Part 4 out of 12
could not they do it again?
So they lay in their camps on the Rapidan, in that cold winter of
1863--a little army of ragged and hungry men, with gaunt faces, wasted
forms, shoeless feet; with nothing to encourage them but the cause,
past victories, and Lee's presence. That was much; what was enough,
however, was the blood in their veins; the inspiration of the great
race of fighting men from whom they derived their origin. Does any one
laugh at that? The winner will--but the truth remains.
That ragged and famished army came of a fighting race. It was starving
and dying, but it was going to fight to the last.
When the cannon began to roar in May, 1864, these gaunt veterans were
in line, with ragged coats, but burnished bayonets. When Lee, the gray
cavalier, rode along their lines, the woods thundered with a cheer
which said, "Ready!"
HAMMER AND RAPIER.
I pass to the great collision of armies in the first days of May.
Why say any thing of that dark episode called "Dahlgren's raid?" A full
account would be too long--a brief sketch too short. And whatever our
Northern friends may think, it is not agreeable to us to dwell on that
outrage. Was that _war_? Was it civilized warfare to march in the
darkness upon a city full of women and children--to plan the
assassination of the Southern President and his cabinet; the
destruction of the city by the torch; the release of the Federal
prisoners at Belle Isle, to be let loose afterward with fire and sword
Alas! all that was planned. The orders were captured, and exist still.
Was that war? I repeat. Answer, friends of the North. Or, did you think
us mere wild beasts?
I omit all that, passing on to the real fighting.
General Ulysses S. Grant had been appointed commander-in-chief of the
armies of the United States, and had taken command in person of the
army of the Potomac, confronting Lee on the Rapidan.
Before the curtain rises, and the cannon begin to roar, let us glance
at the relative numbers, and the programme of the Federal leader.
Grant's "available force present for duty, May 1, 1864," was, according
to the report of the Federal Secretary of War, 141,166 men.
Lee's force, "present for duty," as his army rolls will show, was
52,626 men. That is to say, rather more than one-third of his
Lee afterward received about 10,000 re-enforcements from Beauregard's
columns. Grant received about 50,000.
With about 62,000 men Lee repulsed the attacks of Grant with about
200,000 men, from the Rapidan to Petersburg--inflicting a loss on his
adversary, by the Federal statement of more than 60,000 men.
These numbers may be denied, but the proof is on record.
The programme of General Grant in the approaching campaign was one of
very great simplicity. He intended to "hammer continuously" as he wrote
to President Lincoln, and crush his adversary at whatever expense of
money and blood. From 1861 to 1864, war had been war, such as the world
understands it. Pitched battles had been fought--defeats sustained--or
Then the adversaries rested before new pitched battles: more defeats or
victories. General Grant had determined to change all that. It had been
tried, and had failed. He possessed a gigantic weapon, the army of the
United States. In his grasp was a huge sledge-hammer--the army of the
Potomac. He was going to clutch that tremendous weapon, whirl it aloft
like a new Vulcan, and strike straight at Lee's crest, and try to end
him. If one blow did not suffice, he was going to try another. If that
failed, in its turn, he would strike another and another. All the year
was before him; there were new men to fill the places of those who
fell; blood might gush in torrents, but the end was worth the cost.
Would it hurl a hundred thousand men into bloody graves? That was
unfortunate, but unavoidable. Would the struggle frighten and horrify
the world? It was possible. But these things were unimportant. The
rebellion must be crushed. The sledge-hammer must strike until Lee's
keen rapier was shattered. Hammer and rapier were matched against each
other--the combat was _a l'outrance_--the hammer must beat down the
rapier, or fall from the grasp of him who wielded it.
Such was the programme of General Grant. It was not war exactly, in the
old acceptation of the term. It was not taught by Jomini, or practised
by Napoleon. You would have said, indeed, at the first glance, that it
rejected the idea of generalship _in toto_. Let us give General Grant
his just dues, however. He was not a great commander, but he _was_ a
man of clear brain. He saw that brute force could alone shatter the
army of Northern Virginia; that to wear it away by attrition, exhaust
its blood drop by drop, was the only thing left--and he had the courage
to adopt that programme.
To come back to events on the Rapidan in the month of May, 1864.
Lee is ready for the great collision, now seen to be inevitable. His
right, under Ewell, occupies the works on the southern bank of the
Rapidan, above Chancellorsville. His centre, under A.P. Hill, lies near
Orange Court-House. His left, under Longstreet, is in reserve near
The army of Northern Virginia is thus posted in echelon of corps,
extending from Gordonsville, by Orange, toward the fords of the
When the enemy cross on their great advance, Ewell is ready to face
east; Hill will close in on his right; and Longstreet in the same
manner on Hill's right. Then the army will be in line, ready to strike
at Grant's flank as he moves through the Wilderness.
For Lee is going to strike at him. The fifty thousand are going to
order the one hundred and forty thousand to halt.
Stuart's cavalry is watching. It extends from Madison Court-House,
along Robertson River, on the left of the army; and on the right, from
Ewell's camps, past Chancellorsville, to Fredericksburg.
Such was the situation on the first of May. The two tigers were
watching each other--and one was about to spring.
To descend now from the heights of generalization to the plains of
incident and personal observation.
For this volume is not a history of the war in Virginia, but the
memoirs of a staff officer belonging to Stuart's cavalry.
May, 1864, had come; we were soon to be in the saddle; the thundering
hammer of General Grant was about to commence its performances.
One night--it was the night of the first of May--I was sitting in
General Stuart's tent, looking into his blazing log fire, and musing.
In this luxury I was not interrupted. It was nearly midnight, and the
rest of the staff had retired. Stuart was writing at his desk, by the
light of a candle in a captured "camp candlestick," and from time to
time, without turning his head, ejaculated some brief words upon any
subject which came into his head.
After writing ten minutes, he now said briefly:--
"General," was my as brief response."
"I think Mohun was a friend of yours?"
"Yes, general, we became intimate on the march to Gettysburg."
"Well, I have just received his commission--"
"You mean as--"
"Brigadier-general. You know I long ago applied for it."
"I knew that--pity he has not been exchanged."
"A great pity,--and you miss a pleasure I promised myself I would give
"What pleasure, general?"
"To take Mohun his commission with your own hands."
"I am truly sorry I can not. You know he was terribly wounded, and we
had to leave him in Warrenton; then the enemy advanced; for a long time
we thought him dead. Thus I am sorry I am debarred the pleasure you
offer. Some day I hope to accept your offer."
"Accept it now, colonel," said a benignant voice at the door. I turned
suddenly, as did the general. At the opening of the tent, a head was
seen--the head passed through--was followed by a body,--and Mr.
Nighthawk, private and confidential emissary, glided in with the
stealthy step of a wild-cat.
He was unchanged. His small eyes were as piercing, his smile as
benignant, his costume--black coat, white cravat, and "stove-pipe"
hat--as clerical as before.
"Good evening, gentlemen," said Mr. Nighthawk, smiling sweetly; "I
bring news of Colonel Mohun."
"And fly in like an owl, or your namesake!" laughed Stuart.
"An owl? I am told that is the bird of wisdom, gentlemen!"
"You hit the nail on the head, when you said 'gentlemen!'" replied
Stuart, laughing; "but how about Mohun? Is he exchanged, Nighthawk?"
[Footnote 1: A favorite phrase of Stuart's.]
And Stuart wheeled round and pointed to a chair.
Nighthawk sat down modestly.
"Not exchanged, exactly, general; but safe!" he said.
"And you helped him?"
"I believe so."
"Good! You really are a trump, Nighthawk--and you seem to have a
peculiar fancy for Mohun."
"He is the best friend I have in the world, general."
"Well, that accounts for it. But how did he escape?"
"I will tell you in a few words, general. I rather pride myself on the
manner in which I conducted the little affair. You remember, Colonel
Mohun was very badly wounded when you defeated Kilpatrick at Buckland.
It was in a fight with Colonel Darke, of the Federal cavalry, who was
also wounded and left dying, as was erroneously supposed, at a small
house on the roadside, when you fell back. Colonel Mohun was left at
Warrenton, his wound being so severe that he could not be brought
farther in his ambulance, and here he staid until he was convalescent.
His recovery was miraculous, as a bullet had passed through his breast;
but he is a gentleman of vigorous constitution, and he rallied at last,
but, unfortunately, to find himself a prisoner. General Meade had
reoccupied the country, and Colonel Mohun was transferred from hospital
to Fort Delaware, as a prisoner of war.
"I have informed you, general," continued Mr. Nighthawk, smiling, and
turning the rim of his black hat between his fingers, "that Colonel
Mohun was one of my best friends. For that reason, I went to see him at
Warrenton, and had arranged a very good plan for his escape, when,
unfortunately, he was all at once sent away, thereby disappointing all
my schemes. I followed, however, saw that he was taken to Fort
Delaware, and proceeded thither at once. You have probably not visited
this place, general, or you, colonel. It is a fort, and outside is a
pen, or stockade as it is called, covering two or three acres. Inside
are cabins for the prisoners, in the shape of a semicircle, and grounds
to walk in, except in the space marked off by the 'dead line.' If any
prisoner crosses that he is shot by the sentries, whose beat is on a
platform running round upon the top of the stockade.
"Well, I went to the place, and found that Colonel Mohun was confined
with other officers in the pen, where they had the usual Federal ration
of watery soup, bad meat, and musty crackers. For a gentleman, like
himself, accustomed before the war to every luxury that unbounded
wealth could supply, this was naturally disagreeable, and I determined
to omit no exertion to effect his escape.
"Unfortunately, the rules of Fort Delaware are very strict, however. To
cross the 'dead line' is death; to attempt to burrow is confinement in
irons, and other degrading punishments; and to bribe the sentinels
invariably resulted in having the whole affair revealed, after they had
received the money. It really seemed as if Colonel Mohun were doomed to
the living death of a filthy prison until the end of the war, since
exchanges had ceased, and it was only by devising a ruse of very great
risk that I accomplished the end in view."
"What was your plan, Nighthawk?" said Stuart, rising and moving to the
fireplace, where he stood basking in the warmth. "Original, I lay my
"Exactly that, general."
And Nighthawk smiled sweetly.
"I have always observed, general," said Mr. Nighthawk, raising his eyes
in pious meditation, as it were, "that there is no better rule for a
man's conduct in life than to make friends with the mammon of
unrighteousness--people in power."
"A profound maxim," laughed Stuart; "friends are useful--that was your
"Yes, general; and I made one of the quartermaster of the post--a
certain major Woodby--who was exceedingly fond of the 'root of all
evil.' I made that gentleman's acquaintance, applied for the place of
sutler in _the pen_; and this place I acquired by agreeing to pay a
heavy bonus in thirty days.
"This was Saturday night. On Monday morning I presented myself before
the gate, and demanded admittance as the newly appointed sutler of the
"I was admitted, and taken before the officer of the day, in his
"'Who are you?' he asked, gruffly.
"'The new sutler, lieutenant.'
"'Where are your papers?'
"I had them ready, and presented them to him. He read them carefully,
looked at me superciliously, and said:--
"'That is wholly informal.'
"I looked at him. He had a red nose.
"'I have some excellent French brandy, captain,' I said, promoting him.
"At sight of the portly flask which I drew half from my pocket and
exhibited to him, I saw his face relax.
"'You are a keen fellow, and know the world, I perceive,' he said.
"And taking the flask, he poured out nearly a glass full of the brandy,
and drank it.
"'Do you intend to keep that article of brandy?' he said.
"'For my friends, captain,' I replied, with a wink which he evidently
"'Let me see your papers again.'
"I unfolded them, and he glanced at them.
"'All right--they are in regular form. There is the key of the sutler's
shop, on that nail. Take possession.'
"And my friend the captain emptied a second glass of the brandy, and
made me a sign that I could go.
"I bowed profoundly; took the key; and went and opened the sutler's
shop; after which I strolled out to look at the prisoners in the area.
The sentinel had seen me visit the officer of the day, and go to the
"Thus he did not interfere with me when I went into the area, as I was
obviously a good Union man and an employee of the post.
"Such was the manner in which I secured a private interview with
Colonel Mohun: we could talk without the presence of a corporal; and we
soon arranged the plan for his escape.
"I had determined to procure a Federal uniform, to be smuggled in to
him, and an hour afterward, I left him, promising to see him again as
soon as I could visit Wilmington, and return with the intended
"A strange piece of good fortune aided me, or rather accomplished my
purpose at once. I had scarcely returned to the sutler's shop, and
spread some blankets to sleep upon, when the officer of the day came
in, and I saw at a glance that he was half intoxicated, in consequence
of the large amount of brandy which he had swallowed. In a thick and
husky voice he cursed the 'stuff' vended at the post, extolled 'the
article' I carried, and demanded another pull at the flask. I looked at
him--saw that a little more would make him dead-drunk--and all at once
resolved on my plan.
"This was," continued Mr. Nighthawk, with modest simplicity, and
smiling as he spoke, "to make my friend, the officer of the day,
dead-drunk, and then borrow his uniform; and I succeeded. In half an
hour he was maudlin. In three-quarters of an hour, drunk. Five minutes
afterward he fell out of his chair, and began to snore, where he lay.
"I secured the door tightly, stripped off his uniform, then my own
clothing; put on his, and then replaced my own citizen's dress over
all, concealed his cap and boots beneath my overcoat, wrapped the
prostrate lieutenant in my blankets for fear he would take cold, and
going out, locked the door and proceeded to the quarters of the
prisoners. Again the sentinel took no notice of me. I found Colonel
Mohun in his 'bunk.' Ten minutes afterward he had replaced his gray
uniform with that of the Federal lieutenant, and, watching the moment
when the back of the sentinel was turned, we walked together toward the
gate of the pen.
"That was the moment of real danger. Outside the narrow gate another
sentinel was posted, and the man might be personally acquainted with
the officer of the day, or have noticed his appearance. Luckily, the
guard had been relieved about an hour before--the new sentinel had not
seen the officer of the day--and when Colonel Mohun put his head
through the little window beside the gate, ordering 'Open!' the gate
flew open, the sentinel presented arms as he passed, and I followed
modestly--the door banging-to behind us."
[Footnote 1: Fact.]
"Thus the colonel was out of the pen," continued Nighthawk, smiling.
"The rest was not very dangerous, unless the alarm were given. They
might miss the locked-up officer--he might have been seen to go into
the sutler's shop--and I admonished Colonel Mohun, in a low tone, to
proceed as rapidly as possible in a direction which I pointed out.
"The path indicated led to a spot on the island where I had concealed a
small boat among some willows--and, once across on the mainland, I
hoped that the danger would be over.
"In spite of my admonitions, Colonel Mohun took his time. He is a cool
one! He even turned and walked toward the fort, which he carefully
examined--counting the guns, observing the ditches, and the ground
"'That place could be taken, Nighthawk!' he said, with a laugh. And he
continued to stroll around the place, receiving at every moment
respectful salutes from passing soldiers, which he returned with the
utmost coolness, and an air of authority which I never have seen
surpassed. I declare to you, general, that it made the sweat burst out
on my forehead, and it was fully an hour before we reached the boat. I
sprung in and seized the oars, for I saw a dozen soldiers approaching
us from the direction of the fort.
"'For heaven's sake, sit down, colonel,' I exclaimed; 'in five minutes
we will be lost!'
"He did not reply. He was feeling in the pockets of the lieutenant's
coat; and drew out a note-book with a pencil attached. Then, as the men
came toward us, he began to write. I looked over his shoulder--a bad
habit I acknowledge, general--and I read these words:---
"'Colonel Mohun, C.S.A., presents his compliments to the commanding
officer of Fort Delaware, and recommends the 10-inch Columbiad in place
of the 30-lb. Parrotts on the bastion near the southern angle of the
"'As Colonel M. is _en route_ for Richmond _via_ Wilmington, and the
train will soon pass, he is compelled to refrain from other suggestions
which occur to him.
"'The commandant of the post will pardon the want of ceremony of his
departure. This distressing separation is dictated by necessity.'"
Nighthawk smiled as he repeated the words of _Mohun's note_.
"Did you ever hear of a cooler hand, general? But I must end my long
story. The colonel wrote this note while the soldiers were coming
toward us. When they had come within ten steps, he beckoned to one of
them--the man came up, saluting--and the colonel said, 'Take this note
to the commandant--go at once.'
"My heart had jumped to my throat, general! The next moment I drew a
good long breath of real relief. The Federal soldier touched his cap,
took the note, and went back toward the fort. Without further delay, I
pushed out and rowed across to the mainland, where we soon arrived.
"Then we left the boat, struck into the fields, and pushed for the
nearest station on the railroad. On the way, I could not refrain from
upbraiding the colonel with his imprudence. He only laughed, however,
and we went on without stopping. An hour afterward we reached the
station, and the northern train soon came. We got in, the cars started,
and we were _en route_ for Baltimore. Suddenly the dull sound of a
cannon-shot came from the direction of Fort Delaware. A moment
afterward came another, and then a third.
"'A prisoner has escaped from Fort Delaware,' said one of the
passengers near us, raising his eyes from a newspaper. Colonel Mohun
laughed, and said carelessly, without sinking his voice in the least,
'Ten to one they have found your friend, the lieutenant, Nighthawk!'
Such a man, general! It was enough to make your blood run cold! I
thought _I_ was cool, but I assure you, I never imagined a man could
"We reached Baltimore, made the connection with the train going west to
Wheeling, and disembarked at Martinsburg. There the colonel procured a
horse--rode to a friend's on the Opequon--changed his blue dress for a
citizen's suit, and proceeded to Staunton, thence to Richmond, and
yesterday rejoined his regiment, near Chancellorsville."
GENERAL GRANT'S PRIVATE ORDER.
Stuart kicked a log, which had fallen on the hearth, back into the
fire, and said:--
"Well, Nighthawk, your narrative only proves one thing."
"That the writer who hereafter relates the true stories of this war,
will be set down as a Baron Munchausen."
"No doubt of that, general."
"This escape of Colonel Mohun, for instance, will be discredited."
"No matter, it took place; but I have not told you what brought me
"Yes, across the Rapidan. I did not go from Martinsburg to Richmond
with Colonel Mohun. I thought I would come down and see what was going
on in Culpeper. Accordingly I crossed the Blue Ridge at Ashby's Gap,
reached Culpeper--and last night crossed the Rapidan opposite
Chancellorsville, where I saw Colonel Mohun, before whom I was carried
as a spy."
"You bring news, then?" said Stuart, with sudden earnestness and
"Important news, general. The Federal army is about to move."
"One hundred and forty thousand of all arms. I answer the last question
"The army will advance in two columns. The right--of Sedgwick's and
Warren's corps--will cross at Germanna Ford. The left, consisting of
Hancock's corps, at Ely's ford below. They have pontoon and bridge
trains--and the movement will commence at midnight on the third--two
days from now."
Stuart knit his brows, and buried his hand in his beard. Suddenly he
called out to the orderly:--
"Have two horses saddled in five minutes!" And seizing his hat, he
"Get ready to ride to General Lee's head-quarters with me, Nighthawk!"
The clerical looking emissary put on his respectable black hat.
"You are certain of this intelligence?" Stuart said, turning with a
piercing glance to him.
"Quite certain, general," said Mr. Nighthawk, serenely.
"You were in the camps?"
"In all, I believe, and at army head-quarters."
"You overheard your intelligence?"
"No, I captured it, general."
"A courier was sent in haste--I saw the commander-in-chief speaking to
him. I followed--came up with him in a hollow of the woods--and was
compelled to blow his brains out, as he would not surrender. I then
searched his body, and found what I wanted. There it is general."
And Nighthawk drew forth a paper.
"What is it?" exclaimed Stuart.
"Grant's confidential order to his corps commanders, general, directing
the movements of his army."
Stuart seized it, read it hastily, and uttered an exclamation of
satisfaction. Ten minutes afterward he was going at full speed,
accompanied by Nighthawk, toward General Lee's head-quarters.
"VIRGINIA EXPECTS EVERY MAN TO DO HIS DUTY!"
Soon after daylight, on the next morning, Stuart was up, and writing
busily at his desk.
He was perfectly cool, as always, and his manner when I went in
exhibited no sort of flurry. But the couriers going and coming with
dispatches indicated clearly that "something was in the wind."
I was seated by the fireplace when Stuart finished a dispatch and came
toward me. The next moment he threw himself upon a chair, leaned his
head upon my shoulder, and began to caress one of his dogs, who leaped
into his lap.
"Well, Surry, old fellow, we are going to get into the saddle. Look out
for your head!"
"Excellent advice," I replied. "I recommend you to follow it."
"You think I expose myself, do you?"
"In the most reckless manner."
"For instance--come, an instance!" he laughed.
I saw Stuart was talking to rest himself.
"Well, at Mine Run, when you rode up to that fence lined with
sharpshooters--and they fired on us at ten paces, nearly."
"In fact, you might have shot a marble at them--but I am not afraid of
any ball _aimed_ at me."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
"Then you believe in _chance_, general?"
"There is no chance, Surry," he said, gravely. "God rules over all
things, and not a sparrow, we are told, can fall without his
permission. How can I, or you, then?"
"You are right, general, and I have always been convinced of your
"I believe in God and our Saviour, with all my heart," said Stuart,
solemnly. "I may not show it, but I feel deeply."
"On the contrary, you show it--to me at least--even in trifles," I
said, moved by his earnestness. "Do you remember the other day, when an
officer uttered a sneer at the expense of a friend of his who had
turned _preacher_? You replied that the calling of a minister was the
noblest in which any human being could engage--and I regretted at
that moment, that the people who laugh at you, and charge you with
vicious things, could not hear you."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
Stuart shook his head, smiling with a sadness on his lips which I had
never seen before.
"They would not believe me, my dear Surry; not one would give me credit
for a good sentiment or a pure principle! Am I not a drunkard, because
my face is burned red by the sun and the wind? And yet I never touched
spirit in all my life! I do not know the taste of it! Am I not given
to women? And yet, God knows I am innocent,--that I recoil in disgust
from the very thought! Am I not frivolous, trifling,--laughing at all
things, reverencing nothing? And yet my laughter is only from high
health and animal spirits. I am young and robust; it is natural to me
to laugh, as it is to be pleased with bright faces and happy voices,
with colors, and music, and approbation. I am not as religious as I
ought to be, and wish, with all my heart, I had the deep and devout
piety of that good man and great military genius, Stonewall Jackson.
I can lay no claim to it, you see, Surry; I am only a rough soldier, at
my hard work. I am terribly busy, and my command takes every energy I
possess; but I find time to read my Bible and to pray. I pray for
pardon and forgiveness, and try to do my duty, and leave the rest to
God. If God calls me--and He may call me very soon--I hope I will be
ready, and be able to say, 'Thy will be done.' I expect to be killed in
this war;--Heaven knows, I would have my right hand chopped off at
the wrist to stop it!--but I do not shrink from the ordeal before
me, and I am ready to lay down my life for my country."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
[Footnote 2: His words.]
[Footnote 3: His words.]
[Footnote 4: His words.]
[Footnote 5: His words.]
Stuart paused, and leaned his arm upon the rude shelf above the
fireplace, passing his hand over his forehead, as was habitual with
"A hard campaign is coming, Surry," he said, at length, more
cheerfully; "I intend to do my duty in it, and deserve the good opinion
of the world, if I do not secure it. I have perilled my life many
times, and shall not shrink from it in future. I am a Virginian, and I
intend to live or die for Old Virginia! The tug is coming; the enemy
are about to come over and 'try again!' But we will meet them, and
fight them like men, Surry! Our army is small, but with strong hands
and brave hearts much can be done. We must be up and doing, and do our
duty to the handle. For myself, I am going to fight whatever is
before me,--to win victory, with God's blessing, or die trying! Once
more, Surry, remember that we are fighting for our old mother, and that
Virginia expects every man to do his duty!"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
His face glowed as he spoke; in his dazzling blue eyes burned the fire
of an unconquerable resolution, a courage that nothing seemed able to
Years have passed since then, a thousand scenes have swept before me;
but still I see the stalwart cavalier, with his proud forehead raised,
and hear his sonorous voice exclaim:--
"Virginia expects every man to do his duty!"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
WHAT OCCURRED AT WARRENTON.
This conversation took place at an early hour of the morning. Two hours
afterward, I was in the saddle and riding toward Chancellorsville, with
the double object of inspecting the pickets and taking Mohun his
I have described in my former _Memoirs_ that melancholy country of the
Wilderness; its unending thickets; its roads, narrow and deserted,
which seem to wind on forever; the desolate fields, here and there
covered with stunted bushes; the owls flapping their dusky wings; the
whip-poor-will, crying in the jungle; and the moccasin gliding
stealthily amid the ooze, covered with its green scum.
Strange and sombre country! lugubrious shades where death lurked!
Already two great armies had clutched there in May, 1863. Now, in May,
'64, the tangled thicket was again to thunder; men were going to
grapple here in a mad wrestle even more desperate than the former!
Two roads stretch from Orange Court-House to Chancellorsville--the old
turnpike, and the plank road--running through Verdiersville.
I took the latter, followed the interminable wooden pathway through the
thicket, and toward evening came to the point where the Ely's Ford road
comes in near Chancellorsville. Here, surrounded by the rotting
weapons, bones and skulls of the great battle already fought, I found
Mohun ready for the battle that was coming.
He commanded the regiment on picket opposite Ely's Ford; and was
pointed out to me at three hundred yards from an old torn down house
which still remains there, I fancy.
Mohun had dismounted, and, leaning against the trunk of a tree, was
smoking a cigar. He was much thinner and paler than when I had last
seen him; but his eye was brilliant and piercing, his carriage erect
and proud. In his fine new uniform, replacing that left at Fort
Delaware, and his brown hat, decorated with a black feather, he was the
model of a cavalier, ready at a moment's warning to meet the enemy.
We exchanged a close grasp of the hand. Something in this man had
attracted me, and from acquaintances we had become friends, though
Mohun had never given me his confidence.
I informed him of Nighthawk's visit and narrative, congratulated him on
his escape, and then presented him with his appointment to the grade of
"Hurrah for Stuart! He is a man to count on!" exclaimed Mohun, "and
here inclosed is the order for me to take command of four regiments!"
"I congratulate you, Mohun."
"I hope to do good work with them, my dear Surry--and I think they are
just in time."
With which words Mohun put the paper in his pocket.
"You know the latest intelligence?" he said.
"Yes; but do not let us talk of it. Tell me something about
yourself--but first listen to a little narrative from me."
And I described the visit which I had made with Tom Herbert to the
house near Buckland; the scene between Darke and his companion; and, to
keep back nothing, repeated the substance of their conversation.
Mohun knit his brows; then burst into a laugh.
"Well!" he said, "so those two amiable characters are still bent on
making mince-meat of me, are they? Did you ever hear any thing like it?
They are perfect tigers, thirsting for blood!"
"Nothing more nor less," I said; "the whole thing is like a romance."
"Is it not?"
"A perfect labyrinth."
"The very word!"
"And I have not a trace of a key."
Mohun looked at me for some moments in silence. He was evidently
hesitating; and letting his eyes fall, played with the hilt of his
Then he suddenly looked up.
"I have a confidence to make you, Surry," he said, "and would like to
make it this very day. But I cannot. You have no doubt divined that
Colonel Darke is my bitter enemy--that his companion is no less, even
more, bitter--and some day I will tell you what all that means. My life
has been a strange one. As was said of Randolph of Roanoke's, 'the
fictions of romance cannot surpass it.' These two persons alluded to
it--I understand more than you possibly can--but I do _not_ understand
the allusions made to General Davenant. I am _not_ the suitor of his
daughter--or of any one. I am not in love--I do not intend to be--to be
frank with you, friend, I have little confidence in women--and you no
doubt comprehend that this strange one whom you have thrice met, on the
Rappahannock, in Pennsylvania, and near Buckland, is the cause."
"She seems to be a perfect viper."
"Is she not? You would say so, more than ever, if I told you what took
place at Warrenton."
And again Mohun's brows were knit together. Then his bitter expression
changed to laughter.
"What took place at Warrenton!" I said, looking at him intently.
"Exactly, my dear friend--it was a real comedy. Only a poignard played
a prominent part in the affair, and you know poignards belong
exclusively to tragedy."
Mohun uttered these words with his old reckless satire. A sort of grim
and biting humor was plain in his accents.
"A poniard--a tragedy--tell me about it, Mohun," I said.
He hesitated a moment. "Well, I will do so," he said, at length. "It
will amuse you, my guest, while dinner is getting ready."
"I am listening."
"Well, to go back. You remember my fight with Colonel Darke near
"Certainly; and I was sure that you had killed each other."
"You were mistaken. He is not dead, and you see I am not. He was
wounded in the throat, but my sabre missed the artery, and he was taken
to a house near at hand, and thence to hospital, where he recovered. My
own wound was a bullet through the chest; and this gave me so much
agony that I could not be carried in my ambulance farther than
Warrenton, where I was left with some friends who took good care of me.
Meanwhile, General Meade had again advanced and occupied the place--I
was discovered, and removed as soon as possible to the Federal
hospital, where they could have me under guard. Faith! they are smart
people--our friends the Yankees! They are convinced that 'every little
helps,' and they had no idea of allowing that tremendous Southern
paladin, Colonel Mohun, to escape! So I was sent to hospital. The
removal caused a return of fever--I was within an inch of the
grave--and this brings me to the circumstance that I wish to relate for
"For some days after my removal to the Federal hospital, I was
delirious, but am now convinced that much which I then took for the
wanderings of a fevered brain, was real.
"I used to lie awake a great deal, and one gloomy night I saw, or
dreamed I saw, as I then supposed, _that woman_ enter my ward, in
company with the surgeon. She bent over me, glared upon me with those
dark eyes, which you no doubt remember, and then drawing back said to
"'Will he live?'
"'Impossible to say, madam,' was the reply. 'The ball passed through
his breast, and although these wounds are almost always mortal, men do
now and then recover from them.'
"'Will this one?'
"'I cannot tell you, madam, his constitution seems powerful.'
"I saw her turn as he spoke, and fix those glaring eyes on me again.
They were enough to burn a hole in you, Surry, and made me feel for
some weapon. But there was none--and the scene here terminated--both
retired. The next night, however, it was renewed. This time the surgeon
felt my pulse, touched my forehead, placed his ear to my breast to
listen to the action of the heart, and rising up said, in reply to
madam's earnest glance of inquiry:--
"'Yes, I am sure he will live. You can give yourself no further anxiety
about your cousin, madam.'
"_Her cousin_! That was not bad, you see. She had gained access, as I
ascertained from some words of their conversation, by representing
herself as my cousin. I was a member of her family who had 'gone
astray' and embraced the cause of the rebellion, but was still dear to
her! Womanly heart! clinging affection! not even the sin of the
prodigal cousin could sever the tender chord of her love! I had
wandered from the right path--fed on husks with the Confederate swine;
but I was wounded--had come back; should the fatted calf remain
unbutchered, and the loving welcome be withheld?
"'_You can give yourself no further uneasiness about your cousin,
"Such was the assurance of the surgeon, and he turned away to other
patients, of whom there were, however, very few in the hospital, and
none near me. As he turned his back, madam looked at me. Her face was
really diabolical, and I thought at the moment that she was a
nightmare--that I _dreamed her_! Closing my eyes to shut out the
vision, I kept them thus shut for some moments. When I reopened them
she was gone.
"Well, the surgeon's predictions did not seem likely to be verified. My
fever returned. Throughout the succeeding day I turned and tossed on my
couch; as night came, I had some hideous dreams. A storm was raging
without, and the rain falling in torrents. The building trembled, the
windows rattled--it was a night of nights for some devil's work; and I
remember laughing in my fever, and muttering, 'Now is the time for
delirium, bad dreams, and ugly shapes, to flock around me!'
"I fell into a doze at last, and had, as I thought, a decidedly bad
dream--for I felt certain that I was dreaming, and that what I
witnessed was the sport of my fancy. What I saw, or seemed to see, was
this: the door opened slowly--a head was thrust in, and remained
motionless for an instant; then the head moved, a body followed; madam,
the lady of the dark eyes, glided stealthily toward my cot. It was
enough to make one shudder, Surry, to have seen the stealthy movement
of that phantom. I gazed at it through my half-closed eyelids--saw the
midnight eyes burning in the white face half covered by a shawl thrown
over the head--and, under that covering, the right hand of the phantom
grasped something which I could not make out.
"In three quick steps _it_ was beside me. I say _it_, for the figure
resembled that of a ghost, or some horrible _thing_. From the eyes two
flames seemed to dart, the lips opened, and I heard, in a low mutter:--
"'Ah! he is going to recover, then!'
"As the words left the phantom's lips, it reached my cot at a bound;
something gleamed aloft, and I started back only in time to avoid the
sharp point of a poniard, which grazed my head and nearly buried itself
in the pillow on which I lay.
"Well, I started up and endeavored to seize my assailant; but she
suddenly broke away from me, still clutching her weapon. Her clothing
was torn from her person--she recoiled toward the door--and I leaped
from my couch to rush after and arrest her. I had not the strength to
do so, however. I had scarcely taken three steps when I began to
"'Murderess!' I exclaimed, extending my arms to arrest her flight.
"It was useless. A few feet further I reeled--my head seemed turning
round--and again shouting 'Murderess!' I fell at full length on the
floor, at the moment when the woman disappeared.
"That was curious, was it not? It would have been a tragical dream--it
was more tragical in being no dream at all, but a reality. What had
taken place was simple, and easy to understand. That woman had come
thither, on this stormy night, to murder me; and she had very nearly
succeeded. Had she found me asleep, I should never have waked.
Fortunately, I was awake. Some noise frightened her, and she
disappeared. A moment afterward one of the nurses came, and finally the
"When I told him what had taken place, he laughed.
"'Well, colonel, go back to bed,' he said, 'such dreams retard your
recovery more than every thing else.'
"I obeyed, without taking the trouble to contradict him. My breast was
bleeding again, and I did not get over the excitement for some days.
The phantom did not return. I slowly recovered, and was taken in due
time to Fort Delaware--the rest you know.
"I forgot to tell you one thing. The surgeon almost persuaded me that I
had been the victim of nightmare. Unfortunately, however, for the
theory of the worthy, I found a deep hole in my pillow, where the
poniard had entered.
"So you see it was madam, and not her ghost, who had done me the honor
of a visit, Surry."
THE GRAVE OF ACHMED.
An hour afterward I had dined with Mohun at his head-quarters, in the
woods; mounted our horses; and were making our way toward the Rapidan
to inspect the pickets.
This consumed two hours. We found nothing stirring. As sunset
approached, we retraced our steps toward Chancellorsville. I had
accepted Mohun's invitation to spend the night with him.
As I rode on, the country seemed strangely familiar. All at once I
recognized here a tree, there a stump--we were passing over the road
which I had followed first in April, 1861, and again in August, 1862,
when I came so unexpectedly upon Fenwick, and heard his singular
We had been speaking of Mordaunt, to whose brigade Mohun's regiment
belonged, and the young officer had grown enthusiastic, extolling
Mordaunt as 'one of the greatest soldiers of the army, under whom it
was an honor to serve.'
"Well," I said, "there is a spot near here which he knows well, and
where a strange scene passed on a night of May, 1863."
"Ah! you know the country, then?" said Mohun.
"What are you looking at?"
"That hill yonder, shut in by a thicket. There is a house there."
And I spurred on, followed by Mohun. In five minutes we reached the
brush-fence; our horses easily cleared it, and we rode up the hill
toward the desolate-looking mansion.
I surveyed it intently. It was unchanged, save that the porch seemed
rotting away, and the window-shutters about to fall--that on the window
to the right hung by a single hinge. It was the one through which I had
looked in August, 1862. There was the same door through which I had
burst in upon Fenwick and his companion.
I dismounted, threw my bridle over a stunted shrub, and approached the
house. Suddenly I stopped.
At ten paces from me, in a little group of cedars, a man was kneeling
on a grave, covered with tangled grass. At the rattle of my sabre he
rose, turned round--it was Mordaunt.
In a moment we had exchanged a pressure of the hand; and then turning
to the grave:--
"That is the last resting-place of poor Achmed," he said; adding, in
his deep, grave voice:--
"You know how he loved me, Surry."
"And how you loved _him_, Mordaunt. I can understand your presence at
his grave, my dear friend."
Mordaunt sighed, then saluted Mohun, who approached.
"This spot," he said, "is well known to Colonel Surry and myself,
Then turning to me, he added:--
"I found a melancholy spectacle awaiting me here."
"Other than Achmed's grave?"
"Yes; come, and I will show you."
And he led the way into the house. As I entered the squalid and
miserable mansion, the sight which greeted me made me recoil.
On a wretched bed lay the corpse of a woman; and at a glance, I
recognized the woman Parkins, who had played so tragic a part in the
history of Mordaunt. The face was hideously attenuated; the eyes were
open and staring; the lower jaw had fallen. In the rigid and bony hand
was a dry and musty crust of bread.
"She must have starved to death here," said Mordaunt, gazing at the
corpse. And, approaching it, he took the crust from the fingers. As he
did so, the teeth seemed grinning at him.
"Poor creature!" he said; "this crust was probably all that remained to
her of the price of her many crimes! I pardon her, and will have her
As Mordaunt turned away, I saw him look at the floor.
"There is Achmed's blood," he said, pointing to a stain on the plank;
"and the other is the blood of Fenwick, who was buried near his
"I remember," I murmured. And letting my chin fall upon my breast, I
returned in thought to the strange scene which the spot recalled so
"There is but one other actor in that drama of whom I know nothing,
Mordaunt raised his head quickly. His eyes glowed with a serene
"She is my wife," he said; "the joy and sunlight of my life! I no
longer read _Les Miserables_, and sneer at my species--I no longer
scowl, Surry, and try to rush against the bullet that is to end me. God
has rescued a lost life in sending me one of his angels; and it was she
who made me promise to come hither and pray on the grave of our dear
Mordaunt turned toward the door as he spoke, and inviting me to ride
with him, left the mansion. As I had agreed to stay with Mohun, I was
obliged to decline.
Five minutes afterward he had mounted, and with a salute, the tall form
disappeared in the forest.
We set out in turn, and were soon at Mohun's bivouac.
A NIGHT BIRD.
I shared Mohun's blankets, and was waked by the sun shining in my face.
My companion had disappeared, but I had scarcely risen when he was seen
approaching at full gallop.
Throwing himself from his horse, he grasped my hand, his face beaming.
"All right, Surry!" he exclaimed; "I have seen Mordaunt; my command is
all arranged; I have four superb regiments; and they are already in the
"I congratulate you, my dear general! Make good use of them--and I
think you are going to have the opportunity at once."
"You are right--the enemy's cavalry are drawn up on the north bank of
"Any firing in front?"
"They are feeling at all the fords."
"Are you going there?"
"I will go with you."
And I mounted my horse which stood saddled near by.
Swallowing some mouthfuls of bread and beef as we rode on, we soon
reached Mohun's command. It consisted of four regiments, drawn up in
column, ready to move--and at sight of the young _sabreur_, the men
raised a shout.
Mohun saluted with drawn sabre, and galloped to the front.
A moment afterward the bugle sounded, and the column advanced toward
the Rapidan, within a mile of which it halted--Mohun and myself riding
forward to reconnoitre at Germanna Ford, directly in our front.
The pickets were engaged, firing at each other across the river. On the
northern bank were seen long columns of Federal cavalry, drawn up as
though about to cross.
I rode with Mohun to the summit of the lofty hill near the ford, and
here, seated on his horse beneath a tree, we found Mordaunt. It was
hard to realize that, on the evening before, I had seen this stern and
martial figure, kneeling in prayer upon a grave--had heard the brief
deep voice grow musical when he spoke of his wife. But habit is every
thing. On the field, Mordaunt was the soldier, and nothing but the
"You see," he said, "the game is about to open," pointing to the
Federal cavalry. "You remember this spot, and that hill yonder, I
"Yes," I replied, "and your charge there when we captured their
artillery in August, '62."
As he spoke, a dull firing, which we had heard for some moments from
the direction of Ely's Ford, grew more rapid. Five minutes afterward,
an officer was seen approaching from the side of the firing, at full
When he was within a hundred yards, I recognized Harry Mordaunt. He was
unchanged; his eyes still sparkled, his plume floated, his lips were
He greeted me warmly, and then turned to General Mordaunt, and reported
the enemy attempting to cross at Ely's.
"I will go, then; will you ride with me, Surry? Keep a good look out
I accepted Mordaunt's invitation, and in a moment we were galloping,
accompanied by Harry, toward Ely's.
"Glad to see you again, colonel!" exclaimed the young man, in his gay
voice, "you remind me of old times, and a young lady was speaking of
"A certain Miss Fitzhugh, I will wager!"
"There's no such person, colonel."
"Ah! you are married!"
"Last spring; but I might as well be single! That's the worst of this
foolishness,--I wish they would stop it! I don't mind hard tack, or
fighting, or sleeping in the rain; what I do mind is never being able
to go home! I wish old Grant would go home and see _his_ wife, and let
me go and see _mine_! We could then come back, and blaze away at each
other with some satisfaction!"
Harry was chattering all the way, and I encouraged him to talk; his gay
voice was delightful. We talked of a thousand things, but they
interested me more than they would interest the reader, and I pass on
to matters more important.
Pushing rapidly toward Ely's, we soon arrived, and found the enemy
making a heavy demonstration there. It lasted throughout the day, and I
remained to witness the result. At sunset, however, the firing stopped,
and, declining Mordaunt's invitation to share the blankets of his
bivouac, I set out on my way back to Orange.
Night came almost before I was aware of it, and found me following the
Brock road to get on the Orange plank road.
Do you know the Brock road, reader? and have you ever ridden over it on
a lowering night? If so, you have experienced a peculiar sensation. It
is impossible to imagine any thing more lugubrious than these strange
thickets. In their depths the owl hoots, and the whippoorwill cries;
the stunted trees, with their gnarled branches, are like fiends
reaching out spectral arms to seize the wayfarer by the hair.
Desolation reigns there, and you unconsciously place your hand on your
pistol as you ride along, to be ready for some mysterious and unseen
At least, I did so on that night. I had now penetrated some distance,
and had come near the lonely house where so many singular events had
I turned my head and glanced over my shoulder, when, to my surprise, I
saw a light glimmering through the window. What was its origin? The
house was certainly uninhabited, even by the dead--for Mordaunt had
informed me that a detail had, that morning, buried the corpse.
There was but one means of solving the mystery, and I leaped the fence,
riding straight toward the house; soon reaching it, I dismounted and
threw open the door.
What should greet my eyes, but the respectable figure of Mr. Nighthawk,
seated before a cheerful blaze, and calmly smoking his pipe!
As I entered, Mr. Nighthawk rose politely, without exhibiting the least
mark of astonishment.
"Good evening, colonel," he said, smiling, "I am glad to see you."
"And I, never more surprised to see any one than you, here, Nighthawk!"
"Why so, colonel?"
I could not help laughing at his air of mild inquiry.
"Did I not leave you at our head-quarters?"
"That was two days ago, colonel."
"And this is your residence, perhaps?"
"I have no residence, colonel; but am here, temporarily, on a little
matter of business."
"Ah! a matter of business!"
"I think it might be called so, colonel."
"Which it would be indiscreet to reveal to me, however. That is a pity,
for I am terribly curious, my dear Nighthawk!"
Nighthawk looked at me benignly, with a philanthropic smile.
"I have not the least objection to informing you, colonel. You are a
gentleman of discretion, and have another claim on my respect."
"What is that?"
"You are a friend of Colonel Mohun's."
"A very warm one."
"Then you can command me; and I will tell you at once that I am
awaiting the advance of General Grant."
"Ah! Now I begin to understand."
"I was sure you would at the first word I uttered, colonel. General
Grant will cross the Rapidan to-night--by to-morrow evening his whole
force will probably be over--and I expect to procure some important
information before I return to General Stuart. To you I am Mr.
Nighthawk, an humble friend of the cause, employed in secret
business,--to General Grant I shall be an honest farmer, of Union
opinions, who has suffered from the depredations of his troops, and
goes to head-quarters for redress. You see they have already stripped
me of every thing," continued Mr. Nighthawk, waving his arm and
smiling; "not a cow, a hog, a mule, or a mouthful of food has been left
me. They have destroyed the very furniture of my modest dwelling, and I
am cast, a mere pauper, on the cold charities of the world!"
Mr. Nighthawk had ceased smiling, and looked grave; while it was I who
burst into laughter. His eyes were raised toward heaven, with an
expression of meek resignation; he spread out both hands with the
eloquence of Mr. Pecksniff; and presented the appearance of a virtuous
citizen accepting meekly the most trying misfortunes.
When I had ceased laughing, I said:--
"I congratulate you on your histrionic abilities, Nighthawk. They
deserve to be crowned with success. But how did you discover this
"I was acquainted with its former owner, Mrs. Parkins. She was a sister
of a friend of mine, whom I think you have seen, colonel."
"His name is Swartz, colonel."
"Not the Federal spy?"
"The same, colonel."
"Whom we saw last in the house between Carlisle and Gettysburg?"
"I saw him the other day," returned Mr. Nighthawk, smiling sweetly.
"Is it possible!"
"Near Culpeper Court-House, colonel. And, to let you into a little
secret, I expect to see him to-night."
I looked at the speaker with bewilderment.
"That man will be here!"
"If he keeps his appointment, colonel."
"You have an appointment?"
"In this house?"
"With what object, in heaven's name!"
Nighthawk hesitated for some moments before replying.
"The fact is, colonel," he said, "that I inadvertently mentioned my
appointment with Swartz without reflecting how singular it must appear
to you, unless I gave you some explanation. But I am quite at my ease
with you--you are a friend of Colonel Mohun's--and I will explain, as
much of my business as propriety will permit. To be brief, I am anxious
to procure a certain document in Swartz's possession."
"A certain document?" I said, looking intently at the speaker.
"Which Swartz has?"
"And which he stole from the papers of Colonel Darke on the night of
Mohun's combat with Darke, in the house near Carlisle?"
Mr. Nighthawk looked keenly at me, in turn.
"Ah! you know that!" he said, quickly.
"I saw him steal it, through the window, while the woman's back was
"I am deeply indebted to you, colonel," said Mr. Nighthawk, gravely,
"for informing me of this fact, which, I assure you, is important.
Swartz swore to me that he had the paper, and had procured it in that
manner, but I doubted seriously whether he was not deceiving me. He is
a _very_ consummate rascal, knows the value of that document, and my
appointment with him to-night is with an eye to its purchase from him."
"Do you think he will come?"
"I think so. He would sell his soul for gold."
"And that woman? he seems to be her friend."
"He would sell _her_ for _silver_!"
After uttering which _bon mot_, Mr. Nighthawk smiled.
This man puzzled me beyond expression. His stealthy movements were
strange enough--it was singular to meet him in this lonely house--but
more singular still was the business which had brought him. What was
that paper? Why did Nighthawk wish to secure it? I gave up the inquiry
"Well," I said, "I will not remain longer; I might scare off your
friend, and to eaves-drop is out of the question, even if you were
willing that I should be present."
"In fact, colonel, I shall probably discuss some very private matters
with my friend Swartz, so that--"
"You prefer I should go."
Mr. Nighthawk smiled; he was too polite to say "yes."
"You are not afraid to meet your friend in this lonely place?" I said,
"Not at all, colonel."
"You are armed?"
Mr. Nighthawk opened his coat, and showed me a brace of revolvers.
"I have these; but they are unnecessary, colonel."
"I have an understanding with Swartz, and he with me."
"What is that?"
"That we shall not employ the carnal weapon; only destroy each other by
"You speak in enigmas, Nighthawk!"
"And yet, my meaning is very simple. If I can have Swartz arrested and
hung, or he me, it is all fair. But we have agreed not to fight."
"So, if you caught him to-night, you could have him hung as a spy?"
"Yes, colonel; but nothing would induce me to betray him."
"I have given him my parol, that he shall have safe conduct!"
I laughed, bade Nighthawk good-bye, and left him smiling as I had found
him. In ten minutes I was again on the Brock road, riding on through
the darkness, between the impenetrable thickets.
My reflections were by no means gay. The scenes at the lonely house had
not been cheerful and mirth-inspiring.
That grinning corpse, with the crust of bread in the bony fingers; that
stain of blood on the floor; the grave of Achmed; lastly, the
appointment of the mysterious Nighthawk with the Federal spy; all were
fantastic and lugubrious.
Who was Nighthawk, and what was his connection with Mohun? Who was
Mohun, and what had been his previous history? Who was this youth of
unbounded wealth, as Nighthawk had intimated, in whose life personages
supposed to be dead, but still alive, had figured?
"Decidedly, Mohun and Nighthawk are two enigmas!" I muttered, "and I
give the affair up."
With which words I spurred on, and soon debouched on the Orange plank
road, leading toward Mine Run.
As I entered it, I heard hoof-strokes on the resounding boards, and a
company of horsemen cantered toward me through the darkness. As they
came, I heard a gay voice singing the lines:--
"I wake up in the morning,
I wake up in the morning,
I wake up in the morning,
Before the break o' day!"
There was no mistaking that gay sound. It was Stuart, riding at the
head of his staff and couriers.
In a moment he had come up, and promptly halted me.
"Ah! that's you, Surry!" he exclaimed with a laugh, "wandering about
here in the Wilderness! What news?"
I reported the state of things in front, and Stuart exclaimed:--
"All right; we are ready for them! Coon Hollow is
evacuated--head-quarters are in the saddle! Hear that whippoorwill! It
is a good omen. Whip 'em well! Whip 'em well!--and we'll do it too!"
Stuart laughed, and began to sing--
"Never mind the weather
But get over double trouble!
We are bound for the Happy land of Lincoln!"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
As the martial voice rang through the shadowy thickets, I thought, "How
fortunate it is that the grave people are not here to witness this
singular 'want of dignity' in the great commander of Lee's cavalry!"
Those "grave people" would certainly have rolled their eyes, and
groaned, "Oh! how undignified!" Was not the occasion solemn? Was it not
sinful to laugh and sing? No, messieurs! It was right; and much better
than rolling the eyes, and staying at home and groaning! Stuart was
going to fight hard--meanwhile he sang gayly. Heaven had given him
animal spirits, and he laughed in the face of danger. He laughed and
sang on this night when he was going to clash against Grant, as he had
laughed and sung when he had clashed against Hooker--when his proud
plume floated in front of Jackson's veterans, and he led them over the
breastworks at Chancellorsville, singing, "Old Joe Hooker, will you
come out of the Wilderness!"
Stuart cantered on: we turned into the Brock road, and I found myself
retracing my steps toward the Rapidan.
As I passed near the lonely house, I cast a glance toward the
glimmering light. Had Nighthawk's friend arrived?
We soon reached Ely's Ford, and I conducted Stuart to Mordaunt's
bivouac, which I had left at dusk. He had just wrapped his cloak around
him, and laid down under a tree, ready to mount at a moment's warning.
"What news, Mordaunt?" said Stuart, grasping his hand.
"Some fighting this evening, but it ceased about nightfall, general."
Stuart looked toward the river, and listened attentively.
"I hear nothing stirring."
And passing his hand through his beard he muttered half to himself:--
"I wonder if Grant can have made any change in his programme?"
"The order at least was explicit--that brought by Nighthawk," I said.
Stuart turned toward me suddenly.
"I wonder where he could be found? If I knew, I would send him over the
river to-night, to bring me a reliable report of every thing."
I drew the general aside.
"I can tell you where to find Nighthawk."
"Shall I bring him?"
"Like lightning, Surry! I wish to dispatch him at once!"
Without reply I wheeled my horse, and went back rapidly toward the
house in the Wilderness. I soon reached the spot, rode to the window,
and called to Nighthawk, who came out promptly at my call.
"Your friend has not arrived?" I said.
"He will not come till midnight, colonel."
"When, I am afraid, he will not see you, Nighthawk--you are wanted."
And I explained my errand. Nighthawk sighed--it was easy to see that he
was much disappointed.
"Well, colonel," he said, in a resigned tone, "I must give up my
private business--duty calls. I will be ready in a moment."
And disappearing, he put out the light--issued forth in rear of the
house--mounted a horse concealed in the bushes--and rejoined me in
"Swartz will not know what to think," he said, as we rode rapidly
toward the river; "he knows I am the soul of punctuality, and this
failure to keep my appointment will much distress him."
"Distress him, Nighthawk?"
"He will think some harm has happened to me."
And Mr. Nighthawk smiled so sadly, that I could not refrain from
We soon reached the spot where Stuart awaited us. At sight of Nighthawk
he uttered an exclamation of satisfaction, and explained in brief words
"That will be easy, general," said Nighthawk.
"Can you procure a Federal uniform?"
"I always travel with one, general."
And Mr. Nighthawk unstrapped the bundle behind his saddle, drawing
forth a blue coat and trousers, which in five minutes had replaced his
black clothes. Before us stood one of the "blue birds." Nighthawk was
an unmistakable "Yankee."
Stuart gave him a few additional instructions, and having listened with
the air of a man who is engraving the words he hears upon his memory,
Nighthawk disappeared in the darkness, toward the private crossing,
where he intended to pass the river.
Half an hour afterward, Stuart was riding toward Germanna Ford. As we
approached, Mohun met us, and reported all quiet.
Stuart then turned back in the direction of Chancellorsville, where
Nighthawk was to report to him, before daylight, if possible.
I lingered behind a moment to exchange a few words with Mohun.
Something told me that he was intimately connected with the business
which had occasioned the appointment between Nighthawk and Swartz--and
at the first words which I uttered, I saw that I was not mistaken.
Mohun raised his head quickly, listened with the closest attention, and
when I had informed him of every thing, said abruptly:--
"Well, I'll keep Nighthawk's appointment for him!"
"You!" I said.
"Yes, my dear Surry--this is a matter of more importance than you
think. The business will not take long--the enemy will not be moving
before daylight--and you said, I think, that the appointment was for
Mohun drew out his watch; scratched a match which he drew from a small
"Just eleven," he said; "there is time to arrive before midnight, if we
ride well--will you show me the way?"
I saw that he was bent on his scheme, and said no more. In a few
moments we were in the saddle, and riding at full speed toward the
house where the meeting was to take place.
Mohun rode like the wild huntsman, and mile after mile disappeared
behind us--flitting away beneath the rapid hoofs of our horses. During
the whole ride he scarcely opened his lips. He seemed to be reflecting
deeply, and to scarcely realize my presence.
At last we turned into the Brock road, and were soon near the lonely
"We have arrived," I said, leaping the brushwood fence. And we galloped
up the knoll toward the house, which was as dark and silent as the
Dismounting and concealing our horses in the bushes, we opened the
door. Mohun again had recourse to his match-case, and lit the candle
left by Nighthawk on an old pine table, and glanced at his watch.
"Midnight exactly!" he said; "we have made a good ride of it, Surry."
"Yes; and now that I have piloted you safely, Mohun, I will discreetly
"Why not remain, if you think it will amuse you, my dear friend?"
"But you are going to discuss your private affairs, are you not?"
"They are not private from you, since I have promised to relate my
whole life to you."
"Then I remain; but do you think our friend will keep his appointment?"
"There he is," said Mohun, as hoof-strokes were heard without. "He is
A moment afterward we heard the new-comer dismount. Then his steps were
heard on the small porch. All at once his figure appeared in the
It was Swartz. The fat person, the small eyes, the immense double chin,
and the chubby fingers covered with pinchbeck rings, were unmistakable.
He was clad in citizens' clothes, and covered with dust as from a long
"Come in, my dear Mr. Swartz," he said coolly; "you see we await you."
The spy recoiled. It was plain that he was astonished beyond measure at
seeing us. He threw a glance behind him in the direction of his horse,
and seemed about to fly.
Mohun quietly drew his revolver, and cocked it.
"Fear nothing, my dear sir," he said, "and, above all, do not attempt
Swartz hesitated, and cast an uneasy glance upon the weapon.
"Does the sight of this little instrument annoy you?" said Mohun,
laughing. "It shall not be guilty of that impoliteness, Mr. Swartz."
And he uncocked the weapon, and replaced it in its holster.
"Now," he continued, "sit down, and let us talk."
Swartz obeyed. Before Mohun's penetrating glance, his own sank. He took
his seat in a broken-backed chair; drew forth a huge red bandanna
handkerchief; wiped his forehead; and said quietly:--
"I expected to meet a friend here to-night, gentlemen, instead of--"
"Enemies?" interrupted Mohun. "We are such, it is true, my dear sir,
but you are quite safe. Your friend Nighthawk is called away; he is
even ignorant of our presence here."
"But meeting him would have been different, gentlemen. I had his safe
"You shall have it from me."
"May I ask from whom?" said Swartz.
"From General Mohun, of the Confederate army."
Swartz smiled this time; then making a grotesque bow, he replied:--
"I knew you very well, general--that is why I am so much at my ease. I
am pleased to hear that you are promoted. When I last saw you, you were
only a colonel, but I was certain that you would soon be promoted or
There was a queer accent of politeness in the voice of the speaker. He
did not seem to have uttered these words in order to flatter his
listener, but to express his real sentiment. He was evidently a
"Good!" said Mohun, with his habitual accent of satire. "These little
compliments are charming. But I am in haste to-night--let us come to
business, my dear sir. I came hither to ask you some questions, and to
these I expect plain replies."
Swartz looked at the speaker intently, but without suspicion. His
glance, on the contrary, had in it something strangely open and
"I will reply to all your questions, general," he said, "and reply
truthfully. I have long expected this interview, and will even say that
I wished it. You look on me as a Yankee spy, and will have but little
confidence in what I say. Nevertheless, I am going to tell you the
whole truth about every thing. Ask your questions, general, I will
Mohun was leaning one elbow on the broken table. His glance, calm and
yet fiery, seemed bent on penetrating to the most secret recess of the
"Well," he said, "now that we begin to understand each other, let us
come to the point at once. Where were you on the morning of the
thirteenth of December, 1856?"
Swartz replied without hesitation:--
"On the bank of Nottoway River, in Dinwiddie, Virginia, and bound for
"The object of your journey?"
"To sell dried fruits and winter vegetables."
"Then you travelled in a cart, or a wagon?"
"In a cart, general."
"You reached Petersburg without meeting with any incident on the way?"
"I met with two very curious ones, general. I see you know something
about the affair, and are anxious to know every thing. I will tell you
the whole truth; but it will be best to let me do it in my own way."
"Do so, then," said Mohun, fixing his eyes more intently upon the spy.
Swartz was silent again for more than a minute, gazing on the floor.
Then he raised his head, passed his red handkerchief over his brow, and
"To begin at the beginning, general. At the time you speak of,
December, 1856, I was a small landholder in Dinwiddie, and made my
living by carting vegetables and garden-truck to Petersburg. Well, one
morning in winter--you remind me that it was the thirteenth of
December,--I set out, as usual, in my cart drawn by an old mule, with a
good load on board, to go by way of Monk's Neck. I had not gone two
miles, however, when passing through a lonely piece of woods on the
bank of the river, I heard a strange cry in the brush. It was the most
startling you can think of, and made my heart stop beating. I jumped
down from my cart, left it standing in the narrow road, and went to the
spot. It was a strange sight I saw. On the bank of the river, I saw a
woman lying drenched with water, and half-dead. She was richly dressed,
and of very great beauty--but I never saw any human face so pale, or
clothes more torn and draggled."
The spy paused. Mohun shaded his eyes from the light, with his hands,
and said coolly:--
"Well, general--that was enough to astonish anybody--and what is more
astonishing still, I have never to this day discovered the meaning of
the woman's being there--for it was plain that she was a lady. She was
half-dead with cold, and had cried out in what seemed to be a sort of
delirium. When I raised her up, and wrung the wet out of her clothes,
she looked at me so strangely that I was frightened. I asked her how
she had come there, but she made no reply. Where should I take her? She
made no reply to that either. She seemed dumb--out of her wits--and, to
make a long story short, I half led and half carried her to the cart in
which I put her, making a sort of bed for her of some old bags.
"I set out on my way again, without having the least notion what I
should do with her--for she seemed a lady--and only with a sort of idea
that her friends might probably pay me for my trouble, some day.
"Well, I went on for a mile or two farther, when a new adventure
happened to me. That was stranger still--it was like a story-book; and
you will hardly believe me--but as I was going through a piece of
woods, following a by-road by which I cut off a mile or more, I heard
groans near the road, and once more stopped my cart. Then I listened. I
was scared, and began to believe in witchcraft. The groans came from
the woods on my left, and there was no doubt about the sound--so,
having listened for some time, I mustered courage to go in the
direction of the sound. Can you think what I found, general?"
"What?" said Mohun, in the same cool voice; "tell me."
"A man lying in a grave;--a real grave, general--broad and deep--a man
with a hole through his breast, and streaming with blood."
"Is it possible?"
And Mohun uttered a laugh.
"Just as I tell you, general--it is the simple, naked truth. When I got
to the place, he was struggling to get out of the grave, and his breast
was bleeding terribly. I never saw a human being look paler. 'Help!' he
cried out, in a suffocated voice like, when he saw me--and as he spoke,
he made such a strong effort to rise, that his wound gushed with blood,
and he fainted."
"He fainted, did he? And what did you do?" said Mohun.
"I took him up in my arms, general, as I had taken the woman, carried
him to my cart, when I bound up his breast in the best way I could, and
laid him by the side of the half-drowned lady."
"To get a reward from _his_ friends, too, no doubt?"
"Well, general, we must live, you know. And did I not deserve something
for being so scared--and for the use of my mule?"
"Certainly you did. Is not the laborer worthy of his hire? But go on,
sir--your tale is interesting."
"Tale, general? It is the truth--on the word of Swartz!"
"I no longer doubt now, if I did before," said Mohun; "but tell me the
end of your adventure."
"I can do that in a few words, general. I whipped up my old mule, and
went on through the woods, thinking what I had best do with the man and
the woman I had saved, I could take them to Petersburg, and tell my
story to the mayor or some good citizen, who would see that they were
taken care of. But as soon as I said 'mayor' to myself, I thought 'he
is the chief of police.' _Police_!--that is one of the ugliest words in
the language, general! Some people shiver, and their flesh crawls, when
you cut a cork, or scratch on a window pane--well, it is strange, but I
have always felt in that way when I heard, or thought of, the word,
_police_! And here I was going to have dealings with the said _police_!
I was going to say 'I found these people on the Nottoway--one half-
drowned, and the other in a newly dug grave!' No, I thank you! We never
know what our characters will stand, and I was by no means certain that
mine would stand that! Then the reward--I wished to have my lady and
gentleman under my eye. So, after thinking over the matter for some
miles, I determined to leave them with a crony of mine near Monk's
Neck, named Alibi, who would take care of them and say nothing. Well, I
did so, and went on to Petersburg, where I sold my truck. When I got
back they were in bed, and on my next visit they were at the point of
death. About that time I was taken sick, and was laid up for more than
three months. When I went to see my birds at Monk's Neck, they had
"Without leaving you their adieux?"
"No, they were at least polite. They left me a roll of bank notes--more
than I thought they had about them."
"You had searched them, of course, when they were lying in your cart,"
"I acknowledge it, general--I forgot to mention the fact. I had found
only a small amount in the gentleman's pocket-book--nothing on the
lady--and I never could understand where he or she had concealed about
their persons such a considerable amount of money--though I suppose, in
a secret pocket."
"That is often done--well, that was the last of them?"
Swartz smiled, and glanced at Mohun.
"What is the use of any concealment, my dear Mr. Swartz?" said the
latter. "You may as well tell the whole story, as you have gone this
"You are right, general, and I will finish. The war broke out, and I
sold my truck patch, and invested in a better business--that is,
running the blockade across the Potomac, and smuggling in goods for the
Richmond market. On one of these trips, I met, plump, in the streets of
Washington, no less a person than the lady whom I had rescued. She was
richly dressed, and far more beautiful, but there was no mistaking her.
I spoke to her; she recognized me, took me to her house, and here I
found _the gentleman_, dressed in a fine new uniform. He was changed
too--his wound had long healed, he was stout and strong, but I knew
him, too, at a glance. Well, I spent the evening, and when I left the
house had accepted an offer made me to combine a new business with that
of blockade runner."
"That of spy, you mean?" said Mohun.
"You speak plainly, general. We call ourselves 'secret agents'--but
either word expresses the idea!"