enemy’s cruisers and running the blockade of the ports. Wine, tea, coffee, and other imported articles soon became luxuries beyond the means of all, even the very wealthy. All sorts of substitutes were used; grain roasted and ground being chiefly used as a substitute for coffee. Hitherto the South had been principally occupied in raising cotton and tobacco, depending chiefly upon the North for food; and it was necessary now to abandon the cultivation of products for which they had no sale, and to devote the land to the growth of maize and other crops for food.
By the time that the long period of inaction came to a close, Vincent had completely recovered his strength, and was ready to rejoin the ranks as soon as the order came from Colonel Stuart, who had promised to send for him directly there was a prospect of active service.
One of Vincent’s first questions as soon as he became convalescent was whether a letter had been received from Tony. It had come, he was told, among the last batch of letters that crossed the frontier before the outbreak of hostilities, and Mrs. Wingfield, had, as he had requested, opened it. As had been arranged, it had merely contained Tony’s address at a village near Montreal; for Vincent had warned him to say nothing in the letter, for there was no saying, in the troubled times which were approaching when Tony left, into whose hands it might fall.
Vincent had before starting told his mother of the share he had taken in getting the negro safely away, and Mrs. Wingfield, brought up as she had been to regard those who assisted runaway slaves to escape in the same light as those who assisted to steal any other kind of property, was at first greatly shocked when she heard that her son had taken part in such an enterprise, however worthy of compassion the slave might be, and however brutal the master from whose hands he had fled. However, as Vincent was on the point of starting for the war to meet danger, and possibly death, in the defense of Virginia, she had said little, and that little was in reference rather to the imprudence of the course he had taken than to what she regarded in her own mind as its folly, and indeed its criminality.
She had, however, promised that as soon as Tony’s letter arrived she would, if it was still possible, forward Dinah and the child to him, supplying her with money for the journey, and giving her the papers freeing her from slavery which Vincent had duly signed in the presence of a justice. When the letter came, however, it was already too late. Fighting was on the point of commencing, all intercourse across the border was stopped, the trains were all taken up for the conveyance of troops, and even a man would have had great difficulty in passing northward, while for an unprotected negress with a baby such a journey would have been impossible.
Mrs. Wingfield had therefore written four times at fort-nightly intervals to Tony, saying that it was impossible to send Dinah off at present, but that she should be despatched as soon as the troubles were over, upon receipt of another letter from him saying that his address was unchanged, or giving a new one. These letters were duly posted, and it was probable that one or other of them would in time reach Tony, as mails were sent off to Europe whenever an opportunity offered for them to be taken by a steamer running the blockade from a Southern port. Dinah, therefore, still remained at the Orangery. She was well and happy, for her life there was a delightful one indeed after her toil and hardship at the Jackson’s; and although she was anxious to join her husband, the knowledge that he was well and safe from all pursuit, and that sooner or later she would join him with her child, was sufficient to make her perfectly contented.
During Vincent’s illness she had been his most constant attendant; for her child now no longer required her care, and passed much of its time down at the nursery, where the young children of the slaves were looked after by two or three aged negresses past active work. She had therefore begged Mrs. Wingfield to be allowed to take her place by the bedside of her young master, and, after giving her a trial, Mrs. Wingfield found her so quiet, gentle, and patient that she installed her there, and was able to obtain the rest she needed, with a feeling of confidence that Vincent would be well attended to in her absence.
When Vincent was well enough to be about again, his sisters were surprised at the change that had taken place in him since he had started a few months before for the war. It was not so much that he had grown, though he had done so considerably, but that he was much older in manner and appearance. He had been doing man’s work: work requiring vigilance, activity, and courage, and they could no longer treat him as a boy. As he became stronger he took to riding about the plantation; but not upon Wildfire, for his horse was still with the troop, Colonel Stuart having promised to see that the animal was well cared for, and that no one should ride upon it but himself.
“I hope you like Jonas Pearson better than you used to do, Vincent,” Mrs. Wingfield said a day or two before he started to rejoin his troop.
“I can’t say I do, mother,” he replied shortly. “The man is very civil to me now–too civil, in fact; but I don’t like him, and I don’t believe he is honest. I don’t mean that he would cheat you, though he may do so for anything I know; but he pretends to be a violent Secessionist, which as he comes from Vermont is not natural, and I imagine he would sing a different tune if the blue coats ever get to Richmond. Still I have nothing particular to say against him, except that I don’t like him and I don’t trust him. So long as everything goes on well for the Confederacy I don’t suppose it matters, but if we should ever get the worst of it you will see that fellow will be mischievous.
“However, I hear that he has obeyed your orders, and that there has been no flogging on the estate since I went away. In fact, as far as I can see, he does not keep anything like such a sharp hand over the slaves as he used to do; and in some of the fields the work seems to be done in a very slovenly way. What his game is I don’t know; but I have no doubt whatever that he has some game in his mind.”
“You are a most prejudiced boy,” Mrs. Wingfield said, laughing. “First of all the man is too strict, and you were furious about it; now you think he’s too lenient, and you at once suspect he has what you call a game of some sort or other on. You are hard to please indeed.”
Vincent smiled. “Well, as I told you once before, we shall see. I hope I am wrong, and that Pearson is all that you believe him to be. I own that I may be prejudiced against him; but nothing will persuade me that it was not from him that Jackson learned that Dinah was here, and it was to that we owe the visit of the sheriff and the searching the plantation for Tony. However, whatever the man is at heart, he can, as far as I see, do you no injury as long as things go on as they are, and I sincerely trust he will never have an opportunity of doing so.”
During the winter Vincent had made the acquaintance of many of the Southern leaders. The town was the center of the movement, the heart of the Confederacy. It was against it, as the capital of the Southern States, that the efforts of the Northerns were principally directed, and to it flocked the leading men from all parts of the country. Although every Virginian family had some of its members at the front, and a feeling of anxiety reigned everywhere, a semblance of gaiety was kept up. The theater was opened, and parties and balls given, in order to keep up the spirits of the people by the example of those of higher rank.
These balls differed widely in appearance from those of eighteen months before. The gentlemen were almost all in uniform, and already calicoes and other cheap fabrics were worn by many of the ladies, as foreign dress materials could no longer be purchased. Mrs. Wingfield made a point of always attending with her daughters at these entertainments, which to the young people afforded a cheerful break in the dullness and monotony of their usual life; for, owing to the absence of almost all the young men with the army, there had been a long cessation of the pleasant interchange of visits, impromptu parties, and social gatherings that had formed a feature in the life in Virginia.
The balls would have been but dull affairs had only the residents of Richmond been present; but leave was granted as much as possible to officers stationed with regiments within a railway run of the town, and as these eagerly availed themselves of the change from the monotony of camp life, the girls had no reason to complain of want of partners. Here and at the receptions given by President Davis, Vincent met all the leaders of the Confederacy, civil and military. Many of them had been personal friends of the Wingfields before the Secession movement began, and among them was General Magruder, who commanded the troops round Richmond.
Early in the winter the general had called at the Orangery. “We are going to make a call upon the patriotism of the planters of this neighborhood, Mrs. Wingfield,” he said during lunch time. “You see, our armies are facing those of the Federals opposite Washington, and can offer a firm front to any foe marching down from the North; but, unfortunately they have the command of the sea, and there is nothing to prevent their embarking an army on board ship and landing it in either the James or the York Rivers, and in that case they might make a rush upon Richmond before there would be time to bring down troops to our aid. I am therefore proposing to erect a chain of works between the two rivers, so as to be able to keep even a large army at bay until reinforcements arrive; but to do this a large number of hands will be required, and we are going to ask the proprietors of plantations to place as many negroes as they can spare at our disposal.”
“There can be no doubt as to the response your question will meet with, general. At present we have scarce enough work for our slaves to do. I intend to grow no tobacco next year, for it will only rot in the warehouse, and a comparatively small number of hands are required to raise corn crops. I have about a hundred and seventy working hands on the Orangery, and shall be happy to place a hundred at your disposal for as long a time as you may require them. If you want fifty more you can of course have them. Everything else must at present give way to the good of the cause.”
“I thank you much, Mrs. Wingfield, for your offers, and will put your name down the first on the list of contributors.”
“You seem quite to have recovered now,” he said to Vincent a few minutes afterward.
“Yes; I am quite ashamed of staying here so long, general. But I feel some pain at times; and as there is nothing doing at the front, and my doctor says that it is of importance I should have rest as long as possible, I have stayed on. Major Ashley has promised to recall me as soon as there is a prospect of active work.”
“I think it is quite likely that there will be active work here as soon as anywhere else,” the general said. “We know pretty well what is doing at Washington, and though nothing has been decided upon, there is a party in favor of a landing in force here; and if so, we shall have hot work. What do you say? If you like I will get you a commission and appoint you one of my aides-de-camp. Your knowledge of the country will make you useful, and as Ashley has specially mentioned your name in one of his despatches, you can have your commission by asking for it.
“If there is to be fighting round here, it will be of more interest to you defending your own home than in taking part in general engagements for the safety of the State. It will, too, enable you to be a good deal at home; and although so far the slaves have behaved extremely well, there is no saying exactly what may happen if the Northerners come among us. You can rejoin your own corps afterward, you know, if nothing comes of this.”
Vincent was at first inclined to decline the offer, but his mother and sisters were so pleased at having him near them that he finally accepted with thanks, being principally influenced by the general’s last argument, that possibly there might be trouble with the slaves in the event of a landing in the James Peninsula by the Northerners. A few days later there came an official intimation that he had received a commission in the cavalry, and had at General Magruder’s request been appointed to his staff, and he at once entered upon his new duties.
The fortress of Monroe, at the entrance of Hampton Roads, was still in the hands of the Federals, and a large Federal fleet was assembled here, and was only prevented from sailing up the James River by the Merrimac, a steamer which the Confederates had plated with railway iron. They had also constructed batteries upon some high bluffs on each side of the river. In a short time 5,000 negroes were set to work erecting batteries upon the York River at Yorktown and Gloucester Point, and upon a line of works extending from Warwick upon the James River to Ship Point on the York, through a line of wooded and swampy country intersected by streams emptying themselves into one or other of the rivers.
This line was some thirty miles in length, and would require 25,000 men to guard it; but Magruder hoped that there would be sufficient warning of an attack to enable reinforcements to arrive in time to raise his own command of about 10,000 men to that strength. The negroes worked cheerfully, for they received a certain amount of pay from the State; but the work was heavy and difficult, and different altogether to that which they were accustomed to perform. The batteries by the sides of the rivers made fair progress, but the advance of the long line of works across the peninsula was but slow. Vincent had, upon receiving his appointment, written at once to Major Ashley, sending his letter by Dan, who was ordered to bring back Wildfire. Vincent stated that had he consulted his personal feeling he should have preferred remaining in the ranks of his old corps; but that as the fighting might be close to his home, and there was no saying what might be the behavior of the slave population in the event of a Northern invasion, he had, for the sake of his mother and sisters, accepted the appointment, but as soon as the danger was over he hoped to rejoin the corps and serve under his former commander.
Dan, on his return with Wildfire, brought a letter from the major saying that although he should have been glad to have had him with him, he quite agreed with the decision at which he had, under the circumstances, arrived. Vincent now took up his quarters at the camp formed a short distance from the city, and much of his time was spent in riding to and from the peninsula, seeing that the works were being carried out according to the plan of the general, and reporting upon the manner in which the contractors for the supply of food to the negroes at work there performed their duties. Sometimes he was away for two or three days upon this work; but he generally managed once or twice a week to get home for a few hours.
The inhabitants of Richmond and its neighborhood were naturally greatly interested in the progress of the works for their defense, and parties were often organized to ride or drive to Yorktown, or to the batteries on the James River, to watch the progress made. Upon one occasion Vincent accompanied his mother and sisters, and a party of ladies and gentlemen from the neighboring plantations, to Drury’s Bluff, where an entrenched position named Fort Darling had been erected, and preparations made to sink vessels across the river, and close it against the advance of the enemy’s fleet should any misfortune happen to the Merrimac.
Several other parties had been made up, and each brought provisions with them. General Magruder and some of his officers received them upon their arrival, and conducted them over the works. After this the whole party sat down to a picnic meal on the ground, and no stranger could have guessed that the merry party formed part of a population threatened with invasion by a powerful foe. There were speeches and toasts, all of a patriotic character, and General Magruder raised the enthusiasm to the highest point by informing them that in a few days–the exact day was a secret, but it would be very shortly–the Merrimac, or, as she had been re-christened, the Virginia, would put out from Norfolk Harbor, and see what she could do to clear Hampton Roads of the fleet that now threatened them. As they were riding back to Richmond the general said to Vincent:
“I will tell you a little more than I told the others, Wingfield. I believe the Merrimac will go out the day after to-morrow. I wish I could get away myself to see the affair; but, unfortunately, I cannot do so. However, if you like to be present, I will give you three days’ leave, as you have been working very hard lately. You can start early to-morrow, and can get down by train to Norfolk in the evening. I should advise you to take your horse with you, and then you can ride in the morning to some spot from which you will get a fair view of the Roads, and be able to see what is going on.”
“Thank you very much, sir,” Vincent said. “I should like it immensely.”
The next day Vincent went down to Norfolk. Arriving there, he found that although there was a general expectation that the Merrimac would shortly go out to try her strength with the enemy, nothing was known of the fact that the next morning had been fixed for the encounter, the secret being kept to the last lest some spy or adherent of the North might take the news to the fleet. After putting up his horse Vincent went down to the navy yard, off which the Merrimac was lying.
This ship had been sunk by the Federals when at the commencement of hostilities they had evacuated Norfolk. Having been raised by the Confederates, the ship was cut down, and a sort of roof covered with iron was built over it, so that the vessel presented the appearance of a huge sunken house. A ram was fixed to her bow, and she was armed with ten guns. Her steam-power was very insufficient for her size, and she could only move through the water at the rate of five knots an hour.
“She is an ugly-looking thing,” a man observed to Vincent as he gazed at the ship.
“Frightfully ugly,” Vincent agreed. “She may be a formidable machine in the way of fighting, but one can scarcely call her a ship.”
“She is a floating-battery, and if they tried their best to turn out the ugliest thing that ever floated they could not have succeeded better. She is just like a Noah’s ark sunk down to the eaves of her roof.”
“Yes, she is a good deal like that,” Vincent agreed. “The very look of her ought to be enough to frighten the Federals, even if she did nothing else.”
“I expect it will not be long before she gives them a taste of her quality,” the man said. “She has got her coal and ammunition on board, and there’s nothing to prevent her going out this evening if she wants to.”
“It will be worth seeing when she does go out to fight the Northerners,” Vincent said. “It will be a new experiment in warfare, and, if she turns out a success, I suppose all the navies in the world will be taking to cover themselves up with iron.”
The next morning, which was the 8th of March–a date forever memorable in naval annals–smoke was seen pouring out from the funnels of the Merrimac, and there were signs of activity on board the Patrick Henry, of six guns, and the Jamestown, Raleigh, Beaufort, and Teazer, little craft carrying one gun each, and at eleven o’clock they all moved down the inlet on which Norfolk is situated. The news that the Merrimac was going out to attack the enemy had now spread, and the whole population of Norfolk turned out and hastened down toward the month of the inlet on horseback, in vehicles, or on foot, while Vincent rode to the batteries on Sewell’s Point, nearly facing Fort Monroe.
He left his horse at a farmhouse a quarter of a mile from the battery; for Wildfire was always restless under fire, and it was probable that the batteries would take a share in the affair. At one o’clock some of the small Federal lookout launches were seen to be at work signaling, a bustle could be observed prevailing among the large ships over by the fortress, and it was evident that the Merrimac was visible to them as she came down the inlet. The Cumberland and Congress men-of-war moved out in that direction, and the Minnesota and the St. Lawrence, which were at anchor, got under weigh, assisted by steam-tugs.
The Merrimac and the fleet of little gunboats were now visible from the battery, advancing against the Cumberland and Congress. The former opened fire upon her at a distance of a mile with her heavy pivot guns, but the Merrimac, without replying, continued her slow and steady course toward them. She first approached the Congress, and as she did so a puff of smoke burst from the forward end of her pent-house, and the water round the Congress was churned up by a hail of grape-shot. As they passed each other both vessels fired a broadside. The officers in the fort, provided with glasses, could see the effect of the Merrimac’s fire in the light patches that showed on the side of the Congress, but the Merrimac appeared entirely uninjured. She now approached the Cumberland, which poured several broadsides into her, but altogether without effect. The Merrimac, without replying, steamed straight on and struck the Cumberland with great force, knocking a large hole in her side, near the water-line. Then backing off she opened fire upon her.
For half an hour the crew of the Cumberland fought with great bravery. The ships lay about three hundred yards apart, and every shot from the Merrimac told on the wooden vessel. The water was pouring in through the breach. The shells of the Merrimac crushed through her side, and at one time set her on fire; but the crew worked their guns until the vessel sank beneath their feet. Some men succeeded in swimming to land, which was not far distant, others were saved by small boats from the shore, but nearly half of the crew of 400 men were either killed in action or drowned.
The Merrimac now turned her attention to the Congress, which was left to fight the battle alone, as the Minnesota had got aground, and the Roanoake and St. Lawrence could not approach near enough to render them assistance from their draught of water. The Merrimac poured broadside after broadside into her, until the officer in command and many of the crew were killed. The lieutenant who succeeded to the command, seeing there was no prospect of help, and that resistance was hopeless, hauled down the flag. A gunboat was sent alongside, with orders that the crew should leave the Congress and come on board, as the ship was to be burned. But the troops and artillery lining the shore now opened fire on the little gunboat, which consequently hauled off. The Merrimac, after firing several more shells into the Congress, moved away to attack the Minnesota, and the survivors of the 200 men who composed the crew of the Congress were conveyed to shore in small boats. The vessel was set on fire either by her own crew or the shells of the Merrimac, and by midnight blew up.
Owing to the shallowness of the water the Merrimac could not get near enough to the Minnesota to use her own small guns to advantage, and the gunboat was driven off by the heavy ten-inch gun of the Federal frigate, and therefore at seven o’clock the Merrimac and her consorts returned to Norfolk. The greatest delight was felt on shore at the success of the engagement, and on riding back to Norfolk Vincent learned that the ram would go out again next morning to engage the rest of the Federal fleet.
She herself had suffered somewhat in the fight. Her loss in men was only two killed and eight wounded; but two of her guns had the muzzles shot off, the armor was damaged in some places, and most serious of all she had badly twisted her ram in running into the Cumberland. Still it appeared that she was more than a match for the rest of the Federal fleet, and that these must either fly or be destroyed.
As the general had given him three days’ leave, Vincent was able to stay to see the close of the affair, and early next morning again rode down to Sewell’s Point, as the Merrimac was to start at daybreak. At six o’clock the ironclad came out from the river and made for the Minnesota, which was still aground. The latter was seen to run up a signal, and the spectators saw an object which they had not before perceived coming out as if to meet the ram. The glasses were directed toward it, and a general exclamation of surprise was heard.
“What is the thing? It looks like a raft with two round turrets upon it, and a funnel.” A moment’s consideration, and the truth burst upon them. It was the ship they had heard of as building at New York, and which had been launched six weeks before. It was indeed the Monitor, which had arrived during the night, just in time to save the rest of the Federal fleet. She was the first regular ironclad ever built. She was a turret ship, carrying two very heavy guns, and showing only between two and three feet above the water.
The excitement upon both shores as these adversaries approached each other was intense. They moved slowly, and not until they were within a hundred yards distance did the Monitor open fire, the Merrimac replying at once. The fire for a time was heavy and rapid, the distance between the combatants varying from fifty to two hundred yards. The Monitor had by far the greatest speed, and was much more easily turned than the Confederate ram, and her guns were very much heavier, and the Merrimac while still keeping up the fight made toward the mouth of the river.
Suddenly she turned and steamed directly at the Monitor, and before the latter could get out of her way struck her on the side; but the ram was bent and her weak engines were insufficient to propel her with the necessary force. Consequently she inflicted no damage on the Monitor, and the action continued, the turret-ship directing her fire at the iron roof of the ram, while the latter pointed her guns especially at the turret and pilot-house of the Monitor. At length, after a battle which had lasted six hours, the Monitor withdrew, one of the plates of her pilot-house being seriously damaged and her commander injured in the eyes.
When her foe drew off the Merrimac steamed back to Norfolk. There were no men killed in either battle, and each side claimed a victory; the Federals upon the ground that they had driven off the Merrimac, the Confederates because the Monitor had retreated from the fight. Each vessel however held the strength of the other in respect, the Monitor remaining as sentinel over the ships and transports at Fortress Monroe, while the Merrimac at Norfolk continued to guard the entrance into the James River.
As soon as the fight was over Vincent Wingfield, greatly pleased that he had witnessed so strange and interesting a combat, rode back to Norfolk, and the same evening reached Richmond, where his description of the fight was received with the greatest interest and excitement.
CHAPTER VIII. McCLELLAN’S ADVANCE.
IT WAS not until three weeks after the fight between the ironclads that the great army under General McClellan arrived off Fortress Monroe, the greater portion of the troops coming down the Potomac in steam transports. Vast quantities of stores had been accumulated in and around the fortress. Guns of a size never before used in war were lying on the wharfs in readiness to be placed in batteries, while Hampton Roads were crowded with transports and store vessels watched over by the Monitor and the other war ships. McClellan’s army was a large one, but not so strong a force as he had intended to have taken with him, and as soon as he arrived at Fortress Monroe he learned that he would not be able to expect much assistance from the fleet. The Merrimac completely closed the James River; and were the more powerful vessels of the fleet to move up the York River, she would be able to sally out and destroy the rest of the fleet and the transports.
As it was most important to clear the peninsula between the two rivers before Magruder should receive strong reinforcements, a portion of the troops were at once landed, and on the 4th of April 56,000 men and 100 guns disembarked and started on their march against Yorktown. As soon as the news of the arrival of the Northern army at Fortress Monroe reached Richmond fresh steps were taken for the defense of the city. Magruder soon found that it would be impossible with the force at his command to hold the line he had proposed, and a large body of negroes and troops were set to work to throw up defenses between Yorktown and a point on the Warwick River thirteen and a half miles away.
A portion of this line was covered by the Warwick Creek, which he dammed up to make it unfordable, and erected batteries to guard the dams. Across the intervening ground a weak earthwork with trenches was constructed, there being no time to raise stronger works; but Magruder relied chiefly upon the swampy and difficult nature of the country, and the concealment afforded by the forest, which rendered it difficult for the enemy to discover the weakness of the defenders.
He posted 6,000 men at Yorktown and Gloucester Point, and the remaining 5,000 troops under his command were scattered along the line of works to the Warwick River. He knew that if McClellan pushed forward with all his force he must be successful; but he knew also that if the enemy could but be held in check for a few days assistance would reach him from General Johnston’s army.
Fortunately for the Confederates, the weather, which had been fine and clear during the previous week, changed on the very day that McClellan started. The rain came down in torrents, and the roads became almost impassable. The columns struggled on along the deep and muddy tracks all day, and bivouacked for the night in the forests. The next morning they resumed their march, and on reaching the first line of intrenchments formed by the Confederates found them deserted, and it was not until they approached the Warwick Creek that they encountered serious opposition. Had they pushed forward at once they would have unquestionably captured Richmond. But McClellan’s fault was over-caution, and he believed himself opposed by a very much larger force than that under the command of Magruder; consequently, instead of making an attack at once he began regular siege operations against the works on Warwick Creek and those at Yorktown.
The delay saved Richmond. Every day reinforcements arrived, and by the time that McClellan’s army, over 100,000 strong, had erected their batteries and got their heavy guns into position, Magruder had been reinforced by some 10,000 men under General Johnston, who now assumed the command, while other divisions were hurrying up from Northern and Western Virginia. Upon the very night before the batteries were ready to open, the Confederates evacuated their positions and fell back, carrying with them all their guns and stores to the Chickahominy River, which ran almost across the peninsula at a distance of six miles only from Richmond.
The Confederates crossed and broke down the bridges, and prepared to make another stand. The disappointment of the Federals was great. After ten days of incessant labor and hardship they had only gained possession of the village of Yorktown and a tract of low swampy country. The divisions in front pressed forward rapidly after the Confederates; but these had managed their plan so well that all were safely across the stream before they were overtaken.
The dismay in Richmond had for a few days been great. Many people left the town for the interior, taking their valuables with them, and all was prepared for the removal of the state papers and documents. But as the Federals went on with their fortifications, and the reinforcements began to arrive, confidence was restored, and all went on as before.
The great Federal army was so scattered through the forests, and the discipline of some of the divisions was so lax that it was some days before McClellan had them ranged in order on the Chickahominy. Another week elapsed before he was in a position to undertake fresh operations; but General Johnston had now four divisions on the spot, and he was too enterprising a general to await the attack. Consequently he crossed the Chickahominy, fell upon one of the Federal divisions and almost destroyed it, and drove back the whole of their left wing. The next morning the battle was renewed, and lasted for five hours.
It was fortunate indeed for the Confederates that the right wing of the Northern army did not, while the action was going on, cross the river and march straight upon Richmond; but communication was difficult from one part of the army to another, owing to the thick forests and the swampy state of the ground, and being without orders they remained inactive all day. The loss on their side had been 7,000 men, while the Confederates had lost 4,500; and General Johnston being seriously wounded, the chief command was given to General Lee, by far the ablest soldier the war produced. Satisfied with the success they had gained, the Confederates fell back across the river again.
On the 4th of June, General Stuart–for he had now been promoted– started with 1,200 cavalry and two guns, and in forty-eight hours made one of the most adventurous reconnaissances ever undertaken. First the force rode out to Hanover Courthouse, where they encountered and defeated, first, a small body of cavalry, and afterward a whole regiment. Then, after destroying the stores there they rode round to the Pamunkey, burned two vessels and a large quantity of stores, captured a train of forty wagons, and burned a railway bridge.
Then they passed right round the Federal rear, crossed the river, and re-entered the city with 165 prisoners and 200 horses, having effected the destruction of vast quantities of stores, besides breaking up the railways and burning bridges.
Toward the end of June McClellan learned that Stonewall Jackson, having struck heavy blows at the two greatly superior armies which were operating against him in the valley of the Shenandoah, had succeeded in evading them, and was marching toward Richmond.
He had just completed several bridges across the river, and was about to move forward to fight a great battle when the news reached him. Believing that he should he opposed by an army of 200,000 men, although, in fact, the Confederate army, after Jackson and all the available reinforcements came up, was still somewhat inferior in strength to his own, he determined to abandon for the present the attempt upon Richmond, and to fall back upon the James River.
Here his ships had already landed stores for his supply, for the river was now open as far as the Confederate defenses at Fort Darling. Norfolk Navy Yard had been captured by the 10,000 men who formed the garrison of Fortress Monroe. No resistance had been offered, as all the Confederate troops had been concentrated for the defense of Richmond. When Norfolk was captured the Merrimac steamed out to make her way out of the river; but the water was low, and the pilot declared that she could not be taken up. Consequently she was set on fire and burned to the water’s edge, and thus the main obstacle to the advance of the Federal fleet was removed.
They had advanced as far as Fort Darling and the ironclad gunboats had engaged the batteries there. Their shot, however, did little damage to the defenders upon the lofty bluffs, while the shot from the batteries so injured the gunboats that the attempt to force the passage was abandoned. While falling back to a place called Harrison’s Landing on the James River, the Federals were attacked by the Confederates, but after desperate fighting on both sides, lasting for five days, they succeeded in drawing off from the Chickahominy with a loss of fifty guns, thousands of small arms, and the loss of the greater part of their stores.
All idea of a further advance against Richmond was for the present abandoned. President Lincoln had always been opposed to the plan, and a considerable portion of the army was moved round to join the force under General Pope, which was now to march upon Richmond from the north.
From the commencement of the Federal advance to the time when, beaten and dispirited, they regained the James River, Vincent Wingfield had seen little of his family. The Federal lines had at one time been within a mile of the Orangery. The slaves had some days before been all sent into the interior, and Mrs. Wingfield and her daughters had moved into Richmond, where they joined in the work, to which the whole of the ladies of the town and neighborhood devoted themselves, of attending to the wounded, of whom, while the fighting was going on, long trains arrived every day at the city.
Vincent himself had taken no active part in the fighting. Magruder’s division had not been engaged in the first attack upon McClellan’s force; and although it had taken a share in the subsequent severe fighting, Vincent had been occupied in carrying messages from the general to the leaders of the other divisions, and had only once or twice come under the storm of fire to which the Confederates were exposed as they plunged through the morasses to attack the enemy. As soon as it was certain that the attack was finally abandoned, and that McClellan’s troops were being withdrawn to strengthen Pope’s army, Vincent resigned his appointment as aide-de-camp, and was appointed to the 7th Virginian Cavalry, stationed at Orange, where it was facing the Federal cavalry. Major Ashley had fallen while protecting the passage of Jackson’s division when hard pressed by one of the Federal armies in Western Virginia.
No action in the war had been more brilliant than the manner in which Stonewall Jackson had baffled the two armies–each greatly superior in force to his own–that had been specially appointed to destroy him if possible, or at any rate to prevent his withdrawing from the Shenandoah Valley and marching to aid in the defense of the Confederate capital. His troops had marched almost day and night, without food, and depending entirely upon such supplies as they could obtain from the scattered farmhouses they passed.
Although Richmond was for the present safe, the prospect of the Confederates was by no means bright. New Orleans had been captured; the blockade of the other ports was now so strict that it was difficult in the extreme for a vessel to make her way in or out; and the Northerners had placed flotillas of gunboats on the rivers, and by the aid of these were gradually making their way into the heart of several of the States.
“Are you thinking of going out to the Orangery again soon, mother?” Vincent asked on the evening before setting out on the march north.
“I think not, Vincent. There is so much to do in the hospitals here that I cannot leave. I should be ashamed to be living in luxury at the Orangery with the girls while other women are giving up their whole time nursing the wounded. Besides, although I do not anticipate that after the way they have been hurled back the Northerners will try again for some time, now they are in possession of Harrison’s Landing they can at any moment advance. Besides, it is not pleasant being obliged to turn out of one’s house and leave everything to their mercy. I wrote yesterday to Pearson to bring the slaves back at once and take up the work, and I shall go over occasionally to see that everything is in order; but at any rate for a time we will stop here.”
“I think that is best, mother. Certainly I should feel more comfortable knowing that you are all at Richmond than alone out there.”
“We should be no worse off than thousands of ladies all over the State, Vincent There are whole districts where every white capable of using a gun has gone to the war, leaving nothing but women and slaves behind, and we have not heard of a single case in which there has been trouble.”
“Certainly there is no chance of trouble with your slaves, mother; but in some of the other plantations it may not be so. At any rate the quiet conduct of the slaves everywhere is the very best answer that could be given to the accusations that have been made as to their cruel treatment. At present the whole of the property of the slave-owners throughout the Southern States is at their mercy, and they might burn, kill, and destroy; and yet in no single instance have they risen against what are called their oppressors, even when the Federals have been close at hand.
“Please keep your eye on Dinah, mother. I distrust; that fellow Jackson so thoroughly that I believe him capable of having her carried off and smuggled away somewhere down south, and sold there if he saw a chance. I wish, instead of sending her to the Orangery, you would keep her as one of your servants here.”
“I will if you wish it, Vincent; but I cannot believe for a moment that this Jackson or any one else would venture to meddle with any of my slaves.”
“Perhaps not, mother; but it is best to be on the safe side. Anyhow, I shall be glad to know that she is with you. Young Jackson will be away, for I know he is in one of Stuart’s troops of horse, though I have never happened to run against him since the war began.”
The firing had hardly ceased before Harrison’s Landing, when General Jackson, with a force of about 15,000 men, composed of his own division, now commanded by General Winder, General Ewell’s division, and a portion of that of General Hill, started for the Rapidan to check General Pope, who, plundering and wasting the country as he advanced, was marching south, his object being to reach Gordonsville, where he would cut the line of railway connecting Richmond with Western Virginia. Vincent was glad that the regiment to which he had been appointed would be under Jackson’s command, and that he would be campaigning again with his old division, which consisted largely of Virginian troops and contained so many of his old friends.
With Jackson, too, he was certain to be engaged in stirring service, for that general ever kept his troops upon the march, striking blows where least expected, and traversing such an extent of country by rapid marches that he and his division seemed to the enemy to be almost ubiquitous.
It was but a few hours after he received his appointment that Vincent took train from Richmond to Gordonsville, Dan being in the horse-box with Wildfire in the rear of the train. His regiment was encamped a mile or two away, and he at once rode on and reported himself to Colonel Jones, who commanded it.
“I am glad to have you with me, sir,” the colonel said. “I had the pleasure of knowing your father, and am an old friend of your mother’s family. As you were in Ashley’s horse and have been serving on Magruder’s staff, you are well up in your duties; and it is a comfort to me that the vacancy has been filled up by one who knows his work instead of a raw hand. We have had a brush or two already with the enemy; but at present we are watching each other, waiting on both sides till the generals have got their infantry to the front in readiness for an advance. Jackson is waiting for Hill’s division to come up, and I believe Pope is expecting great reinforcements from McClellan.”
A few days later Colonel Jones was ordered to take charge of the pickets posted on the Rapidan, but before reaching Orange a gentleman rode up at full speed and informed them that the enemy were in possession of that town. Colonel Jones divided his regiment into two parts, and with one charged the Federal cavalry in the main street of Orange, while the other portion of the regiment, under Major Marshall, attacked them on the flank. After a sharp fight the enemy were driven from the place; but they brought up large reinforcements, and, pouring in a heavy fire, attacked the town on both sides, and the Confederates had to fall back. But they made another stand a little way out of the town, and drove back the Federal cavalry who were pressing them.
Although the fight had been but a short one the losses in the cavalry ranks had been serious. Colonel Jones, while charging at the head of his men, had received a saber-wound, and Major Marshall was taken prisoner.
Five days later, on the 7th of August, Jackson received certain intelligence that General Burnside, with a considerable portion of McClellan’s force, had embarked, and was on the way to join Pope. He determined to strike a blow at once, and marched with his entire force from Gordonsville for Barnett Ford on the Rapidan.
At daybreak next morning the cavalry crossed the river and attacked and routed a body of Federal cavalry on the road to Culpepper Courthouse. On the following day Jackson came up with his infantry to a point about eight miles from Culpepper, where Pope’s army, 32,000 strong, were stationed upon the crest of a hill. General Ewell’s division, which was the only one then up, at once advanced, and, after a severe artillery fight, gained a point on a hill where his guns could command the enemy’s position.
Jackson’s division now came up, and as it was moving into position General Winder was killed by a shell. For some hours Jackson did not attempt to advance, as Hill’s division had not come up. Encouraged by this delay, the enemy at five o’clock in the afternoon took the offensive and advanced through some cornfields lying between the two armies and attacked Ewell’s division on the Confederate right; while shortly afterward they fell with overwhelming strength on Jackson’s left, and, attacking it in front, flank, and rear, drove it back, and pressed upon it with such force that the day appeared lost.
At this moment Jackson himself rode down among the confused and wavering troops, and by his voice and example rallied them. At the same moment the old Stonewall Brigade came up at a run and poured their fire into the advancing enemy. Jackson led the troops he had rallied forward. The Stonewall Brigade fell upon the enemy’s flank and drove them back with terrible slaughter. Other brigades came up, and there was a general charge along the whole Confederate line, and the Federals were driven back a mile beyond the position they had occupied at the commencement of the fight to the shelter of some thick woods. Four hundred prisoners were taken and over 5,000 small-arms.
The battle was known as Cedar Run, and it completely checked Pope’s advance upon Richmond. The troops were too much exhausted to follow up their victory, but Jackson urged them to press forward. They moved a mile and a half in advance, and then found themselves so strongly opposed that Jackson, believing that the enemy must have received reinforcements, halted his men. Colonel Jones was sent forward to reconnoiter, and discovered that a large force had joined the enemy.
For two days Jackson remained on the field he had won; his troops had been busy in burying the dead, in collecting the wounded and sending them to the rear, and in gathering the arms thrown away by the enemy in their flight. Being assured that the enemy were now too strong to be attacked by the force under his command, Jackson fell back to Orange Courthouse. There was now a few days’ delay, while masses of troops were on both sides moving toward the new field of action. McClellan marched his troops across the James Peninsula from Harrison’s Landing to Yorktown, and there the greater portion were embarked in transports and taken up the Rappahannock to Aquia Creek, landed there, and marched to Fredericksburg.
Lee, instead of attacking McClellan on his march across the peninsula, determined to take his army north at once to join Jackson and attack Pope before he was joined by McClellan’s army. But Pope, although already largely reinforced, retired hastily and took up a new position so strongly fortified that he could not he attacked. General Stuart had come up with Lee, and was in command of all the cavalry.
“We shall see some work now,” was the remark round the fires of the 7th Virginian Cavalry. Hitherto, although they had been several times engaged with the Federals, they had been forced to remain for the most part inactive owing to the vast superiority in force of the enemy’s cavalry; but now that Stuart had come up they felt certain that, whatever the disparity of numbers, there would soon be some dashing work to be done.
Except when upon actual duty the strict lines of military discipline were much relaxed among the cavalry, the troopers being almost all the sons of farmers and planters and of equal social rank with their officers, many of whom were their personal friends or relatives. Several of Vincent’s schoolfellows were in the ranks; two or three of them were fellow officers, and these often gathered together round a camp fire and chatted over old schooldays and mutual friends.
Many of these had already fallen, for the Virginian regiments of Stonewall Jackson’s brigade had been terribly thinned; but the loss of so many friends and the knowledge that their own turn might come next did not suffice to lessen the high spirits of the young fellows. The hard work, the rough life, the exposure and hardship, had braced and invigorated them all, and they were attaining a far more vigorous manhood than they would ever have possessed had they grown up in the somewhat sluggish and enervating life led by young planters.
Many of these young men had, until the campaign began, never done half an hour’s hard work in their lives. They had been waited upon by slaves, and their only exercise had been riding. For months now they had almost lived in the saddle, had slept in the open air, and had thought themselves lucky if they could obtain a sufficient meal of the roughest food to satisfy their hunger once a day. In this respect, however, the cavalry were better off than their comrades of the infantry, for scouting as they did in small parties over a wide extent of country, they were sure of a meal and a hearty welcome whenever they could spare time to stop for half an hour at the house of a farmer.
“It’s a glorious life, Wingfield! When we chatted over the future at school we never dreamed of such a life as this, though some of us did talk of entering the army; but even then an occasional skirmish with Indians was the limit of our ideas.”
“Yes, it is a glorious life!” Vincent agreed. “I cannot imagine anything more exciting. Of course, there is the risk of being shot, but somehow one never seems to think of that. There is always something to do and to think about; from the time one starts on a scout at daybreak to that when one lies down at night one’s senses are on the stretch. Besides, we are fighting in defense of our country and not merely as a profession, though I don’t suppose, after all, that makes much difference when one is once in for it. As far as I have read all soldiers enjoy campaigning, and it does not seem to make any difference to them who are the foe or what they are fighting about. But I should like to feel a little more sure that we shall win in the long run.”
There was a chorus of indignant protests against there being any possible doubts as to the issue.
“Why, we have thrashed them every time we have met them, Wingfield.”
“That is all very well,” Vincent said. “Here in Virginia we have held our own, and more than held it. We have beat back Scott and McClellan, and now we have thrashed Pope; and Stonewall Jackson has won a dozen battles in Western Virginia. But you must remember that in other parts they are gradually closing in; all the ports not already taken are closely blockaded; they are pushing all along the lines of the great rivers; and worst of all, they can fill up their vacancies with Irishmen and Germans, and as fast as one army disappears another takes its place. I believe we shall beat them again and again, and shall prove, as we have proved before, that one Southerner fighting for home and liberty is more than a match for two hired Germans or Irishmen, even with a good large sprinkling of Yankees among them. But in the long run I am not sure that we shall win, for they can go on putting big armies into the field, while some day we must get used up.
“Of course it is possible that we may some day capture Washington, and that the North may get weary of the tremendous drain of money and men caused by their attempt to conquer us. I hope it may be so, for I should like to think that we should win in the long run. I never feel any doubt about our winning a battle when we begin. My only fear is that we may get used up before the North are tired of it.”
“I did not expect to hear you talk so, Wingfield, for you always seem to be in capital spirits.”
“I am in capital spirits,” Vincent replied, “and ready to fight again and again, and always confident we shall lick the Yankees; the fact that I have a doubt whether in the long run we shall outlast them does not interfere in the slightest degree with my comfort at present. I am very sorry though that this fellow Pope is carrying on the war so brutally instead of in the manner in which General McClellan and the other commanders have waged it. His proclamation that the army must subsist upon the country it passes through gives a direct invitation to the soldiers to pillage, and his order that all farmers who refuse to take the oath to the Union are to be driven from their homes and sent down south means ruin to all the peaceful inhabitants, for there is scarcely a man in this part of Virginia who is not heartily with us.”
“I hear,” one of the other officers said, “that a prisoner who was captured this morning says that Pope already sees that he has made a mistake, and that he yesterday issued a fresh order saying that the proclamation was not meant to authorize pillage. He finds that the inhabitants who before, whatever their private sentiments were, maintained a sort of neutrality, are now hostile, that they drive off their cattle into the woods, and even set fire to their stacks, to prevent anything from being carried off by the Yanks; and his troops find the roads broken up and bridges destroyed and all sorts of difficulties thrown in their way.”
“It does not always pay–even in war–to be brutal. I am glad to see he has found out his mistake so soon,” another officer said. “McClellan waged war like a gentleman; and if blackguards are to be allowed to carry fire and sword through the land they will soon find it is a game that two can play at, and matters will become horribly embittered.”
“We shall never do that,” Vincent said. “Our generals are all gentlemen, and Lee and Jackson and many others are true Christians as well as true soldiers, and I am sure they will never countenance that on our side whatever the Northerners may do. We are ready to fight the hordes of Yankees and Germans and Irishmen as often as they advance against us, but I am sure that none of us would fire a homestead or ill-treat defenseless men and women. It is a scandal that such brutalities are committed by the ruffians who call themselves Southerners. The guerrillas in Missouri and Tennessee are equally bad whether on our side or the other, and if I were the president I would send down a couple of regiments, and hunt down the fellows who bring dishonor on our cause. If the South cannot free herself without the aid of ruffians of this kind she had better lay down her arms at once.”
“Bravo, Wingfield! spoken like a knight of chivalry!” one of the others laughed. “But many of these bands have done good nevertheless. They have kept the enemy busy there, and occupied the attention of a very large force who might otherwise have been in the woods yonder with Pope. I agree with you, it would be better if the whole thing were fought out with large armies, but there is a good deal to be said for these hands you are so severe upon. They are composed of men who have been made desperate by seeing their farms harried and their buildings burned by the enemy. They have been denounced as traitors by their neighbors on the other side, and if they retaliate I don’t know that they are to be altogether blamed. I know that if my place at home were burned down and my people insulted and ill-treated I should be inclined to set off to avenge it.”
“So would I,” Vincent agreed, “but it should be upon those who did the wrong, not upon innocent people.”
“That is all very well, but if the other side destroy your people’s farms, it is only by showing them that two can play at the game that you can make them observe the laws of war. I grant it would be very much better that no such thing should take place; but if the Northerners begin this sort of work they may be sure that there will be retaliation. Anyhow, I am glad that I am an officer in the 7th Virginians and not a guerrilla leader in Missouri. Well, all this talking is dry work. Has no one got a full canteen?”
“I have,” Vincent said. “Dan managed to buy a gallon of rum at a farmhouse yesterday. I think the farmer was afraid that the enemy might be paying him a visit before many days, and thought it best to get rid of his spirits. Anyhow, Dan got the keg at ordinary city prices, as well as that couple of fine turkeys he is just bringing along for our supper. So you had better each get your ration of bread and fall to.”
There was a cheer as Dan placed the turkeys down in the center of the group, and soon the whole party, using their bread as plates, fell to upon them, and afterward joined in many a merry song, while Dan handed round the jar of spirits.
CHAPTER IX. A PRISONER.
The party round the fire were just about to disperse when the captain of Vincent’s troop approached. He took the horn of spirits and water that Vincent held up to him and tossed it off.
“That is a stirrup-cup, Wingfield.”
“What! are we for duty, captain?” Vincent asked as he rose to his feet.
“Yes; our troop and Harper’s are to muster. Get the men together quietly. I think it is a serious business; each of the regiments furnish other troops, and I believe Stuart himself takes the command.”
“That sounds like work, indeed,” Vincent said. “I will get the troop together, sir.”
“There are to be no trumpet calls, Wingfield; we are to get off as quietly as possible.”
Most of the men were already fast asleep, but as soon as they learned that there was a prospect of active work all were full of life and animation. The girths of the saddles were tightened, swords buckled on, and revolvers carefully examined before being placed in the holsters. Many of the men carried repeating rifles, and the magazines were filled before these were slung across the riders’ shoulders.
In a few minutes the three troops were mounted and in readiness for a start, and almost directly afterward Colonel Jones himself rode up and took the command. A thrill of satisfaction ran through the men as he did so, for it was certain that he would not himself be going in command of the detachment unless the occasion was an important one. For a few minutes no move was made.
“I suppose the others are going to join us here,” Vincent said to the officer next him.
“I suppose so,” he replied. “We lie in the middle of the cavalry brigade with two regiments each side of us, so it is likely enough this is the gathering place. Yes, I can hear the tramping of horses.”
“And I felt a spot of rain,” Vincent said. “It has been lightning for some time. I fear we are in for a wet ride.”
The contingent from the other regiments soon arrived, and just as the last came up General Stuart himself appeared and took his place at the head of the party, now some 500 strong. Short as the time had been since Vincent felt the first drop, the rain was now coming down in torrents. One by one the bright flames of the fires died down, and the darkness became so intense that Vincent could scarcely see the officer on his right hand.
“I hope the man who rode up with the general, and is no doubt to be our guide, knows the country well. It is no joke finding our way through a forest on such a night as this.”
“I believe Stuart’s got eyes like a cat,” the officer said. “Sometimes on a dark night he has come galloping up to a post where I was in command, when one could scarcely see one’s hand before one. It never seems to make any difference to him; day or night he rides about at a gallop.”
“He trusts his horse,” Vincent said. “That’s the only way in the dark. They can see a lot better than we can, and if men would but let them go their own way instead of trying to guide them they would seldom run against anything. The only thing is to lie well down on the horse’s neck, otherwise one might get swept out of the saddle by a bough. It’s a question of nerve, I think not many of us would do as Stuart does, and trust himself entirely to his horse’s instinct.”
The word was now passed down the line that perfect silence was to be observed, and that they were to move forward in column, the ranks closing up as much as possible so as not to lose touch of each other. With heads bent down, and blankets wrapped round them as cloaks, the cavalry rode off through the pouring rain. The thunder was clashing overhead, and the flashes of the lightning enabled them to keep their places in close column. They went at a rapid trot, and even those who were ready to charge a body of the enemy, however numerous, without a moment’s hesitation, experienced a feeling of nervousness as they rode on in the darkness through the thick forest on their unknown errand. That they were going northward they knew, and knew also, after a short time, that they must be entering the lines of the enemy. They saw no signs of watch-fires, for these would long since have been quenched by the downpour. After half an hour’s brisk riding all knew by the sharp sound of the beat of the horses’ hoofs that they had left the soft track through the forest and were now upon a regular road.
“Thank goodness for that!” Vincent said in a low tone to his next neighbor. “I don’t mind a brush with the enemy, but I own I don’t like the idea that at any moment my brains may be knocked out by the branch of a tree.”
“I quite agree with you,” the other replied; “and I fancy every man felt the same.”
There was no doubt as to this. Hitherto no sound had been heard save the jingling of accouterments and the dull heavy sound of the horses’ tread; but now there could be heard mingled with these the buzz of voices, and occasionally a low laugh. They were so accustomed to wet that the soaking scarce inconvenienced them. They were out of the forest now, and felt sure of their guide; and as to the enemy, they only longed to discover them.
For another hour the rapid advance continued, and all felt sure that they must now have penetrated through the enemy’s lines and be well in his rear. At last they heard a challenge of sentry. Then Stuart’s voice shouted, “Charge!” and at full gallop they rode into the village at Catlet’s Station on the Orange and Alexandria railroad, where General Pope had his headquarters. Another minute and they were in the midst of the enemy’s camp, where the wildest confusion reigned. The Federal officers rushed from their teats and made off in the darkness; but the soldiers, who were lying on the line of railroad, leaped to their feet and opened a heavy fire upon their invisible foes. Against this the cavalry, broken up in the camp, with its tents, its animals, and its piles of baggage, could do little, for it was impossible to form them up in the broken and unknown ground.
The quarters of Pope were soon discovered; he himself had escaped, leaving his coat and hat behind. Many of his officers were captured, and in his quarters were found a box of official papers which were invaluable, as among them were copies of his letters asking for reinforcements, lists giving the strength and position of his troops, and other particulars of the greatest value to the Confederates. No time was lost, as the firing would set the whole Federal army on the alert, and they might find their retreat cut off. Therefore placing their prisoners in the center, and taking the box of papers with them, the cavalry were called off from the camp, and without delay started on their return ride.
They did not take the road by which they had come, but made a long detour, and just as daylight was breaking re-entered the Confederate lines without having encountered a foe from the time of their leaving Catlet’s Station. Short as their stay in the camp had been, few of the men had returned empty handed. The Northern army was supplied with an abundance of excellent food of all descriptions, forming the strongest possible contrast to the insufficient rations upon which the Confederate troops existed, and the troopers had helped themselves to whatever they could lay hands upon in the darkness and confusion.
Some rode in with a ham slung on each side of their saddle, others had secured a bottle or two of wine or spirits. Some had been fortunate enough to lay hands on some tins of coffee or a canister of tea, luxuries which for months had been unknown to them save when they were captured from the enemy. The only article captured of no possible utility was General Pope’s coat, which was sent to Richmond, where it was hung up for public inspection; a wag sticking up a paper beside it, “This is the coat in which General Pope was going to ride in triumph into Richmond. The coat is here, but the general has not yet arrived.”
The Confederates had lost but two or three men from the fire of the Federal infantry, and they were in high spirits at the success of their raid. No sooner had General Lee informed himself of the contents of the papers and the position of the enemy’s forces than he determined to strike a heavy blow at him; and General Jackson, who had been sharply engaged with the enemy near Warrenton, was ordered to make a long detour, to cross the Blue Ridge mountains through Thoroughfare Gap, to fall upon Pope’s rear and cut his communications with Washington, and if possible to destroy the vast depot of stores collected at Manassas.
The cavalry, under Stuart, were to accompany him. The march would be a tremendous one, the danger of thus venturing into the heart of the enemy’s country immense, but the results of such an expedition would, if successful, be great; for Lee himself was to advance with his army on Pope’s flank, and there was therefore a possibility of the utter defeat of that general before he could be joined by the army marching to reinforce him from Fredericksburg.
It was on Monday the 25th of August that Jackson started on his march, ascending the banks of the Rappahannock, and crossed the river at a ford, dragging his artillery with difficulty up the narrow and rocky road beyond. There was not a moment to be lost, for if the news reached the enemy the gorge known as Thoroughfare Gap would be occupied, and the whole object of the movement be defeated. Onward the force pushed, pressing on through fields and lanes without a single halt, until at night, hungry and weary but full of spirit, they marched into the little town of Salem, twenty miles from their starting-place. They had neither wagons nor provisions with them, and had nothing to eat but some ears of corn and green apples plucked on the road.
It was midnight when they reached Salem, and the inhabitants turned out in blank amazement at the sight of Confederate troops in that region, and welcomed the weary soldiers with the warmest manifestations. At daylight they were again upon the march, with Stuart’s cavalry, as before, out upon each flank. Thoroughfare Gap was reached, and found undefended, and after thirty miles’ marching the exhausted troops reached the neighborhood of Manassas. The men were faint from want of food, and many of them limped along barefooted; but they were full of enthusiasm.
Just at sunset, Stuart, riding on ahead, captured Bristoe, a station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad four miles from Manassas. As they reached it a train came along at full speed. It was fired at, but did not stop, and got safely through to Manassas. Two trains that followed were captured; but by this time the alarm had spread, and no more trains arrived. Jackson had gained his point. He had placed himself on the line of communication of the enemy, but his position was a dangerous one indeed. Lee, who was following him, was still far away. An army was marching from Fredericksburg against him, another would be despatched from Washington as soon as the news of his presence was known, and Pope might turn and crush him before Lee could arrive to his assistance.
Worn out as the troops were, it was necessary at once to gain possession of Manassas, and the 21st North Carolina and 21st Georgia volunteered for the service, and, joined by Stuart with a portion of his cavalry, marched against it. After a brief contest the place was taken, the enemy stationed there being all taken prisoners. The amount of arms and stores captured was prodigious: Eight pieces of artillery, 250 horses, 3 locomotives, and tens of thousands of barrels of beef, pork, and flour, with an enormous quantity of public stores and the contents of innumerable sutlers’ shops.
The sight of this vast abundance to starving men was tantalizing in the extreme. It was impossible to carry any of it away and all that could be done was to have at least one good meal. The troops therefore were marched in and each helped himself to as much as he could consume, and the ragged and barefooted men feasted upon tinned salmon and lobsters, champagne and dainties of every description forwarded for the use of officers. Then they set to work to pile the enormous mass of stores together and to set it on fire. While they were engaged at this a brigade of New Jersey troops which had come out from Washington to save Manassas was attacked and utterly routed. Ewell’s division had remained at Bristoe, while those of Hill and Jackson moved to Manassas, and in the course of the afternoon Ewell saw the whole of Pope’s army marching against him.
He held them in check for some hours, and thus gave the troops at Manassas time to destroy completely the vast accumulation of stores, and when Stuart’s cavalry, covering the retreat, fell back at nightfall through Manassas, nothing but blackened cinders remained where the Federal depots had been situated. The blow to the Northerners was as heavy as it was unexpected. Pope had no longer either provisions for his men or forage for his cattle, and there was nothing left for him but to force his way past Jackson and retire upon Washington.
Jackson had now the option of falling back and allowing the enemy to pass, or of withstanding the whole Federal army with his own little force until Lee came up to the rescue. He chose the latter course, and took up a strong position. The sound of firing at Thoroughfare Gap was audible, and he knew that Longstreet’s division of Lee’s army was hotly engaged with a force which, now that it was too late, had been sent to hold the gorge. It was nearly sunset before Pope brought up his men to the attack. Jackson did not stand on the defensive, but rushed down and attacked the enemy–whose object had been to pass the position and press on–with such vigor that at nine o’clock they fell back.
An hour later a horseman rode up with the news that Longstreet had passed the Gap and was pressing on at full speed, and in the morning his forces were seen approaching, the line they were taking bringing them up at an angle to Jackson’s position. Thus their formation as they arrived was that of an open V, and it was through the angle of this V that Pope had to force his way. Before Longstreet could arrive, however, the enemy hurled themselves upon Jackson, and for hours the Confederates held their own against the vast Federal army, Longstreet’s force being too far away to lend them a hand. Ammunition failed, and the soldiers fought with piles of stones, but night fell without any impression being made upon these veterans. General Lee now came up with General Hood’s division, and hurled this against the Federals and drove them back. In the evening Longstreet’s force took up the position General Lee had assigned to it, and in the morning all the Confederate army had arrived, and the battle recommenced.
The struggle was long and terrible; but by nightfall every attack had been repulsed, and the Confederates, advancing on all sides, drove the Northerners, a broken and confused crowd, before them, the darkness alone saving them from utter destruction. Had there been but one hour more of daylight the defeat would have been as complete as was that in the battle of Bull Run, which had been fought on precisely the same ground. However, under cover of the darkness the Federals retreated to Centreville, whence they were driven on the following day.
In the tremendous fighting in which Jackson’s command had for three long days been engaged, the cavalry bore a comparatively small part. The Federal artillery was too powerful to permit the employment of large bodies of cavalry and although from time to time charges were made when an opportunity seemed to offer itself, the battle was fought out by the infantry and artillery. When the end came Jackson’s command was for a time hors de combat. During the long two days’ march they had at least gathered corn and apples to sustain life; but during these three days’ fighting they had had no food whatever, and many were so weak that they could no longer march.
They had done all that was possible for men to do; had for two days withstood the attack of an enemy of five times their numbers, and had on the final day borne their full share in the great struggle, but now the greater part could do no more, thousands of men were unable to drag themselves a step further, and Lee’s army was reduced in strength for the time by nearly 20,000 men. All these afterward rejoined it; some as soon as they recovered limped away to take their places in the ranks again, others made their way to the depot at Warrenton, where Lee had ordered that all unable to accompany his force should rendezvous until he returned and they were able to rejoin their regiments.
Jackson marched away and laid siege to Harper’s Ferry, an important depot garrisoned by 11,000 men, who were forced to surrender just as McClellan with a fresh army, 100,000 strong, which was pressing forward to its succor, arrived within a day’s march. As soon as Jackson had taken the place be hurried away with his troops to join Lee, who was facing the enemy at the Antietam river. Here upon the following day another terrible battle was fought; the Confederates, though but 39,000 strong, repulsing every attack by the Federals, and driving them with terrible slaughter back across the river.
Their own loss, however, had been very heavy, and Lee, knowing that he could expect no assistance, while the enemy were constantly receiving reinforcements, waited for a day to collect his wounded, bury his dead, and send his stores and artillery to the rear, and then retired unpursued across the Rappahannock. Thus the hard-fought campaign came to an end.
Vincent Wingfield was not with the army that retired across the Rappahannock. A portion of the cavalry had followed the broken Federals to the very edge of the stream, and just as they reined in their horses a round shot from one of the Federal batteries carried away his cap, and he fell as if dead from his horse. During the night some of the Northerners crossed the stream to collect and bring back their own wounded who had fallen near it, and coming across Vincent, and finding that he still breathed, and was apparently without a wound, they carried him back with them across the river as a prisoner.
Vincent had indeed escaped without a wound, having been only stunned by the passage of the shot that had carried away his cap, and missed him but by the fraction of an inch. He had begun to recover consciousness just as his captors came up, and the action of carrying him completely restored him. That he had fallen into the hands of the Northerners he was well aware; but he was unable to imagine how this had happened. He remembered that the Confederates had been, up to the moment when he fell, completely successful, and he could only imagine that in a subsequent attack the Federals had turned the tables upon them.
How he himself had fallen, or what had happened to him, he had no idea. Beyond a strange feeling of numbness in the head he was conscious of no injury, and he could only imagine that his horse had been shot under him, and that he must have fallen upon his head. The thought that his favorite horse was killed afflicted him almost as much as his own capture. As soon as his captors perceived that their prisoner’s consciousness had returned they at once reported that an officer of Stuart’s cavalry had been taken, and at daybreak next morning General McClellan on rising was acquainted with the fact, and Vincent was conducted to his tent.
“You are unwounded, sir?” the general said in some surprise.
“I am, general,” Vincent replied. “I do not know how it happened, but I believe that my horse must have been shot under me, and that I must have been thrown and stunned; however, I remember nothing from the moment when I heard the word halt, just as we reached the side of the stream, to that when I found myself being carried here.”
“You belong to the cavalry?”
“Was Lee’s force all engaged yesterday?”
“I do not know,” Vincent said. “I only came up with Jackson’s division from Harper’s Ferry the evening before.”
“I need not have questioned you,” McClellan said. “I know that Lee’s whole army, 100,000 strong, opposed me yesterday.”
Vincent was silent. He was glad to see that the Federal general, as usual, enormously overrated the strength of the force opposed to him.
“I hear that the whole of the garrison of Harper’s Ferry were released on parole not to serve again during the war. If you are ready to give me your promise to the same effect I will allow you to return to your friends; if not, you must remain a prisoner until you are regularly exchanged.”
“I must do so, then, general,” Vincent said quietly. “I could not return home and remain inactive while every man in the South is fighting for the defense of his country, so I will take my chance of being exchanged.”
“I am sorry you choose that alternative,” McClellan said. “I hate to see brave men imprisoned if only for a day; and braver men than those across yonder stream are not to be found. My officers and men are astonished. They seem so thin and worn as to be scarce able to lift a musket, their clothes are fit only for a scarecrow, they are indeed pitiful objects to look at; but the way in which they fight is wonderful. I could not have believed had I not seen it, that men could have charged as they did again and again across ground swept by a tremendous artillery and musketry fire; it was wonderful! I can tell you, young sir, that even though you beat us we are proud of you as our countrymen; and I believe that if your General Jackson were to ride through our camp he would be cheered as lustily and heartily by our men as he is by his own.”
Some fifty or sixty other prisoners had been taken; they had been captured in the hand-to-hand struggle that had taken place on some parts of the field, having got separated from their corps and mixed up with the enemy, and carried off the field with them as they retired. These for the most part accepted the offered parole; but some fifteen, like Vincent, preferred a Northern prison to promising to abstain from fighting in defense of their country, and in the middle of the day they were placed together in a tent under a guard at the rear of the camp.
The next morning came the news that Lee had fallen back. There was exultation among the Federals, not unmingled with a strong sense of relief; for the heavy losses inflicted in the previous fighting had taken all the ardor of attack out of McClellan’s army, and they were glad indeed that they were not to be called upon to make another attempt to drive the Confederates from their position. Vincent was no less pleased at the news. He knew how thin were the ranks of the Confederate fighting men, and how greatly they were worn and exhausted by fatigue and want of food, and that, although they had the day before repulsed the attacks of the masses of well-fed Northerners, such tremendous exertions could not often be repeated, and a defeat, with the river in their rear, approachable only by one rough and narrow road, would have meant a total destruction of the army.
The next morning Vincent and his companions were put into the train and sent to Alexandria. They had no reason to complain of their treatment upon the way. They were well fed, and after their starvation diet for the last six weeks their rations seemed to them actually luxurious. The Federal troops in Alexandria, who were for the most part young recruits who had just arrived from the north and west, looked with astonishment upon these thin and ragged men, several of whom were barefooted. Was it possible that such scarecrows as these could in every battle have driven back the well-fed and cared-for Northern soldiers!
“Are they all like this?” one burly young soldier from a western state asked their guard.
“That’s them, sir,” the sergeant in charge of the party replied. “Not much to look at, are they? But, by gosh, you should see them fight! You wouldn’t think of their looks then.”
“If that’s soldiering,” the young farmer said solemnly, “the sooner I am back home again the better. But it don’t seem to me altogether strange as they should fight so hard, because I should say they must look upon it as a comfort to be killed rather than to live like that.”
A shout of laughter from the prisoners showed the young rustic that the objects of his pity did not consider life to be altogether intolerable even under such circumstances, and he moved away meditating on the discomforts of war, and upon the remarks that would be made were he to return home in so sorrowful a plight as that of these Confederate prisoners.
“I bargained to fight,” he said, “and though I don’t expect I shall like it, I sha’n’t draw back when the time comes; but as to being starved till you are nigh a skeleton, and going about barefooted and in such rags as a tramp wouldn’t look at, it ain’t reasonable.” And yet, had he known it, among those fifteen prisoners more than half were possessors of wide estates, and had been brought up from their childhood in the midst of luxuries such as the young farmer never dreamed of.
Among many of the soldiers sympathy took a more active form, and men pressed forward and gave packets of tobacco, cigars, and other little presents to them, while two or three pressed rolls of dollar notes into their hands, with words of rough kindness.
“There ain’t no ill feeling in us, Rebs. You have done your work like men and no doubt you thinks your cause is right, just as we does; but it’s all over now, and maybe our turn will come next to see the inside of one of your prisons down south. So we are just soldiers together, and can feel for each other.”
Discipline in small matters was never strictly enforced in the American armies, and the sergeant in charge offered no opposition to the soldiers mingling with the prisoners as they walked along.
Two days later they were sent by railway to the great prison at Elmira, a town in the southwest of the State of New York. When they reached the jail the prisoners were separated, Vincent, who was the only officer, being assigned quarters with some twenty others of the same rank. The prisoners crowded round him as he entered, eager to hear the last news from the front, for they heard from their guards only news of constant victories won by the Northerners; for every defeat was transformed by the Northern papers into a brilliant victory, and it was only when the shattered remains of the various armies returned to Alexandria to be re-formed that the truth gradually leaked out. Thus Antietam had been claimed as a great Northern victory, for although McClellan’s troops had in the battle been hurled back shattered and broken across the river, two days afterward Lee had retired.
One of the prisoners, who was also dressed in cavalry uniform, hung back from the rest, and going to the window looked out while Vincent was chatting with the others. Presently he turned round, and Vincent recognized with surprise his old opponent Jackson. After a moment’s hesitation he walked across the room to him.
“Jackson,” he said, “we have not been friends lately, but I don’t see why we should keep up our quarrel any longer; we got on all right at school together; and now we are prisoners together here it would be foolish to continue our quarrel. Perhaps we were both somewhat to blame in that affair. I am quite willing to allow I was, for one, but I think we might well put it all aside now.”
Jackson hesitated, and then took the hand Vincent held out to him.
“That’s right, young fellows,” one of the other officers said. “Now that every Southern gentleman is fighting and giving his life, if need be, for his country, no one has a right to have private quarrels of his own. Life is short enough as it is, certainly too short to indulge in private animosities. A few weeks ago we were fighting side by side, and facing death together; to-day we are prisoners; a week hence we may be exchanged, and soon take our places in the ranks again. It’s the duty of all Southerners to stand shoulder to shoulder, and there ought to be no such thing as ill-feeling among ourselves.”
Vincent was not previously aware that Jackson had obtained a commission. He now learned that he had been chosen by his comrades to fill a vacancy caused by the death of an officer in a skirmish just before Pope fell back from the Rappahannock, and that he had been made prisoner a few days afterward in a charge against a greatly superior body of Federal cavalry.
The great majority of the officers on both sides were at the commencement of the war chosen by their comrades, the elections at first taking place once a year. This, however, was found to act very badly. In some cases the best men in the regiment were chosen; but too often men who had the command of money, and could afford to stand treat and get in supplies of food and spirits, were elected. The evils of the system were found so great, indeed, that it was gradually abandoned; but in cases of vacancies occurring in the field, and there being a necessity for at once filling them up, the colonels of the regiments had power to make appointments, and if the choice of the men was considered to be satisfactory their nominee would be generally chosen.
In the case of Jackson, the colonel had hesitated in confirming the choice of the men. He did not for a moment suspect him to be wanting in courage; but he regarded him as one who shirked his work, and who won the votes of the men rather by a fluent tongue and by the violence of his expressions of hatred against the North than by any soldierly qualities.
Some of the officers had been months in prison, and they were highly indignant at the delays that had occurred in effecting their exchange. The South, indeed, would have been only too glad to get rid of some of their numerous prisoners, who were simply an expense and trouble to them, and to get their own men back into their ranks. They could ill spare the soldiers required to guard so large a number of prisoners, and a supply of food was in itself a serious matter.
Thus it was that at Harper’s Ferry and upon a good many other occasions they released vast numbers of prisoners on their simple paroles not to serve again. The North, however, were in no hurry to make exchange; and moreover, their hands were so full with their enormous preparations that they put aside all matters which had not the claim of urgency.
CHAPTER X. THE ESCAPE.
The discipline in the prison at Elmira was not rigorous. The prisoners had to clean up the cells, halls, and yard, but the rest of their time they could spend as they liked. Some of those whose friends had money were able to live in comparative luxury, and to assist those who had no such resources; for throughout the war there was never any great difficulty in passing letters to and from the South. The line of frontier was enormous, and it was only at certain points that hostilities, were actively carried on; consequently letters and newspapers were freely passed, and money could be sent in the same way from one part of the country to another.
At certain hours of the day hawkers and vendors of such articles as were in most demand by the prisoners were allowed to enter the yard and to sell their wares to the Confederates. Spirits were not allowed to be carried in, but tobacco and all kinds of food were permitted to pass. Vincent had at Alexandria written a letter to his mother, and had given it to a man who represented that he made it his business to forward letters to an agent at Richmond, being paid for each letter the sum of a dollar on its delivery. Vincent therefore felt confident that the anxiety that would be felt at home when they learned that he was among the missing at the battle of Antietam would be relieved.
He was fairly supplied with money. He had, indeed, had several hundred dollars with him at the time he was captured; but these were entirely in Confederate notes, for which he got but half their value in Northern paper at Alexandria. He himself found the rations supplied in the prison ample, and was able to aid any of his fellow-prisoners in purchasing clothes to replace the rags they wore when captured.
One day Vincent strolled down as usual toward the gate, where, under the eye of the guard, a row of men and women, principally negroes and negresses, were sitting on the ground with their baskets in front of them containing tobacco, pipes, fruit, cakes, needles and thread, buttons, and a variety of other articles in demand, while a number of prisoners were bargaining and joking with them. Presently his eye fell upon a negro before whom was a great pile of watermelons. He started as he did so, for he at once recognized the well-known face of Dan. As soon as the negro saw that his master’s eye had fallen upon him he began loudly praising the quality of his fruit.
“Here, massa officer, here berry fine melyons, ripe and sweet; no green trash; dis un good right through. Five cents each, sah. Berry cheap dese.”
“I expect they cost you nothing, Sambo,” one of the Confederate soldiers said as he bought a melon. “Got a neighbor’s patch handy, eh?”
Dan grinned at the joke, and then selecting another from the bottom of his pile in the basket, offered it to Vincent.
“Dis fine fruit, sah. Me sure you please with him!”
Vincent took the melon and banded Dan five cents. A momentary glance was exchanged, and then he walked away and sat down in a quiet corner of the yard and cut open the melon. As he expected, he found a note rolled up in the center. A small piece of the rind had been cut out and the pulp removed for its reception. The bit of rind had then been carefully replaced so that the cut would not be noticed without close inspection. It was from one of his fellow-officers, and was dated the day after his capture. He read as follows:
“My Dear Wingfield.-We are all delighted this afternoon to hear that instead, as we had believed, of your being knocked on the head you are a prisoner among the Yanks. Several of us noticed you fall just as we halted at the river, and we all thought that from the way in which you fell you had been shot through the head or heart. However, there was no time to inquire in that terrific storm of shot and shell. In the morning when the burying parties went down we could find no signs of you, although we knew almost to a foot where you had fallen.
“We could only conclude at last that you had been carried off in the night by the Yanks, and as they would hardly take the trouble of carrying off a dead body, it occurred to us that you might after all be alive. So the colonel went to Lee, who at once sent a trumpeter with a flag down to the river to inquire, and we were all mightily pleased, as you may imagine, when he came back with the news that you were not only a prisoner, but unwounded, having been only stunned in some way. From the way you fell we suppose a round shot must have grazed your head; at least that is the only way we can account for it.
“Your horse came back unhurt to the troop, and will be well cared for until you rejoin us, which we hope will not be long. Your boy kept the camp awake last night with his howlings, and is at present almost out of his mind with delight. He tells me he has made up his mind to slip across the lines and make his way as a runaway to Alexandria, where you will, of course, be taken in the first place. He says he’s got some money of yours; but I have insisted on his taking another fifty dollars, which you can repay me when we next meet. As he will not have to ask for work, he may escape the usual lot of runaways, who are generally pounced upon and set to work on the fortifications of Alexandria and Washington.
“He intends to find out what prison you are taken to, and to follow you, with some vague idea of being able to aid you to escape. As he cannot write, he has asked me to write this letter to you, telling you what his idea is. He will give it to you when he finds an opportunity, and he wishes you to give him an answer, making any suggestion that may occur to you as to the best way of his setting about it. He says that he shall make acquaintances among the negroes North, and will find some one who will read your note to him and write you an answer. I have told him that if he is caught at the game he is likely to be inside a prison a bit longer than you are, even if worse doesn’t befall him. However, he makes light of this, and is bent upon carrying out his plans, and I can only hope he will succeed.
“I have just heard that we shall fall back across the Rappahannock to-morrow, and I imagine there will not be much hard fighting again until spring, long before which I hope you will be in your place among us again. We lost twenty-three men and two officers (Ketler and Sumner) yesterday. Good-by, old fellow! I need not say keep up your spirits, for that you are pretty sure to do.
After the first start at seeing Dan, Vincent was scarcely surprised, for he had often thought over what the boy would do, and had fancied that while, if he supposed him dead, he would go straight back to the Orangery, it was quite possible that, should he hear that he was a prisoner, Dan might take it into his head to endeavor to join him. As to his making his escape, that did not appear to be a very difficult undertaking now that he had a friend outside. The watch kept up was not a very vigilant one, for such numbers of prisoners were taken on both sides that they were not regarded as of very great importance, and, indeed, the difficulty lay rather in making across the country to the Southern border than in escaping from prison; for with a friend outside, with a disguise in readiness, that matter was comparatively easy. All that was required for the adventure was a long rope, a sharp file, and a dark night.
The chief difficulty that occurred to Vincent arose from the fact that there were some twenty other prisoners in the same ward. He could hardly file through the bars of the window unnoticed by them, and they would naturally wish to share in his flight; but where one person might succeed in evading the vigilance of the guard, it was unlikely in the extreme that twenty would do so, and the alarm once given all would be recaptured. He was spared the trouble of making up his mind as to his plans, for by the time he had finished his letter the hour that the hucksters were allowed to sell their goods was passed, and the gates were shut and all was quiet.
After some thought he came to the conclusion that the only plan would be to conceal himself somewhere in the prison just before the hour at which they were locked up in their wards. The alarm would be given, for the list of names was called over before lock-up, and a search would of course be made. Still, if he could find a good place for concealment, it might succeed, since the search after dark would not be so close and minute as that which would he made next morning. The only disadvantage would be that the sentries would be especially on the alert, as, unless the fugitive had succeeded in some way in passing out of the gates in disguise, he must still be within the walls, and might attempt to scale them through the night. This certainty largely increased the danger, and Vincent went to bed that night without finally determining what had better be done.
The next morning while walking in the grounds he quite determined as to the place he would choose for his concealment if he adopted the plan he had thought of the evening before. The lower rooms upon one side of the building were inhabited by the governor and officers of the prison, and if he were to spring through an open window unnoticed just as it became dusk, and hide himself in a cupboard or under a bed there he would be safe for a time, as, however close the search might be in other parts of the building, it would be scarcely suspected, at any rate on the first alarm, that he had concealed himself in the officers’ quarters. There would, of course, be the chance of his being detected as he got out of the window again at night, but this would not be a great risk. It was the vigilance of the sentries that he most feared, and the possibility that, as soon us the fact of his being missing was known, a cordon of guards might be stationed outside the wall in addition to those in the yard. The danger appeared to him to be so great that he was half inclined to abandon the enterprise. It would certainly be weary work to be shut up there for perhaps a year while his friends were fighting the battles of his country; but it would be better after all to put up with that than to run any extreme risk of being shot.
When he had arrived at this conclusion be went upstairs to his room to write a line to Dan. The day was a fine one, and he found that the whole of the occupants of the room had gone below. This was an unexpected bit of good fortune, and he at once went to the window and examined the bars. They were thick and of new iron, but had been hastily put up. The building had originally been a large warehouse, and when it had been converted into a prison for the Confederate prisoners the bars had been added to the windows. Instead, therefore, of being built into solid stone and fastened in by lead, they were merely screwed on to the wooden framework of the windows, and by a strong turn-screw a bar could be removed in five minutes. This altogether altered the position. He had only to wait until the rest of the occupants of the room were asleep and then to remove the bar and let himself down.
He at once wrote:
“I want twenty yards of strong string, and the same length of rope that will bear my weight; also a strong turn-screw. When I have got this I will let you know night and hour. Shall want disguise ready to put on.”
He folded the note up into a small compass, and at the hour at which Dan would be about to enter he sauntered down to the gate. In a short time the vendors entered, and were soon busy selling their wares. Dan had, as before, a basket of melons. Vincent made his way up to him.
“I want another melon,” he said, “as good as that you me last night.”
“Dey all de same, sah. First-rate melyons dose; just melt away in your mouf like honey.”
He held up one of the melons, and Vincent placed in his hands the coppers in payment. Between two of them he had placed the little note. Dan’s bands closed quickly on the coins, and dropping them into his pocket he addressed the next customer, while Vincent sauntered away again. This time the melon was a whole one, and Vincent divided it with a couple of other prisoners for the fruit was too large for one person to consume, being quite as large as a man’s head.
The next day another melon was bought, but this time Vincent did not open it in public. Examining it closely, he perceived that it had been cut through the middle, and no doubt contained a portion of the rope. He hesitated as to his next step. If he took the melon up to his room he would be sure to find some men there, and would be naturally called upon to divide the fruit; and yet there was nowhere else he could hide it. For a long time he sat with his back to the wall and the melon beside him, abusing himself for his folly in not having told Dan to send the rope in small lengths that he could hide about him. The place where he had sat down was one of the quietest in the yard, but men were constantly strolling up and down. He determined at last that the only possible plan was in the first place to throw his coat over his melon, to tuck it up underneath it, then to get hold of one end of the ball of rope that it doubtless contained and to endeavor to wind it round his body without being observed. It was a risky business, and he would gladly have tossed the melon over the wall had he dared to do so; for if he were detected, not only would he be punished with much more severe imprisonment, but Dan might be arrested and punished most severely.
Unfortunately the weather was by no means hot, and it would look strange to take off his coat, besides, if he did so, how could he coil the rope round him without being observed? So that idea was abandoned. He got up and walked to an angle in the wall, and there sat down again, concealing the melon as well as he could between him and the wall when any one happened to come near him. He pulled the halves apart and found, as he had suspected, it was but a shell, the whole of the fruit having been scooped out. But he gave an exclamation of pleasure on seeing that instead, as be feared, of a large ball of rope being inside, the interior was filled with neatly-made hanks, each containing several yards of thin but strong rope, together with a hank of strong string.
Unbuttoning his coat, he thrust them in; then he took the melon rind and broke it into very small pieces and threw them about. He then went up to his room and thrust the hanks, unobserved, one by one among the straw which, covered by an army blanket, constituted his bed. To-morrow, no doubt, Dan would supply him somehow with a turn-screw. On going down to the gate next day he found that the negro had changed his commodity, and that this time his basket contained very large and fine cucumbers. These were selling briskly, and Vincent saw that Dan was looking round anxiously, and that an expression of relief came over his face as he perceived him. He had, indeed, but eight or ten cucumbers left.
“Cucumbers to-day, sah? Berry fine cucumbers–first-rate cucumbers dese.”
“They look rather over-ripe,” Vincent said.
“Not a bit, sah; dey just ripe. Dis berry fine one-ten cents dis.”
“You are putting up your prices, darkey, and are making a fortune out of us,” Vincent said as he took the cucumber, which was a very large and straight one. He had no difficulty with this, as with the melon; a sharp twist broke it in two as be reached the corner he had used the day previously. It had been out in half, one end had been scooped out for the reception of the handle of the turn-screw, and the metal been driven in to the head in the other half. Hiding it under his jacket, he felt that he was now prepared for escape.
He now asked himself whether be should go alone or take one or more of his comrades into his confidence, and finally determined to give a young Virginian officer named Geary, with whom he had been specially friendly during his imprisonment, and Jackson, a chance of escape. He did not like the latter, but be thought that after the reconciliation that had taken place between them it was only right to take him rather than a stranger. Drawing them aside, then, he told them that he had arranged a mode of escape; it was impossible that all could avail themselves of it, but that they were welcome to accompany him. They thanked him heartily for the offer, and, when he explained the manner in which be intended to make off, agreed to try their fortune with him.
“I propose,” he said, “as soon as we are fairly beyond the prison, we separate, and each try to gain the frontier as best he can. The fact that three prisoners have escaped will soon be known all over the country, and there would be no chance whatever for us if we kept together. I will tell my boy to have three disguises ready; and when we once put aside our uniforms I see no reason why, traveling separately, suspicion should fall upon us; we ought to have no difficulty until at any rate we arrive near the border, and there must be plenty of points where we can cross without going anywhere near the Federal camps.” The others at once agreed that the chances of making their way separately were much greater than if together. This being arranged, Vincent passed a note next day to Dan, telling him to have three disguises in readiness, and to be at the foot of the western wall, halfway along, at twelve o’clock on the first wet night. A string would be thrown over, with a knife fastened to it. He was to pull on the string till the rope came into his hand, and to hold that tight until they were over. Vincent chose this spot because it was equally removed from the sentry-boxes at the corners of the yard, and because there was a stone seat in the yard to which one end of the rope could be attached.
That night was fine, but the next was thick and misty. At nine o’clock all were in bed, and he lay listening to the clocks in the distance. Ten struck, and eleven, and when he thought it was approaching twelve he got up and crept to the window. He was joined immediately by the others; the turn-screw was set to work; and, as he expected, Vincent found no trouble whatever with the screws, which were not yet rusted in the wood, and turned immediately when the powerful screw-driver was applied to them. When all were out the bar was carefully lifted from its place and laid upon the floor.
The rope was then put round one of the other bars and drawn through it until the two ends came together. These were then dropped to the ground below. Geary went first, Jackson followed, and Vincent was soon standing beside them. Taking one end of the rope, he pulled it until the other passed round the bar and fell