We at Civil War Tails have already enjoyed two snowfalls this winter. ‘Tis the season of winter quarters and snowball fights! During the war, the soldiers couldn’t resist a snowball fight now and then, sometimes even at the brigade level. Imagine the sight of thousands of men embroiled in lobbing rock-hard snowballs at each other!
One time, two of Confederate General Patrick Cleburne’s brigades engaged in a huge snowball fight. The general could not resist the temptation to lead one of his brigades. However, his other brigade launched a counter-attack and captured him! After some consideration, they decided to parole him, which means he would be released if he promised not to fight anymore.
That was fine for a while, but then the tide of battle turned against Cleburne’s brigade. He once again entered the fray – but was captured a second time.
This raised the question for his men who had captured him: what to do with their general, who had broken his parole? They discussed options for a suitable punishment. One veteran recalled: “Some called for a drumhead court martial; others demanded a sound ducking in the nearby creek. Still others, mindful of Cleburne’s reputation as a stern disciplinarian, insisted that the general be meted out his own customary punishment. The idea caught on, and soon the whole brigade took up the familiar order: ‘Arrest that soldier and make him carry a fence rail!'” (The general often punished an errant soldier by making him carry a fence rail for a mile.)
Eventually, however, some of Cleburne’s men brought up the fact that it was the first time their general had broken his word, so they granted him parole again.