THE SCOUTS OF STONEWALL
THE STORY OF THE GREAT VALLEY CAMPAIGN
by JOSEPH A. ALTSHELER
IV. WAR AND WAITING
Harry slept like one dead, but he was awakened at dawn, and he rose yet heavy with sleep and somewhat stiff from the severe exertions of the day before. But it all came back in an instant, the army, the march, and the march yet to come.
They had but a scanty breakfast, the wagons not yet having come up, and in a half hour they started again. They grumbled mightily at first, because the day was bleak beyond words, heavy with clouds, and sharp with chill. The country seemed deserted and certainly that somber air was charged with no omens of victory.
But in spite of everything the spirits of the young troops began to rise. They took a pride in this defiance of nature as well as man. They could endure cold and hunger and weariness as they would endure battle, when it came. They went on thus three days, almost without food and shelter. Higher among the hills the snow sometimes beat upon them in a hurricane, and at night the winds howled as if they had come down fresh from the Arctic.
The spirits of the young troops, after rising, fell again, and their feet dragged. Jackson, always watching, noticed it. Beckoning to several of his staff, including Harry, he rode back along the lines, giving a word of praise here and two words of rebuke there. They came at last to an entire brigade, halted by the roadside, some of the men leaning against an old rail fence.
Jackson looked at the men and his face darkened. It was his own Stonewall Brigade, the one of which he was so proud, and which he had led in person into the war. Their commander was standing beside a tree, and riding up to him he demanded fiercely:
"What is the meaning of this? Why have you stopped?"
"I ordered a stop of a little while for the men to cook their rations," replied General Garnett.
Jackson's face darkened yet further, and the blue eyes were menacing.
"There is no time for that," he said sharply.
"But the men can't go any farther without them. It's impossible."
"I never found anything impossible with this brigade."
Jackson shot forth the words as if they were so many bullets, gave Garnett a scornful look and rode on. Harry followed him, as was his duty, but more slowly, and looked back. He saw a deep red flush show through Garnett's sunburn. But the preparations for cooking were stopped abruptly. Within three minutes the Stonewall Brigade was in line again, marching resolutely over the frozen road. Garnett had recognized that the impossible was possible--at least where Jackson led.
Not many stragglers were found as they rode on toward the rear, but every regiment increased its speed at sight of the stern general. After circling around the rear he rode back toward the front, and he left Harry and several others to go more slowly along the flanks and report to him later.
When Harry was left alone he was saluted with the usual good-humored chaff by the soldiers who again demanded his horse of him, or asked him whether they were to fight or whether they were training to be foot- racers. Harry merely smiled, and he came presently to the Invincibles, who were trudging along stubbornly, with the officers riding on their flanks. Langdon was as cheerful as usual.
"Things have to come to their worst before they get better," he said to Harry, "and I suppose we've about reached the worst. A sight of the enemy would be pleasant, even if it meant battle."
"We're marching on Bath," said Harry, "and we ought to strike it to-night, though I'm afraid the Yankees have got warning of our coming."
He was thinking of Shepard, who now loomed very large to him. The circumstances of their meetings were always so singular that this Northern scout and spy seemed to him to possess omniscience. Beyond a doubt he would notify every Northern garrison he could reach of Jackson's coming.
Suddenly the band of South Carolinians, who were still left in the Invincibles, struck up a song:
"Ho, woodsmen of the mountain-side! Ho, dwellers in the vales! Ho, ye who by the chafing tide Have roughened in the gales! Leave barn and byre, leave kin and cot, Lay by the bloodless spade: Let desk and case and counter rot, And burn your books of trade!"
All the Invincibles caught the swing and rush of the verses, and regiments before them and behind them caught the time, too, if not the words. The chant rolled in a great thundering chorus through the wintry forest. It was solemn and majestic, and it quickened the blood of these youths who believed in the cause for which they fought, just as those on the other side believed in theirs.
"It was written by one of our own South Carolinians," said St. Clair, with pride. "Now here goes the second verse! Lead off, there, Langdon! They'll all catch it!"
"The despot roves your fairest lands; And till he flies or fears, Your fields must grow but armed bands Your sheaves be sheaves of spears: Give up to mildew and to rust The useless tools of gain And feed your country's sacred dust With floods of crimson rain!"
Louder and louder swelled the chorus of ten thousand marching men. It was not possible for the officers to have stopped them had they wished to do so, and they did not wish it. Stonewall Jackson, who had read and studied much, knew that the power of simple songs was scarcely less than that of rifle and bayonet, and he willingly let them sing on. Now and then, a gleam came from the blue eyes in his tanned, bearded face.
Harry, sensitive and prone to enthusiasm, was flushed in every vein by the marching song. He seemed to himself to be endowed with a new life of vigor and energy. The invader trod the Southern land and they must rush upon him at once. He was eager for a sight of the blue masses which they would certainly overcome.
He returned to his place near the head of the column with the staff of the commander. Night was now close at hand, but Bath was still many miles away. It was colder than ever, but the wagons had not yet come up and there were no rations and tents. Only a few scraps of food were left in the knapsacks.
"Ride to Captain Sherburne," said General Jackson to Harry, "and tell him to go forward with his men and reconnoiter."
"May I go with him, sir?"
"Yes, and then report to me what he and his men find."
Harry galloped gladly to the vanguard, where the gallant young captain and his troop were leading. These Virginians preserved their fine appearance. If they were weary they did not show it. They sat erect in their saddles and the last button on their uniforms was in place. Their polished spurs gleamed in the wintry sun.
They set off at a gallop, Harry riding by the side of Captain Sherburne. Blood again mounted high with the rapid motion and the sense of action. Soon they left the army behind, and, as the road was narrow and shrouded in forest, they could see nothing of it. Its disappearance was as complete as if it had been swallowed up in a wilderness.
They rode straight toward Bath, but after two or three miles they slackened speed. Harry had told Sherburne of the presence of Shepard the night before, and the captain knew that they must be cautious.
Another mile, and at a signal from the captain the whole troop stopped. They heard hoofbeats on the road ahead of them, and the sound was coming in their direction.
"A strong force," said Captain Sherburne.
"Probably larger than ours, if the hoofbeats mean anything," said Harry.
"And Yankees, of course. Here they are!"
A strong detachment of cavalry suddenly rounded a curve in the road and swept into full view. Then the horsemen stopped in astonishment at the sight of the Confederate troop.
There was no possibility of either command mistaking the other for a friend, but Sherburne, despite his youth, had in him the instinct for quick perception and action which distinguished the great cavalry leaders of the South like Jeb Stuart, Turner Ashby and others. He drew his men back instantly somewhat in the shelter of the trees and received the Union fire first.
As Sherburne had expected, few of the Northern bullets struck home. Some knocked bark from the trees, others kicked up dirt from the frozen road, but most of them sang vainly through the empty air and passed far beyond. Now the Southerners sent their fire full into the Union ranks, and, at Sherburne's shouted command, charged, with their leader at their head swinging his sword in glittering circles like some knight of old.
The Southern volley had brought down many horses and men, but the Northern force was double in numbers and many of the men carried new breech-loading rifles of the best make. While unused to horses and largely ignorant of the country, they had good officers and they stood firm. The Southern charge, meeting a second volley from the breech- loading rifles, broke upon their front.
Harry, almost by the side of Sherburne, felt the shock as they galloped into the battle smoke, and then he felt the Virginians reel. He heard around him the rapid crackle of rifles and pistols, sabers clashing together, the shouts of men, the terrible neighing of wounded horses, and then the two forces drew apart, leaving a sprinkling of dead and wounded between.
It was a half retreat by either, the two drawing back sixty or seventy yards apiece and then beginning a scattered and irregular fire from the rifles. But Sherburne, alert always, soon drew his men into the shelter of the woods, and attempted an attack on his enemy's flank.
Some destruction was created in the Union ranks by the fire from the cover of the forest, but the officers of the opposing force showed skill, too. Harry had no doubt from the way the Northern troops were handled that at least two or three West Pointers were there. They quickly fell back into the forest on the other side of the road, and sent return volleys.
Harry heard the whistle and whizz of bullets all about them. Bark was clipped from trees and dry twigs fell. Yet little damage was done by either. The forest, although leafless, was dense, and trunks and low boughs afforded much shelter. Both ceased fire presently, seeming to realize at the same moment that nothing was being done, and hovered among the trees, each watching for what the other would try next.
Harry kept close to Captain Sherburne, whose face plainly showed signs of deep disgust. His heart was full of battle and he wished to get at the enemy. But prudence forbade another charge upon a force double his numbers and now sheltered by a wood. At this moment it was the boy beside him who was cooler than he.
"Captain Sherburne," he suggested mildly, "didn't General Jackson merely want to find out what was ahead of him? When the army comes up it will sweep this force out of its way."
"That's so," agreed Sherburne reluctantly, "but if we retire they'll claim a victory, and our men will be depressed by the suspicion of defeat."
"But the Yankees are retiring already. Look, you can see them withdrawing! They were on the same business that we were, and it's far more important for them to be sure that Jackson is advancing than it is for us to know that an enemy's in front."
"You're right. We knew already that he was there, and we were watching to get him. It's foolish for us to stay here, squabbling with a lot of obstinate Yankees. We'll go back to Jackson as fast as we can. You're a bright boy, Harry."
He dropped a hand affectionately on Harry's shoulder, then gave the order to the men and they turned their horses' heads toward the army. At the same time they saw with their own eyes the complete withdrawal of the Union troops, and the proud Virginians were satisfied. It was no defeat. It was merely a parting by mutual consent, each moving at the same instant, that is, if the Yankees didn't go first.
They galloped back over the frozen road, and Captain Sherburne admitted once more to himself the truth of Harry's suggestion. Already the twilight was coming, and again it was heavy with clouds. In the east all the peaks and ridges were wrapped about with them, and the captain knew that they meant more snow. Heavy snow was the worst of all things for the advance of Jackson.
Captain Sherburne gave another signal to his men and they galloped faster. The hoofbeats of nearly two hundred horses rang hard on the frozen road, but with increased speed pulses throbbed faster and spirits rose. The average age of the troops was not over twenty, and youth thought much of action, little of consequences.
They saw in a half hour the heads of columns toiling up the slopes, and then Jackson riding on Little Sorrel, his shoulders bent forward slightly, the grave eyes showing that the great mind behind them was still at work, planning, planning, always planning. Their expression did not change when Sherburne, halting his horse before him, saluted respectfully.
"What did you find, Captain Sherburne?" he asked.
"The enemy, sir. We ran into a force of cavalry about four hundred strong."
"We had a smart little skirmish with them, sir, and then both sides withdrew."
"Undoubtedly they went to report to their people, as you have come to report to yours. It looks as if our attempt to surprise Bath might fail, but we'll try to reach it to-night. Lieutenant Kenton, ride back and give the brigade commanders orders to hasten their march."
He detached several others of his staff for the same duty, and in most cases wrote brief notes for them. Harry noticed how he took it for granted that one was always willing to do work, and yet more work. He himself had just ridden back from battle, and yet he was sent immediately on another errand. He noticed, too, how it set a new standard for everybody. This way Jackson had of expecting much was rapidly causing his men to offer much as a matter of course.
While Jackson was writing the notes to the brigadiers he looked up once or twice at the darkening skies. The great mass of clouds, charged with snow that had been hovering in the east, was now directly overhead. When he had finished the last note it was too dark for him to write any more without help of torch. As he handed the note to the aide who was to take it, a great flake of snow fell upon his hand.
Harry found that the brigades could move no faster. They were already toiling hard. The twilight had turned to night, and the clouds covered the whole circle of the heavens. The snow, slow at first, was soon falling fast. The soldiers brushed it off for a while, and then, feeling that it was no use, let it stay. Ten thousand men, white as if wrapped in winding sheets, marched through the mountains. Now and then, a thin trickle of red from a foot, encased in a shoe worn through, stained the snow.
The wind was not blowing, and the night, reinforced by the clouds, became very dark, save the gleam from the white covering of snow upon the earth. Torches began to flare along the line, and still Jackson marched. Harry knew what was in his mind. He wished to reach Bath that night and fall upon the enemy when he was not expected, even though that enemy had been told that Jackson was coming. The commander in front, whoever he might be, certainly would expect no attack in the middle of the night and in a driving snowstorm.
But the fierce spirit of Jackson was forced to yield at last. His men, already the best marchers on the American continent, could go no farther. The order was given to camp. Harry more than guessed how bitter was the disappointment of his commander, and he shared it.
The men, half starved and often stiff with cold, sank down by the roadside. They no longer asked for the wagons containing their food and heavy clothing, because they no longer expected them. They passed from high spirits to a heavy apathy, and now they did not seem to care what happened. But the officers roused them up as much as possible, made them build fires with every piece of wood they could find, and then let them wrap themselves in their blankets and go to sleep--save for the sentinels.
All night long the snow beat on Jackson's army lying there among the mountains, and save for a few Union officers not far away, both North and South wondered what had become of it.
It was known at Washington and Richmond that Jackson had left Winchester, and then he had dropped into the dark. The eyes of the leaders at both capitals were fixed upon the greater armies of McClellan and Johnston, and Stonewall Jackson was not yet fully understood by either. Nevertheless, the gaunt and haggard President of the North began to feel anxiety about this Confederate leader who had disappeared with his army in the mountains of Northern Virginia.
The telegraph wires were not numerous then, but they were kept busy answering the question about Jackson. Banks and the other Union leaders in the valley sent reassuring replies. Jackson would not dare to attack them. They had nearly three times as many men as he, and it did not matter what had become of him. If he chose to come, the sooner he came, the sooner he would be annihilated. McClellan himself laughed at the fears about Jackson. He was preparing his own great army for a march on Richmond, one that would settle everything.
But the army of Jackson, nevertheless, rose from the snow the next morning, and marched straight on the Union garrison. The rising was made near Bath, and the army literally brushed the snow from itself before eating the half of a breakfast, and taking to the road again, Jackson, on Little Sorrel, leading them. Harry, as usual, rode near him.
Harry, despite exertions and hardships which would have overpowered him six months before, did not feel particularly hungry or weary that morning. No one in the army had caught more quickly than he the spirit of Stonewall Jackson. He could endure anything, and in another hour or two they would pass out of this wilderness of forest and snow, and attack the enemy. Bath was just ahead.
A thrill passed through the whole army. Everybody knew that Jackson was about to attack. While the first and reluctant sun of dawn was trying to pierce the heavy clouds, the regiments, spreading out to right and left to enclose Bath, began to march. Then the sun gave up its feeble attempts, the clouds closed in entirely, the wind began to blow hard, and with it came a blinding snow, and then a bitter hail.
Harry had been sent by Jackson to the right flank with orders and he was to remain there, unless it became necessary to inform the commander that some regiment was not doing its duty. But he found them all marching forward, and, falling in with the Invincibles, he marched with them. Yet it was impossible for the lines to retain cohesion or regularity, so fierce was the beat of the storm.
It was an alternation of blinding snow and of hail that fairly stung. Often the officers could not see the men thirty yards distant, and there was no way of knowing whether the army was marching forward in the complete half circle as planned. Regiments might draw apart, leaving wide gaps between, and no one would know it in all that hurricane.
Harry rode by the side of Colonel Leonidas Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire, who were leading the Invincibles in person. Both had gray military cloaks drawn around them, but Harry saw that they were shivering with cold as they sat on their horses, with the snow accumulating on their shoulders and on the saddles around them. In truth, the foot cavalry had rather the better of it, as the hard marching kept up the circulation.
"Not much like the roses of Charleston," said Colonel Talbot, faintly smiling.
"But I'm glad to be here," said Harry, "although I will admit, sir, that I did not expect a campaign to the North Pole."
"Neither did I, but I'm prepared for anything now, under the commander that we have. Bear in mind, my young friend, that this is for your private ear only."
"Of course, sir! What was that? Wasn't it a rifle shot?"
"The report is faint, but it was certainly made by a rifle. And hark, there are others! We've evidently come upon their outposts! Confound this storm! It keeps us from seeing more than twenty yards in front of us!"
The scattered rifle fire continued, and the weary soldiers raised their heads which they had bent to shelter their eyes from the driving snow and hail. Pulses leaped up again, and blood sparkled. The whole army rushed forward. The roofs of houses came into view, and there was Bath.
But the firing had been merely that of a small rear guard, skirmishers who surrendered promptly. The garrison, warned doubtless by Shepard, and then the scouting troop, had escaped across the river, but Jackson's wintry march was not wholly in vain. The fleeing Union troops had no time either to carry away or destroy the great stores of supplies, accumulated there for the winter, and the starving and freezing Southerners plunged at once into the midst of plenty, ample compensation to the young privates.
The population, ardently Southern, as everywhere in these Virginia towns, welcomed the army with wild enthusiasm. Officers and soldiers were taken into the houses, as many as Bath could hold, and enormous fires were built in the open spaces for the others. They also showed the way at once to the magazines, where the Union supplies were heaped up.
Harry, at the direction of his general, went with one of the detachments to seize these. Their first prize was an old but large storehouse, crammed full of the things they needed most. The tall mountain youth, Seth Moore, was one of his men, and he proved to be a prince of looters.
"Blankets! blankets!" cried Moore. "Here they are, hundreds of 'em! An' look at these barrels! Bacon! Beef! Crackers! An' look at the piles of cheese! Oh, Lieutenant Kenton, how my mouth waters! Can't I bite into one o' them cheeses?"
"Not yet," said Harry, whose own mouth was watering, too, "but you can, Seth, within ten minutes at the farthest. The whole army must bite at once."
"That's fa'r an' squar', but ain't this richness! Cove oysters, cans an' cans of 'em, an' how I love 'em! An' sardines, too, lots of 'em! Why, I could bite right through the tin boxes to get at 'em. An' rice, an' hominy, an' bags o' flour. Why, the North has been sendin' whole train loads of things down here for us to eat!"
"And she has been sending more than that," said Harry. "Here are five or six hundred fine breech-loading rifles, and hundreds of thousands of cartridges. She's been sending us arms and ammunition with which to fight her!"
His boyish spirit burst forth. Even though an officer, he could not control them, and he was radiant as the looting Seth Moore himself. He went out to report the find and to take measures concerning it. On his way he met hundreds of the Southern youths who had already put on heavy blue overcoats found in the captured stores. The great revulsion had come. They were laughing and cheering and shaking the hands of one another. It was a huge picnic, all the more glorious because they had burst suddenly out of the storm and the icy wilderness.
But order was soon restored, and wrapped in warm clothing they feasted like civilized men, the great fires lighting up the whole town with a cheerful glow. Harry was summoned to new duties. He was also a new man. Warmth and food had doubled his vitality, and he was ready for any errand on which Jackson might send him.
While it was yet snowing, he rode with a half dozen troopers toward the Potomac. On the other side was a small town which also held a Union garrison. Scouting warily along the shores, Harry discovered that the garrison was still there. Evidently the enemy believed in the protection of the river, or many of their leaders could not yet wholly believe that Jackson and his army, making a forced march in the dead of winter, were at hand.
But he had no doubt that his general would attend to these obstinate men, and he rode back to Bath with the news. Jackson gave his worn troops a little more rest. They were permitted to spend all that day and night at Bath, luxuriating and renewing their strength and spirits.
Harry slept, for the first time in many nights, in a house, and he made the most of it, because he doubted whether he would have another such chance soon. Dawn found the army up and ready to march away from this place of delight.
They went up and down the Potomac three or four days, scattering or capturing small garrisons, taking fresh supplies and spreading consternation among the Union forces in Northern Virginia and Maryland. It was all done in the most bitter winter weather and amid storms of snow and hail. The roads were slippery with sleet, and often the cavalry were compelled to dismount and lead their horses long distances. There was little fighting because the Northern enemy was always in numbers too small to resist, but there was a great deal of hard riding and many captures.
News of Jackson's swoop began to filter through to both Richmond and Washington. In Richmond they wondered and rejoiced. In Washington they wondered, but did not rejoice. They had not expected there any blow to be struck in the dead of winter, and Lincoln demanded of his generals why they could not do as well. Distance and the vagueness of the news magnified Jackson's exploits and doubled his numbers. Eyes were turned with intense anxiety toward that desolate white expanse of snow and ice, in the midst of which he was operating.
Jackson finally turned his steps toward Romney, which had been the Union headquarters, and his men, exhausted and half starved, once more dragged themselves over the sleety roads. Winter offered a fresh obstacle at every turn. Even the spirits of Harry, who had borrowed so much from the courage of Jackson, sank somewhat. As they pulled themselves through the hills on their last stage toward Romney, he was walking. His horse had fallen three times that day on the ice, and was now too timid to carry his owner.
So Harry led him. The boy's face and hands were so much chapped and cracked with the cold that they bled at times. But he wasted no sympathy on himself. It was the common fate of the army. Jackson and his generals, themselves, suffered in the same way. Jackson was walking, too, for a while, leading his own horse.
Harry was sent back to bring up the Invincibles, as Romney was now close at hand, and there might be a fight. He found his old colonel and lieutenant-colonel walking over the ice. Both were thin, and were black under the eyes with privation and anxiety. These were not in appearance the men whom he had known in gay and sunny Charleston, though in spirit the same. They gave Harry a welcome and hoped that the enemy would wait for them in Romney.
"I don't think so," said Harry, "but I've orders for you from General Jackson to bring up the Invincibles as fast as possible."
"Tell General Jackson that we'll do our best," said Colonel Talbot, as he looked back at his withered column.
They seemed to Harry to be withered indeed, they were so gaunt with hardship and drawn up so much with cold. Many wore the blue Northern overcoats that they had captured at Bath, and more had tied up their throats and ears in the red woolen comforters of the day, procured at the towns through which they passed. They, too, were gaunt of cheek and black under the eye like their officers.
The Invincibles under urging increased their speed, but not much. Little reserve strength was left in them. Langdon and St. Clair, who had been sent along the line, returned to Colonel Talbot where Harry was still waiting.
"They're not going as fast as a railroad train," said Langdon in an aside to Harry, "but they're doing their best. You can't put in a well more than you can take out of it, and they're marching now not on their strength, but their courage. Still, it might be worse. We might all be dead."
"But we're not dead, by a big margin, and I think we'll make another haul at Romney."
"But Old Jack won't let us stay and enjoy it. I never saw a man so much in love with marching. The steeper the hills and mountains, the colder the day, the fiercer the sleet and snow, the better he likes it."
"The fellow who said General Jackson didn't care anything about our feet told the truth," said St. Clair, thoughtfully. "The general is not a cruel man, but he thinks more of Virginia and the South, and our cause, than he does of us. If it were necessary to do so to win he'd sacrifice us to the last man and himself with us."
"And never think twice before doing it. You've sized him up," said Harry. The army poured into Romney and found no enemy. Again a garrison had escaped through the mountain snows when the news reached it that Jackson was at hand. But they found supplies of food, filled their empty stomachs, and as Langdon had foretold, quickly started anew in search of another enemy elsewhere.
But the men finally broke down under the driving of the merciless Jackson. Many of them began to murmur. They had left the bleeding trail of their feet over many an icy road, and some said they were ready to lie down in the snow and die before they would march another mile. A great depression, which was physical rather than mental, a depression born of exhaustion and intense bodily suffering, seized the army.
Jackson, although with a will of steel, was compelled to yield. Slowly and with reluctance, he led his army back toward Winchester, leaving a large garrison in Romney. But Harry knew what he had done, although nothing more than skirmishes had been fought. He had cleared a wide region of the enemy. He had inspired enthusiasm in the South, and he had filled the North with alarm. The great movement of McClellan on Richmond must beware of its right flank. A dangerous foe was there who might sting terribly, and men had learned already that none knew when or whence Jackson might come.
A little more than three weeks after their departure Harry and his friends and the army, except the portion left in garrison at Romney, returned to Winchester, the picturesque and neat little Virginia city so loyal to the South. It looked very good indeed to Harry as he drew near. He liked the country, rolling here and there, the hills crested with splendid groves of great trees. The Little North Mountain a looming blue shadow to the west, and the high Massanutton peaks to the south seemed to guard it round. And the valley itself was rich and warm with the fine farms spread out for many miles. Despite the engrossing pursuit of the enemy and of victory and glory, Harry's heart thrilled at the sight of the red brick houses of Winchester.
Here came a period of peace so far as war was concerned, but of great anxiety to Harry and the whole army. The government at Richmond began to interfere with Jackson. It thought him too bold, even rash, and it wanted him to withdraw the garrison at Romney, which was apparently exposed to an attack by the enemy in great force. It was said that McClellan had more than two hundred thousand men before Washington, and an overwhelming division from it might fall at any time upon the Southern force at Romney.
Harry, being a member of Jackson's staff, and having become a favorite with him, knew well his reasons for standing firm. January, which had furnished so fierce a month of winter, was going. The icy country was breaking up under swift thaws, and fields and destroyed roads were a vast sea of mud in which the feet of infantry, the hoofs of horses and the wheels of cannon would sink deep.
Jackson did not believe that McClellan had enough enterprise to order a march across such an obstacle, but recognizing the right of his government to expect obedience, he sent his resignation to Richmond. Harry knew of it, his friends knew of it, and their hearts sank like plummets in a pool.
Another portion of the Invincibles had been drawn off to reinforce Johnston's army before Richmond, as they began to hear rumors now that McClellan would come by sea instead of land, and their places were filled with more recruits from the valley of Virginia. Scarcely a hundred of the South Carolinians were left, but the name, "The Invincibles" and the chief officers, stayed behind. Jackson had been unwilling to part with Colonel Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire, experienced and able West Pointers. Langdon and St. Clair also stayed.
Harry talked over the resignation with these friends of his, and they showed an anxiety not less than his own. It had become evident to the two veteran West Pointers that Jackson was the man. Close contact with him had enabled them to read his character and immense determination.
"I hope that our government at Richmond will decline this resignation and give him a free hand," said Colonel Talbot to Harry. "It would be a terrible loss if he were permitted to drop out of the army. I tell you for your own private ear that I have taken it upon me to Write a letter of protest to President Davis himself. I felt that I could do so, because Mr. Davis and myself were associated closely in the Mexican War."
The answer came in time from Richmond. Stonewall Jackson was retained and a freer hand was given to him. Harry and all his comrades felt an immense relief, but he did not know until long afterward how near the Confederacy had come to losing the great Jackson.
Benjamin, the Secretary of War, and President Davis both were disposed to let him go, but the powerful intervention of Governor Letcher of Virginia induced them to change their minds. Moreover, hundreds of letters from leading Virginians who knew Jackson well poured in upon him, asking him to withdraw the resignation. So it was arranged and Jackson remained, biding his time for the while at Winchester, until he could launch the thunderbolt.
A pleasant month for Harry, and all the young staff officers passed at Winchester. The winter of intense cold had now become one of tremendous rain. It poured and it poured, and it never ceased to pour. Between Winchester and Washington and McClellan's great army was one vast flooded area, save where the hills and mountains stood.
But in Winchester the Southern troops were warm and comfortable. It was a snug town within its half circle of mountains. Its brick and wooden houses were solid and good. The young officers when they went on errands trod on pavements of red brick, and oaks and elms and maples shaded them nearly all the way.
When Harry, who went oftenest on such missions, returned to his general with the answers, he walked up a narrow street, where the silver maples, which would soon begin to bud under the continuous rain, grew thickest, and came to a small building in which other officers like himself wrote at little tables or waited in full uniform to be sent upon like errands. If it were yet early he would find Jackson there, but if it were late he would cross a little stretch of grass to the parsonage, the large and solid house, where the Presbyterian minister, Dr. Graham, lived, and where Jackson, with his family, who had joined him, now made his home in this month of waiting.
It was here that Harry came one evening late in February. It had been raining as usual, and he wore one of the long Union overcoats captured at Bath, blue then but a faded grayish brown now. However, the gray Confederate uniform beneath it was neat and looked fresh. Harry was always careful about his clothing, and the example of St. Clair inspired him to greater efforts. Besides, there was a society in Winchester, including many handsome young women of the old Virginia families, and even a budding youth who was yet too young for serious sentimentalism, could not ignore its existence.
It was twilight and the cold rain was still coming down steadily, as Harry walked across the grass, and looked out of the wet dusk at the manse. Lights were shining from every window, and there was warmth around his heart. The closer association of many weeks with Jackson had not only increased his admiration, but also had given the general a great place in the affection that a youth often feels for an older man whom he deems a genius or a hero.
Harry walked upon a little portico, and taking off the overcoat shook out the rain drops. Then he hung it on a hook against the wall of the house. The door was open six inches or so, and a ribbon of brilliant light from within fell across the floor of the portico.
Harry looked at the light and smiled. He was young and he loved gayety. He smiled again when he heard within the sound of laughter. Then he pushed the door farther open and entered. Now the laughter rose to a shout, and it was accompanied by the sound of footsteps. A man, thick of hair and beard, was running down a stairway. Perched high upon his shoulders was a child of three or four years, with both hands planted firmly in the thick hair. The small feet crossed over the man's neck kicked upon his chest, but he seemed to enjoy the sport as much as the child did.
Harry paused and stood at attention until the man saw him. Then he saluted respectfully and said to General Jackson:
"I wish to report to you, sir, that I delivered the order to General Garnett, as you directed, and here, sir, is his reply."
He handed a note to the general, who read it, thrust it into his pocket, and said:
"That ends your labors for the day, Lieutenant Kenton. Come in now and join us."
He picked up the child again, and carrying it in his arms, led the way into an inner room, where he gave it to a nurse. Then they passed into the library, where Dr. Graham, several generals and two or three of Winchester's citizens were gathered.
All gave Harry a welcome. He knew them well, and he looked around with satisfaction at the large room, with its rows and rows of books, bound mostly in dark leather, volumes of theology, history, essays, poetry, and of the works of Walter Scott and Jane Austen. Jackson himself was a rigid Presbyterian, and he and Dr. Graham had many a long talk in this room on religion and other topics almost equally serious.
But to-night they were in a bright mood. A mountaineer had come in with four huge wild turkeys, which he insisted upon giving to General Jackson himself, and guests had been asked in to help eat them.
Nearly twenty people sat around the minister's long table. The turkeys, at least enough for present needs, were cooked beautifully, and all the succulent dishes which the great Virginia valleys produce so fruitfully were present. General Jackson himself, at the request of the minister, said grace, and he said it so devoutly and so sincerely that it always impressed the hearers with a sense of its reality.
It was full dusk and the rain was beating on the windows, when the black attendants began to serve the guests at the great board. Several ladies, including the general's wife, were present. The room was lighted brilliantly, and a big fire burned in the wide fireplace at the end. To Harry, three seats away from General Jackson, there was a startling contrast between the present moment and that swift campaign of theirs through the wintry mountains where the feet of the soldiers left bloody trails on the ice and snow.
It was a curious fact that for a few instants the mountain and the great cold were real and this was but fancy. He looked more than once at the cheerful faces and the rosy glow of the fire, before he could convince himself that he was in truth here in Winchester, with all this comfort, even luxury, around him.
Sitting next to him was a lady of middle age, Mrs. Howard, of prominence in the town and a great friend of the Grahams. Harry realized suddenly that while the others were talking he had said nothing, and he felt guilty of discourtesy. He began an apology, but Mrs. Howard, who had known him very well since he had been in Winchester, learning to call him by his first name, merely smiled and the smile was at once maternal and somewhat sad.
"No apologies are needed, Harry," she said in a low tone that the others might not hear. "I read your thoughts. They were away in the mountains with a marching army. All this around us speaks of home and peace, but it cannot last. All of you will be going soon."
"That's true, Mrs. Howard, I was thinking of march and battle, and I believe you're right in saying that we'll all go soon. That is what we're for."
She smiled again a little sadly.
"You're a good boy, Harry," she said, "and I hope that you and all your comrades will come back in safety to Winchester. But that is enough croaking from an old woman and I'm ashamed of myself. Did you ever see a happier crowd than the one gathered here?"
"Not since I was in my father's house when the relatives would come to help us celebrate Christmas."
"When did you hear from your father?" asked Mrs. Howard, whose warm sympathies had caused Harry to tell her of his life and of his people whom he had left behind in Kentucky.
"Just after the terrible disaster at Donelson. He was in the fort, but he escaped with Forrest's cavalry, and he went into Mississippi to join the army under Albert Sidney Johnston. He sent a letter for me to my home, Pendleton, under cover to my old teacher, Dr. Russell, who forwarded it to me. It came only this morning."
"How does he talk?"
"Hopefully, though he made no direct statement. I suppose he was afraid to do so lest the letter fall into the hands of the Yankees, but I imagine that General Johnston's army is going to attack General Grant's."
"If General Johnston can win a victory it will help us tremendously, but I fear that man, Grant. They say that he had no more men at Donelson than we, but he took the fort and its garrison."
"It's true. Our affairs have not been going well in the West."
Harry was downcast for a few moments. Much of their Western news had come through the filter of Richmond, but despite the brighter color that the Government tried to put on it, it remained black. Forts and armies had been taken. Nothing had been able to stop Grant. But youth again came to Harry. He could not resist the bright light and the happy talk about him. Bitter thoughts fled.
General Jackson was in fine humor. He and Dr. Graham had started to discuss a problem in Presbyterian theology in which both were deeply interested, but they quickly changed it in deference to the younger and lighter spirits about them. Harry had never before seen his general in so mellow a vein. Perhaps it was the last blaze of the home-loving spirit, before entering into that storm of battle which henceforth was to be his without a break.
The general, under urging, told of his life as an orphan boy in his uncle's rough home in the Virginia wilderness, how he had been seized once by the wanderlust, then so strong in nearly all Americans, and how he and his brother had gone all the way down the Ohio to the Mississippi, where they had camped on a little swampy island, earning their living by cutting wood for the steamers on the two rivers.
"How old were you two then, General?" asked Dr. Graham.
"The older of us was only twelve. But in those rough days boys matured fast and became self-reliant at a very early age. We did not run away. There wasn't much opposition to our going. Our uncle was sure that we'd come back alive, and though we arrived again in Virginia, five or six hundred miles from our island in the river, all rags and filled with fever, we were not regarded as prodigal sons. It was what hundreds, yes, thousands of other boys did. In our pleasant uplands we soon got rid of both rags and fever."
"And you did not wish to return to the wilderness?"
"The temptation was strong at times, but it was defeated by other ambitions. There was school and I liked sports. These soon filled up my life."
Harry knew much more about the life of Jackson, which the modesty of his hero kept him from telling. Looking at the strong, active figure of the man so near him he knew that he had once been delicate, doomed in childhood, as many thought, to consumption, inherited from his mother. But a vigorous life in the open air had killed all such germs. He was a leader in athletic sports. He was a great horseman, and often rode as a jockey for his uncle in the horse races which the open-air Virginians loved so well, and in which they indulged so much. He could cut down a tree or run a saw-mill, or drive four horses to a wagon, or seek deer through the mountains with the sturdiest hunter of them all. And upon top of this vigorous boyhood had come the long and severe training at West Point, the most thorough and effective military school the world has ever known.
Harry did not wonder, as he looked at his general, that he could dare and do so much. He might be awkward in appearance, he might wear his clothes badly, but the boy at ten years had been a man, doing a man's work and with a man's soul. He had come into the field, no parade soldier, but with a body and mind as tough and enduring as steel, the whole surcharged and heated with a spirit of fire.
Both Harry and Mrs. Howard had become silent and were watching the general. For some reason Jackson was more moved than usual. His manner did not depart from its habitual gravity. He made no gestures, but the blue eyes under the heavy brows were irradiated by a peculiar flashing light.
The long dinner went on. It was more of a festival than a banquet, and Harry at last gave himself up entirely to its luxurious warmth. The foreboding that their mellow days in the pleasant little city were over, was gone, but it was destined to come again. Now, after the dinner was finished, and the great table was cleared away, they sat and talked, some in the dining room and some in the library.
It was still raining, that cold rain which at times turns for a moment or two to snow, and it dashed in gusts against the window panes. Harry was with some of the younger people in the library, where they were playing at games. The sport lagged presently and he went to a window, where he stood between the curtain and the glass.
He saw the outside dimly, the drenched lawn, and the trees beyond, under which two or three sentinels, wrapped closely in heavy coats, walked to and fro. He gazed at them idly, and then a shadow passed between him and them. He thought at first that it was a blurring of the glass by some stronger gust of rain, but the next moment his experience told him that it could not be so. He had seen a shadow, and the shadow was that of a man, sliding along against the wall of the house, in order that he might not be seen by a sentinel.
Harry's suspicions were up and alive in an instant. In this border country spies were numerous. It was easy to be a spy where people looked alike and spoke the same language with the same accent. His suspicions, too, centered at once upon Shepard, whom he knew to be so daring and skillful.
The lad was prompt to act. He slipped unnoticed into the hall, put on his greatcoat, felt of the pistol in his belt, opened the front door and stepped out into the dark and the rain.
Site Copyright 2003-2008 Son of the South. For Questions or comments about this collection,
Are you Scared and Confused? Read My Snake Story, a story of hope and encouragement, to help you face your fears.