Part 4 out of 10
"My reasons are a little different from yours," said the Doctor; "you
will be safer if you are unarmed, and other people's lives will be safer
"Why should I not also wear Confederate uniform?"
"And be a spy, Jones?"
"Hardly that, Doctor; merely a scout near the enemy's lines, not in
"I cannot vote for that yet," said the Doctor.
The Doctor's servant entered, bringing a written message addressed:--
_On detached service,
At Sanitary Camp,
Rear of General Hancock's division_.
"Who gave you this?" I asked.
"A man has just come with it--a horseman--two horsemen; no, a horseman
with two horses."
"Is he waiting?"
I tore open the envelope. The Doctor was showing no curiosity; the
thought went through my mind that he already knew or suspected.
There were three papers,--a sketch, a sort of passport which contained
only the countersigns for the past five days, and an order from
The order itself gave me no information of the reasons which had
influenced General Hooker to choose me for the work required; I could
merely assume that General Grover had nominated me. I read the order
thoroughly three times, learned by heart the countersigns, impressed the
map on my mind, and then destroyed the three papers in accordance with
an express injunction comprised in the order itself. This mental work
took some minutes, during which the Doctor sat impassive.
"Doctor, I must go."
"Well, Jones, we can finish, our talk when you return. I suppose you are
on secret service."
"Can I help in any way?"
"Please let me have that gray suit."
He brought it himself, not wishing his servant to see it.
"Anything else, Jones?"
"Yes, sir; I shall need food."
"How will you carry it?"
"In my pockets. Bread will do."
"I think I have a better thing," said he; "I have provided that you
shall not starve again, as you did on the Warwick."
He produced a wide leathern belt, made into one long bag, or pocket;
this he filled with small hard biscuits; it was just what I wanted.
"Doctor, you are the most extraordinary man in this army."
"I am not in this army," he said.
The belt was put on beneath my waistcoat.
"I'll leave my gun and everything with you, Doctor; I hope to get back
in two or three days."
"Very well, Jones. God bless you, boy," he said, and I was gone.
Before the tent I found "the horseman with two horses."
"Does General Hooker expect a written reply?"
"No, sir; I suppose not."
"Then you may report that you have delivered your message and that I
begin work at once."
I took the led horse and mounted. The man used his spurs and rode toward
My orders required me to go west and northwest. I was to communicate
with General Franklin, whose division on this day ought to have landed
on the south bank of the Pamunkey below White House for the purpose of
cutting off the Confederates' retreat. The earliest possible delivery of
my message was strenuously required, my orders even going so far as to
include reasons for despatch. The retreating enemy were almost between
us and Franklin, and he must be notified to attack and delay them at
every hazard, and must be informed if possible by what road he should
advance in order to cut off their retreat; it was added that, upon
landing, General Franklin would not know of the situation of the rebel
army, and would depend upon information being brought to him by some one
of the messengers sent him on this night.
My ride was to be a ride of twenty-five miles or more, judging from the
map. Our outposts were perhaps six miles ahead; I made the six miles in
less than three-quarters of an hour. With the outposts I had no trouble.
"Give me the countersign for last Sunday," said the officer.
"Another man's ahead of you," he said, when I had responded.
"Who is he?"
"Don't know. Horse black."
"Goin' like hell!" said he; then added, "and goin' _to_ hell, too, if he
don't mind how he rides."
It was now after nine o'clock, and I had nineteen or twenty miles ahead
of me. As I had ten hours, I considered that circumspection was worth
more than haste--let the black horse go on.
"Where are the rebels?"
"A mile in front when dark came."
"Couldn't say; they are infantry or dismounted cavalry--don't know
"Please describe their position."
"Don't know a thing except that they could be seen drawn up across the
road--a mile out there," pointing.
"In the woods?"
"No, only lieutenant."
"Beg pardon, sir; won't you be so good as to send a man with me to the
point from which the rebels could be seen at dark?"
"Yes; I'll do that much for you. Here, Johnson!"
As Johnson and I rode forward, I tried to get all he knew--but he knew
nothing; he had no idea whether the enemy were cavalry or infantry,
whether they had retired or were yet in position, or how many they were.
The moon was almost overhead; the sandy road muffled the sounds of the
horses' hoofs; no noise came from front or rear. The way was through the
woods; in little more than half a mile open ground was seen ahead.
Johnson stopped; so did I.
"They are on the other side of the field," said he,
"How wide is the field?"
"A quarter, I guess."
"What was planted in the field last year?"
"Stalks still standing?"
"Yes, but they are very small."
"Does the road run between fences?"
"How far does the field extend to our right?"
"Only a short distance--a few hundred yards."
"And to our left?"
"Farther--about a half a mile, maybe."
"Yes, on the other side, where the rebels were."
"Yes, and other buildings--stables and the like."
"Which side of the road?"
Johnson could answer no further questions; I let him go.
How had the black horse passed on? Delay might mean my arrival at
Franklin's position later than that of the black horse, or it might mean
success. If the rebels had abandoned this position at nightfall, I
should be wasting time here by taking precautions; if they were yet
yonder in the woods on the other side of the field, they would capture
me if I rode on. Which course should I take--the safe course, or the
possible speedy course? I took the safe course. Dismounting I tied my
horse to a swinging limb, and crept forward on the right of the
right-hand fence, until I reached the woods beyond the field. I looked
over the fence into the road. There was no enemy visible. The house at
the west was without lights, and there was no noise of barking dogs or
of anything else; clearly the rebels had moved, and by my prudence the
black horse had gained further upon me. I got into the road and ran back
to my horse, mounted hurriedly and rode forward at a gallop for half a
mile; then I slowed to a walk. How far had the rebels gone? Might I not
expect a challenge at any moment? I must not let a first disappointment
control my reason. The roads were bad; the retreat of the rebels was
necessarily slow, as they had many wagon trains to protect. The road
must be forsaken at the first path that would lead me to the right; any
bridle-path would lead me somewhere. The night was clear, and the stars
would guide me until I should reach some better ground. The sketch
furnished me gave me only the main road, with the branch roads marked
down for very short distances. I would take one of the branch roads
leading to the right; there must be roads leading up the York; all the
country is interlaced with roads small and large. I would risk it;
better do that than risk falling into the enemy's hands.
I was thus cogitating when a sound reached me. I thought I could
distinguish a horse's footfall. I stopped--the sound was louder--coming
and coming fast. I dismounted and led my horse into the woods a few
yards and covered his mouth with my hands. Still the sounds reached
me--the constant cadence of a galloping horse, yet coming from far. Who
could be riding fast this night? Who could be riding south this night?
The rebels were going north; no rebel horseman would ride
The sounds increased now rapidly, and soon a single horse dashed by; I
could not see the rider for the boughs of the trees, but I saw a black
horse going south.
Was this the messenger who had outstripped me at the start? I could not
know, but the horse was black. Why not brown? How could I be sure that
in the moonlight I could tell black from brown, or black from bay? I
could not answer, yet I felt confidence in my first impression. The
lieutenant had said the man's horse was black. How did the lieutenant
know? Had he seen the horse by day? Had he brought a light? The horse
must be very black. To satisfy my mind I led my horse into the road and
slipped the bridle round his foreleg; then retired a few yards and
looked at him--he had not the colour of the black horse; he was a
Why was the black horse returning? Doubtless the enemy had been found
far up the road, and the messenger could not get through them. Who else
would be riding fast down this road? If the rider were a rebel, he would
ride slow. Our men would ride fast toward our own lines; this rider was
one of ours. Who was he? He was the messenger on the black horse. Why
should he ride so fast to the rear? He was seeking a new road; perhaps
he knew of another road, and was hurrying now because he had already
lost time and his new road would be longer and would make him lose more.
Yet I went on up the road. I had heard the galloping of the black horse
far off, and I knew that I could go half a mile before I should
encounter the enemy. I was ahead of the black horse.
After riding five minutes slowly on, I came to a small field on the
right of the road; in the field was a cabin. I paused, and considered.
The cabin, no doubt, was deserted; but if it were occupied, what should
I fear? I was in citizen's dress. If any one was now in the cabin, I
might get information; if it was deserted, I could explore the ground
about it, for I hoped that some path connected this place with other
fields and perhaps other roads to the north. I dismounted and approached
the door and knocked. There was no response. I pushed the door, and it
opened; the place had been vacated. I searched the grounds; there was a
well in the back yard, and I lost the hope that I should find a path
leading to a spring, and perhaps beyond. I diligently and painfully
continued my search, and at length was rewarded by seeing a stile in the
back fence. I went back and mounted, and rode round the little field to
the stile, and took the path leading from it due north. I reached the
woods, and was compelled to dismount, for the branches of the trees
overhung the path and constantly barred my way. Leading my horse, I
continued on and came to a larger field where, at the fence, the path
connected with, a narrow plantation road which I knew, from the ruts,
wagons had used. I went to the right, no longer dismounted, and going at
a fast trot. My road was running in a northeast course, but soon the
corner of the field was reached, and then it branched, one branch going
to the north, the other continuing northeast Which should I take? I
could not hesitate; I rode north, and kept on pursuing this narrow road
for nearly a mile, I supposed. Where I was I did not know, but I felt
sure that I was flanking the rebels who had stopped the black horse. I
considered the plan of trying now to get back into the main road again,
but rejected the thought, for no doubt Johnston's army was stretched
along this road for many miles; no doubt it was only the rear-guard
picket that had turned back my unknown friend who had preceded me. I
would keep on, and I did keep on, getting almost lost sometimes, passing
farms and woods and streams, forsaking one path for a worse one, if the
latter favoured my course, until at last, after great anxiety, and
fatigue of body and mind, I reached a wide road running northwest. I had
come, I supposed, four or five miles from the stile.
Now I no longer feared the rebel army. That was at my left in the road
to Richmond. This road I was on led up the York. The map was worthless
now. Of course, I might run foul of scouts and flying parties; those
people I must watch for.
I supposed it was one o'clock, and that I yet had fifteen miles to go,
for I had made my route much longer than the main road; but I counted
that I had gained greatly, for I was in comparative safety, and had five
hours yet. The road ahead I knew nothing about, but it was running in
the correct course for Eltham's Landing high up on the river.
Soon I came to a fork. Which branch should I take? If I should take the
right, it was chance for chance that I should go straight off to the
York, and I wanted to go up the York; if I should take the left, it was
chance for chance that I should ride straight to the enemy on the
I took the left. To go to the river meant almost the loss of hope
thereafter. I would go toward the enemy for a little distance, but would
take the first bridle-path to the right, some road or bridle-path
branching out of this, and running up the river. But my progress became
exceedingly slow, for I feared always to miss seeing some blind road
leading to the right, and my carefulness again cost me a little time,
perhaps, for I found a path, and took it, going with great caution for a
furlong, to find that it entered a larger road. If I had not taken this
path, I should have soon reached this good road at its junction, and
time would have been saved by increased speed; yet I did not blame
myself, and went on with renewed hope and faster, for although the moon
was getting far down the sky, my road was good and was running straight
toward my end.
But at length, as I was going over a sandy stretch, I heard hoof-beats
behind me, and the sound grew, and I knew that some night rider was
following fast. What is he? A rebel or a Federal? Loud ring the strokes
of the horse's irons and louder behind me; I must run or I must
I chose to let him pass. To be pursued would have been to throw up the
game; all then would have been lost. I left the road and hid in the
shadowy woods. On came the rider, and as the thundering hoofs hit the
road within ten paces of my stand, I saw again the black horse belly to
the ground in the moonlight.
Almost at once I started in pursuit. I would keep this man before me; if
he should run upon rebels, the alarm would reach me; so long as he
should be in my front, safety for me was at the front and danger
elsewhere. I pursued, keeping within sight where the road stretches were
long, going slowly where the ground was hard, lest the noise of my
approach should be heard. Yet I had no difficulty; the courier was
straining every nerve to reach his destination, and regarded not his
rear. He crossed roads in haste, and by this I knew that the road was to
him familiar; he paused never, but kept his horse at an even gallop
through forest and through field, while I followed by jerks, making my
horse run at times, and again, fearing I was too near, bringing him back
to slower speed. For miles I followed the black horse.
But now I saw that the night was further spent than I had supposed;
light was coming behind me, and the moon was low in the west. How far to
the end? The black horse is going more slowly; he has gone many weary
miles more than mine has gone; his rider is urging him to the utmost; I
can see him dig his spurs again and again into the sides of the noble
beast, and see him strike, and I see him turn where the road turns ahead
of me, and I ride faster to recover him; and now I see black smoke
rising at my right hand, and I hear the whistle of the Union steam
vessels, and I almost cry for joy, and at the turning of the road my
horse rears and almost throws me to the ground, and I see the black
horse lying dead, and I spur my horse to pass, and give a cry of terror
as a man springs from the left, with carbine presented, and shouts,
"Your horse! your horse! Dismount at once, or I'll blow your
For the rider of the black horse was a Confederate!
Shall I ever forget that moment of dismay and anguish? Even as I write
the thrill of horror returns, and I see a picture of the past:--the
daybreak; a lonely road in the forest; two men and two horses, each pair
as unlike as life and death, for one's horse was dead and the other man
was about to die. Had I been so utterly foolish! Why had I conceived
absolutely that this rider was a Federal? How could a Federal know the
road so well that he had gone over it at full speed, never hesitating,
never deflecting into a wrong course? The instant before, I had been in
heaven, for I had known my safe destination was at hand; now, I felt
that my end had come to me, for my terror was for myself and not for a
lost mission, and I cannot remember that in that smallest second of time
any other hope was in me but that of riding this man down and reaching
our troops with a mortal bullet in my body.
In a second the world may be changed--in a second the world _was_
changed. I saw my captor's gun drop from his hands; I saw his hands go
up. I looked round; in the road behind me--blessed sight--were two
Union soldiers with their muskets levelled at the man in gray.
"Take me at once to General Franklin."
Again I was thunderstruck--two voices had shouted the same words!
The revulsion turned me stomach-sick; the rider of the black horse was a
Federal in disguise!
* * * * *
General Franklin advanced, and met the enemy advancing. For no error on
my part, my mission was a failure.
"How could you know the road so well for the last ten miles of it?" I
asked of Jones, the rider of the black horse.
"That horse was going home!"
"A horse captured from the rebels?"
"No; impressed only yesterday from a farmer near the landing. You see he
had already made that road and was not in the best condition to make it
again so soon; then I had to turn about more than once. I suppose that
horse must have made nearly a hundred miles in twenty-four hours."
Jones was of Porter's escort, and had on this occasion served as General
On the next day, the 8th, I returned to the Sanitary Camp.
OUT OF SORTS
"Your changed complexions are to me a mirror
Which shows me mine changed too; for I must be
A party in this alteration, finding
Myself thus altered with it."--SHAKESPEARE.
It would have been quite impossible for me to analyze my feeling for Dr.
Khayme. His affection for me was unconcealed, and I was sure that no
other man was received as his companion--not that he was distant, but
that he was not approached. By nature I am affectionate, but at that
time my emotions were severely and almost continually repressed by my
will, because of a condition of nervous sensitiveness in regard to the
possibility of an exposure of my peculiarity, so that I often wondered
whether the Doctor fully understood the love and reverence I bore him.
On the morning following the day last spoken of--that is to say, on the
morning of May 9th--Dr. Khayme rode off to the old William and Mary
College, now become a hospital, leaving me to my devices, as he said,
for some hours. I was sitting on a camp-stool in the open air, busily
engaged in cleaning my gun and accoutrements, when I saw a man coming
toward me. It was Willis.
"Where is the Doctor?" he asked.
"Gone to the hospital; want to see him?"
"He will be back in an hour or two. Boys all right?" I brought out a
camp-stool; Willis remained standing.
"Oh, yes; what's left of 'em. Say, Berwick, what's this I hear about
your being detailed for special work?"
"So," said I.
"What in the name o' God will you have to do?"
Willis's tone was not so friendly as I had known it to be; besides, I
had observed that he called me Berwick rather than Jones. His attitude
chilled me. I did not wish to talk to him about myself. We talk about
personal matters to personal friends. I suppose, too, that I am peculiar
in such things; at any rate, so great was my distaste to talking now
with Willis on the subject in question that I did not succeed in hiding
"Oh," says he, "you needn't say it if you don't want to."
"I feel," said I, "as though I should be speaking of personal matters,
perhaps too personal."
"Well, I don't want to force myself on anybody," said he; then he asked,
"How long are you going to stay with Dr. Khayme?"
It flashed upon me in an instant that Willis was jealous,--not of the
little distinction that had been shown me,--but in regard to Lydia, and
I felt a great desire to relieve him of any fear of my being or becoming
his rival. Yet I did not see how I could introduce a subject so
delicate. In order to gain time, I replied: "Well, I don't know exactly;
I am subject to orders from brigade headquarters. If no orders come, I
shall stay here a day or two; if we march, I suppose I shall march with
the company, unless the division is in the rear."
"If the division marches and Dr. Khayme remains here, what will you do?"
This was increasing, I thought; to encourage him to proceed, I asked,
"Why do you wish to know?"
"Because," said he, hesitatingly, "because I think you ought to show
"Please tell me exactly what you mean by that," said I.
"You know very well what I mean," he replied.
"Let us have no guesswork," said I; "if you want to say anything, this
is a good time for saying it."
"Well, then, I will," said he; "you know that I like Miss Lydia."
"And I thought you were my friend."
"I am your friend."
"Then why do you get into my way?"
"If I am in your way, it is more than I know," said I; "what would you
have me to do?"
"If you are my friend, you will keep out of my way."
"Do you mean to say that I ought not to visit the Doctor?"
"If you visit the Doctor, you ought to make it plain to him why you
"Sergeant," said I; "Dr. Khayme knows very well why I visit him. I have
no idea that he considers me a bidder for his daughter."
"Well; you may be right, and then again, you may be wrong."
"And you would have me renounce Dr. Khayme's society in order to favour
"I did not say that. You are perfectly welcome to Dr. Khayme's company;
but I do think that you ought not to let him believe that you want
"Shall I tell him that you say that?"
"I can paddle my own canoe; you are not my mouthpiece," he replied
"Then would you have me tell him that I do not want Miss Lydia?"
"Tell him what you like, or keep silent if you like; all I've got to say
is that if you are my friend you will not stand in my way."
"It seems to me, Sergeant," said I, "that you are forcing me into a very
delicate position. For me to go to Dr. Khayme and explain to him that my
attachment to him is not a piece of hypocrisy played by me in order to
win his daughter, would not be satisfactory to the Doctor or to me, or
even to Miss Khayme."
"Why not to her?" he asked abruptly.
"Because my explanation could not be made except upon my assumption that
she supposes me a suitor; it would amount to my saying, 'I don't want
you,' and more than that, as you can easily see. I decline to put myself
into such a position. I prefer to assume that she does not regard me as
a suitor, and that the Doctor receives me only as an old pupil. I beg
you to stay here until the Doctor comes, and talk to him yourself. I can
promise you one thing: I shall not hinder you; I'll give you a
"Do you mean to say that you will give me a clear field with Miss
"Not exactly that, but very nearly. You have no right to expect me to
say to anybody that Miss Lydia does not attract me, and it would be
silly, presumptuous, conceited in me to yield what I have not. I can
tell you this: I have not spoken a word to Miss Lydia that I would not
speak to any woman, or to any man for that matter, and I can say that I
have not one degree of claim upon her."
"Then you will keep out of my way?"
"I repeat that I am not in your way. If I should say that I will keep
out of your way, I would imply what is not true; the young lady is
absolutely free so far as I am concerned."
At this point the Doctor came up. He shook hands with Willis and went
into his tent. I urged Willis to follow, but he would not. I offered to
lead the conversation into the matter in which he was so greatly
interested, but he would not consent.
The Doctor reappeared. "Lydia will be here to-night," he said.
"You surprise me, Doctor."
"Yes; but I am now pretty sure that we shall be here for a week to
come, and we shall not move our camp before the rear division moves.
Lydia will find enough to do here."
Willis soon took his leave. I accompanied him for a short distance; on
parting with him I told him that he might expect to see me again
"What!" said he; "you are going to leave the Doctor?"
"Yes," I replied; "expect me to-night."
Willis looked puzzled; he did not know what to say, and said nothing.
When I entered the Doctor's tent, I found him busily writing. He looked
up, then went on with his work. Presently, still continuing to write, he
said, "So Willis is angry."
"Why do you say so, Doctor?"
"Anybody could have seen it in his manner," said he.
I tried to evade. "He was out of sorts," said I.
"What does 'out of sorts' mean?" asked the Doctor. Then, before I could
reply, he continued: "I have often thought of that expression; it is a
good one; it means to say gloomy, depressed, mentally unwell, physically
ill perhaps. Yes, Willis is out of sorts. Out of sorts means mixed,
unclassified, unassorted, having one's functions disordered. One who
cannot separate his functions distinctly is unwell and, necessarily,
miserable. Willis showed signs of dementia; his brain is not acting
right. I think I can cure him."
I said nothing. In the Doctor's tone there was not a shade of sarcasm.
He continued: "Perfect sanity would be impossible to predicate of any
individual; doubtless there are perfectly sane persons, that is, sane at
times, but to find them would be like finding the traditional needle. I
suppose our good friend Willis would rank higher than the average, after
all is said."
"Willis is a good soldier," said I, "and a good sergeant."
"Yes, no doubt he is; he ought to know that he is just the man for a
soldier and a sergeant, and be content."
Now, of course, I knew that Dr. Khayme, by his clear knowledge of
nature, not to say more, was able to read Willis; but up to this time I
had not suspected that Willis's hopes in regard to Lydia had alarmed or
offended my learned friend; so I continued to beat round the subject.
"I cannot see," said I, "why Willis might not aspire to a commission. If
the war continues, there will be many chances for promotion."
"The war will continue," he said, "and Willis may win a commission. The
difference between a lieutenant and a sergeant is greater in pay than in
qualification; in fact, a good orderly-sergeant is a rarer man than a
good captain. Let Willis have his commission. Let that be his ambition,
if he persists in murdering people."
The Doctor was yet writing busily. I wondered whether his words were
intended as a hint for me to speak to Willis; of course I could do
nothing of the kind. I felt that this whole affair was very delicate.
Willis had gone so far as to make me infer that he was very much afraid
of me: why? Could it be possible that he saw more than I could see? No,
that was a suggestion of mere vanity; he simply dreaded Dr. Khayme's
well-known partiality for me; he feared, not me, but the Doctor. I was
uneasy. I examined myself; I thought of my past conduct in regard to
Lydia, and found nothing to condemn. I had been rather more distant, I
thought, than was necessary. I must preserve this distance.
"Doctor," said I, "good-by till to-morrow; I shall stay with the company
He looked up. "You will see Willis?"
"Yes, sir; I suppose so."
"You might say to him, if you think well, that I thought he left us
rather abruptly to-day, and that I don't think he is very well."
"I hope to see you again to-morrow, Doctor."
"Very well, my boy; good-by till to-morrow; you will find me here by ten
When I reached the company I did not see Willis; he was off on duty
somewhere. On the next morning, however, he came in, and everything
passed in the friendliest way possible, at first. Evidently he was
pleased with me for absenting myself from Lydia. But he soon learned
that I was to return to the Sanitary Camp, and his countenance
changed at once.
"What am I to think of you?" he asked.
"I trust you will think well of me," I replied; "I am doing you no
wrong. You are not well. The Doctor noticed it."
"He said that I was not well?"
"Well, he is wrong for once; I am as well as I ever was in my life."
"He said you left very suddenly yesterday."
"I suppose I did leave suddenly; but I saw no reason to remain longer."
"Willis," said I, "let us talk seriously. Why do you not speak to Miss
Lydia and her father? Why not end this matter one way or the other?"
"I haven't seen Miss Lydia since you left us in February," said he; "how
can I speak to her?"
"But you can speak to Dr. Khayme."
"Yes, I could speak to Dr. Khayme, but I don't consider him the one to
speak to first, and to tell you the truth I'm afraid of it. It's got to
be done, but I feel that I have no chance; that's what's hurting me."
"Then I'd have it over with, as soon as possible," said I.
"That's easier said than done; but I intend to have it over; it's doing
me no good. I wish I'd never seen her."
"Why don't you write?"
"I've thought of that, but I concluded I wouldn't. It looked cowardly
not to face the music."
"My dear fellow," said I, "there is no cowardice in it at all. You ought
to do it, or else bury the whole thing, and I don't suppose you can
"No, I can't do that; if I don't see her shortly, I shall write."
I was very glad to hear this. From what he had just said, coupled with
my knowledge of the Doctor and of Lydia, I did not think his chance
worth a penny, and I felt certain that the best thing for him to do was
to bring matters to a conclusion. He would recover sooner.
At ten o'clock I was with Dr. Khayme. He told me that Lydia had arrived
in the night, and that he had just accompanied her to the hospital.
"And how is our friend Willis to-day?" he asked; "is he a little less
out of sorts?"
"He is friendly to-day, Doctor."
"Did you tell him that I remarked about his abrupt manner?"
"Very well. I now I want to talk to you about your future work, Jones. I
have thought of your suggestion that you wear Confederate uniform, while
"And you do not oppose it?"
"Decide for yourself. I cannot conscientiously take part in war; all I
can do is to endeavour to modify its evil, and try to turn it to good."
The Doctor talked long and deeply upon these matters, and ended by
saying that he would get me Confederate clothing from some wounded
prisoner. Then he began a discussion of the principles which the
respective sections were fighting for.
"Doctor," said I; "awhile ago, when I was urging that a scout would be
of greater service to his cause if he disguised himself, as my friend
Jones does, you seemed to doubt my assertion that the best thing for the
rebels was their quick defeat."
"I remember it."
"Please tell me what you have in mind."
"It is this, Jones: America must be united, or else dis-severed. I
believe in the world-idea; although I condemn this war, I believe in the
Union. The difference between us is, that I do not believe and you do
believe that the way to preserve the Union is going to war. But war has
come. Now, since it has come, I think I can see that an easy defeat of
the Southern armies will not bring about a wholesome reunion. For the
people of the two sections to live in harmony, there must be mutual
respect, and there must be self-respect. An easy triumph over the South
would cause the North great vainglory and the South great humiliation.
Granting war, it should be such as to effect as much good and as little
harm as possible. The South, if she ever comes back into the Union
respecting herself, must be exhausted by war; she must be able to know
that she did all she could, and the North must know that the South
proved herself the equal of the North in everything manly and
respectable. So I say that I should fear a future Union founded upon an
easy submission; there would be scorners and scorned--not friends."
WITH THE DOCTOR ON THE RIGHT
"The respects thereof are nice and trivial,
All circumstances well considered."
For some days the brigade remained near Williamsburg. We learned that a
part of the army had gone up York River by water, and was encamped near
White House, and that General McClellan's headquarters were at or near
Then the division moved and camped near Roper's Church. We heard that
the rebels had destroyed the _Merrimac_. Heavy rains fell. Hooker's
division was still in reserve, and had little to do except to mount camp
guard. I had nothing to do. We had left Dr. Khayme in his camp near
I had not seen Lydia, Willis's manner changed from nervousness to
melancholy. It was a week before he told me that he had written to Miss
Lydia, and had been refused. The poor fellow had a hard time of it, but
he fought himself hard, and I think I helped him a little by taking him
into my confidence in regard to my own troubles. I was moved to do this
by the belief that, if I should tell Willis about my peculiarities,
which in my opinion would make marriage a crime for me, he would find
companionship in sorrow where he had thought to find rivalry, and cease
to think entirely of his own unhappiness. I was not wrong; he seemed to
appreciate my intention and to be softened. I endeavoured also to stir
up his ambition as a soldier, and had the great pleasure of seeing him
begin seriously to study tactics and even strategy.
From Roper's Church we moved by short marches in rear of the other
divisions of the army, until, on the 21st, we were near the
Chickahominy, and still in reserve. Here I received a note from the
Doctor, who informed me that his camp was just in our rear. I went
"Well," said he, "how do you like doing nothing?"
"I haven't quite tired of it yet," I said.
"Your regiment has had a good rest."
"I wonder how much longer we shall be held in reserve."
"A good while yet, to judge from what I can hear," he said. "I am
authorized to move to the right, and of course that means that I shall
be in greater demand there."
"I wish I could go with you," said I.
"Why should you hesitate to do so?" he asked; "what are your orders?"
"There has been no change. I have no orders at all except to keep the
adjutant of the Eleventh informed as to my whereabouts."
"How frequently must you report in person?"
"There was nothing said about that. I suppose a note will do," said I.
"Your division was so severely handled at Williamsburg that I cannot
think it will be brought into action soon unless there should be a
general engagement. If you can report in writing every two or three
days, you need not limit your work or your presence to any particular
part of the line."
"But the right must be many miles from our division."
"No," said the Doctor; "from Hooker's division to your present right is
not more than five miles; the distance will be greater, though, in a
"What is going on, Doctor?"
"McDowell is at Fredericksburg, with a large Confederate force in his
front, and--but let me get a map and show you the situation."
He went to a small chest and brought out a map, which he spread on a
"Here you see Fredericksburg; McDowell is just south of it. Here, about
this point, called Guiney's, is a Confederate division under General
Anderson. McClellan has urged Washington to reenforce his right by
ordering McDowell to march, thus," describing almost a semicircle which
began by going south, then southeast, then southwest; "that would place
McDowell on McClellan's right flank, here. Now, if McDowell reenforces
McClellan, this entire army cannot cross the Chickahominy, and if
McDowell does not reenforce McClellan, this entire army cannot cross the
"Then in neither event can this army take Richmond," said I.
"Don't go too fast; I am speaking of movements for the next ten days;
afterward, new combinations may be made. In case McDowell comes, it will
take ten days for his movement to be completed, and your right wing
would move to meet him if need be, rather than move forward and leave
him. To move forward would expose McDowell's flank to the Confederates
near Guiney's, and it is feared that Jackson is not far from them. Am
"Yes; it seems clear that our right will not cross; but suppose McDowell
does not come."
"In that case," said the Doctor, "for McClellan's right to cross the
Chickahominy would be absurd, for the reason that a Confederate force,
supposed to be from Jackson's army, has nearly reached Hanover
Court-House--here--in the rear of your right, if you advance; besides,
to cross the Chickahominy with the whole army would endanger your
supplies. You see, this Chickahominy River is an awkward thing to cross;
if it should rise suddenly, the army on the south side might starve
before the men could get rations; all that the Confederates would have
to do would be to prevent wagon trains from crossing the bridges. And
another thing--defeat, with the river behind the army, would mean
destruction. McClellan will not cross his army; he will throw only his
"But why should he cross with any at all? It seems to me that with a
wing on either side, he would be in very great danger of being beaten
"You are right in that. But he feels compelled to do something; he makes
a show of advancing, in order to keep up appearances; the war department
already thinks he has lost too much time and has shown too little
aggressiveness. McClellan is right in preferring the James River as a
base, for he could there have a river on either flank, and his base
would be protected by the fleet; but this theory was overthrown at first
by the _Merrimac_, and now that she is out of the way the clamour of the
war department against delay prevents a change of base. So McClellan
accepts the York as his base, but prepares, or at least seems to
prepare, for a change to the James, by throwing forward his left."
"But the left has not been thrown forward."
"It will be done shortly."
"What would happen if McDowell should not be ordered to reenforce us?"
"McDowell has already been ordered to reenforce McClellan, and the order
has been countermanded. The Washington authorities fear to uncover
Washington on account of Jackson's presence in the Shenandoah Valley. If
McDowell remains near Fredericksburg 'for good,' as we used to say in
South Carolina, McClellan will be likely to get everything in readiness,
then wait for his opportunity, and throw his right wing also across the
Chickahominy, with the purpose of ending the campaign in a general
engagement before his supplies are endangered. But this will take time.
So I say that no matter what happens, except one thing, there will be
nothing done by Hooker for ten days; he will stay in reserve."
"What is that one thing which you except, Doctor?"
"A general attack by the Confederates."
"And you think that is possible?"
"Always possible. The Confederates are quick to attack." "And you think
they are ready to attack?"
"No; I think there is no reason to expect an attack soon, at any rate a
general attack; but when McClellan throws his left wing over the
Chickahominy, the Confederates may attack then."
"Then I ought to be with my regiment," said I.
"Yes," said he; "unless your regiment does not need you, or unless
somebody else needs you more. Hooker will not be engaged unless your
whole left is engaged; you may depend upon that. There is no possibility
of an action for a week to come, and unless the Confederates attack,
there will be no action for a month."
"Then we ought by all means to learn whether the Confederates intend to
attack," said I.
"That is the conclusion of the argument," said the Doctor; "you can
serve your cause better in that way than in any other way. You are free
to go and come on any part of your lines. The right is the place
"How do you learn all these things, Doctor?"
"By this and that; it requires no great wisdom to enable any one to see
that both armies are in need of delay. McClellan is begging every day
for reenforcements; the Confederates are waiting and are being
"And you are firm in your opinion that I shall risk nothing by going
"I am sure that you will risk nothing so far as absence from your
regiment is concerned, and I am equally sure that your opportunities for
service will be better."
"In case I go with you to the right, I must find a means of reporting to
the adjutant almost daily."
"That will be done easily enough; in any emergency I can send a man."
It was arranged, therefore, that I should remain with Dr. Khayme, who,
on the 22d, moved his camp far to the right, in rear of General Porter's
command, which we found supporting Franklin, whose troops were nearer
the Chickahominy and behind New Bridge.
Before leaving the regiment I reported to the adjutant, telling him
where I could be found at need, and promising to send in further reports
if Dr. Khayme's camp should be moved. At this period of the campaign
there was but little activity anywhere along our lines; in fact, the
lines had not been fully developed, and, as there was a difficult stream
between us and the enemy, there was no room for enterprise. Here and
there a reconnaissance would be made in order to learn something of the
position of the rebels on the south side of the river, but such
reconnaissances consisted mostly in merely moving small bodies of our
troops up to the swamp and getting them fired upon by the Confederate
artillery posted on the hills beyond the Chickahominy. On this day, the
22d, while Dr. Khayme and I were at dinner, we could hear the sounds of
guns in two places, but only a few shots.
"I have your uniform, Jones," said the Doctor.
"From a wounded prisoner?"
"Yes; but you need fear nothing. It has seen hard service, but I have
had it thoroughly cleaned. It is not the regulation uniform, perhaps,
since it has the South Carolina State button, but in everything else it
is the correct thing."
"I hope I shall not need it soon," said I.
"Why? Should you not wish to end this miserable affair as quickly as
"Oh, of course; but I shall not put on rebel clothing as long as I can
do as well with my own,"
"There is going to be some murderous work up the river--or somewhere on
your right--in a day or two," said the Doctor. "General Butterfield has
given stringent orders for no man to leave camp for an hour."
"Who is General Butterfield?"
"He commands a brigade in Porter's corps. We are just in rear of his
"And you suppose that his order indicates the situation here?"
"Yes; evidently your troops are prepared to move. I am almost sorry that
I have sent for Lydia to come."
"And they will move to the right?"
"Unquestionably; there is no longer any doubt that your right flank is
"Then why not fall back to the left?"
"McClellan cannot afford personally to make any movement that would look
like retreat. Your right is threatened, and your right will hold; it
"Doctor, why is it that you always say your instead of our?"
"Because I am neutral," said the Doctor.
"But your sympathies are with us."
"Only in part; the Southern cause is weak through slavery, but strong in
many other points. I think we have discussed this before."
That we had done so did not prevent us from discussing it again. The
Doctor seemed never to tire of presenting arguments for the complete
abolition of slavery, while his even balance of mind allowed him to
sympathize keenly with the political contention of the South.
We had been talking for half an hour or so, when we heard some one
The Doctor rose and admitted an officer. I saluted; then I was presented
to Captain Auchmuty, of General Morell's staff.
"I am afraid that my visit will not prove pleasant, Doctor," he said.
"General Morell has learned that Mr. Berwick is here, and proposes to
borrow him, if possible."
The captain looked first at Dr. Khayme, and then at me; the Doctor
looked at me; I looked at the ground.
The captain continued, "Of course, General Morell understands that he is
asking a favour rather than giving an order; but if he knows the
circumstances, he believes you are ready to go anywhere you may
"General Morell is very kind," said I; "may I know what work is required
"Nothing is required; that is literally true." said Captain Auchmuty.
"General Morell asks a favour; if you will be so good as to accompany me
to his tent, you shall have the matter explained."
The courtesy with which General Morell was treating me--for he could
just as easily have sent for me by his orderly--made me think myself
"I will go with you, Captain," said I; "good-by, Doctor."
"No," said the captain; "you will not be taken so suddenly. I promise
that you may return in an hour."
BETWEEN THE LINES
"Here stand, my lords; and send discoverers forth,
To know the number of our enemies."
In General Morell's tent were two officers, afterward known to me as
Generals Morell and Butterfield. It was not yet quite dark.
The officer who had conducted me, presented me to General Morell. In the
conversation which followed, General Butterfield seemed greatly
interested, but took no part at all.
General Morell spoke kindly to me. "I have sent for you," he said,
"because I am told that you are faithful, and that you are prudent as
well as accurate. We need information, and I hope you will get it
"I am willing to do my best, General," said I, "provided that my absence
is explained to General Grover's satisfaction."
"It is General Grover himself who recommends you," said he; "he is
willing to let us profit by your services while his brigade is likely to
remain inactive. I will show you his note."
Captain Auchmuty handed me an open note; I read from General Grover the
expression used by General Morell.
"This is perfectly satisfactory, General," I said; "I will do my best
"No man can do more. Now, come here. Look at this map, which you will
take with you if you wish."
The general moved his seat up to a camp-bed, on which he spread the map.
I was standing; he made me take a seat near him.
"First, I will show you generally what I want you to do; how you are to
do it, you must decide for yourself. Here," said he, putting the point
of his pencil on the map, "here is where we are now. Up here is Hanover
Junction, with Hanover Court-House several miles this side--about this
spot. You are to get to both places and find out if the enemy is at
either, or both, and in what force. If he is not at either place, you
are to move along the railroad in the direction of Richmond, until you
find the enemy."
"Are there not two railroads at Hanover Junction, General?"
"Yes, the Virginia Central and the Richmond and Fredericksburg; they
cross at the Junction."
"Which railroad shall I follow?"
"Ah, I see you are careful. It will be well for you to learn something
of the situation on both of them; but take the Central if you are
compelled to choose--the one nearest to us."
"If no enemy is found within eight or ten miles of the Junction, you
need not trouble yourself further; but if he is found in say less than
eight miles of the Junction, you are to diligently get all the knowledge
you can of his position, his force in all arms, and, if possible, his
"I suppose that by the enemy you mean some considerable body, not a mere
"Yes, of course. Hunt for big game. Don't bother with raiders or
"The Junction seems to be on the other side of the Pamunkey River," said
"Yes; it is between the North Anna and the South Anna, which form the
Pamunkey a few miles below the Junction."
"Then, supposing that I find the rebels in force at Hanover Court-House,
would there be any need for me to go on to the Junction?"
"None at all," said the general; "you would only be losing time; in
case you find the enemy in force anywhere, you must return and inform us
just as soon as you can ascertain his strength. But if you find no enemy
at Hanover Court-House, or near it, or even if you find a small force,
such as a party of cavalry, you should try to get to the Junction."
"Very well, General; how long do you expect me to be gone?"
"I can give you four days at the outside."
"No; beginning to-morrow. I shall expect you by the morning of the 27th,
and shall hope to see you earlier."
"I shall not wish to be delayed," said I.
"You shall have horses; relays if you wish," said he.
"In returning shall I report to any officer I first chance to meet?" I
"No; not unless you know the enemy to be particularly active; in that
case, use your judgment; of course you would not let any force of ours
run the risk of being surprised, but, all things equal, better reserve
your report for me."
"And shall I find you here, sir?"
"If I am not here, you may report to General Butterfield; if this
command moves, I will leave orders for you."
"At about what point will my danger begin, General?"
"You will be in danger from scouting parties of the rebel cavalry from
the moment when you reach this point," putting his pencil on a spot
marked Old Church, "and you will be delayed in getting around them
perhaps. You have a full day to Hanover Court-House, and another day to
the Junction, if you find that you must go there; that gives you two
days more; but if you find the enemy at the Court-House, you may get
back in three days."
"Why should I go by Old Church?"
"Well, it seems longer, but it will prove shorter in the end; the
country between Old Church and Mechanicsville is neutral ground, and you
would be delayed in going through it."
"Am I to report the conditions between Old Church and Hanover
"Take no time for that, but impress the character of the roads and the
profile of the country on your mind--I mean in regard to military
obstacles; of course if you find rebels in there, a force, I mean--look
"Well, sir, I am ready."
"You may have everything you want; as many men as you want, mounted or
afoot; can you start to-morrow morning, Berwick?"
"Yes, General; by daylight I want to be at Old Church. Please have a
good man to report to me two hours before day."
"Yes, sir; and with a led saddle horse and three days' rations and
corn--or oats would be better. Let him come armed."
"Very well, Berwick. Is that all?"
"Yes, sir; I think that will do. I suppose the man will know the road to
"If not, I will send a guide along. Now, Berwick, good night, and good
luck. You have my thanks, and you shall have more if your success will
"Good night, General. I will do my best."
* * * * *
Dr. Khayme argued that I should not make this venture in disguise, and I
had great doubt what to do; however, I at last compromised matters by
deciding to take the Confederate uniform to be used in case I should
need it. A thought occurred to me: "Doctor," said I, "these palmetto
buttons might prove a bad thing. Suppose I should get into a brigade of
Georgians occupying some position where there are no other troops; what
would a Carolinian be doing amongst them?"
"I have provided for that," said the Doctor; "you see that these buttons
are fastened with rings; here are others that are smooth: all you have
to do is to change when you wish--it takes but a few moments. However,
nobody would notice your buttons unless you should be within six feet
of him and in broad daylight."
"Yet I think it would be better to change now," said I; "there are more
Confederates than Carolinians."
The Doctor assented, and we made the change. I put the palmetto buttons
into my haversack.
Before I slept everything had been prepared for the journey. I studied
the map carefully and left it with the Doctor. The gray clothing was
wrapped in a gum-blanket, to be strapped to the saddle. My escort was
expected to provide for everything else. I decided to wear a black soft
hat of the Doctor's, whose head was as big as mine, although he weighed
about half as much as I did. My own shoes were coarse enough, and of no
peculiar make. In my pockets I put nothing except a knife, some
Confederate money, some silver coin, and a ten-dollar note of the bank
of Hamburg, South Carolina--a note which Dr. Khayme possessed and which
he insisted on my taking. There would be nothing on me to show that I
was a Union soldier, except my uniform. I would go unarmed.
Before daylight I was aroused. My man was waiting for me outside the
tent. I intended to slip out without disturbing the Doctor, but he was
already awake. He pressed my hand, but said not a word.
The man and I mounted and took the road, he leading.
"Do you know the way to Old Church?" I asked.
"Yes, sir," said he.
"What is your name?"
"Jones, sir; don't you know me?"
"What? My friend of the black horse?"
"But I believe you are in blue this time."
"Yes; I got no orders."
I was glad to have Jones; he was a self-reliant man, I had already had
occasion to know.
We marched rapidly, Jones always in the lead. The air was fine. The
morning star shone tranquil on our right. Vega glittered overhead, and
Capella in the far northeast, while at our front the handle of the
Dipper cut the horizon. The atmosphere was so pure that I looked for the
Pleiades, to count them; they had not risen.
We passed at first along a road on either side of which troops lay in
bivouac, with here and there the tent of some field officer; then parks
of artillery showed in the fields; then long lines of wagons, with
horses and mules picketed behind. Occasionally we met a horseman, but
nothing was said to him or by him.
Now the encampment was behind us, and we rode along a lane where nothing
was seen except fields and woods.
"Jones," said I; "are you furnished with credentials?"
"Yes, sir," he replied; "if our pickets or patrols stop us, I can
At daylight we were halted. Jones rode forward alone, then returned and
explained that our post would admit us. We passed a mounted vedette, and
then went on for a few hundred yards until we came to a crossroad.
"We are at Old Church," said Jones.
"And we have nobody here?" I asked.
"Yes, sir; our men are over there, but I suppose we are to take the left
here; we have another picket-post half a mile up the road."
"Then we will stop with them and breakfast," said I. We took to the
left--toward the west. At the picket-post the road forked; a
blacksmith's shop was at the north of the road. The sun had
The picket consisted of a squad of cavalry under Lieutenant Russell. He
gave me all the information he could. The right-hand road, by the
blacksmith's shop, went across the Totopotomoy Creek near its mouth, he
said, and then went on to the Pamunkey River, and at the place where it
crossed the Pamunkey another road came in, running down the river from
Hanover Court-House. He was sure that the road which came in was the
road from Hanover to the ferry at Hanover Old Town; he believed the
ferry had not yet been destroyed. This agreed with the map. I asked him
where the left-hand road went. He said he thought it was the main road
to Hanover Court-House; that it ran away from the river for a
considerable distance, but united higher up with the river road. This
also agreed with the map. I had scratched on the lining of my hat the
several roads given on the map as the roads from Old Church to Hanover
Court-House, so that, in case my memory should flag, I could have some
resource, but I found that I could remember without uncovering.
The lieutenant could tell me little concerning distances; what he knew
did not disaccord with my small knowledge. I asked him if he knew where
the nearest post of the enemy was now. "They are coming and going," said
he; "one day they will be moving, and then a day will pass without our
hearing of them. If they have a post anywhere, I don't know it."
"And there are none of our men beyond this point?"
"No--nobody at all," said he.
Jones had given the horses a mouthful of oats, and we had swallowed our
breakfast, the lieutenant kindly giving us coffee. For several reasons I
thought it best to take the road to the left: first, it was away from
the river, which the rebels were supposed to be watching closely;
second, the distance seemed not so great; and, third, it was said to
traverse a less populous region.
I had now to determine the order of our advance, and decided that we
should ride forward alternately, at least until we should strike the
crossing of the Totopotomoy Creek; so I halted Jones, rode forward for
fifty yards or so, then stopped and beckoned to him to come on. As he
went by me I told him to continue to advance until he should reach, a
turn in the road; then he should halt and let me pass him. At the first
stop he made I saw with pleasure that he had the good judgment to halt
on the side of the road amongst the bushes. I now rode up to him in
turn, and paused before passing.
"You have kept your eyes on the stretch, in front?" I asked.
"And have seen nothing?"
"No, sir; not a thing."
"You understand why we advance in this manner?"
"Yes; I can watch for you, and you can watch for me, and both can watch
"Yes, and not only that. We can hardly both be caught at the same time;
one of us might be left to tell the tale."
I went on by. The road here ran through woods, but shortly a field was
seen in front, with a house at the left of the road, and I changed
tactics. When Jones had reached me, we rode together through the field,
went on quickly past the house, and on to another thicket, in the edge
of which we found a school-house; but just before reaching the thicket I
made Jones follow me at the distance of some forty yards. I had made
this change of procedure because I had been able to see that there was
nobody in the stretch of road passing the house, and I thought it better
for two at once to be exposed to possible view from the house for a
minute than one each for a minute.
We had not seen a soul.
We again proceeded according to our first programme, I riding forward
for fifty yards or so, and Jones passing me, and alternately thus until
we saw, just beyond us, a road coming into ours from the southwest. On
the north of our road, and about two hundred and fifty yards from the
spot where we had halted, was a farmhouse, which I supposed was the
Linney house marked on the map. The road at the left, I knew from the
map, went straight to Mechanicsville and thence to Richmond, and I
suspected that it was frequently patrolled by the rebel cavalry. We
remained in hiding at a short distance from the house, and consulted. I
feared to pass openly on the road--two roads, in fact--opposite the
house, for discovery and pursuit at this time would mean the abortion
of the whole enterprise. Every family in this section could reasonably
be supposed to have furnished men to the Confederate army near by and,
if we should be seen by any person whomsoever, there was great
probability that our presence would be at once divulged to the nearest
rebels. The result of our consultation was our turning back. We rode
down toward Old Church until we came to a forest stretching north of the
road, which we now left, and made through the woods a circuit of the
Linney house, and reached the Hanover road again in the low grounds of
Totopotomoy Creek. We had seen no one. The creek bottom was covered with
forest and dense undergrowth. We crossed the creek some distance below
the road, and kept in the woods for a mile without having to venture
into the open.
It was about nine o'clock; we had made something like three miles since
we had left Old Church.
In order to get beyond the next crossroad, it was evident that we must
run some risk of being seen from four directions at once, or else we
must flank the crossing.
By diverging to the right, we found woods to conceal us all the way
until we were in sight of the crossroad. I dismounted, and bidding Jones
remain, crept forward until I could see both ways, up and down, on the
road. There were houses at my left--some two hundred yards off, and but
indistinctly seen through the trees--on both sides of the road, but no
person was visible. Just at my right the road sank between two
elevations. I went to the hollow and found that from this position the
houses could not be seen. I went back to Jones, and together we led our
horses across the road through the hollow. We mounted and rode rapidly
away through the woods, and reached the Hanover road at a point two
miles or more beyond the Linney house.
We now felt that if there was any post of rebels in these parts it would
be found behind Crump's Creek, which was perhaps half a mile at our
left, running north into the Pamunkey. We turned to the left and made
for Crump's Creek. We found an easy crossing, and we soon reached the
Hanover river road, within four miles, I thought, of Hanover
And now our danger was really to become immediate, and our fear
oppressive. We were in sight of the main road running from Hanover
Court-House down the Pamunkey--a road that was no doubt covered by the
enemy's plans, and on which bodies of his cavalry frequently operated.
If the force at Hanover Court-House, or the Junction, were seeking to
get to the rear of McClellan's right wing, this would be the road by
which it would march; this road then, beyond all question, was
constantly watched, and there was strong probability that rebels were
kept posted in good positions upon it. But for the fact that I might
find it necessary to reach the Junction, I should now have gone
I decided to use still greater circumspection in going farther forward,
and to get near the enemy's post, if there should prove to be one, at
the Court-House, only after nightfall. Thus we had from ten o'clock
until dark--nine hours or more--in which to make our gradual approach.
The country was so diversified with woods and fields that we found it
always possible to keep within shelter. When we lost sight of the road,
Jones or I would climb a tree. By making great detours we went around
every field, consuming much time, it is true, but we had plenty of time.
We avoided every habitation, and chose the thickest of the woods and the
deepest of the hollows, and so conducted our advance that, remarkable as
it may seem, from the time we left our outposts at Old Church until we
came in sight of the enemy near Hanover Court-House, we did not see a
human being, though the distance traversed must have been fully twelve
miles. Of course, I knew that it was very likely that we ourselves had
been seen by more than one frightened inhabitant, but it was my care to
keep at such a distance from every dwelling house that no one there
could tell whether we were friend or enemy.
At noon we took our ease in a hollow in the midst of a thicket. While
we were resting we heard far to our rear a distant sound that resembled
the discharge of artillery. We learned afterward that the sound came
from Mechanicsville, occupied this day by the advance of
About two o'clock we again set out. We climbed a hill from which we
could see over a considerable stretch of country. The field in front of
us was large; it would require a long detour to avoid the open space.
Still, we were not pressed for time, and I was determined to be prudent.
The only question was whether we should flank the field at the right or
at the left. From our point of observation, it seemed to me that the
field in front stretched sufficiently far in the north to reach the
Hanover road; if this were true our only course was by the left. To be
as nearly sure as possible, I sent Jones up a tree. I regretted very
much that I had not brought a good field-glass, and wondered why General
Morrell had not thought of it. Jones remained in the tree a long time; I
had forbidden him speaking, lest the sound of his voice should reach the
ear of some unseen enemy. When he came down he said that the road did go
through the field and that there were men in the road.
I now climbed the tree in my turn, and saw very distinctly, not more
than half a mile away, a small body of men in the road. They seemed to
be infantry and to be stationary; but while I was looking they began to
move in the direction of Hanover Court-House. There were bushes on the
sides of the road where they were; soon they passed beyond the bushes,
and I could see that the men were mounted. I watched them until they
were lost to sight where the road entered the woods beyond. I had
counted eleven; I supposed there were ten men under command of
It was now clear that we must flank the big field on its left. We acted
with great caution. The fence stretched far beyond the corner of the
field; we let down the fence, led our horses in, then put up the gap,
and rode into the woods on the edge of the field. In some places the
undergrowth was low, and we feared that our heads might be seen above
our horses; in such places we dismounted. We passed at a distance one or
two small houses--not dwellings, we thought, but field barns or cribs.
At length we reached the western side of the field; we had gained
greatly in position, though we were but little nearer to Hanover.
We supposed that we were almost half a mile from the road, and that we
were in no pressing danger. When we had gone north about a quarter of a
mile we dismounted, and while Jones remained with the horses, I crept
through the woods until I could see the road. It was deserted. I crept
nearer and nearer until I was almost on its edge; sheltered by the
bushes I could see a long distance either way. At my left was a house,
some two hundred yards away and on the far side of the road. I watched
the house. The men I had seen in the road might have stopped in the
house; there might be--indeed, there ought to be--an outpost near me,
and this house would naturally be visited very often. But I saw nothing,
and at last crept back into the woods for a short distance, and advanced
again parallel with the road, until I came, as I supposed, opposite the
house; then I crept up to the road again. I could now see the yard in
front of the house, and even through the house from front to back door;
it was a small house of but two rooms. It now began to seem as though
the house was an abandoned one, in which case the rebels would likely
never stop there, unless for water. I saw no well in the yard. There was
no sign of life.
I turned again and sought the woods, and again advanced parallel with
the road, until, in about three hundred yards, I could see a field in my
front. This field ran up to the road, and beyond the road there was
another field, the road running between rail fences. I returned to
Jones, whom I found somewhat alarmed in consequence of my long absence,
and we brought the horses up to the spot to which I had advanced. It
was now about four o'clock, and we had yet three hours of daylight.
Hanover could not be much more than two miles from us.
The field in front was not wide; it sloped down to a heavily wooded
hollow, in which I judged there was a stream. As I was yet quite
unsatisfied in regard to the house almost in our rear, I asked Jones to
creep back and observe the place thoroughly.
He returned; I could see news in his face. "They are passing now," he
No need to ask who "they" meant. We took our horses deeper into the
woods. There Jones told me that he had seen some thirty men, in two
squads, more than a hundred yards apart, ride fast toward Hanover.
"But why could I not see them in the road yonder, as they went through
the field?" I asked.
"Because the road there is washed too deep. Their heads would not show
above the fence," he said.
I tried to fathom the meaning of the rapid movement of these small
bodies of rebels, but could get nothing out of it, except the
supposition that our cavalry had pushed on up the road after we had
passed Old Church. There might be, and doubtless were, several attempts
made this day to ascertain the position of the rebels.
No crossing of that road now and trying the rebel left! We went to the
left of the field. It was about five o'clock. We reached the foot of a
hill and saw a small creek ahead of us. I now felt that I must go
To make sure that I could find Jones again, I stationed him in the creek
swamp near the corner of the field. We agreed upon a signal.
I crept forward through the swamp, converging toward the road. I crossed
the stream, and reached a point from which I could see the road; it ran
up a hill; on the hill I could see a group of men. Here, I was
convinced, was the Confederate picket-line, if there was a line.
A thick-topped tree was growing some thirty yards from the edge of the
road; from its boughs I could see mounted men facing east, nearer to me
than the group above. The sun had nearly set; it shone on sabres and
carbines. I was hoping there was no infantry picket-line. I came down
from the tree, returned rapidly to Jones, and got ready. I told him to
make himself comfortable for the night, and to wait for me no longer
than two o'clock the next day. The package containing the gray clothing
I took with me. I would not put it on until I should see that nothing
else would do.
And now, feeling that it was for the last time, I again went forward. I
had decided to try to penetrate the picket-line if I should find it to
be a very long line; if it proved to be a line that I could turn, I
would go round it, and when on its flank I would act as opportunity
should offer. If the enemy's force were small, I might see it all from
the outside; but if it consisted of brigades and divisions, I would put
on the disguise and throw away my own uniform.
Twilight had deepened; on the hills in front fires were beginning to
show. I reached the foot of the hill on which I had seen the rebel
picket-post, and moved on slowly. I was unarmed, carrying nothing but
the gray clothes wrapped in the gum-blanket.
The hill was spotted with clumps of low bushes, but there were no trees.
At every step I paused and listened. I thought I could hear voices far
away. Halfway up the hill I stopped; the voices were nearer--or
I now ceased advancing directly up the hill; instead, I moved off at a
right angle toward the left, trying to keep a line parallel with the
supposed picket-line, and listening hard. A rabbit sprang up from almost
under my feet. I was glad that it did not run up the hill. Voices
continued to come to my ears, but from far away. I supposed that the
line was more than three hundred yards from me, and that vedettes were
between us; but for the vedettes, I should have gone nearer. I knew
that I was in no great danger so long as the pickets would talk. The
voices made me sure that these pickets did not feel themselves in the
presence of an enemy. They evidently knew that they had bodies of
cavalry on all the roads leading to their front. Possibly they were
prepared for attack by any body of men, but they were not prepared
against observation by one man; they were trusting their cavalry for
that. So long, then, as I could hear the voices, I felt comparatively
safe. The pickets could not see me, for I was down the hill from
them--much below their sky line; if one of them should happen to be in
their front for any purpose, he would think of me as I should think of
him; he certainly would not suppose me an enemy; if he should be
alarmed, I could get away.
So I continued moving along in the same direction, until I struck woods,
where the hill ceased in a plateau; here I was on level ground, and I
could see in the distance the light of camp-fires, between which and me
I could not doubt were the pickets, if not indeed the main line also, of
I kept on. The ground changed again, so that I looked down on the fires.
I paused and reflected. This picket-line was long; it certainly covered
more than a regiment or two. Again I wished that I were on the north
side of the road.
The camp-fires now seemed more distant and a little to my right. I was
beginning to flatter myself with the belief that I had reached the point
where the picket-line bent back. I felt encouraged.
I retired some twenty yards, and then went on more boldly, still
pursuing a course parallel, as I thought, with the picket-line fronting
east. Soon I reached another road.
Should I cross this road? It ran straight, so far as I could see, into
the position of the enemy; it was a wide road, no doubt one of the main
roads leading to Hanover Court-House.
I looked up the road toward the enemy. I could see no camp-fires.
I thought that I had reached the enemy's flank.
A troop of cavalry rode by, going to their front.
I felt sure that I was right. I looked and found the north, star through
the branches of the trees. I was right. This road ran north and south.
The picket-line doubtless reached the road, or very near it, and bent
back; but how far back? If the enemy depended upon cavalry for their
flank,--and this flank was toward their main army at Richmond,--my work
would be easy.
I crossed the road, and crept along it toward Hanover. More cavalry rode
by. I kept on, doubting more strongly the existence of any
An ambulance went by, going north into camp.
I went thirty yards deeper into the woods. I took everything out of my
pockets, stripped off my uniform, and covered it with leaves as well as
I could in the darkness. Then I put on the gray clothes and twisted the
gum-blanket and threw it over my shoulder. I had resolved to accompany
any ambulance or wagon that should come into the rebel camp.
Taking my station by the side of the road, I lay down and waited.
Again cavalry rode by, this squad also going to the front. I was now
convinced that there was no picket-line here; this flank was protected
by cavalry. Now I was glad that I had not tried the left flank of the
I heard trains rolling, and they seemed not very far from me. I could
hear the engines puffing.
From down the road toward Richmond came the crack of a whip. I saw a
team coming--four or six mules, I could not yet tell in the night.
A heavy wagon came lumbering along. I was about to step out and get
behind it, when I saw another; it passed, and still another came. As the
last one went by I rose and followed it, keeping bent under the feed-box
which, was slung behind it.
I marched thus into the rebel camp at Hanover Court-House.
THE LINES OF HANOVER
"Our scouts have found the adventure very easy."--SHAKESPEARE.
Soon the wagons turned sharply to the left, following, I thought, a new
road cut for a purpose; now camp-fires could be seen again, and near by.
The cry of a sentinel was heard in front, and the wagons halted. I
supposed that we were now to pass the camp guard, which, for mere form's
sake, had challenged the Confederate teamsters; I crept entirely under
the body of the wagon.
We moved on; I saw no sentinel; doubtless he had turned his back and was
walking toward the other end of his beat.
The wagon, on its new road, was now passing to the right of an
encampment; long rows of tents, with streets between, showed clearly
upon a hill at the left. In the streets there were many groups of men;
some of them were talking noisily; some were singing. It was easy to see
that these men were in good spirits; they surely had not had a hard
march that day. For my part, I was beginning to feel very tired; still,
I knew that excitement would keep me going for this night, and for the
next day, if need be.
The wagon passed beyond the tents; then, judging that it was to go on
until it should be far in the rear, I stepped aside and was alone again,
and with the Confederate forces between Jones and me.
I sat on the ground, and tried to think. It seemed to me that the worst
was over. I was safer here than I had been an hour ago, while following
up the picket-line--safer, perhaps, than I had been at any time that
day. I was a Confederate surrounded by an army who wore the Southern
uniform. Nothing less than stupidity on my part could lose me. I must
still act cautiously--yet without the appearance of caution; that was a
more difficult matter.
What I had to do now seemed very simple; it was merely the work of
walking about and estimating the number of the rebels. To get out of
these lines would not be any more difficult for me than for any
But would not a man walking hither and thither in the night be accosted
by some one?
Well, what of that? As soon as he sees me near, he will be satisfied.
But suppose some man asks you what regiment you belong to--what can you
Let me think. The troops here may be all Virginians, or all Georgians,
and I am a South Carolinian.
The sweat rolled down my face--unwholesome sweat. I had allowed my
imagination to carry me too far; I had really put myself in the place of
a Carolinian for the moment; the becoming a Union soldier again was
sudden, violent. I must guard against such transitions.
Seeing at last that hiding was not acting cautiously and without the
appearance of caution, I rose and started for the camp-fires, by a great
effort of will dominating my discomposure, and determining to play the
Confederate soldier amongst his fellows. I would go to the men; would
talk to them when necessary; would count their tents and their stacks of
arms if possible; would learn, as soon as I could, the name of some
regiment, so that if I were questioned I could answer.
But suppose you are asked your regiment, and give an appropriate answer,
and then are asked for your captain's name--what can you say?
I beat off the fearful suggestion. Strong suspicion alone could prompt
such, an inquiry. There was no more reason for these men to suspect my
being a Union soldier than there was for me to suspect that one of these
men was a Union soldier.
I was approaching the encampment from the rear. Two men overtook me,
each bending under a load of many canteens. They passed me without
speaking. I followed them--lengthening my step to keep near them--and
went with them to their company. I stood by in the light of the fires
while they distributed the canteens, or, rather, while they put the
canteens on the ground, and their respective owners came and got them.
The men did not speak to me.
I had hoped to find the Confederates in line of battle; they certainly
ought to have been in line, and in every respect ready for action, but,
instead, they were here in tents and without any preparation against
surprise, so far as I could see, except the cavalry pickets thrown out
on the roads. If they had been in line, it would have been easy for me
to estimate the number of bayonets in the line of stacked arms; I was
greatly disappointed. The tents seemed to me too few for the numbers of
men who were at the camp-fires. I saw forms already stretched out on
their blankets in the open air. Doubtless many men, in this mild
weather, preferred to sleep outside of the crowded tents.
Hoping that something would be said to give me what I wanted to know, I
One of the men asked me for a chew of tobacco.
"Don't chaw," said I, mentally vowing that henceforth. I should carry
"Why don't you buy your own tobacco?" asked a voice.
The petitioner refused to reply.
A large man stood up; he took from his pocket a knife and a square of
tobacco; he gravely approached the first speaker, cut off a very small
portion, and handed it to him. The men looked on in silence at this act,
which, seemingly, was nothing new to them. One of them winked at me. I
inferred that the large man intended a rebuke to his comrade for
begging from a stranger. The large man went back and sat down.
"Say, Doc, how long are we goin' to be here?"
"I wish I could tell you," said the large man.
There were seven men in the group around the fire; the eyes of all were
upon the large man called Doc. He seemed a man of character and
influence, though but a private. He turned to me.
"You are tired," he said.
I merely nodded assent. His remark surprised and disconcerted me, so
that I could not find my voice. In a moment my courage had returned. The
look of the man was the opposite of suspicious--it was sympathetic. He
was not baldly curious. His attitude toward me might shield me from the
curiosity of the others, if, indeed, they were feeling interest of any
sort in me. I had been fearing that some one would ask me my regiment.
"I want to go home to my mammy!" screamed a voice at the next fire.
Nobody gave this yell the least notice. I supposed it a common saying
with homesick soldiers.
I wondered what Doc and the other men were thinking of me. Perhaps I was
thought a friend of one of the men who had brought the water; perhaps
nobody thought anything, or cared anything, about me. Although I felt
helpless, I would remain.
A torn envelope was lying on the ground, within a few inches of my hand.
The addressed side was next the ground. My fears fled; accident had
helped me--had given me a plan.
I turned the letter over. The address was:--
PRIVATE D.W. ROBERTS,
_Co. G, 7th N.C. Reg't,
I rose. "I must be going," said I, and walked off down the street. The
act, under the circumstances, did not seem to me entirely natural, but
it was the best I could do; these men, I hoped, would merely think me
In the next street I stopped at the brightest fire that I saw.
"This is not the Seventh, is it?" I asked.
"No," said one; "the Seventh is over there," pointing.
"What regiment is this?"
"Our'n," said he.
"Oh, don't be giving me any of your tomfoolery," said I.
"This is the Thirty-third," said another.
I went back toward the Seventh, passed beyond it, and approached another
group. A man of this group rose and sauntered away toward the left. I
followed him. I put my hand on his shoulder and said, "Hello, Jim! where
are you going?"
He turned and said, "Hello yourself, if you want anybody to hello; but
my name's not Jim."
"I beg your pardon," said I; "afraid I'm in the wrong pew; what regiment
"The Twenty-eighth," said he, and went on without another word.
The nature of the replies given me by my friends of the Thirty-third and
Twenty-eighth made me feel nearly certain that all of Branch's regiments
were from one State. I was supposed to belong to the brigade; it was
needless to tell me the name of the State from which my regiment--from
which all the regiments--came. Had the brigade been a mixed one, the men
would have said, "Thirty-third North Carolina;" "Twenty-eighth North
Carolina"; that they did not trouble themselves with giving the name of
their State was strong reason for believing that all the regiments, as I
knew the Seventh to be, were from North Carolina.
I continued my walk, picking up as I went several envelopes, which I
thrust into my pocket. It must now have been about ten o'clock. The men
had become silent; but few were sitting at the fires. I believed I had
sufficient information as to the composition of the brigade, but I had
learned little as to its strength. I knew that there were five streets
in the encampment, and therefore five regiments in the brigade. But how
many men were in the brigade?
Behind the rear regiment was a small cluster of wall-tents, which I took
for brigade headquarters. At the head of every street was a wall-tent,
which I supposed was the colonel's. At the left of the encampment of
tents, and separated from the encampment by a space of a hundred yards,
perhaps, was a line of brighter fires than now showed in the streets.
The dying out of the fires in the streets was what called my attention,
by contrast, to these brighter fires. I walked toward the bright fires;
to my surprise I found troops in bivouac. I went boldly up to the
nearest fire, and found two men cooking. I asked for a drink of water.
"Sorry, neighbour, but we hain't got nary nother drop," said one.
"An' we don't see no chance to git any," said the other.
"Don't you know where the spring is?" I asked.
"No; do you?"
"I don't know exactly," said I, "but I know the direction; it's down
that way," pointing; "I've seen men coming from that way with canteens.
You are mighty late getting supper."
"Jest ben relieved; we tuck the places of some men this mornin', an'
they jest now got back an' let us loose."
"What duty were you on?"
"On guyard by that battery way over yander; 'twa'n't our time, but we
went. Say, neighbour, wish't you'd show me the way to that water o'
yourn. Dam'f I knowed the' was any water'n less'n a mile."
"I don't want to go 'way back there," said I; "but I'll tell you how to
"Well, tell me then, an' tell me quick. I reckin if I can git started
right, I'll find lots more a-goin'."
"Let me see," said I, studying; "you go over yonder, past General
Branch's headquarters, and go down a hill through, the old field,
and--let me see; what regiment is this?"
"This'n's the bloody Forty-fifth Georgy," said he; "we ain't no
tar-heels; it's a tar-heel brigade exceptin' of us, but we ain't no
tar-heels--no insult intended to you, neighbour."
"Oh, I don't mind being called a tar-heel," said I; "in fact, I rather
"Well, wher's your water?"
"You know where the old field is?"
"No, I don't; we've jest got here last night. I don't know anything."
"You know headquarters?"
"Well, just go on down the hill, and you'll find a path in the old
The man picked up two canteens, and went off. I remained with his
"What battery was that you were talking about? I haven't seen a battery
with the brigade in a week."