Page 17 It was Obedience Even Unto Death.
From the Richmond, Va., Times, October 29, 1899.
IT WAS OBEDIENCE EVEN UNTO DEATH.
Grave in Hollywood Recalls a Story of Devotion to Duty.
GAME SOUTH TO FIGHT WITH US.
James H. Beers, of Connecticut, Who Fell at Chancellorsville-Ran the Gauntlet When He Left Home-Services for the Confederacy.
Within the last few days there has been placed over a low mound in my family lot in Hollywood, a simple granite marker bearing this inscription:
"JAMES H. BEERS,
WHO FELL AT CHANCELLORSVILLE
FIGHTING FOR VIRGINIA AND THE SOUTH,
The erection of this modest stone not only marks the discharge of an obligation, richly merited and long deferred, but it also epitomizes a life not unworthy of record and of remembrance. In the brief recital which follows, we shall endeavor to keep in mind that-while the peace of death has, years agone, passed upon the chief actor in this strange story and probably also upon most of his relatives living when he died-yet there may be others now living to whom the record of his life and death must needs be somewhat painful; therefore, we will tell the story simply and quietly, as far as possible, without the exaggeration of passion or prejudice.
When I first knew Mr. Beers he was an intelligent young, mechanic-originally, I think, from Bridgeport, but at the time living in New Haven, Conn., where I was a college student, we both being members of a Bible class connected with a church of which may father, Rev. Joseph C. Stiles, was then pastor, and Mr. Gerard Hallock, of the New York Journal of Commerce, the most prominent member.
Shortly after my first acquaintance with Beers, Mr. Hallock became interested in him, being attracted by his regular attendance upon the services of the church and Bible class and his modest yet
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self-respectfully and intelligent bearing, and he soon took him to New York in some subordinate capacity connected with his paper. This was, perhaps, a year or so before the breaking out of the war, but Beers continued to visit New Haven from time to time-possibly every Saturday with Mr. Hallock-and we learned that he had exhibited rather unusual facility, not to say talent, for journalism, and had been rapidly advanced, until he had come to be an assistant to the night editor of Mr. Hallock's great paper. It was probably through his connection with this leading Democratic daily, that he imbibed the views he subsequently held as to the proper construction of the Federal Constitution and the relations between the Federal Government and the States; view which he followed to their logical conclusion, and in defense of which he ultimately laid down his life.
As the sectional exitement increased and Civil War became more and more imminent, Beers became more and more restless and unhappy, until actual hostilities began with the bombardment of Fort Sumter, when informed Mr. Hallock that it would be impossible for him to continue to discharge his duties upon the paper. I do not remember how long it was after this that he came up to New Haven to consult my father, I think, with the approval of Mr. Hallock. Meanwhile, under the influence of like feelings, I had left New York, where for some months I had been studying law, and had gone up to New Haven, preparatory to going South.
My father had asked from General Scott passports to Virginia for himself and three sons, and the General had replied, giving the desired permit for my father, but refusing it for his boys, and we had thereupon determined to run down the coast in an open boat, which we were preparing for the purpose, being actually at work upon the sails when Beers was announced. He came directly up to the attic, which was our workshop, and, upon learning our purpose, expressed greatest interest and went to work with a sail needle, declaring that he would make the voyage with us. I rather discouraged him, calling attention to the fact that he was a Northern man and had a wife and two children to support, mentioning, in this connection, his fine position and prospects, all of which would necessarily be sacrifice. He replied that he had some money which he would leave with our mother; trusting her to expend it for his wife and children and to bring them South when she came, adding that God never gave a man a wife and children to stand in the way of the discharge
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of his plain duty, and that it was plainly his duty to go with us and aid the South in the defense of her clear and clearly violated rights.
JOINED THE PARTY.
I cut the matter short by referring him to my father, and he at once went down stairs and interviewed him. Father subsequently told me it was perfectly obvious that Mr. Beers' mind was irrevocably made up, and that it would be more than useless to resist him-so it was settled he was to go with us. I do not remember whether his wife and children were then in New Haven, but they were certainly committed by him to the care of our mother and sisters, and subsequently followed Bees to Virginia, as I now recollect, in company with the ladies of our family, but upon this point my memory is not entirely clear.
Our position upon the burning question of the day was well understood in New Haven, and about this time all of us, especially the two boys of fighting age, were constantly and most unpleasantly watched and really in danger of arrest or attack. We made a trial trip of a day with our boat out into the Sound, ostensibly for fishing, and found we were dogged by two or three boats of volunteer scouts and detectives; so that it was finally determined to sent our boat several miles up the shore by a couple of trusty friends and to drive up to that point at night, with our equipment of provisions, disguises, etc.
Everything had been arranged and we were to have embarked and sailed on a certain night, but, during the preceding day, a telegram was received from a friend in Washington, informing us that we could slip through safely if we could leave New York by a certain train the next day. My recollection is that it was deemed best to divide the party-Beers, my next younger brother and I getting off so as to catch the train indicated, father and my youngest, and then noncombatant, brother following later. The United States Deputy Marshal, in fact, came to the house to arrest us not long after we had left.
We reached Washington and got safely across the river to Alexandria; but, by some untoward accident Beers was left behind there, and experienced some difficulty in dodging the provost guard and completing the last stage of his "On to Richmond," but he finally reached the promised land. We met him at the train and he was heartily welcomed and hospitably entertained by Mr. Ben. Gray,
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in his attractive home, No.203 East Franklin street, with the balance of the last rebel reinforcement from the North.
I wish I had at hand the means of determining the exact date of these occurrences, but can only say we arrived in Richmond some times before the battle of Bethel, my brother and I volunteering in what was called "Junior Company F," which was at that time recruiting and drilling in a basement room under the Sportswood Hotel, the drill master of our squad being the lamented John H., familiarly known as "Jock" Ellerson.
A day or two after his arrival another unfortunate and most unpleasant accident befel poor Beers. He had gone out alone after dinner and did not return. He was not a man to be taken at a disadvantage by an emergency, but the city was full of excitement and his position was a delicate one, and as time passed and the runners we had sent out in every direction failed to bring any news of him, we became anxious and apprehensive. At last, sometime after dark, we heard that he had been arrested as "a Yankee spy" and locked up in the negro jail. Two or three of us hurried to the spot to find the mortifying report only too true.
I can never forget the impression made upon me by the bearing of the noble fellow, as I attempted to express the pain and mortification I felt at the ignominious treatment he had received. He uttered not one word of complaint, but met me with a manly smile and hearty handshake, expressing mingled amusement and approbation, saying that while the charge was rather wide of the mark, yet the mistake was very natural; that there were probably plenty of such characters about,, and he was glad to see we were on the alert for them.
The most mortifying feature of the affair was that we were unable to secure his release that night. The evening was quite far advanced when we ascertained where he was, and it was deemed best to see Hon. Joseph Mayo, then mayor of the city, before resorting to habeas corpus proceedings. Mr. Mayo was found, as I now recollect, at the house of a friend, but he declined to interfere, insisting that the party should be brought regularly before the court in the morning; indeed, he made the impression upon me that he was originally responsible for the arrest, or, if not, that he willingly assumed responsibility for it and had no idea of approving any short
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cut to liberty in the premises. It was now too late to apply for habeas corpus, and we, therefore, proceeded to make Beers as comfortable as possible in the jail, providing him a good supper and a comfortable bed, he protesting, meanwhile, that he needed nothing, or, at least, could suffer no real inconvenience that one night.
In the morning the Mayor's Court room in the old City Hall was crowded, many gentlemen of position, who had heard Beers' story, being in attendance. I do not remember whether the papers made any report of the case, either that or the following morning. Mr. Ben. Gray and I were the main witnesses for Beers. Of course, there could be no doubt as to his discharge, and, but for a ludicrous and unexpected turn of affairs, the case would have been disposed of in a few minutes. When the testimony was all in, his Honor proceeded to deliver his decision discharging the prisoner, but, at the same time, justifying and approving his arrest, concluding with the statement, uttered with all the emphasis of a solemn proclamation, that he considered is his duty to arrest any and every man who arrived in the city from the North, unless he was informed as to his antecedents and they were entirely beyond and above suspicion, adding, with increased emphasis: "And this duty I intend to discharge." A declaration which seemed to meet the approval of every one present, save and except Mr. Edward Gray-dear old Ned-now and for years past in the Commissioner's office with Bob Munford, a man as brave and true as God ever created, and as quick to burst into flame, at what he considered injustice, especially to one of his friends.
A HOT-HEADED CHAMPION.
Ned's hearing was then, as now, somewhat defective, and he did not quite catch the limitations his Honor had embodied in his proclamation. He sprang to his feet, and, looking toward Mr. Mayo and flinging out his right arm and shaking his right forefinger threatningly, first toward Beers and then toward my brother and myself, he shouted fiercely: "No, you won't, sir! No you won't! You arrested that man yesterday, who left everything and came down here to fight for us against his own people. Now, sir; these two came down with him, I dare you to arrest them."
The court-room was in an uproar on the instant, which we took advantage of to hustle Ned out and away. When the hubbub had subsided, Mr. Ben Gray rose and made an admirable statement, first apologizing for his brother's excitement, and then going into a full
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and very complimentary recital of the circumstances above narrated about Beers and ourselves-in conclusion begging his honor not to notice this last episode. Mr. Mayo yielded to this appeal, taking occasion, however, to deliver himself of another little speech, at the conclusion of which Beers marched out a free man and a hero, being heartily cheered as he passed through the crowd. I had never before seem Mr. Mayo, and he made a strong, and, upon the whole, a very favorable impression upon me.
This account is lengthening out far beyond my original intention, yet the fundamental facts are, so far as I know, quite unparalleled, and they are striking enough to justify a full record of the surrounding circumstances.
I recall, this moment, this additional incident. Mr. Ran. Tucker, then, I believe, Attorney-General of Virginia, was an intimate friend of my father, who had now arrived in Richmond, and suggested to him that Mr. Beers, and I, being citizens, not only of the United States, but of the State of Connecticut, where I had recently cast my first vote, were in rather an exceptional position, as bearing upon a possible charge of treason, in case we should enlist in the military service. The suggestion was deemed of sufficient importance to refer to Mr. Benjamin, then Attorney-General of the Confederate States, and Mr. Tucker and I interviewed him about it. These two great lawyers expressed the view that the principles which protected citizens of the Southern States were, to say the least, of doubtful application to us, and that it would probably go rather hard with us, if we should be captured. Notwithstanding, I enlisted, and Beers would doubtless have done so with equal promptness, had he not been an expert mechanic-men so qualified being the very scarce in Richmond and very much needed. He was requested to assist in the work of transferring some old flint-locks belonging to the State of Virginia into percussion muskets, and all of us insisting that he could thus render far more valuable service than by enlisting in the ranks, he rather reluctantly yielded and went to work.
How long he was thus employed I do not know. Things were moving on rapidly. The hostile lines were facing each other at Manassas, and then great battle shocked and shook the entire continent. "Junior Company F" hung fire too long; so, the morning after the battle, my brother and I, without saying "by your leave" to any one, boarded the train bound for Manassas Junction, in company with Billy Wait (son of Dr. J. G. Wait, the
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distinguished dentist of that day) and old Paul Michaux, of the First Company of Richmond Howitzers-they undertaking to conceal us on the train until it started and to secure our enrollment in the company when we arrived-both of which undertakings they most skilfully and faithfully performed.
FINE GUNNER AND FIGHTER.
I saw but little of Beers after this. Just when he joined the army I cannot say, but I know that it must have been some time before the battles around Richmond in the early summer of 1862; for, on the battlefield of Malvern Hill, I met some of the men of the "Letcher Artillery"-Greenlee Davidson's company, to which he belonged-who told me that my "Yankee" was the finest gunner in the battery and fought like a Turk.
Between Malvern Hill and Chancellorsville I saw Beers perhaps tow or three times-I think once in Richmond, shortly after his wife and children and my mother and sisters arrived from the North.
I have seldom seen a better looking soldier. He was about five feet eleven inches in height, had fine shoulders, chest and limbs, a handsome manly figure, carried his head high, had clustering brown hair, a steel grey eye and a splendid sweeping mustache. Every now and then I heard, from some man or officer of his battery, or of Pegram's Battalion, some special commendation of his gallantry in action; but, he being in the Third Corps and I in the First, we seldom met. I am confident Tom Brander, John and Jim Tyler, Ferriter, and other battle-scarred veterans of Pegram's Battalion, stand ready to vouch for Beers as the equal of any soldier in the command, and some of them tenderly recall him as a good and true soldier and follower of Jesus Christ as well as of Robert Lee. I am told he was in the habit of holding religious services with the men of his battery on every fitting occasion-services which they highly appreciated.
Just after the battle of Chancellorsville I was in Richmond, for what purpose I cannot now recall, unless it was that I had recently received an appointment in "engineer troops," and visited the city in connection with my commissioned and orders. I am unable to recall the details, but I was notified to meet poor Beer's body at the train. General Lindsay Walker, learning that he had been killed on the 3rd of May, and buried upon the field, had the body exhumed and sent to me at Richmond. It is strange how everything con-
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nected with the matter, except the sad scene at the grave, seems to have faded out of my recollection. I know he was buried in our family lot in Hollywood, and, as no one of us was buried there for long years after this, we must have bought the lot for the purpose. Yes; I remember, too, that we laid him to rest with military honors, Captain Gay's company, the "Penitentiary Guard," acting as escort, and I must have ridden in the carriage with the stricken widow and his two little girls, I distinctly recall standing between the children at the side of the open grave, and holding a hand of each, as the body of their hero-father was lowered to its last resting place. I remember, too, that not a muscle of their pale, sweet faces quivered, as the three volleys were fired over the low mound that covered him. They were the daughters of a soldier.
"OBEDIENCE UNTO DEATH."
My story is done, and I feet that it is worthy of recital and remembrance. Indeed, it embodies the most impressive instance I have ever known, of trenchant, independent thought and uncalculating, unflinching obedience to the resulting conviction of duty-"obedience unto death."
Observe, Beers had never been South, and had no idea of ever going there, until the Southern States were invaded. Observe again, he was not a man without ties, a homeless and heartless adventurer, but a complete man-a man blessed with wife and children and home, and withal a faithful and affectionate husband and father. Observe, once more, he was not an unsuccessful or disappointed man. On the contrary, I have seldom known a man who had position more perfectly congenial and satisfactory to him or whose prospects were brighter or more assured. It was simply and purely and only his conviction of right and duty which led him to us and to his gallant death.
One feature of the poor fellow's story of intense power and color has been purposely omitted. I refer to his parting with his parents. It is my strong desire that this sketch shall not contain one word calculated to bring unnecessary pain to the heart of any relative of my dear friend, under whose eye it may chance to fall. It you would pass just and charitable judgment upon his family, try for a moment to conceive what would have been the feelings of a Southern father and mother and family circle toward a son and brother who, in 1861,
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had proposed to go North for the purpose of fighting against his people and his State.
It gives me pleasure to say that, so far as I know, the family of Mr. Beers did their duty by his wife and children. Mrs. Beers was a delicate little woman, with a pale, suffering, resolved face, and my recollection is that she did not long survive her husband. I tried hard to have the little girls adopted in the South, and came very near succeeding; yet perhaps it was, after all, well that their friends sent for them, and that they finally returned to the North.
It is well, too, that there are not more men like Beers in the world. The bands of organized society are not strong enough to endure many such. They are too trenchant, too independent, too exceptional, to be normal. It is well that most of us believe and think and feel and act, with the mass of our fellow-beings abut us. If it were not so, quiet and harmonious society would be impossible; it would dissolve and perish in fierce internecine strife. And yet, when every now and then, God turns out a man of different mould, a man strong enough and independent enough not to be dominated in opinion, or in conscience, or in action, by his associates; and, most of all, when such a man breasts and breaks away from such a current, and, in spite of it, comes out on our side, giving up everything, even life itself, for us-surely, we should be glad to know his story, and to do what honor we may to his memory.
The mound that covers James H. Beers is indeed low and humble, yet, where will you dig in earth's surface to find a handful of richter dust? I rejoice that he lies where he does, hard by my dear ones, and where my own body will soon rest; so that, when the resurrection trump shall call us all forth, after running over the roll of my beloved and finding them all present accounted for, I can turn my eyes to the right and greet the hero whose sacred dust I have guarded all these years.
RICHMOND, VA., October 14,1899.