F. Winston Johns
P.O. Box 446
March 15, 1961
This little anecdote of the South
during the War between the States was copied from
the original and was written by Dr. Percy Johns,
the great uncle of your copiest, at Hot Springs,
Arkansas, on the occasion of his older brother Clavet's
death.(1822). Doctor Johns died shortly after. "Chevy
Chase" was built by the Great Grandfather of
your copiest, Glover Johns who migrated from New
Store, Buckingham County, Virginia, with his family
and seventy slaves. 1831.
In the Ante Bellum days it was a very pretty custom, in
the southland, to designate by some appropriate name, the
"Chevy Chase" was the name of the home place of a large
and typical Southern family. It is situated fifteen
miles north of Jackson, Mississippi, and thirty-five miles
East of Vicksburg. Chevy Chase was known far and wide
for its beautiful and picturesque views.
The residence was situated on an elevation of several
acres of Bermuda sod, from the foot of which a beautiful
prairie spread itself out to the East, as a carpet of green.
In further ornamentation of, and for the comfort of both
man and beast, the generous hand of nature marked the border
lines of this noted prairie with clumps of shady oaks and
gave to it a prairie-pond, or natural pool of never failing
water. The large front yard was open and carpeted
with Bermuda, in which was laid a circle, or drive-way,
the border lines of which were marked by the sturdy shrub
of white and purple "Flag" (Iris or Fleur de Lis).
Beautiful shade trees of the larger species of China-berry,
Locus and hickory, surrounded the house, from which the
distant rolling fields and winding stream 'Lent Enchantment
to the View'.
This was the hospitable home of a large and devoted family
consisting of Mother, Father, four daughters and six sons.
The sons were in two distinct groups of three each.
At the beginning of the Civil War, the older group consisted
of three stalwart young men. The writer is the youngest
of the younger set of boys, and it is my endeavor to record
in narrative, as best as I can, the memory of my boyhood
at dear old Chevy Chase in "War Times".
Chevy Chase had long been a veritable Mecca -- especially
during the summer months -- for friends and relatives of
the family, who would flee from the heat and dust, and the
maddening crowd of City life, and often as refugees from
Yellow Fever in Jackson, Vicksburg and other places.
A "House-Party" was a "Continuous Performance" at Chevy
Chase. The happy family and visiting friends and relatives
were in pursuit of past-time diversion by day, and of mirth
and merry-making in the evening.
But alas! The "White Wings of Peace" hovering o'er
this happy scene were soon to be put to frightened flight
by "Grim-Visaged War", and the clash of resounding arms,
-- "The War has actually begun"! "Like a plumed Knight,
Like an Armed Warrior", Lamar Fontain rides up with cockade
hat, and announces he is on the way to the front to enlist.
This is the initial appearance of Lamar Fontain, - a young
man reared in sight of Chevy Chase, whose subsequent daring
exploits and brave adventure attracted the wonder and admiration
of the world. The very air was filled with the martial
spirit and patriotism, and the older sons, eager for the
gray of battle, were soon kissing their farewell to the
tear-stained faces of loved ones at Chevy Chase, and responding
to the call of duty, as they saw it then, in defense of
their State, - their dear old home and its many hallowed
associations. Later on, during the War, when the South was
invaded by the Northern Army, we younger boys were often
kept busy hiding valuable stock, horses and cattle on the
place, and even the poultry, by driving it into some out-of-the-way
woodland, in safe keeping from the repeated foraging raids
of the Northern army. At five or six years of age
I was deeply imbued with the responsibility of "commission"
when "I charge upon a flock of geese" and drove them into
seclusion one very lonely day, hidden from view by the deep
bluffs of a woodland stream, and in the gloaming, with martial
tread and militant mien, I marched them single file and
in good order back to their quarters - "Without the loss
of a man" - to a hungry Yankee!
It is amusing now to recall childhood's vague conception,
at that time, as to what a "Yankee" would look like.
Up to that time, no Federal soldiers had appeared at Chevy
Chase, but from the accounts of the raids, and foraging
expeditions, the youthful mind pictured them as some deformed
human creatures, possibly with "horns on their head", gathering
up and taking away, without the consent of the owner, everything
of value within their reach. I smile as I now recall
distinctly, when the family were all excited and perturbed
by the report that "The Yankees are coming", my little three
year old sister Bonnie, gathering up her little kittens,
her dearest possessions, and locking them within a wardrobe
in the comforting assurance, as she expressed it, "The mean
Yankees won't find my kitties"!
Governor Pettus was the War Governor of Mississippi, --
and being a relative, his family were annual visitors at
Chevy Chase. I recall that the young ladies of that
family were there when the news came that their beloved
brother, Jack Pettus, ahd been killed in action, and the
heavy gloom which fell over the home, incident to this bereavement,
so impressed my youthful mind as to yet linger in my memory.
This sad incident only served to intensify the constant
anxiety of all, for the safety of the three boys who were
at the front, but from whom we could seldom hear.
This brings to my mind the Siege of Vicksburg in which my
three brothers served throughout. As has been said,
Vicksburg was only thirty-five miles distant. The
three boys were attached to the Artillery Service.
In the quiet of a Summer's afternoon, during the siege,
we could hear daily, the distant cannon's roar; and frequently
the intensity of the cannonading would jar the windows of
the old home into a simultaneous vibratory noise - an ominous
message from loved ones at the front! I vividly remember
just such trying condition, one afternoon, attracting the
attention of the neighborhood minister, Mr. Whitfield, who
had called to talk over war-news. I remember his saying
to my Father, most impressively: "Brother Johns, I
have an unbounded faith in the efficacy of prayer and I
urge you to assemble the family, that we may all unite in
the prayer that the City may not fall into the hands of
the "Enemy". The distant boom of cannon, with its
incident rattle of windows, were the Amen responses that
punctuated the most fervent sentences of his prayer, while
the weird song of the Summer Locust chanting twilight Vespers,
in the trees nearby, told the passing of another day.
As we now glance backward down the corridors of the years,
to that unusual scene, its solemnity is somewhat marred,
in the mind of the writer, as he sees himself in early boyhood
at prayer, bare-footed and "rolled-up" trousers, restless
and impatient -- a pair of bare heels pointing to the ceiling,
as their owner wonders: "how much longer will he pray?"
For many weeks all communication with the beseiged City
had been cut off, and it was during these weeks of anxiety
that Lamar Fontain performed one of the most daring and
picturesque feats of the war. The City of Vicksburg
was completely and entirely encompassed by Grant's Army,
yet this man alone, Lamar Fontain, in the exercise of an
initiative, which characterized the wonderful resources
of a wonderful personality, and in obeyance to a restless,
dare-devil spirit of adventure, came through those unbroken
lines in safety, bringing on his person, and delivering
at Chevy Chase, to anxious ones, a "War Treasure", in the
nature of letters from loved ones on the firing lines.
Greatly to the relief of anxious hearts, he performed this
daring feat of adventure, not once only, but on two separate
and distinct occasions. And on so many times returned
through the lines of the enemy unseen, carrying letters
in return to the boys in the ranks. This was but an
instance of the many exploits and adventures of this daring
young man who seems to have been by nature and profession
a true "Soldier of Fortune".
Notwithstanding the ardent and fervent prayer of the good
parson in behalf of the doomed City, the news came within
a few days that Vicksburg had fallen; General Pemberton
surrendering the City and his entire Army to General Grant
on July 4th. This indeed was an irreparable, though
eventually, unavoidable loss to the Confederate cause and
great was the humiliation of the South, coupled with some
criticism of General Pemberton for his capitulation on that
There had been
no news from the home boys for many long anxious days, save
the muffled sound of cannon, as tantalizing as a broken
and unreadable wireless, in this day and time, from a ship
bearing loved ones amid a storm at sea! The long strain
had borne heavily upon the family and it was lessened but
little by the news that the struggle was over, for they
knew not if the boys were dead or alive, sick or well.
If living and well, whether or not they would be imprisoned
in the North indefinitely or paroled and sent home, the
latter possibility affording the one sustaining hope, which
proved eventually to be a most happy reality.
I can recall most vividly the late afternoon on a showery
July day after the siege had ended; - the entire membership
of the family then at Chevy Chase were seated on a long
front porch enjoying the refreshing summer showers, after
the evening meal, when attention was called to a soldier
in the lower West corner of the large front yard, as if
to save time and distance requiring in going on further
to the front gate, he had gotten over the fence and was
approaching the house diagonally across the yard.
All eyes were united upon him for a moment, -- "I believe
it is one of the boys", some one exclaimed; then in unison
several voices rang out in glad acclaim; "It is Cal!" and
the mad rush to meet and greet him was on.
I can see him now as he approached the house with nap-sack
about his shoulders, his face lighted up with joy and with
one hand lifted, as if in appeal to be heard, he cried out
repeatedly; "The other boys are all right, they
are all right!" It is beyond the power
of my pen to describe the happy scene that followed, - I
see so very vividly our Mother and Father, arm in arm walking
up and down the long paved veranda, with tears of joy streaming
down their cheeks, each in silence for the moment "with
but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one";
while even yet the several sisters were submerging their
hero with caresses and all manner of attention. The
tears on the faces of my parents attracted my childlike
attention and wonder, and I appealed to my playmate brother
to tell me its meaning, which he did, and he and I, restless
and impatient with our minor role in this home coming, were
soon tracking the mud along familiar paths to the dear old
orchard and from limbs bent and bowed with golden fruition,
we plucked the choicest fruits and bore it in childish glee
and boyish triumph our soldier Brother. He was telling
of the other boys, and how he had waited in full sight of
the house for hours for them to overtake him, fearing if
he came up alone, the family would think the other two had
fallen. It was an experience revealing a wonderful self-control
and self-imposed deprivation under the most tempting conditions,
inspired by a loving consideration for others.
The Confederate Army had been paroled and the three brothers,
inviting a comrade, who had no home of his own, to accompany
them, started out on foot from Vicksburg the day previous
to tram it to their old home at Chevy Chase. They
had crossed Big Black River the previous afternoon and rested
during the night. Early morning the four had started
out all together, eager for their goal; Calvit being the
better pedestrian out-stripped the others and pressed on
homeward alone. The afternoon found him among familiar scenes
of his boyhood. At the very threshold of his home,
within almost an arm'w reach of the consummatioin of hopes
long deferred, and bouyant with a confidence of their immediate
realization, when this thought of others came in his mind:
"If I go home alone they will think the other two boys have
fallen" He came on further to a thicket of Plum trees
on the brow of a hill over-looking the yard and home, and
there he decided to wait the coming of Will and Alfred and
their comrad that all might go up together and thus spare
the loving hearts at home this one more strain. It
was the custom in those days to have the kitchen detached
from the main house by fifty feet or more, in order to aoid
the fumes of the cook-room. From his position on the
hill, Calvit looked down into the yard and saw the servants
bringing into the dining room the evening meal which in
itself was a great temptation to him to come on in, but
he did not yield. Athirst, ahungered, foot-sore and
weary, this manly and considerate soldier-boy, from a fear
of causing loved and loving ones at a home that held for
him every joy of mind and comfort of body, for which both
so long had yearned. It is a picture of self-imposed
deprivation in the midst of plenty, worthy the true artist.
It is the proof of the love and manliness that was his own,
that I would lovingly inscribe as an epitaph over his recently
made grave in the Church Yard at Palestine, Texas.
But we turn with a sigh and again see him come out into
the opening and look far down the road to the West in impatient
hope of his comrades being within sight, but in vain, and
it was then that he yielded to the consoling assurance that
the comforting news he would carry would outweigh the momentary
apprehension caused by his returning home alone; and this
though was uppermose in his mind as he approached the home,
crying our the safety of his brothers. It was indeed
a pleasure to all to look on and see this ravenously soldier-boy
enjoy a bountiful home-cooked meal for the first time since
the beginning of the memorable Siege of Vicksburg when all
supplies were cut off and his army reduced to the extremity
of "rats for rations".
Delightfully the remaining hours of evening passed in
gleeful anticipation of further arrivals. The news
had spread throughout the negro quarters and their manifestation
of loyalty and devotion to the white family, while humble
and servile, was beautifully sincere. The duties of
the day being finished, the negro men waited in groups about
the back premises in very happy but respectful moods awaiting
the shake of the hand and some individual recognition and
personal comment from each of their young masters, and the
women made merry in lending such assistance, as was permitted
them by the house servants in the preparations of the meal
for those to come.
Soon after dark William and Alfred came tramping up with
their friend and comrade Mr. Berry -- better known in the
ranks by the cognomen "Long" Berry for his great height.
Then there was another indescribably scene. The long
wait in the assurance of the safety of the boys and in the
expectancy of their coming at any hour, had aroused the
family to the highest state of joy and excitement, which,
upon their arrival, was given vent unrestrained in shrieks
of greetings and peals of laughter between embraces of Mother
and Sisters, and my memory of that evening, fades with the
subsidence of this bedlam of noises.
The next morning I was ready for more excitement and the
wait was not long though the excitement and events were
of a different nature from that I had closed my eyes upon
the night before. It would seem as if the Fates of
War had decreed that Federal Soldiers should make their
first appearance at Chevy Chase coincident with the return
of paroled Confederates to their home at that place.
It was at an early hour and the servants only asteir.
The old boys resting from the long tramp home, and others
of the family had indulged in late hours and were yet asleep.
I was standing at my Father's side in the front door.
We were surprised on seeing a group of men, well mounted
and in unfamiliar uniforms coming through the larger gate
in the lower front yard. My father's attention in
that direction was intense and his manner severe.
The calvacade was now in full gallop, not in the drive-way
around, but directly up toward the house. There were
twenty-five or more and I was curious to know who they were,
so I took my Father's hand as he walked forward, with dignified
composure, to meet them. I think he felt sure they
were Federal Soldiers from their uniform and not knowing
whether or not they would recognize the paroleunder which
the boys were at home, apprehended the possibility of grave
complications and decided to show the approaching visitors
"Good Morning Gentlemen", my Father greeted them as they
drew up their horses. "Good morning!" (sternly, I
thought the officer replied), "Have you any butter-milk?"
"An abundance" father replied, won't you gentlemen slight
and tie your horses and com in?" They did not stand
back on ceremony or on the order of coming in but went in
readily, for I recall, thinking to myself; "Those
men make themselves very much at home for their first visit".
They were seemingly interested only in securing a meal.
Probably a scouting squad or advance guard to learn the
roads, and get information as to the general condition of
the surrounding country. After enjoying a bountiful
breakfast and expressing their full appreciation of the
courteous hospitality, they mounted their splendid horses
and rode away.
I had seen my first Yankee and he was both hornless and
/s/ Percy Johns, M.D.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
(Note: It was my understanding that this was written soon
after the burial of his brother Calvit Johns, in Palestine, Texas.)
This note is probably by Florence Johns. -- SDC
Location of handwritten original unknown.
Transcription probably by F. Winston Johns. A number
of copies of this same document have been found among the
papers of Skip & Winston Johns, along with the introductory
note. Transcribed to softcopy by Susan D. Chambless, 1999.
Introductory note added November 7, 2001.