Chapter 11

 

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THE GUNS OF BULL RUN

A STORY OF THE CIVIL WAR'S EVE

by JOSEPH A. ALTSHELER

   XI.    IN VIRGINIA

 Harry left the valley with the keenest feeling of regret, realizing at the parting how strong a friendship he had formed with this family. But he felt that he could not delay any longer.  Affairs must be moving now in the great world in the east, and he wished to be at the heart of them.  He had a strong, sure-footed horse, and he had supplies and an extra suit of clothes in his saddle bags.  The rifle across his back would attract no attention, as all the men in the mountains carried rifles.

Jarvis had instructed Harry carefully about the road or path, and as the boy was already an experienced traveler with an excellent sense of direction, there was no danger of his getting lost in the wilderness.

Jarvis, Ike, and Mrs. Simmons gave him farewells which were full of feeling.  Aunt Suse had come down the brick walk, tap-tapping with her cane, as Harry stood at the gate ready to mount his horse.

"Good-bye, Aunt Susan," he said.  "I came a stranger, but this house has been made a home to me."

She peered up at him, and Harry saw that once more her old eyes were flaming with the light he had seen there when he arrived.

"Good-bye, governor," she said, holding out a wrinkled and trembling hand.  "I am proud that our house has sheltered you, but it is not for the last time.  You will come again, and you will be thin and pale and in rags, and you will fall at the door.  I see you coming with these two eyes of mine."

"Hush, Aunt Suse," exclaimed Mrs. Simmons.  "It is not Governor Ware, it is his great-grandson, and you mustn't send him away tellin' of terrible things that will happen to him."

"I'm not afraid," said Harry, "and I hope that I'll see Aunt Susan and all of you again."

He lifted her hand and kissed it in the old-fashioned manner.

She smiled and he heard her murmur:

"It is the great governor's way.  He kissed my hand like that once before, when I went to Frankfort on the lumber raft."

"Good-bye, Harry," repeated Jarvis.  "If you're bound to fight I reckon that's jest what you're bound to do, an' it ain't no good for me to say anythin'.  Be shore you follow the trail jest as I laid it out to you an' in two days you'll strike the Wilderness Road.  After that it's easy."

When Harry rode away something rose in his throat and choked him for a moment.  He knew that he would never again find more kindly people than these simple mountaineers.  Then in vivid phrases he heard once more the old woman's prophecy: "You will come again, and you will be thin and pale and in rags, and you will fall at the door."  For a moment it shadowed the sunlight.  Then he laughed at himself.  No one could see into the future.

He was now across the valley and his path led along the base of the mountain.  He looked back and saw the four standing on the porch, Jarvis, Ike, Mrs. Simmons, and old Aunt Suse.  He waved his hand to them and all four waved back.  A singular thrill ran through him.  Could it be possible that he would come again, and in the manner that the old woman had predicted?

The path, in another minute, curved around the mountain, and the valley was shut from view.  Nor, as he rode on, did he catch another glimpse of it.  One might roam the mountains for months and never see the home of Samuel Jarvis.

The two days passed without event.  The weather remained fair, and no one interfered with him.  He slept the first night at a log cabin that Jarvis had named, having reached it in due time, and the second day he reached, also in due time, the old Wilderness Road.

Thence the boy advanced by easy stages into Virginia until he reached a railroad, where he sold his horse and took a train for Richmond, having come in a few days out of the cool, peaceful atmosphere of the mountains into another, which was surcharged everywhere with the fiery breath of war.

Harry realized as he approached the capital the deep intensity of feeling in everybody.  The Virginians were less volatile than the South Carolinians, and they had long refused to go out, but now that they were out they were pouring into the Southern army, and they were animated by an extraordinary zeal.  He began to hear new or unfamiliar names, Early, and Ewell, and Jackson, and Lee, and Johnston, and Hill, and Stuart, and Ashby, names that he would never forget, but names that as yet meant little to him.

He had letters from his father and he expected to find his friends of Charleston in Richmond or at the front.  General Beauregard, whom he knew, would be in command of the army threatening Washington, and he would not go into a camp of strangers.

It was now early in June, and the country was at its best.  On both sides of the railway spread the fair Virginia fields, and the earth, save where the ploughed lands stretched, was in its deepest tints of green.  Harry, thrusting his head from the window, looked eagerly ahead at the city rising on its hills.  Then a shade smaller than Charleston, it, too, was a famous place in the South, and it was full of great associations.  Harry, like all the educated boys of the South, honored and admired its public men.  They were mighty names to him.  He was about to tread streets that had been trod by the famous Jefferson, by Madison, Monroe, Randolph of Roanoke, and many others.  The shades of the great Virginians rose in a host before him.

He arrived about noon, and, as he carried no baggage except his saddle bags and weapons, he was quickly within the city, his papers being in perfect order.  He ate dinner, as the noonday meal was then called, and decided to seek General Beauregard at once, having learned from an officer on the train that he was in the city.  It was said that he was at the residence of President Davis, called the White House, after that other and more famous one at Washington, in which the lank, awkward man, Abraham Lincoln, now lived.

But Harry paused frequently on the way, as there was nothing to hurry him, and there was much to be seen.  If Charleston had been crowded, Richmond was more so.  Like all capitals on the verge of a great war, but as yet untouched by its destructive breath, it throbbed with life. The streets swarmed with people, young officers and soldiers in their uniforms, civilians of all kinds, and many pretty girls in white or light dresses, often with flowers in their hair or on their breasts. Light-heartedness and gaiety seemed predominant.

Harry stopped a while to look at the ancient and noble state house, now the home also of the Confederate Congress, standing in Capitol Square, and the spire of the Bell Tower, on Shockoe Hill.  He saw important looking men coming in or going out of the square, but he did not linger long, intending to see the sights another time.

He was informed at the "White House" that General Beauregard was there, and sending in his card he was admitted promptly.  Beauregard was sitting with President Davis and Secretary Benjamin in a room furnished plainly, and the general in his quick, nervous manner rose and greeted him warmly.

"You did good service with us at Charleston," he said, "and we welcome you here.  We have already heard from your father, who was a comrade in war of both President Davis and myself."

"He wrote us that you were coming across the mountains from Frankfort," said Mr. Davis.

Harry thought that the President already looked worn and anxious.

"Yes, sir," replied the boy, "I came chiefly by the river and the Wilderness Road."

"Your father writes that they worked hard at Frankfort, but that they failed to take Kentucky out," continued the head of the Confederacy.

"The Southern leaders did their best, but they could not move the state."

"And you wish, then, to serve at the front?" continued the President.

"If I may," returned Harry.  "In South Carolina I was with Colonel Leonidas Talbot.  I have had a letter from him here, and, if it is your pleasure and that of General Beauregard, I shall be glad to join his command."

General Beauregard laughed a little.

"You do well," he said.  "I have known Colonel Talbot a long time, and, although he may be slow in choosing he is bound to be in the very thick of events when he does choose.  Colonel Talbot is at the front, and you'll probably find him closer than any other officer to the Yankee army.  We need everybody whom we can get, especially lads of spirit and fire like you.  You shall be a second lieutenant in his command. A train will leave here in four hours.  Be ready.  It will take you part of the way and you will march on for the rest."

Mr. Benjamin did not speak throughout the interview, but he watched Harry closely.  Neither did he speak when he left, but he offered him a limp hand.  The boy's view of Richmond was in truth brief, as before night he saw its spires and roofs fading behind him.  The train was wholly military.  There were four coaches filled with officers and troops, and two more coaches behind them loaded with ammunition.

Harry heard from some of the officers that the army was gathered at a place called Manassas Junction, where Beauregard had taken command on June 1st, and to which he would quickly return.  But Harry did not know any of these officers and he felt a little lonely.  He slept after a while in the car seat, awakened at times by the jolting or stopping of the train, and arrived some time the next day in a country of green hills and red clay roads, muddy from heavy rains.

They left the train, marched over the hills along one of the muddy roads, and presently saw a vast array of tents, fires, and earthworks, stretching to the horizon.  Harry's heart leaped again.  This was the great army of the South.  Here were regiments and regiments, thousands and thousands of men and here he would find his friends, Colonel Talbot and Major St. Hilaire, and St. Clair and Langdon.

The whole scene was inspiring in the extreme to the heart of youth. Far to the right he saw cavalry galloping back and forth, and to the left he saw infantry drilling.  From somewhere in front came the strains of a regimental band playing:

    "The hour was sad, I left the maid,      A lingering farewell taking,      Her sighs and tears my steps delayed,      I thought her heart was breaking.      In hurried words her name I blessed,      I breathed the vows that bind me      And to my heart in anguish pressed      The girl I left behind me."

It was a favorite air of the Southern bands, and, much as it stirred Harry now, he was destined to hear it again in moments far more thrilling.  He presented his order from General Beauregard to a sentinel, who passed him to an officer, who in turn told him to go about a quarter of a mile westward, where he would find the regiment of Colonel Talbot quartered.

"It's a mixed regiment," he said, "made up of Virginians, South Carolinians, North Carolinians, and a few Kentuckians and Tennesseeans, but it's already one of the best in the service.  Colonel Talbot and his second in command, Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire, have been thrashing it into shape in great fashion.  They're mostly boys and already they call themselves 'The Invincibles.'  You can see the tents of their commanding officers over there by that little creek."

Harry's eyes followed the pointing finger, and again his heart leaped. His friends were there, the two colonels for whom he had such a strong affection, and the two lads of his own age.  Theirs looked like a good camp, too.  It was arranged neatly, and by its side flowed the clear, cool waters of Young's Branch, a tributary of the little Manassas River. He walked briskly, crossed the brook, stepping from stone to stone, and entered the grounds of the Invincibles.  A tall youth rushed forward, seized his hand and shook it violently, meanwhile uttering cries of welcome in an unbroken stream.

"By all the powers, it's our own Harry!" he exclaimed, "the new Harry of the West, whom we were afraid we should never see again.  Everything is for the best, but we hardly hoped for this!  How did you get here, Harry?  And you didn't bring Kentucky rushing to our side, after all! Well, I knew it wasn't your fault, old horse!  Ho, St. Clair, come and see who's here!"

St. Clair, who had been lying in the grass behind a tent, appeared and greeted Harry joyfully.  But while Langdon was just the same he had changed in appearance.  He was thinner and graver, and his intellectual face bore the stamp of rapid maturity.

"It's like greeting one of our very own, Harry," he said.  "You were with us in Charleston at the great beginning.  We were afraid you would have to stay in the west."

"The big things will begin here," said Harry.

"There can be no doubt of it.  Do you know, Harry, that we are less than thirty miles from Washington!  If there were any hill high enough around here we could see the white dome of the Capitol which we hope to take before the summer is over.  But we'll take you to the Colonel and Major Hector St. Hilaire, that was, but Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire that is."

Colonel Talbot was sitting at a small table in a tent, the sides of which had been raised all around, leaving only a canvas roof. Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire sat opposite him across the table, and they were studying intently a small map of a region that was soon to be sown deep with history.  They looked up when Harry came with his two friends, and gave him the welcome that he knew he would always receive from them.

"I've had a letter from your father," said Colonel Leonidas Talbot, "and I've been expecting you.  You are to be a lieutenant on my staff, and the quartermaster will sell you a new uniform as glossy and fine as those of which St. Clair and Langdon are so proud."

He asked him a few more questions about Kentucky and his journey over the mountains, and then, telling St. Clair and Langdon to take care of him, he and Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire went back to the study of their map.  Harry noted that both were tanned deeply and that their faces were very serious.

"Come along, Harry," said Langdon.  "Let the colonel and the major bear all the troubles.  For us everything is for the best.  We've got you on our hands and we're going to treat you right.  See that deep pool in the brook, where the big oak throws its shade over the water?  It's partly natural and it's partly dammed, but it's our swimming hole.  You are covered with dust and dirt.  Pull off your clothes and jump in there. We'll protect you from ribald attention.  There are other swimming holes along here, but this swimming hole belongs to the Invincibles, and we always make good our rights."

Harry was more than willing.  In three minutes he jumped into the deep, cool water, swimming, diving, and shaking himself like a big dog. He had enjoyed no such luxury in many days, and he felt as if he were being re-created.  Langdon and St. Clair sat on the bank and gave him instructions.

"Now jump out," Langdon said at the end of five minutes.  "You needn't think because you've just come and are in a way a guest, that you can keep this swimming hole all to yourself.  A lot more of the Invincibles need bathing and here come some for their chance."

Harry came out reluctantly, and in a few minutes they were on the way to the quartermaster, where the needed uniform, one that appealed gloriously to his eye, was bought.  St. Clair was quiet, but Langdon talked enough for all three.

"The Yankee vanguard is only a few miles away," he said.  "You don't have to go far before you see their tents, though I ought to say that each side has another army westward in the mountains.  There's been a lot of fighting already, though not much of it here.  The first shots on Virginia soil were fired on our front the day General Beauregard arrived to take command of our forces."

"How about those troops in the hills?" asked Harry.

"They've been up and doing.  A young Yankee general named McClellan has shown a lot of activity.  He has beat us in some skirmishes and he has organized troops as far west as the Ohio.  Then he and his generals met our general, Garnett, at Rich Mountain.  It was the biggest affair of the war so far, and Garnett was killed.  Then a curious fellow of ours named Jackson, and Stuart, a cavalry officer, lost a little battle at a place called Falling Waters."

"Has the luck been against us all along the line?"

"Not at all!  A cock-eyed Massachusetts politician, one Ben Butler, a fellow of energy though, broke into the Yorktown country, but Magruder thrashed him at Big Bethel.  All those things, though, Harry, are just whiffs of rain before the big storm.  We're threatening Washington here with our main army, and here is where they will have to meet us. Lincoln has put General Scott, a Virginian, too, in command of the Northern armies, but as he's so old, somebody else will be the real commander."

Harry felt himself a genuine soldier in his new uniform, and he soon learned his new duties, which, for the present, would not be many. The two armies, although practically face to face, refused to move. On either side the officers of the old regular force were seeking to beat the raw recruits into shape, and the rival commanders also waited, each for the other to make the first movement.

Harry and St. Clair were sent that night far toward the front with a small detachment to patrol some hill country.  They marched in the moonlight, keeping among the trees, and listening for any sounds that might be hostile.

"It's not likely though that we'll be molested," said St. Clair. "The men on both sides don't yet realize fully that they are here to shoot at one another.  This is our place, along a little brook, another tributary of the Manassas."

They stopped in a grove and disposed the men, twenty in number, along a line of several hundred yards, with instructions not to fire unless they knew positively what they were shooting at.  Harry and St. Clair remained near the middle of the line, at the edge of the brook, where they sat down on the bank.  The country was open in front of them, and Harry saw a distant light.

"What's that?" he asked.

"The campfire of a Yankee outpost.  I told you they were very near."

"And that, I suppose, is one of their bugles."

A faint but musical note was brought to them by the light wind blowing in their faces.

"That's what it is.  It may be the signal of some movement, but they can't attempt anything serious without showing themselves.  Our sentinels are posted along here for miles."

The sound of the bugle continued faint and far away.  It had a certain weird effect in the night and the loneliness.  Harry wished to know who they were at that far campfire.  His own cousin, Dick Mason, might be there.

"Although we're arrayed for war," said St. Clair, "the sentinels are often friendly.  They even exchange plugs of tobacco and news.  The officers have not been able to stop it wholly.  Our sentinels tell theirs that we'll be in Washington in a month, and theirs tell ours that they've already engaged rooms in the Richmond hotels for July."

"When two prophets disagree both can't be right," said Harry.  "How far away would you say that light is, Arthur?"

"About a mile and a half.  Let's scout a little in that direction. There are no commands against it.  Enterprise is encouraged."

"Just what I'd like," said Harry, who was eager for action.

Leaving their own men under the command of a reliable sergeant named Carrick, the two youths crossed the brook and advanced over a fairly level stretch of country toward the fire.  Small clusters of trees were scattered here and there, and beyond them was a field of young corn. The two paused in one of the little groves about a hundred yards from their own outposts and looked back.  They saw only the dark line of the trees, and behind them, wavering lights which they knew were the campfires of their own army.  But the lights at the distance were very small, mere pin points.

"They look more like lanterns carried by 'coon and 'possum hunters than the campfires of an army," said Harry.

"Yes, you'd hardly think they mark the presence of twenty or thirty thousand men," said St. Clair.  "Here we are at the cornfield.  The plants are not high, but they throw enough shadow to hide us."

They climbed a rail fence, and advanced down the corn rows.  The moon was good and there was a plentiful supply of stars, enabling them to see some distance.  To their right on a hill was a white Colonial house, with all its windows dark.

"That house would be in a bad place if a battle comes off here, as seems likely," said St. Clair.

"And those who own it are wise in having gone away," said Harry.

"I'm not so sure that they've gone.  People hate to give up their homes even in the face of death.  Around here they generally stay and put out the lights at dark."

"Well, here we are at the end of the cornfield, and the light is not more than four or five hundred yards away.  I think I can see the shadows of human figures against the flames.  Come, let's climb the fence and go down through this skirt of bushes."

The suggestion appealed to the daring and curiosity of both, and in a few minutes they were within two hundred yards of the Northern camp. But they lay very close in the undergrowth.  They saw a big fire and Harry judged that four or five hundred men were scattered about. Many were asleep on the grass, but others sat up talking.  The appearance of all was so extraordinary that Harry gazed in astonishment.

It was not the faces or forms of the men, but their dress that was so peculiar.  They were arrayed in huge blouses and vast baggy trousers of a blazing red, fastened at the knee and revealing stockings of a brilliant hue below.  Little tasselled caps were perched on the sides of their heads.  Harry remembering his geography and the descriptions of nations would have taken them for a gathering of Turkish women, if their masculine faces had been hidden.

"What under the moon are those?" he whispered.  "They do look curious," replied St. Clair.  "They call them Zouaves, and I think they're from New York.  It's a copy of a French military costume which, unless I'm mistaken, France uses in Algeria."

"They'd certainly make a magnificent target on the battlefield.  A Kentucky or Tennessee rifleman who'd miss such a target would die of shame."

"Maybe.  But listen, they're singing!  What do you think of that for a military tune?"

Harry heard for the first time in his life an extraordinary, choppy air, a rapid beat that rose and fell abruptly, sending a powerful thrill through his heart as he lay there in the bushes.  The words were nothing, almost without meaning, but the tune itself was full of compelling power.  It set the feet marching toward triumphant battle.

    "In Dixie's land I'll take my stand,      Cinnamon seed and sandy bottom,      Look away!  Look away!      Down South in Dixie!"

Three or four hundred voices took up the famous battle song, as thrilling and martial as the Marseillaise, then fresh and unhackneyed, and they sang it with enthusiasm and fire, officers joining with the men.  It was a singular fact that Harry should first hear Northern troops singing the song which was destined to become the great battle tune of the South.

"What is it?" whispered Harry.

"It's called Dixie.  They say it was written by a man in New York for a negro minstrel show.  I suppose they sing it in anticipation, meaning that they will soon be in the heart of Dixie, which is the South, our South."

"I don't think those baggy red legs will ever march far into our South," whispered Harry defiantly.

"It is to be seen.  Between you and me, Harry, I'm convinced there is no triumphant progress ahead for either North or South.  Ah, another force is coming and it's cavalry!  Don't you hear the hoof-beats, Harry?"

Harry heard them distinctly and he and his comrade lay more closely than ever in the bushes, because the horsemen, a numerous body, as the heavy tread indicated, were passing very near.  The two lads presently saw them riding four abreast toward the campfire, and Harry surmised that they had been scouting in strong force toward the Southern front. They were large men, deep with tan and riding easily.  Harry judged their number at two hundred, and the tail of the company would pass alarmingly near the bushes in which his comrade and he lay.

"Don't you think we'd better creep back?" he whispered to St. Clair. "Some of them taking a short cut may ride right upon us."

"Yes, it's time to make ourselves scarce."

They turned back, going as rapidly as they dared, but that which Harry had feared came to pass.  The rear files of the horsemen, evidently intending to go to the other side of the camp, rode through the low bushes.  Four of them passed so near the boys that they caught in the moonlight a glimpse of the two stooping figures.

"Who is there?  Halt!" sharply cried one of them, an officer. But St. Clair cried also:

"Run, Harry!  Run for your life, and keep to the bushes!"

The two dashed at utmost speed down the strip of bushes and they heard the thunder of horses' hoofs in the open on either flank.  A half dozen shots were fired and the bullets cut leaves and twigs about them. They heard the Northern men shouting: "Spies!  Spies!  After them! Seize them!"

Harry in the moment of extreme danger retained his presence of mind: "To the cornfield, Arthur!" he cried to his comrade.  "The fence is staked and ridered, and their horses can't jump it.  If they stop to pull it down they will give us time to get away!"  "Good plan!" returned St. Clair.  "But we'd better bend down as we run. Those bullets make my flesh creep!"

A fresh volley was sent into the bushes, but owing to the wise precaution of bending low, the bullets went over their heads, although Harry felt his hair rising up to meet them.  In two or three minutes they were at the fence, and they went over it almost like birds. Harry heard two bullets hit the rails as they leaped--they were in view then for a moment--but they merely increased his speed, as he and St. Clair darted side by side through the corn, bending low again.

They heard the horsemen talking and swearing at the barrier, and then they heard the beat of hoofs again.

"They'll divide and send a force around the field each way!" said St. Clair.

"And some of them will dismount and pursue us through it on foot!"

"We can distance anybody on foot.  Harry, when I heard those bullets whistling about me I felt as if I could outrun a horse, or a giraffe, or an antelope, or anything on earth!  And thunder, Harry, I feel the same way now!"

Bullets fired from the fence made the ploughed land fly not far from them, and they lengthened their stride.  Harry afterward said that he did not remember stepping on that cornfield more than twice. Fortunately for them the field, while not very wide, extended far to right and left, and the pursuing horsemen were compelled to make a great circuit.

Before the thudding hoofs came near they were over the fence again, and, still with wonderful powers of flight, were scudding across the country toward their own lines.  They came to one of the clusters of trees and dashing into it lay close, their hearts pounding.  Looking back they dimly saw the horsemen, riding at random, evidently at a loss.

"That was certainly close," gasped St. Clair.  "I'm not going on any more scouts unless I'm ordered to do so."

"Nor I," said Harry.  "I've got enough for one night at least.  I suppose I'll never forget those men with the red bags in place of breeches, and that tune, 'Dixie.'  As soon as I get my breath back I'm going to make a bee line for our own army."

"And when you make your bee line another just as fast and straight will run beside it."

They rested five minutes and then fled for the brook and their own little detachment behind it.

 

 

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