Part 5 out of 5
At the foot of the hill the Cumberland, clear as when it descended
from its mountains five hundred miles away, flowed between its
high, straight walls of limestone, spanned by cobweb-like bridges,
and bore on its untroubled breast a great fleet of high-chimneyed,
white-sided transports, and black, sullen gunboats. Miles away to
her left she saw the trains rushing into Nashville, unrolling as
they came along black and white ribbons against the sky.
"They're coming from the North," she said, with an involuntary
sigh; "they're coming from home."
She touched her mare's flank with the whip and sped on.
She soon reached the outer line of guards, by whom she was halted,
with a demand for her pass.
She produced the one furnished her, which was signed by Gen.
Rosencrans. While the Sergeant was inspecting it it occured to
her that now was the time to begin the role of a young woman with
"Is this the last guard-line I will have to pass?" she asked.
"Yes'm," answered the Sergeant.
"You're quite sure?"
"Then I won't have any further use for this--thing?" indicating
the pass, which she received back with fine loathing, as if it were
"Yes'm, quite sure."
She rode over to the fire around which part of the guard were
sitting, held the pass over it by the extremest tips of her dainty
thumb and forefinger, and then dropped it upon the coals, as if it
were a rag from a small-pox hospital. Glancing at her finger-tips
an instant, as if they had been permanently contaminated by the
scrawl of the Yankee General, she touched her nag, and was off like
an arrow without so much as good day to the guards.
"She-cesh--clean to her blessed little toe-nails," said the Sergeant,
gazing after her meditatively, as he fished around in his pouch
for a handful of Kinnikinnick, to replenish his pipe, "and she's
purtier'n a picture, too."
"Them's the kind that's always the wust Rebels," said the oracle of
the squad, from his seat by the fire. "I'll bet she's just loaded
down with information or ouinine. Mebbe both."
She was now fairly in the enemy's country, and her heart beat faster
in momentary expectation of encountering some form of the perils
abounding there. But she became calm, almost joyous, as she passed
through mile after mile of tranquil landscape. The war might
as well have been on the other side of the Atlantic for any hint
she now saw of it in the peaceful, sun-lit fields and woods, and
streams of crystal spring-water. She saw women busily engaged in
their morning work about all the cabins and houses. With bare and
sinewy arms they beat up and down in tiresomely monotonous stroke
the long-handled dashers of cedar churns standing in the wide, open
"entries" of the "double-houses;" they arrayed their well-scalded
milk crocks and jars where the sun's rays would still further sweeten
them; they plied swift shuttles in the weaving sheds; they toiled
over great, hemispherical kettles of dye-stuffs or soap, swinging
from poles over open fires in the yard; they spread out long webs
of jeans and linen on the grass to dry or bleach, and all the while
they sang--sang the measured rhythm of familiar hymns in the high
soprano of white women--sang wild, plaintive lyrics in the liquid
contralto of negresses. Men were repairing fences, and doing other
Winter work in the fields, and from the woods came the ringing
staccato of choppers. She met on the road leisurely-traveling
negro women, who louted low to her, and then as she passed, turn
to gaze after her with feminine analysis and admiration for every
detail of her attire. Then came "Uncle Tom" looking men, driving
wagons loaded with newly-riven rails, breathing the virile pungency
of freshly-cut oak. Occasionally an old white man or woman rode
by, greeting her with a courteous "Howdy?"
The serenity everywhere intoxicated her with a half-belief that
the terrible Rebel army at Murfreesboro was only a nightmare of
fear-oppressed brains, and in her relief she was ready to burst
out in echo of a triumphant hymn ringing from a weaving-shed at
Her impulse was checked by seeing approach a figure harshly dissonant
to Arcadian surroundings.
It was a young man riding a powerful roan horse at an easy gallop,
and carrying in his hand, ready for instant use, a 16-shooting
Henry rifle. He was evidently a scout, but, as was usual with that
class, his uniform was so equally made up of blue and gray that
it was impossible to tell to which side he belonged. He reined
up as he saw Rachel, and looked at her for a moment in a way that
chilled her. They were now on a lonely bit of road, out of sight
and hearing of any person or house. All a woman's fears rose up in
her heart, but she shut her lips firmly, and rode directly toward
the scout. Another thought seemed to enter his mind, he touched
his horse up with his heel, and rode by her, saying courteously:
"Good morning, Miss," but eyeing her intently as they passed. She
returned the salutation with a firm voice, and rode onward, but at
a little distance could not resist the temptation to turn and look
backward. To her horror the scout had stopped, half-turned his
horse, and was watching her as if debating whether or not to come
back after her. She yielded to the impulse of fear, struck her
mare a stinging blow, and the animal flew away.
Her fright subsided as she heard no hoof-beats following her, and
when she raised her eyes, she saw that she was approaching the
village of Lavergne, half-way to Murfreesboro, and that a party
of Rebel cavalry were moving toward her. She felt less tremor at
this first sight of the armed enemy than she had expected, after
her panic over the scout, and rode toward the horsemen with perfect
outward, and no little inward composure.
The Lieutenant in command raised his hat with the greatest gallantry.
"Good morning, Miss. From the city, I suppose?" he inquired.
"Yes," she answered in tones as even as if speaking in a parlor;
"fortunately, I am at last from the city. I have been trying to
get away ever since it seemed hopeless that our people would not
redeem it soon."
The conversation thus opened was carried on by Rachel giving
copious and disparaging information concerning the "Yankees," and
the Lieutenant listening in admiration to the musical accents,
interrupting but rarely to interject a question or a favorable
comment. He was as little critical as ardent young men are apt
to be of the statements of captivating young women, and Rachel's
spirits rose as she saw that the worst she had to fear from this enemy
was an excess of devotioni. The story of her aunt at Murfreesboro
received unhesitating acceptance, and nothing but imperative scouting
orders prevented his escorting her to the town. He would, however,
send a non-commissioned officer with her, who would see that she
was not molested by any one. He requested permission to call upon
her at her aunt's, which Rachel was compelled to grant, for lack
of any ready excuse for such a contingency. With this, and many
smiles and bows, they parted.
All the afternoon she rode through camps of men in gray and
butternut, as she had ridden through those of men in blue in the
morning. In these, as in the others, she heard gay songs, dance
music and laughter, and saw thousands of merry boys rollicking in
the sunshine at games of ball and other sports, with the joyous
earnestness of a school-house playground. She tried, but in vain,
to realize that in a few days these thoughtless youths would be
the demons of the battle-field.
Just before dusk she came to the top of a low limestone ridge, and
saw, three miles away, the lights of Murfreesboro. At that moment
Fortner appeared, jogging leisurely toward her, mounted on a splendid
"O there's my Cousin Jim!" she exclaimed gleefully, "coming to meet
me. Sergeant, I am deeply obliged to you and to your Lieutenant,
for your company, and I will try to show my appreciation of it in
the future in some way more substantial than words. You need not
go any farther with me. I know that you and your horse are very
tired. Good by."
The Sergeant was only too gald of this release, which gave him an
opportunity to get back to camp, to enjoy some good cheer that he
knew was there, and bidding a hasty good-night, he left at a trot.
Fortner and Rachel rode on slowly up the pike, traversing the ground
that was soon to run red with the blood of thousands.
They talked of the fearful probabilities of the next few days, and
halted for some minutes on the bridge across Stone River, to study
the wonderfully picturesque scene spread out before them. The
dusk was just closing down. The scowling darkness seemed to catch
around woods and trees and houses, and grow into monsters of vast
and somber bulk, swelling and spreding like the "gin" which escaped
from the copper can, in the "Arabian Nights," until they touched
each other, coalesced and covered the whole land. Far away, at the
edge of the valley, the tops of the hills rose, distinctly lighted
by the last rays of the dying day, as if some strip of country
resisting to the last the invasion of the dark monsters.
A half-mile in front of the bridge was the town of Murfreesboro.
Bright lights streamed from thousands of windows and from bonfires
in the streets. Church bells rang out the glad acclaim of Christmas
from a score of steeples. The happy voices of childhood singing
Christmas carols; the laughter of youths and maidens strolling arm
in arm through the streets; the cheery songs of merry-making negroes;
silver-throated bands, with throbbing drums and gently-complaining
flutes, playing martial airs; long lines of gleaming camp-fires,
stretching over the undulating valley and rising hills like necklaces
of burning jewels on the breast of night,--this was what held them
silent and motionless.
Rachel at last spoke:
"It is like a scene of enchantment. It is more wonderful than
anything I ever read of."
"Yes'm, hit's mouty strikin' now, an' when ye think how hit'll
all be changed in a little while ter more misery then thar is this
side o' hell, hit becomes all the more strikin'. Hit seems ter me
somethin' like what I've heered 'em read 'bout in the Bible, whar
they went on feastin' an' singin', an' dancin' an' frolickin', an'
the like, an' at midnight the inimy broke through the walls of ther
city, an' put 'em all ter the sword, even while they wuz settin'
round thar tables, with ther drinkin' cups in ther hands."
"To think what a storm is about to break upon this scene of happiness
and mirth-making!" said Rachel, with a shudder.
"Yes, an' they seem ter want ter do the very things thet'll show
ther contempt o' righteousness, an' provoke the wrath o' the Lord.
Thar, where ye see thet house, all lit up from the basement ter the
look-out on the ruf, is whar one o' the most 'ristocratic families
in all Tennessee lives. There datter is bein' married to-night,
an' Major-Gineral Polk, the biggest gun in all these 'ere parts,
next ter ole Bragg, an' who is also 'Piscopalian Bishop o' Tennessee,
does the splicin'. They've got ther parlors, whar they'll dance,
carpeted with 'Merican flags, so thet the young bucks an' gals kin
show ther despisery of the banner thet wuz good enough for ther
fathers, by trampin' over hit all night. But we'll show hit ter
'em in a day or two whar they won't feel like cuttin' pigeon-wings
over hit. Ye jes stand still an' see the salvation o' the Lord."
"I hope we will," said Rachel, her horror of the storm that was
about to break giving away to indignation at the treatment of her
country's flag. "Shan't we go on? My long ride has made me very
tired and very hungry, and I know my horse is the same."
Shortly after crossing the river they passed a large tent, with
a number of others clustered around it. All were festooned with
Rebel flags, and brilliantly lighted. A band came up in front of
the principal one and played the "Bonnie Blue Flag."
"Thet's ole Gineral Bragg's headquarters," explained Fortner. "He's
the king bee of all the Rebels in these heah parts, an' they think
he kin 'bout make the sun stand still ef he wants ter."
They cantered on into the town, and going more slowly through the
great public square and the more crowded streets, came at last to
a modest house, standing on a corner, and nearly hidden by vines
A peculiar knock caused the door to open quickly, and before Rachel
was hardly aware of it, she was standing inside a comfortable room,
so well lighted that her eyes took some little time to get used to
such a change.
When they did so she saw that she was in the presence of a slender,
elderly woman, whose face charmed her.
"This is yer Aunt Debby Brill," said Fortner, dryly, "who ye came
so fur ter see, an' who's bin 'spectin' ye quite anxiously."
"Ye're very welcome, my dear," said Aunt Debby, after a moment's
inspection which seemed to be entirely satisfactory. "Jest lay
off yer things thar on the bed, an' come out ter supper. I know
ye're sharp-set. A ride from Nashville sech a day ez this is mouty
good for the appetite, an' we've hed supper waitin' ye."
Hastily throwing off her hat and gloves, she sat down with the rest,
to a homely but excellent supper, which they all ate in silence.
During the meal a muscular, well knit man of thirty entered.
"All clar, outside, Bill?" asked Fortenr.
"All clar," replied the man. "Everybody's off on a high o' some
Bill sat down and ate with the rest, until he satisfied his
hunger, and then rising he felt along the hewed logs which formed
the walls, until he found a splinter to serve as a tooth-pick.
Using this for a minute industriously, he threw it into the fire
"Well," answered Fortner. "I reckon hit's ez sartin ez anything
kin well be thet Wheeler's and Morgan's cavalry hez been sent off
inter Kentucky, and ez thet's what Ole rosy's been waitin' fur,
now's the time fur him ter put in his best licks. Ye'd better start
afore midnight fur Nashville. Ye'll hev this news, an' alos thet
thar's been no change in the location o' the Rebels, 'cept thet
Polk's an' Kirby Smith's corps are both heah at Murfreesboro, with
a strong brigade at Stewart's creek, an' another at Lavergne. Ye'd
better fallin with Boscall's rijiment, which'll go out ter Lavergne
to-night, ter relieve one o' the rijiments thar. Ye'd better not
try to git back heah ag'in tell arter the battle. Good by. God
bless ye. Miss, ye'd better git ter bed now, ez soon ez possible,
an' rest yerself fur what's comin'. We'll need every mite an'
grain of our strength."
Chapter XIX. The Battle of Stone River.
O, wherefore come ye forth, in triumph from the North,
With your hands and your feet, and your raiment all red?
And wherefore doth your rout, send forth a joyous shout?
And whence be the grapes of the wine-press that ye tread?
O, evil was the root, and bitter was the fruit,
And crimson was the juice of the vintage that we tred;
For we trampled on the throng, of the haughty and the strong,
Who sat in the high places and slew the saints of God.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
They are here--they rush on--we are broken--we are gone-- Our left
is borne before them like stubble in the blast. O, Lord, put forth
thy might! O, Lord, defend the right! Stand back to back, in
God's name! and fight it to the last.
--"Battle of Naseby."*/
The celebration of Christmas in the camps around Nashville was
abruptly terminated by the reception of orders to march in the
morning, with full haversacks and cartridge-boxes. The next day
all the roads leading southward became as rivers flowing armed men.
Endless streams of blue, thickly glinted everywhere with bright
and ominous steel, wound around the hills, poured over the plains,
and spread out into angry lakes wherever a Rebel outpost checked
the flow for a few minutes.
Four thousand troopers under the heroic Stanley--the foam-crest on
the war-billow--dashed on in advance. Twelve thousand steadily-moving
infantry under the luckless McCook, poured down the Franklin
turnpike, miles away to the right; twelve thousand more streamed
down the Murfreesboro pike on the left, with the banner of the
over-weighted Crittenden, while grand old Thomas, he whose trumpets
never sounded forth retreat, but always called to victory, moved
steadfast as a glacier in the center, with as many more, a sure
support and help to those on either hand.
The mighty war-wave rolling up the broad plateau of the Cumberland
was fifteen miles wide now. It would be less than a third of that
when it gathered itself together for its mortal dash upon the rocks
of rebellion at Murfreesboro.
It was Friday morning that the wave began rolling southward. All
day Friday, and Saturday, and Sunday, and Monday it rolled steadily
onward, sweeping before it the enemy's pickets and outposts as dry
sand by an incoming tide. Monday evening the leading divisions
stood upon the ridge where Rachel and Fortner had stood, and looked
as they did upon the lights of Murfreesboro, two miles away.
"Two days from to-morrow is New Year's," said Kent Edwards. "Dear
Festival of Egg-Nogg! how sweet are thy memories. I hope the
Tennessee hens are doing their duty this Winter, so that we'll have
no trouble finding eggs when we get into Murfreesboro to-morrow."
"We are likely to be so busy tendering the compliments of the
season to Mr. Bragg," said Harry, lightly, "that we will probably
have but little time to make calls upon the lady-hens who keep open
"We all may be where we'll need lots o' cold water more than anything
else," said Abe grimly.
"Well," said Kent blithely, "if I'm to be made a sweet little angel
I don't know any day that I would rather have for my promotion to
date from. It would have a very proper look to put in the full
year here on earth, and start in with the new one in a world of
"Well, I declare, if here isn't Dr. Denslow," said Harry, delightedly,
as he recognized a horsemna, who rode up to them. "How did you
come here? We thought you were permanently stationed at the grand
"So I was," replied the Doctor. "So I was, at least so far as
general orders could do it. But I felt that I could not be away
from my boys at this supreme moment, an I am here, though the
irregular way in which I detached myself from my post may require
explanation at a court-martial. Anyhow, it is a grateful relief
to be away from the smell of chloride of lime, and get a breath
of fresh air that is not mingled with the groans of a ward-full of
sick men. It looks," he continued, with a comprehensive glance at
the firmament of Rebel camp-fires that made Murfreesboro seem the
center of a ruddy Milky-way, "as if the climax is at last at hand.
Bragg, like the worm, will at last turn, and after a year of footraces
we'll have a fight which will settle who is the superfluous cat in
this alley. There is certainly one too many."
"The sooner it comes the better," said Harry firmly. "It has to be
sometime, and I'm getting very anxious for an end to this eternal
marching and countermarching."
"My winsome little feet," Kent Edwards put in plaintively, "are
knobby as a burglar-proof safe, with corns and bunions, all of them
more tender than a maiden's heart, and painful as a mistake in a
poker hand. They're the ripe fruit of the thousands of miles of
side hills I've had to tramp over because of Mr. Bragg's retiring
disposition. Now, if he's got the spirit of a man he'll come out
from under the bed and fight me."
"O, he'll come out--he'll come out--never you fear," said Abe,
sardonic as usual. "He's got a day or two's leisure now to attend
to this business. A hundred thousand of him will come out. They'll
swarm out o' them cedar thickets there like grass-hoppers out of
a timothy field."
"Boys," said Harry, returning after a few minutes' basence, "the
Colonel says we'll go into camp right here, just as we stand. Kent,
I'll take the canteens and hunt up water, if you and Abe will break
some cedar boughs for the bed, and get the wood to cook supper
"All right," responded Kent, "I'll go after the boughs."
"That puts me in for the wood," grumbled Abe. "And, I don't
suppose there's a fence inside of a mile, and if there is there's
not a popular rail in it."
"And, Doctor," continued Harry, flinging the canteens over his
shoulder, "you'll stay and take a cup of coffee and sleep with us
to-night, won't you? The trains are all far behind, and the hospital
wagon must be miles away."
"Seems to me that I've heard something of the impropriety of visiting
your friends just about mealtime," said the Doctor quizzically,
"but a cup of coffee just now has more charms for me than rigid
etiquette, so I'll thankfully accept your kind invitation. Some
day I'll reciprocate with liberality in doses of quinine."
In less time than that taken by well-appointed kitchens to furnish
"Hot Meals to Order" the four were sitting on their blankets around
a comfortable fire of rails and cedar logs, eating hard bread
and broiled fat pork, and drinking strong black coffee, which the
magic of the open air had transmuted into delightfully delicate
and relishable viands.
"You are indebted to me," said Dr. Denslow, as he finished the last
crumb and drop of his portion of the food, "for the accession to
your company at this needful time, of a tower of strength in the
person of Lieutenant Jacob Alspaugh."
Abe groaned; the Doctor looked at him with well-feigned astonishment,
"That gore-hungry patriot, as you know, has been home several months
on recruiting duty, by virtue of a certificate which he wheedled
out of old Moxon. At last, when he couldn't keep away any longer,
he started back, but he carefully restrained his natural impetuosity
in rushing to the tented field, and his journey from Sardis to
Nashville was a fine specimen of easy deliberation. There was not
a sign of ungentlemanly hurry in any part of it. He came into my
ward at Nashville with violent symptoms of a half-dozen speedily
fatal diseases. I was cruel enough to see a coincidence in this
attack and the general marching orders, and I prescribed for his
ailments a thorough course of open air exercise. To be sure that
my prescription would be taken I had the Provost-Marshal interest
himself in my patient's case, and the result was that Alspaugh
joined the regiment, and so far has found it difficult to get away
from it. It's the unexpected that happens, the French say, and
there is a bare possibility that he may do the country some service
by the accidental discharge of his duty."
"The possibility is too remote to waste time considering," said
They lay down together upon a bed made by spreading their overcoats
and blankets upon the springy cedar boughts, and all but Harry
were soon fast asleep. Though fully as weary as they he could not
sleep for hours. He was dominated by a feeling that a crisis in
his fate was at hand, and as he lay and looked at the stars every
possible shape that that fate could take drifted across his mind,
even as the endlessly-varying cloud-shapes swept--now languidly,
now hurriedly--across the domed sky above him. And as the moon and
the stars shone through or around each of the clouds, making the
lighter ones masses of translucent glory, and gilding the edges of
even the blackest with silvery promise, so the thoughts of Rachel
Bond suffused with some brightness every possible happening to him.
If he achieved anything the achievement would have for its chief
value that it won her commendation; if he fell, the blackness of
death would be gilded by her knowledge that he died a brave man's
death for her sweet sake.
He listened awhile to the mournful whinny of the mules; to the
sound of artillery rolling up the resonant pike; to the crashing of
newly-arrived regiments through the cedars as they made their camps
in line-of-battle; to little spurts of firing between the nervous
pickets, and at last fell asleep to dream that he was returning to
Sardis, maimed but honor-crowned, to claim Rachel as his exultant
The Christmas forenoon was quite well-advanced before the fatigue
of Rachel Bond's long ride was sufficiently abated to allow her to
awaken. Then a soft hum of voices impressed itself upon her drowsy
senses, and she opened her eyes with the idea that there were
several persons in the room engaged in conversation. But she saw
that there was only Aunt Debby, seated in a low rocking-chair by
the lazily burning fire, and reading aloud from a large Bible that
lay open upon her knees. The reading was slow and difficult, as
of one but little used to it, and many of the longer words were
patiently spelled out. But this labored picking the way along the
rugged path of knowledge, stumbling and halting at the nouns, and
verbs, and surmounting the polysyllables a letter at a time, seemed
to give the reader a deeper feeling of the value and meaning of
each word, than is usually gained by the more facile scholar. As
Rachel listened she became aware that Aunt Debby was reading that
wonderful twelfth chapter of St. Luke, richest of all chapters in
hopes and promises and loving counsel for the lowly and oppressed.
She had reached the thirty-fifth verse, and read onward with a
passionate earnestness and understanding that made every word have
a new revelation to Rachel:
"Let your loins be girded up, and your lights burning;
"And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord when he
will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh they
may open unto him immediately.
"Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when he cometh shall find
watching; verily I say unto you that he shall gird himself and make
them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.
"And if ye shall come in the second watch, or come in the third
watch, and shall find them so, blessed are those servants.
"And this now that if the good man of the house had known what the
hour the thief would come he would have watched, and not suffered
his house to be broken through.
"Be ye therefore ready also, for the Son of Man cometh at an hour
when ye think not."
Rachel stirred a little, and Aunt Debby looked up and closed the
"I'm afeared I've roused ye up too soon," she said, coming toward
the bed with a look of real concern upon her sad, sweet face. "I
raylly didn't intend ter. I jest opened the book ter read teh
promise 'bout our Father heedin' even a sparrer's fall, an' forgot
'bout our Father heedin' even a sparrer's fall, an' forgot, an'
read on; an' when I read, I must read out loud, ter git the good
of hit. Some folks pretend they kin understand jest ez well when
they read ter themselves. Mebbe they kin."
"O, no," replied Rachel cheerfully, "you didn't disturb me in the
least. It was time that I got up, and I was glad to hear you read.
I'm only troubled with the fear that I've overslept myself, and
missed the duty that I was intended for."
"Make yourself easy on that 'ere score. Ye'll not be needed
to-day, nor likely to-morrow. Some things hev come up ter change
"I am very sorry," said Rachel, sitting up in the bed and tossing
back her long, silken mane with a single quick, masterful motion.
"I wished to go immediately about what I am expected to do. I can
do anything better than wait."
Aunt Debby came impulsively to the bedside, threw an arm around
Rachel's neck, and kissed her on the forehead. "I love ye, honey,"
she said with admiring tenderness. "Ye' 're sich ez all women
orter be. Ye 'll make heroes of yer husband and sons. Ye 've yit
ter l'arn though, thet the most of a woman's life, an' the hardest
part of hit, is ter wait."
In her fervid state of mind Rachel responded electrically to this
loving advance, made at the moment of all others when she felt most
in need of sympathy and love. She put her strong arms around Aunt
Debby, and held her for a moment close to her heart. From that
moment the two women became of one accord. Womanlike, they sought
relief from their high tension in light, irrelevant talk and
care for the trifling details of their surroundings. Aunt Debby
brought water and towels for Rachel's toilet, and fluttered around
her, solicitous, helpful and motherly, and Rachel, weary of long
companionship with men, delighted in the restfulness of association
once more with a gentle, sweet-minded woman.
The heavy riding-habit was entirely too cumbersome for indoor wear,
and Rachel put on instead one of Aunt Debby's "linsey" gowns, that
hung from a peg, and laughed at the prim, demure mountain girl she
saw in the glass. After a good breakfast had still farther raised
her spirits she ventured upon a little pleasantry about the dramatic
possibilities of a young lady who couls assume different characters
with such facility.
The day passed quietly, with Rachel studying such of the Christmas
festivities as were visible from the window, and from time to time
exchanging personal history with Aunt Debby. She learned that the
latter had left her home in Rockcastle Mountains with the Union
Army in the previous Spring, and gone on to Chattanooga, to assist
her nephew, Fortner, in obtaining the required information when
Mitchell's army advanced against that place in the Summer. When
the army retreated to the Ohio, in September, she had come as far
back as Murfreesboro, and there stopped to await the army's return,
which she was confident would not be long delayed.
"How brave and devoted you have been," said Rachel warmly, as Aunt
Debby concluded her modestly-told story. "No man could have done
"No, honey," replied the elder woman, with her wan face coloring
faintly, "I've done nothin' but my plain duty, ez I seed hit. I've
done nothin' ter what THEY would've done had n't they been taken
from me afore they had a chance. Like one who speaks ter us in
the Book, I've been in journeyin's often, in peril of robbers, in
perils of mine own countrymen, in perils in the city, in perils in
the wilderness, in weariness an' painfulness, in watchings often,
in hunger an' thirst, in fastings often, in cold an' nakedness,
but he warns us not ter glory in these things, but in those which
consarn our infirmities."
"How great should be your reward!"
"Don't speak of reward. I only want my freedom when I've 'arned
hit--the freedom ter leave an 'arth on which I've been left behind,
an' go whar my husband an' son are waitin' fur me."
She rose and paced the floor, with her face and eyes shining.
"Have you no fear of death whatever?" asked Rachel in amazement.
"Fear of death! Child, why should I fear death? Why should I
fear death, more than the unborn child fears birth? Both are the
same. Hit can't be fur ter thet other world whar THEY wait fur
me. Hit is not even ez a journey ter the next town--hit's only
one little step though the curtain o' green grass an' violets on
a sunny hillside--only one little step."
She turned abruptly, and going back to her chair by the fireside,
seated herself in it, and clasping her knees with her hands, rocked
back and forth, and sang in a low, sweet croon:
"Oh, the rapturous, transporting scene,
That rises ter my sight;
Sweet fields arrayed in livin' green,
An' rivers of delight.
"All o'er those wide, extended plains
Shines one eternal day;
Thar God, the Son, forever reigns,
An scatters night away.
"No chillin' winds or poisonous breath
Kin reach thet healthful shore;
Sickness an' sorrow, pain an' death,
Are felt an' feared no more."
After dark Fortner came in. Both women studied his face eagerly
as he walked up to the fire.
"Nothin' yet, honey," he said to Aunt Debby, and "Nothin' yet,
Miss," to Rachel, and after a little stay went out.
When Rachel awoke the next morning the sky was lowering darkly. On
going to the window she found a most depressing change from the
scene of bright merriment she had studied the night before. A chill
Winter rain was falling with dreary persistence, pattering on the
dead leaves that covered the ground, and soaking into the sodden
earth. A few forlorn little birds hopped wearily about, searching
in vain in the dry husks and empty insect shells for the food that
had once been so plentiful there. Up and down the streets, as
far as she could see, men in squads or singly, under officers or
without organization, plodded along dejectedly, taking the cold
drench from above, and the clinging mud around their feet, with
the dumb, stolid discontent characteristic of seasoned veterans.
When mules and horses went by they seemed poor and shrunken. They
drew their limbs and bodies together, as if to present the least
surface to the inclement showers, and their labored, toilsome motion
contrasted painfully with their strong, free movement on brighter
days. Everything and everybody in sight added something to increase
the dismalness of the view, and as Rachel continued to gaze upon it
the "horrors" took possession of her. She began to brood wretchedly
over her position as a spy inside the enemy's lines, and upon all
the consequences of that position.
It was late that night when Fortner came in. As he entered the
two expectant women saw, by the ruddy light of the fire, that his
face was set and his eyes flashing. He hung his dripping hat on a
peg in the chimney, and kicked the blazing logs with his wet boots
until a flood of meteor sparks flew up the throat of the fireplace.
Turning, he said, without waiting to be questioned:
"Well, the hunt's begun at last. Our folks came out'n Nashville
this morning in three big armies, marchin' on different roads, an
they begun slashin' at the Rebels wherever they could find 'em.
Thar's been fouten at Triune an' Lavergne, an' all along the line.
They histed the Rebels out'n ther holes everywhar, an' druv' em
back on the jump. Wagon load arter wagon load o' wounded's comin'
back. I come in ahead of a long train agwine ter the hospital.
Hark! ye kin heah 'em now."
The women listened.
They heard the ceaseless patter and swish of the gloomy rain--the
gusty sighs of the wind through the shade-trees' naked branches--louder
still the rolling of heavy wheels over the rough streets; and all
these were torn and rent by the shrieks of men in agony.
"Poor fellows," said Rachel, "how they are suffering!"
"Think ruther," said Aunt Debby calmly, "of how they've made others
suffer. Hit's God's judgement on 'em."
Rachel turned to Fortner. "What will come next? Will this end
it? Will the Rebels fall back and leave this place?"
"Hardly. This's on'y like the fust slap in the face in a fight
atween two big savage men, who've locked horns ter see which is the
best man. Hit's on'y a sorter limberin' the jints fur the death
"Yes; and what next?"
"Well, Rosy's started fur this 'ere place, an' he's bound ter come
heah. Bragg's bound he sha'n't come heah, an' is gittin' his men
back to defend the town."
"What am I--what are we to do in the meanwhile?"
"Ye're ter do nothin', on'y stay in the house ez close ez ye kin,
an' wait tell the chance comes ter use ye. Hit may be ter-morrer,
an' hit mayn't be fur some days. These army moves are mouty
unsartin. Aunt Debby 'll take keer on ye, an' ye 'll not be in a
mite o' danger."
"But we'll see you frequently?"
"Ez offen ez I kin arrange hit. I'm actin' ez orderly an'
messenger 'bout headquarters, but I'll come ter ye whenever I kin
git a chance, an' keep ye posted."
This was Friday night. All day Saturday, as long as the light
lasted, Rachel stood at the window and watched with sinking heart
the steady inflow of the Rebels from the north. That night she and
Aunt Debby waited till midnight for Fortner, but he did not come.
All day Sunday she stood at her post, and watched the unabated
pouring-in on the Nashville pike. Fortner did not come that
night. She was downcast, but no shade disturbed the serenity of
Aunt Debby's sweet hymning. So it was again on Monday and Tuesday.
The continually-swarming multitudes weighed down her spirits like
a millstone. She seemed to be encompassed by millions of armed enemies.
They appeared more plentiful than the trees, or the rocks, or the
leaves even. They filled the streets of the little town until it
seemed impossible for another one to find standing room. Their
cavalry blackened the faces of the long ranges of hills. Their
artillery and wagons streamed along the roads in a never-ending
train. Their camp-fires lighted up the country at night for miles,
in all directions.
Just at dusk Tuesday night Fortner came in, and was warmly welcomed.
"There are such countless hosts of the Rebels," Rachel said to him
after the first greetings were over, "that I quite despair of our
men being able to do anything with them. It seems impossible that
there can be gathered together anywhere else in the world as many
men as they have."
"I don't wonder ye think so, but ef ye'd been whar I wuz to-day
ye'd think thet all the world wuz marchin' round in blue uniforms.
Over heah hit seems ez ef all the cedars on the hills hed suddintly
turned inter Rebel soldiers. Three miles from heah the blue-coats
are swarmin' thicker'n bees in a field o' buckwheat."
"Three miles from here! Is our army within three miles of here?"
"Hit sartinly is, an' the Lord-awfullest crowd o' men an' guns an'
hosses thet ever tromped down the grass o' this ere airth. Why,
hit jest dazed my eyes ter look at 'em. Come ter this other winder.
D' ye see thet furtherest line o' campfires, 'way on yander hill?
Well, them's Union. Ef ye could see far enuf ye'd see they're
'bout five miles long, an' they look purtier'n the stars in heaven."
"But if they are so close the battle will begin immediately, will
"Hit ain't likely ter be put off very long, but thar's no tellin'
what'll happen in war, or when."
"When is my time to come?"
"Thet's what I've come furt ter tell ye. Ef we're agwine ter be of
sarvice ter the Guv'MENT, we must do hit to-night, fur most likely
the battle'll begin in the mornin'. Hit's not jest the way I
intended ter make use of ye, but hit can't be helped now. I hev
information thet must reach Gineral Rosencrans afore daybreak.
The vict'ry may depend on hit. Ter make sure all on us must start
with hit, fur gittin' through the lines is now mouty dangersome,
an' somebody--mebbe several--is bound to git cotcht, mebbe wuss.
The men I expected ter help me are all gone. I hain't nobody now
but ye an Aunt Debby. D'ye dar try an' make yer way through the
Rachel thought a minute upon the dreadful possibilities of the
venture, and then replied firmly:
"Yes I dare. I will try anything that the rest of you will attempt."
"Good. I knowed ye'd talk thet-a-way. Now we must waste no time
in gittin' started, fur God on'y knows what diffikilties we'll
meet on the way, an' Rosencrans can't hev the information enny too
soon. Ev'ry minute hit's kep' away from him'll cost many vallerable
lives--mebbe help defeat the army."
"Tell me quickly, then, what I must do, that I may lose no time in
"Well, heah's a plan of the position at sundown of the Rebels.
Hit's drawed out moughty roughly but hit'll show jest whar they
all are, an' about the number there is at each place. Hit begins
on the right, which is south of Stone River, with Breckenridge's
men; then across the river is Withers, an' Cheatham, an' Cleburne,
with McCown's division on the left, an' Wharton's cavalry on
the flank. But the thing o' most importance is thet all day long
they've been movin' men round ter ther left, ter fall on our right
an' crush hit. They're hid in the cedar thickets over thar, an'
they'll come out to-morrow mornin' like a million yellin' devils,
an' try ter sweep our right wing offen the face o' the arth. D'ye
understand what I've tole ye?"
"Yes. Breckenridge's division is on their right, and south of
Stone River. Withers, Cheatham, and Cleburne come next, on the
north of the river, with McCown's division and Wharton's cavalry
on the left, as shown in the sketch, and they are moving heavy
forces around to their left, with the evident intention of falling
overwhelmingly on our right early in the morning."
"Thet's hit. Thet's hit. But lay all the stres ye kin on the
movin' around ter ther left. Thar's mo' mischief in thet than
all the rest. Say thet thar's 20,000 men gwine round thar this
arternoon an' evening'. Say thet thar's the biggest thunder-cloud
o' danger thet enny one ever seed. Say hit over an' over, tell
everybody understands hit an' gits ready ter meet hit. Tell hit
till ye've made ev'ry one on 'em understand thet thar can't be no
mistake about hit, an' they must look out fur heeps o' trouble on
ther right. Tell hit ez ye never tole anything afore in yer life.
Tell hit ez ye'd pray God Almighty fur the life o' the one thet
ye love better then all the world beside. An' GIT THAR ter tell
hit--git thru the Rebel lines--ef ye love yer God an' yer country,
an' ye want ter see the brave men who are ter die tomorrer make
their deaths count somethin' to'ard savin' this Union. Hit may
be thet yore information'll save the army from defeat. Hit may
be--hit's most likely--thet hit'll save the lives o' thousands o'
brave men who love ther lives even ez yo an' me loves ourn."
"Trust me to do all that a devoted woman can. I will get through
before daybreak or die in the attempt. But how am I to go?"
"Hide this paper somewhar. Aunt Debby'll fix ye up ez a country
gal, while I'm gittin' yer mar saddled an' bridled with some common
harness, instid o' the fancy fixin's ye hed when ye rode out heah.
Ef ye're stopt, ez ye likely will be, say that ye've been ter town
fur the doctor, an' some medicine fur yer sick mammy, an' are tryin'
ter git back ter yer home on the south fork o' Overall's Creek.
Now, go an' git ready ez quick ez the Lord'll let ye."
As she heard the mare's hoofs in front of the door, Rachel came
out with a "slat-sun-bonnet" on her head, and a long, black calico
riding-skirt over her linsey dress. Fortner gave her attire an
approving nod. Aunt Debby followed her with a bottle. "This is
the medicine ye've bin ter git from Dr. Thacker heah in town," she
said, handing the vial. "Remember the name, fur fear ye mout meet
some one who knows the town. Dr. Thacker, who lives a little piece
offen the square, an' gives big doses of epecac fur everything,
from brakebone fever ter the itch."
"Dr. Thacker, who lives just off the square," said Rachel. "I'll
be certain to remember."
"Take this, too," said Fortner, handing her a finely-finished
revolver, of rather large caliber. "Don't pull hit onless ye can't
git along without hit, an' then make sho o' yer man. Salt him."
"Good-by--God bless ye," said Aunt Debby, taking Rachel to her
heart in a passionate embrace, and kissing her repeatedly. "God
bless ye agin. No one ever hed more need o' His blessin' then
we'uns will fur the next few hours. Ef He does bless us an' our
work we'll all be safe an' sound in Gineral Rosencrans' tent afore
noon. But ef His will's different we'll be by thet time whar the
Rebels cease from troublin', and the weary are at rest. I'm sure
thet ef I thot the Rebels war gwine ter whip our men I'd never want
ter see the sun rise ter-morrer. Good-by; we're all in the hands
o' Him who seeth even the sparrer's fall."
Fortner led the mare a little ways, to where he could get a good
view, and then said:
"Thet second line o' fires which ye see over thar is our lines--them
fires I mean which run up inter the woods. The fust line is the
Rebels. Ye'll go right out this road heah tell ye git outside the
town, an' then turn ter yer right an' make fur the Stone River.
Ford hit or swim your mar' acrost, an' make yer way thru or round
the Rebel line. Ef ye find a good road, an' everything favorable
ye mout try ter make yer way strait thru ef ye kin fool the gyards
with yer story. Ef ye're fearful ye can't then ride beyond the
lines, an' come inter ours thet-a-way Aunt Deby'll go ter the other
flank, an' try ter git a-past Breckinridge's pickets, an' I'll
'tempt ter make my way thru the center. We may all or none o'
us git thru. I can't gin ye much advice, ez ye'll hev ter trust
mainly ter yerself. But remember all the time what hangs upon yer
gittin' the news ter Rosy afore daybreak. Think all the time thet
mebbe ye kin save the hull army, mebbe win the vict'ry, sartinly
save heeps o' Union lives an' fool the pizen Rebels. This is the
greatest chance ye'll ever hev ter do good in all yer life, or
a hundred more, ef ye could live 'em. Good-by. Ef God Almighty
smiles on us we'll meet ter-morrer on yon side o' Stone River. Ef
He frowns we'll meet on yon side o' the Shinin' River. Good-by."
He released her hand and her horse, and she rode forward into
the darkness. Her course took her first up a main street, which
was crowded with wagons, ambulances and artillery. Groups of men
mingled with these, and crowded upon the sidewalks. When she passed
the light of a window the men stared at her, and some few presumed
upon her homely garb so far as to venture upon facetious and
complimentary remarks, aimed at securing a better acquaintance.
She made no reply, but hurried her mare onward, as fast as she
could pick her way. She soon passed out of the limits of the town
and was in the country, though she was yet in the midst of camps,
and still had to thread her way through masses of men, horses and
wagons moving along the road.
The first flutter of perturbation at going out into the darkness
and the midst of armed men had given way to a more composed feeling.
No one had stopped her, or offered to, no one had shown any symptom
of surprise at her presence there at that hour. She began to
hope that this immunity would continue until she had made her way
to the Union lines. she had left the thick of the crowd behind
some distance, and was going along at a fair pace, over a clear
road, studying all the while the line of fires far to her right,
in an attempt to discover a promising dark gap in their extent.
She was startled by a hand laid upon her bridle, and a voice saying:
"Say, Sis, who mout ye be, an' whar mout ye be a-mosyin' ter this
time o' night?"
She saw a squad of brigandish-looking stragglers at her mare's
"My name's Polly Briggs. I live on the South Fork o' Overall's
Creek. I've done been ter Dr. Thacker's in Murfreesboro, fur some
medicine fur my sick mammy, an' I'm on my way back home, an' I'd
be much obleeged ter ye, gentlemen, ef ye'd 'low me ter go on, kase
mammy's powerful sick, an' she's in great hurry fur her medicine."
She said this with a coolness and a perfect imitation of the speech
and manner of the section that surprised herself. As she ended
she looked directly at the squad, and inspected them. She saw she
had reason to be alarmed. They were those prowling wolves found
about all armies, to whom war meant only wider opportunities for
all manner of villainy and outrage. An unprotected girl was a
welcome prize to them. It was not death as a spy she had to fear,
but worse. Now, if ever, she must act decisively. The leader took
his hand from her bridle, as if to place it on her.
"Yer a powerful peart sort of a gal, an' ez purty ez a fawn. yer
mammy kin git 'long without the medicine a little while, an'---"
He did not finish the sentence, for before his hand could touch her
Rachel's whip cut a deep wale across his face, and then it fell so
savagely upon the mare's flank that the high-spirited animal sprung
forward as if shot from a catapult, and was a hundred yards away
before the rascals really comprehended what had happened.
Onward sped the mettled brute, so maddened by the first cruel blow
she had ever received that she refused to obey the rein, but made
her own way by and through such objects as she encountered. When
she at last calmed down the road was clear and lonely, and Rachel
began searching for indications of a favorable point of approach
to the river, that hinted at a bridge or a ford. While engaged
in this she heard voices approaching. A moment's listening to
teh mingling of tones convinced her that it was another crowd of
stragglers, and she obeyed her first impulse, which was to leap her
horse over a low stone wall to her right. Taking her head again,
the mare did not stop until she galloped down to the water's edge.
"I'll accept this as lucky," said Rachel to herself. "The ancients
trusted more to their horses' instincts than their own perceptions
in times of danger, and I'll do the same. I'll cross here."
She urged the mare into the water. The beast picked her way among
the boulders on the bottom successfully for a few minutes. The
water rose to Rachel's feet, but that seemed its greatest depth,
and in a few more yards she would gain the opposite bank, when
suddenly the mare stepped upon a slippery steep, her feet went from
under her instantly, and steed and rider rolled in the sweeping
flood of ice-cold water. Rachel's first thought was that she should
surely drown, but hope came back as she caught a limb swinging
from a tree on the bank. With this she held her head above water
until she could collect herself a little, and then with great
difficulty pulled herself up the muddy, slippery bank. The weight
of her soaked clothes added greatly to the difficulty and the
fatigue, and she lay for some little time prone upon her face across
the furrows of a cotton field, before she could stand erect. At
last she was able to stand up, and she relieved herself somewhat
by taking off her calico riding skirt and wringing the water from
it. Her mare had also gained the bank near the same point she
had, and stood looking at her with a world of wonder at the whole
night's experience in her great brown eyes.
"Poor thing," said Rachel sympathetically. "This is only the
beginning. Heaven knows what we won't have to go through with
before the sun rises."
She tried to mount, but her watery garments were too much for
her agility, and with the wet skirts fettering her limbs she began
toiling painfully over the spongy, plowed ground, in search of
a stump or a rock. She thought she saw many around her, but on
approaching one after another found they were only large cotton
plants, with a boll or two of ungathered cotton on them, which
aided the darkness in giving them their deceptive appearance. She
prevented herself from traveling in a circle, by remembering this
aptitude of benighted travelers, and keeping her eye steadily fixed
on a distant camp-fire. When she at last came to the edge of the
field she had to lean against the fence for some minutes before she
could recover from her fatigue sufficiently to climb upon it. While
she sat for a minute there she heard some cocks, at a neighboring
farm-house, crow the turn of night.
"It is midnight," she said feverishly, "and I have only begun the
journey. Now let every nerve and muscle do its utmost."
She rode along the fence until she came to an opening which led
into what appeared in the darkness to be another cotton field, but
proved to be a worn-out one, long ago abandoned to the rank-growing
briars, which clung to and tore her skirts, and seamed the mare's
delicate skin with bleeding furrows. The flinching brute pressed
onward, in response to her mistress's encouragement, but the progress
was grievously slow.
Presently Rachel began to see moving figures a little way ahead
of her, and hear voices in command. She eralized that she was
approaching the forces moving to the attack on the Union right.
There was something grotesque, weird, even frightful in the sounds
and the aspect of the moving masses and figures, but she at last
made out that they were batteries, regiments and mounted men. She
decided that her best course was to mingle with and move along with
them, until she could get a chance to ride away in advance. For
hours that seemed weeks she remained entangled in the slow-moving
mass, whose bewildering vagaries of motion were as trying to the
endurance of her steed as they were exasperating to her own impatience.
Occasionally she caught glimpses of the Union camp-fires in the
distance, that, low and smoldering, told of the waning night, and
she would look anxiously over her left shoulder for a hint of the
coming of the dreaded dawn. Her mare terrified her with symptoms
of giving out.
At last she saw an unmistakable silvery break in the eastern
clouds. Half-frantic she broke suddenly out of the throng by an
abrupt turn to the right, and lashing her mare savagely, galloped
where a graying in the dense darkness showed an opening between
two cedar thickets, that led to the picket-fires, half a mile away.
The mare's hoofs beat sonorously on the level limestone floor,
which there frequently rises through the shallow soil and starves
out the cedar.
"Halt! Go back," commanded a hoarse voice in front of her, which
was accompanied with the clicking of a gunlock. "Ye can't pass
"Lemme pass, Mister," she pleaded. "I'm on'y a gal, with medicine
fur my mammy, an' I'm powerful anxious ter git home."
"No, ye can't git out heah. Orders are strict; besides, ef ye did
the Yankees 'd cotch ye. They're jest out thar."
She became aware that there were heavy lines of men lying near,
and fearing to say another word, she turned and rode away to the
left. She became entagled with a cavalry company moving toward
the extreme Union right, and riding with it several hundred yards,
turned off into a convenient grove just as the light began to be
sufficient to distinguish her from a trooper. She was now, she was
sure, outside of the Rebel lines, but she had gone far to the south,
where the two lines were wide apart. The Union fifes and drums,
now sounding what seemed an unsuspicous and cheerful reveille, were
apparently at least a mile away. It was growing lighter rapidly,
and every passing moment was fraught with the weightiest urgency.
She concentrated all her energies for a supreme effort, and lashed
her mare forward over the muddy cotton-field. The beast's hoofs
sank in the loose red loam, as if it were quicksand, and her pace
was maddeningly slow. At last Rachel came in sight of a Union
camp at the edge of a cedar thicket. The arms were stacked, the
men were cooking breakfast, and a battery of cannon standing near
had no horses attached.
Rachel beat the poor mare's flanks furiously, and shouted.
"Turn out! The Rebels are coming! The Rebels are coming!"
Her warning came too late. Too late, also, came that of the pickets,
who were firing their guns and rushing back to camp before an awful
wave of men that had rolled out of the cedars on the other side of
the cotton field.
A hundred boisterous drums were now making the thickets ring with
the "long roll." Rachel saw the men in front of her leave their
coffee-making, rush to the musket stacks and take their places in
line. In another minute they were ordered forward to the fence in
front of them, upon which they rested their muskets. Rachel rode
through their line and turned around to look. The broad cotton
field was covered with solid masses of Rebels, rushing forward with
their peculiar fierce yell.
"Fire!" shouted the Colonel in front of her. The six field-pieces
to her right split her ears with their crash. A thousand muskets
blazed out a fire that withered the first line of the advancing
foe. Another crash, and the Rebels had answered with musketry and
artillery, that tore the cedars around her, sent the fencerails
flying into the air, and covered the ground with blue-coats. Her
faithful mare shied, caught her hoof in a crack in the limestone,
and fell with a broken leg.
So began that terrible Wednesday, December 31, 1862.
Bragg's plan of battle was very simple. Rosencrans had stretched
out a long thin wing through the cedars to the right of the pike.
At the pike it was very strong, but two miles away it degenerated
into scattered regiments, unskilfully disposed. Bragg threw against
these three or four to one, with all the fury of the Southern soldier
in the onset. The line was crumbled, and before noon crushed back
to the pike.
Rachel disengaged herself from her fallen steed, and leaning against a
sapling, watched the awful collision. She forgot the great danger
in the fascination of the terrible spectacle. She thought she
had seen men scale the whole gamut of passion, but their wildest
excesses were tame and frothy beside this ecstacy of rage in the fury
of battle. The rustic Southerners whom she had seen at ball-play,
the simple-hearted Northerners whom she had alarmed at their
coffee-making, were now transformed into furies mad with the delirium
of slaughter, and heedless of their own lives in the frenzy of
taking those of others.
"You had better run back, young woman," said some one touching her
elbow. "The whole line's going to fall back. We're flanked."
A disorderly stream of men, fragments of the shattered right,
caught her in its rush, and she was borne back to the open fields
lying along the pike. There, as when a turbulent river empties
into a bay, the force of the current subsided, and she was dropped
like silt. The cowardly ones, hatless and weaponless, ran off
toward the pike, but the greater portion halted, formed in line,
called for their comrades to join them, and sent for more cartridges.
Almost dropping with fatigue, Rachel made her way to a pile of
cracker-boxes by an Osage-orange hedge, on a knoll, and sat down.
Some fragments of hard-bread, dropped on the trampled sod while
rations were being issued, lay around. She was so hungry that she
picked up one or two that were hardly soiled, and nibbled them.
The dreadful clamor of battle grew louder continually. The musketry
had swollen into a sullen roar, with the artillery pulsating high
above it. Crashing vollies of hundreds of muskets fired at once,
told of new regiments joining in the struggle. Rebel brigades
raised piercing treble yells as they charged across the open fields
against the Union positions. The latter responded with deep-lunged
cheers, as they hurled their assailants back. Clouds of slowly
curling smoke rose above thickets filled with maddened men, firing
into one another's breasts. Swarms of rabbits and flocks of birds
dashed out in terror from the dark coverts in which they had hitherto
No gallantry could avail against such overwhelming numbers as
assailed the Union right. The stream of disorganized men flowing
back from the thickets became wider and swifter every minute; every
minute, too, the din of the conflict came closer; every minute the
tide of battle rolled on to regiments lying nearer the pike.
A Surgeon with a squad of stretcher-bearers came up to where Rachel
"Pull down some of those boxes, and fix a place to lay the Colonel
till we can make other arrangements," said a familiar voice. Rachel
looked up, and with some difficulty reconciled a grimy-faced man
in torn clothes with the trim Hospital Surgeon she had known.
"Can that be you, Dr. Denslow?" she said.
He had equal difficulty in recognizing her.
"Is it possible that it is you, Miss Bond?" he said in amazement,
after she had spoken to him again. "Yes, this is I, or as much as
is left of me. And here," and his voice trembled, "is about all
that is left of the regiment. The rest are lying about the roots
of those accursed cedars, a full mile from here."
"And Harry Glen--where is he?" she said, rising hurriedly from the
boxes and passing along the line of stretchers, scanning each face.
A new pain appeared in the Doctor's face, as he watched her.
"You'll not find him there," he said. "The last I saw of him
he was forming a handful of the regiment that were still on their
feet, to retake cannon which the Rebels had captured. I was starting
off with the Colonel here, when they dashed away."
"Come," he said, after making some temporary provisions for the
comfort of his wounded. "You must get away from here as quickly
as possible. I fear the army is badly defeated, and it may be a
rout soon. You must get away before the rush begins, for then it
will be terrible."
He took her over the pike, and across it to where some wagons were
standing. As he was about to put Rachel in one of these their
attention was arrested by an officer, apparently acting as Provost
Marshal, dragging from behind a huge rock a Lieutenant who was
skulking there. They were too far away to hear what was said, but
not so far that they could not recognize the skulker as Lieutenant
Jacob Alspaugh. The Provost Marshal apparently demanded the
skulker's name, and wrote it in a book. Alspaugh seemed to give
the information, and accompanied it with a lugubrious pointint to
a bandage around his knee. The Provost Marshal stooped and took the
handkerchief off, to find that not even the cloth of the pantaloons
had been injured. He contemptuously tore the straps from Alspaugh's
shoulders, and left him.
"The rascal's cowardice is like the mercy of God," said Denslow,
"for it endureth forever."
He put Rachel in the wagon, and ordered the driver to start at once
for Nashville with her. She pressed his hand, as they separated
with fatigue and grief.
How had it been faring all this time with Harry Glen and those with
The fierce wave had dashed against the regiment early in the
morning, and although the first fire received from the Rebels made
gaps in the ranks where fifty men fell, it did not recoil a step,
but drove its assailants back with such slaughter that their dead,
lying in the open ground over which they crossed, were grimly compared
by Abe Bolton to "punkins layin' in a field where the corn's been
Then the fight settled into a murderous musketry duel across the
field, in which the ranks on both sides melted away like frost in
the sun. In a few minutes all the field officers were down, and the
only Captain that remained untouched took command of the regiment,
shouting to Harry Glen at the same moment to take command of the
two companies on the right, whose Captains, and Lietenants had
fallen. Two guns escaping from the crush at the extreme right,
had galloped down, and opened gallantly to assist the regiment.
Almost instantly horses and men went down under the storm of bullets.
An Aide broke through the cedars behind.
"Fall back--fall back, for God's sake!" he shouted. "The Rebels
have got around the right, and will cut you off."
"Fall back, boys," shouted the Captain in command, "but keep
together, listen to orders, and load as you go." The same instant
he fell with a ball through his chest.
"Sergeant Glen, you're in command of the regiment, now," shouted
a dozen voices.
The Lieutenant of the battery--a mere boy--ran up to Harry. A
stream of blood on his jacket matched its crimson trimmings.
"Don't go off and leave my guns, after I've helped you. Do not,
for the love of Heaven! I've saved them so far. Bring them off
Harry looked inquiringly around upon the less than one hundred
survivors, who gathered about him, and had heard the passionate
appeal. Every face was set with mortal desperation. An Irish boy
on the left was kissing a cross which he had drawn from his bosom.
The tears which strong men shed in wild fits of rage were rolling
down the cheeks of Edwards, Bolton, and others.
"I don't want to live always!" shouted Kent with an oath; "let's
take the ----- guns!"
"I don't want no better place to die than right here!" echoed Abe,
still more savagely profane. "Le's have the guns, or sink into
hell getting 'em!"
The remnant of the Rebel regiment had broken cover and rushed for
"Attention!" shouted Harry. "Fix bayonets!"
The sharp steel clashed on the muzzles.
For one wild minute shining steel at arm's length did its awful
work. Then three-score Rebels fled back to their leafy lair, and
as many blue-coats with drew into the cedars, pulling the guns
"Pick up the Lieutenant, there, some of you who can do a little
lifting," said Kent, as they came to where the boy-artillerist
lay dead. "This prod in my shoulder's spoilt my lifting for some
time. Lay him on the gun and we'll take himj back with us. He
deserves it, for he was game clear through. Harry, that fellow
that gave you that beauty-mark on the temple with his saber got
his discharge from the Rebel army just afterwards, on the point of
"Is that so? Did Abe get struck at all?"
"Only a whack over the nose with the butt of a gun, which will
doubtless improve his looks. Any change would."
"Guess we can go back now with some peace and comfort," said Abe,
coming up, and alluding to the cessation of the firing in their
front. "That last round took all the fight out of them hell-hounds
across the field."
"Some of you had better go over to the camp there and get our axes.
We'll have to cut a road through the cedars if we take these guns
off," said Harry, tieing a handkershief around the gaping saber
wound in his temple. "The rest of you get around to the right,
and keep a sharp look out for the flank."
So they worked their way back, and a little after noon came to the
open fields by the pike.
As the wagon rolled slowly down the pike toward Nashville Rachel,
in spite of anxiety, fell asleep. Some hours later she was awakened
by the driver shaking her rudely.
"Wake up!" he shouted, "ef ye value yer life!"
"Where are we?" she asked, rubbing her eyes.
"At Stewart's Creek," answered the driver, "an' all o' Wheeler's
cavalry are out thar' in them woods."
She looked out. She could see some miles ahead of her, and as
far as she could see the road was filled with wagons moving toward
Nashville. A sharp spurt of firing on the left attracted her
attention, and she saw a long wave of horsemen ride out of the
woods, and charge the wagon-guards, who made a sharp resistence,
but at length fled before overwhelming numbers. The teamsters,
at the first sight of the formidable line, began cutting their
wheel-mules loose, and escaping upon them. Rachel's teamster
followed their example.
"The off-mule's unhitcht; jump on him, an' skip," he shouted to
her as he vanished up the pike.
The Rebels were shooting down the mules and such teamsters as
remained. Some dismounted, and with the axes each wagon carried,
chopped the spokes until the wagon fell, while others ran along
and started fires in each. In a little while five hundred wagons
loaded with rations, clothing, amunition and stores were blazing
furiously. Their work done, the cavalry rode off toward Nashville
in search of other trains.
Rachel leaped from the wagon, before the Rebels approached, and
took refuge behind a large tree, whence she saw her wagon share
the fate of the rest. When the cavalry disappeared, she came out
again into the road and walked slowly up it, debating what she
could do. She was rejoiced to meet her teamster returning. He had
viewed the occurence from a prudent distance, and being kindly-natured
had decided to return to her help, as soon as it could be done
He told her that there was a wagon up the pike a little ways with
a woman in it, to which he would conduct her, and they would go
back to the army in front of Murfreesboro.
"It seems a case of 'twixt the devil and the deep sea," he said,
despairingly. "At any rate we can't stay out here, and my experience
is that it is always safest where there is the biggest crowd."
They found the wagon with the woman in it. Its driver had bolted
irrevocably, so Rachel's friend assumed the reins. It was slow
work making their way back through the confused mass, but Rachel
was lucky enough to sleep through most of it. When she awoke the
next morning the wagon was still on the pike, but in the center of
the army, which filled all the open space round-about.
Everywhere were evidences of the terrible work of the day before,
and of preparations for renewing it. The soldiers, utterly exhausted
by the previous days' frightful strain, lay around on the naked
ground, sleeping, or in a half-waking torpor.
An officer rode up to the wagon. "There seems to be some flour on
this wagon," said the voice of Dr. Denslow. "Well, that may stay
the boys' stomachs until we can get something better. Go on a
little ways, driver."
"O, Doctor Denslow," called out Rachel, as the wagon stopped again,
"what is the news?"
"You here again?" said the Doctor, recognizing the voice: "well
that is good news. When I heard about Wheeler's raid on our trains
I was terribly alarmed as to your fate. This relieves me much."
"But how about the army?"
"Well it seems to have been a case of hammer and anvil yesterday,
in which both suffered pretty badly, but the hammer go much the
worst of it. We are in good shape now to give them some more, if
they want it, which so far they have not indicated very strongly.
Here, Sergeant Glen, is a couple barrels of flour, which you can
take to issue to your regiment."
Had not the name been called Rachel could never have recognized
her former elegant lover in the salwart man with tattered uniform,
swollen face, and head wrapped in a bloody bandage, who came to
the wagon with a squad to receive the flour.
A tumult of emotions swept over her, but superior to them all was
the feminine feeling that she could not endure to have Harry see
her in her present unprepossessing plight.
"Don't mention my name before those men," she said to Dr. Denslow,
when he came near again.
"Very good," he answered. "Sit still in the wagon, and nobody
will see you. I will have the wagon driver over to the hospital
presently, with the remainder of the flour, and you can go along."
All the old love seemed to have been out at compound interest, from
the increment that came back to her at the sound of Harry Glen's
voice, now so much deeper, fuller and more masterful than in
the fastidious days of yore. She lifted the smallest corner of
the wagon-cover and looked out. The barrel heads had been beaten
in with stones, and a large cupful of flour issued to each of the
hungry men. They had mixed it up into dough with water from the
ditch, and were baking it before the fire on large flat stones,
which abounded in the vicinity.
"I'll mix up enough for all three of us on this board," she heard
Harry say to Abe and Kent. "With your game arm, Kent, and Abe's
battered eyes, your cooking skill's about gone. You ought to both
of you go to the hospital. You can't do any good, and why expose
yourself for nothing? I've a mind to use my authority and send
you to the hospital under guard."
"You try it if you dare, after my saving your life yesterday,"
said Abe. "I can see well enough yet to shoot toward the Rebels,
and that's all that's necessary."
"I enlisted for the war," said Kent, "and I'm going to stay till
peace is declared. I went into this fight to see it through, and
I'm going to stay until we whhip them if there's a piece of me left
that can wiggle. Bragg's got to acknowledge that I'm the best man
before I'll ever let up on him."
Rachel longed to leap out of the wagon, and do the bread-making
for these clumsy fellows, but pride would not consent.
The dough was browning slowly on the hot stones, but not yet nearly
done, when the spiteful spirits of firing out in front suddenly burst
into a roar, with a crash of artillery. A bugle sounded near.
"Fall in, boys," shouted Harry, springing to his feet, and tearing
off the flakes of dough, which he hastily divided with his comrades.
"Right dress. Right face, forward, file right--march!"
"If there is anything that I despise, it's disturbing a gentleman
at his meals," said Kent, giving the fire a spiteful kick, as he
tucked the bread under his lame arm, took his musket in his other
hand, and started off in the rear of the regiment, accompanied by
the purblind Abe.
Rachel's heart sank, as she saw them move off, but it rose again
when the firing died down as suddenly as it had flamed up.
Soon Dr. Denslow took the wagon off to a cabin on a high bank of
Stone River, which he was using as a hospital.
She called some question to him, as he turned away to direct the
preparation of the flour into food for his patients, when some one
cried out from the interior of the cabin:
"Rachel Bond! Is that you? Come in heah, honey."
She entered, and found Aunt Debby lying on the rude bed of the
former inhabitants of the cabin.
"O my love--my darling--my honey, is that you?" said the elderly
woman, with streaming eyes, reaching out her thin arms to take
Rachel to her heart. "I never expected ter see ye ag'in! But God
"Aunt Debby, is it possible? Are you hurt, dear?"
"No, not hurt child; on'y killed," she answered with a sweet radiance
on her face.
"Killed? It is not possible."
"Yes, honey, it is possible. It is true. The gates open for me
"How did it happen?"
"I got through Breckenridge's lines all right, an' reached the
river, but thar was a picket thar, hid behind a tree, and ez he
heered my hoss's feet splash in the ford, he shot me through the
back. An' I didn't get through in time," she added, with the first
shade of melancholy that had yet appeared in her face. "Did YOU?"
"No, I was too late, too."
"An' Jim must've been, too. Hev ye seed him any whar?"
"No," said Rachel, unable to restrain her tears.
"Now, honey, don't cry for me--don't," said Aunt Debby, pulling
the young face down to where she could kiss it. "Hit's jest ez I
want hit. On'y let me know thet Bragg is whipt, an' I die happy."
All day Thursday the two bruised armies lay and confronted each
other, as two bulldogs, which have torn and mangled one another,
will stop for a few minutes, to lick their hurts and glare their
hatred, while they regain breath to carry on the fight.
Friday morning it was the same, but there was a showing of teeth and
a rising fierceness as the day grew older, which was very portentous.
While standing at the door of the cabin Rachel had seen Harry Glen
march down the bank at the head of the regiment, and cross the
ford to the heights in front of Breckenridge. She picked up a
field-glass that lay on a shelf near, and followed the movements
of the force the regiment had joined.
"What d' ye see, honey?" called out Aunt Debby. She was becoming
very fearful that she would die before the victory was won.
"Our people," answered Rachel, "seem to be concentrating in front
of Breckenridge. There must be a division over there. Breckenridge
sees it, and his cannon are firing at our men. He is bringing
men up at the double quick." She stopped, for a spasm of fear in
regard to Harry choked her.
"Go on, honey. What are they doing now?"
"Our men have formed a long line, reaching from the river up to
the woods. They begin to march forward. Breckenridge opens more
guns. They cut lanes through them. Now the infantry begins firing.
A cloud of smoke settles down and hides both sides. I can see no
more. O my God, our men are running. The whole line comes back
out of the smoke, with men dropping at every step. If Harry were
only safely out of there, I'd give my life."
Aunt Debby groaned. "Look again, honey," she said after a moment's
"It's worse than ever. Breckenridge's men are swarming out of
their works. There seems to be a myriad of them. They cover the
whole hillside until I can not see the ground. They yell like
demons, and drive our men down into the river. They follow them
to the water's edge and shoot them down in the stream. Ah, there
goes a battery on the gallop to the hill in front of us. It has
opened on the Rebels, and its shells dig great holes in the black
masses, but the Rebels still come on. There goes another battery
on the gallop. It has opened. There is another. Still another.
They are galloping over here from every direction."
"Glory!" shouted Aunt Debby.
"There's a fringe of trees near the water's edge, whose tops reach
nearly tot he top of the hill. The cannon shots tear the branches
off and dash down the great ranks of Rebels with them."
"The arth rocks as when He lays his finger upon hit," said Aunt
The ground was trembling under the explosion of the fifty-eight
pieces of artillery which Rosencrans hastily massed at four o'clock
Friday, for the relief of his overpowered left. "What's them that
go 'boo-woo-woo,' like great big dogs barkin'?"
"Those are John Mendenhall's big Napoleons," said a wounded artillery
officer. "Go on, Miss. What now?"
"The Rebels have stopped coming on. They are apparently firing back.
The shells and the limbs of the trees still break their lines and
tear them to pieces. Now our men dash across the river again,
and begin a musketry fire that mows them down. They start to run,
and our men charge after them, cheering as they run. Our men have
taken their cannon away from them. The Rebels are running for life
to get inside their works. The hillside is dotted with those who
have fallen, and there are rows of them lying near the water. Now
everything is quieting down again."
"Glory ter God! for He has at last given the enemy inter our hands.
Come and kiss me, honey, an' say good-by."
From the throats of twenty-five thousand excited spectators of the
destruction of Breckenridge's division rose cheers of triumph that
echoed to the clouds.
"What sweet music that is!" said Aunt Debby, half unclosing her
eyes. "God bless ye, honey. Good-by."
The gentle eyes closed forever.
Late in the evening Dr. Denslow's stretcher corps brough in Harry
Glen, who had fallen in the last charge with a flesh wound in the
leg. Until he woke the next morning to find her sitting by his
bedside, Harry thought he had been dreaming all the time that Rachel
Bond had come to him, dressed in quaint country garb, and loosed
with gentle, painless fingers the stiff, blood-encrusted bandage
about his head, and replaced it with something that soothed and
eased his fevered temples.
"I have very good news for you," she said, later in the day. "Kent
Edwards says that you are promoted to Captain, by special orders,
for 'Conspicuous gallantry on the battle-field of Stone River.'"
"And when are we to be married?" he asked.
"Just as soon as you are able to travel back to Sardis."
They looked up and saw Dr. Denslow standing beside them. A stunned
look on his face indicated that he had heard and understood all.
This speedily gave away to his accustomed expression of serene
"Forget me, except as a friend," he said. "It is better as it
is for you, Harry, and certainly better for her. Possibly it is
better for"--with a little gasp--"me. The sweets of love are not
for me. They are irrational, and irrational things are carefully
eliminated from my scheme of life."
Towards evening Fortner came in with the news "Thet ole Bragg picked
up his traps and skipped out fur Tullahoma, ter nuss his hurts,
leavin' his wounded and lots o' stores in our hands."
So was gained the great victory of Stone River.