THE STAR OF GETTYSBURG
A STORY OF SOUTHERN HIGH TIDE
by JOSEPH A. ALTSHELER
XI. THE CAVALRY COMBAT
Harry was a fine sleeper. One learns to be in long campaigns. Most of those about him slept as well, and the ten thousand horses, which had been ridden hard in the great display during the day, also sank into quiet. The restless hoofs ceased to move. Now and then there was a snort or a neigh, but the noise was slight on Fleetwood Hill or in the surrounding forests.
A man came through the thickets soon after midnight and moved with the greatest caution toward the hill on which the artillery was ranged. He was in neither blue nor gray, just the plain garb of a civilian, but he was of strong figure and his smoothly shaven face, with its great width between the eyes and massive chin, expressed character and uncommon resolution.
The intruder--he was obviously such, because he sought with the minutest care to escape observation--never left the shelter of the bushes. He had all the skill of the old forest runners, because his footsteps made no sound as he passed and he knew how to keep his figure always in the shadows until it became a common blur with them.
His was a most delicate task, in which discovery was certain death, but he never faltered. His heart beat steadily and strong. It was an old risk to him, and he had the advantage of great natural aptitude, fortified by long training in a school of practice where a single misstep meant death.
The sharp eyes of the spy missed nothing. He counted the thirty pieces of artillery on the hill. He estimated with amazing accuracy the number of Stuart's horsemen. He saw a thousand proofs that the heavy firing he had heard in the course of the day was not due to battle with Northern troops. Although he stopped at times for longer looks, he made a wide circuit about the Confederate camp, and he was satisfied that Stuart, vigilant and daring though he might be, was not expecting an enemy.
Shepard's heart for the first time beat a little faster. He had felt as much as any general the Northern defeats and humiliations in the east, but, like officers and soldiers, he was not crushed by them. He even felt that the tide might be about to turn. Lee, invading the North, would find before him many of the difficulties which had faced the Northern generals attacking the South. Shepard, a man of supreme courage, resolved that he would spare no effort in the service to which he had devoted himself.
He spent fully four hours in the thickets, and then, feeling that he had achieved his task, bore away toward the river. Taking off his coat and belt with pistols in it, and fastening them about his neck, he swam with bold strokes to the other side of the stream. However, had anyone been on the watch at that very point, it was not likely that he would have been seen. It was the approach of dawn and heavy mists were rising on the Rappahannock, as they had risen at
Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
Shepard gave the countersign to the pickets and was shown at once to General Pleasanton, an alert, vigorous man, who was awaiting him. His report was satisfactory, because the cavalry general smiled and began to send quick orders to his leaders of divisions.
But the peace in Stuart's command was not broken that night. No one had seen the figure of the spy sliding through the thickets, and Harry and his comrades in the Inn of the Greenwood Tree were very warm and snug in their blankets. As day came he yawned, stretched, closed his eyes again, thinking that he might have another precious fifteen minutes, but, recalling his resolution, sprang to his feet and began to rub his eyes clear.
He had slept fully dressed, like all the rest, and he intended to go down to a brook in a few minutes and bathe his face. But he first gave Sherburne a malicious shove with his foot and bade him wake up, telling him that it was too late for an alert cavalry captain to be sleeping.
Then Sherburne also yawned, stretched, and stood up, rubbing his eyes. The others about them rose too, and everybody felt chilled by the river fog, which was uncommonly heavy.
"Breakfast for me," said Sherburne.
"Not just now, I think," said Harry. "Listen! Aren't those rifle shots?"
A patter, patter, distant but clear in the morning, came from a point down the stream.
"You're right!" exclaimed Sherburne in alarm. "It's on our side of the river and it's increasing fast! As sure as we live, the enemy has crossed and attacked!"
They were not left in doubt. The pickets, running in, told them that a heavy force of Northern cavalry was across the Rappahannock and was charging with vigor. In fact, two of the divisions had passed the fords unseen in the fog and were now rushing Stuart's camp.
But Stuart, although surprised, never for an instant lost his presence of mind. Throughout the Southern lines the bugles sounded the sharp call to horse. It was full time. The outposts had been routed already and were driven in on the main body.
Harry ran to his horse, which had been left saddled and bridled for any emergency. He leaped upon him and rode by the side of Sherburne, whose troop was already in line. They could not see very well for the mists, but the fire in front of them from cavalry carbines had grown into great violence. It made a huge shower of red dots against the white screen of the mist, and now they heard shouts and the beat of thousands of hoofs.
"They're making for our artillery!" exclaimed Sherburne with true instinct. "Follow me, men! We must hold them back, for a few minutes at least!"
Sherburne and his gallant troops were just in time. A great force of cavalry in blue suddenly appeared in the whitish and foggy dawn and charged straight for the guns. Without delaying a moment, Sherburne flung his troops in between, although they were outnumbered twenty to one or more. He did not expect to stop them; he merely hoped to delay them a few minutes, and therefore he offered himself as a sacrifice.
Harry was beside Sherburne as they galloped straight toward the Northern cavalry, firing their short carbines and then swinging their sabres.
"They'll ride over us!" he shouted to Sherburne.
"But we'll trouble 'em a little as they pass!" the captain shouted back.
Harry shut his teeth hard together. A shiver ran over him, and then his face grew hot. The pulses in his temples beat heavily. He was sure that Sherburne and he and all the rest were going to perish. The long and massive Northern line was coming on fast. They, too, had fired their carbines, and now thousands of sabres flashed through the mists. Harry was swinging his own sword, but as the great force bore down upon them, the white mist seemed to turn to red and the long line of horsemen fused into a solid mass, its front flashing with steel.
He became conscious, as the space between them closed rapidly, that a heavy crackling fire was bursting from a wood between the Northern cavalry and the river. The Southern skirmishers, brushed away at first, had returned swiftly, and now they were sending a rain of bullets upon the blue cavalrymen. Many saddles were emptied, but the line went on, and struck Sherburne's troop.
Harry saw a man lean from his horse and slash at him with a sabre. He had no sabre of his own, only a small sword, but he cut with all his might at the heavy blade instead of the man, and he felt, rather than saw, the two weapons shatter to pieces. Then his horse struck another, and, reeling in the saddle, he snatched out a pistol and began to fire at anything that looked like a human shape.
He heard all about him a terrible tumult of shots and shouts and the thunder of horses' hoofs. He still saw the red mist and a thousand sabres flashing through it, and he heard, too, the clash of steel on steel. The Northern line had been stopped one minute, two minutes, and maybe three. He was conscious afterwards that in some sort of confused way he was trying to measure the time. But he was always quite certain that it was not more than three minutes. Then the Northern cavalry passed over them.
Harry's horse was fairly knocked down by the impetus of the Northern charge, and the young rider was partly protected by his body from the hoofs that thundered over them. Horse and rider rose together. Harry found that the reins were still clenched in his hand. His horse was trembling all over from shock, and so was he, but neither was much harmed. Beyond him the great cavalry division was galloping on, and he gazed at it a moment or two in a kind of stupor. But he became conscious that the fire of the Southern skirmishers on its flank was growing heavier and that many horses without riders were running loose through the forest.
Then his gaze turned back to the little band that had stood in the path of the whirlwind, and he uttered a cry of joy as he saw Sherburne rising slowly to his feet, the blood flowing from a wound in his left shoulder.
"It isn't much, Harry," said the captain. "It was only the point of the sabre that grazed me, but my horse was killed, and the shock of the fall stunned me for a moment or two. Oh, my poor troop!"
There was good cause for his lament. Less than one-fourth of his brave horsemen were left unhurt or with but slight wounds. The wounded who could rise were limping away toward the thickets, and the unwounded were seeking their mounts anew. Harry caught a riderless horse. His faculties were now clear and the effect of the physical shock had passed.
"We held 'em three minutes at least, Captain," he cried, "and it may be that three minutes were enough. We were surprised, but we are not beaten. Here, jump up! We've saved the guns from capture! And listen how the rifle fire is increasing."
Sherburne sprang into the saddle and his little band of surviving troopers gathered around him. They uttered a shout, too, as they saw heavy forces of their own cavalry coming up and charging, sabre in hand. Inspired by the sight and forgetting his wound, Sherburne wheeled about and led his little band in a charge upon the Northern flank.
A desperate battle with sabres ensued. Forest and open rang with shouts and the clash of steel, and hundreds of pistols flashed. The Northern horsemen were driven back. Davis, who led them here, a Southerner by birth, but a regular officer, a man of great merit, seeking to rally them, fell, wounded mortally. A strong body of Illinois troops came up and turned the tide of battle again. The Southern horsemen were driven back. Some of them were taken prisoners and a part of Stuart's baggage became a Northern prize.
This portion of the Southern cavalry under Jones, which Harry and Sherburne had joined, now merely sought to check the Northern advance until Stuart could arrive. Everyone expected Stuart. Such a brilliant cavalryman could not fail. But the Northern force was increasing. Buford and his men were coming down on their flank. It seemed that the Confederate force was about to be overwhelmed again, but suddenly their guns came into action. Shell and canister held back the Northern force, and then arose from the Southern ranks the shout: "Stuart! Stuart!"
Harry saw him galloping forward at the head of his men, his long, yellow hair flying in the air, his sabre whirled aloft in glittering circles, and he felt an immense sensation of relief. Leading his division in person, Stuart drove back the Northern horsemen, but he in his turn was checked by artillery and supporting columns of infantry in the wood.
Pleasanton, the Union leader, was showing great skill and courage. Having profited by his enemy's example, he was pressing his advantage to the utmost. Already he had found in Stuart's captured baggage instructions for the campaign, showing that the whole Southern army was on its way toward the great valley, to march thence northward, and he resolved instantly to break up this advance as much as possible.
Pleasanton pressed forward again, and Stuart prepared to meet him. But Harry, who was keeping by the side of Sherburne, saw Stuart halt suddenly. A messenger had galloped up to him and he brought formidable news. A heavy column of horsemen had just appeared directly behind the Southern cavalry and was marching to the attack. Stuart was in a trap.
Harry saw that Stuart had been outgeneralled, and again he shut his teeth together hard. To be outgeneralled did not mean that they would be outfought. The Northern force in their rear was the third division under Gregg, and Stuart sent back cavalry and guns to meet them.
Harry now saw the battle on all sides of him. Cavalry were charging, falling back, and charging again. The whole forces of the two armies were coming into action. Nearly twenty thousand sabres were flashing in the sunlight that had driven away the fog. Harry had never before seen a cavalry battle on so grand a scale, but the confusion was so great that it was impossible for him to tell who was winning.
The Northern horse took Fleetwood Hill; Stuart retook it. Then he sought to meet the cavalry division in his front, and drove it to the woods, where it reformed and hurled him back to the hill. The Northern division, under Gregg, that had come up behind, fell with all its force on the Southern flank. Had it driven in the Southern lines here, Pleasanton's victory would have been assured, but the men in gray, knowing that they must stand, stood with a courage that defied everything. The heavy Northern masses could not drive them away, and then Stuart, whirling about, charged the North in turn with his thousands of horsemen. They were met by more Northern cavalry coming up, and the combat assumed a deeper and more furious phase.
Sherburne, with the fragment of his troop and Harry by his side, was in this charge. The effect of it upon Harry, as upon his older comrade, was bewildering. The combatants, having emptied their pistols or thrust them back in their belts, were now using their sabres alone. Nearly twenty thousand blades were flashing in the air. Again the battle was face to face and the lines became mixed. Riderless horses, emerging from the turmoil, were running in all directions, many of them neighing in pain and terror. Men, dismounted and wounded, were crawling away from the threat of the trampling hoofs.
The gunners fired the
cannon whenever they were sure they would not strike down their own, but the horsemen charged upon them and wrenched the guns from their hands, only to have them wrenched back again by the Southerners. It was the greatest cavalry battle of the war, and the spectacle was appalling. Many of the horses seemed to share the fury of their riders and kicked and bit. Their beating hoofs raised an immense cloud of dust, through which the blades of the sabres still flashed.
Harry never knew how he went through it unhurt. Looking back, it seemed that such a thing was impossible. Yet it occurred. But he became conscious that the Southern horsemen, after the long and desperate struggle, were driving back those of the North. They had superior numbers. One of the Northern divisions, after having been engaged with infantry elsewhere, failed to come up.
Pleasanton, after daring and skill that deserved greater success, was forced slowly to withdraw. Roused by the roar of the firing, heavy masses of Ewell's infantry were now appearing on the horizon, sent by Lee, with orders to hurry to the utmost. Pleasanton, maintaining all his skill and coolness, dexterously withdrew his men across the river, and Stuart did not consider it wise to follow. Each side had lost heavily. Pleasanton had not only struck a hard blow, but he had learned where Lee's army lay, and, moreover, he had shown the horsemen of the South that those of the North were on the watch.
It was late in the afternoon when the last Northern rider crossed the Rappahannock, and Harry looked upon a field strewn with the fallen, both men and horses. Then he turned to Sherburne and bound up his wounded shoulder for him. The hurt was not serious, but Sherburne, although they had driven off the Northern horse, was far from sanguine.
"It's a Pyrrhic victory," he said. "We had the superior numbers, and it was all we could do to beat them back. Besides, they surprised us, when we thought we had a patent on that sort of business."
"It's so," said Harry, his somber glance passing again over the field.
Their feeling was communicated, too, to the advancing masses of infantry. The soldiers, when they saw the stricken field and began to hear details from their brethren of the horse, shook their heads. There was no joy of victory in the Southern army that night. The enemy, when he was least expected, had struck hard and was away.
Harry rode to General Lee and gave him as many details as he could of the cavalry battle, to all of which the general listened without comment. He had reports from others also, and soon he dismissed Harry, who took up his usual night quarters with his blankets under a green tree. Here he found Dalton, who was eager to hear more.
"They say that the Yankees, although inferior in numbers, pushed us hard, Harry; is it so?" he asked.
"It is, and they caught us napping, too. George, I'm beginning to wonder what's waiting for us there in the North."
It was dark now and he gazed toward the North, where the stars already twinkled serenely in the sky. It seemed to him that their army was about to enter some vast, illimitable space, swarming with unknown enemies. He felt for a little while a deep depression. But it was partly physical. His exertions of the day had been tremendous, and the intense excitement, too, had almost overcome him. The watchful Dalton noticed his condition, and wisely said nothing, allowing his pulses to regain their normal beat.
It was nearly an hour before his nerves became quiet, and then he sank into a heavy sleep. In the morning youth had reasserted itself, both physically and mentally. His doubts and apprehensions were gone. The unconquerable Army of Northern Virginia was merely marching again to fresh triumphs.
Although Hooker now understood Lee's movement, and was pushing more troops forward on his side of the Rappahannock, the Southern general, with his eye ever on his main object, did not cease his advance. He had turned his back on Washington, and nothing, not even formidable irruptions like that of Pleasanton, could make him change his plan.
The calls from the Valley of Virginia became more frequent and urgent. Messengers came to Lee, begging his help. Milroy at
Winchester, with a strong force, was using rigorous measures. The people claimed that he had gone far beyond the rules of war. Jackson had come more than once to avenge them, and now they expected as much of Lee.
They did not appeal in vain. Harry saw Lee's eyes flash at the reports of the messengers, and he himself took a dispatch, the nature of which he knew, to Ewell, who was in advance, leading Jackson's old corps. Ewell, strapped to his horse, had regained his ruddiness and physical vigor. Harry saw his eyes shine as he read the dispatch, and he knew that nothing could please him more.
"You know what is in this, Lieutenant Kenton?" he said, tapping the paper.
"I do, sir, and I'm sorry I can't go with you."
"So am I; but as sure as you and I are sitting here on our horses, trouble is coming to Mr. Milroy. Some friends of yours in the little regiment called the Invincibles are just beyond the hill. Perhaps you'd like to see them."
Harry thanked him, saluted, and rode over the hill, where he found the two colonels, St. Clair and Langdon riding at the head of their men. The youths greeted him with a happy shout and the colonels welcomed him in a manner less noisy but as sincere.
"The sight of you, Harry, is good for any kind of eyes," said Colonel Talbot. "But what has brought you here?"
"An order from General Lee to General Ewell."
"Then it must be of some significance."
"It is, sir, and since it will be no secret in a few minutes, I can tell you that this whole corps is going to Winchester to take Milroy. I wish I could go with you, Colonel, but I can't."
"You were at Brandy Station, and we weren't," said St. Clair quietly. "It's our turn now."
"Right you are, Arthur," said Langdon. "I mean to take this man Milroy with my own hands. I remember that he gave us trouble in Jackson's time. He's been licked once. What right has he to come back into the Valley?"
"He's there," said Harry, "and they say that he's riding it hard with ironshod hoofs."
"He won't be doing it by the time we see you again," said St. Clair confidently as they rode away.
Harry did not see them again for several days, but when Ewell's division rejoined the main army, all that St. Clair predicted had come to pass. St. Clair himself, with his left arm in a sling, where it was to remain for a week, gave him a brief and graphic account of it.
"All the soldiers in the army that he had once led knew how Old Jack loved that town," he said, "and they were on fire to drive the Yankees away from it once more. We marched fast. We were the foot cavalry, just as we used to be; and, do you know, that Cajun band was along with our brigade, as lively as ever. The Yankees had heard of our coming, but late. They had already built forts around Winchester, but they didn't dream until the last moment that a big force from Lee's army was at hand. Their biggest fort was on Applepie Ridge, some little distance from Winchester. We came up late in the afternoon and had to rest a while, as it was awful hot. Then we opened, with General Ewell himself in direct command there. Old Jube Early had gone around to attack their other works, and we were waiting to hear the roaring of his guns.
"We gave it to 'em hot and heavy. General Ewell was on foot--that is, one foot and a crutch--and you ought to have seen him hopping about among the falling cannon balls, watching and ordering everything. Sunset was at hand, with Milroy fighting us back and not dreaming that Early was coming on his flank. Then we heard Early's thunder. In a few minutes his men stormed the fort on the hill next to him and turned its guns upon Milroy himself.
"It was now too dark to go much further with the fighting, and we waited until the next morning to finish the business. But Milroy was a slippery fellow. He slid out in the night somehow with his men, and was five miles away before we knew he had gone. But we followed hard, overtook him, captured four thousand men and twenty-three cannon and scattered the rest in every direction. Wasn't that a thorough job?"
"Stonewall Jackson would never have let them escape through his cordon and get a start of five miles."
"That's so, Harry, Old Jack would never have allowed it. But then, Harry, we've got to remember that there's been only one Stonewall Jackson, and there's no more to come."
"You're telling the whole truth, St. Clair, and if General Ewell did let 'em get away, he caught 'em again. It was a brilliant deed, and it's cleared the Valley of the enemy."
"Our scouts have reported that some of the fugitives have reached Pennsylvania, spreading the alarm there. I suppose they'll be gathering troops in our front now. What's the news from Hooker, Harry?"
"He's moving northwest to head us off, but I don't think he has any clear idea where we're going."
"Where are we going, Harry?"
"It's more than I can tell. Maybe we're aiming for Philadelphia."
"Then there'll be a big stir among the Quakers," said Happy Tom.
"It doesn't matter, young gentlemen, where we're going," said Colonel Talbot, who heard the last words. "It's our business to be led, and we know that we're in the hands of a great leader. And we know, too, that whatever dangers he leads us into, he'll share them to the full. Am I not right, Hector?"
"You speak the full truth, Leonidas."
"Aye, aye, sir," said Harry. "It's sufficient for us to follow where General Lee leads."
"But we need a great victory," said Colonel Talbot. "We've had news from the southwest. The enemy has penetrated too far there. That fellow
Grant is a perfect bulldog. They say he actually means to take our fortress of Vicksburg. He always hangs on, and that's bad for us. If we win this war, we've got to win it with some great stroke here in the east."
"You speak with your usual penetration and clearness, Leonidas," said Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire, and then the two rode on, side by side, firm, quiet figures.
Now came days when suspense and fear hung heavy over the land. The sudden blow out of the dark that had destroyed Milroy startled the North. The fugitives from his command told alarming stories of the great Southern force that was advancing. The division of Hill, watching Hooker on the Rappahannock, also dropped into the dark where Lee's main army had already gone. The Army of the Potomac took up its march on a parallel line to the westward, but it was never able to come into close contact with the Army of Northern Virginia. There were clouds of skirmishers and cavalry between.
Undaunted by his narrow escape at Brandy Station, Stuart showed all his old fire and courage, covering the flanks and spreading out a swarm of horsemen who kept off the Northern scouts. Thus Lee was still able to veil his movements in mystery, and the anxious Hooker finally sent forward a great force to find and engage Stuart's cavalry. Stuart, now acting as a rear guard, was overtaken near the famous old battlefield of Manassas. For a long time he fought greatly superior numbers and held them fast until nightfall, when the Northern force, fearing some trap, fell back.
Harry had been sent back with two other staff officers, and from a distance he heard the crash and saw the flame of the battle. But he had no part in it, merely reporting the result late in the night to his general, who speedily pressed on, disregarding what might occur on his flanks or in his rear, sure that his lieutenants could attend to all dangers there.
The days were full of excitement for Harry. While he remained near Lee, the far-flung cavalry continually brought in exciting reports. As Harry saw it, the North was having a taste of what she had inflicted on the South. The news of Milroy's destruction, startling enough in itself, had been magnified as it spread on the wings of rumor. The same rumor enlarged Lee's army and increased the speed of his advance.
Sherburne, recovered from his slight wound, was the most frequent bringer of news. There was not one among all Stuart's officers more daring than he, and he was in his element now, as they rode northward into the enemy's country. He told how the troopers had followed Milroy's fugitives so closely that they barely escaped across the Potomac, and then how the Unionists of Maryland had fled before the gray horsemen.
Sherburne did not exaggerate. Hitherto the war had never really touched the soil of any of the free states, but now it became apparent that Pennsylvania, the second state of the Union in population, would be invaded. Excitement seized
Harrisburg, its capital, which Lee's army might reach at any time. People poured over the bridges of the Susquehanna and thousands of men labored night and day to fortify the city.
Jenkins, a Southern cavalry leader, was the first to enter Pennsylvania, his men riding into the village of Greencastle, and proceeding thence to Chambersburg. While the telegraph all over the North told the story of his coming, and many thought that Lee's whole army was at hand, Jenkins turned back. His was merely a small vanguard, and Lee had not yet drawn together his whole army into a compact body.
The advance of Lee with a part of his army was harassed moreover by the Northern cavalry, which continued to show the activity and energy that it had displayed so freely at Pleasanton's battle with Stuart. Harry, besides bearing messages for troops to come up, often saw, as he rode back and forth, the flame of firing on the skyline, and he heard the distant mutter of both rifle and cannon fire. Some of these engagements were fierce and sanguinary. In one, more than a thousand men fell, a half to either side.
Harry was shot at several times on his perilous errands, and once he had a long gallop for safety. Then Lee stopped a while at the Potomac, with his army on both sides of the river. He was waiting to gather all his men together before entering Pennsylvania. Already they were in a country that was largely hostile to them, and now Harry saw the difficulty of getting accurate information. The farmers merely regarded them with lowering brows and refused to say anything about Union troops.
Harry had parted company for the time with his friends of the Invincibles. They were far ahead with Ewell, while he and Dalton remained with Lee on the banks of the Potomac. Yet the delay was not as long as it seemed to him. Soon they took up their march and advanced on a long line across the neck of Maryland into Pennsylvania, here a region of fertile soil, but with many stony outcrops. The little streams were numerous, flowing down to the rivers, and horses and men alike drank thirstily at them, because the weather was now growing hot and the marching was bad.
It was near the close of the month when Harry learned that Hooker had been relieved of the command of the Army of the Potomac at his own request, and that he had been succeeded by
"Do you know anything about Meade?" he asked Dalton.
"He's been one of the corps commanders against us," replied the Virginian, "and they say he's cautious. That's all I know."
"I think it likely that we'll find out before long what kind of a general he is," said Harry thoughtfully. "We can't invade the North without having a big battle."
The corps of Hill and Longstreet were now joined under the personal eye of Lee, who rode with his two generals. Ewell was still ahead. Finally they came to Chambersburg, which the Southern advance had reached earlier in the month, and Lee issued an order that no devastation should be committed by his troops, an order that was obeyed.
Harry and Dalton walked a little through the town, and menacing looks met them everywhere.
"We've treated 'em well, but they don't like us," he said to Dalton.
"Why should they? We come as invaders, as foes, not as friends. Did our people in the Virginia towns give the Yankees any very friendly looks?"
"Not that I've heard of. I suppose you can't make friends of a people whom you come to make war on, even if you do speak kind words to them."
"Is General Stuart here?" asked Dalton.
"No, he's gone on a great raid with his whole force. I suppose he's going to sweep up many detachments of the enemy."
"And meanwhile we're going on to Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania."
"But it seems to me that Stuart ought to be with us."
"Maybe he's gone to find out just where the Army of the Potomac is. We've lost Meade, and Meade has lost us. Some prisoners that we've brought in say that nobody in the North knows just where our army is, although all know that it's in Pennsylvania."
But that night, while Harry was at General Lee's headquarters, a scout arrived with news that the Army of the Potomac was advancing upon an almost parallel line and could throw itself in his rear. Other scouts came, one after another, with the same report. Harry saw the gravity with which the news was received, and he speedily gathered from the talk of those about him that Lee must abandon his advance to the Pennsylvania capital and turn and fight, or be isolated far from Virginia, the Southern base.
Stuart and the cavalry were still absent on a great raid. Lee's orders to Stuart were not explicit, and the cavalry leader's ardent soul gave to them the widest interpretation. Now they felt the lack of his horsemen, who in the enemy's country could have obtained abundant information. A spy had brought them the news that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the Potomac and was marching on a parallel line with them, but at that point their knowledge ended. The dark veil, which was to be lifted in such a dramatic and terrible manner, still hung between the two armies.
The weather turned very warm, as it was now almost July. So far as the heat was concerned Harry could not see any difference between Pennsylvania and Kentucky and Virginia. In all three the sun blazed at this time of the year, but the country was heavy with crops, now ripening fast. It was a region that Harry liked. He had a natural taste for broken land with slopes, forests, and many little streams of clear water. Most of the fields were enclosed in stone fences, and the great barns and well-built houses indicated prosperous farmers.
He and Dalton rode up to one of these houses, and, finding every door and window closed, knocked on the front door with a pistol butt. They knew it was occupied, as they had seen smoke coming from the chimney.
"This house surely belongs to a Dutchman," said Dalton, meaning one of those Pennsylvanians of German descent who had settled in the rich southeast of Pennsylvania generations ago.
"I fear they don't know how to talk English," said Harry.
"They can if they have to. Hit that door several times more, Harry, and hit it hard. They're a thrifty people, and they wouldn't like to see a good door destroyed."
Harry beat a resounding tattoo until the door was suddenly thrown open and the short figure of a man of middle years, chin-whiskered and gray, but holding an old-fashioned musket in his hands, confronted them.
"Put down that gun, Herr Schneider! Put it down at once!" said Dalton, who had already levelled his pistol.
The man was evidently no coward, but when he looked into Dalton's eye, he put the musket on the floor.
Harry, still sitting on his horse--they had ridden directly up to the front door--saw a stalwart woman and several children hovering in the dusk of the room behind the man. He watched the whole group, but he left the examination to Dalton.
"I want you to tell me, Herr Schneider, the location of the Army of the Potomac, down to the last gun and man, and what are the intentions of General Meade," said Dalton.
The man shook his head and said, "Nein."
"Nine!" said Dalton indignantly. "General Meade has more than nine men with him! Come, out with the story! All those tales about the rebels coming to burn and destroy are just tales, and nothing more. You understand what I'm saying well enough. Come, out with your information!"
"Nein," said the German.
"All right," said Dalton in a ferocious tone. "After all, we are the rebel ogres that you thought we were."
He turned toward his comrade and, with his back toward the German, winked and said:
"What do you think I'd better do with him?"
"Oh, kill him," replied Harry carelessly. "He's broad between the eyes and there's plenty of room there for a bullet. You couldn't miss at two yards."
The German made a dive toward his musket, but Dalton cried sharply:
"Hands up or I shoot!"
The German straightened himself and, holding his hands aloft, said:
"You would not kill me in the shelter uf mein own house?"
"Well, that depends on the amount of English you know. It seems to me, Herr Schneider, that you learned our language very suddenly."
"I vas a man who learns very fast when it vas necessary. Mein brain vorks in a manner most vonderful ven I looks down the barrel of a big pistol."
"This pistol is a marvelous stimulant to a good education."
"How did you know mein name vas Schneider?"
"Intuition, Herr Schneider! Intuition! We Southern people have wonderful intuitive faculties."
"Vell, it vas not Schneider. My name vas Jacob Onderdonk."
Harry laughed and Dalton reddened.
"The joke is on me, Mr. Onderdonk," said Dalton. "But we're here on a serious errand. Where is General Meade?"
"I haf not had my regular letter from General Meade this morning. Vilhelmina, you are sure ve haf noddings from General Meade?"
"Noddings, Jacob," she said.
Dalton flushed again and muttered under his breath.
"We want to know," he said sharply, "if you have seen the Army of the Potomac or heard anything of it."
A look of deep sadness passed over the face of Jacob Onderdonk.
"I haf one great veakness," he said, "one dot makes my life most bitter. I haf de poorest memory in de vorld. Somedimes I forget de face of mein own Vilhelmina. Maybe de Army uf de Potomac, a hundred thousand men, pass right before my door yesterday. Maybe, as der vedder vas hot, that efery one uf dem hundred thousand men came right into der house und take a cool drink out uf der water bucket. But I cannot remember. Alas, my poor memory!"
"Then maybe Wilhelmina remembers."
"Sh! do not speak uf dot poor voman. I do not let her go out uf der house dese days, as she may not be able to find der vay back in again."
"We'd better go, George," said Harry. "I think we only waste time asking questions of such a forgetful family."
"It iss so," said Onderdonk; "but, young Mister Rebels, I remember one thing."
"And what is that?" asked Dalton.
"It vas a piece of advice dot I ought to gif you. You tell dot General Lee to turn his horse's head and ride back to der South. You are good young rebels. I can see it by your faces. Ride back to der South, I tell you again. We are too many for you up here. Der field uf corn iss so thick und so long dot you cannot cut your way through it. Your knife may be sharp and heavy, but it vill vear out first. Do I not tell the truth, Vilhelmina, mein vife?"
"All your life you haf been a speaker of der truth, Hans, mein husband."
"I think you're a poor prophet, Mr. Onderdonk," said Dalton. "We recognize, however, the fact that we can't get any information out of you. But we ask one thing of you."
"Vat iss dot?"
"Please to remember that while we two are rebels, as you call them, we neither burn nor kill. We have offered you no rudeness whatever, and the Army of Northern Virginia is composed of men of the same kind."
"I vill remember it," said Onderdonk gravely, and as they saluted him politely, he returned the salute.
"Not a bad fellow, I fancy," said Harry, as they rode away.
"No, but our stubborn enemy, all the same. Wherever our battle is fought we'll find a lot of these Pennsylvania Dutchmen standing up to us to the last."
Harry and Dalton rejoined the staff, bringing with them no information of value, and they marched slowly on another day, camping in the cool of the evening, both armies now being lost to the anxious world that waited and sought to find them.
Lee himself, as Harry gathered from the talk about him, was uncertain. He did not wish a battle now, but his advance toward the Susquehanna had been stopped by the news that the Army of the Potomac could cut in behind. The corps of Ewell had been recalled, and Harry, as he rode to it with a message from his general, saw his old friends again. They were in a tiny village, the name of which he forgot, and Colonel Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire, sitting in the main room of what was used as a tavern in times of peace, had resumed the game of chess, interrupted so often. Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire was in great glee, just having captured a pawn, and Colonel Talbot was eager and sure of revenge, when Harry entered and stated that he had delivered an order to General Ewell to fall back yet farther.
"Most untimely! Most untimely!" exclaimed Colonel Talbot, as they rapidly put away the board and chessmen. "I was just going to drive Hector into a bad corner, when you came and interrupted us."
"You are my superior officer, Leonidas," said Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire, "but remember that this superiority applies only to military rank. I assert now, with all respect to your feelings, that in regard to chess it does not exist, never has and never will."
"Opinions, Hector, are--opinions. Time alone decides whether they are or are not facts. But our corps is to fall back, you say, Harry? What does it signify?"
"I think, Colonel, that it means a great battle very soon. It is apparent that General Lee thinks so, or he would not be concentrating his troops so swiftly. The Army of the Potomac is somewhere on our flank, and we shall have to deal with it."
"So be it. The Invincibles are few but ready."
Harry rode rapidly back to Lee with the return message from Ewell, and found him going into camp on the eve of the last day of June. The weather was hot and scarcely any tents were set, nearly everybody preferring the open air. Harry delivered his message, and General Lee said to him, with his characteristic kindness:
"You'd better go to sleep as soon as you can, because I shall want you to go on another errand in the morning to a place called Gettysburg."
Gettysburg! Gettysburg! He had never heard the name before and it had absolutely no significance to him now. But he saluted, withdrew, procured his blankets and joined Dalton.
"The General tells me, George, that I'm to go to Gettysburg," he said. "What's Gettysburg, and why does he want me to go there?"
"I'm to be with you, Harry, and we're both going with a flying column, in order that we may report upon its conduct and achievements. So I've made inquiries. It's a small town surrounded by hills, but it's a great center for roads. We're going there because it's got a big shoe factory. Our role is to be that of shoe buyers. Harry, stick out your feet at once!"
Harry thrust them forward.
"One sole worn through. The heel gone from the other shoe, and even then you're better off than most of us. Lots of the privates are barefooted. So you needn't think that the role of shoe buyer is an ignominious one."
"I'll be ready," said Harry. "Call me early in the morning, George. We're a long way from home, and the woods are not full of friends. Getting up here in these Pennsylvania hills, one has to look pretty hard to look away down South in Dixie."
"That's so, Harry. A good sleep to you, and tomorrow, as shoe buyers, we'll ride together to Gettysburg."
He lay between his blankets, went quickly to sleep and dreamed nothing of Gettysburg, of which he had heard for the first time that day.