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Robert E. Lee Portrait
THE SCOUT'S NARRATION.
IT was in the bleak mountain
country of East Tennessee; the evening was growing late, and the camp-fire was
smouldering lower and lower, but we still sat around it, for the spell of the
scout's marvelous gift of story-telling we were none of us willing to dissolve.
Captain Charlie Leighton had been a Lieutenant in a Michigan Battery at the
commencement of the war, but a natural love of excitement and restlessness of
soul had early prompted him to seek employment as a scout, in which he soon rose
to unusual eminence. He is a man of much refinement, well educated, and of a
"quick, inventive brain." The tale I am about to relate is my best recollection
of it as it fell from his lips, and if there is aught of elegance in its diction
as here presented it is all his own. He had been delighting us with incidents of
the war, most of which were derived from his own experience, when I expressed a
desire to know something of his first attempt at scouting. He willingly
assented, took a long pull at my brandy flask, and commenced his yarn; and I
thought that I had never seen a handsomer man than Charlie Leighton the scout,
as he carelessly lounged there, with the ruddy gleams of the dying camp-fire
occasionally flickering over his strongly-marked intelligent face, and his
curling black hair waving fitfully in the night wind, which now came down from
the mountain fresher and chillier.
It happened in Western Virginia,
said he. I had been personally acquainted with our commander, General R., before
the war commenced, and having intimated, a short time previous to the date of my
story, that I desired to try my luck in the scouting service—of which a vast
deal was required to counteract the guerrillas with which the Blue Ridge fairly
teemed at that time—one night, late in the fall of the year, I was delighted to
receive orders to report at his head-quarters. The General was a man of few
words, and my instructions were brief.
"Listen," said he. "My only
reliable scout (Mackworth) was killed last night at the lower ford; and General
F. (the rebel commander) has his head-quarters at the Sedley Mansion on the
"Very well," said I, beginning to
feel a little queer.
"I want you to go to the Sedley
Mansion," was the cool rejoinder.
"To go there! Why it's in the
heart of the enemy's position!" was my amazed ejaculation.
"Just the reason I want it done,"
resumed the General. "Listen: I attack to-morrow at daybreak. F. knows it, or
half suspects it, and will mass either on the centre or the left wing. I must
know which. The task is thick with danger—regular life and death. Two miles from
here, midway to the enemy's outposts, and six paces beyond the second
mile-stone, are two rockets propped on the inside of a hollow stump. Mackworth
placed them there yesterday. You are to slip to F.'s quarters to-night, learn
what I want, and hurry back to the hollow stump. If he masses on the centre, let
off one rocket; if on the left, let off both. This duty, I repeat, abounds with
danger. You must start immediately, and alone. Will you go?"
Every thing considered, I think I
voted in the affirmative pretty readily, but it required a slight struggle.
Nevertheless, consent I did, and immediately left the tent to make ready.
It was nearly ten o'clock when,
having received a few additional words of advice from the chief, I set forth on
my perilous ride. The country was quite familiar to me, so I had little fear of
losing my way, which was no inconsiderable advantage, I can tell you. Riding
slowly at first, as soon as I had passed our last outpost, I put spurs to my
horse (a glorious gray thorough-bred which the General had lent me for the
occasion) and fled down the mountain at a breakneck pace. It was a cool, misty,
uncertain night—almost frosty, and the country was wild and desolate. Mountains
and ravines were the ruling features, with now and then that diversification of
the broomy, irregular plateau with which our mountain scenery is occasionally
softened. I continued my rapid pace with but little caution until I arrived at
the further extremity of one of these plateaux. Here I brought up sharply beside
a block of granite, which I recognized as the second mile-stone. Dismounting, I
proceeded to the hollow stump which the General had intimated, and finding the
rockets there, examined them well to make sure of their efficiency—remounted,
and was away again. But now I exercised much more caution in my movements. I
rode more slowly, kept my horse on the turf at the edge of the road, in order to
deaden the hoof-beats, and also shortened the chain of my sabre, binding the
scabbard with my knee to prevent its jingling. Still I was not satisfied, but
tore my handkerchief in two and made fast to either heel the rowel of my spurs,
which otherwise had a little tinkle of their own. Then I kept wide awake, with
my eyes every where at once in the hope of catching a glimpse of some clew or
landmark—the glimmer of a campfire—a tent-top in the moonlight, which now began
to shine faintly—or to hear the snort of a steed, the signal of a picket—any
thing, any thing to guide me or to give warning of the lurking foe. But no: if
there had been any camp-fires they were dead; if there had been any tents they
were struck. Not a sign—not a sound. Every thing was quiet as the tomb. The
great mountains rose around me in their mantles of pine and hoods of mist,
cheerless and repelling, as if their solitude had never been broken. The moon
was driving through a weird and ragged sky, with something desolate and solemn
in her haggard face that seemed like an omen of ill. And in spite of my efforts
to be cheerful I felt the iron loneliness and sense of danger creep through my
flesh and touch the bones.
None but those who have actually
experienced it can properly conceive of the apprehensions which throng the
breast of him, howsoever brave, who knows himself to be alone in the midst of
enemies who are invisible. The lion-hunter of Abyssinia is encompassed with
peril when he makes a pillow of
his gun in the desert; and our
own pioneer slumbers but lightly in his new cabin when he knows that the savage,
whose monomania is vengeance, is prowling the forest that skirts his clearing.
But the lion is not always hungry; and even the Indian may be conciliated. The
hunter confronts his terrible antagonist with something deadlier than ferocity.
The hand that levels and the eye that directs the rifled tube are nerved and
fired by "the mind, the spirit, the Promethean spark," which, in this case, is
indeed a "tower of strength." And the settler, with promises and alcohol, may
have won the savage to himself. But to the solitary scout, at midnight, every
turn of the road may conceal a finger on a hair-trigger; every stump or bush may
hold a foe in waiting. If he rides through a forest it is only in the deepest
shadow that he dares ride upright; and should he cross an open glade, where the
starlight or moonshine drops freely, he crouches low on the saddle and hurries
across, for every second he feels he may be a target. His senses are painfully
alive, his faculties strained to their utmost tension.
By way of a little episode, I
knew a very successful scout, who met his death, however, on the Peninsula, who
would always require a long sleep immediately after an expedition of peril, if
it had lasted but a few hours, and had apparently called forth no more muscular
exertion than was necessary to sit the saddle. But, strange as it may seem, he
would complain of overpowering fatigue, and immediately drop into the most
profound slumber. And I have been informed that this is very frequently the
case. I can only attribute it to the fact that, owing to the extreme and almost
abnormal vivacity—I think of no better word—of the faculties and senses, a man
on these momentous occasions lives twice or thrice as fast as ordinarily; and
the usual nerve-play and wakefulness of a day and night may thus be concentrated
in the brief period of a few hours.
But to resume: I felt to the full
this apprehension, this anxiety, this exhaustion, but the knowledge of my
position and the issues at stake kept my blood flowing. I had come to the
termination of the last plateau or plain, when the road led me down the side of
a ravine, with a prospect ahead of nothing but darkness. Here, too, I was
compelled to make more noise, as there was no sod for my horse to tread on, and
the road was flinty and rough in the extreme. But I kept on as cautiously as
possible, when suddenly, just at the bottom of the ravine, where the road began
to ascend the opposite declivity, I came to a dead halt, confronted by a group
of several horsemen, so suddenly that they seemed to have sprung from the earth
"Why do you return so slowly?"
said one of them, impatiently. "What have you seen? Did you meet Colonel Craig?"
For a moment—a brief one—I gave
myself up for lost; but, with the rapid reflection and keen invention which a
desperate strait will sometimes superinduce, I grasped the language of the
speaker, and formed my plan accordingly. "Why do you return so slowly?" I had
been sent somewhere, then. "What have you seen?" I had been sent as a spy, then.
"Did you meet Colonel Craig?" Oho! I thought, I will be Colonel Craig. No, I
won't: I will be Colonel Craig's orderly. So I spoke out boldly:
"Colonel Craig met your
messenger, who had seen nothing, and advised him to scout down the edge of the
creek for half a mile. But he dispatched me, his orderly, to say that the enemy
appear to be retreating in heavy masses. I am also to convey this intelligence
to General F."
The troopers had started at the
tones of a strange voice, but seemed to listen with interest and without
"Did the Colonel think the
movement a real retreat or only a feint?" asked the leader.
"He was uncertain," I replied,
beginning to feel secure and roguish at the same time; "but he bade me to say
that he would ascertain; and in an hour or two, if you should see one rocket up
to the north there, you might conclude that the Yankees were retreating; if you
should see two, then you might guess that they were not retreating, but
stationary, with likelihood of remaining inert for another day."
"Good!" cried the rebel. "Do you
know the way to the General's quarters?"
"I think I can find it," said I;
"although I am not familiar with this side of the mountain."
"It's a mile this side of the
Sedley Mansion," said the trooper. "You will find some pickets at the head of
the road. You must there leave your horse, and climb the steep, when you will
see a farm-house, and fifteen minutes' walk toward it will bring you to the
General's tent. I will go with you to the top of the road." And, setting off at
a gallop, the speaker left me to follow, which I hesitated not to do. Now, owing
to their mistake, the countersign had not been thought of; but the next picket
would not be likely to swallow the same dose of silence, and it was a lucky
thing that the trooper led the way, for he would reach them first, and I would
have a chance to catch the pass-word from his lips. But he passed the picket so
quickly, and dropped the precious syllables so indistinctly, that I only caught
the first of them—"Tally"—while the remainder might as well have been Greek.
Tally, tally, tally what? Good God! thought I, what can it be? Tally, tally—here
I am almost up to the pickets!—what can it be? Tallyho? No, that's English.
Talleyrand? No, that's French. God help me! Tally, tally—
"TALLAHASSEE!" I yelled, with the
inspiration of despair, as I dashed through the picket, and their leveled
carbines sank toothless before that wonderful spell—the Countersign.
Blessing my stars, and without
further mishap, I reached the place indicated by the trooper, which was high up
on the side of the mountain—so high that clouds were forming in the deep valley
below. Making my bridle fast, I clambered with some difficulty the still
ascending slope on my left. Extraordinary caution was required. I almost crept
toward the farm-house, and soon perceived the tent of the rebel chief. A
solitary guard was pacing between it and me—probably a hundred yards from
the tent. Perceiving that
boldness was my only plan, I sauntered up to him with as free-and-easy an air as
I could muster.
" Who goes there ?"
" A friend."
" Advance and give the
I advanced as near as was safe,
and whispered " Tallahassee," with some fears as to the result.
" It's a d—d lie !" said the
sentry, bringing his piece to the shoulder in the twinkle of an eye. "That
answers the pickets but not me." Click, click, went the rising hammer of the
I am a dead man, thought I to
myself; I am a dead man unless the cap fails. Wonderful, marvelous to relate,
the cap did fail. The hammer dropped with a dull, harmless thug on the nipple.
With the rapidity of thought and the stealth of a panther I glided forward and
clutched his wind-pipe, forcing him to his knees, while the gun slipped to the
ground. There was a fierce but silent struggle. The fellow could not speak for
my hand on his throat ; but he was a powerful man, with a bowie-knife in his
belt, if he could only get at it. But I got it first, hesitated a moment, and
then drove it in his midriff to the hilt ; and just at that instant his grinders
closed on my arm and bit to the bone. Restraining a cry with the utmost
difficulty, I got in another blow, this time home, and the jaws of the rebel
flew apart with a start, for my blade had pressed the spring of the casket.
Breathless from the struggle, I lay still to collect my thoughts, and listened
to know if the inmates of. the tent had been disturbed. But no; a light was
shining through the canvas, and I could hear the low murmur of voices from
within, which I had before noticed, and which seemed to be those of a number of
men in earnest consultation. I looked at the corpse of the rebel remorsefully.
The slouched hat had fallen off in the scuffle, and the pale face of the dead
man was upturned to the scant moonlight. It was a young, noble, and exceedingly
handsome face, and I noticed that the hands and feet were small and beautifully
shaped; while every thing about the body denoted it to have been the mansion of
a gallant, gentle soul. Was it a fair fight? did I attack him justly ? thought I
; and, in the sudden contrition of my heart, I almost knelt to the ground. But
the sense of my great perif recurred to me, stifling every thing else, however
worthy. I took off the dead man's overcoat and put it on, threw my cap away and
replaced it with the fallen sombrero, and then dragged the corpse behind an
outhouse of the farm that stood close by. Returning, I picked up the gun, and
began to saunter up and down in a very commendable way indeed; but a sharp
observer might have noticed a furtiveness and anxiety in the frequent glances I
threw at the tent, which would not have augured well for my safety. I drew
nearer and hearer to the tent at every turn, until I could almost distinguish
the voices within ; and presently after taking a most minute survey of the
premises, I crept up to the tent, crouched down to the bottom of the trench, and
listened With all my might. I could also see under the canvas. There were half a
dozen rebel chieftains within, and a map was spread on a table in the centre of
the apartment. At length the consultation was at an end, and the company rose to
depart. I ran back to my place, and resumed the watchful saunter of the guard
with at indifferent an air as possible, drawing the hat well over my eyes.
The generals came outside of the
tent and looked about a little before they disappeared. Two of them came close
to me and passed almost within a yard of the sentry's body. But they passed on,
and I drew a deep breath of relief. A light still glimmered through the tent,
but presently that, too, vanished, and all was still. But occasionally I would
hear the voice of a fellow sentry, or perhaps the rattle of a halter in some
I looked at my watch. It was two
o'clock—would be five before I could fire the signal, and the attack was to be
Cautiously as before, I started
on my return, reaching my horse without accident. Here I abandoned the gun and
overcoat, remounted, and started down the mountain. " Tallahassee" let me
through the first picket again, but something was wrong when I cantered down the
ravine to.,the troopers to whom I had been so confidentially dispatched by
Colonel Craig. Probably the genuine messenger, or perhaps the gallant Colonel
himself had paid them a visit during my absence. At any rate, I saw that
something unpleasant was up, but resolved to make the best of it.
" Tallahassee !" I cried, as I
began to descend the ravine.
Halt, or you're a dead man !"
roared the leading trooper. " He's a Yank !" " Cut him down !" chimed in the
"Tallahassee ! Tallahassee!" I
yelled. And committing my soul to God, I plunged clown the gully with sabre and
revolver in either hand.
Click—bang ! something grazed my
cheek like a hot iron. Click—bang again ! something whistled by my ear with an
ugly intonation. And then I was in their midst, shooting, stabbing, slashing,
and swearing like a fiend. The rim of my hat flopped over may face from a sabre
cut, and I felt blood trickling down my neck. But I burst away from them, up the
bank of the ravine, and along the bare plateau, all the time yelling
"Tallahassee ! Tallahassee !" without knowing why. I could hear the alarm spread
back over the mountain by halloos and drums, and presently the clatter of
pursuing steeds. But I fled onward like a whirlwind, almost fainting from
excitement and loss of blood, until I reeled off at the hollow stump.
Fiz, fiz ! one, two ! and my
heart leaped with exultation as the rushing rockets followed each other in quick
succession to the zenith, and burst on the gloom in glittering showers. Emptying
the remaining tubes of my pistol at the nearest pursuer, now but fifty yards
off, I was in the saddle and away again, without waiting to see the result of my
aim. It was a ride for life for a few moments; but I pressed as noble a steed as
ever spurned the foot-stool, and as we neared the Union lines the pursuit
drooped off. When I attained the summit of the
first ridge of our position, and
saw the day break faintly and rosily beyond the pine-tops and along the crags,
the air fluttered violently in my face, the solid earth quivered beneath my
feet, as a hundred cannon opened simultaneously above, below, and around me.
Serried columns of men were swinging irresistibly down the mountain toward the
opposite slope; flying field-pieces were dashing off into position; long lines
of cavalry were haunting the gullies, or hovering like vultures on the steep;
and the blare of bugles rose above the roar of the artillery with a wild,
victorious peal. The two rockets had been answered, and the veterans of the
Union were bearing down upon the enemy's weakened centre like an avalanche of
"So that is all," said the scout,
rising and yawning. " The battle had begun in earnest. And maybe I didn't dine
with General R. when it was over and the victory gained. Let's go to bed."
"Sick, and in prison."
Poon Tom's just gone ! I closed
He died in muttering low the text
That says, "They never hunger more."
I lie and wonder who'll go next.
So many waiting at Death's
door—To some it opens Paradise.
Oh help ! oh help ! We'll all go
mad! The dread"ul, gnawing hunger-pain
Comes Lack, and with a giant's
Holds life and reason in its
clasp: It works like hell-fire in the brain; If Death would come we could be
Once we had friends and country
too. Did all die starving ? tell me, Jack !
Where's mother? where's the dear
Hurrah ! I'll fight while there's
a rag. Off boys ! why do you keep me back? Stand by the old Red, White, and Blue
Ah, is it death? I can not see!
I had a dream. Oh help ! Be quick
Come mother, Ruth! (Don't say I
With Tom, poor Torn ! dead by my
side.) Who says, "I was in prison sick,
And yet ye came not unto ?lie."_
"I was athirst, and hungered
Ah then He knows our agony !
Read, Jack, how cunning Satan
tried To tempt Him ! I'd be satisfied
To die ten deaths, Jack, just to
Our army marching here for you!
How many, Jack, are on the floor?
Poor fellows ! There is little
How can they starve a child to
death? Cry, Jack, out loud! My dying breath
Must bring our boys to rescue him
And all the thirteen thousand
Why don't they come ? How could
we see Them starving, prisoned here ? I'd choke At food until I'd raised a baud
Who'd vow with steadfast heart
and hand To dare and die until we'd broke
Their prison-doors and set them
But, Jack, no matter ! We won't
From death by starving, if the Lord
Do suffer this. But this I know !
I'd slay my country's deadly foe
In honest battle with my sword, But not in prison, inch by inch.
Oh, Jack, come close ! I'm going
fast ! If you get home tell mother this:
I died for love of Right and
God bless her and my little Ruth!
Dear Jack, give mother my last kiss. Good-by. Our boys will come at last!
All's over with that faint "
Good-by:" Oh, brothers, comrades, is that all?
His mute lips still cry out of
The martyr's wail, " How long,
how long?" And thrill us with the trumpet-call, "Help, help ! before the
thousands die !"
I WAS traveling toward evening on
one of those great moors, covered with low gorse and scattered stones of granite
common enough in Cornwall. The gorse was covered with snow, and the huge granite
rocks that rose here and there, pushing their way out of the earth from the
stratum below, looked dazzling in their white covering. I was on foot. I had
come a long way, and was weary. It was, then, a matter of great anxiety to me
when, after an hour's walking, I discovered I had lost the track. It had never
been more than a bridle-road, and it was quite choked up now with snow : it was
easy to lose it. The inclement weather, so rare in Corn-wall, had evidently
deterred any traveler from choosing this shorter route, and the great bleak
ridge lay now before my eyes in unbroken whiteness, unmarked by step of man or
In vain I turned to the right and
left, seeking to recover the lost path, or at least to find some blessed
footprint that should speak to me in accents clear as human voice of help and
shelter. None such met my view. If any wayfarer had lately passed that solitary
waste, the fast-falling snow had effaced his steps with the white covering that
hid my own track almost as quickly as my weary feet marked their way.
I stood still in despair and
gazed around. As far as I could see stretched one wide waste of snow,