They had stayed about a half-hour at the creek, and about two o'clock in the morning Powell and May led them through a dense wood to the edge of a high hill.
"There's Frankfort below you," said May in a voice that trembled.
The night was brilliant, almost like day, and they saw the little city clustered along the banks of the Kentucky which flowed, a dark ribbon of blue. Their powerful glasses brought out everything distinctly. They saw the old state house, its trees, and in the open spaces, tents standing by the dozens and scores. It was the division of Kirby Smith that occupied the town, and Bragg himself had made a triumphant entry. Dick wondered which house sheltered him. It was undoubtedly that of some prominent citizen, proud of the honor.
"Isn't it the snuggest and sweetest little place you ever saw?" said May. "Lend me your glasses a minute, please, Dick."
Dick handed them to him, and May took a long look, Dick noticed that the glasses remained directed toward a house among some trees near the river.
"You're looking at your home, are you not?" he asked.
"I surely am. It's that cottage among the oaks. It's bigger than it looks from here. Front porch and back porch, too. You go from the back porch straight down to the river. I've swum across the Kentucky there at night many and many a time. My father and mother are sure to be there now, staying inside with the doors closed, because they're red hot for the Union. Farther up the street, the low red brick house with the iron fence around the yard is Jim Powell's home. You don't mind letting Jim have a look through the glasses, do you?"
"Of course not."
The glasses were handed in turn to Powell, who, as May had done, took a long, long look. He made no comment, when he gave the glasses back to Dick, merely saying: "Thank you." But Dick knew that Powell was deeply moved.
"It may be, lads," said Colonel Winchester, "that you will be able to enter your homes by the front doors in a day or two. Evidently the Southerners intend to make it a big day to-morrow when they inaugurate Hawes, their governor."
"A governor who's a governor only when he is surrounded by an army, won't be much of a governor," said Pennington. "This state refused to secede, and I guess that stands."
"Beyond a doubt it does," said Colonel Winchester, "but they've made great preparations, nevertheless. There are Confederate flags on the Capitol and the buildings back of it, and I see scaffolding for seats outside. Are there other places from which we can get good looks, lads?"
"Plenty of them," May and Powell responded together, and they led them from hill to hill, all covered with dense forest. Several times they saw Southern sentinels on the slopes near the edge of the woods, but May and Powell knew the ground so thoroughly that they were always able to keep the little troop under cover without interfering with their own scouting operations.
Buell had given final instructions to the colonel to come back with all the information possible, and, led by his capable guides, the colonel used his opportunities to the utmost. He made a half circle about Frankfort, going to the river, and then back again. With the aid of the glasses and the brilliancy of the night he was able to see that the division of Kirby Smith was not strong enough to hold the town under any circumstances, if the main Union army under Buell came up, and the colonel was resolved that it should come.
It was a singular coincidence that the Southerners were making a military occupation of Frankfort with a Union army only a day's march away. The colonel found a certain grim irony in it as he took his last look and turned away to join Buell.
A half mile into the forest and they heard the crashing of hoofs in the brushwood. Colonel Winchester drew up his little troop abruptly as a band of men in gray emerged into an open space.
"Confederate cavalry!" exclaimed Dick.
"Yes," said the colonel.
But the gray troopers were not much more numerous than the blue. Evidently they were a scouting party, too, and for a few minutes they stared at each other across a space of a couple of hundred yards or so. Both parties fired a few random rifle shots, more from a sense of duty than a desire to harm. Then they fell away, as if by mutual consent, the gray riding toward Frankfort and the blue toward the Union army.
"Was it a misfortune to meet them?" asked Dick.
"I don't think so," replied Colonel Winchester. "They had probably found out already that our army was near. Of course they had out scouts. Kirby Smith, I know, is an alert man, and anyway, the march of an army as large as ours could not be hidden."
It was dawn again when the colonel's little party reached the Union camp, and when he made his report the heavy columns advanced at once. But the alarm had already spread about at Frankfort. The morning there looked upon a scene even more lively than the one that had occurred in Buell's camp. The scouts brought in the news that the Union army in great force was at hand. They had met some of their cavalry patrols in the night, on the very edge of the city. Resistance to the great Union force was out of the question, because Bragg had committed the error that the Union generals had been committing so often in the east. He had been dividing and scattering his forces so much that he could not now concentrate them and fight at the point where they were needed most.
The division of the Southern army that occupied Frankfort hastily gathered up its arms and supplies and departed, taking with it the governor who was never inaugurated, and soon afterward the Union men marched in. Both May and Powell had the satisfaction of entering their homes by the front doors, and seeing the parents who did not know until then whether they were dead or alive.
Dick had a few hours' leave and he walked about the town. He had made friends when he was there in the course of that memorable struggle over secession, and he saw again all of them who had not gone to the war.
Harry and his father were much present in his mind then, because he had recently seen Colonel Kenton, and because the year before, all three of them had talked together in these very places.
But he could not dwell too much in the past. He was too young for it, and the bustle of war was too great. It was said that Bragg's forces had turned toward the southeast, but were still divided. It was reported that the Bishop-General, Polk, had been ordered to attack the Northern force in or near Frankfort, but the attack did not come. Colonel Winchester said it was because Polk recognized the superior strength of his enemy, and was waiting until he could co-operate with Bragg and Hardee.
But whatever it was Dick soon found himself leaving Frankfort and marching into the heart of the Bluegrass. He began to have the feeling, or rather instinct warned him, that battle was near. Yet he did not fear for the Northern army as he had feared in Virginia and Maryland. He never felt that such men as Lee and Jackson were before them. He felt instead that the Southern commanders were doubtful and hesitating. They now had there no such leaders as Albert Sidney Johnston, who fell at Shiloh when victory was in Southern hands and before it had time to slip from their grasp.
So the army dropped slowly down eastward and southward through the Bluegrass. May and Powell had obtained but a brief glimpse of their home town, before they were on their way again with a purpose which had little to do with such peaceful things as home.
Dick saw with dismay that the concentric march of the armies was bringing them toward the very region into which his mother had fled for refuge. She was at Danville, which is in the county of Boyle, and he heard now that the Confederate army, or at least a large division of it, was gathering at a group of splendid springs near a village called Perryville in the same county. But second thought told him that she would be safe yet in Danville, as he began to feel sure now that the meeting of the armies would be at Perryville.
Dick's certainty grew out of the fact that the great springs were about Perryville. The extraordinary drouth and the remarkable phenomenon of brooks drying up in Kentucky had continued. Water, cool and fresh for many thousands of men, was wanted or typhoid would come.
This need of vast quantities of water fresh and cool from the earth, was obvious to everybody, and the men marched gladly toward the springs. The march would serve two purposes: it would quench their thirst, and it would bring on the battle they wanted to clear Kentucky of the enemy.
"Fine country, this of yours, Dick," said Warner as they rode side by side. "I don't think I ever saw dust of a higher quality. It sifts through everything, fills your eyes, nose and mouth and then goes down under your collar and gives you a neat and continuous dust bath."
"You mustn't judge us by this phenomenon," said Dick. "It has not happened before since the white man came, and it won't happen again in a hundred years."
"You may speak with certainty of the past, Dickie, my lad, but I don't think we can tell much about the next century. I'll grant the fact, however, that fifty or a hundred thousand men marching through a dry country anywhere are likely to raise a lot of dust. Still, Dickie, my boy, I don't mean to hurt your feelings, but if I live through this, as I mean to do, I intend to call it the Dusty Campaign."
"Call it what you like if in the end you call it victory."
"The dust doesn't hurt me," said Pennington. "I've seen it as dry as a bone on the plains with great clouds of it rolling away behind the buffalo herds. There's nothing the matter with dust. Country dust is one of the cleanest things in the world."
"That's so," said Warner, "but it tickles and makes you hot. I should say that despite its cleanly qualities, of which you speak, Frank, my friend, its power to annoy is unsurpassed. Remember that bath we took in the creek the night we went to Frankfort. Did you ever before see such cool running water, and Dickie, old boy, remember how much there was of it! It was just as deep and cool and fine after we left it."
"George," said Dick, as he wiped his dusty face, "if you say anything more about the creek and its cool water this army will lose a capable lieutenant, and it will lose him mighty soon. It will be necessary, too, to bury him very far from his home in Vermont."
"Keep cool, Dickie boy, and let who will be dusty. Brooks may fail once in a hundred years in Kentucky, but they haven't failed in a thousand in Vermont. You need not remind me that the white man has been there only two or three hundred years. My information comes straight from a very old Indian chief who was the depository of tribal recollections absolutely unassailable. The streams even in midsummer come down as full and cold as ever from the mountains."
"We'll have water and plenty of it in a day or two. The scouts say that the Confederate force at the springs is not strong enough to withstand us."
"But General Buell, not knowing exactly what General Bragg intends with his divided force, has divided his own in order to meet him at all points."
"Has he done that?" exclaimed Dick aghast. Like other young officers he felt perfectly competent to criticize anybody.
"He has, and it seems to me that when the enemy divided was the time for us to unite or remain united. Then we could scoop him up in detail. Why, Dick, with an army of sixty thousand men or so, made of such material as ours has shown itself to be, we could surely beat any Southern force in Kentucky!"
"Especially as we have no Lees and Stonewall Jacksons to fight."
"Maybe General Buell has divided his force in order to obtain plenty of water," said Pennington. "We fellows ought to be fair to him."
"Perhaps you're right," said Warner, "and you're right when you say we ought to be fair to him. I know it will be a great relief to General Buell to find that we three are supporting his management of this army. Shall I go and tell him, Frank?"
"Not now, but you can a little later on. Suppose you wait until a day or two after the battle which we all believe is coming."
The three boys were really in high spirits. Little troubled them but the dryness and the dust. They had tasted so much of defeat and drawn battle in the east that they had an actual physical sense of better things in the west. The horizons were wider, the mountains were lower, and there was not so much enveloping forest. They did not have the strangling sensation, mental only, which came from the fear that hostile armies would suddenly rush from the woods and fall upon their flank.
Besides, there was Shiloh. After all, they had won Shiloh, and the coming of this very Buell who led them now had enabled them to win it. And Shiloh was the only great battle that they had yet really won.
They camped that night in the dry fields. The Winchester regiment was a part of the division under McCook, while Buell with the rest of the army was some miles away. It was still warm, although October was now seven days old, and Dick had never before heard the grass and leaves rustle so dryly under the wind. Off in the direction of Perryville they saw the dim gleam of red, and they knew it came from the camp-fires of the Southern army. Buell had in his detached divisions sixty thousand men, most of them veterans and Dick believed that if they were brought together victory was absolutely sure on the morrow.
The troops around the Winchester regiment were lads from Ohio, and they affiliated readily. Most of the new men were in these Ohio regiments, and Dick, Warner and Frank felt themselves ancient veterans who could talk to the recruits and give them good advice. And the recruits took it in the proper spirit. They looked up with admiration to those who had been at Shiloh, and the Second Manassas and Antietam.
Dick thought their spirit remarkable. They were not daunted at all by the great failures in the east. They did not discount the valor of the Southern troops, but they asked to be led against them.
"Come over here," said one of the Ohio boys to Dick. "Ahead of us and on the side there's rough ground with thick woods and deep ravines. I'll show you something just at the edge of the woods. Bring your friends with you."
The twilight had already turned to night and Dick, calling Warner and Pennington, went with his new friend. There, flowing from under a great stone, shaded by a huge oak, was a tiny stream of pure cold water a couple of inches deep but seven or eight inches broad. Under the stone a beautiful basin a foot and a half across and about as deep had been chiselled out.
"A lot of us found it here," said the Ohio boy, "and we found, too, a tin cup chained to a staple driven into the stone. See, it's here still. We haven't broken the chain. I suppose it belongs to some farmer close by. The boys brought other tin cups and we drank so fast that the brook itself became dry. The water never got any further than the pool. I suppose it's just started again. Drink."
The boys drank deeply and gratefully. No such refreshing stream had ever flowed down their throats before.
"Ohio," said Dick, "you're a lovely, dirty angel."
"I guess I am," said Ohio, "'cause I found the spring. It turned me from an old man back to a boy again. Cold as ice, ain't it? I can tell you why. This spring starts right at the North Pole, right under the pole itself, dives away down into the earth, comes under Bering Sea and then under British America, and then under the lakes, and then under Ohio, and then under a part of Kentucky, and then comes out here especially to oblige us, this being a dry season."
"I believe every word you say, Ohio," said Warner, "since your statements are proved by the quality of the water. I could easily demonstrate it as a mathematical proposition."
"Don't you pay any attention to him, Ohio," said Dick. "He's from Vermont, and he's so full of big words that he's bound to get rid of some of them."
"I'm not doubting you, Vermont," said Ohio. "As you believe every word I said, I believe every word you said."
"There's nothing extraordinary about them things," said another Ohio boy belonging to a different brigade, who was sitting near. "Do you know that we swallowed a whole river coming down here? We began swallowing it when we crossed the Ohio, just like a big snake swallowing a snake not quite so big, taking down his head first, then keeping on swallowing him until the last tip of his tail disappeared inside. It was a good big stream when we started, water up to our knees, but we formed across it in a line five hundred men deep and then began to drink as we marched forward. Of course, a lot of water got past the first four hundred lines or so, but the five hundredth always swallowed up the last drop."
"We marched against that stream for something like a hundred and fifty miles. No water ever got past us. We left a perfectly dry bed behind. Up in the northern part of the state not a drop of water came down the river in a month. We followed it, or at least a lot of us did, clean to its source in some hills a piece back of us. We drank it dry up to a place like this, only bigger, and do you know, a fellow of our company named Jim Lambert was following it up under the rocks, and we had to pull him out by the feet to keep him from being suffocated. That was four days ago, and we had a field telegram yesterday from a place near the Ohio, saying that a full head of water had come down the river again, three feet deep from bank to bank and running as if there had been a cloudburst in the hills. Mighty glad they were to see it, too."
There was a silence, but at length a solemn youth sitting near said in very serious tones:
"I've thought over that story very thoroughly, and I believe it's a lie."
"Vermont," said the first Ohio lad, "don't you have faith in my friend's narrative?"
"I believe every word of it," said Warner warmly. "Our friend here, who I see can see, despite the dim light, has a countenance which one could justly say indicates a doubtful and disputatious nature, wishes to discredit it because he has not heard of such a thing before. Now, I ask you, gentlemen, intelligent and fair-minded as I know you are, where would we be, where would civilization be if we assumed the attitude of our friend here. If a thing is ever seen at all somebody sees it first, else it would never be seen. Quod erat demonstrandum. You remember your schooldays, of course. I thank you for your applause, gentlemen, but I'm not through yet. We have passed the question of things seen, and we now come to the question of things done, which is perhaps more important. It is obvious even to the doubtful or carping mind that if a new thing is done it is done by somebody first. Others will do it afterward, but there must and always will be a first.
"Nobody ever swallowed a river before, beginning at its mouth and swallowing it clean down to its source, but a division of gallant young troops from Ohio have done so. They are the first, and they must and always will be the first. Doubtless, other rivers will be swallowed later on. As the population increases, larger rivers will be swallowed, but the credit for initiating the first and greatest pure-water drinking movement in the history of the world will always belong to a brave army division from the state of Ohio."
A roar of applause burst forth, and Warner, standing up, bowed gracefully with his hand upon his heart. Then came a dead silence, as a hand fell upon the Vermonter's shoulder. Warner looked around and his jaw fell. General McCook, who commanded this part of the army, was standing beside him.
"Excuse me, sir, I—" began Warner.
"Never mind," said the general. "I had come for a drink of water, and hearing your debate I stopped for a few moments behind a tree to listen. I don't know your name, young gentleman."
"Warner, sir, George Warner, first lieutenant in the regiment of Colonel Winchester."
"I merely wished to say, Lieutenant Warner, that I listened to your speech from the first word to the last, and I found it very cogent and powerful. As you say, things must have beginnings. If there is no first, there can be no second or third. I am entirely convinced by your argument that our army swallowed a river as it marched southward. In fact, I have often felt so thirsty that I felt as if I could have swallowed it myself all alone."
There was another roar of applause, and as a dozen cups filled with water were pushed at the general, he drank deeply and often, and then retired amid further applause.
"They'll fight well for him, to-morrow," said Dick.
"No doubt of it," said Warner.
They went into the edge of the wood and sought sleep and rest. But there was much merry chatter first among these lads, for many of whom death had already spread its somber wings.
CHAPTER XIII. PERRYVILLE
Dick slept very well that night. The water from the little spring, gushing out from under the rock, had refreshed him greatly. He would have rejoiced in another bath, such as one as they had luxuriated in that night before Frankfort, but it was a thing not be dreamed of now, and making the best of things as they were, he had gone to sleep among his comrades.
The dryness of the ground had at least one advantage. They had not colds and rheumatism to fear, and, with warm earth beneath them and fresh air above, they slept more soundly than if they had been in their own beds. But while they were sleeping the wary Sergeant Whitley was slipping forward among the woods and ravines. He had received permission from Colonel Winchester, confirmed by a higher officer, to go on a scout, and he meant to use his opportunity. He had made many a scouting trip on the plains, where there was less cover than here, and there torture and death were certain if captured, but here it would only be imprisonment among men who were in no sense his personal enemies, and who would not ill-treat him. So the sergeant took plenty of chances.
He passed the Union pickets, entered a ravine which led up between two hills and followed it for some distance. In a cross ravine he found a little stream of water, flowing down from some high, rocky ground above, and, at one point, he came to a pool several yards across and three or four feet deep. It was cool and fresh, and the sergeant could not resist the temptation to slip off his clothes and dive into it once or twice. He slipped his clothes on again, the whole not consuming more than five minutes, and then went on much better equipped for war than he had been five minutes before.
Then he descended the hills and came down into a valley crossed by a creek, which in ordinary times had plenty of water, but which was now reduced to a few muddy pools. The Southern pickets did not reach so far, and save for the two tiny streams in the hills this was all the water that the Northern army could reach. Farther down, its muddy and detached stream lay within the Confederate lines.
Crossing the creek's bed the sergeant ascended a wooded ridge, and now he proceeded with extreme caution. He had learned that beyond this ridge was another creek containing much more water than the first. Upon its banks at the crossing of the road stood the village of Perryville, and there, according to his best information and belief, lay the Southern army. But he meant to see with his own eyes and hear with his own ears, and thus return to McCook's force with absolute certainty.
The sergeant, as he had expected, found cover more plentiful than it was on the plains, but he never stalked an Indian camp with more caution. He knew that the most of the Southern scouts and skirmishers were as wary as the Indians that once hunted in these woods, and that, unless he used extreme care, he was not likely to get past them.
He came at last to a point where he lay down flat on his stomach and wormed himself along, keeping in the thickest shadow of woods and bushes. The night was bright, and although his own body was blended with the ground, he could see well about him. The sergeant was a very patient man. Life as a lumberman and then as a soldier on the plains had taught him to look where he was crawling. He spent a full hour worming himself up to the crest of that ridge and a little way down on the other side. In the course of the last fifteen minutes he passed directly between two alert and vigilant Southern pickets. They looked his way several times, but the sergeant was so much in harmony with the color scheme of the earth on which he crept, that no blame lay upon them for not seeing him.
The sergeant was already hearing with his own ears. He heard these pickets and others talking in low voices of the Northern army and of their own. They knew that Buell's great force was approaching from different points and that a battle was expected on the morrow. He knew this already, but he wanted to know how much of the Confederate army lay in Perryville, and he intended to see with his own eyes.
Having passed the first line of pickets the sergeant advanced more rapidly, although he still kept well under cover. Advancing thus he reached the bed of the creek and hid himself against the bank, allowing his body to drop down in the water, in order that he might feel the glorious cool thrill again, and also that he might be hidden to the neck. His rifle and ammunition he laid at the edge of the bank within reach. Situated thus comfortably, he used his excellent eyes with excellent results. He could see Perryville on his left, and also a great camp on some heights that ran along the creek. There were plenty of lights in this camp, and, despite the lateness of the hour, officers were passing about.
It was obvious to the sergeant that many thousands of soldiers were on those heights, and now he wanted to hear again with his own ears. He did not dare go any nearer, and the water in the creek was growing cold to his body. But his patience was great, and still he waited, only his head showing above the water, and it hidden in the black gloom of the bank's shadows.
His reward came by-and-by. A number of cavalrymen led their horses down to the creek to drink, and while the horses drank and then blew the water away from their noses, the men talked at some length, enabling the sergeant to pick up important scraps of information.
He learned that the heights were occupied by Hardee with two divisions. It was the same Hardee, the famous tactician who had been one of the Southern generals at Shiloh. Polk was expected, but he had not yet come up. Bragg, too, would be there.
The brave sergeant's heart thumped as he listened. He gathered that Polk, perhaps, could not arrive before noon, and here was a brilliant chance to destroy a large part of the Southern army early in the morning.
He waited until all the cavalrymen had gone away with their horses, and then he crawled cautiously out of the stream. His limbs were cold and stiff, but his enforced exercise in crawling soon brought back their flexibility. He passed between the pickets again, and, when he was safely beyond their hearing, he rose and stretched himself again and again.
The sergeant greatly preferred walking to crawling. Primitive men might have crawled, but to do so made the modern man's knees uncommonly sore. So he continued to stretch, to inhale great draughts of air, and to feel proudly that he was a man who walked upright and not a bear or a pig creeping on four legs through the bushes.
He reached his own army not long afterward, and, walking among the thousands of sleeping forms, reached the tree under which Colonel Winchester slept.
"Colonel," he said gently.
The colonel awoke instantly and sat up. Despite the dusk he recognized Whitley at once.
"Well, sergeant?" he said.
"I've been clean over the ridge to the rebel camp. I reached the next creek and lay on the heights just beyond it. I've seen with my own eyes and I've heard with my own ears. They've only two divisions there, though they're expectin' Polk to come up in the mornin' an' Bragg, too. Colonel, I'm a good reckoner, as I've seen lots of war, and they ain't got more 'n fifteen thousand men there on the creek, while if we get all our divisions together we can hit 'em with nigh on to sixty thousand. For God's sake, Colonel, can't we do it?"
"We ought to, and if I can do anything, we will. Sergeant, you've done a great service at a great risk, and all of us owe you thanks. I shall see General McCook at once."
The sergeant, forgetting that he was wet to the skin, stretched himself in the dry grass near Dick and his comrades, and soon fell fast asleep, while his clothes dried upon him. But Colonel Winchester went to General McCook's tent and insisted upon awakening him. The general received him eagerly and listened with close attention.
"This man Whitley is trustworthy?" he said.
"Absolutely. He has had years of experience on the plains, fighting Sioux, Cheyennes and other Indians, and he has been with me through most of the war so far. There is probably no more skillful scout, and none with a clearer head and better judgment in either army."
"Then, Colonel, we owe him thanks, and you thanks for letting him go. We'll certainly bring on a battle to-morrow, and we ought to have all our army present. I shall send a messenger at once to General Buell with your news. Messengers shall also go to Crittenden, Rousseau, and the other generals. But you recognize, of course, that General Buell is the commander-in-chief, and that it is for him to make the final arrangements."
"I do, sir," said the colonel, as he saluted and retired. He went back to the point where his own little regiment lay. He knew every man and boy in it, and he had known them all in the beginning, when they were many times more. But few of the splendid regiment with which he had started south a year and a half before remained. He looked at Dick and Warner and Pennington and the sergeant and wondered if they would be present to answer to the roll the next night, or if he himself would be there?
The colonel cherished no illusions. He was not sanguine that the whole Union army would come up, and even if it came, and if victory should be won it would be dark and bloody. He knew how the Southerners fought, and here more so than anywhere else, it would be brother against brother. This state was divided more than any other, and, however the battle went, kindred would meet kindred. Colonel Kenton, Dick's uncle, a man whom he liked and admired, was undoubtedly across those ridges, and they might meet face to face in the coming battle.
It was far into the morning now and the colonel did not sleep again. He saw the messengers leaving the tent of General McCook, and he knew that the commander of the division was active. Just what success he would have would remain for the morrow to say. The colonel saw the dawn come. The dry fields and forests reddened with the rising sun, and then the army rose up from its sleep. The cooks had already prepared coffee and food.
"Show me the enemy," said Pennington fiercely, "and as soon as I finish this cup of coffee, I'll go over and give him the thrashing he needs."
"He's just across those ridges, sir, and on the banks of the far creek," said Sergeant Whitley.
"How do you know?"
"I made a call on him last night."
"You did? And what did he say?"
"I didn't send in my card. I just took a look at his front door and came away. He's at home, waiting and willing to give us a fight."
"Well, it's a fine day for a battle anyway. Look what a splendid sun is rising! And you can see the soft haze of fall over the hills and woods."
"It's not as fine a fall as usual in Kentucky," said Dick, in an apologetic tone to Warner and Pennington. "It's been so dry that the leaves are falling too early, and the reds, the yellows and the browns are not so bright."
"Never mind, Dickie, boy," said Warner consolingly. "We'll see it in a better year, because Pennington and I are both coming back to spend six months with you when this war is over. I've already accepted the invitation. So get ready for us, Dick."
"It's an understood thing now," said Dick sincerely. "There go the trumpets, and they mean for us to get in line."
A large portion of the division was already on the way, having started at five o'clock, and the little Winchester regiment was soon marching, too. The day was again hot. October, even, did not seem able to break that singular heat, and the dust was soon billowing about them in columns, stinging and burning them. The sergeant the night before had taken a short cut through the hills, but the brigades, needing wide spaces, marched along the roads and through the fields. A portion of their own army was hidden from them by ridges and forest, and Dick did not know whether Buell with the other half of the army had come up.
After a long and exhausting march they stopped, and the Winchester regiment and the Ohio lads concluded that they had been wrong after all. No battle would be fought that day. They were willing now, too, to postpone it, as they were almost exhausted by heat and thirst, and that stinging, burning dust was maddening. A portion of their line rested on the first creek, and they drank eagerly of the muddy water. Dick saw before him fields in which the corn stood thick and heavy. The fields were divided by hedges which cut off the view somewhat and which the sergeant said would furnish great ambush for sharpshooters.
The men were now allowed to lie down, but most of them were still panting with the heat. The three boys on horseback rode with Colonel Winchester to the crest of a low hill, just beyond the first creek. From that point they clearly saw the enemy gathered in battle array along the second stream. Dick, with his glasses, saw the batteries, and could even mark the sun-browned faces of the men.
"Has General Buell come?" he asked Colonel Winchester.
"He has not. Not half of our army is here."
The answer was made with emphasis and chagrin. There was a report that Buell did not intend to attack until the following day, when he would have his numbers well in hand.
"Under the circumstances," said the colonel, "we have to wait. Better get off your horses, boys, and hunt the shade."
They rode back and obeyed. It was now getting well along into the afternoon. Thousands of soldiers lay on the grass in the shadiest places they could find. Many were asleep. Overhead the sun burned and burned in a sky of absolute blazing white.
A cannon boomed suddenly and then another. The artillery of the two armies watching one another had opened at long range, but the fire was so distant that it did no harm. Dick and his comrades watched the shells in their flight, noting the trails of white smoke they left behind, and then the showers of earth that flew up when they burst. It was rather a pleasant occupation to watch them. In a way it broke the monotony of a long summer day.
They did not know that Polk, the bishop-general, was arriving at that moment in the Southern camp with five thousand men. Bragg had come, too, but he left the command to Polk, who outranked Hardee, and the three together listened to the long-range cannonade, while they also examined with powerful glasses the Union army which was now mostly lying on the ground.
Dick himself felt a strong temptation to sleep. The march through the heat that morning had been dusty and tiresome, and the warm wind that blew over him made his eyelids very heavy. The cannonade itself was conducive to slumber. The guns were fired at regular intervals, which created a sort of rhythm. The shells with their trailing white smoke ceased to interest him, and his eyelids grew heavier. It was now about 2:30 o'clock and as his eyes were about to close a sudden shout made him open them wide and then spring to his feet.
"Look out! Look out!" cried Sergeant Whitley, "The Johnnies are coming!"
The Union forces in an instant were in line, rifles ready and eager. The gray masses were already charging across the fields and hills, while their cannon made a sudden and rapid increase in the volume of fire. Their batteries were coming nearer, too, and the shells hitherto harmless were now shrieking and hissing among their ranks, killing and wounding.
Dick looked around him. The members of the slim Winchester regiment were all veterans; but thousands of the Ohio lads were recruits who had never seen battle before. Now shell and shot were teaching them the terrible realities. He saw many a face grow pale, as his own had often grown pale, in the first minutes of battle, but he did not see any one flinch.
The Northern cannon posted in the intervals and along the edges of the woods opened with a mighty crash, and as the enemy came nearer the riflemen began to send a hail of bullets. But the charge did not break. It was led by Buckner, taken at Donelson, but now exchanged, and some of the best troops of the South followed him.
"Steady! Steady!" shouted Colonel Winchester. The ranks were so close that he and all of his staff, having no room for their horses, had dismounted, and they stood now in the front rank, encouraging the men to meet the charge. But the rush of the Southern veterans was so sudden and fierce that despite every effort of valor the division gave way, suffering frightful losses.
Two of the Union generals seeking to hold their men were killed. Each side rushed forward reinforcements. A stream of Confederates issued from a wood and flung themselves upon the Union flank. Dick was dazed with the suddenness and ferocity with which the two armies had closed in mortal combat. He could see but little. He was half blinded by the smoke, the flash of rifles and cannon and the dust. Officers and men were falling all around him. The numbers were not so great as at Antietam, but it seemed to him that within the contracted area of Perryville the fight was even more fierce and deadly than it had been on that famous Maryland field.
But he was conscious of one thing. They were being borne back. Tears of rage ran down his face. Was it always to be this way? Were their numbers never to be of any avail? He heard some one shout for Buell, and he heard some one else shout in reply that he was far away, as he had been at Shiloh.
It was true. The wind blowing away from him, Buell had not yet heard a sound from the raging battle, which for its numbers and the time it lasted, was probably the fiercest ever fought on the American continent. The larger Union force, divided by ridges and thick woods from the field, had not heard the fire of a single cannon, and did not know that two armies were engaged in deadly combat so near.
Dick kept close to Colonel Winchester and Warner and Pennington were by his side. The sergeant was also near. There was no chance to give or send orders, and the officers, snatching up the rifles of the fallen soldiers, fought almost as privates. The Winchester regiment performed prodigies of valor on that day, and the Ohio lads strove desperately for every inch of ground.
It seemed to Dick once that they would hold fast, when he heard in front a tremendous cry of: "On, my boys!" As the smoke lifted a little he saw that it was Colonel Kenton leading his own trained and veteran regiment. Colonel Winchester and Colonel Kenton, in fact, had met face to face, but the Southern regiment was the more numerous and the stronger. Winchester's men were gradually borne back and the colonel gasped to Dick:
"Didn't I see your uncle leading on his regiment?"
"Yes, it was he. It was his regiment that struck us, but he's hidden now by the smoke."
The Southern rush did not cease. McCook's whole division, between the shallow creeks was driven back, sustaining frightful losses, and it would have been destroyed, but the artillery of Sheridan on the flank suddenly opened upon the Southern victors. The Southerners whirled and charged Sheridan, but his defense was so strong, and so powerful was his artillery that they were compelled to recoil every time with shattered ranks.
The decimated Ohio regiments beyond the creek were gathering themselves anew for the battle, and so were the men of Colonel Winchester, now reduced to half their numbers again. Then a great shout arose. A fresh brigade had come up to their relief, and aided by these new men they made good the ground upon which they stood.
Another shout arose, telling that Buell was coming, and, two hours after the combat had opened, he arrived with more troops. But night was now at hand, and the sun set over a draw like that at Antietam. Forty thousand men had fought a battle only about three hours long, and eight thousand of them lay dead or wounded upon the sanguinary field. One half the Union army never reached the field in time to fight.
As both sides drew off in the darkness, Dick shouted in triumph, thinking they had won a victory. A bullet fired by some retiring Southern skirmisher glanced along his head. There was a sudden flash of fire before him and then darkness. His body fell on a little slope and rolled among some bushes.
The close hot night came down upon the field, and the battle, the most sanguinary ever fought on Kentucky soil, had closed. Like so many other terrible struggles of the Civil War, it had been doubtful, or almost, so far as the fighting was concerned. The Northern left wing had been driven back, but the Northern right wing had held firm against every attack of the enemy.
Pennington, when he lay panting on the ground with the remnant of the Winchesters, knew little about the result of the combat. He knew that their own division had suffered terribly. The Ohio recruits had been cut almost to pieces, and the Winchester regiment had been reduced by half again. He was so tired that he did not believe he could stir for a long time. He felt no wound, but every bone ached from weariness, and his throat and mouth seemed to burn with smoke and dust.
Pennington did not see either Dick or Warner, but as soon as he got a little strength into his limbs he would look for them. No doubt they were safe. A special providence always watched over those fellows. It was true that Warner had been wounded at the Second Manassas, but a hidden power had guided Dick to him, and he got well so fast that he was able to fight soon afterward at Antietam.
Pennington lay still, and he heard all around him the deep breathing of men who, like himself, were so worn that they could scarcely move. The field in front of him darkened greatly, but he saw lights moving there, and he knew that they belonged to little parties from either army looking for the wounded. He began to wonder which side had won the battle.
"Ohio," he said to one of the Ohio lads who lay near, "did we lick the Johnnies, or did the Johnnies lick us?"
"Blessed if I know, and I don't care much, either. Four fellows that I used to play with at school were killed right beside me. It was my first battle, and, Oh, I tell you, it was awful!"
He gulped suddenly and began to cry. Pennington, who was no older than he, patted him soothingly on the shoulder.
"I know that you were the bravest of the brave, because I saw you," he said.
"I don't know about that, but I do know that I can never get used to killing men and seeing them killed."
Pennington was surprised that Dick and Warner had not appeared. They would certainly rejoin their own regiment, and he began to feel uneasy. The last shot had been fired, the night was darkening fast and a mournful wind blew over the battlefield. But up and down the lines they were lighting the cooking fires.
Pennington rose to his feet. He saw Colonel Winchester, standing a little distance away, and he was about to ask him for leave to look for his comrades, when he was startled by the appearance of a woman, a woman of thirty-eight or nine, tall, slender, dressed well, and as Pennington plainly saw, very beautiful. But now she was dusty, her face was pale, and her eyes shone with a terrible anxiety. Women were often seen in the camps at the very verge or close of battle, saying good-bye or looking for the lost, but she was unusual.
The soldiers stood aside for her respectfully, and she looked about, until her gaze fell upon the colonel. Then she ran to him, seized him by the arm, and exclaimed:
"Colonel Winchester! Colonel Winchester!"
"Good heavens, Mrs. Mason! You! How did you come?"
"I was at Danville, not so far from here. Of course I knew that the armies were about to meet for battle! And it was only two days ago that I heard the Winchester regiment had come west to join General Buell's army."
A stalwart and powerful colored woman emerged from the darkness and put her arm around Mrs. Mason's waist.
"Don't you get too much excited, chile," she said soothingly.
Juliana stood beside her mistress, a very tower of defense, glaring at the soldiers about them as if she would resent their curiosity.
"I thought I would come and try to see Dick," continued Mrs. Mason. "My relatives sought to persuade me not to do it. They were right, I know, but I wanted to come so badly that I had to do it. We slipped away yesterday, Juliana and I. We stayed at a farmhouse last night, and this morning we rode through the woods. We expected to be in the camp this afternoon, but as we were coming to the edge of the forest we heard the cannon and then the rifles. Through three or four dreadful hours, while we shook there in the woods, we listened to a roar and thunder that I would have thought impossible."
"The battle was very fierce and terrible," said Colonel Winchester.
"I don't think it could have been more so. We saw a part of it, but only a confused and awful sweep of smoke and flame. And now, Colonel Winchester, where is my boy, Dick?"
Colonel Winchester's face turned deadly pale, and she noticed it at once. Her own turned to the same pallor, but she did not shriek or faint.
"You do not know that he is killed?" she said in a low, distinct tone that was appalling to the other.
"I missed him only a little while ago," said Colonel Winchester, "and I've been looking for him. But I'm sure he is not dead. He can't be!"
"No, he can't be! I can't think it!" she said, and she looked at the colonel appealingly.
"If you please, sir," said Pennington, "Lieutenant Warner is missing also. I think we'll find them together. You remember what happened at the Second Manassas."
"Yes, Frank, I do remember it, and your supposition may be right."
He asked a lantern from one of the men, and whispered to Pennington to come. But Mrs. Mason and Juliana had been standing at strained attention, and Mrs. Mason inferred at once what was about to be done.
"You mean to look for him on the field," she said. "We will go with you."
Colonel Winchester opened his lips to protest, but shut them again in silence.
"It is right that you should come," he said a moment later, "but you will see terrible things."
"I am ready."
She seemed all the more admirable and wonderful to Colonel Winchester, because she did not weep or faint. The deathly pallor on her face remained, but she held herself firmly erect beside the gigantic colored woman.
"Come with me, Pennington," said Colonel Winchester, "and you, too, Sergeant Whitley."
The two men and the boy led the way upon the field, and the two women came close behind. They soon entered upon the area of conflict. The colonel had said that it would be terrible, but Mrs. Mason scarcely dreamed of the reality. It was one vast scene of frightful destruction, of torn and trampled earth and of dead men lying in all directions. The black of her faithful servant's face turned to an ashen gray, and she trembled more than her mistress.
Colonel Winchester had a very clear idea of the line along which his regiment had advanced and retreated, and he followed it. But the lantern did not enable them to see far. As happened so often after the great battles of the Civil War, the signs began to portend rain. The long drouth would be broken, but whether by natural change or so much firing Colonel Winchester did not know. Despite the lateness of the season dim lightning was seen on the horizon. The great heat was broken by a cool wind that began to blow from the northwest.
The five advanced in silence, the two men and the boy still leading and the two women following close behind. Colonel Winchester's heart began to sink yet farther. He had not felt much hope at first, and now he felt scarcely any at all. A few moments later, however, the sergeant suddenly held up his hand.
"What is it?" asked the colonel.
"I think I hear somebody calling."
"Like as not. Plenty of wounded men may be calling in delirium."
"But, colonel, I've been on battlefields before, and this sounds like the voice of some one calling for help."
"Which way do you think it is?"
"To the left and not far off. It's a weak voice."
"We'll turn and follow it. Don't say anything to the others yet."
They curved and walked on, the colonel swinging his lantern from side to side, and now all of them heard the voice distinctly.
"What is that?" exclaimed Mrs. Mason, speaking for the first time since they had come upon the field of conflict.
"Some one shouting for help," replied Colonel Winchester. "One could not neglect him at such a time."
"No, that is so."
"It's the voice of Lieutenant Warner, colonel," whispered the sergeant.
Colonel Winchester nodded. "Say nothing as yet," he whispered.
They walked a dozen steps farther and the colonel, swinging high the lantern, disclosed Warner sitting on the trunk of a tree that had been cut through by cannon balls. Warner, as well as they could see, was not wounded, but he seemed to be suffering from an overpowering weakness. The colonel, the sergeant and the boy alike dreaded to see what lay beyond the log, but the two women did not know Warner or that his presence portended anything.
The Vermonter saw them coming, and raised his hand in a proper salute to his superior officer. Then as they came nearer, and he saw the white woman who came with them, he lifted his head, tried to straighten his uniform a little with his left hand, and said as he bowed:
"I think this must be Mrs. Mason, Dick's mother."
"It is," said Colonel Winchester, and then they waited a moment or two in an awful silence.
"I don't rise because there is something heavy lying in my lap which keeps me from it," said Warner very quietly, but with deep feeling. "After the Second Manassas, where I was badly wounded and left on the ground for dead, a boy named Dick Mason hunted over the field, found me and brought me in. I felt grateful about it and told him that if he happened to get hit in the same way I'd find him and bring him in as he had brought me.
"I didn't think the chance would come so soon. Curious how things happen as you don't think they're going to happen, and don't happen as you think they're going to happen, and here the whole thing comes out in only a few weeks. We were driven back and I missed Dick as the battle closed. Of course I came to hunt for him, and I found him. Easy, Mrs. Mason, don't get excited now. Yes, you can have his head in your own lap, but it must be moved gently. That's where he's hurt. Don't tremble, ma'am. He isn't going to die, not by a long shot. The bullet meant to kill him, but finding his head too hard, it turned away, and went out through his hair. He won't have any scar, either, because it's all under the thickest part of his hair.
"Of course his eyes are closed, ma'am. He hasn't come around yet, but he's coming fast. Don't cry on his face, ma'am. Boys never like to have their faces cried on. I'd have brought him in myself, but I found I was too weak to carry him. It's been too short a time since the Second Manassas for me to have got back all my strength. So I just bound up his head, held it in my lap, and yelled for help. Along came a rebel party, bearing two wounded, and they looked at me. 'You're about pumped out,' said one of them, 'but we'll take your friend in for you.' 'No, you won't,' I said. 'Why not?' said they. 'Because you're no account Johnnies,' I said, 'while my wounded friend and I are high-toned Yanks.' 'I beg your pardon,' said the Johnny, who was one of the most polite fellows I ever saw, 'I didn't see your uniform clearly by this dim light, but the parties looking for the wounded are mostly going in, and you're likely to be left here with your friend, who needs attention. Better come along with us and be prisoners and give him a chance to get well.'
"Now, that was white, real white, but I thanked him and said that as soon as General Buell heard that the best two soldiers in his whole army were here resting, he'd come with his finest ambulance for us, driving his horses himself. They said then they didn't suppose they were needed and went on. But do you know, ma'am, every one of those Johnnies, as he passed poor old unconscious Dick with his head in my lap, took off his hat."
"It was a fine thing for them to do," said Colonel Winchester, and then he whispered: "I'm glad you talked that way, Warner. It helps. You see, she's feeling more cheerful already."
"Yes, and you see old Dick's opening his eyes. Isn't it strange that the first thing he should see when he opens them here on the battlefield should be his mother?"
"A strange and happy circumstance," said Colonel Winchester.
Dick opened his eyes.
"Mother!" he exclaimed.
Her arms were already around him.
CHAPTER XIV. SEEKING BRAGG
They took Dick to the house of his relatives, the Careys, in Danville, and in a few days he learned the sequel of that sudden and terrible storm of death at Perryville. Buell had gathered all his forces in the night, and in the morning had intended to attack again, but the Confederate army was gone, carrying with it vast stores of supplies that it had gathered on the way.
The rains, too, had come. They had begun the morning after the battle, and they poured for days. In the southeast, among the mountains toward which Bragg had turned the head of his army, the roads were quagmires. Nevertheless he had toiled on and was passing through Cumberland Gap. Buell had gone in the other direction toward the southwest, and then came the news that he was relieved of his command, and that Rosecrans would take his place.
Dick felt the call of the trumpet. He knew that his comrades were now down there in Tennessee with the army under Rosecrans, and he felt that he must join them. His mother begged him to stay. He had done enough for his country. He had fought in great battles, and he had narrowly escaped a mortal wound. He should come home, and stay safely at Pendleton until the war was over.
But Dick, though grieving with her, felt that he must go. He would stay with the army until the end, and he departed for Lexington, where he took the train for Louisville. Thence he went southward directly by rail to Bowling Green, where the Northern army was encamped, with lines stretching as far south as Nashville, and where he received the heartiest of greetings from his comrades.
"I knew you'd come," said Warner. "Perhaps a man with a mother like yours ought to stay at home, and again he ought to come. So there you are, and here you are!"
Dick was familiar with the country about Bowling Green. It was a part of the state in which he had relatives, and he had visited it more than once. He also saw the camps left by Buckner's men nearly a year ago, when they were marching southward to be taken by Grant at Donelson. Since he had come back to this region it seemed to him that they were always fighting their battles over again. Grant and Rosecrans had fought a terrible but victorious battle at Corinth in Mississippi, and now Rosecrans had come north while Grant remained in the further south. He was sorry it was not Grant who commanded on that line. He would have been glad to be under his command again, to feel that strong and sure hand on the reins once more.
Dick stayed a while in Bowling Green, and he saw all his relatives in the little city. They were mostly on the other side, but they could not resist an ingenuous youth like Dick, and he passed some pleasant hours with them. For his sake they also made Warner and Pennington welcome, but they freely predicted a great disaster for the North. Bragg would come out of East Tennessee with his veterans, and they would give Rosecrans the defeat that he deserved. The boys held good natured arguments with them on this point, but all finally agreed to leave it to the decision of the war itself.
The great dryness had now passed so completely that it seemed impossible such a thing ever could have been. The rains had been heavy and almost continuous, and the earth soaked in water. But despite chill winds and chill rains rumors of Southern activity came to them, and in the last month of the year Rosecrans gathered his forces at Nashville in Tennessee.
Dick and his comrades enjoyed a few bright days here. The city was crowded with an army and those who supply it and live by it, and it was a center of vivid activity. Dick had letters from his mother and he also heard in a roundabout way that Colonel Kenton had gone through the battle of Perryville uninjured and was now with Bragg at Chattanooga.
But the boys soon heard that despite the winter there was great activity in the Southern camp. Undismayed by their loss of Kentucky, the Southern generals meant to fight Rosecrans in Tennessee. The Confederacy had not been cheered by Lee's withdrawal at Antietam and Bragg's retreat at Perryville, and meant to strike a heavy blow for new prestige. The whole Confederate army, they soon heard, had moved forward to Murfreesborough, where it was waiting, while Forrest and Morgan, the famous cavalry leaders, were off on great raids.
It was this absence of Forrest and Morgan with the best of the cavalry that put it into the mind of Rosecrans to attack at once. The thousands of lads in the army who were celebrating Christmas received that night the news that they were to march in the morning.
"I've fought three great battles this year," said Warner, "and I don't think they ought to ask any more of me."
"Be comforted," said Dick. "We start to-morrow, the 26th, which leaves five days of the year, and I don't think we can arrange a battle in that time. You'll not have to whip Bragg before the New Year, George."
"Well, I'm glad of it. You can have too many battles in one year. I didn't get rest enough after my wound at the Second Manassas before I had to go in and save our army at Antietam, and then it was but a little time before we fought at Perryville. That wasn't as big a battle as some of the others, but Dick, for those mad three hours it seemed that all the demons of death were turned loose."
"It certainly looked like it, George, you stiff old Vermonter, and I don't forget that you came to save me."
"Shut up about that, or I'll hit you over the head with the butt of my pistol. I merely paid back, though I only paid about half of what I was owing to you. The chance luckily came sooner than I had hoped. But, Dick, what a morning to follow Christmas."
A chilly rain was pouring down. A cold fog was rising from the Cumberland, wrapping the town in mists. It was certainly a dreary time in which to march to battle, and the young soldiers rising in the gloom of the dawn and starting amid such weather were depressed.
"Pennington," said Warner, "will you help me in a request to our Kentucky friend to join us in three cheers for the Sunny South, the edge of which he has the good fortune to inhabit? I haven't seen the real sun for about a month, and I suppose that's why they call it sunny, and I'm informed that this big river, the Cumberland, often freezes over, which I suppose is the reason why they call it Southern. I hear, too, that people often freeze to death in North Georgia, which is further south than this. After this bit of business is over I'm going to forbid winter campaigns in the south."
"It does get mighty cold," said Dick. "You see we're not really a southern people. We just lie south of the northern states and in Kentucky, at least, we have a lot of cold weather. Why, I've seen it twenty-three degrees below zero in the southern part of the state, and it certainly can get cold in Tennessee, too."
"I believe I'd rather have it than this awful rain," said Pennington. "I don't seem to get used to these cold soakings."
"Good-bye, Nashville," said Dick, turning about. "I don't know when we will have to come back, and if we do I don't know what will have happened before then. Good-bye, Nashville. I regret your roofs and your solid walls, and your dry tents and floors."
"But we're going forth to fight. Don't forget that, Dick. Remember how in Virginia we pined for battle, and the use of our superior numbers. Anyhow Rosecrans is going out to look for the enemy, but all the same, and between you and me, Dick, I wish it was Grant who was leading us. I saw a copy of the New York Times a while back, and some lines in it are haunting me. Here they are:
"Back from the trebly crimsoned field Terrible woods are thunder-tost: Full of the wrath that will not yield, Full of revenge for battles lost: Hark to their echo as it crost The capital making faces wan: End this murderous holocaust; Abraham Lincoln give us a man."
"Sounds good," said Dick, "and, George, you and Frank and I know that what we want is a man. We've lost big battles, because we didn't have a big man, who could see at once and think like lightning, to lead us. But we'll get him sooner or later! We'll get him. Did any other troops ever bear up like ours under defeats and drawn battles? Listen to 'em now!"
Slow and deep and sung by many thousand men rose the rolling chorus:
"The army is gathering from near and from far; The trumpet is sounding the call for the war; Old Rosey's our leader, he's gallant and strong; We'll gird on our armor and be marching along."
"Now," cried Warner, "all together." And the thundering chorus rose:
"Marching, we are marching along, Gird on the armor and be marching along; Old Rosey's our leader, he's gallant and strong; For God and our country we are marching along."
As the mighty chorus, sung by fifty thousand men, rose and throbbed through the cold and rain, Dick felt his own heart throbbing in unison. Rosecrans might or might not be a great general, but he certainly was not permitting the enemy to rest easy in winter quarters at Murfreesborough. Dick had no doubt that they were about to meet the foe of Perryville face to face again.
The enemies were largely the same as those of other battles in the west. The Northern army advanced in three divisions toward Murfreesborough. McCook, whose division contained the Winchester regiment, was in the center, General Thomas led the right wing on the Franklin road, and General Crittenden led the left wing. Bragg who was before them had nearly the same generals as at Shiloh, Hardee, Breckinridge, and the others.
Dick knew that the advance of the Northern army would be seen at once. This was the country of the enemy. The forces of the Union held only the ground on which they were camped. Thousands of hostile eyes were watching Rosecrans, and, even if Bragg himself were lax, any movement by the army from Nashville would be reported at once to the army in Murfreesborough. But they had a vigilant foe, they knew, and they expected to encounter his pickets soon.
"They're probably watching us now through the fog and rain," said Colonel Winchester to Dick as they left the last house of Nashville behind. "They know every inch of these hills and valleys."
It was not a great distance to Murfreesborough, but they found the marching slow. The feet of the horses sank deep in the mud and the cannon and wagons were almost mired. But despite mud and rain and cold, the army pressed bravely on. They were the same lads and their like who had marched forward so hopefully to Donelson and Shiloh. Through the rain and the soughing of wheels in the mud rolled their battle songs, sung with all the spirit and fire of youth.
Colonel Winchester and all the officers helped with the cannon and wagons and soon they were covered with mud. The Winchester regiment was in the lead, and Sergeant Whitley suddenly pointing with a thick forefinger, said:
"There are the Johnnies! Their pickets are waiting for us!"
Dick saw through the mist and rain a considerable body of men down the road, most of them on horseback. He knew at once that they were Southern pickets, and the eager lads around him, seeing them, knew it, too. Not waiting for command they set up a shout and charged down the road. Rifles instantly flashed through the rain and a sharp fire met them. Men fell, but others pressed on with all the more zeal, seeing just beyond the Southern pickets the roofs of a little town. Cannon shot also whizzed among them, indicating that the Southern pickets were in strong force.
But the Northern troops, full of vigor and zeal, swept back the pickets and charged directly upon a larger force in the town beyond. A short and fierce battle for the possession of the village ensued, but this was only a Southern outpost, and it was not strong enough to withstand the rush of the Ohio men and Winchester's regiment. Fighting at every step they retreated through the village and into the forest beyond, leaving one of their cannon in the hands of the Union troops.
"An omen of victory," exclaimed Dick, when he saw the captured cannon.
"Careful, Dick! Careful!" said Warner. "Remember that you're not strong on omens. You're always seeing sure signs of success just before we go into a big battle."
"If Dick sees visions, and they're visions of the right kind, then he's right," said Pennington. "I'd a good deal rather go into battle with Dick by my side singing a song of victory, than croaking of defeat."
"That's good as a general proposition," said Warner, "but I was merely cautioning him not to be too enthusiastic. What kind of a country, Dick, is this into which we are going?"
"Hilly, lots of forests, particularly of cedar, and brooks, creeks and rivers. Murfreesborough itself is right on Lytle's Creek. Bragg will meet us at the line of Stone River."
"Maybe they'll retreat and go eastward to Chattanooga," said Pennington.
"I think we'd better dismiss that 'maybe,'" said Dick. "You haven't heard of the rebels running away from battles, have you?"
"What I've generally seen, in the beginning at least," said Warner, "is the rebels running toward us, jumping out of the woods and yelling like Indians. I have seldom found it a pleasant sight. I'm glad, too, Dick, that Stonewall Jackson isn't here. Do you see that big cedar forest over there on the hillside? Suppose he should come rushing out of it with twenty or twenty-five thousand men."
"Stop," said Pennington. "You give me the shivers, talking about Stonewall Jackson swooping down on us with an army corps, when happily he's four or five hundred miles away. I'm seeing enough unfriendly faces as it is. Look how the people in this village are glaring at us. Fellows, I've decided after due consideration that they don't love us here in Tennessee. If you were to ask me I'd say that blue was not their favorite color."
"At any rate we don't stay long. Good-bye, friends, good-bye," said Warner, waving his hand toward two or three men who stood in the door of an old blacksmith shop.
"You laugh, young feller," said a gnarled and knotted old man past eighty, "an' mebbe it's as well for you to laugh while you have the time to do it in. Mebbe you'll never come back from Stone River, an' if you do, an' if you win everywhere, remember that we, too, will yet win everywhere."
"What do you mean by that?"
"All the Yankees, whether they win or not, will have to go back north, except them that are dead, an' we'll be here right on top of the lan', livin' on it, an' runnin' it, same as we've always done."
"I hadn't thought of that," said Warner soberly.
"There's a power of things the young don't think of," said the ancient man. "Mebbe the South can be whipped, but she can't be moved. She'll always be here. People hev made a war. I don't know who started it. I reckon there's been some powerful mean an' hot talk on both sides. I knowed great men that seed this very thing comin' long ago an' tried to stop it. I went over in Kentucky more than once an' heard Henry Clay speak. I don't believe there was ever another such a talker as he was. He had sense an' knowledge as well as voice. He done his best to smooth over this quarrel between North and South that others was eggin' on all the time, but he couldn't, and I reckon when Henry Clay, the greatest man God ever made, failed, it wasn't worth while for anybody else to try. Ride on, young fellers, an' get yourselves killed. You ain't twenty, an' I'm over eighty, but I guess I'll be lookin' at the green trees when you're under the ground. Ride on in the rain an' the cold, an' I'll go inside the shop an' warm myself by the forge fire."
The three boys rode on in sober silence. The words of the ancient philosopher were soaking in with the rain.
"Suppose we don't come back from Stone River," said Pennington.
"We take our chances, of course," said Dick.
"And suppose what he said about the South should prove true," said Warner, thoughtfully. "One part of it, at least, is bound to come true. That phrase of his sticks in my mind: 'Mebbe the South can be whipped, but she can't be moved.' The Southern states, as he says, will be here just the same after the war is over, no matter who wins."
But such thoughts as these could not endure long in minds so young. They passed through the village and soon were in the forests of red cedar. The rain ceased, but in its place came a thick and heavy fog. The mud grew deeper than ever. Progress became very slow. It was difficult in the great foggy veil for the regiments to keep in touch with one another, and occasional shots in front warned them that the enemy was active and watchful. The division barely crept along.
Dick and his comrades were mounted again, and they kept close to Colonel Winchester, who, however, had few orders to send. The command of the corps rested with General McCook, and it behooved him as any private could see, to exercise the utmost caution. They were strangers in the land and the Confederates were not.
Dick had thought that morning that they would get into touch with heavy forces of the enemy before night, but the fog and the mud rendered their advance so slow that at sunset they went into camp in a vast forest of red cedar, still a good distance from Stone River. The fog had lifted somewhat, but the night was heavy, damp and dark. There was an abundance of fallen wood, and the veterans soon built long rows of fires which contributed wonderfully to their cheerfulness.
"There's nothing like a fine fire on a cold, dark night," said Sergeant Whitley, holding his hands over the flames. "Out on the plains when there was only a hundred or so of us, an' nothin' on any side five hundred miles away 'xcept hostile Indians, an' a blizzard whistlin' an' roarin', with the mercury thirty degrees below zero, it was glorious to have a big fire lighted in a hollow or a dip an' bend over the coals, until the warmth went right through you."
"It was the power of contrast," said Warner sagely. "The real comfort from the fire was fifty per cent and the howling of the icy gale, in which you might have frozen to death, but didn't, was fifty per cent more. That's why I'm feeling so good now, although I'd say that those red cedars and their dark background are none too cheerful."
"I've got two good blankets," said Pennington, who was returning from a trip further down the line, "and I'm going to sleep. Haven't you fellows learned that all your foolish talking before a battle never changes the result? I can tell you this. Our three divisions that are marching toward Murfreesborough are in touch. We've put out swarms of scouts and they all tell us so. They know exactly where the enemy is, too, and he's too far away to surprise us to-night. So it's sleep, my boys, sleep. Sleep will recover for you so much strength that it will be much harder for you to get killed on the morrow."
Dick had dried himself very thoroughly before one of the fires, and wrapping himself in his two blankets he slept soundly and heavily. There was fog again the next morning, but they reached a little village called Triune and all through the day they heard the sounds of scattered firing. One of the scouts told Colonel Winchester that the whole Southern army would be concentrated the next day on the line of Stone River, but that it would be inferior to the Union army in numbers by ten thousand men. Bragg's force, however, had the advantage of experience, being composed almost wholly of veterans.
It was on the afternoon of this day that Dick came into personal contact with General Thomas again. He had been sent through the cedar forest with dispatches to him from General McCook, and after the general had read them he glanced at the messenger.
"You reached General Buell safely with my letter, Lieutenant Mason," he said, "and I'm very glad to see you here with us again."
"Thank you, sir," said Dick, feeling an immense pride because this man, whom he admired so much, remembered him.
"It was a difficult duty and you did it well. I found that you got through safely. I made inquiries about you and I traced you as far as Shiloh, but I could get no further."
"I was at Shiloh," said Dick proudly. "I was captured just before it began, but I escaped while it was at its height and fought until the close."
"And after that?"
"My regiment was sent east, sir. I went with it through the Second Manassas and Antietam. Then we came back west to help General Buell. I was at Perryville and was wounded there, but I soon got well."
"Perryville was a terrible battle. It was short, but it is incredible with what fury the troops fought. We should do better here."
Dick saw that the last sentence which was spoken in a low tone was not addressed to him. It was merely a murmured expression of the general's own thoughts, and he remained silent.
"You can go now, Lieutenant Mason," said General Thomas, after a few moments, "and let us together wish for the best."
"Thank you, sir," said Dick, highly flattered again. Then he saluted and retired.
He rode back somewhat slowly through the cedars, but he kept a wary eye. The enemy's cavalry was daring, and he might be rushed by them at any time or be ambushed by sharpshooters on foot. His watch for the enemy also enabled him to examine the country closely. He saw many hills and hollows covered mostly with forests, with the red cedar and its dark green boughs predominating. He also saw the flash of many waters, and, where the roads cut through the soil, a deep red clay was exposed to view. He knew that it would be difficult for the armies to get into line for battle, because of the heavy, sticky nature of the ground, upon which so much rain had fallen.
He made his way safely back to the camp of his corps, although he saw hostile cavalry galloping in the valleys in the direction of Stone River, and all through the afternoon he heard the crackle of rifle shots in the same direction. The skirmishers were continually in touch and they were busy.
The corps moved up a little, but Dick thought it likely that there would be no battle the next day either. Rosecrans could not afford to attack until his full force, with all its artillery, was up, and marching was slow and exhausting in the sea of sticky mud.
Dick was right. The Northern army was practically united the next day, but so great was the exhaustion of the troops that Rosecrans did not deem it wise yet to attack his foe. He was fully aware of the quality of the Southern soldiers. He remembered how they had turned suddenly at Perryville and with inferior numbers had fought a draw. Now on the defensive, and in such a deep and sticky soil, they would have a great advantage and his generals agreed with him in waiting.
Dick spent much of this day in riding with Colonel Winchester along their lines. There was some talk about Bragg retreating, but the boy, a veteran in everything but years, knew the ominous signs. Bragg had no notion of retreating.
In the night that followed Colonel Winchester himself and some of his young officers, accompanied by the brave and skillful Sergeant Whitley, scouted toward Stone River. In the darkness and with great care, in order to avoid any sound of splashing, they waded a deep creek and came out upon a plateau, rolling slightly in character, and with a deep clay soil, very muddy from the heavy rains. A part of the plateau was cleared of forest, but here and there were groves, chiefly of the red cedar, and thickets, some of them so dense that a man would have difficulty in forcing his way through.
Colonel Winchester and his little group paused at the edge of the creek, and then dived promptly into a thicket. They saw further up the plateau many fires and the figures of men walking before them and they saw nearer by sentinels marching back and forth. They were even able to make out cannon in batteries, and they knew that it was not worth while to go any further. The Confederate army was there, and they would merely walk directly into its arms.
They returned with even greater caution than they had come, but the next day the whole division crossed the creek at another point, and as it cautiously felt its way forward it encountered another formidable body of Southern pickets hidden in the woods. There was sharp firing for a quarter of an hour, and many of the Ohio men fell, but the pickets were finally swept back, and at sunset the half circle that Rosecrans had intended to form for the attack upon the Southern army was complete.
All the movements and delays brought them up to the night before the last day in the year. The Winchester regiment with the Ohio division lay in a region of little hills and rocks, covered with forest, with which its officers and men were not familiar. On the other hand the Southern army would know every inch of it, and the inhabitants were ready and eager to give it information.
Dick could not keep from regarding the dark forests with apprehension. He had seen the Northern generals lose so much through ignorance of the ground and uncertain movements that he feared for them again. He soon learned that Rosecrans himself shared this fear. He had come to the division and recommended its closer concentration.
But the young Ohio troops were not afraid. They said that if they were attacked they would hold their ground long enough for the rest of the Northern army to beat the Southern, and McCook himself was confident.
Meanwhile, Bragg, after delaying, had suddenly decided to make the attack himself, and throughout the day he had been gathering his whole army for the spring. All his generals, Hardee, Breckinridge, Polk, Cleburne and the rest were in position and the cavalry was led by Wheeler, a youthful rough rider, destined to become famous as Fighting Joe Wheeler.
Each general was ready to attack in the morning, but neither knew the willingness of the other. Yet everybody was aware that a great battle was soon to come. They had felt it in both armies, and for two or three days the firing of the skirmishers had been almost continuous. Scouts kept each side well informed.
Dick, Warner and Pennington, before they lay down in their blankets, listened to the faint reports of rifles. They could see little owing to the deep woods in which they lay, but the sound of the shots came clearly.
"A part of our army is to cross the fords of Stone River in the morning by daylight or before," said Warner, "and we're to surprise the enemy and rush him. I wonder if we'll do it."
"We will not," said Pennington with emphasis. "We may beat the enemy, but we will not surprise him. We never do. Why should we surprise him? He is here in his own country. If the whole Southern army were sound asleep, a thousand of the natives would wake up their generals and tell them that the Yankee army was advancing."
"Their sentinels are watching, anyhow," said Dick, "but I imagine that we'd gain something if the first rush was ours and not theirs."
"We'll hope for the best," said Warner, "I wonder whose time this will be to get wounded. It was mine at Antietam, yours, Dick, at Perryville, and only you are left Pennington, so it's bound to be you."
"No, it won't be me," said Pennington stoutly. "I've been wounded in two or three battles already, not bad wounds, just scratches and bruises, but as there were so many of 'em you can lump 'em together, and make one big wound. That lets me out."
The Winchester regiment lay in the very thickest of the forest and in order not to indicate to the enemy their precise position no fires were lighted. The earth was still soaked deep with the heavy rains and their feet sank at every step. But they did not make many steps. They had learned enough to lie quiet, seek what rest and sleep they could find, and await the dawn.
CHAPTER XV. STONE RIVER
Dick awoke at sunrise of the last day of the year, and Warner and Pennington were up a moment later. There was no fog. The sun hung a low, red ball in the steel blue sky of winter. No fires had been lighted, cold food being served.
He heard far off to right a steady tattoo like the rapid beat of many small drums. A quiver ran through the lads who were now gathering in the wood and at its edge. But Dick knew that the fire was distant. The other wing had opened the battle, and it might be a long time before their own division was drawn into the conflict.
He stood there as the sound grew louder, a continuous crash of rifles, accompanied by the heavy boom of cannon, and far off he saw a great cloud of smoke gathering over the forest. But no shouting reached his ears, nor could he see the men in combat. Colonel Winchester, who was standing beside him, shrugged his shoulders.
"They're engaged heavily, or they will be very soon," he said.
"And it looks as if we'd have to wait," said Dick.
"Things point that way. The general thinks so, too. It seems that Bragg has moved his forces in the night, and that the portion of the enemy in front of us is some distance off."
Dick soon confided this news to Warner and Pennington, who looked discontented.
"If we've got to fight, I'd rather do it now and get it over," said Pennington. "If I'm going to be killed the difference between morning and afternoon won't matter, but if I'm not going to be killed it'll be worth a lot to get this weight off my mind."
"And if we're far away from the enemy it's easy enough for us to go up close to him," said Warner. "I take it that we're not here to keep out of his way, and, if our brethren are pounding now, oughtn't we to go in and help them pound? Remember how we divided our strength at Antietam."
Dick shrugged his shoulders. His feelings were too bitter for him to make a reply save to say: "I don't know anything about it."
Meanwhile the distant combat roared and deepened. It was obvious that a great battle was going on, but the division lay quiet obeying its orders. The sun rose higher in the cold, steely blue heavens and then Dick, who was watching a forest opposite them, uttered a loud cry. He had seen many bayonets flashing among the leafless trees.
The cry was taken up by others who saw also, and suddenly a long Southern line, less than half a mile away, emerged into the open and advanced upon them in silence, but with resolution, a bristling and terrific front of steel. After all their watching and waiting the Northern division had been surprised. Many of the officers and soldiers, too, were in tents that had been set against the cold and damp. The horses that drew the artillery were being taken to water.
It was an awful moment and Dick's heart missed more than one beat, but in that crisis the American, often impatient of discipline, showed his power of initiative and his resolute courage. While that bristling front of steel came on the soldiers formed themselves into line without waiting for the commands of the officers. The artillerymen rushed to their guns.
"Kneel, men! Kneel!" shouted Colonel Winchester to his own regiment. He and all his officers were on foot, their horses having been left in the rear the night before.
His men threw themselves down at his command, and, all along the Northern line formed so hastily, the rifles began to crackle, sending forth a sheet of fire and bullets.
The Northern cannon, handled as always with skill and courage, were at work now, too, and their shells and shot lashed the Southern ranks through and through. But Dick saw no pause in the advance of the men in gray. They did not even falter. Without a particle of shelter they came on through the rain of death, their ranks closing up over the slain, their front line always presenting that bristling line of steel.
It seemed to Dick now that the points of the bayonets shone almost in his face, gleaming through the smoke that hung between them and the foe, a gap that continually grew narrower as the Southern line never ceased to come.
"Stand firm, lads; steady for God's sake, steady!" shouted Colonel Winchester, and then Dick heard no single voice, because the roar of the battle broke over them like the sudden rush of a storm. He was conscious only that the tips of the bayonets had reached them, and behind them he saw the eyes in the brown faces gleaming.
Then he did not even see the brown faces, because there was such a storm of fire and smoke pouring forth bullets like hail, and the tumult of shouts and of the crash of cannon and rifles was so awful that it blended into one general sound like the roaring of the infernal regions.
Dick felt himself borne back. It seemed to him that their line had cracked like a bow bent too much. It was not anything that he saw but a sense of the general result, and he was right. The Northern line which had not found time to form properly, was hurled back. Neither cannon nor rifles could stop the three Southern brigades which were charging them.
The South struck like a tornado, and despite a resistance made with all the fury and rage of despair, the Northern division was driven from its position, and its line broken in many places. A Northern general was taken prisoner. The guns which could not be carried, because the horses were gone, were taken by the triumphant Southerners, and over all the roar and tumult of the frightful battle Dick heard that piercing and triumphant rebel yell, poured forth by thousands of throats and swelling over everything, in a fierce, dominant note.
Dick bumped against Warner as they were borne back in the smoke. He saw the Vermonter's blackened lips move, and his own moved in the same way, but neither heard what the other said. Nevertheless Dick read the words in his comrade's eyes, and they said:
"Surprised again, Dick! Good God, surprised!"
Yet the young troops fought with a courage worthy of the toughest veterans. They gave ground, because the rush against them was overpowering, but they maintained a terrible fire which strewed the earth in front of them with dead and wounded.
"Behind those trees! Behind those trees!" suddenly called Colonel Winchester as they continued their sullen and fighting retreat, and he and the remnants of his regiment darted into a little wood just in time. There was a sudden rush of hoofbeats on their flank, and a cloud of Southern cavalry swept down, shearing away the entire side of the Northern division as if it had been cleft with the slash of a mighty sword. Besides the fallen a thousand prisoners and seven cannon fell into the hands of the cavalrymen, who rushed on in search of fresh triumphs.
Dick shuddered with horror, but he saw that all his own immediate friends were safe in the wood. A swarm of fugitives poured in after them, and then came colonels and generals making desperate efforts to reform their line of battle. But the Southern brigades gave them no chance. Their leaders continually urged on the pursuit. The broken regiments fell back still loading and firing, and they would soon be on the banks of the creek again.
After a time that seemed almost infinite, Dick heard the roar of shells over their heads. In their retreat the regiments had come upon another Northern division which opposed a strong resistance to the Southern advance. Winchester's men welcomed their friends joyfully. But the fresh troops could not stop the advance. The fire of the Southern cannon and rifles was so deadly that nearly all the Northern artillerymen were killed around their guns.
The North again gave ground, seeking point after point for fresh resistance. They rallied strongly around a building used as a hospital, and filled it with riflemen. But they were driven from that, too, although they inflicted terrible losses on their enemy.
"We've got to stop this backward slide somewhere," gasped Pennington.
"Yes, but where?" cried Dick.
Whether Warner made any reply he did not know, because he lost him then in the flame and the smoke. An instant or two later the charging swarms of infantry and cavalry drove them into one of the woods of red cedars, where they lay shattered and gasping. The smoke lifted a little, and Dick saw the field which he already regarded as lost. Then there was a renewed burst of firing and cheering, as a regiment of veteran regulars galloped into the open space and drove off the Southern cavalry which was just about to seize the ammunition wagons and more cannon.
Encouraged by the charge of the regulars, the men in the cedar wood rose and began to reform for battle. Now chance, or rather watchfulness, interposed to save Dick and his comrades from destruction. Rosecrans, at another point, confident that McCook could hold out against all attacks, listened with amazement to the roar of battle coming nearer and nearer. His officers called his attention to the fact that save at the opening there was no cannon fire. All that approaching crash was made by rifles. They judged from it that their cannon had been taken, but they did not know that the rush of the Southern troops had been so fast that their own batteries were not able to keep up.
Rosecrans read the signs with them and his alarm was great and justified. Then a dispatch came from McCook telling him that his right wing was routed and he took an instant resolve.
Many regiments were marching to another point in the line, and the commander at once changed their course. He meant to save his right wing, but at the same moment a tremendous attack was begun upon the center of his army. He struck his horse smartly and galloped straight toward the rolling flame.
Dick and his friends, driven from the defense around the hospital, lost touch with the rest of the troops. Colonel Winchester held together what was left of his regiment, and presently they found themselves in the woods with the troops of the young officer, Sheridan, who had saved the battle of Perryville. Here they took their stand, and when Dick saw the quick and warlike glance of Sheridan that embraced everything he believed they were not going to retreat.
He heard cheers all around him, men shouting to one another to stand firm. They refused to take alarm from the fugitives pouring back upon them, and sent volley after volley into the advancing gray lines. The artillery, too, handled with splendid skill and daring, poured a storm along the whole gray front. The combat deepened to an almost incredible degree. The cannon were compelled to cease firing because the men were now face to face. Regiments lost half their numbers and more, but Sheridan still held his ground and the South still attacked.
Dick began to shout with joy. He saw that the indomitable stand of Sheridan was saving the whole Northern army from rout. The South must continually turn aside troops to attack Sheridan, and they dared not advance too far leaving him unbeaten in their rear. Rosecrans in the center was urging his troops to a great resistance and the battle flamed high there. It now thundered along the whole front. Nearly every man and cannon were in action.
Dick was glad that chance had thrown his regiment with Sheridan, when he saw the splendid resistance made by the young general. Sheridan massed all his guns at the vital point and backed them up with riflemen. Nothing broke through his line. Nothing was able to move him.
"He'll have to retreat later on," Colonel Winchester shouted in Dick's ear, "because our lines are giving way elsewhere, but his courage and that of his men has saved us from an awful defeat."
The battle in front of Sheridan increased in violence. The Confederates were continually pouring fresh troops upon him, and it became apparent that even he, with all his courage and quickness of eye at the vital moment, could not withstand all day long the fierce attacks that were being made upon him. The Southern fire from cannon and rifles grew more terrible. Sheridan had three brigades and the commanders of all three of them were killed. The Confederate attack had been repulsed three times, but it was coming again, stronger and fiercer than ever.
Dick, aghast, gazed at Colonel Winchester and somehow through the thunder of the battle he heard the colonel's reply:
"Yes, we'll have to give up this position, but we have saved so much time that the army itself is saved. Rosecrans is forming a new line behind us."
Rosecrans, no genius, but a brave and resolute fighter, had indeed brought up fresh troops and made a new line. Sheridan, having that greatest of all gifts of the general, the eye to see amid the terrible tumult of battle the time to do a thing, and the courage to do it then, sounded the trumpet. Nearly all his wagons had been captured by the Southern cavalry, and his ammunition was beginning to fail. Around him lay two thousand of his best men, dead or wounded. Rosecrans and the fresh troops were appearing just in time.
Yet the retreat of Sheridan was made with the greatest difficulty. A part of his troops were cut off and captured. Others drove back the Confederate flankers with a bayonet charge, and then the remnant retreated, the new lines opening to let them through. Dick, as he passed through the gap, saw that he was among countrymen. That is, a Kentucky regiment, fighting for the Union was standing as a shield to let his comrades and himself through, and the people of the state were related so closely that in the flare of the battle he saw among these new men at least a half dozen faces that he knew.
It was this Kentucky regiment, led by its colonel, Shepherd, that now formed itself in the very apex of the battle. The remains of the Winchester regiment, forming behind it, saw a terrible sight. Some of the regiments crushed earlier in the action had entirely disbanded. The woods and the bushes were filled with fugitives, soldiers seeking the rear. Vast clouds of smoke drifted everywhere, the air was filled with the odors of exploded gunpowder, cannon were piled in inextricable heaps in the road, and horses, killed by shells or bullets, lay on the guns or between the wheels.
Dick had never beheld a more terrible sight. Their army was defeated so far, the dead and the wounded were heaped everywhere, terrified fugitives were pouring to the rear, and the enemy, wild with triumph, and shouting his terrible battle yell, was coming on with an onset that seemed invincible.