Part 3 out of 10
"Did you see them men a-ridin' away from here jest now?" she asked.
"I heard some voices," said I; "who were they?"
"They was some of our men; three of 'em; they et up most ev'ything I
had, so I hain't got much."
"See what there is," said I, "and please be as quick as you can."
She went into another room, and speedily returned with a "pone" of
"This is all they is," she said.
"Have you no potatoes? no bacon?"
"I've got some bacon," she said; "but it ain't cooked."
"Let me have a pound or two, anyway," said I.
She brought out a large piece of bacon. "My ole man's gone down to
Worrick to-day," she said, "an' won't be back tell night; an' you
soldiers, a-leavin' the country all at oncet, hit makes me feel kinder
"Yes," said I; "I don't wonder at your alarm, for they say the Yankees
are coming. I don't suppose they will be here before to-morrow,
though--maybe not till the day after."
"Them other men said they was the last to go," she replied; "but I
reckin they didn't know you was a-comin' on behind 'em."
"No," said I; "if they had known I was coming, they wouldn't have run
off and left me so; I might have ridden behind one of them. I don't
suppose I can overtake them now, unless they atop again."
"That you can't," said she; "they won't have no call to stop tell they
git to the camp, an' hit's jest this side of the mill."
"How far is it to Lee's Mill?" I asked,
She looked at me suspiciously, and I feared that I had made a mistake.
"Hit's not fur," she replied; "hain't you never been thar?"
"Nut by this road," I answered. "How much shall I pay you?"
"Well, Mister, I don't know; set your own price."
I handed her a silver half-dollar. Her eyes fastened on me. I had made
"If that is not enough," said I, "you shall have more," showing her a
one-dollar Confederate note.
"Oh, this is a plenty," she replied; "but I was a-wonderin' to see
"I have kept a little for hard times," I said.
"You have? Well, the sight of it is cert'n'y good for sore eyes."
"Can I reach Lee's Mill before dark?" I asked.
"Well, I reckin you kin, ef you walk fast enough," she said; "anyhow,
you kin git to the camp on this side."
"Well, good day, madam; I wish you well," said I.
"Good-by, Mister," she said.
I had already opened the gate, when I heard her come to the door; she
raised her voice a little, and said,--
"When you git to the big road, you'll be in a mile o' the mill."
So long as I was in sight of the house I kept in the road, but as soon
as I got through the clearing, I struck off to the right through the
woods. I was seeking some hiding place where I could eat and sleep.
When, early in the morning, I had seen the pickets retire from the post
near Warwick, I had thought that the rebels were all withdrawing to
their main lines; this thought had received some corroboration from the
firing heard in my rear later in the day; I had believed the Union
troops advancing behind me; but afterward I had seen other rebels at the
woman's house, and I now doubted what I had before believed. Besides, it
was clear from the woman's words that there was a rebel post this side
of Lee's Mill, and I was yet in danger.
The woods wore dense. Soon I saw before me a large road running west,
the big road of which the woman had spoken, no doubt. I crept up to it,
and, seeing no one in either direction, ran across it, and into the
woods beyond. I went for half a mile or more, in a southwest course, and
found a spot where I thought I could spend the night in safety. For fear
of being detected I dug a hole, with my knife, in the earth, and piled
the loose earth around the hole; then I lighted a fire of dry sticks at
the bottom. Night had not yet come, but it was very gloomy in this dense
thicket surrounded by woods; I had little fear that any reflection or
smoke would betray me, for the thicket was impenetrable to the view of
any one who should not come within two rods. I broiled my bacon and
toasted my bread, and though I fared very well, yet after eating I
wanted water and chose to remain thirsty rather than in the darkness to
search for a spring or a stream in the woods.
I quenched the fire with the loose earth; I raked up leaves with my
hands and made a bed. I had no covering, but the night was not cold,
threatening rain, and the thicket sheltered me from the wind.
Some time in the night I awoke to find that I had dreamed of lying in a
mountain brook with my mouth up stream and the water running through my
whole body. My mouth was parched. I must have water at any risk.
I set out in I know not what direction. I had put the remains of my
supper into my coat pocket, for my judgment told me that in all
likelihood I could never return to the spot I was leaving.
Before I had been walking ten minutes, I knew that I was completely
lost; I went through thickets and briers, over logs and gullies, round
and round, I suspect, for hour in and hour out, until just before day I
saw the reflection of fire through the woods, and at the same time
almost fell into a small pool. It was the reflection of the light by the
pool which at once showed me the water and saved me from finding it
with a sense other than sight.
I drank and drank again; then I wondered what the fire meant. Although
it seemed far off, I was afraid of it; likely enough it was some rebel
camp-fire; I had no idea whither I had wandered, I turned my back on the
light, and walked until I could see it no more; then I stretched myself
under a tree, but could not sleep. Day was coming.
After a while it began to rain, and I had a most uncomfortable time of
it. It required considerable effort of will on my part to determine to
move, for I did not know which way to start. I set out, however, and had
gone a short distance, when I noticed the green moss at the root of a
large tree, and I remembered that I had read in stories of Indians and
hunters that such moss always grows on the north side of the trees. So I
then turned westward, for I knew that I had crossed no road in my
wanderings of the night, and I also know that the main road from Warwick
Court-House to Lee's Mill was at the west. A little at my left I saw a
great tree with a sloping trunk, and I went to it for shelter; it was
raining harder. When I reached the tree I saw a road just beyond. I sat
under the tree, the inclined trunk giving me shelter from the rain and
hiding me from the road. While eating the remains of my supper, I heard
the tramp of horses, and looking out cautiously, saw a company of rebel
cavalry going northward at a trot. At the same time I could distinctly
hear skirmish firing behind me, not half a mile off, seemingly. The rain
still fell and I held my place.
All at once I saw two men in the road; they were Union
Before I could speak to them I was aware of the fact that an advancing
line of our skirmishers was on either side of me.
"Hello, here!" cried one of them; "who are _you?_"
"Keep your place in line, Private Lewis," said an officer, coming up,
"I'll attend to that man."
"Privates Jones and George, halt! Skirmishers, fill intervals to the
Two men came to the lieutenant.
"Who _are_ you, sir?" asked the lieutenant.
"Private Berwick, Eleventh Massachusetts," said I.
"Do you know anything of the enemy? Speak quick!"
"They are this side of Lee's Mill, Lieutenant, but I got lost in the
night, and I don't even know where I am now. About fifty of their
cavalry went by ten minutes ago."
The line went on in the rain.
The lieutenant placed me in charge of the two men, ordering them to take
me at once to the rear, and to report to General Davidson. I have never
learned the name of that lieutenant; he had some good qualities.
Meanwhile a sharp skirmish was going on in front, and our line did not
seem to advance. A section of artillery dashed by. I began to understand
that, if I had gone on a few hundred yards, I should have run upon the
enemy in force.
I was brought before General Davidson. He was on horse, at the head of
his brigade. He asked me my name.
"Jones Berwick, General," said I.
"What is your business?"
"I am a private, sir, in the Eleventh Massachusetts."
He smiled at this; then he asked, still smiling, "Where is your
"It is in camp below Washington, General, I suppose; at least, it had
not reached Newport News on the evening of the day before yesterday."
"How is it that you are here while your regiment is still near
"I had surgeon's leave to precede my regiment on account of my health,
"And this is the way you take care of your health, is it, by lying out
in the woods in the rain?"
"It was a month ago, General, that the surgeon dismissed me, and I am
now fully recovered."
General Davidson looked serious. "You were at Newport News on day before
"I was near Newport News, sir, at the Sanitary camp. General McClellan
had just arrived at Fortress Monroe; so I heard before I left."
"And what are you doing here? I think you have the Southern accent."
"I have been told so before, General; but I am not a Southerner; I came
out to observe the rebel lines."
"By whose authority?"
Now, I could have told General Davidson that I had had a pass, signed by
such an officer; but I feared to do so, lest some complication should
arise which would give trouble to such an officer, for Dr. Khayme had
not fully informed me about my privileges.
"It was only a private enterprise, General."
"Tell me all about it," he said.
I said briefly that, on the day before, I had passed up the Warwick
River; and that the main line of the enemy lay behind it; that the fords
had been destroyed by dams, and that there were no rebels on this side
of the river now, in my opinion, except pickets, and possibly a force
just in front of Lee's Mill.
"But do you not hear the rebel artillery now?" he asked.
"I think, General, that the rebel artillery is firing from the other
side of the river, but I admit that I am not sure of it. Night came on
me yesterday before I could reach Lee's Mill, and I have nothing but
hearsay in regard to that place."
"What have you heard?"
I told him what the woman had said.
"What proof can you give me that you are not deceiving me?" he asked
"I do not know, General," said I, "that I can give you any proof; I
wish I could; perhaps you can so question me as to satisfy you."
The general sent a courier to the front. He then wrote a line on a piece
of paper, and handed the note to another courier, who rushed off to the
rear. In a few minutes an officer rode up from the rear; he saluted
General Davidson, who spoke earnestly to him in a low tone. I could
easily guess that he was speaking of me.
Then, the officer approached me, and asked many questions about my
service:--where I was from--where was my regiment from--who was its
colonel--who was my captain--how I had come to the army ahead of my
regiment, etc. To all these questions I gave brief and quick replies.
Then the officer asked for a detailed account of my scout, which I gave
him in as few words as I knew how to use. When I spoke of Nick, his eye
brightened; when I spoke of giving Nick a note, he nodded his head. Then
he asked, "What did you write?"
"The word _going_," I said.
"Have you a pencil?" he asked.
"Here, take this, and write the word _going_," he said, handing me a
On a leaf of the book I wrote the word, and my signature below.
Then the officer took another book from his pocket, and looked
attentively at both books.
Then he said: "General, I think there is something in what he says.
Better be careful of your advance."
And to me, "You must need rest and food; come with me, Mr. Berwick."
That night I slept in Dr. Khayme's tent.
"This is the sergeant,
Who like a bold and hardy soldier fought."
After having been well treated at General Keyes's headquarters, I had
been given a seat in an ambulance going back to Newport News. The
officer who had questioned me proved to be one of the general's aides.
The negro Nick had succeeded in avoiding the rebels, and had delivered
my message, with which my handwriting showed identity; moreover, General
Keyes, when the matter was brought to his attention, immediately
declared with a laugh that his friend Khayme's protege was a "brick."
The physical and mental tension to which I had been continuously
subjected for more than two days was followed by a reaction which,
though natural enough, surprised me by its degree. I lay on a camp-bed
after supper, utterly done. The Doctor and Lydia sat near me, and
questioned me on my adventures, as they ware pleased to term my
escapade. Lydia was greatly interested in my account of my visit to the
woman's house; the Doctor's chief interest was centred on Nick.
"Jones," said he, "you were right from a purely prudential point of view
in testing the negro well; but in your place I should have trusted him
the instant I learned that he was a slave."
"But, Father," said Lydia; "you surely don't think that all the slaves
wish to be free."
"No, I don't; but I believe that every man slave, who has independence
of character sufficient to cause him to be alone at night between two
hostile armies, wishes to be free."
"You are right, Doctor," said I; "but you must admit, I think, that at
the time I could hardly reason so clearly as you can now."
This must have been said very sleepily, for Lydia exclaimed, "Father,
Mr. Berwick needs rest."
"Yes, madam; he needs rest, but not such as you are thinking of. Let me
fully unburden himself in a mild and gentlemanly way; then he can sleep
the sleep of the just."
"Oh, Father, your words sound like a funeral service."
"I am alive, Miss Lydia; and you know the Doctor believes that the just
"The just? I believe everybody lives forever, and always did live."
"Even, the rebels?" then I thought that I should have said
"Rebels will live forever, but they will cease to be rebels, that is,
after they have accomplished their purposes, and rebellion becomes
"Then, you admit at last that rebellion, and consequently war, are
"No, I don't see how you can draw such an inference," said the Doctor;
"rebellion cannot make war necessary, and hostility to usurped authority
is always right."
"How can there be such without war as a consequence?" I asked languidly.
"Father," said Lydia, "please let Mr. Berwick rest."
"Madam, you are keeping him from going to sleep; I am only making him
I wondered if the Doctor knew to the full what he was saying. He
continued: "Well, Jones, I'll let you off now on that subject; but I
warn you that it is the first paper on the programme for to-morrow. By
the way, you will have but a few days' rest now; your regiment is
expected on the tenth."
"Glad to hear it, Doctor."
"So you think the Confederate lines are very strong?"
"Yes, they are certainly very strong, at least that part of them that I
saw. What they are near Yorktown, I cannot say, of course."
"I can see one thing," said the Doctor.
"What is that?"
"The map we have is incorrect."
"It makes the Warwick creek too short and too straight."
"I found it very long," said I; "and it is wide, and it is deep, and it
cannot be turned on the James River side except by the fleet."
"The fleet is not going to turn that line; the fleet is doing nothing,
and probably will do nothing until the _Merrimac_ is disposed of."
"Doctor, how in the world do you get all your information?"
"By this and that," said the Doctor.
"How we are to get at the rebels I can't see," said I.
"On the Yorktown end of their line," replied the Doctor.
"It seems to me a singular coincidence," said I, "that our troops should
have been advancing behind me all day yesterday."
"Do you object?" he asked.
"Not at all; I was about used up when they found me. What I should have
done I don't well see."
"You would have been compelled to start back," he said.
"Yes," said I, "and I had no food, and should have been compelled to
wait till night to make a start."
Dr. Khayme was exceedingly cheerful; he smoked incessantly and faster
than he usually smoked. The last thing I can remember before sleep
overcame my senses was the thought that the idol's head looked alive,
and that the smoke-clouds which rose above it and half hid the Doctor's
face were not mere forms that would dissipate and be no more; they
seemed living beings--servants attendant on their master's will.
* * * * *
The next day was cold and damp. I went out but little. I wrote some
letters, and rested comfortably. The Doctor gave me the news that
Yorktown had been invested, and that there was promise of a siege
instead of a battle.
"They have found the Confederate lines too strong to be taken by
assault," said he; "and while McClellan waits for reenforcements, there
will be nothing to prevent the Confederates from being reenforced; so
mote it be."
"What! You are not impatient?"
"And you are willing for the enemy to be reenforced?"
"Oh, yes; I know that the more costly the war the sooner it will end."
"I think McClellan ought to have advanced before," said I; "he is likely
to lose much time now."
"He has plenty of time; he has all the time there is."
"All the time there is! that means eternity."
"Of course; he has eternity, no more and no less."
"That is a long time," said I, thinking aloud.
"And as broad as it is long," said the Doctor; "everything will happen
in that time."
"Why not to McClellan? To all."
"Everything is a big word, Doctor."
"No bigger than eternity."
"And McClellan will win and will lose?"
"I hardly understand, Doctor, what you mean by saying that everything
"I mean," said he, "that change and eternity are all the conditions
necessary to cause everything to come to pass."
"The rebels will win and the North will win?"
"Yes; both of these seemingly contradictory events will happen."
"You surely are a strange puzzle."
"I give myself enough time, do I not?"
"But time can never reconcile a contradiction."
"The contradiction is only seeming."
"Did both Confederates and Union troops win the battle of Bull Run?"
"The Confederates defeated the Federals," said the Doctor; "but the
defeat will prove profitable to the defeated. What I mean by saying both
North and South will win, you surely know; it is that the divine
purpose, working in all the nations, will find its end and
accomplishment, and this purpose is not limited, in the present wicked
strife, to either of the combatants. What the heart of the people of
both sections wants will come; what they want they fight for; but it
would have come without war, as I was about to tell you last night, when
you interrupted me by going to sleep."
"Yes," said I, laughing, "you were going to tell me how rebellion could
exist and not bring war."
"And Mr. Berwick made his escape," said Lydia.
"But you promised to give it to me to-day, Doctor."
"Give it to me! That is an expression which I have heard used in two
senses," said the Doctor.
"Well, you were giving it to me last night; now be so good as to give
"Better feel Mr. Berwick's pulse first, Father."
"You people are leagued against me," said he; "and I shall proceed to
"By refusing me?"
"No; by giving it to you. I said, did I not, that rebellion does not
necessarily bring war?"
"That is the postulate," I replied.
"Then, first, what is rebellion?"
"Rebellion," said I, "rebellion--rebellion," seeking a definition,
"rebellion is armed hostility, within a nation or state, to the
legalized government of the nation or state."
"I am willing to accept that," said the Doctor; "now let us see if there
have not been cases of rebellion without war. What do you say of
Jeroboam and the ten tribes?"
"I say that there was about to be war, and the Almighty put a stop to
"That is all I pray for," said the Doctor; "then, what do you say of
"The general of the commonwealth, who restored Charles the Second."
"Monk simply decided a dilemma," said I. "I don't count that a
rebellion; the people were glad to settle matters."
"Well, we won't count Monk; what do you say--"
"No more, Doctor," I interrupted; "I admit that rebellion does not bring
war when, the other party won't fight."
"But it is wrong to fight," he said.
"Then every rebellion ought to succeed," said I.
"Certainly it ought, at least for a time. What I am contending is that
every revolution should be peaceable. Would not England have been wiser
if she had not endeavoured to subdue the colonies? Suppose the principle
of peace were cherished: the ideas that would otherwise cause rebellion
would be patiently tested; the men of new or opposite ideas would no
longer be rebels; they would be statesmen; a rebellion would be
accepted, tried, and defeated by a counter rebellion, both peaceable. It
is simply leaving things to the will of the majority. Right ideas will
win, no matter what the opposition to them. Better change the arena of
conflict. A single champion of an idea would once challenge a doubter
and prove his hypothesis by the blood of the disputant; you do the same
thing on a great scale. The Southern people--very good people as you and
I have cause to know--think the constitution gives them the right, or
rather cannot take away the right, to withdraw from the Union; you
Northern people think they deserve death for so thinking, and you
proceed to kill them off; you intend keeping it up until too few of them
are left to think fatally; but they _will_ think, and your killing them
will not prove your ideas right."
"And so you would settle it by letting them alone? Yes, I know that is
what you think should be done. But how about slavery?" I asked, thinking
to touch a tender spot.
"The North should have rebelled peaceably against slavery; many a
Southern man would have joined this peaceable rebellion; the idea would
have won, not at once, neither will this war be won at once; but the
idea would have won, and under such conditions, I mean with the South
knowing that the peaceable extension of knowledge concerning principle
was involved, instead of massacre according to the John Brown idiocy, a
great amelioration in the condition of the slave would have begun
immediately. The South, would have gradually liberated the slaves."
"Doctor, you are saying only that we are far from perfection."
"No; I am saying more than that; I am saying that we ought to have
ideals, and strive to reach them."
* * * * *
On the 12th we learned that Hooker's division had landed at Ship Point,
and had formed part of the lines investing Yorktown. On the next day I
rejoined my company. Willis gave a yell when he saw me coming. The good
fellow was the same old Willis--strong, brave, and generous. We soon
went off for a private chat.
"What have you been doing with, yourself all this time?" he asked.
"I've been with. Dr. Khayme--at Newport News, you know. Our camp was
never moved once; what have you been doing?"
"Same old thing--camp guard, and drill, and waiting our turn to come.
Say, Berwick, do you know the new drill?"
"What new drill?"
"You don't say!"
"Fact. Whole division."
"Do you like it better?"
"Believe I do."
"We'll have no time to drill here," said I; "we'll have enough, to do of
Yet I was compelled to make the change, which referred to the manual of
arms, Hardee's tactics, in which, system the piece is carried in the
right hand at shoulder arms, having been substituted for Scott's, which
provides for the shoulder on the left side. There was no actual drill,
however, and my clumsy performance--clumsy compared with, that of the
other men of the company who had become accustomed to the change--was
limited to but little exercise, and was condoned by the sergeants
because of my inexperience.
I noticed that Willis did not mention Lydia's name. I did not expect him
to mention it, though. I knew he was wanting to hear of her; and I did
not feel that I ought to volunteer in giving him information concerning
the young lady. He asked me about Dr. Khayme, however, and thus gave me
the chance to let him know that the Doctor himself would move his
quarters to the rear of our lines, but that his daughter would remain at
the hospital at Newport News until the army should advance
And now, for almost a full month, we fronted the rebel lines of
Yorktown. Our regiment was in the trenches much of the time, and
frequently in the rifle-pits. The weather was bad; rain fell almost
every other day, and at night we suffered from cold, especially on the
picket-lines, where no fires were allowed. I suppose I stood the
hardships as well as most of the men, but I could not have endured much
more. Willis's programme of the campaign had been completely upset; he
had said that we should take Yorktown in a week and pursue the routed
rebels into Richmond, and now we were doing but little--so far as we
could see--to bring matters to a conclusion. The artillery of the rebels
played on our lines; and our guns replied; the pickets, too, were
frequently busy popping away at each other, and occasionally hitting
their marks. Ever since the siege of Yorktown, where I saw that great
quantities of lead and iron were wasted, and but few men hurt,--though
Dr. Khayme maintained that the waste became a crime when men were
killed,--I have had a feeling of disgust whenever I have read the words
"unerring rifles." More lies have been told about wars and battles, and
about the courage of men, and patriotism, and so forth, than could be
set down in a column of figures as long as the equator. From April 13 to
May 4 the casualties of the Army of the Potomac before Yorktown did not
reach half of one per cent. The men learned speedily to dodge shells,
and I remember hearing one man say that he dodged a bullet. He saw a
black spot seemingly stationary, and knew at once that the thing was
coming in a straight line for his eye. The story was swallowed, but I
think nobody believed it, except the hero thereof, who was a good
soldier, however, and ordinarily truthful. How can you expect a man, who
is supremely interested in a small incident, to think it small? For my
part, it was a rarity to see even a big shell, unless it was a tired
one. I dodged per order, mostly. Of course, when I saw the smoke of a
cannon, and know that the cannon was looking toward me, I got under
cover without waiting for the long roll; but it was amusing sometimes to
hear fellows cry out, "I see a shell coming this way," at the smoke of a
gun, and have everybody seeking shelter, when no sound of a shell would
follow, the missile having gone into the woods half a mile to our
right or left.
I grew more attached to Willis. If the Army of the Potomac had in its
ranks any better soldier than this big red-beaded sergeant, I never saw
him. He was ready for any duty, no matter what: to lead a picket squad
into its pits under fire; to serve all night on the skirmish detail in
place of a sick friend; to dig and shoot and laugh, and swear, in
everything he was simply superb. That I do not quote his cuss-words must
not be taken as an indication, that they were commonplace. Everything he
did he did with, his might, almost violently. He was a good shot, too,
within the range of the smooth-bore. The rebel pickets--most of
them--seemed to be better armed than we were; it was said that they had
received some cargoes of long Enfields--nine hundred yards' range,
according to the marked sights, and no telling how far beyond--by
blockade-runners. They could keep us down behind the pits while they
would walk about as they chose, unless a shell from one of our batteries
was flung at them, in which case they showed that they, too, had been
studying the dodging lesson. Willis was greatly disgruntled over the
fact that the rebels were the better armed, and frequently his temper
got the upper hand of him. A bullet went through his hat one day when he
was trying vainly to pick off a man in a rifle-pit; Willis's bullet
would cut the dirt a hundred yards too short; the Enfield Minie ball
would go a-kiting over our heads and making men far to our rear look
out. Sometimes Willis was very gloomy, and I attributed this condition
to his passion for Lydia, though, on such a subject he never opened his
mouth to me.
One dark rainy night, about the 21st, I believe, Willis and I were both
on the picket detail. It came my time for vedette duty, and Willis was
the sergeant to do the escort act. There had been skirmishing on this
part of the line the preceding day, but at sunset, or the hour for
sunset if the weather had been fair, the firing had ceased as we marched
up and relieved the old pickets. We were in the woods, the most of us,
but just here, on the right of our own detail, there were a few
rifle-pits in the open, the opposing skirmish, lines being perhaps four
hundred yards apart, and our vedette posts--we maintained them only at
night--being about sixty yards in advance of our pits, and always
composed of three men for each post. We found our three men numb with,
cold, two lying near the edge oL the woods, in a big hole made by a
shell, while the other stood guard. They had seen nothing and heard
nothing except the ordinary sounds of the night. The clouds reflected
the peculiar glow of many fires in front. It was not long till day. The
two men, my companions on post, whispered together, and then proposed
that I should take the first watch. Willis had returned to the line
with, the relieved vedettes. I had no objection to taking the first
watch, yet I hesitated, simply because the two men had whispered. I
fancied there was some reason for the request, and I asked bluntly why
they had decided it was my turn without giving me a voice in the matter.
You know it is the custom to decide such affairs by lot, unless some man
volunteers for the worst place. They replied that they were old friends,
and that as I was a stranger to them, the detail being made up from
various companies, they preferred lying together.
This explanation, did not seem very satisfactory, for the reason that in
two hours we should all be relieved; yet I consented, and they lay down
in the hole, which was little more than a mud-puddle, for fear of some
sudden, volley from the rebels.
The position of the man on watch at this point was just at the left
oblique from the other men, say about ten paces, and very near to a tree
which stood apart from the rest of the forest, a scraggy pine of second
growth, not very tall, but thick and heavy, with, its limbs starting
from the trunk as low as eight feet from the ground. I stood near this
tree, within reach of it by a leap. Our nearest vedette posts, right and
left, were a hundred yards from me--the one on the left being in the
woods, that on the right in the open. The country called the Peninsula
is low and flat and very swampy in many parts, and the great quantity of
rain that had now fallen for days and days had rendered the whole land a
loblolly, to use a common figure. I saw that just in front of me, about
thirty yards, there was a shallow ravine, and I began to think that it
was possible for an enterprising squad of rebels to sneak through this
ravine and get very near us before we knew it, and perhaps capture us;
such things had been done, if the truth was told, not only by the
rebels, but by many other people at war.
Beyond the ravine were the Confederates, their skirmish line about three
hundred yards beyond it, and their nightly vedette posts nobody knew
where, for they used similar economy to ours in withdrawing their
vedettes in the day. The Doctor's talks, many of which I can but barely
mention, had opened my eyes a little to the possibility of accurate
inferences, that is to say, his philosophy of cause and effect, or
purpose, as he liked better to call it, had been urged upon me so
frequently and so profoundly that I had become more observant; he had
made me think of the relations of things. Philosophy, he had said,
should be carried into everyday life and into the smallest matters; that
was what made a good fisherman, a good farmer, a good merchant, and a
good soldier, provided, he had added, there could be such a thing. This
ravine, then, had attracted me from the first. I saw that it presented
opportunity. A few rebels might creep along it, get into the woods, make
prisoners of the vedettes on several posts, and then there would be a
gap through which our skirmish line might be surprised.
I went quietly forward in the edge of the woods until I stood near the
ravine, and examined it as well as I could for the darkness. It did not
extend into the forest, for the roots of the trees there protected the
soil from washing away. The undergrowth at my left was not very dense; I
judged that in daylight one could see into the forest a hundred yards or
more. At my right, the gully began and seemed to widen and deepen as it
went, but nothing definite could I make out; all was lost in the night.
My examination of the spot had been made very quickly, for I was really
transgressing rule in leaving my post, even for a more forward place but
thirty yards away, and I was back at my tree in less than a minute.
The two men were yet lying in the hole; they had not observed my short
absence, I was glad to see. I did not know these men, and I would not
like them to know that I had left my post. Yet I felt that I had done
right in leaving it; I had deserted it, technically speaking, but only
to take a proper precaution, in regard to the post itself. Then, what is
a man's post? Merely the ground with which the soles of his feet are in
touch? If he may move an inch, how far may he move? Yet I was glad that
the men had not seen me move and come back, and I was glad, too, that
they had made the proposal that I should take the first watch, for I had
discovered danger that must be remedied at once. It was almost time now
for one of these men to take my place.
My fear increased. The motionless men at my right, unconscious of any
new element of danger, added to my nervousness. I must do something.
I walked to the men and spoke in a low tone.
"Who stands watch next?"
"Me. But it's not time yet."
"Not quite," I said; "but it will be soon. I want you to go back to the
line and tell Sergeant Willis that I'd like to see him a minute."
"Go yourself," he said; "I'm not under your orders."
"If you will do what I ask, I'll take your watch for you," said I.
The tempting offer was accepted at once; the man rose and said, "What is
it you say I'm to tell him?"
The other man also had risen.
"Only that I want to see him."
"No; tell him I want to see him for a moment out here; that is all."
The man went; his companion remained standing--he had become alarmed,
When Willis came I was under the tree.
"What's up, Jones?"
"I want to know what that dark line means there in front."
"It's a gully," says he.
"I wish you would go out there and look about you; I think our post
ought to be where we can see into it."
"All right," said he; "I'll go and look at it."
I remained on post. It would not do, I thought, to give any intimation
to the men that I had been to the ravine; they were standing near me.
In two minutes Willis returned.
"Jones," says he; "move your post up here. You men stay where you are."
We went out together, Willis and I, to the edge of the ravine.
"You're right, Jones," he says, in a whisper; "the post ought to be
"Yes; it would be easy for those fellows over yonder to surprise us.
This ravine ought to be watched in the day even."
The sergeant showed no intention of leaving me; he seemed to be
thinking. Suddenly he gave his thigh, a resounding slap.
"There!" says he, "now I've done it--but maybe they won't know what that
noise means. Say, Jones, I've got an idea."
"Let's have it."
"We can get lots of fun out here."
"I don't understand. What are you driving at?"
"Well," says he, "you just leave it all to me. Don't you say a word to
them fellows. I'll fix it up and let you in, too. Just be mum now,
"Tell me what you mean."
But he had already started back.
It ought to be showing signs of day behind me, I was thinking; yet the
weather was bad, and, although it had stopped raining, I knew that in
all likelihood we should have a thick fog which would prolong the duty
of the vedettes and make another relief necessary.
When Willis appeared again, three other men were following--good men of
Company D. I could hear him say to my two fellows; "Go on back to the
line; your time's not up, but you are relieved."
When he reached me, he put Thompson in my place, and led the way back a
short distance and into the edge of the woods.
"Now, men," says he; "we're going to make a fort of that ravine. We want
to fill these sand-bags, and we want some straw or something to screen
them. Jones, you must go twenty yards or so beyond the gully till I
whistle for you, or call you. The rest of us will do the work while
The sergeant's little scheme for having his fun was now clear enough.
One of the party had brought a spade, and I noticed that others seemed
to have come up in no light marching order. Willis meant to occupy the
ravine and remain for the day, if possible, in this advanced post, so
near the rebels that his bullets would not fall short. It was all
The party had begun work before I went forward. Passing Thompson, I
skirted the edge of the woods, and went some thirty or forty yards to my
right oblique in the open, and then lay flat, with my eyes to the front.
Soon I heard muffled sounds behind me; the men were filling the
sand-bags. My position cramped me, my neck became stiff. No sound
reached me from the front; I supposed that the nearest rebel vedette was
not nearer than two hundred yards, unless at a point more advanced from
his lines there was some natural protection for him. But what prevented
my being surprised from the woods on my left? I lay flat and stiffened
my neck; light was beginning to show.
At length I heard Willis call me, and I didn't make him call twice. The
ravine, as the light became greater, showed itself almost impregnable
against an equal force of skirmishers. Just where an angle in the
western edge presented a flank of wall toward the north, Willis and his
gang had cut away the earth into a shelf some three feet beneath the
top. Ten sand-bags filled with earth surmounted the summit, with open
spaces between, in order that a musket might be fired through, these
handy port-holes, and the sand-bags were covered with, sedge from the
open field. I congratulated our commander on his engineering feat.
The sun had risen, perhaps, but the fog had not lifted; we could yet see
neither enemy nor friend. Willis put me on the right, and reserved the
centre for his own piece; the centre happened to be about two feet
nearer the enemy. From left to right the line was manned by Freeman,
Holt, Willis, Thompson, Berwick.
"Men, attention!" says Willis.
"Take the caps off of your pieces!"
The order was obeyed, the men looking puzzled. Willis condescended to
explain that we must fire a volley into a crowd as Act First; that any
man who should yield to the temptation to fire without orders, was to be
sent back to the line at once.
Slowly the fog began to break; the day would be fair. Suddenly a bullet
whistled overhead; then the report came from the rebel side.
"Be quiet, men!" says Willis.
Everybody had rushed to his place.
"Eat your breakfast," says Willis.
We had no coffee; otherwise we fared as usual.
"The rebels have no coffee, neither," says Willis.
The breakfast was being rapidly swallowed.
"Hello, there!" shouts Willis, and springs for the spade.
Another bullet had whistled above us, this one from our own line in the
The spade was wielded vigorously by willing hands, passing from one to
another, until a low rampart, but thick, would protect our heads from
the fire of our skirmish line. Meantime the fusillade from both sides
Willis was at the parapet.
"Look out!" he cries.
A shell passed just above us, and at once a shower of bullets from the
"Here, men, quick!" says Willis.
We sprang to the embrasures. The rebels were plainly visible three
hundred yards away, their heads distinct above their pits. Our skirmish
line behind us seemed gone; the shell had been fired not at us but at
our skirmishers, and the volley we had heard had been but the supplement
of the artillery fire--all for the purpose of getting full command of
our line, on which not a man now dared to show his head, for a dozen
Minie balls would go for it at the moment. Unquestionably the rebels had
not detected our little squad.
"Prime, men!" says Willis.
The guns were capped.
"Now, hold your fire till the word!"
Very few shots were now coming. The rebels were having it all their own
way, nobody replying to them. Their bodies to their waists could be
seen; some of them began to walk about a little, for they were not in
any sort of danger, that is, from our line. They were firing with a
system: pit No. 1 would send a ball, then in ten seconds, pit No. 2, and
so on down their line, merely to keep the advantage they had gained. At
irregular intervals two or three shots would be sent at some dummy--a
hat or coat held up by the bayonets of men behind the pits in our rear.
"_Ready!_" says Willis.
Three men were in a group between two of the pits. Another joined them.
Five triggers were pulled.
"Two down, by the--!" roared Willis, with, a more remarkable oath, than
any I ever saw in print.
The wind was from the southeast, and the smoke had rolled my way; I had
been unable to see the result. In fact, I could hardly see anything. Put
yourself in a hole, and raise your head until your eyes are an inch, or
two above the surface of ground almost level--what can you see? But for
a slight depression between us and the rebels, the position would have
been worthless; yet every evil, according to Dr. Khayme, has its use, or
good side--our fortress was hidden from the enemy, who would mistake it,
if they saw it at all, for one of the pits in our rear, perspective
mingling our small elevation with the greater ones beyond.
We had leaped back into the ravine, which, here was fully eight feet
deep and roomy, and were ramming cartridges. All at once a rattle of
firearms was heard at the rear. Our skirmish-line had taken advantage of
the diversion brought, and had turned the tables; not a shot was coming
from the front.
Freeman looked through an embrasure. "Not a dam one in sight," he said.
Time was passing; the fire of our skirmishers continued; we were doing
nothing, and were nervously expectant.
Holt wished for a pack of cards.
A council of war was held. Thompson was fearful of our left; a gang of
rebels might creep through the woods and take us; we were but sixty
yards from the woods. Willis had confidence that our line could protect
us from such a dash; "they would kill every man of 'em before they could
git to us," To this Thompson replied that if the rebels should again get
the upper hand, and make our men afraid to show their heads, the rebels
could come on us from the woods without great danger. Willis admitted
that Thompson had reason, but did not think the rebels had yet found us
out; at any rate, they would be afraid to come so near our strong
skirmish-line; so for his part, he wasn't thinkin' of the left; the
right was the place of danger--what was down this gully nobody knew; the
rebels might sand a force up it, but not yet, for they didn't know we
Again a rebel shell howled above, and again a volley from the front was
heard as bullets sang over us, and our men behind us became silent.
We sprang to place, every eye on watch, every musket in its port-hole.
"Don't waste a shot, men," says Willis; "we're not goin' to have another
chance like that. Take it in order from right to left. Berwick first.
Wait till a man's body shows; don't shoot at a head--"
I had fired--Thompson fired immediately after. He had seen that my shot
missed. Again the musketry opened behind us, and both sides pegged away
for a while. Thompson claimed that he had hit his man.
Suddenly a loud rap was heard on one of the sand-bags,--one of the bags
between Willis and Holt,--a bullet had gone through and into the wall of
the ravine behind us. Willis fired.
"Damnation!" says he, "I believe they see us."
Yet it was possible that this was an accident; Holt fired, and then
Freeman, and it became my turn again.
That bullet which had become entirely through the sand-bag and buried
itself deeply in the ground, gave me trouble. I did not believe that an
ordinary musket had such force, and I doubted whether an Enfield had it.
The rebels were getting good arms from England. It might be that some
man over there had a Whitworth telescope rifle; if so he had detected us
perhaps--a telescope would enable him to do it. I said nothing of this
speculation, but watched. Rebel bullets continued to fly over. I saw a
man as low as his waist and fired; almost at the same moment my sand-bag
was struck--the second one on my right, which protected that flank, and
which the bullet, coming from the left oblique, struck endwise; the
bullet passed through, the length, of the bag and went on into the wall
of the gully. I sprang back and caught up the spade.
"What's up, Jones?" asked Willis.
"I'll report directly, Sergeant."
I dug at least two feet before I found the bullet; it was a long, leaden
cylinder, with, a rounded point--not bigger than calibre 45 I guessed.
This was no Enfield bullet. I handed it to Willis; he understood.
"Can't be helped," says he; "they know we're here, boys."
The danger had become great; perhaps there was but one Whitworth over
there, but the marksman would at once tell the skirmishers where we were
posted; then we should be a target for their whole line, and at three
hundred yards their Enfields could riddle our sand-bags and make us
Rap, rap, rap! Three sand-bags were hit, and Holt was scratched on the
cheek. The bullets struck the wall behind; one penetrated, the others
fell into the ravine--they were Enfield bullets.
Holt's face was bleeding. The men looked gloomy; we had had our fun.
Willis called another council. His speech was to the effect that we had
done more damage than we had received, and should receive; that all we
had to do was to stay in the ravine until the storm should pass; the
rebels would think that we were gone and would cease wasting their
ammunition; then we could have more fun.
Holt said bravely that he was not willing to give it up yet; so said
Thompson, and so said Freeman.
My vote was given to remain and wait for developments. At this moment
retreat could not be considered; we could not reach the edge of the
woods under sixty yards; somebody would be struck if not killed; it was
doubtful that any could escape sound and whole, for the rebels, if they
had any sense, were prepared to see us run out, and would throw a
hundred shots at us. If our line could ever again get the upper hand of
the rebels, then we could get out easily; if not, we must stay here till
night. We had done all that could be done--had done well, and we must
not risk loss without a purpose; we must protect ourselves; let the
rebels waste their powder--the more they wasted, the better. The only
real danger was that the rebels might advance; but even if they did,
they could not get at us without coming to blows with our line--the
ravine protected our line from their charge. It was our business to stay
where we were and to keep a sharp lookout.
So it was ordered by Willis that while the storm was raging we should
keep one man on watch, and that the others should stay at the bottom of
the ravine. Holt boldly claimed first watch.
The four of us were sitting in the sand; Holt's head was below the level
of the field; every now and then he raised his eyes to the porthole.
Freeman began, taking off his coat.
"Gittin' warm?" asked Willis.
"I'm the man to show you a trick," said Freeman.
He hung the coat on the iron end of the spade, and tied his hat above on
a stick; then he went down the ravine about ten yards, faced us, raised
his dummy, and marched quickly toward us. This was the first dummy that
the rebels had ever seen march, no doubt; at any rate their whole force
was at once busy; the fire rolled from left to right far down the line,
yet when Freeman examined his garments he found that neither hat nor
coat had been struck.
"You see," said Freeman, "we can all run out when we want to."
Noon had come; after eating, I became exceedingly sleepy; I must make
some effort to keep awake.
"Sergeant," I said, "if you say so, I'll go down the gully a little,
and see what's there."
"All right, Jones; but don't go far."
I soon reached a turn in the ravine--a turn to the right, toward our
line. I went on; this stretch was short; the ravine turned toward the
left, getting deeper as it went; again it turned to the left, running
for the Warwick, I supposed--certainly running straight toward the
rebels. I came back and reported.
"Well," says Willis, "if they come on us, we'll have to run. We must
keep two sentinels on post now."
Thompson was posted at the bend.
It was difficult to believe that the rebels would venture up the gully;
they could not know how small was our force; if they should march a
company up the ravine, the company would be exposed to capture by a
sudden rush of our skirmishers. It was probable, however, that a few men
would try to sneak up in order to see how many we were; yet even this
supposition was not necessary, for the rebels were having everything
their own way, and need risk nothing. So I decided in my own mind to be
as patient as possible until dark.
The firing on both sides had ceased, except that an occasional Whitworth
bullet would come at us, fired at such long range that we could not hear
the report; the heads of the rebels were no longer seen. What were they
planning? I was uneasy; I wished that we could find a means for
communicating with our friends in the rear; if they would open fire
again, we might rush out. Yet after all it was best to be quiet
I relieved Freeman at the porthole; Holt relieved Thompson at the bend.
Since eleven o'clock Fort Willis had not fired a shot; our game had been
blocked. The notion now came to me that if the rebels wanted us, the way
to get us would be to send men up the ravine just before dark, and at
the same time for a squad of them to steal through the woods to our
left, where they would be ready for us when we should steal out.
"Think we'd better get back."
"What's the matter now?"
"Just at dark is the time for the rebels to catch us."
"Fact, by--!" says Willis.
"If you want to get out," said Freeman, the inventor, "I'm here to tell
you how to do it."
"Le's have it," says Willis.
"Make a big smoke!"
Why had I not thought of that expedient? Between, us and Holt, down at
the bend, there was brush growing on the sides of the ravine. Our knives
and the spade were put to use; soon we had a big heap of green boughs
and sprigs. It would take work to touch her off, for there was no dry
wood; but we managed by finding the remains of cartridge papers and
using a free supply of gunpowder. When all was ready, Holt was recalled,
and the match was struck.
"Now, men, to your portholes!" says Willis. "We must give 'em a partin'
The flame was long in catching. Every eye was alternately peeping to the
front and looking anxiously at the brush heap. At last she caught, and a
thin column of black smoke began to ascend.
"Be sharp, now! Them rebs will want to know what we're up to."
A few curious heads could be seen, but no shot was fired at us, or by us
The smoke increased, but, alas! the wind was wrong and blew it away from
"Hell and Tom Walker!" says Willis.
But heaven--which he had not appealed to--had decreed that Fort Willis
should be evacuated under her own auspices. Our attention had been so
fixed upon two important specks that the rest of the universe had become
a trivial matter. A sudden clap of thunder almost overhead startled the
defenders of the redoubt. Without our knowledge a storm had rolled up
from the Atlantic; the rain was beginning to fall in big icy-cold drops,
already obscuring our vision.
"_Fire!_" shouted Willis.
The tempest burst in fury, and the gang marched bravely back to the
skirmish-line, amidst a hail, not of bullets, but of nature's making.
MORE ACTIVE SERVICE
"Do but start
An echo with the clamour of thy drum,
And even at hand a drum is ready braced
That shall reverberate all as loud as thine."
Early on the morning of the 4th of May loud explosions were heard in the
direction of Yorktown, and the heavens glowed with the light of great
fires. At sunrise our division got orders to be ready to march, but the
morning wore away, and it was almost two o'clock before the long roll
beat. At length we moved with the column, already unnerved by
long-continued expectation, westward upon the Williamsburg road.
Willis was triumphant. "We got 'em now, boys," says he. "I told you so."
Lawler responded that any weather prophet would get rain if he kept on
predicting till the rain came.
The mud was deep and heavy. The roads had been horribly cut up by the
retreating rebels and by our cavalry advancing ahead of us.
Late in the afternoon we came to a long halt; a division had come into
our road from the left and was now advancing, blocking our way. We
rested. About dark our head of column was turned back and we
countermarched, and halted, and marched again, and halted again, where,
I do not know; but I know that I was thoroughly worn out when orders
were given that the men should lie on their arms, but that they should
otherwise make themselves as comfortable as they could. Rain was
falling, the night was black, comfort was impossible. I suppose I got
two or three hours' sleep. At daylight the march was again taken up; in
an hour or two we halted and formed line with skirmishers in front; it
was still raining.
We marched the length of the regiment by the right flank, through the
woods, then fronted and moved forward, with skirmishers deployed in
advance. The skirmishers soon became engaged. Bullets flew amongst us.
We continued to advance until we reached the edge of the woods; the line
had not yet fired a shot.
The rebels had cut down the timber in their front; as soon as we became
visible they began throwing shells and grape-shot over the timber at our
ranks. We lay down and took the fire and the rain. We lay there for
something like two hours; then we moved to the rear,--only our regiment,
I think,--fronted again, and marched to the right for perhaps a mile
through the woods. Willis said that we were seeking any enemy that might
be in the woods; but he aroused no interest; nobody either approved or
seemed to doubt Willis's interpretation of the movement; we did not know
what the generals were doing with us, and we were tired and sleepy and
hungry and wet.
By twelve o'clock we had marched back to our former position near the
felled timber. Rain continued to fall, and the hostile batteries to fire
upon each other. Wounded men were carried to the rear. I noticed that
our company seemed small; perhaps a few had been wounded; certainly many
had fallen out of ranks, unable longer to endure.
About the middle of the afternoon we were moved again, this time through
the woods to the left. As we marched, we could hear the roar of musketry
ahead of us, and straggling men could be seen running in every direction
except one. We moved on in line, without skirmishers. The straggling men
increased in numbers, and many wounded went past us, the ambulance
corps working busily here in the dense wet forest. The yells of the
rebels were plainly heard, and all eyes were strained to catch sight of
what was already but too well known. Every moment was an hour.
Suddenly from our front came a roar and a crash, and our line staggered
to a dead halt, every man firing and loading as fast as he could--firing
at a line of smoke ahead of us. Great shouts could be heard in the
smoke; occasionally, in some momentary diminution in our own strife,
there could be faintly heard the noise of battle to our right, far and
near to our right.
Men were falling fast. All at once I heard Willis roar, "Fire to the
left, men! fire to the left!" A great turmoil ensued; officers cried,
"They are our men!" Willis again, shouted: "Fire on that line, men! They
are rebels! They are rebels!" and he succeeded in convincing most of us
that he was right. Then the cry rose: "We are flanked!" "Look out!"
"Flanked!" "Here they come!" and then the whole crowd of us were running
with all our legs. I reached a road that ran across the line of my
flight; it was full of everything: troops in good order, stragglers
breaking through them, wounded lying down, dead flat on their backs,
artillery horses in their traces, ambulances.
So far as we were concerned, the fight was over; fresh troops had
relieved us, and the rebels came no farther. It was night, and the
battle soon ended on the whole line.
With difficulty I found my regiment and company. We lay in the woods;
the rain kept on.
I have understood that the battle of Williamsburg is considered a
victory for our side. I must confess that I did not know that we had won
it until I was so informed, although I was certainly in the battle. The
rebels fought this partial engagement only for the purpose, I think, of
securing the retreat of their army and trains; we fought for the purpose
of preventing the retreat. I have learned that our right wing had
better success than we had on the left; but for all that, the enemy got
away unbroken, and his purpose was accomplished. In the days of those
early battles, even the falling back of the rebel pickets before a line
of our skirmishers was telegraphed to Washington as a victory.
We lay on the wet ground; our sufferings were not small. Willis's
remark, that the rebels too were wet, didn't seem to bring much comfort;
even his assertion, that they would again retreat and that the morning
would find them gone, called forth no enthusiasm. The men were
dispirited; they knew very well that they had fought hard and had
endured with the stoutness of good soldiers, but they were physically
exhausted, and, above all, they felt that somebody had blundered in
putting them unnecessarily into an awkward place. I have always been
proud that none of our men deserted on the night of the
No fires could be made, Willis and I ate a little and lay down. My
gum-blanket was laid on the wet ground, with my blanket on top; this was
our bed. Our covering was Willis's blanket and gum-blanket. The night
was warm enough, and our covering was needed only as some protection
against the rain. I was soon asleep, but awake again as soon. About ten
o'clock I felt a hand on my shoulder. Rising, I saw our
orderly-sergeant; a man was standing by him. I was ordered to report at
General Grover's headquarters. The general had sent an orderly, who
could not or would not tell why I was wanted.
General Grover was in the centre of a group of officers, surrounding a
dim lantern which, was on the ground at the root of a large tree; horses
were tied near by to the branches of trees.
The orderly saluted, pointed to me, and retired a few yards.
The general came toward me; I saluted.
"Your name," said he.
"Private Jones Berwick."
"Dr. Khayme has spoken of you."
"Are you willing to undertake a hazardous duty?"
"I want to do my duty, General; but I don't hanker after danger," said
"A prudent answer," said he; "come here."
He led the way toward the lantern, the group of officers scattering.
"The whole matter is this," said the general, "each brigade must send a
man to the front to observe the enemy. Will you go for this brigade?"
"Yes, sir," I said; "I ought to, if you so command."
"There is no compulsion," said he; "a man who objects to going should
not be allowed to go."
"My objections, General, are not strong enough, to make me decline."
"Then let us understand each other. Do this for me and you shall lose
nothing by it. All proper favours shall be shown you if you do your duty
well. Extra duty demands extra privilege."
"Can I see Dr. Khayme?" I asked.
"No, not to-night; he attends the right wing. Now, Berwick, let me show
He bent down by the lantern and was about to sit, when an officer
stepped before and spread a gum-blanket on the ground, and placed the
lantern near the blanket.
"Thanks, Hibbert," said General Grover.
The general took a map from one of his aides, and spread it on the
blanket. It was a mere sketch--a very few lines.
"Here is our position," said he, making a mark with a pencil; "you see
our line here, running north and south."
"Which is north?" I asked.
"Here, this way. We are in these woods; the rebels are over here, or
were there at last accounts. Our picket-line is along this branch, in
part. I want you to go through our pickets, and get across the branch,
and go on through the woods until you come to this road, which you see
running north and south. You need not go across this road. All I want
you to do is to observe this road until day."
"Is the road in the woods, General?"
"Well, I don't know, but I think it is. You will have no trouble
whatever, unless the rebels have their pickets on this side of the
road," said he.
"But in case the rebels are on this side of the road, what shall I do?"
"It may be that their skirmishers are in the road, and their vedettes
near the branch; in that case get as near as possible to the road. If
they are on this side of the road, but so near the road that you can
observe it with eye or ear, why, observe it with as little risk to
yourself as possible. If bodies of troops move on the road, you must
come back to the picket-line and report, and then return to your post of
"Would it not be well to have an intermediate man between me and our
"A good idea, sir. We'll get the captain of the pickets to supply one."
"And now, General, suppose that the rebel pickets are much this side of
"Then use your discretion, but observe that road this night. Take your
own way to do it, but the road must be observed."
"How far do the woods stretch beyond the road, General?"
"If this sketch can be relied on, not more than three hundred yards,"
said he; "but it will not do to rely on this piece of paper."
"May I not run foul of some man of ours sent out by one of the other
"Not likely; each, brigade sends in its own front, and you will hardly
find that any man will be so enterprising as to try to do our duty for
us; still, you must avoid any chance of a collision such as you
"How shall I get through our own pickets, General?"
"My courier will see you through," said he. "No; I will see you through.
I want to see our line again, and I will go with you."
"Suppose the brigade moves while I am at the front, and I can't find you
when I get back."
"Then make your report to the picket that relieves ours, and get back to
us as soon as you can. Our pickets will tell those that relieve them
"Suppose I find a movement in progress and can follow it," said I.
"Follow it as long as you wish, only be sure to report through the other
man. Is everything clear to you now?"
"Yes, General; I think so."
"Then return to your company and get ready; be back in ten minutes."
I was back in ten minutes. I had decided to go entirely unarmed, and I
was hoping that the men of the other brigades would have as much
consideration for me, as I did not think it very unlikely that I should
run against one of them in the darkness. I put my gum-blanket over me,
committed my knapsack and other things to Willis's keeping; and was back
with the general.
We found that our pickets were not on the branch which the general had
shown me on the map, or on any branch. A brief conversation took place
between the general and Captain Brown of the picket-line. The captain
chose a man, and told him to follow me and to obey my orders.
Then the general put his hand on my shoulder. "Take care of yourself, my
man," said he; "but get to that road; be sure that you report any
movement on that road." I began to assure him that I would do all that I
could, but I found that he had already started back to the brigade.
I asked Captain Brown to warn all his men not to fire on me when I
should return. The low call went right and left along the line,--"Two of
our men going to the front!"
"Where are your vedettes?" I asked of Captain Brown.
"The line itself is on extreme duty," said he; "the vedettes are only
thirty yards in front; we posted the relief not half an hour ago."
I had already observed by the light of General Grover's lantern, which
his orderly had discreetly held in reserve some ten paces or more, that
the picket-line was a double one, that is to say, two men to every five
paces, and that every man was standing in his place, gun in
hand,--behind trees the most of them,--and with their faces to the
front. There were no picket fires.
"How many vedettes are there? How thick are they?"
"One every twenty yards," said he; "I will relieve them with new men in
half an hour, or a little more; an hour is long enough for such duty.
The new men will be advised that you are still in front. Are you ready?"
The three of us--Captain Brown leading, I following him, and the
detailed man, Allen, coming after--went forward to a vedette. The
captain spoke some words to him in a whisper, and then went back to the
picket-line. I now observed that Allen had brought his gun. I say
observed, for I did not see the gun; my hand happened to touch it. I
asked Allen to go back and leave his piece at the picket-line; while he
was gone I spoke in whispers to the vedette. He had heard nothing in his
front, except that now and then there seemed to come to him, from far
away, an indistinct rumble; he had seen nothing in the black night
except trees but little blacker. The rain was a thick drizzle.
I warned the vedette to be very careful in case he heard anything in his
front, lest he fire on a friend. He said that the vedettes had orders
not to fire, but to retire at once on the picket-line in case of a
silent advance of the enemy. This peculiar order, which at a later time
I heard given again under somewhat similar circumstances, was no doubt a
wise one. A secret advance of the enemy's skirmishers would have been
precipitated into a charge by the fire of the vedette, whereas his
secret retreat to his line would prepare the pickets to surprise the
And now, with Allen just behind me, I went forward. The woods were so
dense and the night so dark that it was useless to try to see ahead of
me. The only thing to do was to feel my way. I supposed that the branch
which I was to cross was but a very short distance in front. I had no
fear that I should find enemies this side of the branch; the great
probability was that their vedettes were posted on the farther bank of
the stream. When I had gone not more than thirty yards, I felt that the
ground sloped downward before me, and I judged that the branch was very
near. I paused. There was not a sound except that made by the fall of
heavy drops of water from the leaves of the trees. I strained my eyes,
trying to see in front. Allen was but three paces behind me, yet I could
not see his form. I stepped back to where he was, and asked in a low
whisper if he could see at all.
"Yes," said he, "I can see a little. I can make out where you stand."
I told him that we ought to be now very near a branch, and that the
branch ought to make a slight gap in the woods and a little more light.
He whispered back that there was, he thought, more light in our front
than there had been before. I now tried to discern this new light, and
could not at first, but after a little while it did seem to me that just
ahead there was a dim gray streak.
I made one step forward--paused--then another step; another, and I felt
my foot in the water. The gray streak had widened. I made a step back,
and caught Allen by the hand. Then I went forward, holding Allen's
hand. But I wanted to speak to Allen, and feared to do so. We went back
again, some three steps, until I was out of the water.
Allen was always a little in my rear, even when we were hand-in-hand. He
whispered, "It is ten steps wide."
"Can you see across it?"
"I think so. I think the trees are lower over there."
In all my experience as a soldier I think that I never felt myself in a
more critical place. The opposite side of the branch was an ideal
position for the rebel vedettes. They ought to be there if anywhere in
these woods. Still, they, as well as we, might have neglected their
opportunity; besides, their line might be bent back here; their vedettes
might be on the branch farther to our right, and _here_ might be
anywhere in its rear; we did not know where the rebel right rested. Of
one thing I felt sure--the rebels did not intend to advance on this
night, for in that case they would have had their vedettes, and their
pickets also, if possible, on our side of the branch.
The thing had to be done. I must risk crossing the branch. If vedettes
were on it, it was just within the possible that I might pass between
two of them.
I whispered to Allen that I wanted a stick; he already had one, which he
put into my hand. Then I told him to take hold of my coat, lest my foot
should slip; the noise of a splash, might have caused utter failure, if
not our capture.
We reached the water again. I felt before me. The end of the stick
seemed to sink into soft mud.
I made another step forward. I was up to my ankles in mud, up to my
knees in water.
I made another step; the water rose to my thighs.
Again a step; the water was no deeper, and I felt no mud under my feet.
I thought I had reached the middle.
I paused and listened. I was afraid to speak to Allen. The same
monotonous dropping of water--nothing more.
We went forward, and got to the farther bank, which seemed steep. By
feeling right and left, I found a foothold. I loosed Allen's hand from
my coat, and stood on the bank. Allen was in the water below me.
I looked around, for I could now see a little. I could easily tell that
there were no trees over my head. I seemed to be surrounded by a dense,
low thicket. What was in this thicket? Likely the rebel vedettes
My hand inadvertently came in contact with a stump. I could feel the
smooth surfaces left by an axe. The tree itself was lying there, but not
entirely cut from its stump. I could feel the splintered middle of the
tree, still holding. I at once knew that I was in the midst of felled
timber,--on the edge of a slashing or entanglement.
Were the rebel vedettes in this felled timber? Most unlikely, unless
there were alleyways open for their retreat. But perhaps the strip of
timber was very narrow, and the rebel vedettes were just in rear of it;
perhaps it was cut only along the margin of the branch, and in order to
impede and expose to hearing any enemy that might succeed in crossing
the branch. But, in that case, would not the timber be a protection
rather than a hindrance to the enemy advancing or stealing forward? Yes,
unless the vedettes were just in rear of this very narrow strip, or
unless the rebel intrenchments wore in easy musket range.
These thoughts went through my mind while I was on the bank with Allen
below me. I hesitated. Beyond this skirt of felled timber there might be
capture, or death, or there might be no danger whatever. I was beginning
to hope that there was no vedette or picket-line in these woods.
Whispering to Allen to remain where he was, I crept forward; after
having made some ten paces through the entanglement, I paused and
listened. There was not a sound. I crept back to Allen, and, giving him
my hand, helped him up the bank. Then we both went forward until I
supposed we were near the spot to which I had previously advanced.
Allen was now signalled to stop, while I crept on again, and again
returned to him; then both went forward as before. On this second stage
of our approach we passed through to the farther side of the
We were now on the edge of woods still standing. I feared every moment
lest we should be detected by some vedette. The enemy's works ought to
be very near; neither spoke to the other; abatis without intrenchments
was not to be thought of. Yet I was hoping to find the
The rain had almost entirely ceased. The night was growing. We had used
up at least an hour's time, and had made an advance of less than two
I moved forward again--and back--alternately alone and with Allen
forward--until at length I reached a road running across my line
After listening again intently and hearing nothing, I got down on my
hands and knees and crawled across the road. I could tell with my hands
that the road was cut up with ruts, and what I supposed were horses'
tracks, but it was impossible for me to know which way the
Beyond the road the woods continued; I crawled on for thirty or forty
yards, and found nothing.
Then I returned to Allen, and speaking low I asked him, "What do you
think that skirt of felled timber means?"
"It means breastworks over there in the woods," said he.
"But I have been at least thirty yards beyond the road and there is
nothing. I am beginning to believe that there is not a rebel left in
"Then," said he, "the timber was cut down with the intention of
fortifying, and afterward the intention was abandoned."
"Or else it was cut down, as a blind," said I; "likely enough its
purpose was merely to keep troops on this road from being seen."
"Still," said he, "they may be back farther in the woods."
I did not believe it. If this felled timber defended the approach to a
rebel line, we were near enough to the line to hear many noises. The
only thing I now feared was some scouting party.
It was necessary to run some risk; even if we should be fired upon, I
decided that we must learn which way the movement on the road had been.
I had Allen take off his cap, and while I lighted a match near the
ground, he held his cap over it, and we both looked with all our eyes,
moving the match back and forth over the road. The tracks all headed to
Then we both stepped quickly to the farther side of the road.
"Allen," said I, "you must stay here till I return."
"Where are you going?"
"Through the woods."
"How long will you be gone?"
"A very short time. If I am not back in fifteen minutes, you must return
to the pickets and report that there has already been a considerable
movement on the road, and that no enemy is here. I feel certain that
there are no rebels in these woods. They were here, but they have gone.
I want to get to the open ground and see what is there; it will not
"I'm afraid that you can't see to make your way back to this spot," said
"I may be compelled to whistle for you," said I; "if there is nobody in
these woods, there is no danger in my whistling."
"Better take me with you," said Allen; "two pairs of eyes are better
"That is true," I replied, "but some accident might happen to both of us
out there, and neither of us be able to report to General Grover. Stay
where you are."
I tried to go forward in a straight line so that I should be able to
turn square about and make my way back to Allen. The woods became more
open as I went. The rain had ceased, and I could see much better. I
reached the edge of the woods, and looked out. A few stars were shining
between broken clouds near the horizon in front of me--west, I thought.
Toward the north, and northwest the clouds reflected some distant light,
and had a reddish glow. I could distinctly hear the sounds of great
movements, the rumblings of wagon, trains or artillery. The ground
seemed open before me for a long distance.
I went rapidly back toward Allen, whistling. He came to meet me.
"Now, Allen," said I, "your part of this business is about over. Go back
to Captain Brown and ask him to report at once to General Grover that
the road shows clearly that the rebels have already moved along it to
their left, our right; and that there is nobody here, all gone; gone to
our right, their left, and that I have been entirely through the woods,
and have found nothing, but that to the northwest there are the sounds
of great movements, and that I am going to see if I cannot find
"Then what am I to do after that?" he asked.
"Nothing; remain with your company. I shall not need you, for I doubt if
I get back before day, and there is nothing for me to fear in
Allen started one way and I another. It was now about two o'clock, I
thought; the sky was almost clear, and I could see about me. I passed
rapidly through the woods again and into the open ground, climbing a
rail fence, and went up a very gentle slope that rose before me, an "old
field," or abandoned farm, which was scattered over here and there with
clumps of stunted growth. Once I paused in terror. A bush had taken, to
my fancy, the form of a man. The illusion lasted but for a moment.
When I had reached the highest part of this undulation, I could see
many lights--some of them in motion, but most of them stationary. The
sounds of a moving army were distinct; I could hear shouts, like those
of teamsters, and once I thought I could catch the command to close up.
I went on, down a gentle descent, and into a ravine which was difficult
to cross, and up the rise beyond. Between me and the red glare I could
distinguish objects, and I knew that if there were rebels in line before
me, I should be able to see them before they could see me, so I went on
without great fear, and crept to the top of this second swell of
Here there could be no doubt that the rebels were retreating. The road
was full of them not four hundred yards from me. Fires were burning on
both sides of the road; men and wagons were hurrying westward. Almost in
front of me was a cluster of houses, which I took to be Williamsburg;
fires were burning in the streets; a great throng was passing on west
between the fires and between the houses. I had little doubt that I
could mingle, without great danger, with the rebels, seeing that my
gum-blanket would hide my uniform, and was tempted to do so; the thought
was rejected, however; time was lacking; it would soon be day; I knew
enough already; I could not hope to learn from the rebels much more than
I now knew, and every step farther away from our lines would doubly
delay my report. So I turned my back upon Williamsburg and hurried
toward our pickets.
When I reached the road again, day was breaking. A vedette had been
advanced to the branch by Captain Brown. I hurried on and made my report
to General Grover. He at once called a courier, who mounted and rode
off in haste.
* * * * *
On the morning of the 6th, the happiest man in the line was Willis.
Everybody was glad that the enemy had retired; but Willis was bubbling
over with the joy of foresight fulfilled. He rode a high horse; the
rebels would make no further stand until they reached Richmond; he
doubted if they would attempt to defend Richmond, even. His spirits
were contagious; he did good although he was ludicrous. What would Dr.
Khayme have said of Willis's influence? I supposed that the Doctor would
have used the sergeant as an illustration of his doctrine that there is
nothing unnecessary or false; certainly Willis encouraged us.
The weather was better and the day's work not hard. We moved but a short
distance, and bivouacked.
About noon I was aroused from sleep by an order to report to Colonel
Blaisdell. I had no notion, of what was wanted of me. I had never before
been individually in his presence. I wondered what it meant, and
hastened to his headquarters.
I saluted; the colonel returned the salute.
"You are Private Berwick?" he said.
"What have you been doing?"
"In what respect, Colonel?"
"You have been absent from your company." His voice was gruff, but his
eye and mouth belied his voice.
"Here," said he; "take this and read it."
I read the following: "Private Jones Berwick, Company D, Eleventh
Massachusetts Volunteers, is relieved, until further orders, from duty
with his company, and will hold himself ready for special service
This order was signed by Colonel Blaisdell, and approved by General
JONES ON THE BLACK HORSE
"Take all the swift advantage of the hours."--SHAKESPEARE.
At about three o'clock in the afternoon of this 6th of May, I was again
aroused from sleep, this time by an order to report to the adjutant of
the Eleventh. He informed me that he was aware of General Grover's order
relieving me from regular duty--in fact had himself written the order by
command of Colonel Blaisdell, who had been asked to issue it by our
brigade commander. The adjutant also told me that I should still get
rations through Company D, but that I was free to go and come when not
on special duty, and that I was expected to keep him advised of my
goings, so that I could be found when wanted. "For the rest," said he,
"you will do much as you wish, especially when the brigade is in
reserve, as it is to-day, and as it is likely to be for a good many days
to come. Your services to be required at long intervals will make up, it
is hoped, for your exemption from regular duty."
I thanked him and retired. I had learned that Dr. Khayme was on the
right, and at once set out to find him, traversing much of the
battlefield of the preceding day. When I reached the ground over which
Hancock's troops had fought, it became evident that the rebels had here
suffered severely; their dead were yet numerous in places, although
details of men had long been busy in burying the slain of both armies.
At last I found Dr. Khayme's tent, after having been directed wrong more
than once. No one was there except a white servant; he told me that the
Doctor, who was now at the field hospital, had been busy the whole of
the preceding day and night in relieving the wounded; that he had taken
no sleep at all. "I don't see how the Doctor stands what he goes
through," said the man. "Yesterday the whole day long he was in the
thick of it; he was in as great danger as the troops were; lots more
than some of 'em. He said that the rebels wouldn't try to hit him; but
for my part I wouldn't trust one of 'em as far as I could fling a bull
by the tail; and him a tendin' to 'em just like they was our own men."
This was not the first I had heard of the Doctor's disregard of danger.
At Bull Run he was known to follow a charge and assist the wounded as
they fell. I supposed that there was no use expostulating with a man who
so firmly believed in the peculiar doctrines of his philosophy.
About nightfall he came into the tent, rubbing his hands.
"Good evening, Jones. I expected to see you here. I suppose you think
you are going to stay with me several days?"
"Why do you suppose so, Doctor?"
"Oh, by this and that. Your brigade will have nothing to do this side of
"I don't know anything about the Chickahominy," I replied.
"You will know."
"The brigade can be easy for some time, then?"
"Any man can be easy for some time if he has been ordered on special
duty not to be demanded for some time."
"You know about my case?"
Dr. Khayme looked surprisingly fresh after having undergone such arduous
labours; indeed, this little man's physical endurance and his mental
power were to me matters for astonishment equally great.
"Doctor," I said, "I hear you have been working very hard. You need rest
"Well," said he, "when I need rest I rest; when I need sleep I sleep;
just now I want supper."
After we had eaten he filled his pipe, and settled himself on a
camp-stool. He got more comfort out of a camp-stool than any other man
in the world. As I saw him sitting there, puffing slowly, his eyes
filled with intelligent pleasure, his impassive features in perfect
repose, I thought he looked the picture of contentment.
I asked about Lydia.
"Lydia will not rejoin me yet," said, he; "she wishes to be with me, but
I prefer that she should remain in the hospital at Hampton until the
army is concentrated. You will have some marching to do before you have
any more fighting, and I don't think I'll send for her yet."
"I suppose she can do as much good where she is," I said.
"Yes, and save herself the worry of frequent marches. She can come to me
when things are settled. However, I am not sure that we shall not demand
her services here. But now tell me all about your last night's
When I had ended my narration, he said, "You will hereafter be called on
to do more of such work."
"I suppose so," said I.
"Do you like it?"
"No, Doctor, I do not, and I am surprised that I do not. Yet, I shall
not object if I can accomplish anything."
"You have accomplished something each time that you have been sent out.
You have at least furnished strong corroborative evidence, sufficiently
strong to induce action on the part of your generals."
"Doctor, I wish you would rest and sleep."
"Are you sleepy?"
"No; I slept all the morning, and had another nap in the afternoon."
"Well, let us talk awhile. The animals can rest; speech is given unto
man alone. First, I say that by holding to your programme of last night
you will incur little risk."
"Tell me what you mean by holding to my programme, Doctor."
"And you will accomplish more," he added meditatively. "Yes; you will be
in less danger, and you will accomplish more."
"I should be glad to be in less danger, as well as to do more," said I.
"You should always do such work unarmed."
"You are right, Doctor; entirely right. Arms are encumbrances only, and
a man might easily be tempted to fire when he ought to be silent."