Fightin’ Fever in Charlestown, Va. April, 1861 – David Hunter Strother

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VIDEO: Fightin’ Fever Charlestown, Va. April, 1861 – David Hunter Strother TRT: 8:11

David Hunter Strother

David Hunter Strother, who wrote for Harper’s Monthly for many years, with the nom de plume “Porte Crayon”, was born in 1816 in Martinsburg. His was a prominent, but a divided family. His wife came from the Hunters in Charlestown (Va.). Ardently Confederate. In fact, John Brown was hanged on land offered by Rebecca Hunter, called “Hunter’s field,” for his hanging. In the June, 1866 volume of Harpers New Monthly Magazine, Strother wrote down some of his personal recollections of the war:

“The New York papers speak of the Southern people as ‘effete;’ and there seems to be an impression prevailing generally in the North that the physique of the Southern people is deteriorated by a life of luxurious and dissolute idleness. If the dapper ideologist who entertains such an idea should happen to come in contact with some hardy Southern mountaineer carrying a hundred and fifty pound buck on his shoulder – some stark and sinewy swamper with his swivel of a ducking-gun – some hard-riding Tony Lumpkin of the rural gentry, the preux chevalier of tournaments, cock-fights, and quarter-races, he would presently find out who was ‘effete.’

“There is probably not a population to be found who, by their habits of life, occupation, and amusements, are better fitted for soldiers than that of the Southern States. Horses and firearms are their playthings from childhood. Impatient of the restraints of school houses and work shops they seek life and pleasure in the soil, and thus early learn the topography of nature, the ways of the fields and forests, swamps, and mountains. Their social and political life, but little restrained by law or usage, develops a vigorous individuality. For the most part, ignorant of the luxuries and refinements of cities, they prefer bacon and whisky to venison and champagne. Tall, athletic, rough, and full of fire and vitality, the half-horse, half-alligator type still predominates in the lower and middle classes of the South.”

“While there were still a few men found in Charlestown in April, 1861, who stubbornly struggled against the sweeping current, the women of all ages and conditions threw themselves into it without hesitation or reserve. Their voluble tongues discussed the great question as rationally and philosophically as might be expected under the circumstances, while their nimble fingers aided more intelligently in solving the problem of clothing and equipping the hastily levied defenders of ‘God’s glory and Southern rights.’

“Sewing societies were organized, and delicate hands which had never before engaged in ruder labor than the hemming of a ruffle now bled in the strife with gray jeans and tent cloth. Haversacks, knapsacks, caps, jackets, and tents were manufactured by hundreds and dozens.

The gift most in vogue from a young lady to her favored knight was a headdress imitated from those worn by the British troops in India and called a Havelock. Laden with musket, sabre, pistol, and bowie-knife, no youth considered his armament complete unless he had one of these silly clouts stretched over his hat. Woe to the youth who did not need a Havelock; who, owing to natural indisposition or the prudent counsel of a father or a friend, hesitated to join the army of the South. The curse of Clan Alpin on those who should prove recreant to the sign of the fiery cross was mere dramatic noise compared with the curse that blighted his soul. His schoolmates and companions who had already donned ‘the gray’ scarce concealed their scorn. His sisters, rallied, reproached, and pouted, blushing to acknowledge his ignominy. His Jeannette, lately so tender and loving, now refused his hand in the dance, and, passing him with nose in air, bestowed her smiles and her bouquet upon some gallant rival with belt and buttons. Day-after-day he saw the baskets loaded with choice viands, roasted fowls, pickles, cakes, and potted sweetmeats, but not for him. Wherever he went there was a braiding of caps and coats, a gathering of flowers and weaving of wreaths, but none for him – no scented and embroidered handkerchiefs waved from carriage-windows as he rode by. The genial flood of social sympathy upon which he had hitherto floated so blandly had left him stranded on the icy shore. Then come the cheering regiments with their drums and banners, the snorting squadrons of glossy prancing steeds the jingling of knightly spurs, the stirring blast of the trumpets. There they went – companionship, love, life, glory, all sweeping by to Harper’s Ferry!

“Alas! poor boy, what sense of duty or prudent counsels could hold him in the whirl of this moral maelstrom? What did he care for the vague terror of an indictment for treason, or the misty doctrine of Federal supremacy? What did he know of nationality beyond the circle of friends and kindred? What was his sneaking, apologetic, unsympathetic life worth after all? The very bondsman who held his horse as he mounted for his morning ride seemed to reproach him, as, touching his hat, he remarks, suggestively, ‘Young master, dis hoss of yourn is mighty proud and mettlesome – he would look fine in the cavalry.’ Very well; in two days – more or less – you might see young master in the cavalry, prancing gallantly with the rest of them, a Havelock flapping about his ears, spurs jingling on his heels, the light of manhood rekindled in his eye, and a fresh posy in his button-hole, atoning for his former hesitancy by distinguished seal in the great cause.

“But according to my judgment the greater number of these young volunteers were moved neither by social pressure nor political prejudice. The all-pervading love of adventure and fighting instincts were the most successful recruiting officers of the occasion. For they had heard of battles, and had longed to follow to the field some warlike lord – so at the first roll of the drum they rushed cheerily from school house and office, counter and work shop, field and fireside, earnest, eager, reckless fellows, marching with a free and vigorous step, sitting their horses like wild Pawnees, most admirable material for a rebellion, just as good soldiers for the Government if perchance the rub-a-dub of the Union drums had first aroused their martial ardor.”

Made possible by the generous, community mind support of American Public University System. (apus.ed) Sentiments and views portrayed in this series do not in any way reflect the modern-day 21st century policies of the University, but are offered to encourage fact-based discussion on the evolution of the foundational values of the United States.

David Hunter Strother (September 26, 1816 – March 8, 1888) was an American journalist, artist, brevet Brigadier General, innkeeper, politician and diplomat from West Virginia. Both before and after the American Civil War (in which he was initially a war correspondent), Strother was a successful 19th-century American magazine illustrator and writer, popularly known by his pseudonym, “Porte Crayon” (French, porte-crayon: “pencil/crayon holder”). He helped his father operate a 400-guest hotel at Berkeley Springs which was the only spa accessible by rail in the mid-Atlantic states. A Union topographer and nominal cavalry commander during the war, Strother rose to the rank of brevet Brigadier General of Volunteers, and afterward restructured the Virginia Military Institute, as well as served as U.S. consul to Mexico (1879–1885).