His sense of direction was good, and, as his blurred faculties regained their normal keenness, he could mark the exact line by which they had advanced, and the exact line by which they had retreated. Warner unquestionably lay near the edge of the wood and he must seek him. Were it the other way, Warner would do the same.
Dick stood up. He was no longer dizzy, and every muscle felt steady and strong. He did not know what had become of Colonel Winchester, and his comrades still lay upon the ground in a deep stupor.
It could not be a night of order and precision, with every man numbered and in his place, as if they were going to begin a battle instead of just having finished one, and Dick, leaving his comrades, walked calmly toward the wood. He passed one sentinel, but a few words satisfied him, and he continued to advance. Far to right and left he still heard the sound of firing and saw the flash of guns, but these facts did not disturb him. In front of him lay darkness and silence, with the horizon bounded by that saddest of all woods where the heaped dead lay.
Dick looked back toward the Henry Hill, on the slopes of which were the fragments of his own regiment. Lights were moving there, but they were so dim they showed nothing. Then he turned his face toward the enemy's position and did not look back again.
The character of the night was changing. It had come on dark and heavy. Hot and breathless like the one before, he had taken no notice of the change save for the increased darkness. Now he felt a sudden damp touch on his face, as if a wet finger had been laid there. The faintest of winds had blown for a moment or two, and when Dick looked up, he saw that the sky was covered with black clouds. The saddest of woods had moved far away, but by some sort of optical illusion he could yet see it.
Save for the distant flash of random firing, the darkness was intense. Every star was gone, and Dick moved without any guide. But he needed none. His course was fixed. He could not miss the mournful wood hanging there like a pall on the horizon.
His feet struck against something. It was a man, but he was past all feeling, and Dick went on, striking by and by against many more. It was impossible at the moment to see Warner's face, but he began to feel of the figures with his hands. There was none so long and slender as Warner's, and he continued his search, moving steadily toward the wood.
He saw presently a lantern moving over the field, and he walked toward it. Three men were with the lantern, and the one who carried it held it up as he approached. The beams fell directly upon Dick, revealing his pale face and torn and dusty uniform.
"What do you want, Yank?" called the man.
"I'm looking for a friend of mine who must have fallen somewhere near here."
The man laughed, but it was not a laugh of joy or irony. It was a laugh of pity and sadness.
"You've shorely got a big look comin'," he said. "They're scattered all around here, coverin' acres an' acres, just like dead leaves shook by a storm from the trees. But j'in us, Yank. You can't do nothin' in the darkness all by yourself. We're Johnny Rebs, good and true, and I may be shootin' straight at you to-morrow mornin', but I reckon I've got nothin' ag'in you now. We're lookin' for a brother o' mine."
Dick joined them, and the four, the three in gray and the one in blue, moved on. A friendly current had passed between him and them, and there would be no thought of hostility until the morning, when it would come again. It was often so in this war, when men of the same blood met in the night between battles.
"What sort of a fellow is it that you're lookin' for?" asked the man with the lantern.
"About my age. Very tall and thin. You could mark him by his height."
"It takes different kinds of people to make the world. My brother ain't like him a-tall. Sam's short, an' thick as a buffalo. Weighs two twenty with no fat on him. What crowd do you belong to, youngster?"
"The division on our right. We attacked the wood there."
"Well, you're a bully boy. Give me your hand, if you are a Yank. You shorely came right up there and looked us in the eyes. How often did you charge us?"
"Five times, I think. But I may be mistaken. You know it wasn't a day when a fellow could be very particular about his count."
"Guess you're right there. I made it five. What do you say, Jim?"
"Five she was."
"That settles it. Jim kin always count up to five an' never make a mistake. What you fellers goin' to do in the mornin'?"
"I don't know."
"Pope ain't asked you yet what to do. Well, Bobby Lee and Old Stonewall ain't been lookin' for me either to get my advice, but, Yank, you fellers do just what I tell you."
"Pack up your clothes before daylight, say good-bye, and go back to Washington. You needn't think you kin ever lick Marse Bobby an' Stonewall Jackson."
"But what if we do think it? We've got a big army back there yet, and more are always coming to us. We'll beat you yet."
"There seems to be a pow'ful wide difference in our opinions, an' I can't persuade you an' you can't persuade me. We'll just let the question rip. I'm glad, after all, Yank, it's so dark. I don't want to see ten thousand dead men stretched out in rows."
"We're going to get a wettin'," said the man to Jim. "The air's already damp on my face. Thar, do you hear that thunder growlin' in the southwest? Tremenjously like cannon far away, but it's thunder all the same."
"What do we care 'bout a wettin', Jim? Fur the last few days this young Yank here an' his comrades have shot at me 'bout a million cannon balls an' shells, an' more 'n a hundred million rifle bullets. Leastways I felt as if they was all aimed at me, which is just as bad. After bein' drenched fur two days with a storm of steel an' lead an' fire, what do you think I care for a summer shower of rain, just drops of rain?"
"But I don't like to get wet after havin' fit so hard. It's unhealthy, likely to give me a cold."
"Never min' 'bout ketchin' cold. You're goin' to get wet, shore. Thunder, but I thought fur a second that was the flash of a hull battery aimed at me. Fellers, if you wasn't with me I'd be plumb scared, prowlin' 'roun' here in a big storm on the biggest graveyard in the world. Keep close, Yank, we don't want to lose you in the dark."
A tremendous flash of lightning had cut the sky down the middle, as if it intended to divide the world in two halves, but after its passage the darkness closed in thicker and heavier than ever. The sinister sound of thunder muttering on the horizon now went on without ceasing.
Dick was awed. Like many another his brain exposed to such tremendous pressure for two or three days, was not quite normal. It was quickly heated and excited by fancies, and time and place alone were enough to weigh down even the coolest and most seasoned. He pressed close to his Confederate friends, whose names he never knew, and who never knew his, and they, feeling the same influence, never for an instant left the man who held the lantern.
The muttering thunder now came closer and broke in terrible crashes. The lightning flashed again and again so vividly that Dick, with involuntary motion, threw up his hands to shelter his eyes. But he could see before him the mournful forest, where so many good men had fallen, and, turned red in the gleam of the lightning, it was more terrifying than it had been in the mere black of the night. The wind, too, was now blowing, and the forest gave forth what Dick's ears turned into a long despairing wail.
"She's about to bust," said the lantern bearer, looking up at the menacing sky. "Jim, you'll have to take your wettin' as it comes."
A moment later the storm burst in fact. The rain rushed down on them, soaking them through in an instant, but Dick, so far from caring, liked it. It cooled his heated body and brain, and he knew that it was more likely to help than hurt the wounded who yet lay on the ground.
The lightning ceased before the sweep of the rain, but the lantern was well protected by its glass cover, and they still searched. The lantern bearer suddenly uttered a low cry.
"Boys!" he said, "Here's Sam!"
A thick and uncommonly powerful man lay doubled up against a bush. His face was white. Dick saw that blood had just been washed from it by the rain. But he could see no rising and falling of the chest, and he concluded that he was dead.
"Take the lantern, Jim," said the leader. Then he knelt down and put his finger on his brother's wrist.
"He ain't dead," he said at last. "His pulse is beatin' an' he'll come to soon. The rain helped him. Whar was he hit? By gum, here it is! A bullet has ploughed all along the side of his head, runnin' 'roun' his skull. Here, you Yank, did you think you could kill Sam by shootin' him in the head with a bullet? We've stood him up in front of our lines, and let you fellows break fifty pound shells on his head. You never done him no harm, 'cept once when two solid shot struck him at the same time an' he had a headache nigh until sundown. Besides havin' natural thickness of the skull Sam trained his head by buttin' with the black boys when he was young."
Dick saw that the man really felt deep emotion and was chattering, partly to hide it. He was glad that they had found his brother, and he helped them to lift him. Then they rubbed Sam's wrists and poured a stimulant down his throat. In a few minutes he stood alone on his feet, yawned mightily, and by the light of the dim lantern gazed at them in a sort of stupid wonder.
"What's happened?" he asked.
"What's happened?" replied his brother. "You was always late with the news, Sam. Of course you've been takin' a nap, but a lot has happened. We met the Yankees an' we've been fightin' 'em for two days. Tremenjous big battle, an' we've whipped 'em. 'Scuse me, Yank, I forgot you was with us. Well, nigh onto a million have been killed, which ought to be enough for anybody. I love my country, but I don't care to love another at such a price. But resumin' 'bout you pussonally, Sam, you stopped so many shells an' solid shot with that thick head of yourn that the concussion at last put you to sleep, an' we've found you so we kin take you in out of the wet an' let you sleep in a dry place. Kin you walk?"
Sam made an effort, but staggered badly.
"Jim, you an' Dave take him by each shoulder an' walk him back to camp," said the lantern bearer. "You jest keep straight ahead an' you'll butt into Marse Bob or old Stonewall, one or the other."
"You lead the way with the lantern."
"Never you mind about me or the lantern."
"What you goin' to do?"
"Me? I'm goin' to keep this lantern an' help Yank here find his friend. Ain't he done stuck with us till we found Sam, an' I reckon I'll stick with him till he gits the boy he's lookin for, dead or alive. Now, you keep Sam straight, and walk him back to camp. He ain't hurt. Why, that bullet didn't dent his skull. It said to itself when it came smack up against the bone: 'This is too tough for me, I guess I'll go 'roun'.' An' it did go 'roun'. You can see whar it come out of the flesh on the other side. Why, by the time Sam was fourteen years old we quit splittin' old boards with an axe or a hatchet. We jest let Sam set on a log an' we split 'em over his head. Everybody was suited. Sam could make himself pow'ful useful without havin' to work."
Nevertheless, the lantern bearer gave his brother the tenderest care, and watched him until he and the men on either side of him were lost in the darkness as they walked toward the Southern camp.
"I jest had to come an' find old Sam, dead or alive," he said. "Now, which way, Yank, do you think this friend of yours is layin'?"
"But you're comin' with us," repeated Jim.
"No, I'm not. Didn't Yank here help us find Sam? An' are we to let the Yanks give us lessons in manners? I reckon not. 'Sides, he's only a boy, an' I'm goin' to see him through."
"I thank you," said Dick, much moved.
"Don't thank me too much, 'cause while I'm walkin' 'roun' with you friendly like to-night I may shoot you to-morrow."
"I thank you, all the same," said Dick, his gratitude in nowise diminished.
"Them that will stir no more are layin' mighty thick 'roun' here, but we ought to find your friend pretty soon. By gum, how it rains! W'all, it'll wash away some big stains, that wouldn't look nice in the mornin'. Say, sonny, what started this rumpus, anyway?"
"I don't know."
"An' I don't, either, so I guess it's hoss an' hoss with you an' me. But, sonny, I'll bet you a cracker ag'in a barrel of beef that none of them that did start the rumpus are a-layin' on this field to-night. What kind of lookin' feller did you say your young friend was?"
"Very tall, very thin, and about my age or perhaps a year or two older."
"Take a good look, an' see if this ain't him."
He held up the lantern and the beams fell upon a long figure half raised upon an elbow. The figure was turned toward the light and stared unknowing at Dick and the Southerner. There was a great clot of blood upon his right breast and shoulder, but it was Warner. Dick swallowed hard.
"Yes," he said, "it's my comrade, but he's hurt badly."
"So bad that he don't know you or anybody else. He's clean out of his head."
They leaned over him, and Dick called:
"George! George! It's Dick Mason, your comrade, come to help you back to camp!"
But Warner merely stared with feverish, unseeing eyes.
"He's out of his head, as I told you, an' he's like to be for many hours," said the lantern bearer. "It's a shore thing that I won't shoot him to-morrow, nor he won't shoot me."
He leaned over Warner and carefully examined the wound.
"He's lucky, after all," he said, "the bullet went in just under the right shoulder, but it curved, as bullets have a way of doin' sometimes, an' has come out on the side. There ain't no lead in him now, which is good. He was pow'ful lucky, too, in not bein' hit in the head, 'cause he ain't got no such skull as Sam has, not within a mile of it. His skull wouldn't have turned no bullet. He has lost a power of blood, but if you kin get him back to camp, an' use the med'cines which you Yanks have in such lots an' which we haven't, he may get well."
"That's good advice," said Dick. "Help me up with him."
"Take him on your back. That's the best way to carry a sick man."
He set down his lantern, took up Warner bodily and put him on Dick's back.
"I guess you can carry him all right," he said. "I'd light you with the lantern a piece of the way, but I've been out here long enough. Marse Bob an' old Stonewall will get tired waitin' fur me to tell 'em how to end this war in a month."
Dick, holding Warner in place with one hand, held out the other, and said:
"You're a white man, through and through, Johnny Reb. Shake!"
"So are you, Yank. There's nothin' wrong with you 'cept that you happened to get on the wrong side, an' I don't hold that ag'in you. I guess it was an innercent mistake."
"Good-bye. Keep straight ahead an' you'll strike that camp of yourn that we're goin' to take in the mornin'. Gosh, how it rains!"
Dick retained his idea of direction, and he walked straight through the darkness toward the Northern camp. George was a heavy load, but he did not struggle. His head sank down against his comrade's and Dick felt that it was burning with fever.
"Good old George," he murmured to himself rather than to his comrade, "I'll save you."
Excitement and resolve had given him a strength twice the normal, a strength that would last the fifteen or twenty minutes needed until this task was finished. Despite the darkness and the driving rain, he could now see the lights in his own camp, and bending forward a little to support the dead weight on his back, he walked in a straight course toward them.
"Halt! Who are you?"
The form of a sentinel, rifle raised, rose up before him in the darkness and the rain.
"Lieutenant Richard Mason of Colonel Winchester's regiment, bringing in Lieutenant George Warner of the same regiment, who is badly wounded."
The sentinel lowered his rifle and looked at them sympathetically.
"Hangs like he's dead, but he ain't," he said. "You'll find a sort of hospital over thar in the big tents among them trees."
Dick found the improvised hospital, and put George down on a rude cot, within the shelter of one of the tents.
"He's my friend," he said to a young doctor, "and I wish you'd save him."
"There are hundreds of others who have friends also, but I'll do my best. Shot just under the right shoulder, but the bullet, luckily, has turned and gone out. It's loss of blood that hurt him most. You soldiers kill more men than we doctors can save. I'm bound to say that. But your friend won't die. I'll see to it."
"Thank you," said Dick. He saw that the doctor was kind-hearted, and a marvel of endurance and industry. He could not ask for more at such a time, and he went out of the tent, leaving George to his care.
It was still raining, but the soldiers managed to keep many fires going, despite it, and Dick passed between them as he sought Colonel Winchester, and the fragments of his regiment. He found the colonel wrapped in a greatcoat, leaning against a tree under a few feet of canvas supported on sticks. Pennington, sound asleep, sat on a root of the same tree, also under the canvas, but with the rain beating on his left arm and shoulder.
Colonel Winchester looked inquiringly at Dick, but said nothing.
"I've been away without leave, sir," said Dick, "but I think I have sufficient excuse."
"What is it?"
"I've brought in Warner."
"Ah! Is he dead?"
"No, sir. He's had a bullet through him and he's feverish and unconscious, but the doctor says that with care he'll get well."
"Where did you find him?"
"Over there by the edge of the wood, sir, within what is now the Confederate lines."
"A credit to your courage and to your heart. Sit down here. There's a little more shelter under the canvas, and go to sleep. You're too much hardened now to be hurt seriously by wet clothes."
Dick sat down with his back against the tree, and, despite his soaked condition, slept as soundly as Pennington. When he awoke in the morning the hot sun was shining again, and his clothes soon dried on him. He felt a little stiffness and awkwardness at first, but in a few minutes it passed away. Then breakfast restored his strength, and he looked curiously about him.
Around him was the Northern army, and before him was the vast battlefield, now occupied by the foe. He heard sounds of distant rifle shots, indicating that the skirmishers were still restless, but it was no more now than the buzzing of flies. Pennington, coming back from the hospital, hailed him.
"George has come to," he said. "Great deed of yours last night, Dick. Wish I'd done it myself. They let old George talk just a little, but he's his real old Vermont self again. Says chances were ninety-nine and a half per cent that he would die there on the battlefield, but that the half per cent, which was yourself, won. Fancy being only half of one per cent, and doing a thing like that. No, you can't see him. Only one visitor was allowed, and that's me. His fever is leaving him, and he swallowed a little soup. Now, he's going to sleep."
Dick felt very grateful. Pennington had been up some time, and as they sat down in the sun he gave Dick the news.
"It was a bad night," he said. "After you staggered in with George, the rebels, in spite of the rain, harassed us. I was waked up after midnight, and the colonel began to believe that we would have to fight again before morning, though the need didn't come, so far as we were concerned. But we were terribly worried on the flanks. They say it was Stuart and his cavalry who were bothering us."
"What's the outlook for to-day?"
"I don't know. I hear that General Pope has sent a dispatch saying that the enemy is badly whipped, and that we'll hold our own here. But between you and me, Dick, I don't believe it. We've been driven out of all our positions, so we can hardly call it a victory for our side."
"But we may hold on where we are and win a victory yet. McClellan and the Army of the Potomac may come. Anyway, we can get big reinforcements."
Pennington clasped his arms over his knees and sang:
"The race is not to him that's got The longest legs to run, Nor the battle to those people That shoot the biggest gun."
"Where did you get that song?" asked Dick. "I'll allow, under the circumstances, that there seems to be some sense in it."
"A Texan that we captured last night sang it to us. He was a funny kind of fellow. Didn't seem to be worried a bit because he was taken. Said if his own people didn't retake him that he'd escape in a week, anyhow. Likely enough he will, too. But he was good company, and he sang us that song. Impudent, wasn't he?"
"But true so far, at least in the east. I fancy from what you say, Frank, that we'll be here a day longer anyhow. I hope so, I want to rest."
"So do I. I won't fight to-day, unless I'm ordered to do it. But I'm thinking with you, Dick, that we'll retreat. We were outmaneuvered by Lee and Jackson. That circuit of Jackson's through Thoroughfare Gap and the attack from the rear undid us. It comes of being kept in the dark by the enemy, instead of your keeping him in the dark. We never knew where the blow was going to fall, and when it fell a lot of us weren't there. But, Dick, old boy, we're going to win, in the end, aren't we, in spite of Lee, in spite of Jackson, and in spite of everybody and everything?"
"As surely as the rising and setting of the sun, Frank."
Although Dick had little to do that day, events were occurring. It was in the minds of Lee and Jackson that they might yet destroy the army which they had already defeated, and heavy divisions of the Southern army were moving. Dick heard about night that Jackson had marched ten miles, through fields deep in mud, and meant to fall on Pope's flank or rear again. Stuart and his unresting cavalry were also on their right flank and in the rear, doing damage everywhere. Longstreet had sent a brigade across Bull Run, and at many points the enemy was pressing closer.
The next morning, Pope, alarmed by all the sinister movements on his flanks and in his rear, gathered up his army and retreated. It was full time or the vise would have shut down on him again. Late that day the division under Kearney came into contact with Jackson's flanking force in the forest. A short but fierce battle ensued, fought in the night and amid new torrents of driving rain. General Kearney was killed by a skirmisher, but the night and the rain grew so dense, and they were in such a tangle of thickets and forests that both sides drew off, and Pope's army passed on.
Dick was not in this battle, but he heard it's crash and roar above the sweep of the storm. He and the balance of the regiment were helping to guard the long train of the wounded. Now and then, he leaned from his horse and looked at Warner who lay in one of the covered wagons.
"I'm getting along all right, Dick, old man," said Warner. "What's all that firing off toward the woods?"
"A battle, but it won't stop us. We retreated in time."
"And we've been defeated. Well, we can stand it. It takes a good nation to stand big defeats. You know I taught school once, Dick, and I learned that the biggest nation the world has ever known was the one that suffered the biggest defeats. Look at the terrible knocks the Romans got! Why the Gauls nearly ate 'em alive two or three times, and for years Hannibal whipped 'em every time he could get at 'em. But they ended by whipping everybody who had whipped them. They whipped the whole world, and they kept it whipped until they played out from old age."
Dick laughed cheerily.
"Now, you shut up, George," he said. "You've talked too much. What's the use of going back as far as the old Romans for comfort. We can win without having to copy a lot of old timers."
He dropped the flap of canvas and rode on listening to the sounds of the combat. A powerful figure stepped out of the bushes and stood beside his horse. It was Sergeant Whitley, who had passed through the battle without a scratch.
"What has happened, Sergeant?" asked Dick, as he sat in the rain and listened to the dying fire.
"There has been a fight, and both are quitting because they can't see enough to carry it on any longer. But General Kearney has been killed."
The retreat continued until they reached the Potomac and were in the great fortifications before Washington. Then Pope resigned, and the star of McClellan rose again. The command of the armies about Washington was entrusted to him, and the North gathered itself anew for the mighty struggle.
CHAPTER VII. ORDERS NO. 191
When the Union army, defeated at the Second Manassas fell back on Washington, Dick was detached for a few days from the regiment by Colonel Winchester, partly that he might have a day or two of leave, and partly that he might watch over Warner, who was making good progress.
Warner was in a wagon that contained half a dozen other wounded men, or rather boys, and they were all silent like stoics as they passed over the bridge to a hospital in Washington. His side and shoulder pained him, and he had recurrent periods of fever, but he was making fine progress.
Dick found his comrade on a small cot among dozens of others in a great room. But George's cot was near a window and the pleasant sunshine poured in. It was now the opening of September, and the hot days were passing. There was a new sparkle and crispness in the air, and Warner, wounded as he was, felt it.
"We're back in the capital to enjoy ourselves a while," he said lightly to Dick, "and I'm glad to see that the weather will be fine for sight-seeing."
"Yes, here we are," said Dick. "The Johnnies beat us this time. They didn't outfight us, but they had the best generals. As soon as you're well, George, we'll start out again and lick 'em."
"I'm glad you told 'em to wait for me, Dick. That's what you ought to do. I hear that McClellan is at the head of things again."
"Yes, the Army of the Potomac is to the front once more, and it's taken over the Army of Virginia. We hear that Pope is going out to the northwest to fight Indians."
"McClellan is not likely to be trapped as Pope was, but he's so tremendously cautious that he'll never trap anything himself. Now, which kind of a general would you choose, Dick?"
"As between those two I'll take McClellan. The soldiers at least like him and believe in him. And George, our man in the east hasn't come yet. The generals we've had don't hammer. They don't concentrate, rush right in and rain blows on the enemy."
"Do you think you know the right man, Dick?"
"I'm making a guess. It's Grant. We saw him at Donelson and Shiloh. Surprised at both places, he won anyhow. He wouldn't be beat. That's the kind of man we want here in the east."
"You may be right, Dick, but the politicians in this part of the country all run him down. Halleck has been transferred to Washington as a sort of general commander and adviser to the President, and they say he doesn't like Grant."
Further talk was cut short by a young army surgeon, and Dick left George, saying that he would come back the next day. The streets of Washington were full of sunshine, but not of hope and cheerfulness. The most terrible suspense reigned there. Never before or since was Washington in such alarm. A hostile and victorious army was within a day's march. Pope almost to the last had talked of victory. Then came a telegram, asking if the capital could be defended in case his army was destroyed. Next came the army preceded by thousands of stragglers and heralds of disaster.
The people were dropped from the golden clouds of hope to the hard earth of despair. They strained their eyes toward Manassas, where the flag of the Union had twice gone down in disaster. It was said, and there was ample cause for the saying of it, that Lee and Jackson with their victorious veterans would appear any moment before the capital. There were rumors that the government was packing up in order to flee northward to Philadelphia or even New York.
But Dick believed none of these rumors. In fact, he was not greatly alarmed by any of them. He was sure that McClellan, although without genius, would restore the stamina of the troops, if indeed it were ever lost, which he doubted very much. He had seen how splendidly they fought at the Second Manassas, and he knew that there was no panic among them. Moreover, the North was an inexhaustible storehouse of men and material, and whenever one soldier fell two grew in his place.
So he strode through the crowded streets, calm of face and manner, and took his way once more to the hotel, where he had sat and listened to the talk before the Second Manassas. The lobby was packed with men, and there was but one topic, the military situation. Would Lee and Jackson advance, hot upon the heels of their victory? Would Washington fall? Would McClellan be able to save them? Why weren't the generals of the North as good as those of the South?
Dick listened to the talk which was for all who might choose to hear. He did not assume any superior frame of mind, merely because he had fought in many battles and these men had fought in none. He retained the natural modesty of youth, and knowing that one who looked on might sometimes be a better judge of what was happening than the one who took part, he weighed carefully what they said.
He was in a comfortable chair by the wall, and while he sat there a heavy man of middle age, whom he remembered well, approached and stood before him, regarding him with a keen and measuring eye.
"Good morning, Mr. Watson," said Dick politely.
"Ah, it is you, Lieutenant Mason!" said the contractor. "I thought so, but I was not sure, as you are thinner than you were when I last saw you. I'll just take this seat beside you."
A man in the next chair had moved and the contractor dropped into it. Then he crossed his legs, and smoothed the upper knee with a strong, fat hand.
"You've had quite a trip since I last saw you, Mr. Mason," he said.
"We didn't go so terribly far."
"It's not length that makes a trip. It's what you see and what happens."
"I saw a lot, and a hundred times more than what I saw happened."
The contractor took two fine cigars from his vest pocket and handed one to Dick.
"No, thank you," said the boy, "I've never learned to smoke."
"I suppose that's because you come from Kentucky, where they raise so much tobacco. When you see a thing so thick around you, you don't care for it. Well, we'll talk while I light mine and puff it. And so, young man, you ran against Lee and Jackson!"
"We did, or they ran against us, which comes to the same thing."
"And got well thrashed. There's no denying it."
"I'm not trying to do so."
"That's right. I thought from the first that you were a young man of sense. I'm glad to see that you didn't get yourself killed."
"A great many good men did."
"That's so, and a great many more will go the same way. You just listen to me. I don't wear any uniform, but I've got eyes to see and ears to hear. I suppose that more monumental foolishness has been hidden under cocked hats and gold lace than under anything else, since the world began. Easy now, I don't say that fools are not more numerous outside armies than in them—there are more people outside—but the mistakes of generals are more costly."
"I suppose our generals are doing the best they can. You will let me speak plainly, will you, Mr. Watson?"
"Of course, young man. Go ahead."
"Perhaps you feel badly over a disaster of your own. I saw the smoking fires at Bristoe Station. The rebels burned there several million dollars worth of stores belonging to us. Maybe a large part of them were your own goods."
The contractor rubbed his huge knee with one hand, took his cigar out of his mouth with the other hand, blew several rings of fine blue smoke from his nose, and watched them break against the ceiling.
"Young man," he said, "you're a good guesser, but you don't guess all. More than a million dollars worth of material that I supplied was burned or looted at Bristoe Station. But it had all been paid for by a perfectly solvent Union government. So, if I were to consider it from the purely material standpoint, which you imagine to be the only one I have, I should rejoice over the raids of the rebels because they make trade for contractors. I'm a patriot, even if I do not fight at the front. Besides my feelings have been hurt."
"In what way?"
The contractor drew from his pocket a coarse brown envelope, and he took from the envelope a letter, written on paper equally coarse and brown.
"I received this letter last night," he said. "It was addressed simply 'John Watson, Washington, D. C.,' and the post office people gave it to me at once. It came from somebody within the Confederate lines. You know how the Northern and Southern pickets exchange tobacco, newspapers and such things, when they're not fighting. I suppose the letter was passed on to me in that way. Listen."
"John Watson, Washington, D. C.
"My dear sir: I have never met you, but certain circumstances have made me acquainted with your name. Believing therefore that you are a man of judgment and fairness I feel justified in making to you a complaint which I am sure you will agree with me is well-founded. At a little place called Bristoe Station I recently obtained a fine, blue uniform, the tint of which wind and rain will soon turn to our own excellent Confederate gray. I found your own name as maker stamped upon the neck band of both coat and vest.
"I ought to say however that after I had worn the coat only twice the seams ripped across both shoulders, I admit that the fit was a little tight, but work well done would not yield so quickly. I also picked out a pair of beautiful shoes, bearing your name stamped upon them. The leather cracked after the first day's use, and good leather will never crack so soon.
"Now, my dear Mr. Watson, I feel that you have treated me unfairly. I will not use any harsher word. We do not expect you to supply us with goods of this quality, and we certainly look for something better from you next time.
"Your obedient servant, ARTHUR ST. CLAIR, Lieutenant 'The Invincibles,' C. S. A."
"Now, did you ever hear of another piece of impudence like that?" said Watson. "It has its humorous side, I admit, and you're justified in laughing, but it's impudence all the same."
"Yes, it is impudence, and do you know, Mr. Watson, I've met the writer of that letter. He is a South Carolinian, and from his standpoint he has a real grievance. I never knew anybody else as particular about his clothes, and it seems that the uniform and shoes you furnished him are not all right. He's a gentleman and he wouldn't lie. I met him at Cedar Run, when the burying parties were going over the field. He was introduced to me by my cousin, Harry Kenton, who is on the other side. Harry wouldn't associate with any fellow who isn't all right."
"All the same, if I ever catch that young jackanapes of a St. Clair—it's an easy name to remember—I'll strip my uniform off him and turn him loose for his own comrades to laugh at."
"But we won't catch either him or his comrades for a long time."
"That's so, but in the end we'll catch 'em. Now, Mr. Mason, you don't agree with me about many things, but you're only a boy and you'll know better later on. Anyway, I like you, and if you need help at any time and can reach me, come."
"I'll do so, and I thank you now," said Dick, who saw that the contractor's tone was sincere.
"That's right, good-bye. I see a senator whom I need."
They shook hands and Watson hurried away with great lightness and agility for so large a man.
Dick stayed two days longer in Washington, visiting Warner twice a day and seeing with gladness his rapid improvement. When he was with him the last time, and told him he was going to join the Army of the Potomac, Warner said:
"Dick, old man, I haven't spoken before of the way you brought me in from that last battlefield. Pennington has told me about it—but if I didn't it was not because I wasn't grateful. Up in Vermont we're not much on words—our training I suppose, though I don't say it is the best training. It's quite sure that I'd have died if you hadn't found me."
"Why, George, I looked for you as a matter of course. You'd have done exactly the same for me."
"That's just it, but I didn't get the chance. Now, Dick, there's going to be another big battle before long, and I shall be up in time for it. You'll be there, too. Couldn't you get yourself shot late in the afternoon, lie on the ground, feverish and delirious until far in the night, when I'd come for you. Then I could pay you back."
Dick laughed. He knew that at the bottom of Warner's jest lay a resolve to match the score, whenever the chance should come.
"Good-bye, George," he said. "I'll look for you in two weeks."
"Make it only ten days. McClellan will need me by that time."
But it seemed to Dick that McClellan would need him and every other man at once. Lee was marching. Passing by the capital he had advanced into Maryland, a Southern state, but one that had never seceded. The Southerners expected to find many reinforcements here among their kindred. The regiments in gray, flushed with victory, advanced singing:
"The despot's heel is on thy shore, Maryland! His torch is at thy temple door, Maryland! Avenge the patriotic gore That flecked the streets of Baltimore And be the battle queen of yore, Maryland, my Maryland!"
Dick knew that the South expected much of Maryland. Her people were Southerners. Their valor in the Revolution was unsurpassed. People still talked of the Maryland line and its great deeds. Many of the Marylanders had already come to Lee and Jackson, and now that the Southern army, led by its famous leaders and crowned with victories, was on their soil, it was expected that they would pour forward in thousands, relieved from the fear of Northern armies.
Alarm, deep and intense, spread all through the North. McClellan, as usual, doubled Lee's numbers but he organized with all speed to meet him. Dick heard that Lee was already at Frederick, giving his troops a few days' repose before meeting any enemy who might come. The utmost confidence reigned in the South.
McClellan marched, but he advanced slowly. The old mystery and uncertainty about the Southern army returned. It suddenly disappeared from Frederick, and McClellan became extremely cautious. He had nearly a hundred thousand men, veterans now, but he believed that Lee had two hundred thousand.
Colonel Winchester again complained bitterly to Dick, who was a comrade as well as an aide.
"What we need," he said, "is a general who doesn't see double, and we haven't got him yet. We must spend less time counting the rebels and more hammering them."
"A civilian in Washington told me that," said Dick. "I believed then that he was right, and I believe it yet. If General Grant were here he'd attack instead of waiting to be attacked."
But the Army of the Potomac continued to march forward in a slow and hesitating fashion. Dick, despite his impatience, appreciated the position of General McClellan. No one in the Union army or in the North knew the plans of Lee and Jackson. Lee had not even consulted the President of the Confederacy but had merely notified him that he was going into Maryland.
Now Lee and Jackson had melted away again in the mist that so often overhung their movements. McClellan could not be absolutely sure they intended an important invasion of Maryland. They might be planning to fall upon the capital from another direction. The Union commander must protect Washington and at the same time look for his enemy.
The army marched near the Potomac, and Dick, as he rode with his regiment, saw McClellan several times. It had not been many months since he took his great army by sea for what seemed to be the certain capture of Richmond, but McClellan, although a very young man for so high a position, had already changed much. His face was thinner, and it seemed to Dick that he had lost something of his confident look. The awful Seven Days and his bitter disappointment had left their imprint. Nevertheless he was trim, neat and upright, and always wore a splendid uniform. An unfailing favorite with the soldiers, they cheered him as he passed, and he would raise his hat, a flush of pride showing through the tan of his cheeks.
"If a general, after being defeated, can still retain the confidence of his army he must have great qualities of some kind," said Dick to Colonel Winchester.
"That's true, Dick. McClellan lost at the Seven Days, and he has just taken over an army that was trapped and beaten under Pope, but behold the spirits of the men, although the Second Manassas is only a few days away. McClellan looks after the private soldier, and if he could only look after an army in the way that he organizes it this war would soon be over."
Dick noticed that the colonel put emphasis on the "if" and his heart sank a little. But it soon rose again. The Army of the Potomac was now a veteran body. It had been tested in the fire of defeat, and it had emerged stronger and braver than ever.
But Dick did not like the mystery about Lee and Jackson. They had an extraordinary ability to drop out of sight, to draw a veil before them so completely that no Union scout or skirmisher could penetrate it. And these disappearances were always full of sinister omens, portending a terrible attack from an unknown quarter. But when Dick looked upon the great and brave Army of the Potomac, nearly a hundred thousand strong, his apprehensions disappeared. The Army of the Potomac could not be beaten, and since Lee and Jackson were venturing so far from their base, they might be destroyed. He confided his faith to Pennington who rode beside him.
"I tell you, Frank, old man," he said, "the Southern army may never get back into Virginia."
"Not if we light a prairie fire behind it and set another in front. Then we'll have 'em trapped same as they trapped us at Manassas. Wouldn't it be funny if we'd turn their own trick on 'em, and end the war right away?"
"It would be more than funny. It would be grand, superb, splendid, magnificent. But I wish old George was here. Why did he want to get in the way of that bullet? I hate to think of ending the war without him."
"Maybe he'll get up in time yet, Dick. I saw him a few hours before we started. The doctors said that youth, clean blood and clean living counted for a lot—I guess George would put it at ninety per cent, and that his wound, the bullet having gone through, would heal at a record rate."
"Then we'll see him soon. When he's strong enough to ride a horse, nothing can hold him back."
"That's so. I see houses ahead. What place is it, Dick?"
"It must be Frederick. We had reports that the Johnnies were about here, but they must have vanished, since no bullets meet us. The colonel is looking through his glasses, and, as he does not check his horse, it is evident that the enemy is not there."
"But maybe he has been there, and if he has we'll just take his place. I like the looks of these Maryland towns, Frank, and they're not so hostile to us."
Colonel Winchester's skeleton regiment, now not amounting to more than three hundred men, was in the vanguard and it rode forward rapidly. The people received them without either enthusiasm or marked hostility. Yet the Union vanguard obtained news. Lee had been there with his army, but he had gone away! Where! They could not say. The Southern officers had been silent and the soldiers had not known. None of the people of Frederick had been allowed to follow. A cloud of cavalry covered the Southern movements.
"Not so definite after all," said Dick. "We know that the Southern army has been here, but we don't know where it has gone."
"At any rate," said Pennington, "we're on the trail, and we're bound to find it sooner or later. I learned from the hunters in Nebraska that when you strike the trail of a buffalo herd, all you had to do was to keep on and you'd strike the herd itself."
It was not yet noon and McClellan's army began to go into camp at Frederick. Dick and Pennington got a chance to stroll about a little, and they picked up much gossip. Young women, with strong Southern proclivities, looked with frowning eyes upon their blue uniforms, but the frank and pleasant smiles of the two lads disarmed them. Older women of the same proclivities did not melt so easily, but continued to regard them with a hard and burning gaze.
But there were men strongly for the Union, and the two friendly lads picked up many details from them. They showed them a grove in which Lee, Jackson, Longstreet and D. H. Hill had all been camped at once. People had gone there daily for a glimpse of these famous men.
They also showed the boys the very spot where Stonewall Jackson had come near to making an ignominious end of his great career. His faithful horse, Little Sorrel, had been worn out by incessant marchings and must rest for a while. The people gave him a splendid horse, but one that had not been broken well. The first time he mounted it a band happened to begin playing, the horse sprang wildly, the saddle girth broke and Jackson was thrown heavily to the ground.
"You'd better believe there was excitement then," said the narrator, a clerk in one of the stores. "Everybody ran forward to pick up the general. He had been thrown so hard that he was stunned and had big bruises. That horse did him more damage than all the armies of the North have done. I can tell you there was alarm for a while among the Johnnies, but they say he was all over it before he left."
They wandered back toward their own command and the obliging guide pointed out to them a house which the Confederate generals had made their headquarters. They saw Colonel Winchester entering it, and thanking the clerk, followed him.
Union officers were already in the house looking with curiosity at the chairs and tables that Jackson and Lee and Longstreet had occupied. Dick caught sight of a small package lying on one of the tables, but another man picked it up first. As he did so he looked at Dick and said in triumph:
"Three good cigars that the rebels have left behind. Have one, Mason?"
"Thanks, but I don't smoke."
"All right, I'll find someone else who does."
He pulled off a piece of paper wrapped around them, threw it on the floor and put the cigars in his pocket. Dick was about to turn away when he happened to glance at the wrapping lying on the floor.
His eyes were caught by the words written in large letters:
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY OF NORTH—
Something seemed to shoot through his brain. It was like a flash of warning or command and he obeyed at once. He picked up the paper and smoothed it out in his hand. The full line read like the headline in a newspaper:
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA. September 9, 1862.
Then with eyes bulging in his head he read:
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA. September 9, 1862. Special Orders, No. 191.
The army will resume its march tomorrow, taking the Hagerstown road. General Jackson's command will form the advance, and after passing Middletown with such portions as he may select, take their route toward Sharpsburg, cross the Potomac at the most convenient point and by Friday morning take possession of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway, capture such of them as may be at Martinsburg, and intercept such as may attempt to escape from Harper's Ferry.
General Longstreet's command will pursue the main road as far as Boonsborough, where it will halt with the reserve supply and baggage train of the army.
General McLaws with his own division and that of General R. H. Anderson will follow General Longstreet. On reaching Middletown will take the route to Harper's Ferry, and by Friday morning possess himself of the Maryland Heights and endeavor to capture the enemy at Harper's Ferry and vicinity.
Dick stopped a moment and gasped.
"Come on," called the man with the cigars, "there is nothing more to be seen here."
"Wait a moment," said Dick.
Perhaps it was his duty to rush at once with it to a superior officer, but the spell was too strong. He read on:
General Walker with his division, after accomplishing the object on which he is now engaged, will cross the Potomac at Cheek's Ford, ascend its right bank to Lovettsville, take possession of Sundown Heights, if practicable, by Friday morning, Key's Grove on his left, and the road between the end of the mountains and the Potomac on his right. He will, as far as practicable, co-operate with General McLaws and General Jackson, and intercept the retreat of the enemy.
General D. H. Hill's division will form the rear-guard of the army, pursuing the road taken by the main body. The reserve artillery, ordinance and supply trains, etc., will precede General Hill.
Dick gasped and he heard someone calling again to him to come, but he read on:
General Stuart will detach a squadron of cavalry to accompany the commands of Generals Longstreet, Jackson and McLaws, and with the main body of the cavalry will cover the route of the army, bringing up all the stragglers that may have been left behind.
The commands of General Jackson, McLaws and Walker, after accomplishing the objects for which they have been detached, will join the main body of the army at Boonsborough or Hagerstown.
Each regiment on the march will habitually carry its axes in the regimental ordnance wagons, for use of the men at their encampments, to procure wood, etc. R. H. CHILTON, Assistant Adjutant General.
Dick clutched the paper in his hands and for the moment his throat seemed to contract so tightly that he could not breathe. Then he felt a burst of wild joy.
One of the most extraordinary incidents in the whole history of war had occurred. He knew in an instant that this was Lee's general orders to his army, and that at such a time nothing could be more important. Evidently copies of it had been sent to all his division commanders, and this one by some singular chance either had not reached its destination, or had been tossed carelessly aside after reading. Found by those who needed it most wrapped around three cigars! It was a miracle! Nothing short of it! How could the Union army be defeated after such an omen?
It was the copy intended for the Southern general, D. H. Hill—he denied that he ever received it—but it did not matter to Dick then for whom it was intended. He saw at once all the possibilities. Lee and Jackson had divided their army again. Emboldened by the splendid success of their daring maneuver at Manassas they were going to repeat it.
He looked again at the date on the order. September 9th! And this was the 13th! Jackson was to march on the 10th. He had been gone three days with the half, perhaps, of Lee's army, and Lee himself must be somewhere near at hand. The Union scouts could quickly find him and the ninety thousand veterans of the Army of the Potomac could crush him to powder in a day. What a chance! No, it was not a chance. It was a miracle. The key had been put in McClellan's hand and it would take but one turn of his wrist to unlock the door upon dazzling success.
Dick saw the war finished in a month. Lee could not have more than twenty or twenty-five thousand men with him, and Jackson was three or four days' march away. He clutched the order in his hand and ran toward Colonel Winchester.
"Here, take it, sir! Take it!" he exclaimed.
"Look! Look! See what it is!"
Colonel Winchester took one glance at it, and then he, too, became excited. He hurried with it to General McClellan, and that day the commander-in-chief telegraphed to the anxious President at Washington:
"I have all the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in my own trap, if my men are equal to the emergency."
The shrewd Lincoln took notice of the qualifying clause, "if my men are equal to the emergency," and sighed a little. Already this general, so bold in design and so great in preparation was making excuses for possible failure in action—if he failed his men and not he would be to blame.
CHAPTER VIII. THE DUEL IN THE PASS
Dick carried the news to Pennington who danced with delight.
"We've got 'em! we've got 'em!" he cried over and over again.
"So we have," said Dick, "we'll be marching in a half hour and then the trap will shut down so tight on Robert Lee that he'll never raise the lid again."
It was nearly noon, and they expected every moment the order to start, but it did not come. Dick began to be tormented by an astonished impatience, and he saw that Colonel Winchester suffered in the same way. The army showed no signs of moving. Was it possible that McClellan would not advance at once on Lee, whom the scouts had now located definitely? The hot afternoon hours grew long as they passed one by one, and many a brave man ate his heart out with anger at the delay. Dick saw Sergeant Whitley walking up and down, and he was eager to hear his opinion.
"What is it, sergeant?" he asked. "Why do we sit here, twiddling our thumbs when there is an army waiting to be taken by us?"
"You're a commissioned officer, sir, and I'm only a private."
"Never mind about that. You're a veteran of many years and many fights, and I know but little. Why do we sit still in the dust and fail to take the great prize that's offered to us?"
"The men of an army, sir, do the fighting, but its generals are its brains. It is for the brains to judge, to see and to command. The generals cannot win without the men, and the men cannot win without the generals. Now, in this case, sir, you can see—"
He stopped and shrugged his shoulders, as if it were not for him to say any more.
"I see," said Dick bitterly. "You needn't say it, sergeant, but I'll say it for you. General McClellan has been overcome by caution again, and he sees two Johnnies where but one stands."
Sergeant Whitley shrugged his shoulders again, but said nothing. Dick was about to turn away, when he saw a tall, thin figure approaching.
"Mr. Warner," said Sergeant Whitley.
"So it is," exclaimed Dick. "It's really good old George come to help us!"
He rushed forward and shook hands with Warner who although thin and pale was as cool and apparently almost as strong as ever.
"Here I am, Dick," he said, "and the great battle hasn't been fought. I knew they couldn't fight it without me. The hospital at Washington dismissed me in disgrace because I got well so fast. 'What's the use,' said one of the doctors, 'in getting up and running away to the army to get killed? You could die much more comfortably here in bed.' 'Not at all,' I replied. 'I don't get killed when I'm with the army. I merely get nearly killed. Then I lie unconscious on the field, in the rain, until some good friend comes along, takes me away on his back and puts me in a warm bed. It's a lot safer than staying in your hospital all the time.'"
"Oh, shut up, George! Come and see the boys. They'll be glad to know you're back—what's left of 'em."
Warner's welcome was in truth warm. He seemed more phlegmatic than ever, but he opened his eyes wide when they told him of the dispatch that had been lost and found.
"General McClellan must have been waiting for me," he said. "Tell him I've come."
But General McClellan did not yet move. The last long hour of the day passed. The sun set in red and gold behind the western mountains, and the Army of the Potomac still rested in its camp, although privates even knew that precious hours were being lost, and that booming cannon might already be telling the defenders of Harper's Ferry that Jackson was at hand.
Nor were they far wrong. While McClellan lingered on through the night, never moving from his camp, Jackson and his generals were pushing forward with fiery energy and at dawn the next day had surrounded Harper's Ferry and its doomed garrison of more than twelve thousand men.
But these were things that Dick could not guess that night. One small detachment had been sent ahead by McClellan, chiefly for scouting purposes, and in the darkness the boy who had gone a little distance forward with Colonel Winchester heard the booming of cannon. It was a faint sound but unmistakable, and Dick glanced at his chief.
"That detachment has come into contact with the rebels somewhere there in the mountains," he said, "and the ridges and valleys are bringing us the echoes. Oh, why in Heaven's name are we delayed here through all the precious moments! Every hour's delay will cost the lives of ten thousand good men!"
And it is likely that in the end Colonel Winchester's reckoning was too moderate. He and Dick gazed long in the direction in which Harper's Ferry lay, and they listened, too, to the faint mutter of the guns among the hills. Before dawn, scouts came in, saying that there had been hard fighting off toward Harper's Ferry, and that Lee with the other division of the Southern army was retreating into a peninsula formed by the junction of the river Antietam with the Potomac, where he would await the coming of Jackson, after taking Harper's Ferry.
"Jackson hasn't taken Harper's Ferry yet," said Dick, when he heard the news. "Many of Banks' veterans of the valley are there, and, our men instead of being crushed by defeat, are always improved by it."
"Still, I wish we'd march," said Warner. "I didn't come here merely to go into camp. I might as well have stayed in the hospital."
Nevertheless they moved at daylight. McClellan had made up his mind at last, and the army advanced joyfully to shut down the trap on Lee. Dick's spirits rose with the sun and the advance of the troops. They had delayed, but they would get Lee yet. There was nothing to tell them that Harper's Ferry had fallen, and Jackson's force must still be detained there far away. They ought to strike Lee on the morrow and destroy him, and then they would destroy Jackson. Oh, Lee and Jackson had been reckless generals to venture beyond the seceding states!
They marched fast now, and the fiery Hooker soon to be called Fighting Joe led the advance. He was eager to get at Lee, who some said did not now have more than twenty thousand men with him, although McClellan insisted on doubling or tripling his numbers and those of Jackson. Scouts and skirmishers came in fast now. Yes, Lee was between the Antietam and the Potomac and they ought to strike him on the morrow. The spirits of the Army of the Potomac continually rose.
Dick remained in a joyous mood. He had been greatly uplifted by the return of his comrade, Warner, for whom he had formed a strong attachment, and he could not keep down the thought that they would now be able to trap Lee and end the war. The terrible field of the Second Manassas was behind him and forgotten for the time. They rode now to a new battle and to victory.
Another great cloud of dust like that at Manassas rolled slowly on toward the little river or creek of Antietam, but the heat was not so great now. A pleasant breeze blew from the distant western mountains and cooled the faces of the soldiers. The country through which they were passing was old for America. They saw a carefully cultivated soil, good roads and stone bridges.
None of the lads and young men around Colonel Winchester rejoiced more than Warner. Released from the hospital and with his tried comrades once more he felt as if he were the dead come back. He was in time, too, for the great battle which was to end the war. The cool wind that blew upon his face tingled with life and made his pulses leap. Beneath the granite of his nature and a phlegmatic exterior, he concealed a warm heart that always beat steadfastly for his friends and his country.
"Dick," he said, "have they heard anything directly from Harper's Ferry?"
"Not a word, at least none that I've heard about, but it's quite sure that Jackson hasn't taken the place yet. Why should he? We have there twelve or thirteen thousand good men, most of whom have proven their worth in the valley. Why, they ought to beat him off entirely."
"And while they're doing that we ought to be taking Mr. Lee and a lot of well-known Confederate gentlemen. I've made a close calculation, Dick, and I figure that the chances are at least eighty per cent in favor of our taking or destroying Lee's army."
"I wish we had started sooner," said Pennington. "We've lost a whole day, one of the most precious days the world has ever known."
"You're right, Frank, and I've allowed that fact to figure importantly in my reckoning. If it were not for the lost day I'd figure our chance of making the finishing stroke at ninety-five per cent. But boys, it's glorious to be back with you. Once, I thought when we were marching back and forth so much that if I could only lie down and rest for a week or two I'd be the happiest fellow on earth. But it became awful as I lay there, day after day. I had suddenly left the world. All the great events were going on without me. North or South might win, while I lay stretched on a hospital bed. It was beyond endurance. If I hadn't got well so fast that they could let me go, I'd have climbed out of the window with what strength I had, and have made for the army anyhow. Did you ever feel a finer wind than this? What a beautiful country! It must be the most magnificent in the world!"
Dick and Pennington laughed. Old George was growing gushy. But they understood that he saw with the eyes of the released prisoner.
"It is beautiful," said Dick, "and it's a pity that it should be ripped up by war. Listen, boys, there's the call that's growing mighty familiar to us all!"
Far in front behind the hills they heard the low grumbling of cannon. And further away to the west they heard the same sinister mutter. The Confederates were scattered widely, and the fateful Orders No. 191 might cause their total destruction, but they were on guard, nevertheless. Jackson, foreseeing the possible advance of McClellan, had sent back Hill with a division to help Lee, and to delay the Northern army until he himself should come with all his force.
In this desperate crisis of the Confederacy, more desperate than any of the Southern generals yet realized, the brain under the old slouch hat never worked with more precision, clearness and brilliancy. He would not only do his own task, but he would help his chief while doing it. When McClellan began his march after a delay of a day he was nearer to Lee than Jackson was and every chance was his, save those that lightning perception and unyielding courage win.
The lads heard the mutter of the cannon grow louder, and rise to a distant thunder. Far ahead of them, where high hills thick with forest rose, they saw smoke and flashes of fire. A young Maryland cavalry officer, riding near, explained to them that the point from which the cannonade came was a gap in South Mountain, although it was as yet invisible, owing to the forest.
"We heard that Lee's army was much further away," said Warner to Dick. "What can it mean? What force is there fighting our vanguard?"
It was Shepard, the spy, who brought them the facts. He had already reported to General McClellan, when he approached Colonel Winchester. His face was worn and drawn, and he was black under the eyes. His clothes were covered with dust. His body was weary almost unto death, but his eyes burned with the fire of an undying spirit.
"I've been all the night and all this morning in the mountains and hills," he said. "Harper's Ferry is not yet taken, but I think it will fall. But Hill, McLaws and Longstreet are all in this pass or the other which leads through the mountain. They mean to hold us as long as they can, and then hang on to the flank of our army."
He passed on and the little regiment advanced more rapidly. Dick saw Colonel Winchester's eyes sparkling and he knew he was anxious to be in the thick of it. Other and heavier forces were deploying upon the same point, but Winchester's regiment led.
As they approached a deadly fire swept the plain and the hills. Rifle bullets crashed among them and shell and shrapnel came whining and shrieking. Once more the Winchester regiment, as it had come to be called, was smitten with a bitter and deadly hail. Men fell all around Dick but the survivors pressed on, still leading the way for the heavy brigades which they heard thundering behind them.
The mouth of the pass poured forth fire and missiles like a volcano, but Dick heard Colonel Winchester still shouting to his men to come on, and he charged with the rest. The fire became so hot that the vanguard could not live in it without shelter, and the colonel, shouting to the officers to dismount, ordered them all to take cover behind trees and rocks.
Dick who had been carried a little ahead of the rest, sprang down, still holding his horse, and made for a great rock which he saw on one side just within the mouth of the pass. His frightened horse reared and jerked so violently that he tore the bridle from the lad's hand and ran away.
Dick stood for a moment, scarcely knowing what to do, and then, as a half dozen bullets whistled by his head, urging him to do something, he finished his dash for the rock, throwing himself down behind it just as a half a dozen more bullets striking on the stone told him that he had done the right thing in the very nick of time.
He carried with him a light rifle of a fine improved make, a number of which had been captured at the Second Manassas, and which some of the younger officers had been allowed to take. He did not drop it in his rush for the rock, holding on to it mechanically.
He lay for at least a minute or two flat upon the ground behind the great stone, while the perspiration rolled from his face and his hair prickled at the roots. He could never learn to be unconcerned when a dozen or fifteen riflemen were shooting at him.
When he raised his head a little he saw that the Winchester regiment had fallen back, and that, in truth, the entire advance had stopped until it could make an attack in full force upon the enemy.
Dick recognized with a certain grim humor that he was isolated. He was just a little Federal island in a Confederate sea. Up the gap he saw cannon and masses of gray infantry. Gathered on a comparatively level spot was a troop of cavalry. He saw all the signs of a desperate defense, and, while he watched, the great guns of the South began to fire again, their missiles flying far over his head toward the Northern army.
Dick was puzzled, but for the present he did not feel great alarm about himself. He lay almost midway between the hostile forces, but it was likely that they would take no notice of him.
With a judgment born of a clear mind, he lay quite still, while the hostile forces massed themselves for attack and defense. Each was feeling out the other with cannon, but every missile passed well over his head, and he did not take the trouble to bow to them as they sailed on their errands. Yet he lay close behind that splendid and friendly rock.
He knew that the Southerners would have sharpshooters and skirmishers ahead of their main force. They would lie behind stones, trees and brush and at any moment one of them might pick him off. The Confederate force seemed to incline to the side of the valley, opposite the slope on which he lay, and he was hopeful that the fact would keep him hidden until the masses of his own people could charge into the gap.
It was painful work to flatten his body out behind a stone and lie there. No trees or bushes grew near enough to give him shade, and the afternoon sun began to send down upon him direct rays that burned. He wondered how long it would be until the Union brigades came. It seemed to him that they were doing a tremendous amount of waiting. Nothing was to be gained by this long range cannon fire. They must charge home with the bayonet.
He raised himself a little in order that he might peep over the stone and see if the charge were coming, and then with a little cry he dropped back, a fine gray powder stinging his face. A rifle had been fired across the valley and a bullet chipping the top of the rock sheltering Dick warned him that he was not the only sharpshooter who lay in an ambush.
Peeping again from the side of the rock, he saw curls of blue smoke rising from a point behind a stone just like his own on the other side of the valley. It was enough to tell him that a Southern sharpshooter lay there and had marked him for prey.
Dick's anger rose. Why should anyone seek his life, trying to pick him off as if he were a beast of prey? He had been keeping quiet, disturbing nobody, merely seeking a chance to escape, when this ruthless rebel had seen him. He became in his turn hot and fiercely ready to give bullet for bullet. Smoke floating through the pass and the flash of the cannon, made him more eager to hit the sharpshooter who was seeking so hard to hit him.
Watching intently he caught a glimpse of a gray cap showing above the rock across the valley, and, raising his light rifle, he fired, quick as a flash. The return shot came at once, and chipped the rock as before, but he dropped back unhurt, and peeping from the side he could see nothing. He might or might not have slain his enemy. The gray cap was no longer visible, and he watched to see if it would reappear.
He heard the sound of a great cannonade before the mouth of the pass, and he saw his own people advancing in force, their lines extending far to the left and right, with several batteries showing at intervals. Then came the rebel yell from the pass and as the Union lines advanced the Southerners poured upon them a vast concentrated fire.
Dick, watching through the smoke and forgetful of his enemy across the valley, saw the Union charge rolled back. But he also saw the men out of range gathering themselves for a new attack. Within the pass preparations were going on to repel it a second time. Then he glanced toward the opposite rock and dropped down just in time. He had seen a rifle barrel protruding above it, and a second later the bullet whistled where his head had been.
He grew angrier than ever. He had left that sharpshooter alone for at least ten minutes, while he watched charge and repulse, and he expected to be treated with the same consideration. He would pay him for such ferocity, and seeing an edge of gray shoulder, he fired.
No sign came from the rock, and Dick was quite sure that he had missed. The blood mounted to his head and surcharged his brain. A thousand little pulses that he had never heard of before began to beat in his head, and he was devoured by a consuming anger. He vowed to get that fellow yet.
Lying flat upon his stomach he drew himself around the edge of the rock and watched. There was a great deal of covering smoke from the artillery in the pass now, and he believed that it would serve his purpose.
But when he got a little distance away from the rock the bank of smoke lifted suddenly, and it was only by quickly flattening himself down behind a little ridge of stone that he saved his life. The sharpshooter's bullet passed so close to his head that Dick felt as if he had received a complete hair cut, all in a flash.
He fairly sprang back to the cover of his rock. What a fine rock that was! How big and thick! And it was so protective! In a spirit of defiance he fired at the top of the other stone and saw the gray dust shoot up from it. Quick came the answering shot, and a little piece of his coat flew with it. That was certainly a great sharpshooter across the valley! Dick gave him full credit for his skill.
Then he heard the rolling of drums and the mellow call of trumpets in front of the pass. Taking care to keep well under cover he looked back. The Union army was advancing in great force now, its front tipped with a long line of bayonets and the mouths of fifty cannon turned to the pass. In front of them swarmed the skirmishers, eager, active fellows leaping from rock to rock and from tree to tree.
Dick foresaw that the second charge would not fail. Its numbers were so great that it would at least enter the pass and hold the mouth of it. Already a mighty cannonade was pouring a storm of death over the heads of the skirmishers toward the defenders, and the brigades came on steadily and splendidly to the continued rolling of the drums.
Dick rose up again, watching now for his enemy who, he knew, could not remain much longer behind the rock, as he would soon be within range of the Northern skirmishers advancing on that side.
He fancied that he could hear the massive tread of the thousands coming toward the pass, and the roll of the drums, distinct amid the roar of the cannon, told him that his comrades would soon be at hand, driving everything before them. But his eyes were for that big rock on the other side of the valley. Now was his time for revenge upon the sharpshooter who had sought his life with such savage persistence. The Northern skirmishers were drawing nearer and the fellow must flee or die.
Suddenly the sharpshooter sprang from the rock, and up flew Dick's rifle as he drew a bead straight upon his heart. Then he dropped the weapon with a cry of horror. Across the valley and through the smoke he recognized Harry Kenton, and Harry Kenton looking toward his enemy recognized him also.
Each threw up his hand in a gesture of friendliness and farewell—the roar of the battle was so loud now that no voice could have been heard at the distance—and then they disappeared in the smoke, each returning to his own, each heart thrilling with a great joy, because its owner had always missed the sharpshooter behind the stone.
The impression of that vivid encounter in the pass was dimmed for a while for Dick by the fierceness of the fighting that followed. The defense had the advantage of the narrow pass and the rocky slopes, and numbers could not be put to the most account. Nevertheless, the Confederates were pressed back along the gap, and when night came the Union army was in full possession of its summit.
But at the other gap the North had not achieved equal success. Longstreet, marching thirteen miles that day, had come upon the field in time, and when darkness fell the Southern troops still held their ground there. But later in the night Hill and Longstreet, through fear of being cut off, abandoned their positions and marched to join Lee.
Dick and his comrades who did not lie down until after midnight had come, felt that a great success had been gained. McClellan had been slow to march, but, now that he was marching, he was sweeping the enemy out of his way.
The whole Army of the Potomac felt that it was winning and McClellan himself was exultant. Early the next morning he reported to his superior at Washington that the enemy was fleeing in panic and that General Lee admitted that he had been "shockingly whipped."
Full of confidence, the army advanced to destroy Lee, who lay between the peninsula of the Antietam and the Potomac, but just about the time McClellan was writing his dispatch, the white flag was hoisted at Harper's Ferry, the whole garrison surrendered, and messengers were on their way to Lee with the news that Stonewall Jackson was coming.
CHAPTER IX. ACROSS THE STREAM
Dick and his comrades had not heard of the taking of Harper's Ferry and they were full of enthusiasm that brilliant morning in mid-September. McClellan, if slow to move, nevertheless had shown vigor in action, and the sanguine youths could not doubt that they had driven Lee into a corner. The Confederates, after the fierce fighting of the day before, had abandoned both gaps, and the way at last lay clear before the Army of the Potomac.
Dick was mounted again. In fact his horse, after pulling the reins from his hands and fleeing from the Confederate fire, had been retaken by a member of his own regiment and returned to him. It was another good omen. The lost had been found again and defeat would become victory.
But Dick said nothing to anybody of his duel with Harry Kenton. He shuddered even now when he recalled it. And yet there had been no guilt in either. Neither had known that the other lay behind the stone, but happy chance had made all their bullets go astray. Again he was thankful.
"How did you stand that fighting yesterday afternoon, George?" Dick asked of Warner.
"First rate. The open air agreed with me, and as no bullet sought me out I felt benefited. I didn't get away from that hospital too soon. How far away is this Antietam River, behind which they say Lee lies?"
"It's only eight miles from the gap," said Pennington, who had been making inquiries, "and as we have come three miles it must be only five miles away."
"Correct," said Warner, who was in an uncommonly fine humor. "Your mathematical power grows every day, Frank. Let x equal the whole distance from the gap to the Antietam, which is eight miles, let y equal the distance which we have come which is three miles, then x minus y equals the distance left, which is five miles. Wonderful! wonderful! You'll soon have a great head on you, Frank."
"If some rebel cannoneer doesn't shoot it off in the coming battle. By George, we're driving their skirmishers before us! They don't seem to make any stand at all!"
The vanguard certainly met with no very formidable resistance as it advanced over the rolling country. The sound of firing was continuous, but it came from small squads here and there, and after firing a few volleys the men in gray invariably withdrew.
Yet the Northern advance was slow. Colonel Winchester became intensely impatient again.
"Why don't we hurry!" he exclaimed. "Of all things in the world the one that we need most is haste. With Jackson tied up before Harper's Ferry, Lee's defeat is sure, unless he retreats across the Potomac, and that would be equivalent to a defeat. Good Heavens, why don't we push on?"
He had not yet heard of the fall of Harper's Ferry, and that Jackson with picked brigades was already on the way to join Lee. Had he known these two vital facts his anger would have burned to a white heat. Surely no day lost was ever lost at a greater cost than the one McClellan lost after the finding of Orders No. 191.
"Do you know anything about the Antietam, colonel?" asked Dick.
"It's a narrow stream, but deep, and crossed by several stone bridges. It will be hard to force a crossing here, but further up it can be done with ease since we outnumber Lee so much that we can overlap him by far. I have my information from Shepard, and he makes no mistakes. There is a church, too, on the upper part of the peninsula, a little church belonging to an order called the Dunkards."
"Ah," murmured Dick, "the little church of Shiloh!"
"What do you mean by that?"
"There was a little church at Shiloh, too. The battle raged all around it more than once. We lost it at first, but in the end we won. It's another good omen. We're bound to achieve a great victory, colonel."
"I hope and believe so. We've the materials with which to do it. But we've got to push and push hard."
The colonel raised his glasses and took a long look in front. Dick also had a pair and he, too, examined the country before them. It was a fine, rolling region and all the forest was gone, except clumps of trees here and there. The whole country would have been heavy with forest had it not been for the tramp of war.
It was now nearly noon and the sunlight was brilliant and intense. The glasses carried far. Dick saw a line of trees which he surmised marked the course of the Antietam, and he saw small detachments of cavalry which he knew were watching the advance of the Army of the Potomac. Their purpose convinced him that Lee had not retreated across the Potomac, but that he would fight and surely lose. Dick now believed that so many good omens could not fail.
A horseman galloped toward them. It was Shepard again, dustier than ever, his face pale from weariness.
"What is it, Mr. Shepard?" asked Colonel Winchester.
"I've just reported to General McClellan that our whole command at Harper's Ferry, thirteen thousand strong, surrendered early this morning and that Jackson with picked men has already started to join Lee!"
"My God! My God!" cried the colonel. "Oh, that lost day! We ought to have fought yesterday and destroyed Lee, while Harper's Ferry was still holding out! What a day! What a day! Nothing can ever pay us back for the losing of it!"
Dick, too, felt a sinking of the heart, but despair was not written on his face as it was on that of his colonel. Jackson might come, but it would only be with a part of his force, that which marched the swiftest, and the victory of the Army of the Potomac would be all the grander. The more enemies crushed the better it would be for the Union.
"Why, colonel!" he exclaimed, "we can beat them anyhow!"
"That's so, my lad, so we can! And so we will! It was childish of me to talk as I did. Here, Johnson, blow your best on that trumpet. I want our regiment to be the first to reach the Antietam."
Johnson blew a long and mellow tune and the Winchester regiment swung forward at a more rapid gait. The weather, after a day or two of coolness, had grown intensely hot again, and the noon sun poured down upon them sheaves of fiery rays. Dick looked back, and he saw once more that vast billowing cloud of dust made by the marching army. But in front he saw only quiet and peace, save for a few distant horsemen who seemed to be riding at random.
"There's a little town called Sharpsburg in the peninsula formed by the Potomac and the Antietam," said Shepard, who stayed with them, his immediate work done, "and the Potomac being very low, owing to the dry season, there is one ford by which Lee can cross and go back to Virginia. But he isn't going to cross without a battle, that's sure. The rebels are flushed with victory, they think they have the greatest leaders ever born and they believe, despite the disparity of numbers, that they can beat us."
"And I believe they can't," said Dick.
"If it were not for that lost day we'd have 'em beaten now," said Shepard, "and we'd be marching against Jackson."
The regiment in its swift advance now came nearer to the Antietam, the narrow but deep creek between its high banks. One or two shots from the far side warned them to come more slowly, and Colonel Winchester drew his men up on a knoll, waiting for the rest of the army to advance.
Dick put his glasses to his eyes, and slowly swept a wide curve on the peninsula of Antietam. Great armies drawn up for battle were a spectacle that no boy could ever view calmly, and his heart beat so hard that it caused him actual physical pain.
He saw through the powerful glasses the walls of the little village of Sharpsburg, and to the north a roof which he believed was that of the Dunkard Church, of which Shepard spoke. But his eyes came back from the church and rested on the country around Sharpsburg. The Confederate masses were there and he clearly saw the batteries posted along the Antietam. Beyond the peninsula he caught glimpses of the broad Potomac.
There lay Lee before them again, and now was the time to destroy his army. Jackson, even with his vanguard, could not arrive before night, and the main force certainly could not come from Harper's Ferry before the morrow. Here was a full half day for the Army of the Potomac, enough in which to destroy a divided portion of the Army of Northern Virginia.
But Colonel Winchester raged again and again in vain. There was no attack. Brigade after brigade in blue came up and sat down before the Antietam. The cannon exchanged salutes across the little river, but no harm was done, and the great masses of McClellan faced the whole peninsula, within which lay Lee with half of his army. The Winchester regiment was moved far to the north, where its officers hopefully believed that the first attack would be made. Here they extended beyond Lee's line, and it would be easy to cross the Antietam and hurl themselves upon his flank.
Despite the delay, Dick and his comrades, thrilled at the great and terrible panorama spread before them. The mid-September day had become as hot as those of August had been. The late afternoon sun was brazen, and immense clouds of dust drifted about. But they did not hide the view of the armies, arrayed for battle, and with only a narrow river between.
Dick, through his own glasses saw Confederate officers watching them also. He tried to imagine that this was Lee and that Longstreet, and that one of the Hills, and the one who wore a gorgeous uniform must surely be Stuart. Why should they be allowed to ride about so calmly? His heart fairly ached for the attack. McClellan said that fifty thousand men were there, and that Jackson was coming with fifty thousand more, but Shepard, who always knew, said that they did not number more than twenty thousand. What a chance! What a chance! He almost repeated Colonel Winchester's words, but he was only a young staff officer and it was not for him to complain. If he said anything at all he would have to say it in a guarded manner and to his best friends.
The Winchester regiment went into camp in a pleasant grove at the northern end of the Union line. Dick and his two young comrades had no fault to find with their quarters. They had dry grass, warm air and the open sky. A more comfortable summer home for a night could not be asked. And there was plenty of food, too. The Army of the Potomac never lacked it. The coffee was already boiling in the pots, and beef and pork were frying in the skillets. Heavenly aromas arose.
Dick and his comrades ate and drank, and then lay down in the grove. If they must rest they would rest well. Now and then they heard the booming of guns, and just before dark there had been a short artillery duel across the Antietam, but now the night was quiet, save for the murmur and movement of a great army. Through the darkness came the sound of many voices and the clank of moving wheels.
Dick asked permission for his two comrades and himself to go down near the river and obtained it.
"But don't get shot," cautioned Colonel Winchester. "The Confederate riflemen will certainly be on watch on the other side of the stream."
Dick promised and the three went forward very carefully among some bushes. They were led on by curiosity and they did not believe that they would be in any great danger. The singular friendliness which always marked the pickets of the hostile armies in the Civil War would prevail.
It was several hundred yards down to the Antietam, and luckily the ribbon of bushes held out. But when they were half way to the stream a thick, dark figure rose up before them. Dick, in an instant, recognized Sergeant Whitley.
"We want to get a nearer view of the enemy," said the boy.
"I'll go with you," said the sergeant. "I'm on what may be called scouting duty. Besides, I've a couple of friends down there by the river, but on the other side."
"Friends on the other side of the Antietam. What do you mean, sergeant?"
"I was scouting along there and I came across 'em. Only one in fact is an old acquaintance, an' he's just introduced me to the other."