It was fully a week before the Caribees were installed ready for Sunday inspection, as no exigency was permitted to interfere with morning and afternoon drill, guard-mount, and parade. Battalion and brigade drill, too, were new diversions for the Caribees, as now, camped near other troops, these more complicated movements were part of the regiment's allotted duty. After they were sufficiently trained in this they were to take part in a grand review by the general-in-chief, when the President, the Secretary of War, and all the great folks in Washington rode out to witness the spectacle.
There was no time for dullness. Every hour had its duty, and these soon became second nature to the zealous young warriors. Such rivalry to best master the manual, to hold the most soldierly stature in the ranks, to detect the drill-sergeant when, to test their attention, he gave a false command! And then the coronal joy of a reward of merit for efficiency and alertness on guard! The rapture the bit of paper brought, and the exultation with which the hero thus signalized went off to town for the day, wandered through the waste of streets, stood before Willard's and admired in awe and wonder the indolent groups from whose shoulders gleamed one and sometimes two stars! One day Jack and Barney, walking in Fifteenth Street, saw a stout man, with no insignia to indicate rank or station, coming out of the headquarters hurriedly. He walked to the edge of the pavement, and, looking up and down, seemed disconcerted. Noticing the two lads, he came to where Jack was standing in a preoccupied way, and the two saluted decorously. He returned the salute and asked:
"Sergeant, are you on duty?"
"No, sir; I'm on leave for the day."
"Ah, good; my orderly was here a moment ago, but I don't see him anywhere. Would you mind taking this telegram to the War Department, through the park yonder?"
He gave Jack an envelope and hurried back into the building as the two lads started with alacrity across the street.
"I've seen that chap before, somewhere," Barney said, panting with the rapid pace.
"He's a staff officer, I suppose, not very high rank, for he only had a blouse on. General officers always wear double-button frocks even if they don't carry the insignia."
The War Department was easy of access, an old building not unlike Jack's own home in Acredale. He asked the sentry at the door where his envelope was to be delivered. The man looked at it, pointed to a closed door, and Jack, receiving no response to his knock, entered. Three men were in the room. One was seated at a vast desk with papers, maps, dispatches, and books piled in disheartening confusion, within reach of his hand. Behind him a young captain in uniform sat writing. But the figure that fixed Jack's reverential attention was half sprawling, half lying over the heaped-up impediments of the big desk. The young soldier caught sight of the serious, sad face, the wistful humorous eyes, and he knew, with a thrill through all his body and an adoring throb in his breast, that it was the President—hapless heritor of generations of disjointed time. All thought of his errand, all thought of place and person, faded as he realized this presence. How long he would have remained in this mute adoration there is no telling. The restless, keen eyes looked up sharply and a dissonant, imperious, repellent voice jerked out:
"Well, my man, what is it?"
Without a word Jack handed him the envelope, and with a sort of reverence to the tall figure whose face was turned kindly toward him he backed to the door.
"O Barney, I've seen the President!"
"Seen the President! No? Oh! Why could not I have gone in with you? It's always my luck."
"No: it was my luck. But take heart. He will come out pretty soon, and we'll loaf about here. Perhaps we can see him as he goes back to the White House yonder."
But though they waited far into the afternoon, forgetting their dinner in the impulse of homage, they did not catch sight of the well-known figure, for the President's way to the Secretary's room was a private one, and when he went away the boys of course could not see him. But Jack's good fortune was the talk of the regiment for many a day, and for months when the fellows of the Caribee got leave they lingered expectantly about the modest headquarters, hoping that a missing orderly might bring them Jack Sprague's proud distinction of seeing the President face to face. On the grand review, a few days later, Jack and his crony were reminded of the encounter at headquarters, for the man who had given the envelope to carry to the war office was riding a splendid horse next to the President. Two stars glittered on his shoulder now, and as he answered the cheers that saluted the group, the young men saw that it was General McDowell, the commander of the forces. The President rode along the lines, with a kindly wistfulness in the honest eyes that studied with no superficial glance the long line of shouting soldiery. He was not an imposing figure in the sense of cavalier bravery, but no man that watched as he moved in the glittering group, conspicuous by his somber black and high hat, ever forgot the melancholy, rapt regard he gave the ranks, as at an easy canter he passed the fronts of the squares or sat solemnly at the march past that concluded the review.
THE STEP THAT COSTS.
What between the doings of the camp and the daily visit to Washington, "soldiering" grew into an enchanting existence for the young warriors of the Caribee. Their quarters were on the high plateaus north and west of the city—which were in those days shaded slopes, that made suburban Washington a vale of Tempe. In the streets they saw bedizened officers, from commanders of armies down to presidential orderlies. In the Senate and House they heard the voices of men afterward potent in public councils.
What an exuberant, vagrant life it was! The blood warms and the nerves tingle after the tensions and heats of a quarter of a century as those days of sublime vagabondage come back. The melodious morning calls that waked the sleepy, lusty young bodies; the echoing bugle and the abrupt drum! And then the roll-call, in the misty morning when the sun, blear and very red, rose as if blushing, or apoplectic after the night's carouse! It was an army of poets—of Homers—that began the never monotonous routine of these memorable days, for the incense of national sympathy came faint but intoxicating to the soldier's nostrils in the visits of great statesmen, the picnics of civilians, the copious descriptive letters of correspondents and the daily scrawls from far-away valleys, where fond eyes watched the sun rise, noted the stars, to mark the special duties their darlings were doing in the watches of the night. And then the mad music of cheers when the news came that the young McClellan in West Virginia had scattered the adventurous columns of Lee, capturing guns, men, and arms, and forever saving the great Kanawha country to the Union! And in Kentucky the rebels had been outmanoeuvred; while in Missouri the glorious Lyon and the crafty Blair had, one in the Cabinet, the other in the camp, routed the secret, black, and Janus-like rabble of treason and anarchy.
To feel that he was part of all this; that, at rest in the iron ring girdling the capital, he was might in leash; that to-morrow he would be vengeance let loose—this was the sustaining, exulting thought that made the volunteer the best of soldiers. His heart was all in the glorious ardor for action. Night and morning he looked proudly at the sacred ensign waving lightly in the summer breeze, and he remembered that the eyes of Washington had rested on the same standard at Valley Forge; that the sullen battalions of Cornwallis had saluted it at Yorktown.
It was a beautiful ardor that filled the young hosts that waited in leash on the green hills of the Potomac those months of turmoil, when Scott and McDowell were straining the crude machinery of war to get ready for the vital lunge. Jack and his Acredale squad, as the college fellows were called, lived in a perpetual dream, from which the hard realities of drill, now six hours a day, could not waken them. In days of release they scoured the Maryland hills, secretly hoping that an adventurous rebel picket might appear and give them occasion to return to camp decked with preluding laurels. Mile after mile of the charming woodland country they scoured, their hearts beating at the appearance of any animate thing that for a brief, intoxicating moment they could conjure into a rebel advance post. But, beyond wan and reticent yokels, engaged in the primitive husbandry of this slave section, they never encountered any one that could be counted overt enemies of the cause. Money was plenty among these excursive groups, and they were welcomed in Company K with effusive outbreaks by their less restive comrades.
As July wore on, the signs of movement grew. Regiments were moved away mysteriously, and soon the Caribees were almost alone on Meridian Hill. Jack was filled with dire fears that the commanding officer, having discovered the incompetency of Oswald, feared to take the Caribees to the front. Something of the rumor spread through the regiment, and if, as reputed, "Old Sauerkraut" (this was the name he got behind his back) had spies in all the companies, the adage about listeners was abundantly confirmed. In the secrecy of Jack's tent, however, the subject was freely discussed. Nick Marsh, the poet of the class, as became the mystic tendencies of his tribe, was for poisoning the detested Pomeranian—Oswald was a compatriot of Bismarck, often boasting, as the then slowly emerging statesman became more widely known, that he lived in his near neighborhood. Marsh's suggestion fell upon fruitful perceptions. Bernard Moore—Barney, for short—was to be a physician, and had already passed an apprenticeship in a pharmacy, coincident with his college term in Jack's class.
"By the powers of mud and blood, Nick, dear, I have it!"
"Have what, Barney, me b'y?" Nick asked, mimicking Barney's quaintly displaced vowels.
"Why, the way to get rid of Old Schnapps and Blitzen—more power to me!"
"All the power you want, if you'll only do that; and your voice will be as sweet as 'the harp that once in Tara's halls—'"
"Never moind the harp—Sassenach—here's what we can do. Tim Hussey is Oswald's orderly; he and I are good friends. I know a preparation that will turn the sauerkraut and sausages, that Oswald eats so much of, into degluted fire and brimstone, warranted to keep him on the broad of his back for ten days or a fortnight. Will ye all swear secrecy?"
"We will! We will!"
"On the double crown on your head," Jack answered, solemnly, "which you have often told us was considered a sign that an angel had touched you—I'm sure nothing could be more solemn than that. It isn't every fellow that can get an angel to touch the top of his head."
"No; most fellows can consider themselves lucky if an angel touches their lips—or heart," Barney cried, naively.
"Well, never mind that sort of angel now, Barney," Nick said, pettishly; "I notice that you always bring up with something about the girls, no matter what the subject we set off on. It's the jalap—isn't that what it's called?—we want to hear about."
"There isn't enough poetry or sentiment in the two o' ye to fill a wind-blown buttercup. No wonder ye don't care to talk of the gurls—they'll have none of ye."
"We'll be satisfied if they'll have you, Barney. I'm sure that's magnanimous. But if your jalap takes as much time in working Old Schnapps as you take in explaining it, the war will be over, and we shall have seen none of it."
"It's too great a conception to be hastily set forth. Give me time. I'll lay a guinea that Oswald goes to the hospital before this day week. Let us see. This is the 14th; before the 20th—" and Barney gave the barrel of his gun, near him, a furtive wipe with his coat-sleeve.
"Barney, if you'll do that, I'll gather every four-leaved clover between here and Richmond to give you; and, what's more, if I die I'll leave you my bones to operate."
"Ah, Nick, dear, I'd rather have your little finger living than all the possessions of your father's bank. If you were dead—" And honest Barney seized the poet's hand sentimentally.
"Come, come, fellows, what sort of soldiering do you call this? You remind me of two school-girls," Jack remonstrated, as in duty bound to keep up the warrior spirit.
"Yer acquaintances among females being chiefly of the silly sort, it's no wonder we remind you of the only things you can look back on without blushing," Barney retorted; and a neighbor poking his head in the door to learn the cause of the hilarity, the conspirators sallied out for a jaunt until parade-time. Now, what means Barney employed, or whether he had any handiwork in what befell, it does not fall to me to say, but this is what happened: A market hawker came into camp the next morning and went straight to the big marquee tent where Colonel Oswald stood, in all the bravery of a new broadcloth uniform with spreading eagles on the shoulders. The savory fumes of hot sauerkraut aroused the warrior from his reveries, and he asked, in vociferous delight:
"Was haben sie? Kohlen, nicht wahr—sauerkraut—das is aber schon?"
"Yes, mein golonel, I hof cabbage und sauerkraut und"—looking about circumspectly—"etwas schnapps aus Antwerpen gebracht?"
The "golonel's" eyes glistened and he made a motion for the vender to go to the rear of the marquee. Passing through from the front, he met him at the rear, and the bargain was hastily concluded, Marsh secreting three portly bottles in his chest, and turning the edibles over to Hussey to store in the larder. There had been a good deal of uneasiness in camp over rumors of cholera, yellow fever, and other dismal epidemics. When, therefore, the evening after the colonel's purchase the regimental surgeon was summoned in alarm, it was instantly believed in the regiment that "Old Sauerkraut" was stricken with cholera. He at first suffered hideous pains in the stomachic regions. This was followed by a raging thirst, and, unknown to the physician, the three bottles of schnapps were quite emptied. On the fourth day the poor man, very woe-begone, but now suffering no pain, was carried to the hospital, and the next day, as the campaign was about to begin, he was sent North, to leave room near the field for those who should be wounded in the coming engagement.
Company K was drilling on the wide plateau between the camp and the highway when the ambulance bearing the afflicted officer came slowly over the road worn through the greensward. Hussey sat solemnly on the seat with the driver, and as the vehicle reached the company, standing at rest, Barney Moore in the rear rank spoke up:
"Tim, is the poor colonel no better?"
"Divil a betther; it's worse he's intirely. God be good till 'im!"
Neither Jack nor Nick Marsh dared trust himself to meet the other's eyes as the helpless chief disappeared down the hillside, while Barney entered into an exhaustive treatise on the symptoms of cholera and the liability of the most robust to meet sudden disaster in this malarious upland, circumvailated by ages of decaying matter in the damp swamps on every hand. But when, an hour later, Company K's whole street was aroused by peal on peal of Abderian laughter, Jack and Nick were found helpless in their bunks, and Barney was engaged in presenting a potion to settle their collapsed nerves!
"Well, haven't I won the guinea, now? It cost me just twice that. If ye's have a spark of honor ye'll pay your just dues, so ye will," Barney said, in the evening, returning from parade, where Lieutenant-Colonel Grandison officiated as commander, to the unconcealed delight of all but the Oswald parasites among the officers.
"Don't say a word, Barney—to whom the medicos of mythology and all the wizards of antique story are clowns and mountebanks—you shall have the guinea or its equivalent."
"Twenty-one shillings gold, bear in mind. Yer father's a banker, ye ought to know that!"
"I do. You shall have the twenty-one shillings in the shinplasters of the republic."
The colonel had been routed none too soon. The very next morning, when the Caribees "fell in" for roll-call, the orderly received a paper from the commander's orderly which read, "Tents to be struck at twelve o'clock and the men ready to march, with ten days' rations."
At last! All the future, glowing with heroism, exciting with the march, the attack, the battle—ah! what after? With something of joy and regret the comely tents, that had given them home and harbor, were taken down, folded in precise line, and carried away for storage—for in the field the ranks were to bivouac in the open air. Such gayety; such jokes; such bravado; and augury of the to be! And the rumors! Telephones, had they been invented; stenographers, had they been present in legion, could not have kept track of the momentous tales that were instantly bruited about. General Scott was going to lead the army in person. His charger had been seen before the headquarters. The rebels were going to be swooped up by another such famous dash as the flank march from Vera Cruz to the plateau of Mexico! Then came a numbing fear that Beauregard's bragging host had fled, and that the movement would turn out a tedious stern chase to Richmond. In the agony of all this Jack, returning from a "detail" to the quartermaster's tent, heard his name shouted where his tent had been. He hurried to the spot and Nick saluted him with the cry—
"Here, Jack, are two recruits who declare they must enter Company K."
His gun was on his arm and his knapsack on his back, but only the realization that a score of eyes were upon him saved Jack from dropping limply on the ground, as, looking in the group, he saw Dick Perley and Tom Twigg grinning ingratiatingly at him.
"Where—how in the name of all that's sacred did you get here?" he gasped.
"Why, we enlisted for drummers in the Caribees, but the recruiting officer told us as we were eighteen we could carry muskets if we wanted to. We do want to, and we're going to come into Company K."
They looked him confidently in the face as Dick repeated this evidently long-practiced explanation. It would not do to take them to task before the company. Jack waited until the rest were scattered, and then, leading the boys aside, said, sternly:
"Don't you know you can be put in prison for this? You have run away from your parents and guardians. No one had a lawful right to enlist you. I shall send for the provost marshal and have you put in prison until your parents can come and get your enlistment annulled."
Appalled by Jack's stern manner as much as by his words, the two lads began to whimper and expostulate tearfully. They had trusted to his ancient friendship. They could have gone into any other regiment, but they had enlisted to be with him. Whatever happened, they were soldiers, and, if Tom Twigg wasn't eighteen until September, it was perfectly lawful for him to enlist as a drummer. Perley was eighteen in April last, and he was a soldier in spite of all that Jack could do. Jack was deeply perplexed. What could be done? If he attempted to put the machinery of reclamation in order, the boys would be subjected to all sorts of vicissitudes, prisons, everything distressing and demoralizing to tender youth.
"Do they know at home what you have done?" Jack asked, doubtingly.
"Yes," Dick said, noting with boyish quickness the indecision in Jack's troubled face. "I sent a letter to Aunt Pliny, from New York, telling her we were soldiers, and that we were happy and well."
"You impudent young scamp—to write that to your best friend! Don't you know it will kill her?"
Dick had no answer for this, and looked perplexedly at Tom, who was lost in admiration of a neighboring group engaged in athletic exercises. He felt rather than heard the question put by the Mentor, and observing Dick's discomfiture, stammered:
"It didn't kill your mother when you went for a soldier, I guess."
The astute young rascal had hit upon the weak place, and Jack stood in anxious doubt wondering what to do. An aide that he recognized from division headquarters rode past at the moment and Jack turned to watch him. He leaped from his horse at the colonel's tent. Jack again looked at the boys. They were lost in delight at the scene and oblivious of the debate going on in their guardian's mind.
"Stay here till I come back," he said, authoritatively, and strode off to Grandison's tent. As he reached it the major, McGoyle, was entering, and Jack waited until that officer should come out. He came presently, and Colonel Grandison with him. Jack saluted, and stated his dilemma to the commander, who listened with amused interest.
"I don't see that anything can be done now, Jack. I'm just about leaving the regiment. I have been assigned to General Tyler's staff during the campaign. McGoyle takes command of the regiment. He will need orderlies, and the boys can serve with him until we can get time to look into the business. I will settle the matter with him, and if you will write a telegram to the lad's family I will have it sent as I go to headquarters."
Jack's relief and gratitude were best seen in the brightening eye and the more buoyant movement that succeeded the heaviness and agitation of his first impression. The boys' coming would weigh upon him every minute until he was in some sort relieved of even passive complicity. He would feel that the kind-hearted "Pearls," as the aunts were often called, would look upon him as having led the truants into the army. But Grandison's interposition had shifted from him a weighty anxiety. The boys would not be left friendless and irresponsible in the turbulent streets of Washington. Nor would they, as orderlies, be in continuous or inextricable danger in battle—for whereas the soldier in the line must keep in ranks even when not in actual battle, with the enemy's missiles as destructive as in the charge or combat, the orderlies may take advantage of the inequalities of ground and natural objects. Jack explained something of this to the young Marlboroughs, and was fairly irritated at the crest-fallen look that came into their eager, shining faces when they comprehended that they were not to be with their hero.
"But you couldn't be in the company in any event. You look more like rebels than soldiers, with your gray jackets and trousers"—for the boys still wore their Acredale uniform, an imitation of the West Point cadet's costume. "We shall be on the march in a few minutes, and there is only one of two things to be done. Remain here in the 'unassigned' camp, where you may be transferred into any regiment in the service that needs recruits; or go, as Colonel Grandison has very kindly consented to have you, as orderlies or clerks."
The very possibility of being sent into some unknown regiment was a terror so great that the other alternative became less odious to the boys, and they trotted after Jack, as he stalked moody and distracted to Major Mike McGoyle's tent, now the only habitable spot left where a few hours before a symmetrical little city had stood.
"And so ye want to be solgers, me foine b'yes? Well, well, 'tis litter for yer mothers' knees ye are, with yer rosy cheeks and curling locks. It's a poor place here for yer bright oies and soft hands, me lads; but I'm not the wan to throw the dish after th' milk when it's spilt!"
He stroked the bared heads of the blushing lads, and, turning to their unhappy sponsor, he added with official brevity: "I will put Twiggs's son at me papers in the adjutant's office. Young Pearley can remain with your company until I make out a detail for him."
It was impossible for Jack to sustain the role of frowning displeasure as Dick skipped back with him to the company. He remembered his own delight three months before, even with the haunting thoughts of his mother's reproaches to dampen his ardor, and he was soon dazzling the neophyte with the wonders that were just about to begin.
It was the afternoon of the 16th of July, and the hillsides, which the day before were covered with tents as far as the eye could see on every hand, were now blue with masses of men, while other masses had been passing on the red highways since early morning, taking the direction of the Potomac bridges.
AN ARMY WITH BANNERS.
It has always seemed to me that the life, the routine, the many small haps in the daily function of a soldier, which in sum made up to him all that there was in the devoir of death, ought to be read with interest by the millions whose kin were part of the civil war, as well as by those who knew of it only as we know Napoleon's wars or Washington's. For my part, I would find a livelier pleasure in the diary of a common soldier, in any of the great wars, than I do in the confusing pamphlets, bound in volumes called history. I like to read of war as our Uncle Toby related it. I like to know what two observing eyes saw and the feelings that sometimes made the timidest heroes—sometimes cravens.
For a month—yes, months—the burden of the press, the prayers of the North, had been, "On to Richmond!" Jack, through Colonel Grandison, knew that General McDowell and the commander-in-chief, the venerable soldier Scott, had pleaded and protested against a move until the new levies under the three-months' call could be drilled and disciplined. But on the Fourth of July Congress had assembled, and the raw statesmen—with an eye to future elections—took up the public clamor. They gave the Cabinet, the President, no peace until General Scott and McDowell had given way and promised the pending movement.
"Our soldiers are so green that I shall move with fear," McDowell said to the President.
"Well, they" (meaning the rebels) "are green too, and one greenness will offset the other," Lincoln responded with kindly malice. It was useless to argue further; useless to point out that the rebels were not so "green," for the young men of the semi-aristocratic society of the South were trained to arms, whereas it was a mark of lawlessness and vulgarity to carry arms in the Puritan ranks of the North. Something of the unreadiness of the army, every reflecting soldier in the ranks comprehended, when he saw within the precincts of his own brigades the hap hazard conduct of the quartermaster's and staff departments. Some regiments had raw flour dealt them for rations and no bake-ovens to turn it into bread; some regiments had abundance of bread, but no coffee or meat rations. As to vegetables—beans, or anything of the sort—if the pockets of the soldiers had not been well supplied from home, the army that set out for Manassas would have been eaten with scurvy and the skin diseases that come from unseasoned food.
Now, at the very moment the legions were stripped for the march, many of them were without proper ammunition. Various arms were in use, and the same cartridge did not lit them all. Eager groups could be seen all through the brigades filing down the leaden end of the cartridge to make their weapons effective, until a proper supply could be obtained. This was promised at Fairfax Station, or Centreville, where the army's supplies were to be sent. So, in spite of the high hopes and feverish unrest for the forward movement, there was a good deal of sober foreboding among the men, who held to the American right to criticise as the Briton maintains his right to grumble. For the soldier in camp or on the march is as garrulous as a tea gossip, and no problem in war or statecraft is too complex or sacred for him to attempt the solution. Of the thirty thousand men leaving the banks of the Potomac that 16th of July there were, at a low estimate, ten thousand who believed themselves as fitted to command as the chieftains who led them.
By two o'clock the Caribees were in the line that had been passing city-ward since daylight. The sun had baked the sticky clay into brick-like hardness, and the hours of trampling, the tread of heavy teams, and the still heavier artillery, had filled the air with an opaque atmosphere of reddish powder, through which the masses passed in almost spectral vagueness. The city crowds, usually alert, when great masses of men moved, were discouraged by heat and dust, and the streets were quite given over to the military. Eager as Jack and his friends were to note the impression the march made upon the civilians, most of whom were thought to be secretly in sympathy with the rebellion, it was impossible to even catch sight of any but soldiers. Pennsylvania Avenue, when they reached it, was a billowy channel of impalpable powder. But at the Long Bridge the breeze from the wide channel of the river cleared the clouds of dust, and the men, catching glimpses of each other, broke into jocose banter. On the bridge they looked eagerly down the river, where the low roofs of Alexandria were visible, and upward on the Virginia shore where the gleaming walls of Arlington recalled to Jack far different times and scenes.
"Now we're in Jeff Davis's land," Barney called out from one of the rear files, as the company reached midway in the bridge.
"Not by a long shot," Nick Marsh cried. "Davis's land begins and ends within cannon-shot of himself. He is like the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen—he has to beg his neighbor's permission to hold battalion drill."
"He isn't so polite as the duke; he takes it without asking," Barney retorts.
"But now we are on the 'sacred soil,'" Jack cries, as the company debouched from the bridge up the steep, narrow road that seemed to be taking them to Arlington. In spite of the burning heat and the exhaustion of the three hours' march, the scene was, or rather the imagination of the men, invested each step with a sort of awe. They were at last in the enemy's territory. It had been held by the Union forces, only by dint of large numbers and strong fortifications. There wasn't a man in the company that didn't resent the fact, constantly obtruding itself on the ranks as they marched eagerly onward by every knoll, every bush in the landscape, that Union soldiers had been there before them! that their devouring eyes were not the first to mark these historic spots.
Tired as they were and burdensome as the heavy knapsacks and still heavier ammunition had become, they heard an aide give the order to bivouac with chagrin! They so longed to put undebatable ground behind them and really be where the distant coppice might be a curtain to the enemy! The Caribees marked with indignant surprise that, when they had turned into a field about seven o'clock, the long line following them pushed onward until far into the night, and they envied the contiguity this would give the lucky laggards to first see and engage the enemy! But they turned-to very merrily, in this first night of real soldiering. They were "in the field." All the parade part of military life was now relaxed. The hot little dress coats were left behind; there was no display. Even guard-mount was reduced to the simplest possible form.
With one impulse all the men—that is, all who had been alert enough to provide pen and paper—bestowed themselves about the candles allotted each group, and began letters "home," dated magniloquently "Headquarters in the Field. Tyler's Division, Sherman's Brigade, 16th July, 1861." The imperial impulse manifested itself in these curt epistles. I can't resist giving Jack's:
"Dear Mother: How I wish you and Polly could see us now! We are really on the march at last. The battle can't be far off. We are not many miles from the enemy, and, if he stands, what glorious news you will hear very soon! I wish you could have seen us to-day. Colonel Sherman, who is the sternest looking man I ever saw, a regular army officer, once a professor, told the major—you know McGoyle is commanding us now—he is a brick—Sherman told him that the Caribees did as good marching as the regulars, who came behind us. Dear old Mick, with his brogue and his blarney, has won every heart in the regiment, and you may be sure we shall see the whites of the enemy's eyes under him, which we never should have done under that odious Hessian, Oswald—in hospital now, thank Heaven—though some time, when I tell you the story, you will see that in this, as in most other things, Heaven helps those who help themselves. Taps will sound in five minutes, and I can only add that I am in good health, glorious spirits, and unshaken confidence that we shall return to Acredale before your longing to see your son overcomes your love of glory. We shall return victors, if not heroes—at least I know that you and Polly will believe this of your affectionate and dutiful son
Barney read one or two phrases of his composition to the indulgent ear of Jack and the poet, over which they laughed a good deal. "We are," he said, "before the enemy. I feel as our great ancestor, Baron Moore, felt at Fontenoy when the Sassenachs were over against the French lines—as if all the blood in Munster was in my veins and I wanted to spill it on the villains ferninst us."
The poet declined to quote from his epistle, and the three friends sat in the dim light until midnight, wondering over what the morrow had in store. Dick Perley listened in awe to Jack's wonderful ratiocinations on what was to come—secretly believing him much more learned in war than this General McDowell who was commanding the army. The first bugle sounded at three in the morning in the Caribees' camp, and when the coffee had been hastily dispatched, the men began to understand the cause of their being shunted into the field so early the evening before while the rear of the column marched ahead of them. The Caribees passed a mile or more of encampments, the men not yet aroused, and when at daylight the whole body was in motion they were in advance, with nothing before them but a few hundred cavalry.
A delirious expectation, a rapturous sense of holding the post of danger, kept every sense in such a thrill of anticipation that the hours passed like minutes. The dusty roads, the intolerable thirst, and the nauseous, tepid water, the blistered feet, the abraded hips, where the cartridge-box began to wear the flesh—all these woes of the march were ignored in the one impulse to see the ground ahead, to note the first sight of the enemy. It was not until four o'clock in the afternoon that the column was halted, and two companies, K and H, were marched out of the column and formed in platoons across the line of march, that the regiment learned with mortification that hitherto the route had been inside the Union lines! They soon saw the difference in the tactics of the march. The company was spread out in groups of four; these again were separated by a few yards, and in this order, sweeping like a drag-net, they advanced over the dry fields, through the clustering pines or into cultivated acres, and through great farm-yards.
Back of them the long column came, slowly winding over the sandy highway which curved through the undulating land. Here and there the skirmishers—for that was the office the two companies were now filling—came upon signs of picket-posts; and once, as Jack hurried beyond his group to the thicket, near a wretched cabin, a horse and rider were visible tearing through the foliage of a winding lane. He drew up his musket in prompt recognition of his duty, but he saw with mortification that the horse and rider continued unharmed. Other shots from the skirmish-line followed, but Jack's rebel was the only enemy seen, when, in the early dusk, an orderly from the main column brought the command to set pickets and bivouac for the night. Jack would have written with better grounds for his solemnity if he had waited until this evening; but now there was no chance.
The companies were the extreme advance of the army; nothing between them and the enemy but detached pickets of cavalry, at long distances apart, to fly back with the report of the least signs made by the rebels. These meager groups were forbidden fires, or any evidence of their presence that might guide hostile movement, and the infantry outposts felt that they were really the guardians of the sleeping thousands a mile or so behind them. No one minded the cold water and hard bread which for the first time formed the company's fare that night. Like the cavalry, fire was forbidden them. They formed little groups in the rear of the outer line of pickets, discussing with animation—even levity—the likelihood of an engagement the next day. It was the general opinion that if Beauregard meant to fight he would have made a stand at some of the excellent points of vantage that had been encountered in the day's march. Jack smiled wisely over these amateur guesses, and quite abashed the rest when he said:
"Beauregard is no fool. His army is massed near the point that he is guarding—Manassas Junction. You seem to think that war is a game of chance, armies fighting just where they happen to meet each other. Not at all. Our business is to march to Richmond; Beauregard's business is to prevent us. To do this he must, first of all, keep his lines of supply safe. An army without that is like a ship at sea without food—the more of a crew, the worse the situation. Of course, Beauregard had his skirmishers spread out in front of us, but, as there is no use in killing until some end is to be gained, they have got out of our way. If the spies that are in our ranks should send information that promised to give the rebels a chance to get at a big body of our men, before the whole army came up, you'd see a change of things very quick. We've got fifty thousand men, or thereabout" (Jack was wrong; there were but thirty thousand). "Now, these men are stretched back of us to Washington, fifteen miles or more, because the artillery must be guarded, and infantry only can do that. Now, suppose Beauregard finds that there is a gap somewhere between the forces stretching back, and he happens to have ten or fifteen thousand men handy? Why, he just swoops down upon us, and, if we can't defend ourselves until the rest of the army comes up, he has won what is called a tactical victory, and endangered our strategy."
"Goodness, Jack, you ought to have been commander-in-chief! You talk war like a book!" Barney cried, in mock admiration.
The war-talk went on late into the night, for the company, detached from camp, was not obliged to follow the signals of the bugles that came in melodious echoes over the fragrant fields. It was a thrilling sight as the lone watchers peered backward. The June fields for miles were dotted with blazing spires, as if the earth had opened to pour out columns of flame, guiding the wanderers on their trying way. The sleep of the night was desultory and fitful, excitement stimulating everybody to wakefulness.
"THE ASSYRIAN CAME DOWN LIKE THE WOLF ON THE FOLD."
The next morning the march was resumed by daylight, the two companies remaining on the skirmish-line. The country gradually became more rugged as the route brought them near Centreville. There were no hills—a bare but not bleak champaign, mostly without houses or farms, as the North knows them. Sluggish brooks became more frequent, but none that were not easily fordable. There were no landmarks to hold the mind to the scene, nor, in case of battle, give the strategists points of vantage for the iron game. About noon, the detached groups stalking a little negligently now over the tedious plains, were startled by the unexpected.
On the green slope of a hill, a mile or more ahead, a score of little puffs of white smoke were seen, then a sharp report, and, in some places near by, the ground was broken as if by a thrust of a spear, and little scraps of clay scattered over the greensward. Then the bugle sounded a halt. A few minutes later the horsemen spread in a chain across the line of march, rode swiftly to a common center, formed in a solid group, turned to the rear and rode back of the skirmishers to the main body. Company K watched them as they galloped back, and as they reached the group at the head of the long line, a half-mile or so distant, a body of men hastened forward laden with stretchers and hospital appliances. Ah! at last! It is now real war. The bugle sounds Forward! and with an elastic spring the groups of four push dauntlessly ahead. Their eyes are fixed on the brow of the hill, separated from them by a narrow depression.
The whole line—perhaps three miles wide—but, of course, not at all regular, conforming largely to the difficulties encountered, moves down the sloping bank on a run. Before they reach the bottom they are an excellent target, and for the first time that most blood curdling of sounds—the half-singing, half-hissing z-z-z-ip of the minie-ball—numbs the ardor of the bravest. It is such a malignant, direct, devilish admonition of murder; it comes so unexpectedly, no matter how well you are prepared, that Achilles himself would feel a spasm of fear. And when it strikes it does its work with such a venomous, exultant splutter, that there seems something animate, demoniac in it. The volley, as I said, came as the men were hurried down the hill by their own momentum and by the sharp fall in the ground. The balls passed too high or too low, but they impressed the fact on enthusiasts, who had longed for battle, that one might die for one's country and not die gloriously. It seemed such an ignoble, such a dastardly, outrageous thing, that death could come to them from unseen hands, for as yet they had not seen a soul. But now they are at the foot of the hill—though it is not correct to so call it, for it was a long, winding valley, through which ran a dancing streamlet, very welcome to the thirsty warriors when they had succeeded in breaking through the vicious natural chevaux de frise of blackberry-briers and nettles. But now there wasn't much time to slake thirst. The bullets had begun to come regularly; and suddenly, as Jack conducted his squad across the stream, he was startled by the exclamation, uttered rather in reverence, it seemed to him, than surprise or pain:
"My God, I'm hit!"
Yes, a fair-haired lad—one of his class—tottered a second in a limp, helpless way, and fell headlong, pitching into the little stream. Jack ran and lifted him out; but even before the hospital corps came the boy was dead. The bullet had gone quite through his heart.
However, now the first numbing terror of the bullet was changed to a sort of revengeful delight. Relinquishing any return fire for a moment, the company, with a great shout, that sounded all along its front, dashed up the hill, through the scrub-oak at the brow, and then they could see the enemy slowly retiring, a chain of them a mile or more wide. While one of the rebel ranks fired the other knelt, or lay flat upon the ground loading, where there were no natural obstacles to take shelter behind. A vengeful shout ran along the Union lines.
"Capture them—don't fire!" and with one impulse the groups lied forward so swiftly that the enemy, believing the rush only momentary, delayed too long, and in two minutes the Union line was pell-mell among them.
"Surrender!" Jack shouted to the squad just ahead of him—"surrender, or we'll blow your heads off!" and along the line for some distance to his left and right he could hear his own exultant demand echoed. There was nothing to do for the rebels, who had neglected to keep their enemies at the proper distance, but throw up their hands. Jack's squad sent back twenty-three prisoners to Major Mike, who took them in proud triumph to General Tyler, riding with the head of the column, now that the tenacity of the rebel skirmishers made it seem probable that there would be serious work. But though the firing kept up as the Union forces advanced, no obstacle more, serious than the thin lines of the skirmishers revealed itself.
At dusk the bugles, moving with the captains in the rear, sounded the rally, and then the scattered groups came together in company. They were to bivouac on the spot to await their regiment when it arrived. Meanwhile, to the bitter discontent of the Caribee companies, their post of honor was taken by new troops, and they knew that next day they would march in line. They had so enjoyed the glory of the first volleys, the first deaths, and the first prisoners, that, not remembering military procedure, they resented the change as an aspersion upon their valor.
When the regiment came up, however, they forgot their mortification in the eager questioning and envious jocularities of the rest. Companies K and H were so beset that they forgot to boil their coffee, and would have gone thirsty to their dewy beds, if the other companies' cooks had not shared their rations with the gossiping heroes. As darkness fell, the sky was reddened for miles with pillars of fire, and for a time the Caribees thought it was the enemy. But Tom Twigg, who had been with the major at headquarters, explained to Jack that the army was divided into three bodies of about ten thousand men each, and that Tyler's column, of which the Caribees were the advance, were the extreme northern body; that they were now at Vienna, far north of Manassas, where Schenck had been beset a month before in his never-enough-ridiculed reconnaissance by train; that in the morning they were to push on to Fairfax Court-House and thence to Centreville, where the army was to come together for the blow at the rebels. Jack and his friends were a good deal chagrined to learn that they were not as near the enemy as the column to the south of them, whose fires had been mistaken for Beauregard's. Though the levee came to an end at "taps," no one felt sleepy, and the excitement banished the pains of fatigue. Major Mike, sauntering through the dark lines near midnight, heard the tale still going on in drowsy monotone, but, good-naturedly, made no sign.
Though not given the skirmish-line next day—the 17th—Jack was delighted to find that the Caribees led all the rest. With them rode the commander of the brigade, Colonel Sherman, whom the soldiers thought a very crabbed and "grumpy" sort of a fellow. His red hair bristled straight up and out when he took his slouch hat off, as he did very often, for the heat was intolerable. His eyes had a merry twinkle, however, that won the hearts of the lads as he rode by, scrupulously striking into the fields to save the panting and heavily laden line every extra step he could. Often, in after-days—when Sherman had become the Turenne of the armies—Jack, who was often heard to brag of his gift of detecting greatness, used to turn very red in the face when he was reminded of a saying of his on that hot July day:
"That chap is too lean and hungry to have much stomach for a fight; he looks better fitted for wielding the ferule than the sword. Schoolmaster is written in every line of his face and stamped in his pedagogue manner."
The march that day was south by a little west, and about nine o'clock a cool morning breeze lifted the clouds of dust far enough above the horizon to reveal the distant blue of the mountains. The whole line seemed to come to a pause in the enchanting, mirage-like spectacle. "The Shenandoah," Jack said, mopping the dust, or rather the thin coating of mud, from his face and brow, for the perspiration, oozing at every pore, naturally covered the exposed skin with an unpremeditated cosmetic. The march to Fairfax Court-House, for which judicial temple the curious soldier looked in vain, was but eight miles from the point of departure in the morning, but it was two o'clock in the afternoon when the Caribees passed the hamlet, turning sharply to the right. They marched up the deep cut of projected railway, where, for a time, they were shaded from the sun by the high banks. But, emerging presently on the Warrenton pike, they saw evidences that other columns—whether friends or foes they couldn't tell—had recently preceded them. Scores of the raw and overworked were breaking down now every hour.
The dust and heat were insupportable. Whenever the march came near water, all thought of discipline was forgotten, and the panting, miner-like hosts broke for the inviting stream. The officers were powerless to enforce discipline; when these breaks happened the column was forced to come to a halt until every man had filled his canteen—and here is one, among the many trivial causes, that brought about the reverses of McDowell's masterly campaign. A march that ought to have been made in twenty-four hours, or thirty at the utmost, took more than three days! One of those days saved to the army would have enabled McDowell to finish Beauregard before the ten thousand re-enforcements from the Shenandoah came upon his flank at Bull Run. But we shall see that in proper time, for there is nothing more dramatically timely, or untimely, than this incident in the history of battles, unless it be Bluecher's miraculous appearance at Waterloo, when Napoleon supposed that Grouchy was pummeling him twenty miles away.
There was no provost guard to spur on the stragglers; and when, late in the afternoon, the way-worn columns spread themselves on the western slope of the hamlet of Centreville, at least a third of each regiment was far in the rear. Nearly every man had, in the heat and burden of the march, thrown away the provisions in his haversack, and that night ten thousand men lay down supperless on the grateful greensward, happy to rest and sleep. Mother Earth must have ministered to the weary flesh, for at sunrise, when the music of the bugles aroused them, they started up with the alert vivacity of old campaigners. Provisions, that should have been with the column the night before, arrived in the morning. While the reinvigorated ranks were at coffee, there was a great clatter in the rear, and presently a cortege of mounted officers appeared, General McDowell among them. Dick Perley, who was at the brigade headquarters, with Grandison, came to the Caribees presently with great news.
The battle was to begin that very day. General Tyler was to go forward to a river called Bull Run, where Beauregard was waiting. The whole army was to spread out like a fan and fight him. He had seen the map on the table, and the place couldn't be more than four miles away. Yes, they all looked eagerly to the westward now. The mountains in the distance rolled themselves down into lower and lower ridges, and just about four miles ahead could be seen a range that seemed to melt into a wide plateau fringed deeply with scrub-oak and clusters of pine. Jack had provided himself with a field-glass. Standing in the middle of the Warrenton pike, a fine highway, that ran downward as solid as a Roman causeway, for four or five miles, he could see the break made by the Bull Run River, and—yes, by the glaive of battle!—he could see the glistening of bayonets now and then, where the screen of woods grew thinner.
The general, too, was examining the distant lines, and Jack took it as a good omen that Sherman grew jocose and appeared to be making merry with Tyler, whose face looked troubled, now that the decisive moment seemed at hand. But the day passed, and there was no advance. It was not until late in the evening that the cause became known. The army had been waiting for supplies, ammunition, and what not, that should have been on the field the day before. The Caribees were made frantic, too, by what seemed a battle going on to the south of them, a few miles to the left. The camp that night was a grand debating society, every man propounding a theory of strategy that would have edified General McDowell, no doubt, if he could have been given a precis of the whole. How such things become known it is difficult to guess, but every man in the columns knew that the general had planned to put forward his thirty thousand men in the form of a half-moon, covering about ten miles from tip to tip. The right or northward horn was to be considerably thicker and of more body than the left or southern. When the time came this right was to curve in like a hook and cut the ground out from the left wing of the rebel army.
This is the homely way these unscientific strategists made the movement known to each other, and it very aptly describes the formulated plan of battle, save that, of course, there were gaps between the forces here and there along this human crescent. Long before daylight Sherman's brigade, with a battery of guns and a squadron of cavalry, set out due south, leaving the broad Warrenton pike far to their right hand. Such a country as the march led into, no one had ever seen in the North outside of mountain regions—deep gullies; wastes of gnarled and aggressive oaks, that tore clothes and flesh in the passage; sudden hillocks rising conical and inconsequent every few rods; deep chasms conducting driblets of water; morasses covered with dark and stagnant pools, where the pioneers fairly picked their steps among squirming reptiles. A stream, sometimes large as a river, crawling languidly through deep fissures in the red shale, protected the left flank of the column. The cavalry was forced to hold the narrow wood road, as the bush was hardly passable for men.
"Hi, Jack!" Barney cries, catching his breath at the edge of a muddy stream, "what sort of a place must the rebels be in if they let us promenade through such a jungle as this unopposed?"
"I have been thinking of that," Jack replies. And so had every man in the expedition—for to think was one of the drawbacks as well as one of the excellences of the soldier in the civil war. But presently, after five hours of laborious work, a halt is called. The men dive into their haversacks, and even the brackish water in the nearest sedge pond has a flavor of nectar and the invigoration of a tonic. On they tear again, the whole body pushing on in skirmish-like dispersion. Suddenly the land changes. They are climbing a rolling table-land, cleared in some places as though the axe of the settler had been at work. The march is now easier and the picket-lines are strengthened. Then a sharp volley comes, as if from the tree-tops.
The march is instantly halted. The mass, moving in a column, is deployed—that is, stretched out to cover a mile or more as it moves forward; the cavalry divides and rides far to right and left, to see that no ambush is set to enable the rebels to sneak in behind the vast human broom, as it sweeps through the solemn aisles of the pines, now rising in vernal columns thicker and thicker. The firing is going on now in scattering volleys, and soon the wounded—a dozen or more—are carried back through the silent ranks. Joking has now ceased. Lips are compressed; eyes glitter, and the men avoid meeting each other's gaze. It is the moment of all moments, the most trying to the soldier, when he is expecting every instant a hurricane of bullets, and yet sees no one to avenge his anguish on or forestall in the deadly work. But they have been moving forward all the time, the hurtling bullets sweeping through the leafy covering, now and then thumping into the soft pine with a vicious joyousness, as if to say to each man, "The next is for you, see how well our work is done." For these hideous missiles have a language of their own, as every man that stood fire can tell. The skirmishers are now all drawn in. The solid line must do the work at hand. No one but the commander and his confidants knew the work intended, save that to kill and be killed was the business to be done. The panting lines are on high cleared ground now, and they can see absolutely nothing but the irregular depressions that mark the channel of the Bull Run, as it rushes down to the Rappahannock. The line is moving along steadily. Looking to left and right, Jack can see the colors of three regiments, and his eye rests with pleasure on the bright, shining folds of the Caribees' dark-blue State flag spread to the breeze beside the stars of the Union. Are they to cross the river? Evidently, for the command is still "Forward, bear center, bear right." Then, square in front, where the thick, broad leaves of the oak glitter in the sun, there is seen a cylinder of steam-like smoke, with fiery gleams at the end, a crackling explosion of a hogshead of fire-crackers, then a rushing, screaming sound in their very faces, then a few rods behind a ringing, vicious explosion. They are in the very teeth of a masked battery. The Union skirmishers have been withdrawn too soon. The main line will be torn to pieces, for retreat is as fatal as advance.
"Lie down, men!" The command rings out and is echoed along the column. The guns have the range, and the enemy knows the ground. The Caribees are directly in the sweep of the artillery, and the command comes to them by company to crawl backward, exposing themselves as little as may be. Presently two brass guns are brought up behind the Caribees. The gunners have noted the point of the enemy's fire. The men point the big muzzles with intrepid equanimity, firing over the prostrate blue coats. For twenty minutes, perhaps half an hour, this is kept up; then there is silence on the hill beyond. The column rises to its feet, and at the command, "Forward!" they start with a rush and a cheer. Five hundred yards onward, and a solid mass of gray coats confront them. A volley is fired and returned; the exulting Caribees, with two lines behind them, give a loud cheer and, in an instant, the gray mass has disappeared, as if the earth had opened. The skirmish-line, advancing now, picks up a half-dozen or more wounded rebels, besides two or three who had become confused in the hasty retreat and run toward the "Yankees" instead of their own line. Jack's comrade held this conversation with one of the prisoners:
"I say, reb, what place is this?"
"Much of your army here?"
"'Nuff to lick you uns out of your boots, I reckon."
"What did they run across the ford for, then?"
"Oh, you'll see soon enough—when our folks get ready."
"Who's in command here?"
"General Bonham, of South Carolina."
"How many men, about?"
"Well, there's right smart on to a million, I reckon. They had to cut the trees down, yonder, to get room for 'em.".
The man's eyes twinkled as he gave this precise approximation; but Barney, who had brought the humorist in, whispered to the captain to let him have a moment's speech with the man before he was sent away. The captain nodded, and Barney said innocently:
"Had anything to eat to-day?"
"Not a mouthful. The trains were all taken up with soldiers coming from Richmond."
"Have a bit of beef—and here's a cracker or two. You can have some coffee if the guards will let you make it."
"Old Longstreet himself would envy me now," the rebel cried, his mouth stuffed with the cold meat and hard-tack, almost as fresh and crisp as soda-crackers, for the contractors had not yet learned the trick of making them out of sawdust, white sand, and other inexpensive substitutes for flour.
"Longstreet?" Barney said, carelessly.
"Yes, that's the commander of the right wing, just below, at Blackburn's Ford."
"Yes, that's a mile down, and really behind you uns, for the run makes a big elbow to the east. I tell you what it is, Yank, you'll see snakes right soon, for our folks are behind you."
Sure enough, a crackling to the left confirmed this, and the captain, who had listened to Barney's adroit cross-questioning, sent the man with a note to Colonel Sherman, a few rods in the rear. Ten minutes later the column fell into ranks again and moved off swiftly southeastward. A march of a mile or so brought them to a bold ridge cutting down almost aslant to the clear water of the run. The skirmishers, for some reason, had not pushed ahead to explore the ground, and the regiments, marching in close masses, came out in a rather disorderly multitude on the ridged crest. A hundred yards nearly below the water-course was fringed with thick copses of oak, and the gently ascending slopes on the western bank were completely hidden from the Union lines. A few gaunt, almost limbless trees rose up spectrally on the ridge, offering the compact masses neither shelter from the sun nor security from the enemy—if there were an enemy near.
Dick came up to Jack out of breath with great news, just as the Caribees were aligning themselves to move forward.
"General Tyler just told Richardson"—a brigade commander—"that the rebels had retreated from Manassas, and he (Tyler) is going to have the glory of occupying the works: that McDowell thought the army would have to fight a big battle to get—"
"Glory!" the group shouted, near enough to hear; and the delightful story ran up and down the lines by a telephone process that was much swifter than Edison's electric invention. A roar of gratulatory triumph broke—a roar so loud and inspiring that for a moment the densely packed masses did not distinguish an ear-splitting outburst just in front of them. But on the instant piercing shrieks among the huddled cheerers—cries of death and agony—changed the paeans of triumph into wails of anguish and mortal pain. A panic—instant, unreasoning, irresistible—fell upon the mass, a breath before so confident. A third of the regiment seemed to wither away. The colors fell in the struggling group in the center. Hoarse shouts, indistinguishable and ominous, could be vaguely heard from the staff and line.
Direr still, hideous clamor of masked cannon, right in their very faces, added the horror of surprise to the disorder of attack, and the thick blue lines broke in irrestrainable confusion. The terror of the unknown seized officers and men alike. In five minutes the crest was cleared, and the ignoble vanity, ignorance, and self-sufficiency of one man had undone in an hour the splendid work of the commander-in-chief. A melee of miserable, disgraceful disorder ensued. The rebel sharpshooters, hurrying to the flank, poured in hurtling, murderous volleys, filling the minds of the panic-stricken mob with the idea, the most awful that can enter a soldier's mind, that his line is surrounded. Hundreds threw away guns and everything that could impede flight. Other hundreds fired wildly wherever they saw moving men, and thus aided the rebels in killing their own comrades, for it was into the supporting Union forces they directed their random shots. The fire grew every instant more bewildering. Shots came in volleys from every direction, and the helpless hordes darted wildly together—sometimes toward, instead of from the enemy. Had the rebels been as numerous as they were crafty, the brigade could have been seized en masse. But now Sherman is at hand with fresh regiments, others are at his heels, and the contest takes on some of the order of intelligent action. The rebels, too, are re-enforced, but the dispositions made by the Union chiefs bring the combat to equal terms. The clamor of cannon and musketry continues an hour, though the lines are now among the friendly undergrowth, and the losses are not serious. But the Caribees, with the regiment supporting them, have been blotted from the scene as a factor. For hours the scattering groups fled—fled in ever-increasing panic, and it was long after dark before the remnants of the regiment came into camp at Centreville.
Poor Jack! He gave no heed to supper that dreadful night. He threw himself on the ground, too exhausted to think and too disheartened to talk. He couldn't understand the shameful panic. The Caribees were not cowards; every man in the regiment had longed for the battle. When under fire at Mitchell's Ford, an hour earlier than the disaster at Blackburn, all had stood firmly in place, fought with coolness, and gave no sign of fear. The volume of fire when they broke was not much greater than the Mitchell's Ford volleys. During the night Grandison came to camp and assembled the officers. He expressed his sorrow at the sudden shadow that had fallen on the fair fame of the regiment, but since the panic had not been followed, as such outbreaks often are, by the total destruction of the men, there would be abundant chance to redeem the disgrace of the day. He had himself begged the division commander to give the men another trial, and he had staked his commission on their doing such duty as would remove the tarnish of the afternoon from their banners.
The officers had been dispirited. Major Mike had raged over the field, through the woods, a very angry man indeed, belaboring the fleeing men with his sword and imploring those he couldn't reach to "come to me here. Dress on me. There's no call to be afeard. We've more men than they have, and we'll soon wallop them."
But the resounding blows on the backs of those near the officer did not give the encouraging emphasis to his appeal that captivates men whose reasoning faculties are almost gone for the moment. Before daylight on the next morning—Saturday, the 20th—the companies were called together and little addresses were made to the men by the officers. The substance of Colonel Grandison's words was imparted, and the hope expressed that when, in the course of that or the next day the regiment was again under fire, they would show that the panic of yesterday had not been cowardice. The men said nothing, and every one was glad that the light was so dim that the officers could not look in their faces, though, as a matter of fact, the shoulder-straps had shown as little fortitude as the muskets in the dispersion. All that day the forces rested, the Caribees providing themselves with new arms and equipments, or the two or three hundred who had flung their own away. During the afternoon an incident happened in the division that lessened the mortification of the Caribees. A splendid regiment and a battery of bronze guns came into the highway from the extreme of the line that was expected to take part in the battle which all knew would be opened the next morning. Every one was surprised to see the men moving without muskets and the colors wrapped in their cases. "Where you bound for?" some one at the roadside yelled curiously.
"Our time is out; we're going home."
Then a derisive howl followed the line as it passed through the masses of the army, and remarks of an acrid nature were made that were not gratifying to the departing patriots:
"Don't you want a guard to protect you?"
"Does your mamma know you're out alone?"
"Wait till to-morrow and we'll send Beauregard's forces to see you safe home."
The men and officers looked very conscious and uncomfortable under the gamut of jeers, for word went along the line, and all along the route to the rear they passed through this clamor of contemptuous outcry.
"Well, I thought we had reached the eminent deadly pinnacle of disgrace," Barney said, with a sigh, as a group of Company K watched the considerable number taken out of McDowell's small army, "but this sight makes me feel like the man on trial for murder who escapes with a verdict of manslaughter."
BLOOD AND IRON.
Late at night Dick came down to Jack's bivouac with a strange tale. McDowell had come to Tyler's quarters storming with rage. He had accused that officer of disobeying orders in forcing a fight on the fords of Bull Run where he had been told to merely reconnoitre.
The staff believed that Tyler would be cashiered, for he had not only wrecked the general's plan of battle, but he had given the rebels the secret of the movement and demoralized one wing of the army by putting raw soldiers in front of masked batteries that could have been detected by proper outpost work. Then one of the staff reported a speech Tyler had made when his troops rushed over the empty rebel breastworks and forts around Centreville. His officers were discussing the probable forces Beauregard had behind the crooked stream beyond.
"I believe we've got them on the run," Tyler said, exultingly, "from what we see here. I tell you the great man of this war is the man that plants the flag at Manassas, and I'm going through to Richmond to-night."
"Not much comfort in knowing we've got such a fool for a commander," Jack cried, thinking of the disgrace of the day before and of the small chance the regiment had under such a chief to redeem its prestige on the morrow. All personal griefs, everything but the pending battle, were driven from the men's minds as the signs of the momentous work of the morrow accumulated. The hospital corps was up in force. The yellow flag floated from an immense tent near the roadway. A great cortege of general officers rode away from McDowell's quarters about ten in the evening. The haversacks were filled with three days' cooked rations. One hundred rounds of ammunition to a man were dealt out to each company. Everything not absolutely necessary was ordered to the company wagons.
The talk in the camp that night was of home—of anything and everything but the dreadful to-morrow, so long looked forward to with eager hope, now regarded with uncertainty that was not so much fear as the memory of the panic at Blackburn's Ford. Jack was provided with a large atlas map of Virginia, and with the bits of information given by Dick he was able to conjecture the probable plan of the next day. The cronies of Company K listened in delight to his exposition of the action.
"Here," he said, "is the Bull Run. It makes two big elbows eastward toward us—one about four miles to the northwest of us, the other about eight miles to the southeast of that, and about four miles from our right hand here! The rebel we quizzed yesterday says that there are five fords between the Warrenton pike bridge—that's just ahead of us yonder at the end of the road we are on—the last one is McLean's Ford, at the very knuckle of the elbow that is crooked toward us a mile west of where we were yesterday. That is near the railway, which it is Beauregard's business to fight for and our business to get, for then he will have to fall back near Richmond to feed his army. Now from the railway where it crosses Bull Run near Mitchell's Ford to the Warrenton road, which Beauregard must also hold, is about nine miles. He must guard all these fords, and we must fight for any one or two of them that we need to cross by. The only problem is, whether our general is going to strike with his right arm at Mitchell's Ford, his left arm at this very Warrenton road we are on, or whether he means to butt the middle of the line of Beauregard's battle to break him into two pieces?"
"What would Frederick the Great or Napoleon do?" Nick asked, absorbed in Jack's confident predications.
"If Frederick had equal forces he would have a reserve just where we shall be in the morning—there at that point marked 'Stone Ridge,' and move a heavy mass to the southwest below McLean's Ford there, where you see the railway runs along the run for a half-mile or more. Or he would send this body to the northeast, over there where you see Sudley Springs marked in rather large letters, and he would by either one of these movements turn the enemy's flank—that is, get in behind him and force him to change front to fight, something that is rarely done successfully in battle. Napoleon would, on the contrary, mass all his best troops at the stone bridge, open the fight with every piece of artillery he could bring to bear, and in the panic send divisions ten deep across the bridge."
"Which would be the better plan?"
"Ah! that no one can say. The first is sure enough and less dangerous, if the commander is not certain of his men, because you notice that we felt excellent and confident all day, so long as we were marching forward and pushing the enemy from our path. The trial in battle is to be kept standing under fire, not sure where your enemy is; and then you noticed that our own guns behind us, sending shot and shells over us, were just as trying as the rebels'. Only soldiers of the very first class can be depended on in the Napoleon tactics. We are not soldiers of the first class; and you may be sure McDowell, who was many years in Europe, and who is a trained officer, will make use of the manoeuvres best calculated to bring out whatever there is in his men. As a matter of opinion, I should say that, in view of the miserable affair on the right yesterday, he will strike out for Sudley Springs, where we shall have the rebels just as you would have me if you were at my side, held my left arm behind me, ready to break my back with your knee planted in it."
Jack was sergeant of the guard that night, and it was in the group of sentries awaiting their relief every two hours, re-enforced by his tent-mates of Company K, that these learned dissertations on war were carried on. It was a never to be forgotten Saturday night to millions yet living. In Washington the President and his Cabinet sat far into the morning hours receiving the dispatches from the weary and disappointed chief—for, if Tyler had not made his miserable attempt to reach Manassas, the battle would have been fought that vital Saturday, and the result would have been another story in history. As the morning broke, red and murky, the army was up and in line, but without the usual noisy signals. The artillery-horses began to move first wherever it was possible. The heavy guns were pushed forward on the sward, to prevent the loud metallic clangor that penetrated the still air like clashing anvils. By half after six, the advance brigade, the Caribees in their old place, were within gunshot of the stone bridge.
"Ah ha, Jack! It is the Napoleonic plan!" Barney cried, as the artillery took places in front of the masses lying on the ground.
"Wait," Jack cried, owlishly. "The battle isn't fought always where the guns are loudest."
But the guns were now loud and quick. The rebels, behind a thick screen of trees, took up the challenge, and every sound was drowned in the roar of the artillery. A few far in the rear were wounded—those nearest the rebels were in the least danger, whether because the guns could not be sufficiently depressed, or because the gunners were poor hands, couldn't be determined. A breathless suspense, an insatiate craving to see, to move, to fly forward, or do anything, devoured the prostrate ranks. The firing had gone on two hours or more, which seemed only so many minutes, when to the group near General Tyler a courier, panting and dusty, rode in great excitement.
"General Tyler, the major-general has just learned that the enemy have crossed in force at Blackburn's Ford, below you. You are at once to take measures to protect your left flank."
"Ah ha, Jack; Frederick's on the other side, eh?" Barney said, as, standing near the group, these words reached their ears.
"Perhaps there are two Fredericks at work. Look yonder!" handing him his glass as he spoke.
"Thunder! our whole army is marching over there to the right, and we sha'n't even see the battle. They are four miles off. Why, what an immense army we must have! I thought this was the bulk of it, but we're not a brigade compared to that."
"Now, Barney, I feel confident that is the grand movement. Look how they fly along! The fields are as good as roads out there, and if it were not for the artillery they could make five miles an hour. Now, keep your ears open, my lad: you'll hear music off there to the northwest, music that will make Beauregard sick, if that courier's information is exact. For, don't you see, as we are placed here, with that gully to our left and the thick woods in front, we could hold this ground against six times our number."
Company K were now sent forward to the right to relieve a body of skirmishers that had been hidden on the margin of Bull Run, some distance to the westward of the stone bridge. Jack, going forward with his glass, noticed an officer among the men, but not catching sight of his face did not recognize him.
"Is that a rebel or one of our fellows?" one of the men said, pointing to a horseman disappearing in the woods four hundred yards to the right and in front of the company, marching in a straggling line two abreast, "by the flank," as it is called. Jack took his glass to discover, but the rider had disappeared. An instant after from a knoll, Jack, glass at eye, was examining eagerly the field on the other side of the river, when a horseman suddenly shot into view, riding desperately.
"By George, it is the same man! I wonder how he crossed the stream? There must be a bridge down there among those thick trees and bushes," Jack said, excitedly.
"Are you sure, sergeant, that is the same man that was in the woods to the right there, five minutes ago?"
Jack turned; the officer was at his shoulder. He saluted respectfully, recognizing, with a thrill of joy, old Red Top, as the company called Sherman.
"Yes, colonel, it's the same man. He was in his shirtsleeves and had a blue scarf tied about his arm. There can be no mistake; several of us saw him quite plainly."
"If that be true, we've gained a half-day's work in two minutes." He was looking diligently through the glass as he spoke, and his eye brightened as he marked the man until he disappeared. He turned to an orderly that was following at a distance leading a horse. Mounting this lightly the colonel rode to the head of the company and said in a short, decisive tone:
"Come ahead men, at a double-quick, until you strike the stream." He kept beside the men as they moved. In fifteen minutes they were at the water's edge. Then the company was deployed as skirmishers, two thirds halting where they struck the water and the rest keeping on up the bank of the river for a few hundred yards. Sherman was eying every inch of the bank until, suddenly reaching a break where fresh tracks of a horse were visible, he directed his orderly to follow, and plunged into the water. It was not up to the horses' knees from bank to bank. Riding back, his face aglow, the colonel ordered the captain to cross half his men and station them up and down on the bank where they would not be seen by the rebels on the high ground above. Then, addressing Jack, he said:
"Sergeant, select two or three trusty men. Follow the bank of the stream until you come to General Hunter's division, which may be a mile, perhaps more, to the right yonder; you can tell by the firing soon. Tell General Hunter that we have discovered a ford and shall not have to fight for the stone bridge. We shall be across in no time and take the enemy in the rear. If you can't find Hunter, give this intelligence to any officer in command. Stay."
He scribbled a line on a sheet of his order-book, saying: "This will be your authority. It's better not to write the rest for fear you should be captured. In case you are in danger tell each man with you what to say, so that there will be more chances of getting the information where it will do good; and remember, sergeant, that this news in Hunter's hands will be almost equivalent to victory. Ah!"
He paused again. Reverberating crashes came from the high grounds up the river. "You will have no trouble in finding him now. Those are Hunter's guns. Hurry."
Glowing, grateful, big with the fate of the battle, Jack had Barney, Nick, and another, whom he charged with the duty of historian, detailed for this duty of glory. The group set off with a fervent Godspeed from the company sheltered among the thick pines and oaks.
"Now, boys," Jack said, every inch the captain, "we must spread out like skirmishers. Our chief danger will be from the left, as no one will be likely to be in the water but our own men, and we must look as sharply for them as for the enemy. I will take the center; you, Barney, the left, next to me; and you, Nick, four paces farther to the left." Jack looked at his watch. It was just 9.30, Sunday morning, July 21, 1861. The crash of musketry ahead now became one unbroken roar, with a crescendo of artillery that fairly shook the ground the messengers were darting over, for all were on a dead run. The bushes grew thick on the hillside and their branches were stubborn as crab thorns. Hell, as Barney afterward remarked, would have been cool in comparison to the heat as the adventurers tugged and wrestled forward. Now guns were roaring on every side save the river. Behind, before, to the left, the thunders played upon the parched land. At the end of a half-hour the bullets and shells passed over the group as Jack and his squad pushed along the hilly way. Twice, commands, and even the clicking, of what Jack knew must be rebel guns sounded not twenty paces away, but, thanks to the thick bushes, the scouts passed unseen, and, thanks to the noise of battle, unheard. But now the danger is from friends, not enemies. Balls come hurtling through the trees across the stream, and in a low voice Jack bids Barney summon Nick. Then all slip down to the water's edge, and make their way painfully through the marshy swamps, the cane-like rushes that fill the narrow valley. The run has been a fearful strain upon Nick, and at length he falls, gasping, in a clump of cat-tails.
"What is it, old fellow?" Jack cries in alarm.
"O Jack! I can't go a step farther. You go on and leave me. I shall follow when I get breath."
He was white and gasping. Barney filled his canteen from the running water, and, wetting his handkerchief, laid it on Nick's parboiled head and temples.
"Best a few minutes," Jack said, soothingly. "I will reconnoitre a bit." Stripping off his accoutrements, he clasped a tall sycamore growing at the crest of the ravine, and when far up brought his glass to bear. A third of a mile to the left and southward, he could see a regiment with a flag bearing a single star, surrounding a small stone farm-house on the brow of a gentle hill. They were firing to the west and toward the north, where the black clouds obscured his view. But the red gleam in the smoke told of at least a dozen guns, and he knew that the main battle was there, though the fury of it reached far to the east, near the stone bridge which he had quit an hour before. Then through the veil of smoke long, deep masses of blue emerge and make for the rebel front on the brow of the hill, fairly at Jack's feet; the enemy redoubles the fire; two guns at their left pour canister into the advancing wall of blue. It never wavers, but, as a group falls to the earth, the rest close together and the mass whirls on.
Jack feels like flying. Oh, the grandeur of it, the fearlessness, the intoxication! He almost falls from the tree in his excitement. But he takes a last sweep of the belching hill. Hark! Loud cheers in the trees back of the rebels, far to the southeast, perhaps a mile and a half; then the flaunting Palmetto flag flying forward in the center of deep masses of gray. Which will reach the hill first? He can not quit the deadly sight. Ah! the blue lines are pressing on now; the cannon-shots pass over their heads into the devoted line of gray, desperately thinned, but clinging to the key of the battle-field. But, great God! Perhaps his delay is aiding the enemy. He sees the route now clear—straight to the west—and no rebels near enough to intervene. He descends so fast that his hands and legs are blistered, but he is down.
"Look sharp, boys; you must follow me as best you can. I know the route—there is a forest path directly to our lines, and we shall be there in twenty minutes—I shall, at least." He doesn't stop to see whether he is followed or not, but dashes on, and the rest after him. He is far out of sight in an instant. It is only by the crackling of the branches that the others keep his course. The way is between steep, precipitous hills, which explains how they could be so near the battle and yet not in it, nor harmed by the missiles flying sometimes very near them. At a deep branch of the stream the three rearmost came in sight of Jack, up to his armpits in water and pushing for the shore.
While they are hailing him exultantly he sinks out of sight; an awful anguish almost stops the others, but Barney, flinging his musket and impediments off as he runs, leaps far into the stream, and when the rest reach the spot he has Jack by the hair, dragging him to the bank. He is fairly worn out by the stress, and the others loosen his coat, stretch him on the brown sward and rub his hands, his body. It is ten minutes, it seemed an hour, before he is able to get up, and the rest insist on carrying his accoutrements. Then the wild race is begun again, every instant bringing them nearer the pandemonium of battle. Suddenly the sharp commands of officers are heard in front and to the left. Is it the enemy, or is it friends? The group halts in an agony of doubt. How can they find out? Barney takes out his handkerchief and puts it on his gun, which he was careful to go back and recover when Jack was on the bank. A ray of bright red suddenly flits above the thick tops of the scrub-oaks.
Yes, God be praised, there is the flag of stars, and there are blue uniforms! With a wild hurrah, drowned in the musketry to the left, they rush forward, are halted by a picket guard, exhibit Sherman's order, and are directed to the commanding-officer. That personage has no knowledge of General Hunter's whereabouts, but Colonel Andrew Porter is just beyond, commanding the brigade. To him Jack makes known Sherman's message, and is directed farther to the southwest, the Union right now facing nearly to the east in the execution of McDowell's admirable flank manoeuvre.
Now among their own, Sherman's couriers run more peril than when skirting the edge of the battle, for the shells are directed at the line they are pursuing. They push to the rear and continue southeastward, where Hunter's headquarters are supposed to be. But Jack is easy on the score of his mission, since the general, who is nearest the stone bridge, has been apprised, and well knows that the fire which has been coming near his left flank is Sherman's. Until, however, he has executed his orders literally Jack won't be satisfied, and plunges on, the others following, nothing loath. But it is a way of pain for the lads now. Every step they come upon the dead and dying. The air is filled with moaning men, whinnying horses, the hurried movement of stretchers, the solemn solicitude of the hospital corps. The line of foremost battle is less terrifying, less trying than this inner way of Golgotha, and the four are well-nigh unnerved when they reach a group where the commanding officer has been pointed out.
"General Hunter?" Jack says, addressing an officer with a star.
"My name is Franklin. General Hunter was wounded an hour ago. What's the matter?"
Jack gave his message, and Franklin said, cheerfully: "That's good news. You're a very brave fellow. Go a few yards in the rear yonder and you'll find General McDowell. He'll enjoy your message."
On the hill they halt electrified.
Thick copses of scrub-pine dot the gently sloping sward. Here and there clumps of tall pines stand in the bare, brown sod as if to guard the young outshoots clustering about them in wanton dispersion. Cow-paths, marked only by the worn edges of the bushes, run in zigzags across the hillside and up to the plateau. The remnants of rail fences strew the ground here and there. The low roof of the farm-house can be seen far back even from the depression, where the lines of blue are now resting a brief, deadly half-hour.
The sun is now behind the halted line of blue; the bayonets, catching the light, make a sea of liquid, mirror-like rivulets hovering in the air, with the bushy branches of pine rising like green isles in the shimmering tide. The men are filling their cartridge-boxes; new regiments are gliding into the gaps where death has cut the widest swath. From the woods, cries, groans, commands, clashing steel as the men hustle against each other in the rush into line, prelude the Vulcan clamor soon to begin. Men, bent, sometimes crawling, with stretchers on their shoulders, glide through the maimed and shrieking fragments of bodies, picking out here and there those seeming capable of carriage. Other men, prone on their faces, hold canteens of tepid, muddy water—but ah! a draught to the feverish lips which seems godlike nectar. Against the stout bodies of the trees, armless men, legless trunks, the maimed in every condition of death's fantastic sport, hold themselves limply erect, to gain succor or save some of the vital stream pouring from their gaping wounds.
Couriers dash up to the impassive chief, calm-eyed, keen, alert, surveying the line, dispatching brief commands, receiving reports. It is Franklin. With the air of a marshal on a civic pageant, perplexed only by some geometrical problem denying the possibility of two right lines on the same plane, he glances upward toward the brow of the plateau. The four flags had been increased by half a dozen. Ah, they have received aid! A tremendous crash comes from the left. That must be Sherman. He is on the rebel rear. One strong pull, and the two bodies will be united, his left arm reaching Sherman's right. The shining mirage of steel above the green isle sinks. The clash of hurtling accoutrements comes up musically, tranquilly from the low ground. The blue mass, first deliberately, then in a quiet, regular run, passes like a moving barricade up the sloping hillside. Then from one end of the long wall to the other white puffs as of some monster breathing spasmodically.
The air is a blur of sulphurous blackness. The bullets are as thick as if a swarm of leaden locusts had been routed from the foliage, and taken wing hillward. Then behind, through the gaps in the trees, big, whining, screeching swarms of another caliber shells fly over the wall of blue. In a moment the ground of the plateau is torn, the red clay flying far into the air. But now the blue wall is girdling the very crest of the hill; it stops, shrivels. Long gaps are cut in its broken surface. The hillside is dotted with sprawling figures. The crest is a ragged edge of writhing bodies and struggling limbs. Forward! The wall is advancing, but shorter. It is within reach of the shining guns—spouting flame and iron in the very face of the dauntless wall. Then there is a pause. The smoke hides everything but the maimed and quivering heaps that strive to crawl backward, back to the crest, back to the deeps that are not rest nor security. The hillside is like a field, covered with sheaved grain—with a thousand mangled bodies that had been men.
Then to these wrestling specters—for in the dim smoke and Tartarean atmosphere the actions of loading and aiming take the shape of huge writhing, convulsing, monstrous, grappling—come quick-moving lines of help. They rush through them, over them. The thirteen cannon behind the struggling hydra of gray seem one vortex—sulphurous, flaming, spitting, as from one vast mouth, scorching fire, huge mouthfuls of granite venom. Back—back, the gray masses break in sinuous, definite, slow-yielding disruption.
Then a sudden inrush from the left of the broken gray, where smoke and space play fantastic tricks with the sunshine. Miraculously a dark mass is projected on the shimmering spectrum, and a ringing voice is heard:
"We are saved; we are re-enforced. We will die here!" Then high above the din, in the exultant tumult of the deadly won ground, the nearest in blue hear a stentorian voice—grim, deliberate, exultant:
"Look where Jackson stands like a stone-wall! At them, men! Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer."
Die he did, when the yelling horde in the sudden outrush grazed the edge of the Union besom sweeping over the plain in a rush of death. Then behind these spectral shapes came others—thousands—with wild, fierce shouts. The blue mass is thinned to a single line. Men in command look anxiously to the rear. Where is Burnside? Where are the twelve thousand men whom Hunter and Heintzelman deployed in these woods two hours since? Back, slowly, fiercely, but backward, the slender wall of blue is forced; not defeated, but not victorious. All this Jack sees, and he turns heartsick from the sight.
When the straggling couriers reached the point designated as McDowell's headquarters, he had gone to the eastward of the line, and, faithful to the command given him, Jack set out with Barney, leaving the others to deliver the message in case he missed the general. They emerged presently on the edge of a plateau, whence nearly the whole battle could be seen. Jack climbed a tall oak to reconnoitre the ground for McDowell, but, as his glass revealed the battling lines, he shouted to Barney to climb for a moment, to impress the frightful yet grandiose spectacle upon his mind. Far off toward the stone bridge, now a mile or more northeast of them, they could see the Union flags waving, and mark the white puffs of smoke that preceded the booming of the cannon. Every instant the clouds of smoke came southward, where the rebel lines were concealed by the thick copses. But they were breaking—always breaking back anew. In twenty minutes more, at the same rate, the hill upon which the rebel lines nearest the tree held the Union right at bay would be surrounded on two sides.