The battle swayed back and forth, and it was most desperate between the cavalry. The bugles again and again called the gray horsemen to the charge, and although the blue infantry supported their own horsemen with a heavy rifle fire, and held the wood undaunted, the Northern rear guard was forced to give way at last before the pressure of numbers and attacks that would not cease.
Their own bugles sounded the retreat and they began to retire slowly.
"Do we run again?" exclaimed Pennington, a tear ploughing its way through the smoky grime on his cheek.
"No, we don't run," replied Warner calmly, "We're forced back, and the rebels will claim a victory but we haven't fought for nothing. Lee and Jackson will never get up in time to attack our army before it's over the river."
The regiment began its slow retreat. It had not suffered much, owing to the shelter of the forest, and, full of courage and resolution, it was a formidable support on the flank of the slowly retreating cavalry.
The evening was now at hand. The sun was setting once more over the Virginia hills destined to be scarred so deeply by battle, but attack and defense went on. As night came the thudding of cannon added to the tumult, and then the three boys saw the Rappahannock, a deep and wide stream flowing between high banks crested with timber. Ahead of them Pope's army was crossing on the bridge and in boats, and masses of infantry supported by heavy batteries had turned to protect the crossing. The Southern vanguard could not assail such a powerful force, and before the night was over the whole Union army passed to the Northern side of the Rappahannock.
Dick felt a mixture of chagrin and satisfaction as he crossed the river, chagrin that this great army should draw back, as McClellan's had been forced to draw back at the Seven Days, and satisfaction that they were safe for the time being and could prepare for a new start.
But the feeling of exultation soon passed and gave way wholly to chagrin. They were retreating before an army not exceeding their own, in numbers, perhaps less. They had another great force, the Army of the Potomac, which should have been there, and then they could have bade defiance to Lee and Jackson. The North with its great numbers, its fine courage and its splendid patriotism should never be retreating. He felt once more as thousands of others felt that the hand on the reins was neither strong nor sure, and that the great trouble lay there. They ought not to be hiding behind a river. Lee and Jackson did not do it. Dick remembered that grim commander in the West, the silent Grant, and he did not believe he would be retreating.
Long after darkness came the firing continued between skirmishers across the stream, but finally it, too, waned and Dick was permitted to throw himself upon the ground and sleep with the sleeping thousands. Warner and Pennington slept near him and not far away was the brave sergeant. Even he was overpowered by fatigue and he slept like one dead, never stirring.
Dick was awakened next morning by the booming of cannon. He had become so much used to such sounds that he would have slept on had not the crashes been so irregular. He stood up, rubbed his eyes and then looked in the direction whence came the cannonade. He saw from the crest of a hill great numbers of Confederate troops on the other side of the river, the August sun glittering over thousands of bayonets and rifle barrels, and along the somber batteries of great guns. The firing, so far as he could determine, was merely to feel out or annoy the Northern army.
It was a strange sight to Dick, one that is not looked upon often, two great armies gazing across a river at each other, and, sure to meet, sooner or later, in mortal combat. It was thrilling, awe-inspiring, but it made his heart miss a beat or two at the thought of the wounds and death to come, all the more terrible because those who fought together were of the same blood, and the same nation.
Warner and Pennington joined him on the height where he stood, and they saw that in the early hours before dawn the Northern generals had not been idle. The whole army of Pope was massed along the left bank of the river and every high point was crowned with heavy batteries of artillery. There had been a long drought, and at some points the Rappahannock could be forded, but not in the face of such a defence as the North here offered.
Colonel Winchester himself came a moment or two later and joined them as they gazed at the two armies and the river between. Both he and the boys used their glasses and they distinctly saw the Southern masses.
"Will they try to cross, sir?" asked Dick of the colonel.
"I don't think so, but if they do we ought to beat them back. Meanwhile, Dick, my boy, every day's delay is a fresh card in our hand. McClellan is landing his army at Aquia Creek, whence it can march in two days to a junction with us, when we would become overwhelming and irresistible. But I wish it didn't take so long to disembark an army!"
The note of anxiety in his voice did not escape Dick. "You wish then to be sure of the junction between our two armies before Lee and Jackson strike?"
"Yes, Dick. That is what is on my mind. The retreat of this army, although it may have caused us chagrin, was most opportune. It gave us two chances, when we had but one before. But, Dick, I'm afraid. I wouldn't say this to anybody but you and you must not repeat me. I wish I could divine what is in the mind of those two men, Lee and Jackson. They surely have a plan of some kind, but what is it?"
"Have we any definite news from the other side, sir?"
"Shepard came in this morning. But little ever escapes him, and he says that the whole Southern army is up. All their best leaders are there. Lee and Jackson and Longstreet and the Hills and Early and Lawton and the others. He says that they are all flushed with confidence in their own courage and fighting powers and the ability of their leaders. Oh, if only the Army of the Potomac would come! If we could only stave off battle long enough for it to reach us!"
"Don't you think we could do it, sir? Couldn't General Pope retreat on Washington then, and, as they continued to follow us, we could turn and spring on them with both armies."
But Colonel Winchester shook his head.
"It would never do," he said. "All Europe, eager to see the Union split, would then help the Confederacy in every possible manner. The old monarchies would say that despite our superior numbers we're not able to maintain ourselves outside the defenses of Washington. And these things would injure us in ways that we cannot afford. Remember, Dick, my boy, that this republic is the hope of the world, and that we must save it."
"It will be done, sir," said Dick, almost in the tone of a young prophet. "I know the spirit of the men. No matter how many defeats are inflicted upon us by our own brethren we'll triumph in the end."
"It's my own feeling, Dick. It cannot, it must not be any other way!"
Dick remained upborne by a confidence in the future rather than in the present, and throughout the morning he remained with his comrades, under arms, but doing little, save to hear the fitful firing which ran along a front of several miles. But later in the day a heavy crash came from a ford further up the stream.
Under cover of a great artillery fire Stuart's cavalry dashed into the ford, and drove off the infantry and a battery posted to defend it. Then they triumphantly placed heavy lines of pickets about the ford on the Union side.
It was more than the Union lads could stand. A heavy mass of infantry, Colonel Winchester's regiment in the very front of it, marched forward to drive back these impertinent horsemen. They charged with so much impetuosity that Stuart's cavalry abandoned such dangerous ground. All the pickets were drawn in and they retreated in haste across the stream, the water foaming up in spurts about them beneath the pursuing bullets.
Then came a silence and a great looking back and forth. The threatening armies stared at each other across the water, but throughout the afternoon they lay idle. The pitiless August sun burned on and the dust that had been trodden up by the scores of thousands hung in clouds low, but almost motionless.
Dick went down into a little creek, emptying into the Rappahannock, and bathed his face and hands. Hundreds of others were doing the same. The water brought a great relief. Then he went back to Colonel Winchester and his comrades, and waited patiently with them until evening.
He remembered Colonel Winchester's words earlier in the day, and, as the darkness came, he began to wonder what Lee and Jackson were thinking. He believed that two such redoubtable commanders must have formed a plan by this time, and, perhaps in the end, it would be worth a hundred thousand men to know it. But he could only stare into the darkness and guess and guess. And one guess was as good as another.
The night seemed portentous to him. It was full of sinister omens. He strove to pierce the darkness on the other shore with his eyes, and see what was going on there, but he distinguished only a black background and the dim light of fires.
Dick was not wrong. The Confederate commanders did have a plan and the omens which seemed sinister to him were sinister in fact. Jackson with his forces was marching up his side of the Rappahannock and the great brain under the old slouch hat was working hard.
When Lee and Jackson found that the Union army on the Rapidan had slipped away from them they felt that they had wasted a great opportunity to strike the retreating force before it reached the Rappahannock, and that, as they followed, the situation of the Confederacy would become most critical. They would leave McClellan and the Army of the Potomac nearer to Richmond, their own capital, than they were. Nevertheless Lee, full of daring despite his years, followed, and the dangers were growing thicker every hour around Pope.
Dick, with his regiment, moved the next morning up the river. The enemy was in plain view beyond the stream, and Shepard and the other spies reported that the Southern army showed no signs of retiring. But Shepard had said also that he would not be able to cross the river again. The hostile scouts and sharpshooters had become too vigilant. Yet he was sure that Lee and Jackson would attempt to force a passage higher up, where the drought had made good fords.
"It's well that we're showing vigilance," said Colonel Winchester to Dick. He had fallen into the habit of talking much and confidentially to the boy, because he liked and trusted him, and for another reason which to Dick was yet in the background.
"Do you feel sure that the rebels will attempt the crossing?" asked Dick.
"Beyond a doubt. They have every reason to strike before the Army of the Potomac can come. Besides, it is in accord with the character of their generals. Both Lee and Jackson are always for the swift offensive, and Early, Longstreet and the Hills are the same way. Hear that booming ahead! They're attacking one of the fords now!"
At a ford a mile above and also at another a mile or two further on, the Southern troops had begun a heavy fire, and gathered in strong masses were threatening every moment to attempt the passage. But the Union guns posted on hills made a vigorous reply and the time passed in heavy cannonades. Colonel Winchester, his brows knitted and anxious, watched the fire of the cannon. He confided at last to his favorite aide his belief that what lay behind the cannonade was more important than the cannonade itself.
"It must be a feint or a blind," he said. "They fire a great deal, but they don't make any dash for the stream. Now, the rebels haven't ammunition to waste."
"Then what do you think they're up to, sir?"
"They must be sending a heavy force higher up the river to cross where there is no resistance. And we must meet them there, with my regiment only, if we can obtain no other men."
The colonel obtained leave to go up the Rappahannock until nightfall, but only his own regiment, now reduced to less than four hundred men, was allotted to him. In truth his division commander thought his purpose useless, but yielded to the insistence of Winchester who was known to be an officer of great merit. It seemed to the Union generals that they must defend the fords where the Southern army lay massed before them.
Dick learned that there was a little place called Sulphur Springs some miles ahead, and that the river there was spanned by a bridge which the Union cavalry had wrecked the day before. He divined at once that Colonel Winchester had that ford in mind, and he was glad to be with him on the march to it.
They left behind them the sound of the cannonade which they learned afterward was being carried on by Longstreet, and followed the course of the stream as fast as they could over the hills and through the woods. But with so many obstacles they made slow progress, and, in the close heat, the men soon grew breathless. It was also late in the afternoon and Dick was quite sure that they would not reach Sulphur Springs before nightfall.
"I've felt exactly this same air on the great plains," said Pennington, as they stopped on the crest of a hill for the troops to rest a little. "It's heavy and close as if it were being all crowded together. It makes your lungs work twice as hard as usual, and it's also a sign."
"Tell your sign, old weather sharp," said Warner.
"It's simple enough. The sign may not be so strong here, but it applies just as it does on the great plains. It means that a storm is coming. Anybody could tell that. Look there, in the southwest. See that cloud edging itself over the horizon. Things will turn loose to-night. Don't you say the same, sergeant? You've been out in my country."
Sergeant Whitley was standing near them regarding the cloud attentively.
"Yes, Mr. Pennington," he replied. "I was out there a long time and I'd rather be there now fighting the Indians, instead of fighting our own people, although no other choice was left me. I've seen some terrible hurricanes on the plains, winds that would cut the earth as if it was done with a ploughshare, and these armies are going to be rained on mighty hard to-night."
Dick smiled a little at the sergeant's solemn tone, and formal words, but he saw that he was very much in earnest. Nor was he one to underrate weather effects upon movements in war.
"What will it mean to the two armies, sergeant?" he asked.
"Depends upon what happens before she busts. If a rebel force is then across it's bad for us, but if it ain't the more water between us an' them the better. This, I take it, is the end of the drought, and a flood will come tumbling down from the mountains."
The sun now darkened and the clouds gathered heavily on the Western horizon. Colonel Winchester's anxiety increased fast. It became evident that the regiment could not reach Sulphur Springs until far into the night, and, still full of alarms, he resolved to take a small detachment, chiefly of his staff, and ride forward at the utmost speed.
He chose about twenty men, including Dick, Warner, Pennington, Sergeant Whitley, and another veteran who were mounted on the horses of junior officers left behind, and pressed forward with speed. A West Virginian named Shattuck knew something of the country, and led them.
"What is this place, Sulphur Springs?" asked Colonel Winchester of Shattuck.
"Some big sulphur springs spout out of the bank and run down to the river. They are fine and healthy to drink an' there's a lot of cottages built up by people who come there to stay a while. But I guess them people have gone away. It ain't no place for health just at this time."
"That's a certainty," said Colonel Winchester.
"An' then there's the bridge, which, as we know, the cavalry has broke down."
"Fortunately. But can't we go a little faster, boys?"
There was a well defined road and Shattuck now led them at a gallop. As they approached the springs they checked their speed, owing to the increasing darkness. But Dick's good ears soon told him that something was happening at the springs. He heard faintly the sound of voices, and the clank and rattle which many men with weapons cannot keep from making now and then.
"I'm afraid, sir," he said to Colonel Winchester, "that they're already across."
The little troop stopped at the command of its leader and all listened intently. It was very dark now and the wood was moaning, but the columns of air came directly from the wood, bearing clearly upon their crest the noises made by regiments.
"You're right, Dick," said Colonel Winchester, bitter mortification showing in his tone. "They're there, and they're on our side of the river. Oh, we might have known it! They say that Stonewall Jackson never sleeps, and they make no mistake, when they call his infantry foot cavalry!"
Dick was silent. He shared his leader's intense disappointment, but he knew that it was not for him to speak at this moment.
"Mr. Shattuck," said Colonel Winchester, "how near do you think we can approach without being seen?"
"I know a neck of woods leading within a hundred yards of the cottages. If we was to leave our horses here with a couple of men we could slip down among the trees and bushes, and there ain't one chance in ten that we'd be seen on so dark a night."
"Then you lead us. Pawley, you and Woodfall hold the horses. Now follow softly, lads! All of you have hunted the 'coon and 'possum at night, and you should know how to step without making noise."
Shattuck advanced with certainty, and the others, true to their training, came behind him in single file, and without noise. But as they advanced the sounds of an army ahead of them increased, and when they reached the edge of the covert they saw a great Confederate division on their side of the stream, in full possession of the cottages and occupying all the ground about them. Many men were at work, restoring the wrecked bridge, but the others were eating their suppers or were at rest.
"There must be seven or eight thousand men here," said Dick, who did not miss the full significance of the fact.
"So it seems," said Warner, "and I'm afraid it bodes ill for General Pope."
CHAPTER IV. SPRINGING THE TRAP
Lying close in the bushes the little party watched the Southerners making themselves ready for the night. The cottages were prepared for the higher officers, but the men stacked arms in the open ground all about. As well as they could judge by the light of the low fires, soldiers were still crossing the river to strengthen the force already on the Union side.
Colonel Winchester suppressed a groan. Dick noticed that his face was pallid in the uncertain shadows, and he understood the agony of spirit that the brave man must suffer when he saw that they had been outflanked by their enemy.
Sergeant Whitley, moving forward a little, touched the colonel on the arm.
"All the clouds that we saw a little further back," he said, "have gathered together, an' the storm is about to bust. See, sir, how fast the Johnnies are spreadin' their tents an' runnin' to shelter."
"It's so, sergeant," said Colonel Winchester. "I was so much absorbed in watching those men that I thank you for reminding me. We've seen enough anyway and we'd better get back as fast as we can."
They hurried through the trees and bushes toward their horses, taking no particular pains now to deaden their footsteps, since the Southerners themselves were making a good deal of noise as they took refuge.
But the storm was upon them before they could reach their horses. The last star was gone and the somber clouds covered the whole heavens. The wind ceased to moan and the air was heavy with apprehension. Deep and sullen thunder began to mutter on the southwestern horizon. Then came a mighty crash and a great blaze of lightning seemed to cleave the sky straight down the center.
The lightning and thunder made Dick jump, and for a few moments he was blinded by the electric glare. He heard a heavy sound of something falling, and exclaimed:
"Are any of you hurt?"
"No," said Warner, who alone heard him, "but we're scared half to death. When a drought breaks up I wish it wouldn't break up with such a terrible fuss. Listen to that thunder again, won't you!"
There was another terrible crash of thunder and the whole sky blazed with lightning. Despite himself Dick shrank again. The first bolt had struck a tree which had fallen within thirty feet of them, but the second left this bit of the woods unscathed.
A third and a fourth bolt struck somewhere, and then came the rush and roar of the rain, driven on by a fierce wind out of the southwest. The close, dense heat was swept away, and the first blasts of the rain were as cold as ice. The little party was drenched in an instant, and every one was shivering through and through with combined wet and cold.
The cessation of the lightning was succeeded by pitchy darkness, and the roaring of the wind and rain was so great that they called loudly to one another lest they lose touch in the blackness. Dick heard Warner on his right, and he followed the sound of his voice. But before he went much further his foot struck a trailing vine, and he fell so hard, his head striking the trunk of a tree, that he lay unconscious.
The cold rain drove so fiercely on the fallen boy's face and body that he revived in two or three minutes, and stood up. He clapped his hand to the left side of his head, and felt there a big bump and a sharp ache. His weapons were still in his belt and he knew that his injuries were not serious, but he heard nothing save the drive and roar of the wind and rain. There was no calling of voices and no beat of footsteps.
He divined at once that his comrades, wholly unaware of his fall, when no one could either see or hear it, had gone on without missing him. They might also mount their horses and gallop away wholly ignorant that he was not among them.
Although he was a little dazed, Dick had a good idea of direction and he plunged through the mud which was now growing deep toward the little ravine in which they had hitched their horses. All were gone, including his own mount, and he had no doubt that the horse had broken or slipped the bridle in the darkness and followed the others.
He stood a while behind the trunk of a great tree, trying to shelter himself a little from the rain, and listened. But he could hear neither his friends leaving nor any foes approaching. The storm was of uncommon fury. He had never seen one fiercer, and knowing that he had little to dread from the Southerners while it raged he knew also that he must make his way on foot, and as best he could, to his own people.
Making a calculation of the direction and remembering that one might wander in a curve in the darkness, he set off down the stream. He meant to keep close to the banks of the Rappahannock, and if he persisted he would surely come in time to Pope's army. The rain did not abate. Both armies were flooded that night, but they could find some measure of protection. To the scouts and skirmishers and to Dick, wandering through the forest, nature was an unmitigated foe.
But nothing could stop the boy. He was resolved to get back to the army with the news that a heavy Southern force was across the Rappahannock. Others might get there first with the fact, but one never knew. A hundred might fall by the wayside, leaving it to him alone to bear the message.
He stumbled on. He was able to keep his cartridges dry in his pouch, but that was all. His wet, cold clothes flapped around him and he shivered to the bone. He could see only the loom of the black forest before him, and sometimes he slipped to the waist in swollen brooks. Then the wind shifted and drove the sheets of rain, sprinkled with hail, directly in his face. He was compelled to stop a while and take refuge behind a big oak. While he shivered in the shelter of the tree the only things that he thought of spontaneously were dry clothes, hot food, a fire and a warm bed. The Union and its fate, gigantic as they were, slipped away from his mind, and it took an effort of the will to bring them back.
But his will made the effort, and recalling his mission he struggled on again. He had the river on his right, and it now became an unfailing guide. It had probably been raining much earlier in the mountains along the headwaters and the flood was already pouring down. The river swished high against its banks and once or twice, when he caught dim glimpses of it through the trees, he saw a yellow torrent bearing much brushwood upon its bosom.
He had very little idea of his progress. It was impossible to judge of pace under such circumstances. The army might be ten miles further on or it might be only two. Then he found himself sliding down a muddy and slippery bank. He grasped at weeds and bushes, but they slipped through his hands. Then he shot into a creek, swollen by the flood, and went over his head.
He came up, gasping, struck out and reached the further shore. Here he found bushes more friendly than the others and pulled himself upon the bank. But he had lost everything. His belt had broken in his struggles, and pistols, small sword and ammunition were gone. He would be helpless against an enemy. Then he laughed at the idea. Surely enemies would not be in search of him at such a time and such a place.
Nevertheless when he saw an open space in front of him he paused at its edge. He could see well enough here to notice a file of dim figures riding slowly by. At first his heart leaped up with the belief that they were Colonel Winchester and his own people, but they were going in the wrong direction, and then he was able to discern the bedraggled and faded Confederate gray.
The horsemen were about fifty in number and most of them rode with the reins hanging loose on their horses' necks. They were wrapped in cloaks, but cloaks and uniforms alike were sodden. A stream of water ran from every stirrup to the ground.
Dick looked at them attentively. Near the head of the column but on one side rode a soldierly figure, apparently that of a young man of twenty-three or four. Just behind came three youths, and Dick's heart fairly leaped when he saw the last of the three. He could not mistake the figure, and a turning of the head caused him to catch a faint glimpse of the face. Then he knew beyond all shadow of doubt. It was Harry and he surmised that the other two were his comrades, St. Clair and Langdon, whom he had met when they were burying the dead.
Dick was so sodden and cold and wretched that he was tempted to call out to them—the sight of Harry was like a light in the darkness—but the temptation was gone in an instant. His way lay in another direction. What they wished he did not wish, and while they fought for the triumph of the South it was his business to endure and struggle on that he might do his own little part for the Union.
But despite the storm and his sufferings, he drew courage from nature itself. While a portion of the Southern army was across it must be a minor portion, and certainly the major part could not span such a flood and attack. The storm and time allied were now fighting for Pope.
He wandered away a little into the open fields in order to find easier going, but he came back presently to the forest lining the bank of the river, for fear he should lose his direction. The yellow torrent of the Rappahannock was now his only sure guide and he stuck to it. He wondered why the rain and wind did not die down. It was not usual for a storm so furious to last so long, but he could not see any abatement of either.
He became conscious after a while of a growing weakness, but he had recalled all the powers of his will and it was triumphant over his body. He trudged on on feet that were unconscious of sensation, and his face as if the flesh were paralyzed no longer felt the beat of the rain.
A mile or two further and in the swish of the storm he heard hoofbeats again. Looking forth from the bushes he saw another line of horsemen, but now they were going in the direction of Pope's army. Dick recognized these figures. Shapeless as he might appear on his horse that was Colonel Winchester, and there were the broad shoulders of Sergeant Whitley and the figures of the others.
He rushed through the dripping forest and shouted in a tone that could be heard above the shriek of wind and rain. Colonel Winchester recognized the voice, but the light was so dim that he did not recognize him from whom it came. Certainly the figure that emerged from the forest did not look human.
"Colonel," cried Dick, "it is I, Richard Mason, whom you left behind!"
"So it is," said Sergeant Whitley, keener of eye than the others.
The whole troop set up a shout as Dick came forward, taking off his dripping cap.
"Why, Dick, it is you!" exclaimed Colonel Winchester in a tone of immeasurable relief. "We missed you and your horse and hoped that you were somewhere ahead. Your horse must have broken loose in the storm. But here, you look as if you were nearly dead! Jump up behind me!"
Dick made an effort, but his strength failed and he slipped back to the ground. He had not realized that he was walking on his spirit and courage and that his strength was gone, so powerful had been the buffets of the wind and rain.
The colonel reached down, gave him a hand and a strong pull, and with a second effort Dick landed astride the horse behind the rider. Then Colonel Winchester gave the word and the sodden file wound on again.
"Dick," said the colonel, looking back over his shoulder, "you come as near being a wreck as anything that I've seen in a long time. It's lucky we found you."
"It is, sir, and I not only look like a wreck but I feel like one. But I had made up my mind to reach General Pope's camp, with the news of the Confederates crossing, and I think I'd have done it."
"I know you would. But what a night! What a night! Not many men can be abroad at such a time. We have seen nothing."
"But I have, sir."
"You have! What did you see?"
"A mile or two back I passed a line of Southern horsemen, just as wet and bedraggled as ours."
"Might they not have been our own men? It would be hard to tell blue and gray apart on such a night."
"One could make such a mistake, but in this case it was not possible. I saw my own cousin, Harry Kenton, riding with them. I recognized them perfectly."
"Then that settles it. The Confederate scouts and cavalry are abroad to-night also, and on our side of the river. But they must be few who dare to ride in such a storm."
"That's surely true, sir."
But both Dick and his commanding officer were mistaken. They still underrated the daring and resolution of the Confederate leaders, the extraordinary group of men who were the very bloom and flower of Virginia's military glory, the equal of whom—two at least being in the very first rank in the world's history—no other country with so small a population has produced in so short a time.
Earlier in the day Stuart, full of enterprise, and almost insensible to fatigue, had crossed the Rappahannock much higher up and at the head of a formidable body of his horsemen, unseen by scouts and spies, was riding around the Union right. They galloped into Warrenton where the people, red hot as usual for the South, crowded around them cheering and laughing and many of the women crying with joy. It was like Jackson and Stuart to drop from the clouds this way and to tell them, although the land had been occupied by the enemy, that their brave soldiers would come in time.
News, where a Northern force could not have obtained a word, was poured out for the South. They told Stuart that none of the Northern cavalry was about, and that Pope's vast supply train was gathered at a little point only ten miles to the southeast. Stuart shook his plumed head until his long golden hair flew about his neck. Then he laughed aloud and calling to his equally fiery young officers, told them of the great spoil that waited upon quickness and daring.
The whole force galloped away for the supply train, but before it reached it the storm fell in all its violence upon Stuart and his men. Despite rain and darkness Stuart pushed on. He said afterward that it was the darkest night he had ever seen. A captured negro guided them on the final stage of the gallop and just when Dick was riding back to camp behind Colonel Winchester, Stuart fell like a thunderbolt upon the supply train and its guard.
Stuart could not drive wholly away the Northern guard, which though surprised, fought with great courage, but he burned the supply train, then galloped off with prisoners, and Pope's own uniform, horses, treasure chest and dispatch book. He found in the dispatch book minute information about the movements of all the Union troops, and Pope's belief that he ought to retreat from the river on Washington. Doubtless the Confederate horseman shook his head again and again and laughed aloud, when he put this book, more precious than jewels, inside his gold braided tunic, to be taken to Lee and Jackson.
But these things were all hidden from the little group of weary men who rode into Pope's camp. Colonel Winchester carried the news of the crossing—Early had made it—to the commander, and the rest sought the best shelter to be found. Dick was lucky enough to be taken into a tent that was thoroughly dry, and the sergeant who had followed him managed to obtain a supply of dry clothing which would be ready for him when he awoke.
Dick did not revive as usual. He threw all of his clothing aside and water flew where it fell, put on dry undergarments and crept between warm blankets. Nevertheless he still felt cold, and he was amazed at his own lack of interest in everything. He might have perished out there in the stream, but what did it matter? He would probably be killed in some battle anyway. Besides, their information about the crossing of the rebels was of no importance either. The rebels might stay on their side of the Rappahannock, or they might go back. It was all the same either way. All things seemed, for the moment, useless to him.
He began to shiver, but after a while he became so hot that he wanted to throw off all the cover. But he retained enough knowledge and will not to do so, and he sank soon into a feverish doze from which he was awakened by the light of a lantern shining in his face.
He saw Colonel Winchester and another man, a stranger, who held a small leather case in his hand. But Dick was in such a dull and apathetic state that he had no curiosity about them and he shut his eyes to keep out the light of the lantern.
"What is it, doctor?" he heard Colonel Winchester asking.
"Chill and a little fever, brought on by exposure and exhaustion. But he's a hardy youth. Look what a chest and shoulders! With the aid of these little white pills of mine he'll be all right in the morning. Colonel, Napoleon said that an army fights on its stomach, which I suppose is true, but in our heavily watered and but partly settled country, it must fight sometimes on a stomach charged with quinine."
"I was afraid it might be worse. A dose or two then will bring him around?"
"Wish I could be so sure of a quick cure in every case. Here, my lad, take two of these. A big start is often a good one."
Dick raised his head obediently and took the two quinine pills. Soon he sank into a condition which was as near stupor as sleep. But before he passed into unconsciousness he heard the doctor say:
"Wake him soon enough in the morning, Colonel, to take two more. What a wonderful thing for our armies that we can get all the quinine we want! The rebel supply, I know, is exhausted. With General Quinine on our side we're bound to win."
"But that isn't the only reason, doctor. Now—" Their voices trailed away as Dick sank into oblivion. He had a dim memory of being awakened the next morning and of swallowing two more pills, but in a minute or two he sank back into a sleep which was neither feverish nor troubled. When he awoke the dark had come a second time. The fever was wholly gone, and his head had ceased to ache.
Dick felt weak, but angry at himself for having broken down at such a time, he sat up and began to put on the dry uniform that lay in the tent. Then he was astonished to find how great his weakness really was, but he persevered, and as he slipped on the tunic Warner came into the tent.
"You've been asleep a long time," he said, looking at Dick critically.
"I know it. I suppose I slept all through the night as well as the day."
"And the great battle was fought without you."
Dick started, and looked at his comrade, but Warner's eyes were twinkling.
"There's been no battle, and you know it," Dick said.
"No, there hasn't been any; there won't be any for several days at least. That whopping big rain last night did us a service after all. It was Early who crossed the river, and now he is in a way cut off from the rest of the Southern army. We hear that he'll go back to the other side. But Stuart has curved about us, raided our supply train and destroyed it. And he's done more than that. He's captured General Pope's important papers."
"What does it mean for us?"
"A delay, but I don't know anything more. I suppose that whatever is going to happen will happen in its own good time. You feel like a man again, don't you Dick? And you can have the consolation of knowing that nothing has happened all day long when you slept."
Dick finished his dressing, rejoined his regiment and ate supper with the other officers around a fine camp fire. He found that he had a good appetite, and as he ate strength flowed rapidly back into his veins. He gathered from the talk of the older officers that they were still hoping for a junction with McClellan before Lee and Jackson could attack. They expected at the very least to have one hundred and fifty thousand men in line, most of them veterans.
But Dick saw Shepard again that evening. He had come from a long journey and he reported great activity in the Southern camp. When Dick said that Lee and Jackson would have to fight both Pope and McClellan the spy merely replied:
"Yes, if Pope and McClellan hurry."
But Dick learned that night that Pope was not discouraged. He had an army full of fighting power, and eager to meet its enemy. He began the next day to move up the river in order that he might face Lee's whole force as it attempted to cross at the upper fords. Their spirits increased as they learned that Early, through fear of being cut off, was going back to join the main Southern army.
The ground had now dried up after the great storm, but the refreshed earth took on a greener tinge, and the air was full of sparkle and life. Dick had not seen such elasticity among the troops in a long time. As they marched they spoke confidently of victory. One regiment took up a song which had appeared in print just after the fall of Sumter:
"Men of the North and West, Wake in your might. Prepare as the rebels have done For the fight. You cannot shrink from the test; Rise! Men of the North and West."
Another regiment took up the song, and soon many thousands were singing it; those who did not know the words following the others. Dick felt his heart beat and his courage mount high, as he sang with Warner and Pennington the last verse:
"Not with words; they laugh them to scorn, And tears they despise. But with swords in your hands And death in your eyes! Strike home! Leave to God all the rest; Strike! Men of the North and West!"
The song sung by so many men rolled off across the fields, and the woods and the hills gave back the echo.
"We will strike home!" exclaimed Dick, putting great emphasis on the "will." "Our time for victory is at hand."
"The other side may think they're striking home; too," said Warner, speaking according to the directness of his dry mathematical mind. "Then I suppose it will be a case of victory for the one that strikes the harder for home."
"That's a fine old mind of yours. Don't you ever feel any enthusiasm?"
"I do, when the figures warrant it. But I must reckon everything with care before I permit myself to feel joy."
"I'm glad I'm not like you, Mr. Arithmetic, Mr. Algebra, Mr. Geometry and Mr. Trigonometry."
"You mustn't make fun of such serious matters, Dick. It would be a noble thing to be the greatest professor of mathematics in the world."
"Of course, George, but we wouldn't need him at this minute. But here we are back at those cottages in which I saw the Southern officers sheltering themselves. Well, they're ours again and I take it as a good omen."
"Yes, here we rest, as the French general said, but I don't know that I care about resting much more. I've had about all I want of it."
Nevertheless they spent the day quietly at the Sulphur Springs, and lay down in peace that night. But the storm cloud, the blackest storm cloud of the whole war so far, was gathering.
Lee, knowing the danger of the junction between Pope and McClellan had resolved to hazard all on a single stroke. He would divide his army. Jackson, so well called "the striking arm," would pass far around through the maze of hills and mountains and fall like a thunderbolt upon Pope's flank. At the sound of his guns Lee himself would attack in front.
As Dick and his young comrades lay down to sleep this march, the greatest of Stonewall Jackson's famous turning movements, had begun already. Jackson was on his horse, Little Sorrel, his old slouch hat drawn down over his eyes, his head bent forward a little, and the great brain thinking, always thinking. His face was turned to the North.
Just a little behind Jackson rode one of his most trusted aides, Harry Kenton, a mere youth in years, but already a veteran in service. Not far away was the gallant young Sherburne at the head of his troop of cavalry, and in the first brigade was the regiment of the Invincibles led by Colonel Leonidas Talbot and Lieutenant Colonel Hector St. Hilaire. Never had the two colonels seemed more prim and precise, and not even in youth had the fire of battle ever burned more brightly in their bosoms.
Jackson meant to pass around his enemy's right, crossing the Bull Run Mountain at Thoroughfare Gap, then strike the railway in Pope's rear. Longstreet, one of the heaviest hitters of the South, meanwhile was to worry Pope incessantly along the line of the Rappahannock, and when Jackson attacked they were to drive him toward the northeast and away from McClellan.
The hot August night was one of the most momentous in American history, and the next few days were to see the Union in greater danger than it has ever stood either before or since. Perhaps it was not given to the actors in the drama to know it then, but the retrospect shows it now. The North had not attained its full fighting strength, and the genius of the two great Southern commanders was at the zenith, while behind them stood a group of generals, full of talent and fearless of death.
Jackson had been directly before Sulphur Springs where Dick lay with the division to which he belonged. But Jackson, under cover of the darkness, had slipped away and the division of Longstreet had taken its place so quietly that the Union scouts and spies, including Shepard himself, did not know the difference.
Jackson's army marched swiftly and silently, while that of Pope slept. The plan of Lee was complicated and delicate to the last degree, but Jackson, the mainspring in this organism, never doubted that he could carry it out. His division soon left the rest of the army far behind, as they marched steadily on over the hills, the fate of the nation almost in the hollow of their hands.
The foot cavalry of Jackson were proud of their ability that night. They carried only three days' rations, expecting to feed off the enemy at the end of that time. Near midnight they lay down and slept a while, but long before dawn they were in line again marching over the hills and across the mountains. There were skirmishers in advance on either side, but they met no Union scouts. The march of Jackson's great fighting column was still unseen and unsuspected. A single Union scout or a message carried by a woman or child might destroy the whole plan, as a grain of dust stops all the wheels and levers of a watch, but neither the scout, the woman nor the child appeared.
Toward dawn the marching Southerners heard far behind them the thunder of guns along the Rappahannock. They knew that Longstreet had opened with his batteries across the river, and that those of Pope were replying. The men looked at one another. There was a deep feeling of excitement and suspense among them. They did not know what all this marching meant, but they had learned to trust the man who led them. He had led them only to victory, and they did not doubt that he was doing so again.
The march never paused for an instant. On they went, and the sound of the great guns behind them grew fainter and fainter until it faded away. Where were they going? Was it a raid on Washington? Were they to hurl themselves upon Pope's rear, or was there some new army that they were to destroy?
Up swept the sun and the coolness left by the storm disappeared. The August day began to blaze again with fierce burning heat, but there was no complaint among Jackson's men. They knew now that they were on one of his great turning movements, on a far greater scale than any hitherto, and full of confidence, they followed in the wake of Little Sorrel.
In the daylight now Jackson had scouts and skirmishers far in front and on either flank. They were to blaze the way for the army and they made a far out-flung line, through which no hostile scout could pass and see the marching army within. At the close of the day they were still marching, and when the sun was setting Jackson stood by the dusty roadside and watched his men as they passed. For the first time in that long march they broke through restraint and thundering cheers swept along the whole line as they took off their caps to the man whom they deemed at once their friend and a very god of war. The stern Jackson giving way so seldom to emotion was heard to say to himself:
"Who can fail to win battles with such men as these?"
Jackson's column did not stop until midnight. They had been more than twenty-four hours on the march, and they had not seen a hostile soldier. Harry Kenton himself did not know where they were going. But he lay down and gratefully, like the others, took the rest that was allowed to him. But a few hours only and they were marching again under a starry sky. Morning showed the forest lining the slopes of the mountains and then all the men seemed to realize suddenly which way they were going.
This was the road that led to Pope. It was not Washington, or Winchester, or some unknown army, but their foe on the Rappahannock that they were going to strike. A deep murmur of joy ran through the ranks, and the men who had now been marching thirty hours, with but little rest, suddenly increased their speed. Knowledge had brought them new strength.
They entered the forest and passed into Thoroughfare Gap, which leads through Bull Run Mountain. The files narrowed now and stretched out in a longer line. This was a deep gorge, pines and bushes lining the summits and crests. The confined air here was closer and hotter than ever, but the men pressed on with undiminished speed.
Harry Kenton felt a certain awe as he rode behind Jackson, and looked up at the lofty cliffs that enclosed them. The pines along the summit on either side were like long, green ribbons, and he half feared to see men in blue appear there and open fire on those in the gorge below. But reason told him that there was no such danger. No Northern force could be on Bull Run Mountain.
Harry had not asked a question during all that march. He had not known where they were going, but like all the soldiers he had supreme confidence in Jackson. He might be going to any of a number of places, but the place to which he was going was sure to be the right place. Now as he rode in the pass he knew that they were bound for the rear of Pope's army. Well, that would be bad for Pope! Harry had no doubt of it.
They passed out of the gap, leaving the mountain behind them, and swept on through two little villages, and over the famous plateau of Manassas Junction which many of them had seen before in the fire and smoke of the war's first terrible day. Here were the fields and hills over which they had fought and won the victory. Harry recognized at once the places which had been burned so vividly into his memory, and he considered it a good omen.
Not so far away was Washington, and so strongly was Harry's imagination impressed that he believed he could have seen through powerful glasses and from the crest of some tall hill that they passed, the dome of the Capitol shining in the August sun. He wondered why there was no attack, nor even any alarm. The cloud of dust that so many thousands of marching men made could be seen for miles. He did not know that Sherburne and the fastest of the rough riders were now far in front, seizing every Union scout or sentinel, and enabling Jackson's army to march on its great turning movement wholly unknown to any officer or soldier of the North. Soon he would stand squarely between Pope and Washington.
Before noon, Stuart and his wild horsemen joined them and their spirits surged yet higher. All through the afternoon the march continued, and at night Jackson fell upon Pope's vast store of supplies, surprising and routing the guard. Taking what he could use he set fire to the rest and the vast conflagration filled the sky.
Night came with Jackson standing directly in the rear of Pope. The trap had been shut down, and it was to be seen whether Pope was strong enough to break from it.
CHAPTER V. THE SECOND MANASSAS
The sunbeams seemed fairly to dance over the dusty earth. The dust was not only over the earth, but over everything, men, animals, wagons and tents. Dick Mason who had struggled so hard through a storm but a few nights ago now longed for another like it. Anything to get away from this blinding blaze.
But he soon forgot heat and dust. He was conscious of a great quiver and thrill running through the whole army. Something was happening. Something had happened, but nobody knew what. Warner and Pennington felt the same quiver and thrill, because they looked at him as if in inquiry. Colonel Winchester showed it, too. He said nothing, but gazed uneasily toward the Northern horizon. Dick found himself looking that way also. Along the Rappahannock there was but little firing now, and he began to forget the river which had loomed so large in the affairs of the armies. Perhaps the importance of the Rappahannock had passed.
It was said that Pope himself with his staff had ridden away toward Washington, but Dick did not know. Far off toward the capital he saw dust clouds, but he concluded that they must be made by marching reinforcements.
The long hot hours dragged and then came a messenger. It was Shepard who had reported to headquarters and who afterwards came over to the shade of a tree where Colonel Winchester and his little staff were gathered. He was on the verge of exhaustion. He was black under the eyes and the veins of his neck were distended. Dust covered him from head to foot. He threw himself on the ground and drank deeply from a canteen of cool water that Dick handed to him. All saw that Shepard, the spy, the man whose life was a continual danger, who had never before shown emotion, was in a state of excitement, and if they waited a little he would speak of his own accord.
Shepard took the canteen from his lips, drew several long deep breaths of relief and said:
"Do you know what I have seen?"
"I don't, but I infer from your manner, Shepard, that it must be of great importance," said Colonel Winchester.
"I've seen Stonewall Jackson at the head of half of Lee's army behind us! Standing between us and Washington!"
"What! Impossible! How could he get there?"
"It's possible, because it's been done—I've seen the rebel army behind us. In these civilian clothes of mine, I've been in their ranks, and I've talked with their men. While they were amusing us here on the Rappahannock with their cannon, Jackson with the best of the army crossed the river higher up, passed through Thoroughfare Gap, marching two or three days before a soul of ours knew it, and then struck our great camp at Bristoe Station."
"Shepard, you must be sunstruck!"
"My mind was never clearer. What I saw at close range General Pope himself saw at long range. He and his staff and a detachment came near enough to see the looting and burning of all our stores—I don't suppose so many were ever gathered together before. But I was right there. You ought to have seen the sight, Colonel, when those ragged rebels who had been living on green corn burst into our camp. I've heard about the Goths and Vandals coming down on Rome and it must have been something like it. They ate as I never saw anybody eat before, and then throwing away their rags they put on our new uniforms which were stored there in thousands. At least half the rebel army must now be wearing the Union blue. And the way they danced about and sang was enough to make a loyal man's heart sick."
"You told all this to General Pope?"
"I did, sir, but I could not make him believe the half of it. He insists that it can only be a raiding detachment, that it is impossible for a great army to have come to such a place. But, sir, I was among them. I know Stonewall Jackson, and I saw him with my own eyes. He was there at the head of thirty thousand men, and we've already lost stores worth millions and millions. Jeb Stuart was there, too. I saw him. And I saw Munford, who leads Jackson's cavalry since the death of Turner Ashby. Oh, they'll find out soon enough that it's Jackson. We're trapped, sir! I tell you we're trapped, and our own commander-in-chief won't believe it. Good God, Colonel, the trap has shut down on us and if we get out of it we've got to be up and doing! This is no time for waiting!"
Colonel Winchester saw from the rapidity and emphasis with which Shepard spoke that his excitement had increased, but knowing the man's great devotion to the Union he had no rebuke for his plain speech.
"You have done splendid work, Mr. Shepard," he said, "and the commander-in-chief will recognize what great risks you have run for the cause. I've no doubt that the accuracy of your reports will soon be proved."
Colonel Winchester in truth believed every word that Shepard had said, sinister though they were. He said that Jackson was behind them, that he had done the great destruction at Bristoe Station and he had not the slightest doubt that Jackson was there.
Shepard flushing a little with gratification at Colonel Winchester's praise quickly recovered his customary self possession. Once more he was the iron-willed, self-contained man who daily dared everything for the cause he served.
"Thank you, Colonel," he said, "I've got to go out and get a little food now. All I say will be proved soon enough."
The three boys, like Colonel Winchester, did not doubt the truth of Shepard's news, and they looked northeast for the dust clouds which should mark the approach of Jackson.
"We've been outmaneuvered," said Warner to Dick, "but it's no reason why we should be outfought."
"No, George, it isn't. We've eighty thousand men as brave as any in the world, and, from what we hear they haven't as many. We ought to smash their old trap all to pieces."
"If our generals will only give us a chance."
Shepard's prediction that his news would soon prove true was verified almost at once. General Pope himself returned to his army and dispatch after dispatch arrived stating that Jackson and his whole force had been at Bristoe Station while the Union stores were burning.
"Now is our chance," said Dick to his comrades, "why doesn't the general move on Jackson at once, and destroy him before Lee can come to his help?"
"I'm praying for it," said Warner.
"From what I hear it's going to be done," said Pennington.
Their hopes came true. Pope at once took the bold course, and marched on Jackson, but the elusive Stonewall was gone. They tramped about in the heat and dust in search of him. One portion of the army including Colonel Winchester's regiment turned off in the afternoon toward a place of a few houses called Warrenton. It lay over toward the Gap through which Jackson had gone and while the division ten thousand strong did not expect to find anything there it was nevertheless ordered to look.
Dick rode by the side of his colonel ready for any command, but the mystery, and uncertainty had begun to weigh upon him again. It seemed when they had the first news that Jackson was behind them, that they had a splendid opportunity to turn upon him and annihilate him before Lee could come. But he was gone. They had looked upon the smoldering ruins of their great supply camp, but they had found there no trace of a Confederate soldier. Was Harry Kenton right, when he told them they could not beat Jackson? He asked himself angrily why the man would not stay and fight. He believed, too, that he must be off there somewhere to the right, and he listened eagerly but vainly for the distant throb of guns in the east.
A cloud of dust hovered over the ten thousand as they marched on in the blazing sunshine. The country was well peopled, but all the inhabitants had disappeared save a few, and from not one of these could they obtain a scrap of information.
Dick noticed through the dusty veil a heavy wood on their left extending for a long distance. Then as in a flash, he saw that the whole forest was filled with troops, and he saw also two batteries galloping from it toward the crest of a ridge. It occurred to him instantly that here was the army of Jackson, and others who saw had the same instinctive belief.
There was a flash and roar from the batteries. Shot and shell cut through the clouds of dust and among the ranks of the men in blue. Now came from the forest a vast shout, the defiant rebel yell and nobody in the column doubted that Jackson was there. He had swung away toward the Gap, where Lee could come to him more readily, and he would fight the whole Union army until Lee came up.
As the roar of the first discharge from the batteries was dying swarms of skirmishers sprang up from ambush and poured a storm of bullets upon the Union front and flanks. A cry as of anguish arose from the column and it reeled back, but the men, many of them hardy young farmers from the West, men of staunch stuff, were eager to get at the enemy and the terrible surprise could not daunt them. Uttering a tremendous shout they charged directly upon the Southern force.
It was a case largely of vanguards, the main forces not yet having come up, but the two detachments charged into each other with a courage and fierceness that was astounding. In a minute the woods and fields were filled with fire and smoke, and hissing shells and bullets. Men fell by hundreds, but neither side yielded. The South could not drive away the North and the North could not hurl back the South.
The field of battle became a terrible and deadly vortex. The fire of the opposing lines blazed in the faces of each other. Often they were only three or four score yards apart. Ewell, Jackson's ablest and most trusted lieutenant, fell wounded almost to death, and lay long upon the field. Other Southern generals fell also, and despite their superior numbers they could not drive back the North.
Dick never had much recollection of the combat, save a reek of fire and smoke in which men fought. He saw Colonel Winchester's horse pitch forward on his head and springing from his own he pulled the half-stunned colonel to his feet. Both leaped aside just in time to avoid Dick's own falling horse, which had been slain by a shell. Then the colonel ran up and down the lines of his men, waving his sword and encouraging them to stand fast.
The Southern lines spread out and endeavored to overlap the Union men, but they were held back by a deep railroad cut and masses of felled timber. The combat redoubled in fury. Cannon and rifles together made a continuous roar. Both sides seemed to have gone mad with the rage of battle.
The Southern generals astonished at such a resistance by a smaller force, ordered up more men and cannon. The Union troops were slowly pushed back by the weight of numbers, but then the night, the coming of which neither had noticed, swept down suddenly upon them, leaving fifteen hundred men, nearly a third of those engaged, fallen upon the small area within which the two vanguards had fought.
But the Union men did not retreat far. Practically, they were holding their ground, when the darkness put an end to the battle, and they were full of elation at having fought a draw with superior numbers of the formidable Jackson. Dick, although exultant, was so much exhausted that he threw himself upon the ground and panted for breath. When he was able to rise he looked for Warner and Pennington and found them uninjured. So was Sergeant Whitley, but the sergeant, contrary to his custom, was gloomy.
"What's the matter, sergeant?" exclaimed Dick in surprise. "Didn't we give 'em a great fight?"
"Splendid, Mr. Mason, I don't believe that troops ever fought better than ours did. But we're not many here. Where's all the rest of our army? Scattered, while I'm certain that Jackson with twenty-five or thirty thousand men is in front of us, with more coming. We'll fall back. We'll have to do it before morning."
The sergeant on this occasion had the power of divination. An hour after midnight the whole force which had fought with so much heroism was withdrawn. It was a strange night to the whole Union army, full of sinister omens.
Pope, in his quest for Jackson, had heard about sunset the booming of guns in the west, but he could not believe that the Southern general was there. Many of his dispatches had been captured by the hard-riding cavalry of Stuart. His own division commanders had lost touch with him. It was not possible for him to know what to do until morning, and no one could tell him. Meanwhile Longstreet was advancing in the darkness through the Gap to reinforce Jackson.
Dick had found another horse belonging to a slain owner, and, in the darkness, his heart full of bitterness, he rode back beside Colonel Winchester toward Manassas. Could they never win a big victory in the east? The men were brave and tenacious. They had proved it over and over again, but they were always mismanaged. It seemed to him that they were never sent to the right place at the right time.
Nevertheless, many of the Northern generals, able and patriotic, achieved great deeds before the dawn of that momentous morning. Messengers were riding in the darkness in a zealous attempt to gather the forces together. There was yet abundant hope that they could crush Jackson before Lee came, and in the darkness brigade after brigade marched toward Warrenton.
Dick, after tasting all the bitterness of retreat, felt his hopes rise again. They had not really been beaten. They had fought a superior force of Jackson's own men to a standstill. He could never forget that. He cherished it and rolled it under his tongue. It was an omen of what was to come. If they could only get leaders of the first rank they would soon end the war.
He found himself laughing aloud in the anticipation of what Pope's Army of Virginia would do in the coming day to the rebels. It might even happen that McClellan with the Army of the Potomac would also come upon the field. And then! Lee and Jackson thought they had Pope in a trap! Pope and McClellan would have them between the hammer and the anvil, and they would be pounded to pieces!
"Here, stop that foolishness, Dick! Quit, I say, quit it at once!"
It was Warner who was speaking, and he gripped Dick's arm hard, while he peered anxiously into his face.
"What's the matter with you?" he continued. "What do you find to laugh at? Besides, I don't like the way you laugh."
Dick shook himself, and then rubbed his hand across his brow.
"Thanks, George," he said. "I'm glad you called me back to myself. I was thinking what would happen to the enemy if McClellan and the Army of the Potomac came up also, and I was laughing over it."
"Well, the next time, don't you laugh at a thing until it happens. You may have to take your laugh back."
Dick shook himself again, and the nervous excitement passed.
"You always give good advice, George," he said. "Do you know where we are?"
"I couldn't name the place, but we're not so far from Warrenton that we can't get back there in a short time and tackle Jackson again. Dick, see all those moving lights to right and left of us. They're the brigades coming up in the night. Isn't it a weird and tremendous scene? You and I and Pennington will see this night over and over again, many and many a time."
"It's so, George," said Dick, "I feel the truth of what you say all through me. Listen to the rumble of the cannon wheels! I hear 'em on both sides of us, and behind us, and I've no doubt, too, that it's going on before us, where the Southerners are massing their batteries. How the lights move! It's the field of Manassas again, and we're going to win this time!"
All of Dick's senses were excited once more, and everything he saw was vivid and highly colored. Warner, cool of blood as he habitually was, had no words of rebuke for him now, because he, too, was affected in the same way. The fields and plains of Manassas were alive not alone with marching armies, but the ghosts of those who had fallen there the year before rose and walked again.
Despite the darkness everything swelled into life again for Dick. Off there was the little river of Manassas, Young's Branch, the railway station, and the Henry House, around which the battle had raged so fiercely. They would have won the victory then if it had not been for Stonewall Jackson. If he had not been there the war would have been ended on that sanguinary summer day.
But Jackson was in front of them now, and they had him fast. Lee and Jackson had thought to trap Pope, but Jackson himself was in the trap, and they would destroy him utterly. His admiration for the great Southern general had changed for the time into consuming rage. They must overwhelm him, annihilate him, sweep him from the face of the earth.
They mounted again and moved back, but did not go far.
"Get down, Dick," said Colonel Winchester. "Here's food for us, and hot coffee. I don't remember myself how long we've been in the saddle and how long we've been without food, but we mustn't go into battle until we've eaten."
Dick was the last of the officers to dismount. He, too, did not remember how long they had been in the saddle. He could not say at that moment, whether it had been one night or two. He ate and drank mechanically, but hungrily—the Union army nearly always had plenty of stores—and then he felt better and stronger.
A faint bluish tint was appearing under the gray horizon in the east. Dick felt the touch of a light wind on his forehead. The dawn was coming.
Yes, the dawn was coming, but it was coming heavy with sinister omens and the frown of battle. Before the bluish tint in the east had turned to silver Dick heard the faint and far thudding of great guns, and closer a heavy regular beat which he knew was the gallop of cavalry. Surely the North could not fail now. Fierce anger against those who would break up the Union surged up in him again.
The gray came at last, driving the bluish tint away, and the sun rose hot and bright over the field of Manassas which already had been stained with the blood of one fierce battle. But now the armies were far greater. Nearly a hundred and fifty thousand men were gathering for the combat, and Dick was still hoping that McClellan would come with seventy or eighty thousand more. But within the Confederate lines, where they must always win and never lose, because losing meant to lose all there was a stern determination to shatter Pope and his superior numbers before McClellan could come. Never had the genius and resolution of the two great Southern leaders burned more brightly.
As the brazen sun swung slowly up Dick felt that the intense nervous excitement he had felt the night before was seizing him again. The officers of the regiment remained on foot. Colonel Winchester had sent their horses away to some cavalrymen who had lost their own. He and his staff and other officers, dismounted, could lead the men better into battle.
And that it was battle, great and bloody, the youngest of them all could see. Never had an August day been brighter and hotter. Every object seemed to swell into new size in the vivid and burning sunlight. Plain before them lay Jackson's army. Two of his regiments were between them and a turnpike that Dick remembered well. Off to the left ran the dark masses in gray, until they ended against a thick wood. In the center was a huge battery, and Dick from his position could see the mouths of the cannon waiting for them.
But he also saw the great line of the Northern Army. It was both deeper and longer than that of the South, and he knew that the men were full of resolve and courage.
"How many have we got here?" Dick heard himself asking Warner.
"Forty or fifty thousand, I suppose," he heard Warner replying, "and before night there will be eighty thousand. Our line is two miles long now. We ought to wrap around Jackson and crush him to death. Listen to the bugles! What a mellow note! And how they draw men on to death! And listen to the throbbing of the big cannon, too!"
Warner's face was flushed. He had become excited, as the two armies stood there, and looked at each other a moment or two like prize fighters in the ring before closing in battle. Then they heard the order to charge and far up and down the line their own cannon opened with a crash so great that Dick and his comrades could not hear one another talking.
Then they charged. The whole army lifted itself up and rushed at the enemy, animated by patriotism, the fire of battle and the desire for revenge. Among the officers were Milroy and Schenck and others who had been beaten by Jackson in the valley. There, too, was the brigade of Germans whom Jackson had beaten at Cross Keyes. Many of them were veterans of the sternest discipline known in Europe and they longed fiercely for revenge. And there were more Germans, too, under Schurz—hired Germans, fighting nearly a hundred years before to prevent the Union—and free Germans now fighting to save it.
Driven forward thus by all the motives that sway men in battle, the Union army rushed upon Jackson. Confident from many victories and trusting absolutely in their leader the Southern defense received the mighty charge without flinching. The wood now swarmed with riflemen and they filled the air with their bullets, so many of them that their passage was like the continual rush of a hurricane. Along the whole line came the same metallic scream, and the great battery in the center was a volcano, pouring forth a fiery hurricane of shot and shell.
Dick felt their front lines being shorn. Although he was untouched it was an actual physical sensation. He could see but little save that fearful blaze in their faces, and the cries of the wounded and dying were drowned by the awful roar of so many cannon and rifles.
The cloud of dust and smoke had become immense and overwhelming in an instant, but it was pierced always in front by the blaze of fire, and by its flaming light Dick saw the long lines of the Southern men, their faces gray and fixed, as he knew those of his own comrades were.
But the charge, brave, even reckless, failed. The brigades broke in vain on Jackson's iron front. Riddled by the fire of the great battery and of the riflemen they could not go on and live. The Germans had longed for revenge, but they did not get it. The South Carolinians fell upon them at the edge of the wood and hurled them back. They rallied, and charged again, but again they were handled terribly, and were forced back by the charging masses of the Southerners.
Dick had been at Shiloh. He had seen the men of the west in a great battle, and now he saw the men of the east in a battle yet greater. There it had been largely in the forest, here it was mostly in the open, yet he saw but little more. One of the extraordinary features of this battle was dust. Trampled up from the dry fields by fighting men in scores of thousands it rose in vast floating clouds that permeated everything. It was even more persistent than the smoke. It clogged Dick's throat. It stung and burnt him like powder. Often it filled his eyes so completely that for a moment or two he could not see the blaze of the cannon and rifle fire, almost in his face.
But as they fell back he felt again that sensation of actual physical pain, although he was still untouched. Added to it was an intense mental anguish. They were failing! They had been driven back! They had not crushed Jackson! He forgot all about Colonel Winchester, and his comrades Warner and Pennington. He forgot all about his own danger in this terrible reversal of his hopes, and he began to shout angrily at the men to stand. He did not know by and by that no sound came from his mouth, that words could not come from a throat so choked with dust and burned gunpowder.
But the charge was made again. The thudding great guns now told all the Northern divisions where Jackson was. The eighty thousand men of Pope were crowding forward to attack him, and the batteries were galloping over the plateau to add to the volume of shot and shell that was poured upon the Southern ranks.
Dick was quite unconscious of the passage of time. Hope had sprung anew in his breast. He heard a report that ten thousand fresh troops under Kearney had arrived and were attacking the Southerners in the wood. He knew by the immense volume of fire coming from that point that the report was true, and he heard that McDowell, too, would soon be at hand with nearly thirty thousand men.
Then he saw Colonel Winchester, his face a mass of grime and his clothing flecked with blood. But he did not seem to have suffered any wound and he was calmly rallying his men.
"It's hot!" Dick shouted, why he knew not.
"Yes, my boy, and it will soon be hotter! Look at the new brigades coming into battle! See them on both right and left! We'll crush Jackson yet!"
It was now mid-morning, and neither Colonel Winchester nor any other of the Northern officers facing the Southern force knew that Lee and the other Southern army was at hand. The front ranks of Longstreet were already in battle, and the most difficult and dangerous of all tasks was accomplished. Two armies coming from points widely divergent, but acting in concert had joined upon the field of battle at the very moment when the junction meant the most. Lee had come, but McClellan and the Army of the Potomac were far away.
Dick heard the trumpets calling again, and once more they charged, hurling heavy masses now upon the wood, which was held by the Southern general, A. P. Hill. Rifle fire gave way to bayonet charges by either side, and after swaying back and forth the Union men held the wood for a while, but at last they were driven out to stay, and as they retreated cannon and rifles decimated their ranks.
The regiment had suffered so terribly that after its retreat it was compelled to lie down a while and rest. Dick gasped for breath, but he was not as much excited as he had been earlier in the day. Perhaps one can become hardened to anything. Although he and his immediate comrades were resting he could see no diminution of the battle.
As far to left and right as the eye reached, cannon and rifles blazed and thundered. In front of their own exhausted regiment hundreds of sharpshooters, creeping forward, were now pouring a deadly fire among the Southern troops who held the wood. They were men of the west and northwest, accustomed all their lives to the use of firearms, and if a Confederate officer in the forest showed himself for a moment it was at the risk of his life. Captains and lieutenants fell fast beneath the aim of the sharpshooters.
The burning sun was at the zenith, pouring fiery rays upon the vast conflict which raged along a front of two miles. Pope himself was now upon the field and his troops were pouring from every point to his aid. So deadly was the fire of the sharpshooters that they regained the wood, driving out the Southerners who had exhausted their cartridges. Hill's division of the Confederates was almost cut to pieces by the cannon and rifles, and the Southern leaders from their posts on the hills saw brigades and regiments continually coming to the help of the North.
Dick saw or rather felt the fortunes of the North rising again, and as his regiment stood up for action once more he began to shout with the others in triumph. The roar of the battle grew so steady that the voices of men became audible and articulate beneath it.
"They shut their trap down upon us, but we're breaking that trap all to pieces," he heard Pennington say.
"Looks as if we might win a victory," said the cooler Warner.
Then he heard no more, as they were once again upon the enemy who received them almost hand to hand, and the battle swelled anew. It was now long past noon, and in that prodigious canopy of dust and fire and smoke it seemed for a while that the Union army in truth had shattered the trap. The men in gray were borne back by the courage and weight of their opponents. Hooker, Kearney, Reynolds and all the gallant generals of the North continually urged on their troops. Confidence in victory at last passed through all the army, and incited it to greater efforts.
But Jackson was undaunted. Never was he cooler. Never did his genius shine more brilliantly. Never did any man in all the fury and turmoil of battle, amid a thousand conflicting reports and appalling confusion, have a keener perception, a greater power to sum up what was actually passing, and a better knowledge of what to do.
Lee was a mile away, standing on a wooded hill, the bearded Longstreet by his side, watching the battle in his immediate front, where accumulating masses under Pope's own eye were gathering. On the other flank where Jackson stood and the conflict was heaviest he trusted all to his great lieutenant and not in vain.
Jackson had formed his plan. There came for a few moments a lull in the battle which had now lasted nine hours, and then gathering a powerful reserve he sent them charging through the wood with the bayonet. Dick saw the massive line of glittering steel coming on at the double quick and he felt his regiment giving back. The men could not help it. Physically exhausted and with ammunition running low they slowly yielded the wood. Many of the youths wept with rage, but although they had lost thousands in five desperate charges they were compelled to see all five fail.
Dick, aghast, gazed at Warner through the smoke.
"It's true!" gasped Warner, "we didn't break the trap, Dick. But maybe they'll succeed off there to the left! Our own commander is there, and they say that Lee himself has come to the help of Jackson!"
They had been driven back at all points and their own battle was dying, but off to the left it thundered a while longer, and then as night suddenly rushed over the field it, too, sank, leaving the hostile forces on that wing also still face to face, but with the North pushed back.
The coming of night was as sudden to Dick as if it had been the abrupt dropping of a great dark blanket. In the fury of conflict he had not noticed the gathering shadows in the west. The dimness around him, if he had taken time to think about it, he would have ascribed to the vast columns of dust that eddied and surged about.
Again it was the dust that he felt and remembered. The surging back and forth of seven score thousand men, the tread of horses and the wheels of hundreds of cannon raised it in such quantities that it covered the forest and the armies with a vast whitish curtain. Even in the darkness it showed dim and ghastly like a funeral veil.
Out of that fatal forest came a dreadful moaning. Dick did not know whether it was the wind among the leaves or the dying. Once more the ghosts of the year before walked the fatal field, but the ghosts of this year would be a far greater company. They had not broken the trap and Dick knew that the battle was far from over.
It would be renewed in the morning with greater fierceness than ever, but he was grateful for the present darkness and rest. He and his comrades had thrown themselves upon the ground, and they felt as if they could never move again. Their bones did not ache. They merely felt dead within them.
Dick was roused after a long time. The camp cooks were bringing food and coffee. He saw a figure lying at his feet as still as death, and he shoved it with his foot.
"Get up, Frank," he said. "You're not dead."
"No, I'm not, but I'm as good as dead. You just let me finish dying in peace."
Dick shoved him again and Pennington sat up. When he saw the food and coffee he suddenly remembered to be hungry. Warner was already eating and drinking. Off to the left they still heard cannon and rifles, although the sound was sinking. Occasionally flashes from the mouths of the great guns illumined the darkness.
Dick did not know what time it was. He had no idea how long he had been lying upon the ground panting, the air surcharged with menace and suspense. The vast clouds of dust, impregnated with burned gunpowder still floated about, and it scorched his mouth and throat as he breathed it.
The boys, after eating and drinking lay down again. They still heard the firing of pickets, but it was no more than the buzzing of bees to them, and after a while they fell into the sleep of nervous and physical exhaustion. But while many of the soldiers slept all of the generals were awake.
It was a singular fact but in the night that divided the great battle of the Second Manassas into two days both sides were full of confidence. Jackson's men, who had borne the brunt of the first day, rested upon their arms and awaited the dawn with implicit confidence in their leader. On the other flank Lee and Longstreet were massing their men for a fresh attack.
The losses within the Union lines were replaced by reinforcements. Pope rode among them, sanguine, full of hope, telegraphing to Washington that the enemy had lost two to his one, and that Lee was retreating toward the mountains.
Dick slept uneasily through the night, and rose to another hot August sun. Then the two armies looked at each other and it seemed that each was waiting for the other to begin, as the morning hours dragged on and only the skirmishers were busy. During this comparative peace, the heavy clouds of dust were not floating about, and Dick whose body had come to life again walked back and forth with his colonel, gazing through their glasses at the enemy. He scarcely noticed it, but Colonel Winchester's manner toward him had become paternal. The boy merely ascribed it to the friendly feeling an officer would feel for a faithful aide, but he knew that he had in his colonel one to whom he could speak both as a friend and a protector. Walking together they talked freely of the enemy who stood before them in such an imposing array.
"Colonel," said Dick, "do you think General Pope is correct in stating that one wing of the Southern army is already retreating through Thoroughfare Gap?"
"I don't, Dick. I don't think it is even remotely probable. I'm quite sure, too, that we have the whole Confederate army in front of us. We'll have to beat both Lee and Jackson, if we can."
"Where do you think the main attack will be?"
"On Jackson, who is still in front of us. But we have waited a long time. It must be full noon now."
"It is past noon, sir, but I hear the trumpets, calling up our men."
"They are calling to us, too."
The regiment shifted a little to the right, where a great column was forming for a direct attack upon the Confederate lines. Twenty thousand men stood in a vast line and forty thousand were behind them to march in support.
Dick had thought that he would be insensible to emotions, but his heart began to throb again. The spectacle thrilled and awed him—the great army marching to the attack and the resolute army awaiting it. Soon he heard behind him the firing of the artillery which sent shot and shell over their heads at the enemy. A dozen cannon came into action, then twenty, fifty, a hundred and more, and the earth trembled with the mighty concussion.
Dick felt the surge of triumph. They had yet met no answering fire. Perhaps General Pope and not Colonel Winchester had been right after all, and the Confederates were crushed. Awaiting them was only a rear guard which would flee at the first flash of the bayonets in the wood.
The great line marched steadily onward, and the cannon thundered and roared over the heads of the men raking the wood with steel. Still no reply. Surely the sixty thousand Union men would now march over everything. They were driving in the swarms of skirmishers. Dick could see them retreating everywhere, in the wood over the hills and along an embankment.
Warner was on his right and Pennington on his left. Dick glanced at them and he saw the belief in speedy victory expressed on the faces of both. It seemed to him, too, that nothing could now stop the massive columns that Pope was sending forward against the thinned ranks of the Confederates.
They were much nearer and he saw gray lines along an embankment and in a wood. Then above the crash and thunder of their covering artillery he heard another sound. It was the Southern bugles calling with a piercing note to their own men just as the Northern trumpets had called.
Dick saw a great gray multitude suddenly pour forward. It looked to him in the blur and the smoke like an avalanche, and in truth it was a human avalanche, a far greater force of the South than they expected to meet there. Directly in front of the Union column stood the Stonewall Brigade, and all the chosen veterans of Stonewall Jackson's army.
"It's a fight, face to face," Dick heard Colonel Winchester say.
Then he saw a Union officer, whose name he did not know suddenly gallop out in front of the division, wave his saber over his head and shout the charge. A tremendous rolling cry came from the blue ranks and Dick physically felt the whole division leap forward and rush at the enemy.
Dick saw the officer who had made himself the leader of the charge gallop straight at a breastwork that the Southerners had built, reach and stand, horse and rider, a moment at the top, then both fall in a limp heap. The next instant the officer, not dead but wounded, was dragged a prisoner behind the embankment by generous foes who had refused to shoot at him until compelled to do so.
The Union men, with a roar, followed their champion, and Dick felt a very storm burst upon them. The Southerners had thrown up earthworks at midnight and thousands of riflemen lying behind them sent in a fire at short range that caused the first Union line to go down like falling grain. Cannon from the wood and elsewhere raked them through and through.
It was a vortex of fire and death. The Confederates themselves were losing heavily, but taught by the stern Jackson and knowing that his eye was upon them they refused to yield. The Northern charge broke on their front, but the men did not retreat far. The shrill trumpet called them back to the charge, and once more the blue masses hurled themselves upon the barrier of fire and steel, to break again, and to come yet a third time at the trumpet's call. Often the combatants were within ten yards of one another, but strive as they would the Union columns could not break through the Confederate defense.
Elsewhere the men of Hill and Longstreet showed a sternness and valor equal to that of Jackson's. Their ranks held firm everywhere, and now, as the long afternoon drew on, the eye of Lee, watching every rising and falling wave of the battle, saw his chance. He drew his batteries together in great masses and as the last charge broke on Jackson's lines the trumpets sounded the charge for the Southern troops who hitherto had stood on the defensive.
Dick heard a tremendous shout, the great rebel yell, that he had heard so often before, and that he was destined to hear so often again. Through the clouds of smoke and dust he saw the long lines of Southern bayonets advancing swiftly. His regiment, which had already lost more than half its numbers, was borne back by an appalling weight.
Then hope deserted the boy for the first time. The Union was not to be saved here on this field. It was instead another lost Manassas, but far greater than the first. The genius of Lee and Jackson which bore up the Confederacy was triumphing once again. Dick shut his teeth in grim despair. He heard the triumphant shouts of the advancing enemy, and he saw that not only his own regiment, but the whole Northern line, was being driven back, slowly it is true, but they were going.
Now at the critical moment, Lee was hurling forward every man and gun. Although his army was inferior in numbers he was always superior at the point of contact, and his exultant veterans pressed harder and harder upon their weakening foes. Only the artillery behind them now protected Dick and his comrades. But the Confederates still came with a rush.
Jackson was leading on his own men who had stood so long on the defensive. The retreating Union line was broken, guns were lost, and there was a vast turmoil and confusion. Yet out of it some order finally emerged, and although the Union army was now driven back at every point it inflicted heavy losses upon its foe, and under the lead of brave commanders great masses gathered upon the famous Henry Hill, resolved, although they could not prevent defeat, to save the army from destruction.
Night was coming down for the second time upon the field of battle, lost to the North, although the North was ready to fight again.
Lee and Jackson looked upon the heavy Union masses gathered at the Henry Hill, and then looking at the coming darkness they stopped the attack. Night heavier than usual came down over the field, covering with its friendly veil those who had lost and those who had won, and the twenty-five thousand who had fallen.
CHAPTER VI. THE MOURNFUL FOREST
As the night settled down, heavy and dark, and the sounds of firing died away along the great line, Dick again sank to the ground exhausted. Although the battle itself had ceased, it seemed to him that the drums of his ears still reproduced its thunder and roar, or at least the echo of it was left upon the brain.
He lay upon the dry grass, and although the night was again hot and breathless, surcharged with smoke and dust and fire, he felt a chill that went to the bone, and he trembled all over. Then a cold perspiration broke out upon him. It was the collapse after two days of tremendous exertion, excitement and anxiety. He did not move for eight or ten minutes, blind to everything that was going on about him, and then through the darkness he saw Colonel Winchester standing by and looking down at him.
"Are you all right, Dick, my boy?" the colonel asked.
"Yes, sir," replied Dick, as his pride made him drag himself to his feet. "I'm not wounded at all. I was just clean played out."
"You're lucky to get off so well," said the colonel, smiling sadly. "We've lost many thousands and we've lost the battle, too. The killed or wounded in my regiment number more than two-thirds."
"Have you seen anything of Warner and Pennington, sir? I lost sight of them in that last terrible attack."
"Pennington is here. He has had a bullet through the fleshy part of his left arm, but he's so healthy it won't take him long to get well. I'm sorry to say that Warner is missing."
"Missing, sir? You don't say that George has been killed?"
"I don't say it. I'm hoping instead that he's been captured."
Dick knew what the colonel meant. In Colonel Winchester's opinion only two things, death or capture, could keep Warner from being with them.
"Maybe he will come in yet," he said. "We were mixed up a good deal when the darkness fell, and he may have trouble in finding our position."
"That's true. There are not so many of us left, and we do not cover any great area of ground. Lie still, Dick, and take a little rest. We don't know what's going to happen in the night. We may have to do more fighting yet, despite the darkness."
The colonel's figure disappeared in the shadow, and Dick, following his advice, lay quiet. All around him were other forms stretched upon the earth, motionless. But Dick knew they were not dead, merely sleeping. His own nervous system was being restored by youth and the habit of courage. Yet he felt a personal grief, and it grew stronger with returning physical strength. Warner, his comrade, knitted to him by ties of hardship and danger, was missing, dead no doubt in the battle. For the moment he forgot about the defeat. All his thoughts were for the brave youth who lay out there somewhere, stretched on the dusty field.
Dick strained his eyes into the darkness, as if by straining he might see where Warner lay. He saw, indeed, dim fires here and there along a long line, marking where the Confederates now stood, or rather lay. Then a bitter pang came. It was ground upon which the Union army had stood in the morning.
The rifle fire, which had died down, began again in a fitful way. Far off, skirmishers, not satisfied with the slaughter of the day, were seeing what harm they could do in the dark. Somewhere the plumed and unresting Stuart was charging with his horsemen, driving back some portion of the Union army that the Confederate forces might be on their flank in the morning.
But Dick, as he lay quietly and felt his strength, mental and physical, returning, was taking a resolution. Down there in front of them and in the darkness was the wood upon which they had made five great assaults, all to fail. In front of that mournful forest, and within its edge, more than ten thousand men had fallen. He had no doubt that Warner was among them.