Let these men pass
“The soldiers sometimes wrote their own passes and countersigned them with the name of the colonel and generals. But that ruse failed to be effectual, for officers well vesed in all the wiles of solders’ strategy, as well as detectives who could tell at a glance whether or not the countersigns were genuine, scruntinized each pass with as much care as an expert does the signature of witnesses in a disputed will case.
On one occasion two of Company A (myself and comrade), with anything but tender consciences, lay awake at night trying to devise some plan that would obtain free ingress to the city, keep us unmolested while there, and bring us safely out. The result was, that after so many hours spent in sifting the pros and cons, it settled down to a single, plain, stubborn fact, that unless we could get the bona-fide signatures of the general commanding, all efforts would be in vain. That was a bright idea, surely, as bright indeed as the young rodent in the fable, who moved in a congress of rats, ‘that the cat should be belled.’ So with us it was who was to ‘bell the cat,’ and how?
We drew straws for the unlucky one of the two, and Walter A. Drew the short straw, and was thereafter left to his own devices; and from the depths of down-reaching ruminations, which he feared would unsettle his brain, evolved the following letter:
‘My Dear Aunt:
‘As requested, I hereby send you the autograph of our Commander-in-Chief, General Johnston.’
Then, going boldly to his tent, he asked the orderly for admittance, for with General Johnston the private could often obtain an audience when officers high in rank were kept in waiting. The solder, handed the General his letter, who with one quick glance at his petitioner, seized his pen and wrote his name at the bottom. To salute and get out of the tent was the work of a second; and then the young rascal ran as fast as his legs could carry him to his confrere in camp. Together in banded iniquity, we rubbed out the words in pencil and inscribed others, so that the paper read:
‘Pass in and out of Richmond, at will, the bearer and friend for two weeks. J. E. Johnston, Commanding General.’
On that pass we went in and out, and out and in, till the very stones in the road knew us; so virtue is ever its own reward.”
Vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt. Molon Labe!