Part 2 out of 8
"On the double crown on your head," Jack answered, solemnly, "which you
have often told us was considered a sign that an angel had touched
you--I'm sure nothing could be more solemn than that. It isn't every
fellow that can get an angel to touch the top of his head."
"No; most fellows can consider themselves lucky if an angel touches
their lips--or heart," Barney cried, naively.
"Well, never mind that sort of angel now, Barney," Nick said, pettishly;
"I notice that you always bring up with something about the girls, no
matter what the subject we set off on. It's the jalap--isn't that what
it's called?--we want to hear about."
"There isn't enough poetry or sentiment in the two o' ye to fill a
wind-blown buttercup. No wonder ye don't care to talk of the
gurls--they'll have none of ye."
"We'll be satisfied if they'll have you, Barney. I'm sure that's
magnanimous. But if your jalap takes as much time in working Old
Schnapps as you take in explaining it, the war will be over, and we
shall have seen none of it."
"It's too great a conception to be hastily set forth. Give me time. I'll
lay a guinea that Oswald goes to the hospital before this day week. Let
us see. This is the 14th; before the 20th--" and Barney gave the barrel
of his gun, near him, a furtive wipe with his coat-sleeve.
"Barney, if you'll do that, I'll gather every four-leaved clover between
here and Richmond to give you; and, what's more, if I die I'll leave you
my bones to operate."
"Ah, Nick, dear, I'd rather have your little finger living than all the
possessions of your father's bank. If you were dead--" And honest Barney
seized the poet's hand sentimentally.
"Come, come, fellows, what sort of soldiering do you call this? You
remind me of two school-girls," Jack remonstrated, as in duty bound to
keep up the warrior spirit.
"Yer acquaintances among females being chiefly of the silly sort, it's
no wonder we remind you of the only things you can look back on without
blushing," Barney retorted; and a neighbor poking his head in the door
to learn the cause of the hilarity, the conspirators sallied out for a
jaunt until parade-time. Now, what means Barney employed, or whether he
had any handiwork in what befell, it does not fall to me to say, but
this is what happened: A market hawker came into camp the next morning
and went straight to the big marquee tent where Colonel Oswald stood, in
all the bravery of a new broadcloth uniform with spreading eagles on the
shoulders. The savory fumes of hot sauerkraut aroused the warrior from
his reveries, and he asked, in vociferous delight:
_"Was haben sie? Kohlen, nicht wahr--sauerkraut--das is aber schon?"_
"Yes, mein golonel, I hof cabbage und sauerkraut und"--looking about
circumspectly--"_etwas schnapps aus Antwerpen gebracht?"_
The "golonel's" eyes glistened and he made a motion for the vender to go
to the rear of the marquee. Passing through from the front, he met him
at the rear, and the bargain was hastily concluded, Marsh secreting
three portly bottles in his chest, and turning the edibles over to
Hussey to store in the larder. There had been a good deal of uneasiness
in camp over rumors of cholera, yellow fever, and other dismal
epidemics. When, therefore, the evening after the colonel's purchase the
regimental surgeon was summoned in alarm, it was instantly believed in
the regiment that "Old Sauerkraut" was stricken with cholera. He at
first suffered hideous pains in the stomachic regions. This was followed
by a raging thirst, and, unknown to the physician, the three bottles of
schnapps were quite emptied. On the fourth day the poor man, very
woe-begone, but now suffering no pain, was carried to the hospital, and
the next day, as the campaign was about to begin, he was sent North, to
leave room near the field for those who should be wounded in the coming
Company K was drilling on the wide plateau between the camp and the
highway when the ambulance bearing the afflicted officer came slowly
over the road worn through the greensward. Hussey sat solemnly on the
seat with the driver, and as the vehicle reached the company, standing
at rest, Barney Moore in the rear rank spoke up:
"Tim, is the poor colonel no better?"
"Divil a betther; it's worse he's intirely. God be good till 'im!"
Neither Jack nor Nick Marsh dared trust himself to meet the other's eyes
as the helpless chief disappeared down the hillside, while Barney
entered into an exhaustive treatise on the symptoms of cholera and the
liability of the most robust to meet sudden disaster in this malarious
upland, circumvailated by ages of decaying matter in the damp swamps on
every hand. But when, an hour later, Company K's whole street was
aroused by peal on peal of Abderian laughter, Jack and Nick were found
helpless in their bunks, and Barney was engaged in presenting a potion
to settle their collapsed nerves!
"Well, haven't I won the guinea, now? It cost me just twice that. If
ye's have a spark of honor ye'll pay your just dues, so ye will," Barney
said, in the evening, returning from parade, where Lieutenant-Colonel
Grandison officiated as commander, to the unconcealed delight of all but
the Oswald parasites among the officers.
"Don't say a word, Barney--to whom the medicos of mythology and all the
wizards of antique story are clowns and mountebanks--you shall have the
guinea or its equivalent."
"Twenty-one shillings gold, bear in mind. Yer father's a banker, ye
ought to know that!"
"I do. You shall have the twenty-one shillings in the shinplasters of
The colonel had been routed none too soon. The very next morning, when
the Caribees "fell in" for roll-call, the orderly received a paper from
the commander's orderly which read, "Tents to be struck at twelve
o'clock and the men ready to march, with ten days' rations."
At last! All the future, glowing with heroism, exciting with the march,
the attack, the battle--ah! what after? With something of joy and regret
the comely tents, that had given them home and harbor, were taken down,
folded in precise line, and carried away for storage--for in the field
the ranks were to bivouac in the open air. Such gayety; such jokes; such
bravado; and augury of the to be! And the rumors! Telephones, had they
been invented; stenographers, had they been present in legion, could not
have kept track of the momentous tales that were instantly bruited
about. General Scott was going to lead the army in person. His charger
had been seen before the headquarters. The rebels were going to be
swooped up by another such famous dash as the flank march from Vera Cruz
to the plateau of Mexico! Then came a numbing fear that Beauregard's
bragging host had fled, and that the movement would turn out a tedious
stern chase to Richmond. In the agony of all this Jack, returning from a
"detail" to the quartermaster's tent, heard his name shouted where his
tent had been. He hurried to the spot and Nick saluted him with
"Here, Jack, are two recruits who declare they must enter Company K."
His gun was on his arm and his knapsack on his back, but only the
realization that a score of eyes were upon him saved Jack from dropping
limply on the ground, as, looking in the group, he saw Dick Perley and
Tom Twigg grinning ingratiatingly at him.
"Where--how in the name of all that's sacred did you get here?" he
"Why, we enlisted for drummers in the Caribees, but the recruiting
officer told us as we were eighteen we could carry muskets if we wanted
to. We do want to, and we're going to come into Company K."
They looked him confidently in the face as Dick repeated this evidently
long-practiced explanation. It would not do to take them to task before
the company. Jack waited until the rest were scattered, and then,
leading the boys aside, said, sternly:
"Don't you know you can be put in prison for this? You have run away
from your parents and guardians. No one had a lawful right to enlist
you. I shall send for the provost marshal and have you put in prison
until your parents can come and get your enlistment annulled."
Appalled by Jack's stern manner as much as by his words, the two lads
began to whimper and expostulate tearfully. They had trusted to his
ancient friendship. They could have gone into any other regiment, but
they had enlisted to be with him. Whatever happened, they were soldiers,
and, if Tom Twigg wasn't eighteen until September, it was perfectly
lawful for him to enlist as a drummer. Perley was eighteen in April
last, and he was a soldier in spite of all that Jack could do. Jack was
deeply perplexed. What could be done? If he attempted to put the
machinery of reclamation in order, the boys would be subjected to all
sorts of vicissitudes, prisons, everything distressing and demoralizing
to tender youth.
"Do they know at home what you have done?" Jack asked, doubtingly.
"Yes," Dick said, noting with boyish quickness the indecision in Jack's
troubled face. "I sent a letter to Aunt Pliny, from New York, telling
her we were soldiers, and that we were happy and well."
"You impudent young scamp--to write that to your best friend! Don't you
know it will kill her?"
Dick had no answer for this, and looked perplexedly at Tom, who was lost
in admiration of a neighboring group engaged in athletic exercises. He
felt rather than heard the question put by the Mentor, and observing
Dick's discomfiture, stammered:
"It didn't kill your mother when you went for a soldier, I guess."
The astute young rascal had hit upon the weak place, and Jack stood in
anxious doubt wondering what to do. An aide that he recognized from
division headquarters rode past at the moment and Jack turned to watch
him. He leaped from his horse at the colonel's tent. Jack again looked
at the boys. They were lost in delight at the scene and oblivious of the
debate going on in their guardian's mind.
"Stay here till I come back," he said, authoritatively, and strode off
to Grandison's tent. As he reached it the major, McGoyle, was entering,
and Jack waited until that officer should come out. He came presently,
and Colonel Grandison with him. Jack saluted, and stated his dilemma to
the commander, who listened with amused interest.
"I don't see that anything can be done now, Jack. I'm just about leaving
the regiment. I have been assigned to General Tyler's staff during the
campaign. McGoyle takes command of the regiment. He will need orderlies,
and the boys can serve with him until we can get time to look into the
business. I will settle the matter with him, and if you will write a
telegram to the lad's family I will have it sent as I go to
Jack's relief and gratitude were best seen in the brightening eye and
the more buoyant movement that succeeded the heaviness and agitation of
his first impression. The boys' coming would weigh upon him every minute
until he was in some sort relieved of even passive complicity. He would
feel that the kind-hearted "Pearls," as the aunts were often called,
would look upon him as having led the truants into the army. But
Grandison's interposition had shifted from him a weighty anxiety. The
boys would not be left friendless and irresponsible in the turbulent
streets of Washington. Nor would they, as orderlies, be in continuous or
inextricable danger in battle--for whereas the soldier in the line must
keep in ranks even when not in actual battle, with the enemy's missiles
as destructive as in the charge or combat, the orderlies may take
advantage of the inequalities of ground and natural objects. Jack
explained something of this to the young Marlboroughs, and was fairly
irritated at the crest-fallen look that came into their eager, shining
faces when they comprehended that they were not to be with their hero.
"But you couldn't be in the company in any event. You look more like
rebels than soldiers, with your gray jackets and trousers"--for the boys
still wore their Acredale uniform, an imitation of the West Point
cadet's costume. "We shall be on the march in a few minutes, and there
is only one of two things to be done. Remain here in the 'unassigned'
camp, where you may be transferred into any regiment in the service that
needs recruits; or go, as Colonel Grandison has very kindly consented to
have you, as orderlies or clerks."
The very possibility of being sent into some unknown regiment was a
terror so great that the other alternative became less odious to the
boys, and they trotted after Jack, as he stalked moody and distracted to
Major Mike McGoyle's tent, now the only habitable spot left where a few
hours before a symmetrical little city had stood.
"And so ye want to be solgers, me foine b'yes? Well, well, 'tis litter
for yer mothers' knees ye are, with yer rosy cheeks and curling locks.
It's a poor place here for yer bright oies and soft hands, me lads; but
I'm not the wan to throw the dish after th' milk when it's spilt!"
He stroked the bared heads of the blushing lads, and, turning to their
unhappy sponsor, he added with official brevity: "I will put Twiggs's
son at me papers in the adjutant's office. Young Pearley can remain with
your company until I make out a detail for him."
It was impossible for Jack to sustain the _role_ of frowning displeasure
as Dick skipped back with him to the company. He remembered his own
delight three months before, even with the haunting thoughts of his
mother's reproaches to dampen his ardor, and he was soon dazzling the
neophyte with the wonders that were just about to begin.
It was the afternoon of the 16th of July, and the hillsides, which the
day before were covered with tents as far as the eye could see on every
hand, were now blue with masses of men, while other masses had been
passing on the red highways since early morning, taking the direction of
the Potomac bridges.
AN ARMY WITH BANNERS.
It has always seemed to me that the life, the routine, the many small
haps in the daily function of a soldier, which in sum made up to him all
that there was in the _devoir_ of death, ought to be read with interest
by the millions whose kin were part of the civil war, as well as by
those who knew of it only as we know Napoleon's wars or Washington's.
For my part, I would find a livelier pleasure in the diary of a common
soldier, in any of the great wars, than I do in the confusing pamphlets,
bound in volumes called history. I like to read of war as our Uncle Toby
related it. I like to know what two observing eyes saw and the feelings
that sometimes made the timidest heroes--sometimes cravens.
For a month--yes, months--the burden of the press, the prayers of the
North, had been, "On to Richmond!" Jack, through Colonel Grandison, knew
that General McDowell and the commander-in-chief, the venerable soldier
Scott, had pleaded and protested against a move until the new levies
under the three-months' call could be drilled and disciplined. But on
the Fourth of July Congress had assembled, and the raw statesmen--with
an eye to future elections--took up the public clamor. They gave the
Cabinet, the President, no peace until General Scott and McDowell had
given way and promised the pending movement.
"Our soldiers are so green that I shall move with fear," McDowell said
to the President.
"Well, they" (meaning the rebels) "are green too, and one greenness will
offset the other," Lincoln responded with kindly malice. It was useless
to argue further; useless to point out that the rebels were not so
"green," for the young men of the semi-aristocratic society of the South
were trained to arms, whereas it was a mark of lawlessness and vulgarity
to carry arms in the Puritan ranks of the North. Something of the
unreadiness of the army, every reflecting soldier in the ranks
comprehended, when he saw within the precincts of his own brigades the
hap hazard conduct of the quartermaster's and staff departments. Some
regiments had raw flour dealt them for rations and no bake-ovens to turn
it into bread; some regiments had abundance of bread, but no coffee or
meat rations. As to vegetables--beans, or anything of the sort--if the
pockets of the soldiers had not been well supplied from home, the army
that set out for Manassas would have been eaten with scurvy and the skin
diseases that come from unseasoned food.
Now, at the very moment the legions were stripped for the march, many of
them were without proper ammunition. Various arms were in use, and the
same cartridge did not lit them all. Eager groups could be seen all
through the brigades filing down the leaden end of the cartridge to make
their weapons effective, until a proper supply could be obtained. This
was promised at Fairfax Station, or Centreville, where the army's
supplies were to be sent. So, in spite of the high hopes and feverish
unrest for the forward movement, there was a good deal of sober
foreboding among the men, who held to the American right to criticise as
the Briton maintains his right to grumble. For the soldier in camp or on
the march is as garrulous as a tea gossip, and no problem in war or
statecraft is too complex or sacred for him to attempt the solution. Of
the thirty thousand men leaving the banks of the Potomac that 16th of
July there were, at a low estimate, ten thousand who believed themselves
as fitted to command as the chieftains who led them.
By two o'clock the Caribees were in the line that had been passing
city-ward since daylight. The sun had baked the sticky clay into
brick-like hardness, and the hours of trampling, the tread of heavy
teams, and the still heavier artillery, had filled the air with an
opaque atmosphere of reddish powder, through which the masses passed in
almost spectral vagueness. The city crowds, usually alert, when great
masses of men moved, were discouraged by heat and dust, and the streets
were quite given over to the military. Eager as Jack and his friends
were to note the impression the march made upon the civilians, most of
whom were thought to be secretly in sympathy with the rebellion, it was
impossible to even catch sight of any but soldiers. Pennsylvania Avenue,
when they reached it, was a billowy channel of impalpable powder. But at
the Long Bridge the breeze from the wide channel of the river cleared
the clouds of dust, and the men, catching glimpses of each other, broke
into jocose banter. On the bridge they looked eagerly down the river,
where the low roofs of Alexandria were visible, and upward on the
Virginia shore where the gleaming walls of Arlington recalled to Jack
far different times and scenes.
"Now we're in Jeff Davis's land," Barney called out from one of the rear
files, as the company reached midway in the bridge.
"Not by a long shot," Nick Marsh cried. "Davis's land begins and ends
within cannon-shot of himself. He is like the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen--he
has to beg his neighbor's permission to hold battalion drill."
"He isn't so polite as the duke; he takes it without asking," Barney
"But now we are on the 'sacred soil,'" Jack cries, as the company
debouched from the bridge up the steep, narrow road that seemed to be
taking them to Arlington. In spite of the burning heat and the
exhaustion of the three hours' march, the scene was, or rather the
imagination of the men, invested each step with a sort of awe. They were
at last in the enemy's territory. It had been held by the Union forces,
only by dint of large numbers and strong fortifications. There wasn't a
man in the company that didn't resent the fact, constantly obtruding
itself on the ranks as they marched eagerly onward by every knoll, every
bush in the landscape, that Union soldiers had been there before them!
that their devouring eyes were not the first to mark these
Tired as they were and burdensome as the heavy knapsacks and still
heavier ammunition had become, they heard an aide give the order to
bivouac with chagrin! They so longed to put undebatable ground behind
them and really be where the distant coppice might be a curtain to the
enemy! The Caribees marked with indignant surprise that, when they had
turned into a field about seven o'clock, the long line following them
pushed onward until far into the night, and they envied the contiguity
this would give the lucky laggards to first see and engage the enemy!
But they turned-to very merrily, in this first night of real soldiering.
They were "in the field." All the parade part of military life was now
relaxed. The hot little dress coats were left behind; there was no
display. Even guard-mount was reduced to the simplest possible form.
With one impulse all the men--that is, all who had been alert enough to
provide pen and paper--bestowed themselves about the candles allotted
each group, and began letters "home," dated magniloquently "Headquarters
in the Field. Tyler's Division, Sherman's Brigade, 16th July, 1861." The
imperial impulse manifested itself in these curt epistles. I can't
resist giving Jack's:
"Dear Mother: How I wish you and Polly could see us now! We are really
on the march at last. The battle can't be far off. We are not many miles
from the enemy, and, if he stands, what glorious news you will hear very
soon! I wish you could have seen us to-day. Colonel Sherman, who is the
sternest looking man I ever saw, a regular army officer, once a
professor, told the major--you know McGoyle is commanding us now--he is
a brick--Sherman told him that the Caribees did as good marching as the
regulars, who came behind us. Dear old Mick, with his brogue and his
blarney, has won every heart in the regiment, and you may be sure we
shall see the whites of the enemy's eyes under him, which we never
should have done under that odious Hessian, Oswald--in hospital now,
thank Heaven--though some time, when I tell you the story, you will see
that in this, as in most other things, Heaven helps those who help
themselves. Taps will sound in five minutes, and I can only add that I
am in good health, glorious spirits, and unshaken confidence that we
shall return to Acredale before your longing to see your son overcomes
your love of glory. We shall return victors, if not heroes--at least I
know that you and Polly will believe this of your affectionate and
Barney read one or two phrases of his composition to the indulgent ear
of Jack and the poet, over which they laughed a good deal. "We are," he
said, "before the enemy. I feel as our great ancestor, Baron Moore, felt
at Fontenoy when the Sassenachs were over against the French lines--as
if all the blood in Munster was in my veins and I wanted to spill it on
the villains ferninst us."
The poet declined to quote from his epistle, and the three friends sat
in the dim light until midnight, wondering over what the morrow had in
store. Dick Perley listened in awe to Jack's wonderful ratiocinations on
what was to come--secretly believing him much more learned in war than
this General McDowell who was commanding the army. The first bugle
sounded at three in the morning in the Caribees' camp, and when the
coffee had been hastily dispatched, the men began to understand the
cause of their being shunted into the field so early the evening before
while the rear of the column marched ahead of them. The Caribees passed
a mile or more of encampments, the men not yet aroused, and when at
daylight the whole body was in motion they were in advance, with nothing
before them but a few hundred cavalry.
A delirious expectation, a rapturous sense of holding the post of
danger, kept every sense in such a thrill of anticipation that the hours
passed like minutes. The dusty roads, the intolerable thirst, and the
nauseous, tepid water, the blistered feet, the abraded hips, where the
cartridge-box began to wear the flesh--all these woes of the march were
ignored in the one impulse to see the ground ahead, to note the first
sight of the enemy. It was not until four o'clock in the afternoon that
the column was halted, and two companies, K and H, were marched out of
the column and formed in platoons across the line of march, that the
regiment learned with mortification that hitherto the route had been
inside the Union lines! They soon saw the difference in the tactics of
the march. The company was spread out in groups of four; these again
were separated by a few yards, and in this order, sweeping like a
drag-net, they advanced over the dry fields, through the clustering
pines or into cultivated acres, and through great farm-yards.
Back of them the long column came, slowly winding over the sandy highway
which curved through the undulating land. Here and there the
skirmishers--for that was the office the two companies were now
filling--came upon signs of picket-posts; and once, as Jack hurried
beyond his group to the thicket, near a wretched cabin, a horse and
rider were visible tearing through the foliage of a winding lane. He
drew up his musket in prompt recognition of his duty, but he saw with
mortification that the horse and rider continued unharmed. Other shots
from the skirmish-line followed, but Jack's rebel was the only enemy
seen, when, in the early dusk, an orderly from the main column brought
the command to set pickets and bivouac for the night. Jack would have
written with better grounds for his solemnity if he had waited until
this evening; but now there was no chance.
The companies were the extreme advance of the army; nothing between them
and the enemy but detached pickets of cavalry, at long distances apart,
to fly back with the report of the least signs made by the rebels. These
meager groups were forbidden fires, or any evidence of their presence
that might guide hostile movement, and the infantry outposts felt that
they were really the guardians of the sleeping thousands a mile or so
behind them. No one minded the cold water and hard bread which for the
first time formed the company's fare that night. Like the cavalry, fire
was forbidden them. They formed little groups in the rear of the outer
line of pickets, discussing with animation--even levity--the likelihood
of an engagement the next day. It was the general opinion that if
Beauregard meant to fight he would have made a stand at some of the
excellent points of vantage that had been encountered in the day's
march. Jack smiled wisely over these amateur guesses, and quite abashed
the rest when he said:
"Beauregard is no fool. His army is massed near the point that he is
guarding--Manassas Junction. You seem to think that war is a game of
chance, armies fighting just where they happen to meet each other. Not
at all. Our business is to march to Richmond; Beauregard's business is
to prevent us. To do this he must, first of all, keep his lines of
supply safe. An army without that is like a ship at sea without
food--the more of a crew, the worse the situation. Of course, Beauregard
had his skirmishers spread out in front of us, but, as there is no use
in killing until some end is to be gained, they have got out of our way.
If the spies that are in our ranks should send information that promised
to give the rebels a chance to get at a big body of our men, before the
whole army came up, you'd see a change of things very quick. We've got
fifty thousand men, or thereabout" (Jack was wrong; there were but
thirty thousand). "Now, these men are stretched back of us to
Washington, fifteen miles or more, because the artillery must be
guarded, and infantry only can do that. Now, suppose Beauregard finds
that there is a gap somewhere between the forces stretching back, and he
happens to have ten or fifteen thousand men handy? Why, he just swoops
down upon us, and, if we can't defend ourselves until the rest of the
army comes up, he has won what is called a tactical victory, and
endangered our strategy."
"Goodness, Jack, you ought to have been commander-in-chief! You talk war
like a book!" Barney cried, in mock admiration.
The war-talk went on late into the night, for the company, detached from
camp, was not obliged to follow the signals of the bugles that came in
melodious echoes over the fragrant fields. It was a thrilling sight as
the lone watchers peered backward. The June fields for miles were dotted
with blazing spires, as if the earth had opened to pour out columns of
flame, guiding the wanderers on their trying way. The sleep of the night
was desultory and fitful, excitement stimulating everybody to
"THE ASSYRIAN CAME DOWN LIKE THE WOLF ON THE FOLD."
The next morning the march was resumed by daylight, the two companies
remaining on the skirmish-line. The country gradually became more rugged
as the route brought them near Centreville. There were no hills--a bare
but not bleak champaign, mostly without houses or farms, as the North
knows them. Sluggish brooks became more frequent, but none that were not
easily fordable. There were no landmarks to hold the mind to the scene,
nor, in case of battle, give the strategists points of vantage for the
iron game. About noon, the detached groups stalking a little negligently
now over the tedious plains, were startled by the unexpected.
On the green slope of a hill, a mile or more ahead, a score of little
puffs of white smoke were seen, then a sharp report, and, in some places
near by, the ground was broken as if by a thrust of a spear, and little
scraps of clay scattered over the greensward. Then the bugle sounded a
halt. A few minutes later the horsemen spread in a chain across the line
of march, rode swiftly to a common center, formed in a solid group,
turned to the rear and rode back of the skirmishers to the main body.
Company K watched them as they galloped back, and as they reached the
group at the head of the long line, a half-mile or so distant, a body of
men hastened forward laden with stretchers and hospital appliances. Ah!
at last! It is now real war. The bugle sounds Forward! and with an
elastic spring the groups of four push dauntlessly ahead. Their eyes are
fixed on the brow of the hill, separated from them by a narrow
The whole line--perhaps three miles wide--but, of course, not at all
regular, conforming largely to the difficulties encountered, moves down
the sloping bank on a run. Before they reach the bottom they are an
excellent target, and for the first time that most blood curdling of
sounds--the half-singing, half-hissing z-z-z-ip of the minie-ball--numbs
the ardor of the bravest. It is such a malignant, direct, devilish
admonition of murder; it comes so unexpectedly, no matter how well you
are prepared, that Achilles himself would feel a spasm of fear. And when
it strikes it does its work with such a venomous, exultant splutter,
that there seems something animate, demoniac in it. The volley, as I
said, came as the men were hurried down the hill by their own momentum
and by the sharp fall in the ground. The balls passed too high or too
low, but they impressed the fact on enthusiasts, who had longed for
battle, that one might die for one's country and not die gloriously. It
seemed such an ignoble, such a dastardly, outrageous thing, that death
could come to them from unseen hands, for as yet they had not seen a
soul. But now they are at the foot of the hill--though it is not correct
to so call it, for it was a long, winding valley, through which ran a
dancing streamlet, very welcome to the thirsty warriors when they had
succeeded in breaking through the vicious natural _chevaux de frise_ of
blackberry-briers and nettles. But now there wasn't much time to slake
thirst. The bullets had begun to come regularly; and suddenly, as Jack
conducted his squad across the stream, he was startled by the
exclamation, uttered rather in reverence, it seemed to him, than
surprise or pain:
"My God, I'm hit!"
Yes, a fair-haired lad--one of his class--tottered a second in a limp,
helpless way, and fell headlong, pitching into the little stream. Jack
ran and lifted him out; but even before the hospital corps came the boy
was dead. The bullet had gone quite through his heart.
However, now the first numbing terror of the bullet was changed to a
sort of revengeful delight. Relinquishing any return fire for a moment,
the company, with a great shout, that sounded all along its front,
dashed up the hill, through the scrub-oak at the brow, and then they
could see the enemy slowly retiring, a chain of them a mile or more
wide. While one of the rebel ranks fired the other knelt, or lay flat
upon the ground loading, where there were no natural obstacles to take
shelter behind. A vengeful shout ran along the Union lines.
"Capture them--don't fire!" and with one impulse the groups lied forward
so swiftly that the enemy, believing the rush only momentary, delayed
too long, and in two minutes the Union line was pell-mell among them.
"Surrender!" Jack shouted to the squad just ahead of him--"surrender, or
we'll blow your heads off!" and along the line for some distance to his
left and right he could hear his own exultant demand echoed. There was
nothing to do for the rebels, who had neglected to keep their enemies at
the proper distance, but throw up their hands. Jack's squad sent back
twenty-three prisoners to Major Mike, who took them in proud triumph to
General Tyler, riding with the head of the column, now that the tenacity
of the rebel skirmishers made it seem probable that there would be
serious work. But though the firing kept up as the Union forces
advanced, no obstacle more, serious than the thin lines of the
skirmishers revealed itself.
At dusk the bugles, moving with the captains in the rear, sounded the
rally, and then the scattered groups came together in company. They were
to bivouac on the spot to await their regiment when it arrived.
Meanwhile, to the bitter discontent of the Caribee companies, their post
of honor was taken by new troops, and they knew that next day they would
march in line. They had so enjoyed the glory of the first volleys, the
first deaths, and the first prisoners, that, not remembering military
procedure, they resented the change as an aspersion upon their valor.
When the regiment came up, however, they forgot their mortification in
the eager questioning and envious jocularities of the rest. Companies K
and H were so beset that they forgot to boil their coffee, and would
have gone thirsty to their dewy beds, if the other companies' cooks had
not shared their rations with the gossiping heroes. As darkness fell,
the sky was reddened for miles with pillars of fire, and for a time the
Caribees thought it was the enemy. But Tom Twigg, who had been with the
major at headquarters, explained to Jack that the army was divided into
three bodies of about ten thousand men each, and that Tyler's column, of
which the Caribees were the advance, were the extreme northern body;
that they were now at Vienna, far north of Manassas, where Schenck had
been beset a month before in his never-enough-ridiculed reconnaissance
by train; that in the morning they were to push on to Fairfax
Court-House and thence to Centreville, where the army was to come
together for the blow at the rebels. Jack and his friends were a good
deal chagrined to learn that they were not as near the enemy as the
column to the south of them, whose fires had been mistaken for
Beauregard's. Though the levee came to an end at "taps," no one felt
sleepy, and the excitement banished the pains of fatigue. Major Mike,
sauntering through the dark lines near midnight, heard the tale still
going on in drowsy monotone, but, good-naturedly, made no sign.
Though not given the skirmish-line next day--the 17th--Jack was
delighted to find that the Caribees led all the rest. With them rode the
commander of the brigade, Colonel Sherman, whom the soldiers thought a
very crabbed and "grumpy" sort of a fellow. His red hair bristled
straight up and out when he took his slouch hat off, as he did very
often, for the heat was intolerable. His eyes had a merry twinkle,
however, that won the hearts of the lads as he rode by, scrupulously
striking into the fields to save the panting and heavily laden line
every extra step he could. Often, in after-days--when Sherman had become
the Turenne of the armies--Jack, who was often heard to brag of his gift
of detecting greatness, used to turn very red in the face when he was
reminded of a saying of his on that hot July day:
"That chap is too lean and hungry to have much stomach for a fight; he
looks better fitted for wielding the ferule than the sword. Schoolmaster
is written in every line of his face and stamped in his
The march that day was south by a little west, and about nine o'clock a
cool morning breeze lifted the clouds of dust far enough above the
horizon to reveal the distant blue of the mountains. The whole line
seemed to come to a pause in the enchanting, mirage-like spectacle. "The
Shenandoah," Jack said, mopping the dust, or rather the thin coating of
mud, from his face and brow, for the perspiration, oozing at every pore,
naturally covered the exposed skin with an unpremeditated cosmetic. The
march to Fairfax Court-House, for which judicial temple the curious
soldier looked in vain, was but eight miles from the point of departure
in the morning, but it was two o'clock in the afternoon when the
Caribees passed the hamlet, turning sharply to the right. They marched
up the deep cut of projected railway, where, for a time, they were
shaded from the sun by the high banks. But, emerging presently on the
Warrenton pike, they saw evidences that other columns--whether friends
or foes they couldn't tell--had recently preceded them. Scores of the
raw and overworked were breaking down now every hour.
The dust and heat were insupportable. Whenever the march came near
water, all thought of discipline was forgotten, and the panting,
miner-like hosts broke for the inviting stream. The officers were
powerless to enforce discipline; when these breaks happened the column
was forced to come to a halt until every man had filled his canteen--and
here is one, among the many trivial causes, that brought about the
reverses of McDowell's masterly campaign. A march that ought to have
been made in twenty-four hours, or thirty at the utmost, took more than
three days! One of those days saved to the army would have enabled
McDowell to finish Beauregard before the ten thousand re-enforcements
from the Shenandoah came upon his flank at Bull Run. But we shall see
that in proper time, for there is nothing more dramatically timely, or
untimely, than this incident in the history of battles, unless it be
Bluecher's miraculous appearance at Waterloo, when Napoleon supposed that
Grouchy was pummeling him twenty miles away.
There was no provost guard to spur on the stragglers; and when, late in
the afternoon, the way-worn columns spread themselves on the western
slope of the hamlet of Centreville, at least a third of each regiment
was far in the rear. Nearly every man had, in the heat and burden of the
march, thrown away the provisions in his haversack, and that night ten
thousand men lay down supperless on the grateful greensward, happy to
rest and sleep. Mother Earth must have ministered to the weary flesh,
for at sunrise, when the music of the bugles aroused them, they started
up with the alert vivacity of old campaigners. Provisions, that should
have been with the column the night before, arrived in the morning.
While the reinvigorated ranks were at coffee, there was a great clatter
in the rear, and presently a _cortege_ of mounted officers appeared,
General McDowell among them. Dick Perley, who was at the brigade
headquarters, with Grandison, came to the Caribees presently with
The battle was to begin that very day. General Tyler was to go forward
to a river called Bull Run, where Beauregard was waiting. The whole army
was to spread out like a fan and fight him. He had seen the map on the
table, and the place couldn't be more than four miles away. Yes, they
all looked eagerly to the westward now. The mountains in the distance
rolled themselves down into lower and lower ridges, and just about four
miles ahead could be seen a range that seemed to melt into a wide
plateau fringed deeply with scrub-oak and clusters of pine. Jack had
provided himself with a field-glass. Standing in the middle of the
Warrenton pike, a fine highway, that ran downward as solid as a Roman
causeway, for four or five miles, he could see the break made by the
Bull Run River, and--yes, by the glaive of battle!--he could see the
glistening of bayonets now and then, where the screen of woods
The general, too, was examining the distant lines, and Jack took it as a
good omen that Sherman grew jocose and appeared to be making merry with
Tyler, whose face looked troubled, now that the decisive moment seemed
at hand. But the day passed, and there was no advance. It was not until
late in the evening that the cause became known. The army had been
waiting for supplies, ammunition, and what not, that should have been on
the field the day before. The Caribees were made frantic, too, by what
seemed a battle going on to the south of them, a few miles to the left.
The camp that night was a grand debating society, every man propounding
a theory of strategy that would have edified General McDowell, no doubt,
if he could have been given a _precis_ of the whole. How such things
become known it is difficult to guess, but every man in the columns knew
that the general had planned to put forward his thirty thousand men in
the form of a half-moon, covering about ten miles from tip to tip. The
right or northward horn was to be considerably thicker and of more body
than the left or southern. When the time came this right was to curve in
like a hook and cut the ground out from the left wing of the rebel army.
This is the homely way these unscientific strategists made the movement
known to each other, and it very aptly describes the formulated plan of
battle, save that, of course, there were gaps between the forces here
and there along this human crescent. Long before daylight Sherman's
brigade, with a battery of guns and a squadron of cavalry, set out due
south, leaving the broad Warrenton pike far to their right hand. Such a
country as the march led into, no one had ever seen in the North outside
of mountain regions--deep gullies; wastes of gnarled and aggressive
oaks, that tore clothes and flesh in the passage; sudden hillocks rising
conical and inconsequent every few rods; deep chasms conducting driblets
of water; morasses covered with dark and stagnant pools, where the
pioneers fairly picked their steps among squirming reptiles. A stream,
sometimes large as a river, crawling languidly through deep fissures in
the red shale, protected the left flank of the column. The cavalry was
forced to hold the narrow wood road, as the bush was hardly passable
"Hi, Jack!" Barney cries, catching his breath at the edge of a muddy
stream, "what sort of a place must the rebels be in if they let us
promenade through such a jungle as this unopposed?"
"I have been thinking of that," Jack replies. And so had every man in
the expedition--for to think was one of the drawbacks as well as one of
the excellences of the soldier in the civil war. But presently, after
five hours of laborious work, a halt is called. The men dive into their
haversacks, and even the brackish water in the nearest sedge pond has a
flavor of nectar and the invigoration of a tonic. On they tear again,
the whole body pushing on in skirmish-like dispersion. Suddenly the land
changes. They are climbing a rolling table-land, cleared in some places
as though the axe of the settler had been at work. The march is now
easier and the picket-lines are strengthened. Then a sharp volley comes,
as if from the tree-tops.
The march is instantly halted. The mass, moving in a column, is
deployed--that is, stretched out to cover a mile or more as it moves
forward; the cavalry divides and rides far to right and left, to see
that no ambush is set to enable the rebels to sneak in behind the vast
human broom, as it sweeps through the solemn aisles of the pines, now
rising in vernal columns thicker and thicker. The firing is going on now
in scattering volleys, and soon the wounded--a dozen or more--are
carried back through the silent ranks. Joking has now ceased. Lips are
compressed; eyes glitter, and the men avoid meeting each other's gaze.
It is the moment of all moments, the most trying to the soldier, when he
is expecting every instant a hurricane of bullets, and yet sees no one
to avenge his anguish on or forestall in the deadly work. But they have
been moving forward all the time, the hurtling bullets sweeping through
the leafy covering, now and then thumping into the soft pine with a
vicious joyousness, as if to say to each man, "The next is for you, see
how well our work is done." For these hideous missiles have a language
of their own, as every man that stood fire can tell. The skirmishers are
now all drawn in. The solid line must do the work at hand. No one but
the commander and his confidants knew the work intended, save that to
kill and be killed was the business to be done. The panting lines are on
high cleared ground now, and they can see absolutely nothing but the
irregular depressions that mark the channel of the Bull Run, as it
rushes down to the Rappahannock. The line is moving along steadily.
Looking to left and right, Jack can see the colors of three regiments,
and his eye rests with pleasure on the bright, shining folds of the
Caribees' dark-blue State flag spread to the breeze beside the stars of
the Union. Are they to cross the river? Evidently, for the command is
still "Forward, bear center, bear right." Then, square in front, where
the thick, broad leaves of the oak glitter in the sun, there is seen a
cylinder of steam-like smoke, with fiery gleams at the end, a crackling
explosion of a hogshead of fire-crackers, then a rushing, screaming
sound in their very faces, then a few rods behind a ringing, vicious
explosion. They are in the very teeth of a masked battery. The Union
skirmishers have been withdrawn too soon. The main line will be torn to
pieces, for retreat is as fatal as advance.
"Lie down, men!" The command rings out and is echoed along the column.
The guns have the range, and the enemy knows the ground. The Caribees
are directly in the sweep of the artillery, and the command comes to
them by company to crawl backward, exposing themselves as little as may
be. Presently two brass guns are brought up behind the Caribees. The
gunners have noted the point of the enemy's fire. The men point the big
muzzles with intrepid equanimity, firing over the prostrate blue coats.
For twenty minutes, perhaps half an hour, this is kept up; then there is
silence on the hill beyond. The column rises to its feet, and at the
command, "Forward!" they start with a rush and a cheer. Five hundred
yards onward, and a solid mass of gray coats confront them. A volley is
fired and returned; the exulting Caribees, with two lines behind them,
give a loud cheer and, in an instant, the gray mass has disappeared, as
if the earth had opened. The skirmish-line, advancing now, picks up a
half-dozen or more wounded rebels, besides two or three who had become
confused in the hasty retreat and run toward the "Yankees" instead of
their own line. Jack's comrade held this conversation with one of the
"I say, reb, what place is this?"
"Much of your army here?"
"'Nuff to lick you uns out of your boots, I reckon."
"What did they run across the ford for, then?"
"Oh, you'll see soon enough--when our folks get ready."
"Who's in command here?"
"General Bonham, of South Carolina."
"How many men, about?"
"Well, there's right smart on to a million, I reckon. They had to cut
the trees down, yonder, to get room for 'em.".
The man's eyes twinkled as he gave this precise approximation; but
Barney, who had brought the humorist in, whispered to the captain to let
him have a moment's speech with the man before he was sent away. The
captain nodded, and Barney said innocently:
"Had anything to eat to-day?"
"Not a mouthful. The trains were all taken up with soldiers coming from
"Have a bit of beef--and here's a cracker or two. You can have some
coffee if the guards will let you make it."
"Old Longstreet himself would envy me now," the rebel cried, his mouth
stuffed with the cold meat and hard-tack, almost as fresh and crisp as
soda-crackers, for the contractors had not yet learned the trick of
making them out of sawdust, white sand, and other inexpensive
substitutes for flour.
"Longstreet?" Barney said, carelessly.
"Yes, that's the commander of the right wing, just below, at Blackburn's
"Yes, that's a mile down, and really behind you uns, for the run makes a
big elbow to the east. I tell you what it is, Yank, you'll see snakes
right soon, for our folks are behind you."
Sure enough, a crackling to the left confirmed this, and the captain,
who had listened to Barney's adroit cross-questioning, sent the man with
a note to Colonel Sherman, a few rods in the rear. Ten minutes later the
column fell into ranks again and moved off swiftly southeastward. A
march of a mile or so brought them to a bold ridge cutting down almost
aslant to the clear water of the run. The skirmishers, for some reason,
had not pushed ahead to explore the ground, and the regiments, marching
in close masses, came out in a rather disorderly multitude on the ridged
crest. A hundred yards nearly below the water-course was fringed with
thick copses of oak, and the gently ascending slopes on the western bank
were completely hidden from the Union lines. A few gaunt, almost
limbless trees rose up spectrally on the ridge, offering the compact
masses neither shelter from the sun nor security from the enemy--if
there were an enemy near.
Dick came up to Jack out of breath with great news, just as the Caribees
were aligning themselves to move forward.
"General Tyler just told Richardson"--a brigade commander--"that the
rebels had retreated from Manassas, and he (Tyler) is going to have the
glory of occupying the works: that McDowell thought the army would have
to fight a big battle to get--"
"Glory!" the group shouted, near enough to hear; and the delightful
story ran up and down the lines by a telephone process that was much
swifter than Edison's electric invention. A roar of gratulatory triumph
broke--a roar so loud and inspiring that for a moment the densely packed
masses did not distinguish an ear-splitting outburst just in front of
them. But on the instant piercing shrieks among the huddled
cheerers--cries of death and agony--changed the paeans of triumph into
wails of anguish and mortal pain. A panic--instant, unreasoning,
irresistible--fell upon the mass, a breath before so confident. A third
of the regiment seemed to wither away. The colors fell in the struggling
group in the center. Hoarse shouts, indistinguishable and ominous, could
be vaguely heard from the staff and line.
Direr still, hideous clamor of masked cannon, right in their very faces,
added the horror of surprise to the disorder of attack, and the thick
blue lines broke in irrestrainable confusion. The terror of the unknown
seized officers and men alike. In five minutes the crest was cleared,
and the ignoble vanity, ignorance, and self-sufficiency of one man had
undone in an hour the splendid work of the commander-in-chief. A _melee_
of miserable, disgraceful disorder ensued. The rebel sharpshooters,
hurrying to the flank, poured in hurtling, murderous volleys, filling
the minds of the panic-stricken mob with the idea, the most awful that
can enter a soldier's mind, that his line is surrounded. Hundreds threw
away guns and everything that could impede flight. Other hundreds fired
wildly wherever they saw moving men, and thus aided the rebels in
killing their own comrades, for it was into the supporting Union forces
they directed their random shots. The fire grew every instant more
bewildering. Shots came in volleys from every direction, and the
helpless hordes darted wildly together--sometimes toward, instead of
from the enemy. Had the rebels been as numerous as they were crafty, the
brigade could have been seized _en masse_. But now Sherman is at hand
with fresh regiments, others are at his heels, and the contest takes on
some of the order of intelligent action. The rebels, too, are
re-enforced, but the dispositions made by the Union chiefs bring the
combat to equal terms. The clamor of cannon and musketry continues an
hour, though the lines are now among the friendly undergrowth, and the
losses are not serious. But the Caribees, with the regiment supporting
them, have been blotted from the scene as a factor. For hours the
scattering groups fled--fled in ever-increasing panic, and it was long
after dark before the remnants of the regiment came into camp at
Poor Jack! He gave no heed to supper that dreadful night. He threw
himself on the ground, too exhausted to think and too disheartened to
talk. He couldn't understand the shameful panic. The Caribees were not
cowards; every man in the regiment had longed for the battle. When under
fire at Mitchell's Ford, an hour earlier than the disaster at Blackburn,
all had stood firmly in place, fought with coolness, and gave no sign of
fear. The volume of fire when they broke was not much greater than the
Mitchell's Ford volleys. During the night Grandison came to camp and
assembled the officers. He expressed his sorrow at the sudden shadow
that had fallen on the fair fame of the regiment, but since the panic
had not been followed, as such outbreaks often are, by the total
destruction of the men, there would be abundant chance to redeem the
disgrace of the day. He had himself begged the division commander to
give the men another trial, and he had staked his commission on their
doing such duty as would remove the tarnish of the afternoon from
The officers had been dispirited. Major Mike had raged over the field,
through the woods, a very angry man indeed, belaboring the fleeing men
with his sword and imploring those he couldn't reach to "come to me
here. Dress on me. There's no call to be afeard. We've more men than
they have, and we'll soon wallop them."
But the resounding blows on the backs of those near the officer did not
give the encouraging emphasis to his appeal that captivates men whose
reasoning faculties are almost gone for the moment. Before daylight on
the next morning--Saturday, the 20th--the companies were called together
and little addresses were made to the men by the officers. The substance
of Colonel Grandison's words was imparted, and the hope expressed that
when, in the course of that or the next day the regiment was again under
fire, they would show that the panic of yesterday had not been
cowardice. The men said nothing, and every one was glad that the light
was so dim that the officers could not look in their faces, though, as a
matter of fact, the shoulder-straps had shown as little fortitude as the
muskets in the dispersion. All that day the forces rested, the Caribees
providing themselves with new arms and equipments, or the two or three
hundred who had flung their own away. During the afternoon an incident
happened in the division that lessened the mortification of the
Caribees. A splendid regiment and a battery of bronze guns came into the
highway from the extreme of the line that was expected to take part in
the battle which all knew would be opened the next morning. Every one
was surprised to see the men moving without muskets and the colors
wrapped in their cases. "Where you bound for?" some one at the roadside
"Our time is out; we're going home."
Then a derisive howl followed the line as it passed through the masses
of the army, and remarks of an acrid nature were made that were not
gratifying to the departing patriots:
"Don't you want a guard to protect you?"
"Does your mamma know you're out alone?"
"Wait till to-morrow and we'll send Beauregard's forces to see you safe
The men and officers looked very conscious and uncomfortable under the
gamut of jeers, for word went along the line, and all along the route to
the rear they passed through this clamor of contemptuous outcry.
"Well, I thought we had reached the eminent deadly pinnacle of
disgrace," Barney said, with a sigh, as a group of Company K watched the
considerable number taken out of McDowell's small army, "but this sight
makes me feel like the man on trial for murder who escapes with a
verdict of manslaughter."
BLOOD AND IRON.
Late at night Dick came down to Jack's bivouac with a strange tale.
McDowell had come to Tyler's quarters storming with rage. He had accused
that officer of disobeying orders in forcing a fight on the fords of
Bull Run where he had been told to merely reconnoitre.
The staff believed that Tyler would be cashiered, for he had not only
wrecked the general's plan of battle, but he had given the rebels the
secret of the movement and demoralized one wing of the army by putting
raw soldiers in front of masked batteries that could have been detected
by proper outpost work. Then one of the staff reported a speech Tyler
had made when his troops rushed over the empty rebel breastworks and
forts around Centreville. His officers were discussing the probable
forces Beauregard had behind the crooked stream beyond.
"I believe we've got them on the run," Tyler said, exultingly, "from
what we see here. I tell you the great man of this war is the man that
plants the flag at Manassas, and I'm going through to Richmond
"Not much comfort in knowing we've got such a fool for a commander,"
Jack cried, thinking of the disgrace of the day before and of the small
chance the regiment had under such a chief to redeem its prestige on the
morrow. All personal griefs, everything but the pending battle, were
driven from the men's minds as the signs of the momentous work of the
morrow accumulated. The hospital corps was up in force. The yellow flag
floated from an immense tent near the roadway. A great _cortege_ of
general officers rode away from McDowell's quarters about ten in the
evening. The haversacks were filled with three days' cooked rations. One
hundred rounds of ammunition to a man were dealt out to each company.
Everything not absolutely necessary was ordered to the company wagons.
The talk in the camp that night was of home--of anything and everything
but the dreadful to-morrow, so long looked forward to with eager hope,
now regarded with uncertainty that was not so much fear as the memory of
the panic at Blackburn's Ford. Jack was provided with a large atlas map
of Virginia, and with the bits of information given by Dick he was able
to conjecture the probable plan of the next day. The cronies of Company
K listened in delight to his exposition of the action.
"Here," he said, "is the Bull Run. It makes two big elbows eastward
toward us--one about four miles to the northwest of us, the other about
eight miles to the southeast of that, and about four miles from our
right hand here! The rebel we quizzed yesterday says that there are five
fords between the Warrenton pike bridge--that's just ahead of us yonder
at the end of the road we are on--the last one is McLean's Ford, at the
very knuckle of the elbow that is crooked toward us a mile west of where
we were yesterday. That is near the railway, which it is Beauregard's
business to fight for and our business to get, for then he will have to
fall back near Richmond to feed his army. Now from the railway where it
crosses Bull Run near Mitchell's Ford to the Warrenton road, which
Beauregard must also hold, is about nine miles. He must guard all these
fords, and we must fight for any one or two of them that we need to
cross by. The only problem is, whether our general is going to strike
with his right arm at Mitchell's Ford, his left arm at this very
Warrenton road we are on, or whether he means to butt the middle of the
line of Beauregard's battle to break him into two pieces?"
"What would Frederick the Great or Napoleon do?" Nick asked, absorbed in
Jack's confident predications.
"If Frederick had equal forces he would have a reserve just where we
shall be in the morning--there at that point marked 'Stone Ridge,' and
move a heavy mass to the southwest below McLean's Ford there, where you
see the railway runs along the run for a half-mile or more. Or he would
send this body to the northeast, over there where you see Sudley Springs
marked in rather large letters, and he would by either one of these
movements turn the enemy's flank--that is, get in behind him and force
him to change front to fight, something that is rarely done successfully
in battle. Napoleon would, on the contrary, mass all his best troops at
the stone bridge, open the fight with every piece of artillery he could
bring to bear, and in the panic send divisions ten deep across
"Which would be the better plan?"
"Ah! that no one can say. The first is sure enough and less dangerous,
if the commander is not certain of his men, because you notice that we
felt excellent and confident all day, so long as we were marching
forward and pushing the enemy from our path. The trial in battle is to
be kept standing under fire, not sure where your enemy is; and then you
noticed that our own guns behind us, sending shot and shells over us,
were just as trying as the rebels'. Only soldiers of the very first
class can be depended on in the Napoleon tactics. We are not soldiers of
the first class; and you may be sure McDowell, who was many years in
Europe, and who is a trained officer, will make use of the manoeuvres
best calculated to bring out whatever there is in his men. As a matter
of opinion, I should say that, in view of the miserable affair on the
right yesterday, he will strike out for Sudley Springs, where we shall
have the rebels just as you would have me if you were at my side, held
my left arm behind me, ready to break my back with your knee planted
Jack was sergeant of the guard that night, and it was in the group of
sentries awaiting their relief every two hours, re-enforced by his
tent-mates of Company K, that these learned dissertations on war were
carried on. It was a never to be forgotten Saturday night to millions
yet living. In Washington the President and his Cabinet sat far into the
morning hours receiving the dispatches from the weary and disappointed
chief--for, if Tyler had not made his miserable attempt to reach
Manassas, the battle would have been fought that vital Saturday, and the
result would have been another story in history. As the morning broke,
red and murky, the army was up and in line, but without the usual noisy
signals. The artillery-horses began to move first wherever it was
possible. The heavy guns were pushed forward on the sward, to prevent
the loud metallic clangor that penetrated the still air like clashing
anvils. By half after six, the advance brigade, the Caribees in their
old place, were within gunshot of the stone bridge.
"Ah ha, Jack! It is the Napoleonic plan!" Barney cried, as the artillery
took places in front of the masses lying on the ground.
"Wait," Jack cried, owlishly. "The battle isn't fought always where the
guns are loudest."
But the guns were now loud and quick. The rebels, behind a thick screen
of trees, took up the challenge, and every sound was drowned in the roar
of the artillery. A few far in the rear were wounded--those nearest the
rebels were in the least danger, whether because the guns could not be
sufficiently depressed, or because the gunners were poor hands, couldn't
be determined. A breathless suspense, an insatiate craving to see, to
move, to fly forward, or do anything, devoured the prostrate ranks. The
firing had gone on two hours or more, which seemed only so many minutes,
when to the group near General Tyler a courier, panting and dusty, rode
in great excitement.
"General Tyler, the major-general has just learned that the enemy have
crossed in force at Blackburn's Ford, below you. You are at once to take
measures to protect your left flank."
"Ah ha, Jack; Frederick's on the other side, eh?" Barney said, as,
standing near the group, these words reached their ears.
"Perhaps there are two Fredericks at work. Look yonder!" handing him his
glass as he spoke.
"Thunder! our whole army is marching over there to the right, and we
sha'n't even see the battle. They are four miles off. Why, what an
immense army we must have! I thought this was the bulk of it, but we're
not a brigade compared to that."
"Now, Barney, I feel confident that is the grand movement. Look how they
fly along! The fields are as good as roads out there, and if it were not
for the artillery they could make five miles an hour. Now, keep your
ears open, my lad: you'll hear music off there to the northwest, music
that will make Beauregard sick, if that courier's information is exact.
For, don't you see, as we are placed here, with that gully to our left
and the thick woods in front, we could hold this ground against six
times our number."
Company K were now sent forward to the right to relieve a body of
skirmishers that had been hidden on the margin of Bull Run, some
distance to the westward of the stone bridge. Jack, going forward with
his glass, noticed an officer among the men, but not catching sight of
his face did not recognize him.
"Is that a rebel or one of our fellows?" one of the men said, pointing
to a horseman disappearing in the woods four hundred yards to the right
and in front of the company, marching in a straggling line two abreast,
"by the flank," as it is called. Jack took his glass to discover, but
the rider had disappeared. An instant after from a knoll, Jack, glass at
eye, was examining eagerly the field on the other side of the river,
when a horseman suddenly shot into view, riding desperately.
"By George, it is the same man! I wonder how he crossed the stream?
There must be a bridge down there among those thick trees and bushes,"
Jack said, excitedly.
"Are you sure, sergeant, that is the same man that was in the woods to
the right there, five minutes ago?"
Jack turned; the officer was at his shoulder. He saluted respectfully,
recognizing, with a thrill of joy, old Red Top, as the company
"Yes, colonel, it's the same man. He was in his shirtsleeves and had a
blue scarf tied about his arm. There can be no mistake; several of us
saw him quite plainly."
"If that be true, we've gained a half-day's work in two minutes." He was
looking diligently through the glass as he spoke, and his eye brightened
as he marked the man until he disappeared. He turned to an orderly that
was following at a distance leading a horse. Mounting this lightly the
colonel rode to the head of the company and said in a short,
"Come ahead men, at a double-quick, until you strike the stream." He
kept beside the men as they moved. In fifteen minutes they were at the
water's edge. Then the company was deployed as skirmishers, two thirds
halting where they struck the water and the rest keeping on up the bank
of the river for a few hundred yards. Sherman was eying every inch of
the bank until, suddenly reaching a break where fresh tracks of a horse
were visible, he directed his orderly to follow, and plunged into the
water. It was not up to the horses' knees from bank to bank. Riding
back, his face aglow, the colonel ordered the captain to cross half his
men and station them up and down on the bank where they would not be
seen by the rebels on the high ground above. Then, addressing Jack,
"Sergeant, select two or three trusty men. Follow the bank of the stream
until you come to General Hunter's division, which may be a mile,
perhaps more, to the right yonder; you can tell by the firing soon. Tell
General Hunter that we have discovered a ford and shall not have to
fight for the stone bridge. We shall be across in no time and take the
enemy in the rear. If you can't find Hunter, give this intelligence to
any officer in command. Stay."
He scribbled a line on a sheet of his order-book, saying: "This will be
your authority. It's better not to write the rest for fear you should be
captured. In case you are in danger tell each man with you what to say,
so that there will be more chances of getting the information where it
will do good; and remember, sergeant, that this news in Hunter's hands
will be almost equivalent to victory. Ah!"
He paused again. Reverberating crashes came from the high grounds up the
river. "You will have no trouble in finding him now. Those are Hunter's
Glowing, grateful, big with the fate of the battle, Jack had Barney,
Nick, and another, whom he charged with the duty of historian, detailed
for this duty of glory. The group set off with a fervent Godspeed from
the company sheltered among the thick pines and oaks.
"Now, boys," Jack said, every inch the captain, "we must spread out like
skirmishers. Our chief danger will be from the left, as no one will be
likely to be in the water but our own men, and we must look as sharply
for them as for the enemy. I will take the center; you, Barney, the
left, next to me; and you, Nick, four paces farther to the left." Jack
looked at his watch. It was just 9.30, Sunday morning, July 21, 1861.
The crash of musketry ahead now became one unbroken roar, with a
_crescendo_ of artillery that fairly shook the ground the messengers
were darting over, for all were on a dead run. The bushes grew thick on
the hillside and their branches were stubborn as crab thorns. Hell, as
Barney afterward remarked, would have been cool in comparison to the
heat as the adventurers tugged and wrestled forward. Now guns were
roaring on every side save the river. Behind, before, to the left, the
thunders played upon the parched land. At the end of a half-hour the
bullets and shells passed over the group as Jack and his squad pushed
along the hilly way. Twice, commands, and even the clicking, of what
Jack knew must be rebel guns sounded not twenty paces away, but, thanks
to the thick bushes, the scouts passed unseen, and, thanks to the noise
of battle, unheard. But now the danger is from friends, not enemies.
Balls come hurtling through the trees across the stream, and in a low
voice Jack bids Barney summon Nick. Then all slip down to the water's
edge, and make their way painfully through the marshy swamps, the
cane-like rushes that fill the narrow valley. The run has been a fearful
strain upon Nick, and at length he falls, gasping, in a clump of
"What is it, old fellow?" Jack cries in alarm.
"O Jack! I can't go a step farther. You go on and leave me. I shall
follow when I get breath."
He was white and gasping. Barney filled his canteen from the running
water, and, wetting his handkerchief, laid it on Nick's parboiled head
"Best a few minutes," Jack said, soothingly. "I will reconnoitre a bit."
Stripping off his accoutrements, he clasped a tall sycamore growing at
the crest of the ravine, and when far up brought his glass to bear. A
third of a mile to the left and southward, he could see a regiment with
a flag bearing a single star, surrounding a small stone farm-house on
the brow of a gentle hill. They were firing to the west and toward the
north, where the black clouds obscured his view. But the red gleam in
the smoke told of at least a dozen guns, and he knew that the main
battle was there, though the fury of it reached far to the east, near
the stone bridge which he had quit an hour before. Then through the veil
of smoke long, deep masses of blue emerge and make for the rebel front
on the brow of the hill, fairly at Jack's feet; the enemy redoubles the
fire; two guns at their left pour canister into the advancing wall of
blue. It never wavers, but, as a group falls to the earth, the rest
close together and the mass whirls on.
Jack feels like flying. Oh, the grandeur of it, the fearlessness, the
intoxication! He almost falls from the tree in his excitement. But he
takes a last sweep of the belching hill. Hark! Loud cheers in the trees
back of the rebels, far to the southeast, perhaps a mile and a half;
then the flaunting Palmetto flag flying forward in the center of deep
masses of gray. Which will reach the hill first? He can not quit the
deadly sight. Ah! the blue lines are pressing on now; the cannon-shots
pass over their heads into the devoted line of gray, desperately
thinned, but clinging to the key of the battle-field. But, great God!
Perhaps his delay is aiding the enemy. He sees the route now
clear--straight to the west--and no rebels near enough to intervene. He
descends so fast that his hands and legs are blistered, but he is down.
"Look sharp, boys; you must follow me as best you can. I know the
route--there is a forest path directly to our lines, and we shall be
there in twenty minutes--I shall, at least." He doesn't stop to see
whether he is followed or not, but dashes on, and the rest after him. He
is far out of sight in an instant. It is only by the crackling of the
branches that the others keep his course. The way is between steep,
precipitous hills, which explains how they could be so near the battle
and yet not in it, nor harmed by the missiles flying sometimes very near
them. At a deep branch of the stream the three rearmost came in sight of
Jack, up to his armpits in water and pushing for the shore.
While they are hailing him exultantly he sinks out of sight; an awful
anguish almost stops the others, but Barney, flinging his musket and
impediments off as he runs, leaps far into the stream, and when the rest
reach the spot he has Jack by the hair, dragging him to the bank. He is
fairly worn out by the stress, and the others loosen his coat, stretch
him on the brown sward and rub his hands, his body. It is ten minutes,
it seemed an hour, before he is able to get up, and the rest insist on
carrying his accoutrements. Then the wild race is begun again, every
instant bringing them nearer the pandemonium of battle. Suddenly the
sharp commands of officers are heard in front and to the left. Is it the
enemy, or is it friends? The group halts in an agony of doubt. How can
they find out? Barney takes out his handkerchief and puts it on his gun,
which he was careful to go back and recover when Jack was on the bank. A
ray of bright red suddenly flits above the thick tops of the scrub-oaks.
Yes, God be praised, there is the flag of stars, and there are blue
uniforms! With a wild hurrah, drowned in the musketry to the left, they
rush forward, are halted by a picket guard, exhibit Sherman's order, and
are directed to the commanding-officer. That personage has no knowledge
of General Hunter's whereabouts, but Colonel Andrew Porter is just
beyond, commanding the brigade. To him Jack makes known Sherman's
message, and is directed farther to the southwest, the Union right now
facing nearly to the east in the execution of McDowell's admirable flank
Now among their own, Sherman's couriers run more peril than when
skirting the edge of the battle, for the shells are directed at the line
they are pursuing. They push to the rear and continue southeastward,
where Hunter's headquarters are supposed to be. But Jack is easy on the
score of his mission, since the general, who is nearest the stone
bridge, has been apprised, and well knows that the fire which has been
coming near his left flank is Sherman's. Until, however, he has executed
his orders literally Jack won't be satisfied, and plunges on, the others
following, nothing loath. But it is a way of pain for the lads now.
Every step they come upon the dead and dying. The air is filled with
moaning men, whinnying horses, the hurried movement of stretchers, the
solemn solicitude of the hospital corps. The line of foremost battle is
less terrifying, less trying than this inner way of Golgotha, and the
four are well-nigh unnerved when they reach a group where the commanding
officer has been pointed out.
"General Hunter?" Jack says, addressing an officer with a star.
"My name is Franklin. General Hunter was wounded an hour ago. What's the
Jack gave his message, and Franklin said, cheerfully: "That's good news.
You're a very brave fellow. Go a few yards in the rear yonder and you'll
find General McDowell. He'll enjoy your message."
On the hill they halt electrified.
Thick copses of scrub-pine dot the gently sloping sward. Here and there
clumps of tall pines stand in the bare, brown sod as if to guard the
young outshoots clustering about them in wanton dispersion. Cow-paths,
marked only by the worn edges of the bushes, run in zigzags across the
hillside and up to the plateau. The remnants of rail fences strew the
ground here and there. The low roof of the farm-house can be seen far
back even from the depression, where the lines of blue are now resting a
brief, deadly half-hour.
The sun is now behind the halted line of blue; the bayonets, catching
the light, make a sea of liquid, mirror-like rivulets hovering in the
air, with the bushy branches of pine rising like green isles in the
shimmering tide. The men are filling their cartridge-boxes; new
regiments are gliding into the gaps where death has cut the widest
swath. From the woods, cries, groans, commands, clashing steel as the
men hustle against each other in the rush into line, prelude the Vulcan
clamor soon to begin. Men, bent, sometimes crawling, with stretchers on
their shoulders, glide through the maimed and shrieking fragments of
bodies, picking out here and there those seeming capable of carriage.
Other men, prone on their faces, hold canteens of tepid, muddy
water--but ah! a draught to the feverish lips which seems godlike
nectar. Against the stout bodies of the trees, armless men, legless
trunks, the maimed in every condition of death's fantastic sport, hold
themselves limply erect, to gain succor or save some of the vital stream
pouring from their gaping wounds.
Couriers dash up to the impassive chief, calm-eyed, keen, alert,
surveying the line, dispatching brief commands, receiving reports. It is
Franklin. With the air of a marshal on a civic pageant, perplexed only
by some geometrical problem denying the possibility of two right lines
on the same plane, he glances upward toward the brow of the plateau. The
four flags had been increased by half a dozen. Ah, they have received
aid! A tremendous crash comes from the left. That must be Sherman. He is
on the rebel rear. One strong pull, and the two bodies will be united,
his left arm reaching Sherman's right. The shining mirage of steel above
the green isle sinks. The clash of hurtling accoutrements comes up
musically, tranquilly from the low ground. The blue mass, first
deliberately, then in a quiet, regular run, passes like a moving
barricade up the sloping hillside. Then from one end of the long wall to
the other white puffs as of some monster breathing spasmodically.
The air is a blur of sulphurous blackness. The bullets are as thick as
if a swarm of leaden locusts had been routed from the foliage, and taken
wing hillward. Then behind, through the gaps in the trees, big, whining,
screeching swarms of another caliber shells fly over the wall of blue.
In a moment the ground of the plateau is torn, the red clay flying far
into the air. But now the blue wall is girdling the very crest of the
hill; it stops, shrivels. Long gaps are cut in its broken surface. The
hillside is dotted with sprawling figures. The crest is a ragged edge of
writhing bodies and struggling limbs. Forward! The wall is advancing,
but shorter. It is within reach of the shining guns--spouting flame and
iron in the very face of the dauntless wall. Then there is a pause. The
smoke hides everything but the maimed and quivering heaps that strive to
crawl backward, back to the crest, back to the deeps that are not rest
nor security. The hillside is like a field, covered with sheaved
grain--with a thousand mangled bodies that had been men.
Then to these wrestling specters--for in the dim smoke and Tartarean
atmosphere the actions of loading and aiming take the shape of huge
writhing, convulsing, monstrous, grappling--come quick-moving lines of
help. They rush through them, over them. The thirteen cannon behind the
struggling hydra of gray seem one vortex--sulphurous, flaming, spitting,
as from one vast mouth, scorching fire, huge mouthfuls of granite venom.
Back--back, the gray masses break in sinuous, definite, slow-yielding
Then a sudden inrush from the left of the broken gray, where smoke and
space play fantastic tricks with the sunshine. Miraculously a dark mass
is projected on the shimmering spectrum, and a ringing voice is heard:
"We are saved; we are re-enforced. We will die here!" Then high above
the din, in the exultant tumult of the deadly won ground, the nearest in
blue hear a stentorian voice--grim, deliberate, exultant:
"Look where Jackson stands like a stone-wall! At them, men! Let us
determine to die here, and we will conquer."
Die he did, when the yelling horde in the sudden outrush grazed the edge
of the Union besom sweeping over the plain in a rush of death. Then
behind these spectral shapes came others--thousands--with wild, fierce
shouts. The blue mass is thinned to a single line. Men in command look
anxiously to the rear. Where is Burnside? Where are the twelve thousand
men whom Hunter and Heintzelman deployed in these woods two hours since?
Back, slowly, fiercely, but backward, the slender wall of blue is
forced; not defeated, but not victorious. All this Jack sees, and he
turns heartsick from the sight.
When the straggling couriers reached the point designated as McDowell's
headquarters, he had gone to the eastward of the line, and, faithful to
the command given him, Jack set out with Barney, leaving the others to
deliver the message in case he missed the general. They emerged
presently on the edge of a plateau, whence nearly the whole battle could
be seen. Jack climbed a tall oak to reconnoitre the ground for McDowell,
but, as his glass revealed the battling lines, he shouted to Barney to
climb for a moment, to impress the frightful yet grandiose spectacle
upon his mind. Far off toward the stone bridge, now a mile or more
northeast of them, they could see the Union flags waving, and mark the
white puffs of smoke that preceded the booming of the cannon. Every
instant the clouds of smoke came southward, where the rebel lines were
concealed by the thick copses. But they were breaking--always breaking
back anew. In twenty minutes more, at the same rate, the hill upon which
the rebel lines nearest the tree held the Union right at bay would be
surrounded on two sides.
This, for the moment, was a sulphurous crater, the fire-belching demons,
invisible in the smoke. Through the glass Jack could see the lines
clearly--or the smoke arising above them. The enemy had been pushed back
nearly two miles since he had left Colonel Sherman a few rods above the
stone bridge. The Union force, as marked by the veil of smoke, curved,
about the foemen, a vast crescent, seven miles or more from tip to tip.
The bodies opposing were scattered like a gigantic staircase, with the
angles of the steps confronting each other step by step. But now the
Union ranks at Jack's feet rush forward; a group of riders are coming to
the tree, and Jack descends hastily to meet the general. He is again
disappointed. It is not McDowell. At a loss what to do, he salutes one
of the officers and states his case, recognizing, as he turns,
"I don't see that you can do better than remain where you are, or, still
better, push to the brow of that hill yonder and act as a picket. In
case you see any force approaching from this side, which is not likely,
give warning. Our cavalry ought to be here, but it isn't. If you are
called to account when the battle is done, give me as your authority. I
take it your brigade will be around here pretty soon, if they make as
rapid work all the way as they have made since eleven o'clock. If the
cavalry come, you can report to the nearest officer for assignment."
THE LEGIONS OF VARUS.
The two free lances set out now, relieved of all responsibility, and
determined to watch the open fields and woods to see that this part of
the field was not surprised. The hill to which the general had directed
them was farther from the battle than they had yet been, but the work
going on to the northeast showed that this would soon be the western
edge of the combat if Sherman continued advancing. They are soon on the
hill, and Jack posts himself in a tree with his glass. There is a lull
in the quarter they have just quit. The smoke rolls away, and now he can
see streams of gray-coats hurrying to the edge of the plateau, where,
two hours before, he had encountered Porter's brigade. Can it be
possible that Porter's troops do not see these on-rushing hordes? They
are moving on the right point of the crescent, and unless the Union
commander is alert they will break in on the back of the point; for
Jack, without knowing it, was virtually in the rebel lines--that is, he
was nearer the rebel left flank, the foot of the long, bow-shaped
staircase, than he was to the tip of the Union crescent.
But no! The Stars and Stripes fly forward; they are on the very crest
whence the defiant guns spat upon them. But now the smoke covers
everything. Then there is a calm. The ground is clear again. The gray
masses are pouring up to the crest in still greater numbers; a large
body of them march down the hill in the rear of the Union line concealed
by the woods; they march right up to the ranks where the red-barred flag
is flying! What can it mean? Neither side fires. There must surely be
some mistake. Hark! now the blue line discovers--too late--that the mass
is the enemy, and half the line withers in the point-blank discharge.
They are swept from the ground. Jack is trembling--demoniac. The gray
mass springs forward; they have seized the guns--four of them--and turn
them upon the disappearing blue. Then a hoarse shout of delirious
triumph. The guns are lost; the day is lost, for now there are no
blue-coats in sight. But no! A still wilder shout--electrifying,
stentorian--comes across the plateau. The blue mass reappears; they come
with a wild rush in well-ordered array; they are the regulars, Jack can
tell by their movements. It must be the famous Rickett's battery he saw
at Centreville in the morning. In five minutes the tale was retold, and
the guns, snatched from the worsted gray-coats, are safe in the hands of
their masters. Again the smoke obscures the picture; again it clears
away, and now the gray are in greater force than before, and the
horseless batteries are again the prize of this rapacious grapple.
Swarming in from three sides, the gray again hold the contested pieces.
The blue vanish into the thick bushes. Another irruption, another pall
of smoke, and Jack's heart bounds in exultant joy, for he sees the New
York flag in the van. Sherman has reached the point of dispute. But
alas! the guns are run back, and as the gray lines sway rearward in
billowy, regular measure, they retain the Titanically contested trophies.
The sun is now far beyond the meridian. The Union lines are closing up
compactly. One more such grapple as the last and the broad plateau where
the rebel artillery is massed, pointing westward, northward, eastward,
will be won. But a palsy seems to have settled on the lines of blue.
They are motionless, while their adversaries are hurrying men from some
secret place, where they seem to be inexhaustible. The whole battle is
now within the compass of a mile. But where can these hordes come from?
Surely, General McDowell has never been mad enough to leave them
disengaged along the fords! No; they do not come from that direction.
They come at the very center of the rebel rear. Can it be that troops
are arriving from Richmond? The Southern lines are longer than the
Northern, but they have been since the first moment Jack got a glimpse
of them. He could see, too, that they were thinner: that on the spur of
the plateau in front of the massed rebel artillery a single brigade was
holding the Union mass at bay. He can almost hear the rebel commands as
the re-enforcements pour in. But now the thunder breaks out anew, rolls
in vengeful fury around the western and northern base of the plateau.
The gray lines stagger; the falling men block the steps of the living.
Surely now McDowell is going to do or die. Yes. The iron game goes on;
the blue lines jostle and crush forward. They are at the last wall of
resistance. But what is the sound at his very feet? As Jack looks down
in the narrow way between the hill he is on and the plateau on the very
edge of the Union line--in fact, behind it now, for it has moved forward
since he took post--a rushing mass of gray-clad soldiery is moving
forward on the dead run. In one instant the head of the column is where
General Franklin rode but an hour or two before. He looks for Barney. He
can see him nowhere. He climbs down in haste and discovers his comrade
soundly sleeping against the base of the tree.
"Barney, the army is ruined!"
"Is the battle over?"
"Oh, no, no, but it will be in a moment. Hark, hear that!"
A roar of musketry--it seemed at their very feet. Then an outbreak of
yells, so sharp, so piercing, so devilish the sound, that the marrow
froze in their veins, arose, as if from the whole thicket about them.
"Is it too late to warn General Franklin?" Barney asked, trembling.
"Ah, Barney, we are as bad as traitors; we ought to have seen these
rebels before they got near. If we had done our duty this would never
have happened. Perhaps it is not too late to get back. Let me go up and
see where we can find a way without running into the enemy."
Reaching his perch again, Jack cast his despairing eyes toward the fatal
hill. It was now clear of smoke, and there wasn't a regiment left on it.
His heart leaped for an instant, the next it was lead, for the ranks
that had disappeared were down on the brow of the hill--in the valley--
rushing forward, unresisted, the red and blue of the Union, mixed with
the stars and bars of the rebellion; but, worse than all, the ranks of
gray were sweeping in overwhelming masses quite behind the lines of
blue, cutting them down as a scythe when near the end of the furrow. To
the eastward Sherman still clung desperately to the crests he had won,
but Jack saw with agony that, slipping between him and the river, a
great wedge of gray was hurrying forward. His last despairing glance
caught a body of jet black horses galloping wildly into the dispersing
ranks of blue. He came down from the tree limp, nerveless, unmanned.
"Well?" Barney asked.
"It's all over--we are ruined!"
"The army, you mean?"
"Ah, yes! the army and we too."
"But what's going to become of us?"
"I don't much care what becomes of us--at least I don't care what
becomes of me!"
"But if we don't get back to our regiment, they'll think we're
"Good God, yes! I forgot that; I think I can find the way back. But
we'll have to be careful, the enemy are all around us. I can hear them
plainly, very near. Follow me, and don't speak above a whisper."
Then, with swift movement, always as near the thick bushes as they could
push, they fled faster and faster, as fear fell more and more heavily
upon their quickened fancies. The thought of the repute of deserters
lent them endurance, or they must have broken down before the weary
shiftings of that dreadful flight. They are now near the spot where they
had met Porter's pickets in the morning. The sounds of battle had died
out at intervals, renewed now and again by an outcry of cheers, a quick
fusillade, then more cheers, and then an ominous silence. But now there
is a continuous roll of musketry near the knoll, back of the Warrenton
road. The two wanderers, breathless, with torn uniforms, swollen faces,
halt, gasping, to take their bearings. They can see the turnpike far
beyond the stone bridge half-way to Centreville: they see crowds fleeing
in zigzag lines over the open fields, see horses plunging wildly, laden
down by two and even three men on their backs; they see vehicles
overturned at the roadside, whence the horses have been cut or killed by
the rebel shells; they see an army, in every sense a mob, swarming
behind the deserted rebel forts; they see orderly ranks of shining black
horses this side the stone bridge charging the fleeing lines of blue;
they see shells whirling like huge blackbirds in the sky, suddenly
falling among the skurrying thousands; they see a shell finally burst on
the bridge, shiver a caisson to fragments, and then all sign of
organized flight comes to an end.
But near them, meanwhile, a sullen fire replies with desperate
promptitude to the rebel shots.
"If we can get over to the men fighting at the edge of the woods, we may
be killed or captured, but we won't be disgraced!" Jack cries.
Again they make a wide circuit through the woods, and now the firing is
near at hand, coming slowly toward them. They have only to wait and they
will be among the forlorn hope. Ah, with what fervent joy Jack marks the
Union banner, flapping its twin streamers among the hurtling pines! They
are near it; they are under it! Their own guns are no longer available;
hundreds are lying at hand; they seize them. The line is firing in
retreat. It is a sadly depleted battalion of Keyes's regulars,
steadfast, imperturbable, devoted. A handful of them has been forgotten
or misdirected. The rebels, uncertain whether it was not a trap to snare
them, move with caution, while far to the left a turning column is
hurrying to hem the Union group in on every side. There are hardly three
hundred blue-coats in the mass, but their volleys are so swift, so
regular, so steady, that they make the impression of a thousand. The
enemy felt sure, as was afterward learned, that there was at least
A young captain, soiled, ragged, his sleeves hanging in ribbons, the
whole skirt of his coat gone, moves alertly, composedly in the center,
seizing a gun when one comes handy on the ground, where there are plenty
"Steady, men, steady! We shall be at the water's edge, soon, and then we
can give them hell!"
Never music sounded sweeter in Jack's car than that jaunty epithet
"hell"! How inspiring! How little of the ordinary association the word
brought up! Now they were traversing slowly the very ground Jack and his
comrades had flown over in the morning. Still firing--still working with
all his heart in the deadly play, Jack sidles to the officer and
"Captain, I know a ford that will take us across above the stone bridge.
We discovered it this morning. Shall I guide that way?"
"Guide if you can; but fire like seven devils, above all!" the captain
cried, seizing two or three pouches lying in a mass and emptying the
cartridges into his pockets.
"There, keep to the left sharp, and we shall come to a deep gully where
the water is only knee-deep," Jack cries, also replenishing his
cartridge-box, which had shrunk under the rapid work of the last
"What regiment are you, sergeant?" the captain cries, looking for a
moment at the tattered recruit.
"Caribees of New York, Sherman's brigade."
"And how came you off here? Your brigade was near the right of the line
at the stone budge." The captain asked this with a shade of suspicion in
Jack explained his mission, and the officer, who had been dealing out
the timely windfall of ammunition, nodded.
"Poor Hunter was shot early in the advance. It would have been victory
to our flag if the poor old follow had been wounded before the action
began. He lost three hours in the attack, and gave the rebels a chance
to come up from Winchester."
Now Jack understood the mysterious legions that seemed to spring from
the earth. They were Johnston's army from the Shenandoah.
"Keep up heart, men: Burnside and Schenck are near us somewhere. They
are in reserve, and they'll give these devils a warm welcome, if they
push far enough after us."
Then the steady volleys grew swifter, if that were possible, the enemy
moving steadily after the slowly retiring group. But now there is a
clear field to cross, so wide that the smallness of the force must be
detected. The captain halts the line, takes his bearings, divides the
little army into two bodies, orders one to move at a double-quick
directly across the open; the rest are stretched out as skirmishers. He
retires with the first squad across the field, directing the skirmishers
to hold the ground until they hear three musket-shots from the wood
behind. The rebels can now be seen closing in very near. But the
skirmish-line, spreading over a wider front, evidently perplexes them,
and they halt. The three shots are presently heard, then the
skirmish-line flees in groups across the bare downs, the vociferating
yells of the gray-coats fairly drowning the hideous clamor of
"Ah! we're saved," a lieutenant cries, waving his cap like a madman.
"Look! there are men in the wood yonder, to our right; they are coming
Jack turned, he was near the captain; and he marked, with deadly panic,
a look of despair settle down on the heroic, handsome face. What could
it mean? Didn't he believe that there were men there? Jack handed him
his own glass--the captain had none.
"By Heaven, our flag! But what troops can they be in that quarter? They
must be surrounded, like ourselves.--Sergeant, can you undertake a
"With all my heart," Jack cried, heartily.
"What's your name and company?"
"John Sprague, Caribees, Company K."
"Slip around the edge of the skirt of bushes. You'll be within an arm's
length of the enemy all the way. Reach the place where we saw those men
a moment since. When you get there, if they are friendly, fire a shot.
Here, take this pistol. Fire that; I shall recognize it from the
musketry. If they are the enemy, fire all the barrels as fast as you can
and retreat. You run great danger; you can only by a miracle escape
capture; but it is our only resource for the next charge. We must
surrender or die," he added, looking wofully at the meager remnant of
his company. Before the words had fairly ended, Jack is off like a shot,
forgetting Barney, forgetting everything but the extrication of this
grand young Roman. As he skurried along, sometimes on hands and knees,
he blames himself for not learning the captain's name. He feels sure
that a day will come when the world will know and admire it. He has
gained the other corner, and in a moment he will be in the thick copse
where the Union flag had been seen, but as he makes a dash through a
clump of laurel he is confronted by two men, muskets in hand.
"A Yank, by the Lord! Surrender, you damned mudsill!"
For answer Jack raised the pistol in his hand and fired. The man fell,
with a frightful yell. The other leveled his musket fairly in Jack's
face; but before he could pull the trigger a report at his ear deafened
Jack, and the second man staggered against the tree.
"Ah, ha! me boy, the rear rank did the best work there," Barney cried,
as Jack turned to see whence the timely aid had come, "A day after the
fair's better than the fair itself, if the rain has kept the girls
away," and Barney laughed good-humoredly.
"Well, 'pon my soul, Barney, it's a shameful thing to say, but all
thought of you had gone from my mind. I should not have let you come if
you had proposed it, but now we're in for it. Ah--!"
As he spoke the Union flag he had seen came forward, but it was in the
hands of a rebel bearer, and was upside down in mockery. The sight was
enough. He fired the shots as agreed upon, firing two at the group
marching heedlessly forward, as the skirmish-line was far ahead, or they
supposed it was, for the two men disabled by Jack and Barney were the
advance, as it was not supposed that any but stragglers were near at
hand, and the company were returning to their regiment. In an instant a
fierce volley is returned, and Barney, who is fairly in the bush behind
a huge tree, hears a low groan. He looks where Jack had been and sees
him lying on the ground, stifling an agonized cry by holding his left
arm over his mouth. Barney might have escaped, at least he might have
delayed capture, but coming from behind the tree, he holds up his hands,
and flinging himself on the ground beside his comrade takes his head
upon his knee and awaits the worst.
There were not so many millions of Americans in 1861 as there are
to-day. But they were more American then than they are now. That is, the
Old World had not sent the millions to our shores that now people the
waste places of the West. It was not until after the civil war that
those prodigious hosts came--enough to make the populace of such empires
as fill the largest space in history. That part of the land that loved
the flag cherished it with a fervor deeper than the half-alien race that
first flung it to the breeze under Washington. They loved the republic
with something of that passionate idolatry that made the Greek's ideal
joy--death for the fatherland; some of that burning zeal and godlike
pride that made the earlier Roman esteem his citizenship more precious
than a foreign crown. But until the battle on that awful 21st of July
proved the war real--with the added horror of civil hate--Secretary
Seward's epigram of ninety days clung fast in the public mind.
Up to Bull Run there was a vague feeling that our army, in proper time,
would march down upon the rebels like the hosts of Joshua, and scatter
them and the rebellion to uttermost destruction in one action. It was
upon this assumption that the journals of the North satirized, abused,
vilified Scott, and clamored day by day for an "advance upon Richmond."
The damnation of public clamor, and not the incompetency of the general,
set the inchoate armies of Scott upon that fatal adventure. But that
humiliating, incredible, and for years misunderstood Sunday, on the
plateaus of Manassas, where, after all, blundering and imbecility
brought disaster, but not shame, upon the devoted soldiery, aroused the
sense of the North to the reality of war, as the overthrow at Jemmapes
in 1793 convinced the Prussian oligarchy that the republic in France
was a fact.
It was a dreadful Monday in the North when the first hideous bulletins
were sent broadcast through the cities and carried by couriers into
every hamlet. For hours--sickening hours--it was not believed. We have
awakened many a morning since 1861 to hear of thrones overturned, armies
vanquished, dynasties obliterated; to hear of great men gone by sudden
and cruel death: but the anger and despair when Booth's cruel work was
known; the shuddering horror over Garfield's taking off; the amazement
when the hand of Nihilism laid an emperor dead; the overthrow of Austria
in a single day; the extinction of the Bonapartes--these things were
heard and digested with something like repose compared to the
bewildering outbreak that met the destruction of our army at Manassas.
It was not the dazed, panic-stricken, panic anguish that followed
Fredericksburg or the second Bull Run. It was not the indignant, fretful
wrath that rebuked official culpability for the destruction of the grand
campaign on the Peninsula. It was a startled, incredulous, angry
amazement, in which blame afterward visited upon generals or Cabinet,
was humbly taken on the people's shoulders and echoed in a moaning _mea
culpa_. For days all the people were close kin. In the streets strangers
talked to strangers; the pulpit echoed the inextinguishable wrath of the
streets; the journals, for a moment restrained into solemnity, echoed
for once the real voice of an elevated humanity and not the drivel of
partisanship nor the ulterior purposes of wealth and sham. Even
schoolboys, arrested in the merry-making of youth, looked in wonder at
the sudden reversal of conditions. Boys well remember in the school that
Monday, when the northern heavens were hung in black and grief wrung its
crystal tresses in the air, the master began the work of the day with a
brief, pathetic review of the public agony, and dismissed the classes
that he was too agitated to instruct. There were no games on the
greensward, no swimming in the river, no excursion to the Malvern cherry
groves. The streets were filled with blank faces and whispering crowds
unable to endure the restraint of routine or the ordinary callings of
life. Parties were obliterated, or rather from the flux of this white
heat, came out in solidified unity that compact of parties which for
four years breathed the breath of the nation's life, spoke the purposes
of the republic, and amid stupendous reverses and triumphs held the
public conscience clear in its sublime duty. The woes of bereavement
were not wide-spread; the killed at Manassas were hardly more than we
read of now in a disaster at sea or a catastrophe in the mines. The
whole army engaged hardly outnumbered the slaughtered at Antietam,
Gettysburg, or Burnside's butchery at St. Mary's Hill.
Hence the marvel of the instant fusion, the swift resolve of the
Northern mind. The battle was the sudden grapple of aggressive
weakness--catching the half-contemptuous strong man unaware and rolling
him in the dust. Brought to earth by this unlooked-for blow, the North
arose with renewed force and the deathless determination that could have
but one issue. The people, when the benumbing force of the surprise was
mastered, flew together with one mind, one voice, one impulse. The
churches, the public halls, the street corners, moving trains, and
rushing steamers, were such hustings as the Athenian improvised in the
porticoes, when her orators inflamed the heart of Greece to repel the
barbarians, to die with Leonidas in the gorges of the Thermopylae.
Ah, what an imposing spectacle it was! The blood of wrath leaped
fiercely in the chilled veins of age; the ardor of youth became the
delirium of the Crusaders, the lofty zeal of the Puritans, the
chivalrous daring of Rupert's troopers, and the Dutch devotees of
Orange. A half-million men had been called out; a million were waiting
in passionate eagerness within a month; two hundred and fifty millions
of money had been voted--ten times that amount was offered in a day.
Every interest in life became suddenly centered in one duty--war. It
touched the heart of the whole people, and for the time they arose,
purified, contrite, as the armies of Moses under the chastening of
In Acredale there were sore hearts as the dreadful news became more and
more definite. For days the death lists were mere guess-work; but when
the routed forces returned to their camps in Washington the awful gaps
in the ranks were ascertained with certainty. The Caribees were nearly
obliterated. Of the thousand men and over who had marched from Meridian
Hill only four hundred were found ten days after the battle. Elisha
Boone had hurried at once to Washington, charged by all the fathers,
mothers, brothers, and sisters of the regiment to make swift report of
the absent darlings. Kate was besieged in the grand house with tearful
watchers, waiting in agonizing impatience for the fatal finality.
Olympia, to spare her mother the distress of the vague responses her
telegrams brought from Washington, spent most of the time at the
Boones', where, thanks to the father's high standing with the
Administration, the earliest, most accurate information came. Finally he
wrote. He had seen Nick Marsh, who gave the first coherent narrative of
Jack, Barney, and Dick Perley. They had been seen--the first two in the
last desperate conflict. An officer (the hero whom Jack had so much
admired, and who turned out to be Gouverneur K. Warren) had escaped from
the forlorn hope left to dispute the rebel charge upon the flying
columns. He gave particulars that pointed with heart-breaking certainty
to the death of the two boys. Young Perley had been lost sight of since
noon of the battle. He had followed the path taken by Jack and his
comrades across the flank of the enemy. He had been seen at
Heintzelman's headquarters, but after that no one could trace him.
Wesley, too, had been left near the stone bridge with a ball in either
his arm or thigh, the informant was not quite sure which, as he fell in
a charge of the line. Boone telegraphed to Kate that he was going
through the lines with a flag of truce so soon as the affair could be
regulated, and proffered his best offices for the Acredale victims.
Everything had been prepared by Olympia and her mother for an instant
departure so soon as positive information came. With them Marcia Perley
went, trembling and tearful, and Telemachus Twigg, to extricate his son
from danger, for it was uncertain what his status was in the forces.
Kate, too, joined the melancholy pilgrimage that set out one morning
followed to the station by weeping kinsmen imploring the good offices of
these ambassadors of woe. The sleeping-car gave the miserable company
seclusion, if not rest. They were not the only ones in quest of the
missing, for as yet there was no certainty as to the fate of those left
on the field of battle. Later reports had been more encouraging, for
hundreds who were set down as prisoners or missing began to be heard
from as far northward as the Maryland line. In the station at Washington
Boone met his daughter. Twigg hurried to him and asked:
"Any further news, Mr. Boone? We're all here--about half Acredale."
"Yes, I see; but there is no more news of the Caribees. We learn that
the wounded have been sent to Richmond, and I shall set out for there
Mrs. Sprague, with Olympia and Merry, drove to the house of a friend
she had known years before, whose husband was a Senator. The Boones--or
rather Kate--bade them a cordial adieu as they drove off to the
Then the most trying part of the quest began. The War Department was
besieged with applicants, mostly women. Orders had been issued to forbid
all crossing the lines, and the despairing kinsfolk of the lost were in
a panic of impatient terror. In vain Olympia called upon eminent
Senators who had been friends of her father; in vain she invoked the aid
of the Secretary of State, who had been the family's guest at Acredale.
Once she penetrated, by the aid of strong letters, to the Secretary of
War. He was surrounded by a hurried throng of orderlies, officers, and
clerks, and even after she had been admitted to his office Olympia was
left unnoticed on a settee, waiting some sign to approach the dreaded
presence. His imperious and abrupt manner, his alternation of
deferential concern for some and disdainful impatience for others, gave
her small hope that he would heed her prayer. She waited hours, sitting
in the crowded room, ill from the oppressive air, the fixed stare of the
officers, and the sobbing of others like herself waiting a word with the
autocrat. At length, late in the afternoon, when the crowd had quite
gone, she heard the Secretary say in an undertone:
"Send an orderly to those women and see what they want."
Each of the waiting women handed credentials to the young man, and each
in turn arose trembling and stood before the decisive official at the
great, paper-strewn desk. There was no attempt to soften the refusal, as
he turned curtly from the pleaders; and Olympia, shrinking from the
ordeal, was about to step out of the room, when a tall, care-worn man
shambled in, glancing pityingly at her as she arose, half trembling,
recognizing the President.
She stepped in front of him in a desperate impulse, and, throwing up her
veil, cried piteously:
"O Mr. Lincoln, you are a father, you have a tender heart; you will
listen to the bereaved!" He stopped, looking at her kindly, and put his
left arm wearily on the desk by his side.