"You winking at me big boy?"

OK. So as far as I know, no one is quoted anywhere as saying, "You winking at me big boy?" to Edward Johnson; but after reading this passage from Mary Chesnut's A Diary from Dixie, you will see that it is quite possible that someone, somewhere probably said something to that effect...

Major[-General] Edward Johnston [sic] did not get into the Confederacy until after the first Manassas. He was in the North, and before he could evade that potentate, Seward rang his little bell and sent him to a prison in the harbour of New York. I forget whether he was exchanged or escaped of his own motion; but the next thing I heard of my ante bellum friend, he had defeated Milroy in Western Virginia. For this victory they named him "Allegheny" Johnston.

When he was startled or agitated, he had an odd habit of falling into state of a incessant winking. He seemed persistently winking one eye at you, but he meant nothing by it. In point of fact, he did not know it himself. In Mexico he had been wounded in the eye, and the nerve vibrated independently of its own will. During the winter of 1863 he was on crutches, and when he hobbled down Franklin Street with us, we were proud to accommodate our pace to that of the wounded General. His ankle continued stiff, so when he sat down, another chair was put before him and he stretched his stiff leg on it, straight as a ramrod. At that time he was our only wounded knight, and the girls waited on him, and made life pleasant to him.

One night I listened to two love tales at once, distracted with trying to hear both. William Porcher Miles, in a perfectly modulated voice, in cadenced accents and low tones, narrated the happy end of his affair; he was engaged to sweet little Bettie Bierne! And I gave him my congratulations with all my heart. It was a capital match, suitable every way, good for her, good for him, etc. I was deeply interested in his story; but there was din and discord in the other. Old Edward, our pet general, sat diagonally across the room with one leg straight out like a poker wrapped in red carpet leggings. He was as red as a turkey cock in the face. His head is so strangely shaped, like a cone or an old fashioned beehive! As Buck said: "There are three tiers of it. It is like the Pope's tiara!" While Mr. Miles was talking to me, there the General sat, with a loud voice and a thousand winks making love to Mary Preston. I make no excuse for listening. It was impossible not to hear. I tried not to lose a word of Mr. Miles's idyl, while the despair of the veteran was thundered in my other ear. I lent an ear to each.

Mary Preston cannot altogether control her own voice, and her shrill screams of negation: "No, no, never!" utterly failed to suppress her wounded lover's obstreperous assertions of his undying affection for her. Buck said afterwards: "We heard every word of it on our side of the room, even when Mamie shrieked to him that he was talking too loud! Mamie, do you think it was kind to tell him he was forty if he was a day?"

But the venerable Edward was not discouraged; he merely changed his aim to a new target. Two days after he was heard to say he was paying attention now to his cousin, John Preston's second daughter; that her name was Sally, but they called her Buck; "Sally Buchanan Campbell Preston, a lovely girl, sir."

With her he now drove, rode, and hobbled on his crutches; he sent her his photograph, and in due time cannonaded her with proposals to marry him.

Buck was never so decided in her "No" as Mary. ("Not so loud, at least," amends Buck, who always reads what I have written, and makes comments of assent or dissent.) One day as they rode down Franklin Street he began to thunder in her ears his tender passion for her. Buck says she knows the people on the sidewalk heard snatches of it, though she rode as rapidly as she could, and begged him not to talk so loud. Finally they dashed up to our door as if they had been running a race, for she had answered him at last by an application of her whip to her horse.

Unfortunate in love but fortunate in war, our General later won new laurels with Ewell in the Valley, and with the Army of the Potomac.

Mary Boykin Chesnut, A Diary from Dixie (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1949), 299-300.

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