“That is all right, Dan, and you have done capitally. Now at Florence we will take up the hunt. It is a long way down there; and if they drive all the way, as I hope they will, it will take them a fortnight, so that we shall have gained a good deal of time on them. The people at the station are sure to remember the three boxes that lay there for so long without being claimed. Of course they may have driven only till they got fairly out of reach. Then they may either have sold the horse and trap, or the fellow Pearson has with him may have driven it back. But I should think they would most likely sell it. In that case they would not be more than a week from the time they left Richmond to the time they took train again for the south. However, whether they have got a fortnight or three weeks’ start of us will not make much difference. With the description we can give of Pearson, and the fact that there was a negress and child, and those three boxes, we ought to be able to trace him.”
It was twelve at night when the train arrived at Florence. As nothing could be done until next morning Vincent went to an hotel. As soon as the railway officials were likely to be at their offices he was at the station again. The tip of a dollar secured the attention of the man in the baggage-room.
“Three boxes and a black bag came on here a month ago, you say, and lay here certainly four or five days–perhaps a good deal longer. Of course I remember them. Stood up in that corner there. They had been checked right through. I will look at the hooks and see what day they went. I don’t remember what sort of men fetched them away. Maybe I was busy at the time, and my mate gave them out. However, I will look first and see when they went. What day do you say they got here?”
“They came by the train that left Richmond at six o’clock on the morning of the 20th.”
“Then they got in late that night or early next morning. Ah, the train was on time that day, and got in at half-past nine at night. Here they are–three boxes and a bag, numbers 15020, went out on the 28th. Yes, that’s right enough. Now I will just ask my mate if he remembers about their going out.”
The other man was called. Oh, yes, he remembered quite well the three boxes standing in the corner. They went out some time in the afternoon. It was just after the train came in from Richmond. He noticed the man that asked for them. He got him to help carry out the boxes and put them into a cart. Yes, he remembered there was another man with him, and a negress with a child. He wondered at the time what they were up to, but supposed it was all right. Yes, he didn’t mind trying to find out who had hired out a cart for the job. Dessay he could find out by to-morrow–at any rate he would try. Five dollars are worth earning anyway.
Having put this matter in train, Vincent, leaving Dan at Florence, went down at once to Charleston. Here, after twenty-four hours’ delay, he obtained a warrant for the arrest of Jonas Pearson and others on the charge of kidnaping, and then returned to Florence. He found that the railway man had failed in obtaining any information as to the cart, and concluded it must have come in from the country on purpose to meet the train.
“At any rate,” Vincent said, “it must be within a pretty limited range of country. The railway makes a bend from Wilmington to this place and then down to Charleston, so this is really the nearest station to only a small extent of country.”
“That’s so,” the railway man said. He had heard from Dan a good deal about the case, and had got thoroughly interested in it. “Either Marion or Kingstree would be nearer, one way or the other, to most of the swamp country. So it can’t be as far as Conwayborough on the north or Georgetown on the south, and it must lie somewhere between Jeffries’ Creek and Lynch’s Creek; anyhow it would be in Marion County–that’s pretty nigh sure. So if I were you I would take rail back to Marion Court house, and see the sheriff there and have a talk over the matter with him. You haven’t got much to go upon, because this man you are after has been away from here a good many years and won’t be known; besides, likely enough he went by some other name down here. Anyhow, the sheriff can put you up to the roads, and the best way of going about the job.”
“I think that would be the best way,” Vincent said. “We shall be able to see the county map too and to learn all the geography of the place.”
“You have got your six-shooters with you, I suppose, because you are as likely as not to have to use them?”
“Yes, we have each got a Colt; and as I have had a good deal of practice, it would be awkward for Pearson if he gives me occasion to use it.”
“After what I hear of the matter,” the man said, “I should say your best plan is just to shoot him at sight. It’s what would serve him right. You bet there will be no fuss over it. It will save you a lot of trouble anyway.”
“My advice is good,” the man went on earnestly. “They are a rough lot down there, and hang together. You will have to do it sudden, whatever you do, or you will get the hull neighborhood up agin you.”
On reaching Marion Courthouse they sought out the sheriff, produced the warrant signed by the States’ authority, and explained the whole circumstances.
“I am ready to aid you in any way I can,” the sheriff said when he concluded; “but the question is, where has the fellow got to? You see he may be anywhere in this tract;” and he pointed out a circle on the map of the county that hung against the wall. “That is about fifty mile across, and a pretty nasty spot, I can tell you. There are wide swamps on both sides of the creek, and rice grounds and all sorts. There ain’t above three or four villages altogether, but there may be two or three hundred little plantations scattered about, some big and some little. We haven’t got anything to guide us in the slightest, not a thing, as I can see.”
“The man who was working under Pearson, when he was with us, told me he had got the notion that he had had to leave on account of some trouble here. Possibly that might afford a clew.”
“It might do so,” the sheriff said. “When did he come to you?”
“I think it was when I was six or seven years old. That would be about twelve or thirteen years ago; but, of course, he may not have come direct to us after leaving here.”
“We can look anyway,” the sheriff said, and, opening a chest, he took out a number of volumes containing the records of his predecessors. “Twelve years ago! Well, this is the volume. Now, Captain Wingfield, I have got some other business in hand that will take me a couple of hours. I will leave you out this volume and the one before it and the one after it, and if you like to go through them you may come across the description of some man wanted that agrees with that of the man you are in search of.”
It took Vincent two hours and a half to go through the volume, but he met with no description answering to that of Pearson.
“I will go through the first six months of the next year,” he said to himself, taking up that volume, “and the last six months of the year before.”
The second volume yielded no better result, and he then turned back to the first of the three books. Beginning in July, he read steadily on until he came to December. Scarcely had he begun the record of that month than he uttered an exclamation of satisfaction.
“December 2nd.–Information laid against gang at Porter’s Station, near Lynch’s Creek. Charged with several robberies and murders in different parts of the county. Long been suspected of having stills in the swamps. Gang consists of four besides Porter himself. Names of gang, Jack Haverley, Jim Corben, and John and James Porter. Ordered out posse to start to-morrow.
“December 5th.–Returned from Porter’s Station. Surprised the gang. They resisted. Haverley, Corben, and James Porter shot. John Porter escaped, and took to swamp. Four of posse wounded; one, William Hannay, killed. Circulated description of John Porter through the county. Tall and lean; when fifteen years old shot a man in a brawl, and went north. Has been absent thirteen years. Assumed the appearance of a northern man and speaks with Yankee twang. Father was absent at the time of attack. Captured three hours after. Declares he knows nothing about doings of the gang. Haverley and Corben were friends of his sons. Came and went when they liked. Will be tried on the 15th.”
On the 16th there was another entry:
“William Porter sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for giving shelter to gang of robbers. Evidence wanting to show he took any actual part in their crimes.”
The sheriff had been in and out several times during the five hours that Vincent’s search had taken up. When he returned again Vincent pointed out the entry he had found.
“I should not be at all surprised if that’s our man,” the sheriff said. “I know old Porter well, for he is still alive and bears a pretty bad reputation still, though we have never been able to bring him to book. I remember all the circumstances of that affair, for I served upon the posse. While Porter was in prison his house was kept for him by a married daughter and her husband. There was a strong suspicion that the man was one of the gang too, but we couldn’t prove it. They have lived there ever since. They have got five or six field hands, and are said to be well off. We have no doubt they have got a still somewhere in the swamps, but we have never been able to find it. I will send a man off to-morrow to make inquiries whether any stranger has arrived there lately. Of course, Pearson will not have kept that name, and he will not have appeared as John Porter, for he would be arrested on a fresh warrant at once for his share in that former business. I think, Captain Wingfield, you had better register at the hotel here under some other name. I don’t suppose that he has any fear of being tracked here; still it is just possible his father may have got somebody here and at Florence to keep their eyes open and let him know if there are any inquiries being made by strangers about a missing negress. One cannot be too careful. If he got the least hint, his son and the woman would be hidden away in the swamps before we could get there, and there would be no saying when we could find him.”
Vincent took the sheriff’s advice, and entered his name in the hotel book as Mr. Vincent. Late in the evening the sheriff came round to him.
“I have just sent summonses to six men. I would rather have had two or three more, but young men are very scarce around here now; and as with you and myself that brings it up to eight that ought to be sufficient, as these follows will have no time to summon any of their friends to their assistance. Have you a rifle, Captain Wingfield?”
“No; I have a brace of revolvers.”
“They are useful enough for close work,” the sheriff said, “but if they see us coming, and barricade their house and open fire upon us, you will want something that carries further than a revolver. I can lend you a rifle as well as a horse if you will accept them.”
Vincent accepted the offer with thanks. The next morning at daylight he went round to the sheriff’s house, where six determined-looking men, belonging to the town or neighboring farms, were assembled. Slinging the rifle that the sheriff handed him across his back, Vincent at once mounted, and the party set off at a brisk trot.
“My man came back half an hour ago,” the sheriff said to Vincent as they rode along. “He found out that a man answering to your description arrived with another at Porter’s about a fortnight ago, and is staying there still. Whether they brought a negress with them or not no one seems to have noticed. However, there is not a shadow of doubt that it is our man, and I shall be heartily glad to lay hold of him; for a brother of mine was badly wounded in that last affair, and though he lived some years afterward he was never the same man again. So I have a personal interest in it, you see.”
“How far is it to Porter’s?”
“About thirty-five miles. We shall get there about two o’clock, I reckon. We are all pretty well mounted and can keep at this pace, with a break or two, till we get there. I propose that we dismount when we get within half a mile of the place. We will try and get hold of some one who knows the country well, and get him to lead three of us round through the edge of the swamp to the back of the house. It stands within fifty yards of the swamp. I have no doubt they put it there so that they might escape if pressed, and also to prevent their being observed going backward and forward to that still of theirs.”
This plan was followed out. A negro lad was found who, on the promise of a couple of dollars, agreed to act as guide. Three of the party were then told off to follow him, and the rest, after waiting for half an hour to allow them to make the detour, mounted their horses and rode down at a gallop to the house. When they were within a short distance of it they heard a shout, and a man who was lounging near the door ran inside. Almost instantly they saw the shutters swing back across the windows, and when they drew up fifty yards from the door the barrels of four rifles were pushed out through slits in the shutters.
The sheriff held up his hand. “William Porter, I want a word with you.”
A shutter in an upper room opened, and an elderly man appeared with a rifle in his hand.
“William Porter,” the sheriff said, “I have a warrant for the arrest of two men now in your house on the charge of kidnaping a female slave, the property of Captain Wingfield here. I have no proof that you had any share in the matter, or that you are aware that the slave was not honestly obtained. In the second place, I have a warrant for the arrest of your son John Porter, now in your house and passing recently under the name of Jonas Pearson, on the charge of resisting and killing the officers of the law on the 5th of December, 1851. I counsel you to hand over these men to me without resistance. You know what happened when your sons defied the law before, and what will happen now if you refuse compliance.”
“Yah!” the old man shouted. “Do you suppose we are going to give in to five men? Not if we know it. Now, I warn you, move yourself off while I let you, else you will get a bullet in you before I count three.”
“Very well, then. You must take the consequences,” the sheriff replied, and at once called the party to fall back.
“We must dismount,” he said in answer to Vincent’s look of surprise; “they would riddle us here on horseback in the open. Besides we must dismount to break in the door.”
They rode back a quarter of a mile, and then dismounted. The sheriff took two heavy axes that hung from his saddle, and handed them to two of the men.
“I reckoned we should have trouble,” he said. “However, I hope we sha’n’t have to use these. My idea is to crawl up through the corn-field until we are within shooting distance, and then to open fire at the loopholes. They have never taken the trouble to grub up the stumps, and each man must look out for shelter. I want to make it so hot for them that they will try to bolt to the swamp, and in that case they will be covered by the men there. I told them not to fire until they got quite close; so they ought to dispose of three of them, and as they have got pistols they will be able to master the others; besides, directly we hear firing behind, we shall jump up and make a rush round. Do you, sir, and James Wilkins here, stop in front. Two of them might make a rush out behind, and the others, when they have drawn us off, bolt in front.”
Several shots were fired at the party as they made their way across to the end of the field, where the tall stalks of maize were still standing, though the corn had been gathered weeks before. As soon as they reached the shelter they separated, each crawling through the maize until they arrived within fifty yards of the house. There were, as the sheriff had said, many stumps still standing, and each ensconced himself behind one of those, and began to reply to the fire that the defenders had kept up whenever they saw a movement among the corn stalks.
At such a distance the shutters were but of slight advantage to the defenders of the house; for the assailants were all good shots, and the loopholes afforded excellent targets at such a distance. After a few shots had been fired from the house the fire of the defenders ceased, the men within not daring to protrude the rifles through the loopholes, as every such appearance was instantly followed by a couple of shots from the corn patch.
“Give me one of those axes,” the sheriff said. “Now, Withers, do you make a rush with me to the door. Get your rifle loaded before you start, and have your revolver handy in your belt. Now, Captain Wingfield, do you and the other two keep a sharp lookout at the loopholes, and see that they don’t get a shot at us as we run. Now, Withers,” and the sheriff ran forward. Two rifles were protruded through the loopholes. Vincent and his companions fired at once. One of the rifles gave a sharp jerk and disappeared, the other was fired, and Withers dropped his axe, but still ran forward. The sheriff began an onslaught at the door, his companion’s right arm being useless. A minute later the sharp crack of rifles was heard in the rear, and the sheriff and two men rushed in that direction, while Vincent and the other lay watching the door. Scarcely had the sheriff’s party disappeared round the house than the door was thrown open, and Pearson ran out at full speed. Vincent leaped to his feet.
“Surrender,” he said, “or you are a dead man.”
Jonas paused for a moment with a loud imprecation, and then leveling a revolver, fired. Vincent felt a moment’s pain in the cheek, but before he could level his rifle his companion fired, and Pearson fell forward dead. A minute later the sheriff and his party ran round.
“Have you got him?” he asked.
“He will give no more trouble, sheriff,” the young man who fired said. “I fancy I had him plum between the eyes. How about the others?”
“Dick Matheson is killed; he got two bullets in his body. The other man is badly wounded. There are no signs of old Porter.”
They now advanced to the door, which stood open. As the sheriff entered there was a sharp report, and he fell back shot through the heart. The rest made a rush forward. Another shot was fired, but this missed them, and before it could be repeated they had wrested the pistol from the hand of Matheson’s wife. She was firmly secured, and they then entered the kitchen, where, crouched upon the floor, lay some seven or eight negro men and women in an agony of terror. Vincent’s question, “Dinah, where are you?” was answered by a scream of delight; and Dinah, who had been covering her child with her body, leaped to her feet.
“It’s all right, Dinah,” Vincent said; “but stay here, we haven’t finished this business yet.”
“I fancy the old man’s upstairs,” one of the men said. “It was his rifle, I reckon, that disappeared when we fired.”
It was as he expected. Porter was found dead behind the loophole, a bullet having passed through his brain. The deputy-sheriff, who was with the party, now took the command. A cart and horse were found in an out-building; in these the wounded man, who was one of those who had taken part in the abduction of Dinah, was placed, together with the female prisoner and the dead body of the sheriff. The negroes were told to follow; and the horses having been fetched the party mounted and rode off to the next village, five miles on their way back. Here they halted for the night, and the next day went on to Marion Courthouse, Vincent hiring a cart for the conveyance of Dinah and the other women. It was settled that Vincent’s attendance at the trial of the two prisoners would not be necessary, as the man would be tried for armed resistance to the law, and the woman for murdering the sheriff. The facts could be proved by other witnesses, and as there could be no doubt about obtaining convictions, it would be unnecessary to try the charge against the man for kidnaping. Next day, accordingly, Vincent started with Dinah and Dan for Richmond. Two months afterward he saw in the paper that Jane Matheson had been sentenced to imprisonment for life, the man to fourteen years.
CHAPTER XVII. CHANCELLORSVILLE.
The news of the fight between the sheriff’s posse and the band at Lynch’s Creek was telegraphed to the Richmond papers by their local agent upon the day after it occurred. The report said that Captain Wingfield, a young officer who had frequently distinguished himself, had followed the traces of a gang, one of whom was a notorious criminal who had evaded the pursuit of the law and escaped from that section fifteen years ago, and had, under an assumed name, been acting as overseer at Mrs. Wingfield’s estate of the Orangery. These men had carried off a negress belonging to Mrs. Wingfield, and had taken her down South. Captain Wingfield, having obtained the assistance of the sheriff with a posse of determined men, rode to the place which served as headquarters for the gang. Upon being summoned to surrender the men opened a fire upon the sheriff and his posse. A sharp fight ensued, in which the sheriff was killed and one of his men wounded; while the four members of the gang were either killed or taken prisoners. It was reported that a person occupying a position as a planter in the neighborhood of Richmond is connected with this gang.
The reporter had obtained his news from Vincent, who had purposely refrained from mentioning the names of those who had fallen. He had already had a conversation with the wounded prisoner. The latter had declared that he had simply acted in the affair as he had been paid to do by the man he knew in Richmond as Pearson, who told him that he wanted him to aid in carrying off a slave woman, who was really his property, but had been fraudulently taken from him. He had heard him say that there was another interested in the affair, who had his own reasons for getting the woman out of the way, and had paid handsomely for the job. Who that other was Pearson had never mentioned.
Vincent saw that he had no absolute evidence against Jackson, and therefore purposely suppressed the fact that Pearson was among the killed in hopes that the paragraph would so alarm Jackson that he would at once decamp. His anticipations were entirely justified; for upon the day of his return to Richmond he saw a notice in the paper that the Cedars, with its field hands, houses, and all belonging to it, was for sale. He proceeded at once to the estate agent, and learned from him that Jackson had come in two days before and had informed him that sudden and important business had called him away, and that he was starting at once for New York, where his presence was urgently required, and that he should attempt to get through the lines immediately. He had asked him what he thought the property and slaves would fetch. Being acquainted with the estate, he had given him a rough estimate, and had, upon Jackson’s giving him full power to sell, advanced him two-thirds of the sum. Jackson had apparently started at once; indeed, he had told him that he should take the next train as far North as he could get.
Vincent received the news with great satisfaction. He had little doubt that Jackson had really made down to the South, and that he would try to cross the lines there, his statement that he intended to go direct North being merely intended to throw his pursuers off his track should a warrant be issued against him. However, it mattered little which way Jackson had gone, so that he had left the State.
There was little chance of his ever returning; for even when he learned that his confederate in the business had been killed in the fight, he could not be certain that the prisoner who had been taken was not aware of the share he had in the business.
A fortnight later Vincent went down into Georgia and brought back Lucy Kingston for a visit to his mother. She had already received a letter from her father in reply to one she had written after reaching her aunt’s protection, saying how delighted he was to hear that she had crossed the lines, for that he had suffered the greatest anxiety concerning her, and had continually reproached himself for not sending her away sooner. He said that he was much pleased with her engagement to Captain Wingfield, whom he did not know personally, but of whom he heard the most favorable reports from various Virginian gentlemen to whom he had spoken since the receipt of her letter.
Lucy remained at Richmond until the beginning of March, when Vincent took her home to Georgia again, and a week after his return rejoined the army on the Rappahannock. Every effort had been made by the Confederate authorities to raise the army of General Lee to a point that would enable him to cope with the tremendous force the enemy were collecting for the ensuing campaign. The drain of men was now telling terribly, and Lee had at the utmost 40,000 to oppose the 160,000 collected under General Hooker.
The first fight of the campaign had already taken place when Vincent rejoined the army. A body of 3,000 Federal cavalry had crossed the river on the 17th of March at Kelley’s Ford, but had been met by General Fitz Lee with about 800 cavalry, and after a long and stubborn conflict had been driven back with heavy loss across the river. It was not until the middle of April that the enemy began to move in earnest. Every ford was watched by Stuart’s cavalry, and the frequent attempts made by the Federal horse to push across to obtain information were always defeated.
On the 27th of April General Hooker’s preparations were complete. His plan of action was that 20,000 men should cross the river near the old battlefield of Fredericksburg, and thus lead the Confederates to believe that this was the point of attack. The main body were, however, to cross at Kelley’s Ford, many miles higher up the river, and to march down toward Fredericksburg. The other force was then to recross, march up the river, cross at Kelley’s Ford, and follow and join the main army. At the same time the Federal cavalry, which was very numerous and well-organized, was, under General Stoneman, to strike down through the country toward Richmond, and thus cut the Confederate communication with their capital, and so prevent Longstreet’s division, which was lying near Richmond, from rejoining Lee.
The passage of the river was effected at the two fords without resistance on the 29th of April, and upon the same day the cavalry column marched south. General Lee directed a portion of his cavalry under General Fitz Lee to harass and delay this column as much as possible. Although he had with him but a few hundred men, he succeeded in doing good service in cutting off detached bodies of the enemy, capturing many officers and men, and so demoralizing the invaders that, after pushing on as far as the James River, Stoneman had to retreat in great haste across the Rapidan River.
Hooker having crossed the river, marched on to Chancellorsville, where he set to to entrench himself, having sent word to General Sedgwick, who commanded the force that had crossed near Fredericksburg, to recross, push round, and join as soon as possible. Chancellorsville was a large brick mansion standing in the midst of fields surrounded by extensive forests. The country was known as the Wilderness. Within a range of many miles there were only a few scattered houses, and dense thickets and pine-woods covered the whole country. Two narrow roads passed through the woods, crossing each other at Chancellorsville; two other roads led to the fords known as Ely’s Ford and the United States Ford. As soon as he reached Chancellorsville Hooker set his troops to work cutting down trees and throwing up earthworks for infantry and redoubts for artillery, erecting a double line of defenses. On these he mounted upward of a hundred pieces of artillery, commanding the narrow roads by which an enemy must approach, for the thickets were in many places so dense as to render it impossible for troops to force their way through them.
When Sedgwick crossed the river, Lee drew up his army to oppose him; but finding that no more troops crossed, and that Sedgwick did not advance, he soon came to the conclusion that this was not the point at which the enemy intended to attack, and in twenty-four hours one of Stuart’s horsemen brought the news that Hooker had crossed the Rappahannock at Kelley’s Ford and the Rapidan at Ely’s Ford. Lee at once left one division to face General Sedgwick, and ordered the three others to join General Anderson, who with 8,000 men had fallen back before Hooker’s advance, and taken his post at Tabernacle Church, about halfway between Fredericksburg and Tabernacle. Lee himself rode forward at once and joined Anderson.
Jackson led the force from Fredericksburg, and pressed the enemy back toward Chancellorsville until he approached the tremendous lines of fortifications, and then fell back to communicate with Lee. That night a council of war was held, and it was agreed that an attack upon the front of the enemy’s position was absolutely impossible. Hooker himself was so positive that his position was impregnable that he issued a general order of congratulation to his troops, saying that “the enemy must now ingloriously fly or give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.”
Jackson then suggested that he should work right round the Wilderness in front of the enemy’s position, march down until well on its flank, and attack it there, where they would be unprepared for an assault. The movement was one of extraordinary peril. Lee would be left with but one division in face of an immensely superior force; Jackson would have to perform an arduous march exposed to an attack by the whole force of the enemy; and both might be destroyed separately without being able to render the slightest assistance to each other. At daybreak on the 2d of May Jackson mustered his troops for the advance. He had in the course of the night caught a severe cold. In the hasty march he had left his blankets behind him. One of his staff threw a heavy cape over him as he lay on the wet ground. During the night Jackson woke, and thinking that the young officer might himself be suffering from the want of his cape, rose quietly, spread the cape over him, and lay down without it. The consequence was a severe cold, which terminated in an attack of pneumonia that, occurring at a time when he was enfeebled by his wounds, resulted in his death. If he had not thrown that cape over the officer it is probable that he would have survived his wounds.
At daybreak the column commenced its march. It had to traverse a narrow and unfrequented road through dense thickets, occasionally crossing ground in sight of the enemy, and at the end to attack a tremendous position held by immensely superior forces. Stuart with his cavalry moved on the flank of the column whenever the ground was open, so as to conceal the march of the infantry from the enemy. As the rear of the column passed a spot called the Furnace, the enemy suddenly advanced and cut off the 23d Georgia, who were in the rear of the column, and captured the whole regiment with the exception of a score of men. At this point the road turned almost directly away from Chancellorsville, and the enemy believed that the column was in full retreat, and had not the least idea of its real object.
So hour after hour the troops pressed on until they reached the turnpike road passing east and west through Chancellorsville, which now lay exactly between them and the point that they had left in the morning. Jackson’s design was to advance upon this line of road, to extend his troops to the left and then to swing round, cut the enemy’s retreat to the fords, and capture them all. Hooker had already been joined by two of Sedgwick’s army corps, and had now six army corps at Chancellorsville, while Jackson’s force consisted of 22,000 men. Lee remained with 13,000 at Tabernacle. The latter general had not been attacked, but had continued to make demonstrations against the Federal left, occupying their attention and preventing them from discovering how large a portion of his force had left him.
It was at five o’clock in the evening that Jackson’s troops, having gained their position, advanced to the attack. In front of them lay Howard’s division of the Federals, intrenched in strong earthworks covered by felled trees; but the enemy were altogether unsuspicious of danger, and it was not until with tumultuous cheers the Confederates dashed through the trees and attacked the entrenchment that they had any suspicion of their presence. They ran to their arms, but it was too late. The Confederates rushed through the obstacles, climbed the earthworks, and carried those in front of them, capturing 700 prisoners and five guns. The rest of the Federal troops here, throwing away muskets and guns, fled in wild confusion. Steadily the Confederates pressed on, driving the enemy before them, and capturing position after position, until the whole right wing of the Federal army was routed and disorganized. For three hours the Confederates continued their march without a check; but owing to the denseness of the wood, and the necessity of keeping the troops in line, the advance was slow, and night fell before the movement could be completed. One more hour of daylight and the whole Federal army would have been cut off and captured, but by eight o’clock the darkness in the forest was so complete that all movement had to be stopped.
Half an hour later one of the saddest incidents of the war took place. General Jackson with a few of his staff wont forward to reconnoiter. As he returned toward his lines, his troops in the dark mistook them for a reconnoitering party of the enemy and fired, killing or wounding the whole of them, General Jackson receiving three balls. The enemy, who were but a hundred yards distant, at once opened a tremendous fire with grape toward the spot, and it was some time before Jackson could be carried off the field. The news that their beloved general was wounded was for some time kept from the troops; but a whisper gradually spread, and the grief of his soldiers was unbounded, for rather would they have suffered a disastrous defeat than that Stonewall Jackson should have fallen.
General Stuart assumed the command, General Hill, who was second in command, having, with many other officers, been wounded by the tremendous storm of grape and canister that the Federals poured through the wood when they anticipated an attack. At daybreak the troops again moved forward in three lines, Stuart placing his thirty guns on a slight ridge, where they could sweep the lines of the Federal defenses. Three times the position was won and lost; but the Confederates fought with such fury and resolution, shouting each time they charged the Federal ranks “Remember Jackson,” that the enemy gradually gave way, and by ten o’clock Chancellorsville itself was taken, the Federals being driven back into the forest between the houses and the river.
Lee had early in the morning begun to advance from his side to the attack, but just as he was moving forward the news came that Sedgwick had recrossed at Fredericksburg, captured a portion of the Confederate force there, and was advancing to join Hooker. He at once sent two of his three little divisions to join the Confederates who were opposing Sedgwick’s advance, while with the three or four thousand men remaining to him, he all day made feigned attacks upon the enemy’s position, occupying their attention there, and preventing them from sending reinforcements to the troops engaged with Stuart. At night he himself hurried away, took the command of the troops opposed to Sedgwick, attacked him vigorously at daybreak, and drove him with heavy loss back across the river. The next day he marched back with his force to join in the final attack upon the Federals; but when the troops of Stuart and Lee moved forward they encountered no opposition. Hooker had begun to carry his troops across the river on the night he was hurled back out of Chancellorsville, and the rest of his troops had crossed on the two following nights.
General Hooker issued a pompous order to his troop after getting across the river, to the effect that the movement had met with the complete success he had anticipated from it; but the truth soon leaked out. General Sedgwick’s force had lost 6,000 men, Hooker’s own command fully 20,000 more; but splendid as the success was, it was dearly purchased by the Confederates at the price of the life of Stonewall Jackson. His arm was amputated the day after the battle; he lived for a week, and died not so much from the effect of his wounds as from the pneumonia, the result of his exposure to the heavy dew on the night preceding his march through the Wilderness.
During the two days’ fighting Vincent Wingfield had discharged his duties upon General Stuart’s staff. On the first day the work had been slight, for General Stuart, with the cannon, remained in the rear, while Jackson’s infantry attacked and carried the Federal retrenchments. Upon the second day, however, when Stuart assumed the command, Vincent’s duties had been onerous and dangerous in the extreme. He was constantly carrying orders from one part of the field to the other, amid such a shower of shot and shell that it seemed marvelous that any one could exist within it. To his great grief Wildfire was killed under him, but he himself escaped without a scratch. When he came afterward to try to describe the battle to those at home he could give no account of it.
“To me,” he said, “it was simply a chaos of noise and confusion. Of what was going on I knew nothing. The din was appalling. The roar of the shells, the hum of grape and canister, the whistle of bullets, the shouts of the men, formed a mighty roar that seemed to render thinking impossible. Showers of leaves fell incessantly, great boughs of trees were shorn away, and trees themselves sometimes came crashing down as a trunk was struck full by a shell. The undergrowth had caught fire, and the thick smoke, mingled with that of the battle, rendered it difficult to see or to breathe. I had but one thought, that of making my way through the trees, of finding the corps to which I was sent, of delivering my message, and finding the general again. No, I don’t think I had much thought of danger, the whole thing was somehow so tremendous that one had no thought whatever for one’s self. It was a sort of terrible dream, in which one was possessed of the single idea to get to a certain place. It was not till at last we swept across the open ground down to the house, that I seemed to take any distinct notice of what was going on around me. Then, for the first time, the exulting shouts of the men, and the long lines advancing at the double, woke me up to the fact that we had gained one of the most wonderful victories in history, and had driven an army of four or five times our own strength from a position that they believed they had made impregnable.”
The defeat of Hooker for a time put a stop to any further advance against Richmond from the North. The Federal troops, whose term of service was up, returned home, and it was months before all the efforts of the authorities of Washington could place the army in a condition to make a renewed advance. But the Confederates had also suffered heavily. A third of the force with which Jackson had attacked had fallen, and their loss could not be replaced, as the Confederates were forced to send every one they could raise to the assistance of the armies in the West, where Generals Banks and Grant were carrying on operations with great success against them. The important town of Vicksburg, which commanded the navigation of the Mississippi, was besieged, and after a resistance lasting for some months, surrendered, with its garrison of 25,000 men, on the 3d of July, and the Federal gunboats were thus able to penetrate by the Mississippi and its confluents into the heart of the Confederacy.
Shortly after the battle of Chancellorsville, Vincent was appointed to the command of a squadron of cavalry that was detached from Stuart’s force and sent down to Richmond to guard the capital from any raids by bodies of Federal cavalry. It had been two or three times menaced by flying bodies of horsemen, and during the cavalry advance before the battle of Chancellorsville small parties had penetrated to within three miles of the city, cutting all the telegraph wires, pulling up rails, and causing the greatest terror. Vincent was not sorry for the change. It took him away from the great theater of the war, but after Chancellorsville he felt no eager desire to take part in future battles. His duties would keep him near his home, and would give ample scope for the display of watchfulness, dash, and energy. Consequently he took no part in the campaign that commenced in the first week in June.
Tired of standing always on the defensive, the Confederate authorities determined to carry out the stop that had been so warmly advocated by Jackson earlier in the war, and which might at that time have brought it to a successful termination. They decided to carry the war into the enemy’s country. By the most strenuous efforts Lee’s army was raised to 75,000 men, divided into three great army corps, commanded by Longstreet, Ewell, and Hill. Striking first into Western Virginia, they drove the Federals from Winchester, and chased them from the State with the loss of nearly 4,000 prisoners and 30 guns. Then they entered Maryland and Pennsylvania, and concentrating at Gettysburg they met the Northern army under Meade, who had succeeded Hooker. Although great numbers of the Confederates had seen their homes wasted and their property wantonly destroyed, they preserved the most perfect order in their march through the North, and the Federals themselves testify to the admirable behavior of the troops, and to the manner in which they abstained from plundering or inflicting annoyance upon the inhabitants.
At Gettysburg there was three days’ fighting. In the first a portion only of the forces were engaged, the Federals being defeated and 5,000 of their men taken prisoners. Upon the second the Confederates attacked the Northerners, who were posted in an extremely strong position, but were repulsed with heavy loss. The following day they renewed the attack, but after tremendous fighting again failed to carry the height. Both parties were utterly exhausted. Lee drew up his troops the next day, and invited an attack from the Federals; but contented with the success they had gained they maintained their position, and the Confederates then fell back, Stuart’s cavalry protecting the immense trains of wagons loaded with the stores and ammunition captured in Pennsylvania.
But little attempt was made by the Northerners to interfere with their retreat. On reaching the Potomac they found that a sudden rise had rendered the fords impassable. Intrenchments and batteries were thrown up, and for a week the Confederate army held the lines, expecting an attack from the enemy, who had approached within two miles; but the Federal generals were too well satisfied with having gained a success when acting on the defensive in a strong position to risk a defeat in attacking the position of the Confederates, and their forces remained impassive until pontoon bridges were thrown across the river, and the Confederate army, with their vast baggage train, had again crossed into Virginia. The campaign had cost the Northern army 23,000 men in killed, wounded, and prisoners, besides a considerable number of guns. The Confederates lost only two guns, left behind in the mud, and 1,500 prisoners, but their loss in killed and wounded at Gettysburg exceeded 10,000 men. Even the most sanguine among the ranks of the Confederacy were now conscious that the position was a desperate one. The Federal armies seemed to spring from the ground. Strict discipline had taken the place of the disorder and insubordination that had first prevailed in their ranks. The armies were splendidly equipped. They were able to obtain any amount of the finest guns, rifles, and ammunition of war from the workshops of Europe; while the Confederates, cut off from the world, had to rely solely upon the makeshift factories they had set up, and upon the guns and stores they captured from the enemy.
The Northerners had now, as a blow to the power of the South, abolished slavery, and were raising regiments of negroes from among the free blacks of the North, and from the slaves they took from their owners wherever their armies penetrated the Southern States. Most of the Confederate ports had been either captured or were so strictly blockaded that it was next to impossible for the blockade-runner to get in or out, while the capture of the forts on the Mississippi enabled them to use the Federal flotillas of gunboats to the greatest advantage, and to carry their armies into the center of the Confederacy.
Still, there was no talk whatever of surrender on the part of the South, and, indeed, the decree abolishing slavery, and still more the action of the North in raising black regiments, excited the bitterest feeling of animosity and hatred. The determination to fight to the last, whatever came of it, animated every white man in the Southern States, and, although deeply disappointed with the failure of Lee’s invasion of the North, the only result was to incite them to greater exertions and sacrifices. In the North an act authorizing conscription was passed in 1863, but the attempt to carry it into force caused a serious riot in New York, which was only suppressed after many lives had been lost and the city placed under martial law.
While the guns of Gettysburg were still thundering, a Federal army of 18,000 men under General Gillmore, assisted by the fleet, had laid siege to Charleston. It was obstinately attacked and defended. The siege continued until the 5th of September, when Fort Wagner was captured; but all attempts to take Fort Sumter and the town of Charleston itself failed, although the city suffered greatly from the bombardment. In Tennessee there was severe fighting in the autumn, and two desperate battles were fought at Chickamauga on the 19th and 20th of September, General Bragg, who commanded the Confederate army there, being reinforced by Longstreet’s veterans from the army of Virginia. After desperate fighting the Federals were defeated, and thirty-six guns and vast quantities of arms captured by the Confederates. The fruits of the victory, however, were very slight, as General Bragg refused to allow Longstreet to pursue, and so to convert the Federal retreat into a rout, and the consequence was that this victory was more than balanced by a heavy defeat inflicted upon them in November at Chattanooga by Sherman and Grant. At this battle General Longstreet’s division was not present.
The army of Virginia had a long rest after their return from Gettysburg, and it was not until November that the campaign was renewed. Meade advanced, a few minor skirmishes took place, and then, when he reached the Wilderness, the scene of Hooker’s defeat, where Lee was prepared to give battle, he fell back again across the Rappahannock.
The year had been an unfortunate one for the Confederates. They had lost Vicksburg, and the defeat at Chattanooga had led to the whole State of Tennessee falling into the hands of the Federals, while against these losses there was no counterbalancing success to be reckoned.
In the spring of 1864 both parties prepared to the utmost for the struggle. General Grant, an officer who had shown in the campaign in the West that he possessed considerable military ability, united with immense firmness and determination of purpose, was chosen as the new commander-in-chief of the whole military force of the North. It was a mighty army, vast in numbers, lavishly provided with all materials of war. The official documents show that on the 1st of May the total military forces of the North amounted to 662,000 men. Of these the force available for the advance against Richmond numbered 284,630 men. This included the army of the Potomac, that of the James River, and the army in the Shenandoah Valley–the whole of whom were in readiness to move forward against Richmond at the orders of Grant.
To oppose these General Lee had less than 53,000 men, including the garrison of Richmond and the troops in North Carolina. Those stationed in the seaport towns numbered in all another 20,000, so that if every available soldier had been brought up Lee could have opposed a total of but 83,000 men against the 284,000 invaders.
In the West the numbers were more equally balanced. General Sherman, who commanded the army of invasion there, had under his orders 230,000 men, but as more than half this force was required to protect the long lines of communication and to keep down the conquered States, he was able to bring into the field for offensive operations 99,000 men, who were faced by the Confederate army under Johnston of 58,000 men. Grant’s scheme was, that while the armies of the North were, under his own command, to march against Richmond, the army of the West was to invade Georgia and march upon Atlanta.
His plan of action was simple, and was afterward stated by himself to be as follows: “I determined first to use the greatest number of troops practicable against the main force of the enemy, preventing him from using the same force at different seasons against first one and then another of our armies, and the possibility of repose for refitting and producing necessary supplies for carrying on resistance. Second, to hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources until, by mere attrition if in no other way, there should be nothing left to him but submission.”
This was a terrible programme, and involved an expenditure of life far beyond anything that had taken place. Grant’s plan, in fact, was to fight and to keep on fighting, regardless of his own losses, until at last the Confederate army, whose losses could not be replaced, melted away. It was a strategy that few generals have dared to practice, fewer still to acknowledge.
On the 4th of May the great army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan and advanced toward Chancellorsville. Lee moved two divisions of his army to oppose them. Next morning the battle began at daybreak on the old ground where Lee had defeated Hooker the year before. All day long the division of Ewell supported the attack of the army corps of Sedgwick and Hancock. Along a front of six miles, in the midst of the thick forest, the battle raged the whole of the day. The Confederates, in spite of the utmost efforts of the Northerners, although reinforced in the afternoon by the army corps of General Burnside, held their position, and when night put an end to the conflict the invaders had not gained a foot of ground.
As soon as the first gleam of light appeared in the morning the battle recommenced. The Federal generals, Sedgwick, Warren, and Hancock, with Burnside in reserve, fell upon Hill and Ewell. Both sides had thrown up earthworks and felled trees as a protection during the night. At first the Confederates gained the advantage; but a portion of Burnside’s corps was brought up and restored the battle, while on the left flank of the Federals Hancock had attacked with such vigor that the Confederates opposed to him were driven back.
At the crisis of the battle, Longstreet, who had marched all night, appeared upon the ground, drove back Hancock’s men, and was on the point of aiding the Confederates in a decisive attack upon the enemy, when, riding rapidly forward into the wood to reconnoiter, he was, like Jackson, struck down by the fire of his own men. He was carried to the rear desperately, and it was feared for a time mortally wounded, and his loss paralyzed the movement which he had prepared. Nevertheless during the whole day the fight went on with varying success, sometimes one side obtaining a slight advantage, the other then regaining the ground they had lost.
Just as evening was closing in a Georgia brigade, with two other regiments, made a detour, and fell furiously upon two brigades of the enemy, and drove them back in headlong rout for a mile and a half, capturing their two generals and many prisoners. The artillery, as on the previous day, had been little used on either side, the work being done at short range with the rifle, the loss being much heavier among the thick masses of the Northerners than in the thinner lines of the Confederates. Grant had failed in his efforts to turn Lee’s right and to accomplish his direct advance; he therefore changed his base and moved his army round toward Spotsylvania.
Lee soon perceived his object, and succeeded in carrying his army to Spotsylvania before the Federals reached it.
On the afternoon of Monday, the 9th, there was heavy fighting and on the 10th another pitched battle took place. This time the ground was more open, and the artillery was employed with terrible effect on both sides. It ended, however, as the previous battles had done, by the Confederates holding their ground.
Upon the next day there was but little fighting. In the night the Federals moved quietly through the wood, and at daybreak four divisions fell upon Johnston’s division of Ewell’s corps, took them completely by surprise, and captured the greater part of them.
But Lee’s veterans soon recovered from their surprise and maintained their position until noon. Then the whole Federal army advanced, and the battle raged till nightfall terminated the struggle, leaving Lee in possession of the whole line he had held, with the exception of the ground lost in the morning.
For the next six days the armies faced each other, worn out by incessant fighting, and prevented from moving by the heavy rain which fell incessantly. They were now able to reckon up the losses. The Federals found that they had lost, in killed, wounded, or missing, nearly 30,000 men; while Lee’s army was diminished by about 12,000.
While these mighty battles had been raging the Federal cavalry under Sheridan had advanced rapidly forward, and, after several skirmishes with Stuart’s cavalry, penetrated within the outer intrenchments round Richmond. Here Stuart with two regiments of cavalry charged them and drove them back, but the gallant Confederate officer received a wound that before night proved fatal. His loss was a terrible blow to the Confederacy, although his successor in the command of the cavalry, General Wade Hampton, was also an officer of the highest merit.
In the meantime General Butler, who had at Fort Monroe under his command two corps of infantry, 4,000 cavalry, and a fleet of gunboats and transports, was threatening Richmond from the east. Shipping his men on board the transports he steamed up the James River, under convoy of the fleet, and landed on a neck of land known as Bermuda Hundred. To oppose him all the troops from North Carolina had been brought up, the whole force amounting to 19,000 men, under the command of General Beauregard. Butler, after various futile movements, was driven back again to his intrenched camp at Bermuda Hundred, where he was virtually besieged by Beauregard with 10,000 men, the rest of that general’s force being sent up to reinforce Lee.
In western Virginia, Breckenridge, with 3,500 men, was called upon to hold in check Sigel, with 15,000 men. Advancing to Staunton, Breckenridge was joined by the pupils of the military college at Lexington, 250 in number, lads of from 14 to 17 years of age. He came upon Sigel on the line of march, and attacked him at once. The Federal general placed a battery in a wood and opened fire with grape. The commander of the Lexington boys ordered them to charge, and, gallantly rushing in through the heavy fire, they charged in among the guns, killed the artillerymen, drove back the infantry supports, and bayoneted their colonel. The Federals now retired down the valley to Strasburg, and Breckenridge was able to send a portion of his force to aid Lee in his great struggle.
After his six days’ pause in front of Lee’s position at Spotsylvania, Grant abandoned his plan of forcing his way through Lee’s army to Richmond, and endeavored to outflank it; but Lee again divined his object, and moved round and still faced him. After various movements the armies again stood face to face upon the old battle-grounds on the Chickahominy. On the 3d of June the battle commenced at half-past four in the morning. Hancock at first gained an advantage, but Hill’s division dashed down upon him and drove him back with great slaughter; while no advantage was gained by them in other parts of the field. The Federal loss on this day was 13,000, and the troops were so dispirited that they refused to renew the battle in the afternoon.
Grant then determined to alter his plan altogether, and sending imperative orders to Butler to obtain possession of Petersburg, embarked Smith’s corps in transports, and moved with the rest of his army to join that general there. Smith’s corps entered the James River, landed, and marched against Petersburg. Beauregard had at Petersburg only two infantry and two cavalry regiments under General Wise, while a single brigade fronted Butler at Bermuda Hundred. With this handful of men he was called upon to defend Petersburg and to keep Butler bottled up in Bermuda Hundred until help could reach him from Lee. He telegraphed to Richmond for all the assistance that could be sent to him, and was reinforced by a brigade, which arrived just in time, for Smith had already captured a portion of the intrenchments, but was now driven out.
The next day Beauregard was attacked both by Smith’s and Hancock’s corps, which had now arrived. With 8,000 men he kept at bay the assaults of two whole army corps, having in the meantime sent orders to Gracie, the officer in command of the brigade before Butler, to leave a few sentries there to deceive that general, and to march with the rest of his force to his aid. It arrived at a critical moment. Overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers, many of the Confederates had left their posts, and Breckenridge was in vain trying to rally them when Gracie’s brigade came up. The position was reoccupied and the battle continued.
At noon Burnside with his corps arrived and joined the assailants; while Butler, discovering at last that the troops in front of him were withdrawn, moved out and barred the road against reinforcements from Richmond. Nevertheless the Confederates held their ground all the afternoon and until eleven o’clock at night, when the assault ceased.
At midnight Beauregard withdrew his troops from the defenses that they were too few to hold, and set them to work to throw up fresh intrenchments on a shorter line behind. All night the men worked with their bayonets, canteens, and any tools that came to hand.
It was well for them that the enemy were so exhausted that it was noon before they were ready to advance again, for by this time help was at hand. Anderson, who had succeeded to the command of Longstreet’s corps, and was leading the van of Lee’s army, forced his way through Butler’s troops and drove him back into the Bermuda Hundred, and leaving one brigade to watch him marched with another into Petersburg just as the attack was recommenced. Thus reinforced Beauregard successfully defeated all the assaults of the enemy until night fell. Another Federal army corps came up before morning, and the assault was again renewed, but the defenders, who had strengthened their defenses during the night, drove their assailants back with terrible loss. The whole of Lee’s army now arrived, and the rest of Grant’s army also came up, and that general found that after all his movements his way to Richmond was barred as before. He was indeed in a far worse position than when he had crossed the Rapidan, for the morale of his army was much injured by the repeated repulses and terrible losses it had sustained. The new recruits that had been sent to fill up the gaps were far inferior troops to those with which he had commenced the campaign. To send forward such men against the fortifications of Petersburg manned by Lee’s veteran troops was to court defeat, and he therefore began to throw up works for a regular siege.
Fighting went on incessantly between the outposts, but only one great attempt was made during the early months of the siege to capture the Confederate position. The miners drove a gallery under the works, and then drove other galleries right and left under them. These were charged with eight thousand pounds of powder. When all was ready, masses of troops were brought up to take advantage of the confusion which would be caused by the explosion, and a division of black troops were to lead the assault. At a quarter to five in the morning of the 30th of July the great mine was exploded, blowing two guns, a battery, and its defenders into the air, and forming a huge pit two hundred feet long and sixty feet wide. Lee and Beauregard hurried to the scene, checked the panic that prevailed, brought up troops, and before the great Federal columns approached the breach the Confederates were ready to receive them. The assault was made with little vigor, the approaches to the breach were obstructed by abattis, and instead of rushing forward in a solid mass they occupied the great pit, and contented themselves with firing over the edge of the crater, where regiments and divisions were huddled together. But the Confederate batteries were now manned, and from the works on either side of the breach, and from behind, they swept the approaches, and threw shell among the crowded mass. The black division was now brought up, and entered the crater, but only added to the confusion, There was no officer of sufficient authority among the crowded mass there to assume the supreme command. No assistance could be sent to them, for the arrival of fresh troops would but have added to the confusion. All day the conflict went on, the Federals lining the edge of the crater, and exchanging a heavy musketry fire with the Confederate infantry, while the mass below suffered terribly from the artillery fire. When night closed the survivors of the great column that had marched forward in the morning, confident that victory was assured to them, and that the explosion would lay Petersburg open to capture, made their retreat, the Confederates, however, taking a considerable number of prisoners. The Federal loss in killed, wounded and captured was admitted by them to be 4,000; the Confederate accounts put it down at 6,000.
After this terrible repulse it was a long time before Grant again renewed active operations, but during the months that ensued his troops suffered very heavily from the effects of fever, heightened by the discouragement they felt at their want of success, and at the tremendous losses they had suffered since they entered Virginia on their forward march to Richmond.
CHAPTER XVIII. A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING.
Vincent Wingfield had had an arduous time of it with his squadron of cavalry. He had taken part in the desperate charge that checked the advance of Sheridan’s great column of cavalry which approached within three miles of Richmond, the charge that had cost the gallant Stuart his life; and the death of his beloved general had been a heavy blow for him. Jackson and Stuart, two of the bravest and noblest spirits of the Confederate army, were gone. Both had been personally dear to Vincent, and he felt how grievous was their loss to the cause for which he was fighting; but he had little time for grief. The enemy, after the tremendous battles of the Wilderness, swung their army round to Cold Harbor, and Vincent’s squadron was called up to aid Lee in his struggle there. Then they were engaged night and day in harassing the enemy as they marched down to take up their new base at Petersburg, and finally received orders to ride round at full speed to aid in the defense of that place.
They had arrived in the middle of the second day’s fighting, and dismounting his men Vincent had aided the hard-pressed Confederates in holding their lines till Longstreet’s division arrived to their assistance. A short time before the terrible disaster that befell the Federals in the mine they exploded under the Confederate works, he was with General Wade Hampton, who had succeeded General Stuart in the command of the cavalry, when General Lee rode up.
“They are erecting siege works in earnest,” General Lee said. “I do not think that we shall have any more attacks for the present. I wish I knew exactly where they are intending to place their heavy batteries. If I did we should know where to strengthen our defenses, and plant our counter batteries. It is very important to find this out; but now that their whole army has settled down in front of us, and Sheridan’s cavalry are scouring the woods, we shall get no news, for the farmers will no longer be able to get through to tell us what is going on.
“I will try and ride round, if you like, general,” Vincent said. “By making a long detour one could get into the rear of their lines and pass as a farmer going into camp to sell his goods.”
“It would be a very dangerous service, sir,” General Lee said. “You know what the consequence would be if you were caught?”
“I know the consequence,” Vincent said; “but I do not think, sir, that the risk is greater than one runs every time one goes into battle.”
“Perhaps not,” General Lee replied; “but in one case one dies fighting for one’s country by an honorable death, in the other–” and he stopped.
“In the other one is shot in cold blood,” Vincent said quietly. “One dies for one’s country in either case, sir; and it does not much matter, so far as I can see, whether one is killed in battle or shot in cold blood. As long as one is doing one’s duty, one death is surely as honorable as the other.”
“That is true enough,” General Lee said, “although it is not the way men generally view the matter. Still, sir, if you volunteer for the work, I do not feel justified in refusing the opportunity of acquiring information that may be of vital consequence to us. When will you start?”
“In half an hour, sir. I shall ride back to Richmond, obtain a disguise there, and then go round by train to Burksville Junction and then ride again until I get round behind their lines. Will you give me an order for my horse and myself to be taken?”
“Very well, sir,” General Lee said. “So be it. May God be with you on your way and bring you safely back.”
Vincent rode off to his quarters.
“Dan,” he said, “I am going away on special duty for at least three days. I have got a couple of letters to write, and shall be ready to start in half an hour. Give the horse a good feed and have him at the door again by that time.”
“Am I to go with you, sah?”
“No, Dan; I must go by myself this time.”
Dan felt anxious as he went out, for it was seldom that his master ever went away without telling him where he was going, and he felt sure that the service was one of unusual danger; nor was his anxiety lessened when at the appointed time Vincent came out and handed him two letters.
“You are to keep these letters, Dan, until I return, or till you hear that something has happened to me. If you hear that, you are to take one of these letters to my mother, and take the other yourself to Miss Kingston. Tell her before you give it her what has happened as gently as you can. As for yourself, Dan, you had your letters of freedom long ago, and I have left you five hundred dollars; so that you can get a cabin and patch of your own, and settle down when these troubles are over.”
“Let me go with you, master,” Dan said, with the tears streaming down his cheeks. “I would rather be killed with you a hundred times than get on without you.”
“I would take you if I could, Dan; but this is a service that I must do alone. Good-by, my boy; let us hope that in three or four days at the outside I shall be back here again safe and sound.”
He wrung Dan’s hand, and then started at a canter and kept on at that pace until he reached Richmond. A train with stores was starting for the south in a few minutes; General Lee’s order enabled Vincent to have a horse-box attached at once, and he was soon speeding on his way. He alighted at Burksville Junction, and there purchased some rough clothes for himself and some country-fashioned saddlery for his horse. Then, after changing his clothes at an inn and putting the fresh saddlery on his horse, he started.
It was getting late in the afternoon, but he rode on by unfrequented roads, stopping occasionally to inquire if any of the Federal cavalry had been seen in the neighborhood, and at last stopped for the night at a little village inn. As soon as it was daybreak he resumed his journey. He had purchased at Burksville some colored calico and articles of female clothing, and fastened the parcel to the back of his saddle. As he rode forward now he heard constant tales of the passing of parties of the enemy’s cavalry, but he was fortunate enough to get well round to the rear of the Federal lines before he encountered any of them. Then he came suddenly upon a troop.
“Where are you going to, and where have you come from?”
“Our farm is a mile away from Union Grove,” he said, “and I have been over to Sussex Courthouse to buy some things for my mother.”
“Let me see what you have got there,” the officer said. “You are rebels to a man here, and there’s no trusting any of you.”
Vincent unfastened the parcel and opened it. The officer laughed.
“Well, we won’t confiscate them as contraband of war.”
So saying he set spurs to his horse and galloped on with his troop. Vincent rode on to Union Grove, and then taking a road at random kept on till he reached a small farmhouse. He knocked at the door, and a woman came out.
“Mother,” he said, “can you put me up for a couple of days? I am a stranger here, and all the villages are full of soldiers.”
The woman looked at him doubtfully.
“What are you doing here?” she asked at last. “This ain’t a time for strangers; besides a young fellow like you ought to be ashamed to show yourself when you ought to be over there with Lee. My boys are both there and my husband. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, a strong-looking young fellow like you, to be riding about instead of fighting the Yankees. Go along! you will get no shelter here. I would scorn to have such as you inside my doors.”
“Perhaps I have been fighting there,” Vincent said significantly. “But one can’t be always fighting, and there are other things to do sometimes. For instance, to find out what the Yankees are doing and what are their plans.”
“Is that so?” the woman asked doubtfully.
“That is so,” he answered earnestly. “I am an officer in Wade Hampton’s cavalry, and, now Sheridan’s troopers have cut off all communication, I have come out to find for General Lee where the Yankees are building their batteries before Petersburg.”
“In that case you are welcome,” the woman said. “Come straight in. I will lead your horse out and fasten him up in the bush, and give him a feed there. It will never do to put him in the stable; the Yankees come in and out and they’d take him off sharp enough if their eyes fell on him. I think you will be safe enough even if they do come. They will take you for a son of mine, and if they ask any questions I will answer them sharp enough.”
“I wonder they have left you a feed of corn,” Vincent said, when the woman returned after taking away his horse.
“It’s no thanks to them,” she answered; “they have cleared out everything that they could lay their hands on. But I have been expecting it for months, and, as I have had nothing to do since my man and boys went away, I have been digging a great pit in the wood over there, and have buried most all my corn, and have salted my pigs down and buried them in barrels; so they didn’t find much. They took the old horse and two cows; but I hope the old horse will fall down the first time they uses him, and the cow meat will choke them as eats it. Now, is there anything as I can do to help you?”
“I want a basket with some eggs and chickens or vegetables to take into their camp to sell, but I am afraid I have not much chance of getting them.”
“I can help you there too,” the woman said. “I turned all my chickens into the wood the day I heard the Yankees had landed. They have got rather wild like; but I go out and give them some corn every evening. I expect if we look about we shall find some nests; indeed I know there are one or two of them sitting. So if you will come out with me we can soon knock down five or six of the creatures, and maybe get a score or two of eggs. As for vegetables, a horde of locusts couldn’t have stripped the country cleaner than they have done.”
They went out into the wood. Six hens were soon killed, and hunting about they discovered several nests and gathered about three dozen eggs. Vincent aided in plucking the chickens and they then returned to the house.
“You had best take a bite before you go,” she said. “It’s noon now, and you said you started at daybreak. Always get a meal when you can, say I.”
She produced a loaf and some bacon from a little cupboard hidden by her bed, and Vincent, who, now he thought of it, was feeling hungry, made a hearty meal.
“I will pay you for these chickens and eggs at once,” he said. “There is no saying whether I shall come back again.”
“I will not say no to your paying for the chickens and eggs,” she said, “because money is scarce enough, and I may have long to wait before my man and the boys come back; but as to lodging and food I would not touch a cent. You are welcome to all I have when it’s for the good cause.” Vincent started with the basket on his arm, and after walking three miles came upon the Federal camps.
Some of the regiments were already under canvas, others were still bivouacked in the open air, as the store-ships carrying the heavy baggage had not yet arrived. The generals and their staffs had taken up their quarters in the villages. Vincent had received accurate instructions from his hostess as to the position of the various villages, and avoided them carefully, for he did not want to sell out his stock immediately. He had indeed stowed two of the fowls away in his pocket so that in case any one insisted upon buying up all his stock he could place these in his basket and still push on.
He avoided the camps as much as he could. He could see the smoke rising in front of him, and the roar of guns was now close at hand. He saw on his right an elevated piece of ground, from which a good view could be obtained of the fortifications upon which the Federals were working. A camp had been pitched there, and a large tent near the summit showed that some officer of superior rank had his quarters there. He made a detour so as to come up at the back of the hill and when he reached the top he stood looking down upon the line of works.
They were nearly half a mile distant. The intervening ground had already been stripped of its hedges, and the trees cut down to form gabions, fascines, and platforms for the cannon. Thousands of men were at work; but in some parts they were clustered much more thickly than in others, and Vincent had no difficulty in determining where the principal batteries were in course of construction along this portion of the position. He was still gazing intently when two horsemen rode up from behind.
“Hallo you, sir! What are you looking at?” one of them asked sharply. “What are you spying about here?”
Vincent turned slowly round with a silly smile on his lips.
“I am spying all them chaps at work,” he said. “It reminds me for all the world of an ant-hill. Never did see so many chaps before. What be they a-doing? Digging a big drain or making a roadway, I guess.”
“Who are you, sir?” the officer asked angrily.
“Seth Jones I be, and mother’s sent me to sell some fowls and eggs. Do you want to buy any? Fine birds they be.”
“Why, Sheridan,” laughed the other officer, “this is a feather out of your cap. I thought your fellows had cleared out every hen-roost within twenty miles of Petersburg already.”
“I fancy they have emptied most of them,” the general said grimly. “Where do you come from, lad?”
“I comes from over there,” Vincent said, jerking his thumb back. “I lives there with mother. Father and the other boys they have gone fighting Yanks; but they wouldn’t take me with them ’cause I ain’t sharp in my wits, though I tells them I could shoot a Yank as well as they could if they showed me.”
“And who do you suppose all those men are?” General Sheridan asked, pointing toward the trenches.
“I dunno,” Vincent replied. “I guess they be niggers. There be too many of them for whites; besides whites ain’t such fools to work like that. Doesn’t ye want any fowl?” and he drew back the cloth and showed the contents of the basket.
“Take them as a matter of curiosity, general,” the other officer laughed. “It will be downright novelty to you to buy chickens.”
“What do you want for them, boy?”
“Mother said as I wasn’t to take less nor a dollar apiece.”
“Greenbacks, I suppose?” the officer asked.
“I suppose so. She didn’t say nothing about it; but I has not seen aught but greenbacks for a long time since.”
“Come along, then,” the officer said; “we will take them.”
They rode up to the large tent, and the officers alighted, and gave their horses to two of the soldiers.
“Give your basket to this soldier.”
“I want the basket back again. Mother would whop me if I came back without the basket again.”
“All right,” the officer said; “you shall have it back in a minute.”
Vincent stood looking anxiously after the orderly.
“Do you think that boy is as foolish as he seems?” General Sheridan asked his companion. “He admits that he comes of a rebel family.”
“I don’t think he would have admitted that if he hadn’t been a fool. I fancy he is a half-witted chap. They never would have left a fellow of his age behind.”
“No, I think it’s safe,” Sheridan said; “but one can’t be too particular just at present. See, the trees in front hide our work altogether from the rebels, and it would be a serious thing if they were to find out what we are doing.”
“That boy could not tell them much even if he got there,” the other said; “and from this distance it would need a sharp eye and some military knowledge to make out anything of what is going on. Where does your mother live, boy?”
“I ain’t going to tell you,” Vincent said doggedly “Mother said I wasn’t to tell no one where I lived, else the Yankee thieves would be a-coming down and stealing the rest of our chickens.”
The officers laughed.
“Well, go along, boy; and I should advise you not to say anything about Yankee thieves another time, for likely enough you will get a broken head for your pains.”
Vincent went off grumbling, and with a slow and stumbling step made his way over the brow of the hill and down through the camps behind. Here he sold his last two fowls and his eggs, and then walked briskly on until he reached the cottage from which he had started.
“I am glad to see you back,” the woman said as he entered. “How have you got on?”
“Capitally,” he said. “I pretended to be half an idiot, and so got safely out, though I fell into Sheridan’s hands. He suspected me at first, but at last he thought I was what I looked–a fool. He wanted to know where you lived, but I wouldn’t tell him. I told him you told me not to tell any one, ’cause if I did the Yankee thieves would be clearing out the rest of the chickens.”
“Did you tell him that, now?” the woman said in delight; “he must have thought you was a fool. Well, it’s a good thing the Yanks should hear the truth sometimes. Well, have you done now?”
“No, I have only seen one side of their works yet; I must try round the other flank to-morrow. I wish I could get something to sell that wouldn’t get bought up by the first people I came to, something I could peddle among the soldiers.”
“What sort of thing?”
“Something in the way of drinks, I should say,” Vincent said. “I saw a woman going among the camps. She had two tin cans and a little mug. I think she had lemonade or something of that sort.”
“It wouldn’t be lemonade,” the woman said “I haven’t seen a lemon for the last two years; but they do get some oranges from Florida. Maybe it was that, or perhaps it was spirits and water.”
“Perhaps it was,” Vincent agreed; “though I don’t think they would let any one sell spirits in the camp.”
“I can’t get you any lemons or oranges neither,” the woman said; “but I might make you a drink out of molasses and herbs, with some spirits in it. I have got a keg of old rye buried away ever since my man went off, six months ago; I am out of molasses, but I dare say I can borrow some from a neighbor, and as for herbs they are about the only thing the Yankees haven’t stole. I think I could fix you up something that would do. As long as it has got spirits in it, it don’t much matter what you put in besides, only it wouldn’t do to take spirits up alone. You can call it plantation drink, and I don’t suppose any one would ask too closely what it’s made of.”
“Thank you, that will do capitally.”
The next morning Vincent again set out, turning big steps this time toward the right flank of the Federal position. He had in the course of the evening made a sketch of the ground he had seen, marking in all the principal batteries, with notes as to the number of guns for which they seemed to be intended.
“Look here,” he said to the woman before leaving. “I may not be as lucky to-day as I was yesterday. If I do not come back to-night, can you find any one you can trust to take this piece of paper round to Richmond? Of course he would have to make his way first up to Burksville junction, and then take train to Richmond. When he gets there he must go down to Petersburg, and ask for General Lee. I have written a line to go with it, saying what I have done this for, and asking the general to give the bearer a hundred dollars.”
“I will take it myself,” the woman said; “not for the sake of the hundred dollars, though I ain’t saying as it wouldn’t please the old man when he comes back to find I had a hundred dollars stored away; but for the cause. My men are all doing their duty, and I will do mine. So trust me, and if you don’t come back by daybreak to-morrow morning, I will start right away with these letters. I will go out at once and hide them somewhere in case the Yanks should come and make a search. If you are caught they might, like enough, trace you here, and then they would search the place all over and maybe set it alight. If you ain’t here by nightfall I shall sleep out in the wood, so if they come they won’t find me here. If anything detains you, and you ain’t back till after dark, you will find me somewhere near the tree where your horse is tied up.”
Provided with a large can full of a liquor that the woman compounded, and which Vincent, on tasting, found to be by no means bad, he started from the cottage. Again he made his way safely through the camps, and without hindrance lounged up to a spot where a large number of men belonging to one of the negro regiments were at work.
“Plantation liquor?” he said, again assuming a stupid air, to a black sergeant who was with them. “First-rate stuff; and only fifteen cents a glass.”
“What plantation liquor like?” the negro asked. “Me not know him.”
“First-rate stuff,” Vincent repeated. “Mother makes it of spirit and molasses and all sorts. Fifteen cents a glass.”
“Well, I will take a glass,” the sergeant said. “Mighty hot work dis in de sun; but don’t you say nuffin about the spirit. Ef dey ask you, just you say molasses and all sorts, dat’s quite enough. De white officer won’t let spirits be sold in de camp.
“Dat bery good stuff,” he said, smacking his lips as he handed back the little tin measure. “You sell him all in no time.” Several of the negroes now came round, and Vincent disposed of a considerable quantity of his plantation liquor. Then he turned to go away, for he did not want to empty his can at one place. He had not gone many paces when a party of three or four officers came along.
“Hallo, you sir, what the deuce are you doing here?” one asked angrily. “Don’t you know nobody is allowed to pass through the lines?”
“I didn’t see no lines. What sort of lines are they? No one told me nothing about lines. My mother sent me out to sell plantation liquor, fifteen cents a glass.”
“What’s it like?” one of the officers said laughing. “Spirits, I will bet a dollar, in some shape or other. Pour me out a glass. I will try it, anyhow.”
Vincent filled the little tin mug, and handed it to the officer. As he lifted his face to do so there was a sudden exclamation.
“Vincent Wingfield!” and another officer drawing his sword attacked him furiously, shouting, “A spy! Seize him! A Confederate spy!”
Vincent recognized with astonishment in the Federal officer rushing at him with uplifted sword his old antagonist, Jackson. Almost instinctively he whirled the can, which was still half full of liquor, round his head and dashed it full in the face of his antagonist, who was knocked off his feet by the blow. With a yell of rage he started up again and rushed at Vincent. The latter snatched up a shovel that was lying close by and stood his ground. The officers were so surprised at the suddenness of the incident and the overthrow of their companion, and for the moment so amused at the latter’s appearance, covered as he was from head to foot with the sticky liquor and bleeding from a cut inflicted by the edge of the can, that they were incapable of interference.
Blinded with rage, and with the liquid streaming into his eyes, Jackson rushed at Vincent. The latter caught the blow aimed at him on the edge of the shovel, and then swinging his weapon round smote his antagonist with all his strength, the edge of the shovel falling fairly upon his head. Without a cry the traitor fell dead in his tracks. The other officers now drew their swords and rushed forward. Vincent, seeing the futility of resistance, threw down his shovel. He was instantly seized.
“Halloo there!” the senior officer called to the men, who had stopped in their work and were gazing at the sudden fray that had arisen, “a sergeant and four men.” Four of the negro soldiers and a sergeant at once stepped forward. “Take this man and conduct him to the village. Put him in a room, and stay there with him. Do you, sergeant, station yourself at the door, so that I shall know where to find you. Put on your uniforms and take your guns.” The men put on their coats, which they had removed while at work, shouldered their muskets, and took their places, two on each side of the prisoner. The officers then turned to examine their prostrate comrade.
“It’s all over with him,” one said, stooping down; “the shovel has cut his skull nearly in half. Well, I fancy he was a bad lot. I don’t believe in Southerners who come over to fight in our ranks; besides he was at one time in the rebel army.”
“Yes, he was taken prisoner,” another said. “Then his father, who had to bolt from the South, because, he said, of his Northern sympathies, but likely enough for something else, came round, made interest somehow and got his son released, and then some one else got him a commission with us. He always said he had been obliged to fight on the other side, but that he had always been heart and soul for the North; anyhow, he was always blackguarding his old friends. I always doubted the fellow. Well, there’s an end of him; and anyhow he has done useful service at last by recognizing this spy. Fine-looking young fellow that. He called him Vincent Wingfield. I seem to remember the name; perhaps I have read it in some of the rebel newspapers we got hold of; likely enough some one will know it. Well, I suppose we had better have Jackson carried into camp.”
Four more of the negroes were called out, and these carried the body into the camp of his regiment. An officer was also sent from the working party to report the capture of a spy to his colonel.
“I will report it to the general,” the latter said; “he rode along here about a quarter of an hour ago, and may not be back again for some hours. As we have got the spy fast it cannot make any difference.”
As he was marched back to the village Vincent felt that there was no hope for him whatever. He had been denounced as a spy, and although the lips that had denounced him had been silenced forever, the mischief had been done. He could give no satisfactory account of himself. He thought for a moment of declaring that a mistake had been made, but he felt that no denial would counterbalance the effect of Jackson’s words. The fury, too, with which the latter had attacked him would show plainly enough that his assailant was absolutely certain as to his identity, and even that there had been a personal feud between them. Then he thought that if he said that he was the son of the woman in the line she would hear him out in the assertion. But it was not likely that this would be accepted as against Jackson’s testimony; besides, inquiry among her neighbors would certainly lead to the discovery that she was speaking an untruth, and might even involve her in his fate as his abettor. But most of all he decided against this course because it would involve the telling of a lie.
Vincent considered that while in disguise, and doing important service for his country, he was justified in using deceit; but merely for the purpose of saving his own life, and that perhaps uselessly, he would not lie. His fate, of course, was certain. He was a spy, and would be shot for it. Vincent had so often been in the battlefield, so often under a fire from which it seemed that no one could come alive, that the thought that death was at hand had not for him the terrors that possess those differently circumstanced. He was going to die for the Confederacy as tens of thousands of brave men had died before, and he rejoiced over the precaution he had taken as to the transmission of his discoveries on the previous day, and felt sure that General Lee would do full justice to his memory, and announce that he had died in doing noble service to the country.
He sighed as he thought of his mother and sisters; but Rose had been married in the spring, and Annie was engaged to an officer in General Beauregard’s staff. Then he thought of Lucy away in Georgia and for the first time his lip quivered and his cheek paled.
The negro guards, who had been enlisted but a few weeks, were wholly ignorant of their duties, and having once conveyed their prisoner into the room, evidently considered that all further necessity for military strictness was at an end. They had been ordered to stay in the room with the prisoner, but no instructions had been given as to their conduct there. They accordingly placed their muskets in one corner of the room, and proceeded to chatter and laugh without further regarding him.
Under other circumstances this carelessness would have inspired Vincent with the thought of escape, but he knew that it was out of the question here. There were Federal camps all round and a shout from the negroes would send a hundred men in instant pursuit of him. There was nothing for him to do but to wait for the end, and that end would assuredly come in the morning. From time to time the door opened, and the negro sergeant looked in. Apparently his ideas on the subject of discipline were no stricter than those of his men, for he made no remark as to their carelessness. Presently, when he looked in, the four soldiers were standing at the window watching a regiment passing by on its way to take its share of the work in the trenches. Vincent, who was sitting at a table, happened to look up, and was astonished at seeing the sergeant first put his finger on his lips, then take off his cap, put one hand on his heart, and gesticulate with the other.
Vincent gazed at him in blank surprise, then he started and almost sprang to his feet, for in the Yankee sergeant he recognized Tony Morris; but the uplifted hand of the negro warned him of the necessity of silence. The negro nodded several times, again put his hand on his heart, and then disappeared. A thrill of hope stirred every vein in Vincent’s body. He felt his cheeks flush and had difficulty in maintaining his passive attitude. He was not, then, utterly deserted; he had a friend who would, he was sure, do all in his power to aid him.
It was extraordinary indeed that it should be Tony who was now his jailer; and yet, when he thought it over, it was not difficult to understand. It was natural enough that he should have enlisted when the black regiments were raised. He had doubtless heard his name shouted out by Jackson, and had, as Vincent now remembered, stepped forward as a sort of volunteer when the officer called for a sergeant and four men.
Yes, Tony would doubtless do all in his power to save him. Whether it would be possible that he could do so was doubtful; but at least there was a hope, and with it the feeling of quiet resignation with which Vincent had faced what appeared to be inevitable at once disappeared, and was succeeded by a restless longing for action. His brain was busy at once in calculating the chances of his being ordered for instant execution or of the sentence being postponed till the following morning, and, in the latter case, with the question of what guard would be probably placed over him, and how Tony would set about the attempt to aid him to escape.
Had the general been in camp when he was brought in he would probably have been shot at sunset, but if he did not return until the afternoon he would would most likely order the sentence to be carried out at daybreak. In any case, as he was an officer, some time might be granted to him to prepare for death. Then there was the question whether he would be handed over to a white regiment for safekeeping or left in the hands of the black regiment that had captured him. No doubt after the sentence was passed the white officers of that regiment would see that a much stricter watch than that now put over him was set.
It was not probable that he would still be in charge of Tony, for as the latter would be on duty all day he would doubtless be relieved. In that case how would he manage to approach him, and what means would he use to direct the attention of the sentries in another direction? He thought over the plans that he himself would adopt were he in Tony’s place. The first thing would be, of course, to make the sentries drunk if possible. This should not be a difficult task with men whose notions of discipline were so lax as those of the negroes; but it would be no easy matter for Tony to obtain spirits, for these were strictly prohibited in the Federal camp. Perhaps he might help Tony in this way. He fortunately had a small notebook with a pencil in his pocket, and as his guards were still at the window he wrote as follows:
“I am captured by the Yankees. So far as I can see, my only chance of escape is to make the sentries drunk. The bearer is absolutely to be trusted. Give him his canteen full of spirits, and tell him what I have written here.”
He tore this page out, folded it up, and directed it to Mrs. Grossmith, Worley Farm, near Union. Presently Tony looked in again and Vincent held up the note. The sergeant stepped quickly forward and took it, and then said sharply to the men:
“Now den, dis not keeping guard. Suppose door open and dis fellow run away. What dey say to you? Two of you keep your eye on dis man. Suppose Captain Pearce come in and find you all staring out window. He kick up nice bobbery.”
Thus admonished as to their duty, two of the negroes took up their muskets and stood with their backs to the door, with their eyes fixed on the prisoner with such earnestness that Vincent could not suppress a smile. The negroes grinned responsively.
“Dis bad affair, young sah,” one said; “bery bad affair. Ob course we soldiers ob de Union, and got to fight if dey tell us; but no like dis job ob keeping guard like dis.”
“It can’t be helped,” Vincent said; “and of course you must do your duty. I am not going to jump up the chimney or fly through the window, and as there are four of you, to say nothing of the sergeant outside, you needn’t be afraid of my trying to escape.”
“No sah, dat not possible nohow; we know dat bery well. Dat’s why we no trouble to look after you. But as de sargent say watch, oh course we must watch. We bery pleased to see you kill dat white officer. Dat officer bery hard man and all de men hate him, and when you knock him down we should like to hab given cheer. We all sorry for you; still you see, sah, we must keep watch. If you were to get away, dar no saying what dey do to us.”
“That’s all right,” Vincent said; “I don’t blame you at all. As you say, that was a very bad fellow. I had quarreled with him before, because he treated his slaves so badly.”
CHAPTER XIX. FREE.
It was not until late in the afternoon that a white officer entered, and ordered the soldiers to conduct the prisoner to the general’s tent.
“What is your name, sir, and who are you?” the general asked as he was brought in. “I hear that you were denounced by Lieutenant Jackson as being a spy, and that he addressed you as Vincent Wingfield. What have you got to say to the charge?”
“My name is Vincent Wingfield, sir,” Vincent replied quietly. “I am upon the staff of General Wade Hampton, and in pursuance of my duty I came here to learn what I could of your movements and intentions.”
The general was silent for a moment.
“Then, sir, as you are an officer, you must be well aware of the consequence of being discovered in disguise here. I regret that there is no course open to me but to order you to be shot as a spy to-morrow morning.”
One of the officers who was standing by the general here whispered to him.
“Ah, yes, I remember,” he said. “Are you the same officer, sir, who escaped from Elmira?”
“I am, sir,” Vincent replied; “and at the same time aided in the escape of the man who denounced me to-day, and who then did his best to have me arrested by sending an anonymous letter stating the disguise in which I was making my way through the country. I was not surprised to find that he had carried his treachery further, and was now fighting against the men with whom he had formerly served.”
“He deserved the fate that has befallen him,” the general said. “Still this does not alter your position. I regret that I must order my sentence to be carried out.”
“I do not blame you, sir. I knew the risks I ran when I accepted the mission. My only regret is that I failed in supplying my general with the information they required.”
The general then turned to the officer who had brought Vincent up.
“This officer will remain in charge of your men for to-night, Captain Pearce. You will see that the sentence is carried into effect at daybreak. I need not tell you that a vigilant guard must be placed over him.”
Vincent was again marched back to the village, but the officer halted the party when he arrived there.
“Stop here a few minutes, sergeant,” he said. “That room is required for an officer’s quarters. I will look round and find another place.”
In a few minutes he returned, and Vincent was conducted to a shed standing in the garden of one of the houses.
“Place one man on guard at the door and another behind,” he said to the sergeant. “Let the other two relieve them, and change the watch once an hour.”
The sergeant saluted.
“De men hab been on duty since daylight, sah, and none of us hab had anything to eat.”
“Oh, I forgot that,” the officer replied. “Very well, I will send another party to relieve you at once.”
In ten minutes another sergeant and four men arrived at the spot, and Tony and his companions returned to the camp.
As soon as Tony had devoured a piece of bread he left the camp, walked with careless gait through the camps behind, and went on until he reached a village in which were comparatively few soldiers. He went up to a woman who was standing at a door.
“Missus,” he said, “I hab got a letter to take, and I ain’t bery sure as to de name. Will you kindly tell me what is de address writ on dis paper?”
The woman looked at it.
“Mrs. Grossmith, Worley Farm, near Union. That’s about two miles along the road. If you go on any one will tell you which is Mrs. Grossmith’s.”
Tony hurried on, for he wanted to get back to the camp before it was dark. He had no difficulty in finding Worley Farm.
“Now, then, what do you want?” its owner said sharply, as she opened the door in reply to his knock. “There’s nothing for you here. You can look round if you like. It’s been all stripped clean days ago, so I tell you.”
“Me no want anything, ma’am. Me hab a letter for you.” The woman in surprise took the note and opened it. She read it through and looked earnestly at Tony.
“He says you are to be trusted,” she said. “Is that so?”
“I would gib my life for him twenty times over,” Tony replied. “He got me away from a brutal master and bought my wife out ob slavery for me. What does he say, ma’am? For de Lord sake tell me. Perhaps he tell me how to get him clar.”
The woman read out the contents of the note.
“Dat’s it, missus, sure enough; dat’s the way,” he exclaimed in delight. “Me tink and tink all day, and no manage to tink of anything except to shoot de sentry and fight wid de oders and get him out; but den all de oder sojers come running down, and no chance to escape. If me can get de spirits dat’s easy enough. Me make dem all drunk as hogs.”
“I can give you that,” the woman said. “Is there anything else you will want? What are you going to do with him if you get him free? They will hunt you down like vermin.”
“I tought we might get down to de river and get ober somehow. Dere will be no getting trou der cavalry. Dey will hab dem on every road.”
“Well, you want some clothes, anyhow; you can’t go about in these soldier clothes. The first Yank you came across would shoot you for a deserter, and the first of our men as a traitor. Well, by the time you get back to-night, that is if you do come back, I will get up a chest I’ve get buried with my men’s clothes in it. They didn’t want to take them away to the war with them, so I hid them up.”