may record some things, a few of which, so far as I know, have not been published in any “History of the War,” and probably will not be published, as they are not very creditable to two United States’ Colonels.
During the Summer of 1862, two regiments, 9th Michigan (Colonel Parkhurst) and 3d Minnesota (Colonel Lester), were stationed at Murfreesboro. The two regiments were encamped for a time near my house; but it was said the Colonels disagreed about something, and one of them removed his regiment more than a mile from the other. This fact was naturally communicated to the Confederate General Forrest, who was not far away. He took advantage of the circumstances, and, with his “Texas Rangers” and others, dashed into Murfreesboro at day break Sunday morning (the second Sunday in July) and captured the regiment near my house. There was some fighting, not a great deal, and a few balls struck the house. General Forrest, having captured this regiment, moved on the other, which surrendered. Now, the fact not creditable to the Colonels is this: If their regiments had been together, General Forrest could have done nothing, for his success grew out of the disagreement of the Colonels. Who can tell how many of the disasters of the war may be traced to quarrels among officers? This may be considered an episode in my narrative.
The last day of August, 1862, we left our home in Murfreesboro to occupy it no more. As the Federal forces had possession of the railroad to Nashville, it was deemed safer for me to go on the train. My family went in a barouche in charge of Rev. G. W. Welch, a theological student. The horse was well-known in and around Murfreesboro and not much progress was made on the way before a halt was called by one of a guerrilla band. He made inquiries of Mr. Welch and finally said, “You are not the man I thought you were,” and permitted him to proceed. My wife heard all that passed, and has never had a doubt that the man supposed that I, as usual, was driving my horse, and intended to capture me. Providence ordered that I should be elsewhere. We reached Nashville in safety and there Mr. Welch took the stage and I took his place in the barouche. I could go by the railroad no farther, for Gen. John Morgan had destroyed the tunnel near Gallatin. In going by private conveyance to Bowling Green I was exposed to danger of which I learned more afterward. I was entrusted at Nashville with more than thirty letters from officers and soldiers, to be mailed at Bowling Green for the North. As we passed along we sometimes had a view of men whom we took to be guerrillas, and if they had obtained possession of the letters, I know not what would have been the consequence; but we were not molested. In passing through Franklin, Simpson County, we met our friend Judge Ritter, of Glasgow, who was holding Court. We had a short conversation, and to our consternation we learned afterward that guerrillas dashed into Franklin the next morning, captured the Judge, and conveyed him to some unknown place. Surely I was mercifully preserved.
At Bowling Green we met old friends, but none of us could feel as in other years, for a pall of gloom rested on the country. We tarried a day or two and then my wife, under the protection of Mr. Welch, proceeded to Barren County to sojourn for a time with her only sister, Mrs. Eubank, near Glasgow. My friends said it would not be safe for me to go, for General Bragg’s army was about passing through that county, and it was thought important for me to get North of the Ohio River as soon as possible. Fortunately for me the railroad to Louisville was in possession of the United States’ forces, and I found no difficulty in reaching the city. National flags were flying, which cheered a heart considerably depressed, for the parting with my wife was very sad, and she, to this day, refers to it as one of the saddest partings of her life. I saw a few friends in Louisville, among whom was Hon. J. J. Crittenden, who inquired if I knew anything about his son, the Federal General.
From Louisville I went to Indianapolis and called on my friend, Rev. Henry Day, formerly professor in Georgetown College, Kentucky. It was arranged for me to preach on Sunday, and I did so. During the week I visited my cousin, Hon. R. W. Thompson, of Terre Haute, whom I had not seen from my boyhood. He is a man of extensive information and fascinating in conversation. He told me a great many things about Mr. Clay and others, which occurred when he was in Congress. He was very fluent and words came out of his mouth with such graceful volubility that I was tempted to ask him if he ever lacked a word? His wife said, “I can answer, never.” I have not met with a man of more fluent speech, and when years afterward, while Secretary of the Navy, he lectured at Chester, Pennsylvania, on “Adams, Jackson, and Clay,” I was confirmed in my impression that no man had command of language more forcible, more elegant, more beautiful. He yet lives, several years older than I. His accomplished wife is dead.
From Terre Haute I returned to Indianapolis, preached the next Sunday, then made my way to Cincinnati, where I first saw Mr. Lincoln’s preliminary Proclamation. From Cincinnati I went to Lebanon, a place I had visited years before, and where something had been said to me about the pastorate of the Baptist church. I then discouraged a call, but now I was willing to be called, for above all things I wished a quiet place in which to labor, and I knew no place more quiet than Lebanon. The church was without a pastor, but I was not called, because there was some suspicion on the part of one or more of the influential members as to my views of slavery. From Lebanon I went to Hamilton, the county-seat of Butler county, to attend the meeting of the Little Miami Association.
The brother appointed to preach the introductory sermon did not make his appearance, and I was requested to take his place. This church, too, was without a pastor, but I did not suppose that a call would be given me. I remember waking the next morning before day and bursting into tears, under the impression that the Lord had nothing more for me to do, and that there was no place for me in his vineyard.
I remained in Hamilton a few days and preached several times. It pleased the church to call me to the pastorate, and I accepted the call. I have never regarded this pastorate as a success. It seems more like a parenthesis in my ministry. My predecessor left me a legacy of trouble. There were two parties in the church, almost equally divided. The difference between them involved considerations of great delicacy, and it was not advisable for matters to be talked about. Many imprudent things had no doubt been said privately on both sides, which had given mutual offence. The question arose: How can the breach be healed if it will not do to talk about what caused it? The general opinion was that nothing could be done. I suggested a plan of settlement, and one brother thought that God must have put it into my heart, for nothing like it had ever been heard of before in the adjustment of church troubles. The plan was this: For the church to meet at a certain time and for the members to take certain designated seats, in doing which it was to be understood that they retracted everything they had said offensive to any brother or sister and asked forgiveness, pledging themselves to hold their peace in future as to the matters about which they had differed. The plan was a success and I refer to it because I had never known anything like it before.
It was while in Hamilton, that is, on the 2d of November, 1863, that I received from my youngest brother a startling dispatch, which read, “Mother is dangerously ill – come by first train.” The message reached me on the morning of the 3d, and in less than an hour I started for the home of my childhood. What a time for reflection! The place of my destination was three hundred miles distant. There was a crowd of passengers most of the way, strangers, to whom I could not tell my tale of grief. Thought I, how little they know of the sadness of my heart, and how little would they care, if they did know! The hours passed slowly away, and the revolutions of the rattling wheels were too tardy for me. Alas! what mode of travel is fast enough to satisfy the desires of one who wishes to reach a dying bed? At length I had gone as far as I could go by railroad, and still I was fifteen miles distant from the place then of all places most replete with solemn interest to me. Night was coming on and I could get no traveling conveyance till morning. There was not a moment’s hesitation. Thankful to God for strength to walk, I went on foot, hoping to be in time to hear that voice which had so often sounded as music in my ears. For a time hope predominated, and then fear, and between the two there was a short, but a sharp conflict. The conflict was soon ended, and such an end! “She died yesterday,” were the first words that terminated my painful suspense. I sat by the motionless form of my mother, and looked and looked at her pale face. It seemed as if the death-sealed lips would open and speak to me as in other days. They did not open, and spoke not a word. I never saw my mother’s countenance more pleasant than it was in death. The spirit appeared to have been so joyous in making its exit from the body as to leave a placid smile on the pale clay. The body lay in serene dignity, as if it could well afford to yield to the temporary dominion of death and the grave, in prospect of a triumphant resurrection.
I wish I could do justice to the character of my mother. She was distinguished for common sense, sound judgment, and earnest piety. She was not an educated woman in the present acceptation of the words, for thorough female education was unknown in the days of her youth. But when I remember how she, amid the disadvantages incident to a newly settled country, exerted herself that her children might enjoy privileges which she never enjoyed, no language can express my admiration and love for her, and my deep sense of obligation to her.
My mother was a praying woman and enjoyed nearness of access to the throne of grace. She prayed much and had power with God. I doubt not I am receiving blessings to this day in answer to her prayers. Truly I can say, in the language of Cowper:
“My boast is not that I deduce my birth
From loins enthroned and rulers of the earth:
But higher far my proud pretensions rise,
The son of parents passed into the skies.”
Becoming convinced that Hamilton ought not to be my permanent residence, I was anxious to go West, and hoped to be called to the pastorate of a church in a flourishing town in Illinois. But I was disappointed and the disappointment was clearly providential. I therefore remained at Hamilton till the latter part of the year 1865. It was in April of this year that the war ended in the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox. It was arranged for the surrender to be celebrated at Hamilton, and I will be excused for saying that this was the only time in my life when I gave a dollar to be used in buying powder to be used in firing cannon. I was jubilant in view of the fact that the “old flag” was to wave in triumph over an undivided people.
I sympathized with General Lee in the humiliation of his surrender, but my joy very nearly extinguished my sympathy. In the beginning of the civil conflict General Lee had written to his sister, “I recognize no necessity for this state of things;” yet his views of the pernicious doctrine of “States’ Rights ” led him to renounce his allegiance to the United States and identify himself with the Confederacy. If he had accepted the supreme command of the Army of the United States, offered him by Mr. Lincoln, in how different a light would his name appear on the page of history! In that case, General Grant would scarcely have been heard of, and General Lee would have been the favorite and the President of the nation. His name would have gone down to posterity in honorable conjunction with that of Washington. But he made a fatal mistake and General Grant reaped the honors of the war. What strange things affect the destinies of men! General Grant, in his tour round the world, received from more nations greater honors than were ever conferred on any other man from Adam to this day.
Not long after General Lee’s surrender, an event occurred which threw the nation, and indeed the civilized world, into consternation. Mr. Lincoln was assassinated at Washington on the 14th of April. The fatal shot was fired by J. Wilkes Booth, of whom it is best to say nothing more.
During his Presidency a thousand things were said by his enemies in disparagement, and even in ridicule, of Mr. Lincoln, but he was a great man with a heart full of kindness. No one could more truly than he uses the words which have become immortal: “WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE, WITH CHARITY FOR ALL.” His name will go down to posterity clothed with glory, historians will record what he did, and the millions of the African race in the United States will thank God that he lived.