THE STAR OF GETTYSBURG
A STORY OF SOUTHERN HIGH TIDE
by JOSEPH A. ALTSHELER
Harry took many messages that night, and he witnessed the gathering of the generals about Lee. He saw Ewell come, hobbling on his crutches, eager for battle and disappointed that they had not pushed the victory. Hill returned again, refusing to yield to his illness. And there was Longstreet, thick-bearded, the best fighter that Lee had since the death of Jackson; McLaws, Hood, Heth, Pender, Jubal Early, Anderson and others, veterans of many battles, great and small.
They talked long and earnestly and pointed many times to the battlefield and the opposing heights. While they talked, a man appeared among the men in blue on Cemetery Hill, accompanied only by a staff officer and an orderly. He had ridden a long distance, and naturally lean and haggard, these traits in his appearance were exaggerated by weariness and anxiety. He looked as little like a great general as Jackson had looked in those days before he had sprung into fame.
His military hat was black and broad of brim, and the brim, having become limp, drooped down over his face. There were spectacles on his nose, and it is said of him that he could have been taken more easily for a teacher than for a commander-in-chief. Thus
Meade came to his army in the decisive moment of his country's life. He inspired neither enthusiasm nor discouragement. He looked upon those left from the battle and upon the brigades which had come since, thousands of men already sound asleep among the white stones of the churchyard. Then he turned in a calm and businesslike manner to the task of arranging a stern front for the storm which he knew would burst upon them to-morrow. The respect of his officers for him increased.
Lee's generals went to their respective commands. Harry once more took orders, and, as he carried messages or brought them back, he never failed to see all that he could. The great corps of Ewell was drawn up on the battlefield of the day, Hill's forces extended to Willoughby Run, and the Southern line was complete along the whole curve. They also had the welcome news that Stuart at Carlisle had heard of the battle and would be present with the cavalry on the morrow.
Harry, riding about in the darkness, recovered much of his spirits. The whole Southern army would be present in the morning, and while Jackson was dead, his spirit might ride again at their head. Now he awaited the dawn with confidence, believing that Lee would win another great victory.
Harry was sent on his last errand far after midnight, and it took him to one of Ewell's divisions, in the edge of Gettysburg. It was a clear night, with a bright summer sky, a good moon and the stars in their myriads twinkling peacefully over the panorama of human passion and death. But they seemed very far away and cold to the boy, who was chilled by the night and the impending sense of mighty conflict. In Virginia they were fighting against the invader and in defense of their own soil. Now they were the invader, and it was the men in blue who defended.
As he passed over that battlefield, on which the dead and the badly hurt yet lay, his heart was dissolved for the time in sadness. The dead were thick all around him, and there were many hurt seriously who were so still that he did not know whether they were alive or not. He heard very few groans. He noticed often on the battlefields that the hurt usually shut their teeth together and endured in silence. As he approached one of the little streams, a form twisted itself suddenly from his path, and a weak voice exclaimed:
"For God's sake don't step on me!"
Harry looked down. It was a boy with yellow hair, younger than himself. He could not have been over sixteen, but he wore a blue uniform and a bullet had gone through his shoulder. Harry had a powerful sensation of pity.
"I would not have stepped on you," he said. His duty urged him on, but his feelings would not let him go, and he added:
"I'll help you."
He lifted the lad, rapidly cut away his coat, and slicing it into strips, bound up tightly the two wounds in his shoulder where the bullet had gone in and where it had come out.
"You've lost a lot of blood," he said, "but you've got enough left to live on until you gather another supply, and you won't lose any more now."
"Thank you," murmured the boy; "but you're very good for--for a rebel."
"Why, you innocent child!" he said. "Have they been filling your head with tales of our ferocity and cruelty?"
He went down to the stream, dipped up water in his cap, and brought it back to the boy, who drank eagerly. Then he placed him in a more comfortable position on the turf, and patting his head, said:
"You'll get well sure, and maybe you and I will meet after the war and be friends."
All of which came true. Its like happened often in this war. But he went out of Harry's mind, as he walked on and delivered his message in the edge of Gettysburg. He could not return before seeking the Invincibles, who were surely here in the vanguard--if they were yet alive. Harry shuddered. All his friends might have perished in that whirlwind of death. He soon learned that they had suffered greatly, but that those who were left were lying on the grass of what had been a lawn.
He found the lawn quickly and saw dark figures strewed about upon the ground. They were so still and silent that they looked like the dead, but Harry knew that it was the stupor of exhaustion. As they were inside the lines and needing no watch, there was no sentinel.
Harry stepped over the low fence and looked again at the figures. The moonlight silvered them and they did not stir. He could not see a single form move. It was weird, uncanny, and the blood chilled in his veins. But he shook himself violently, angry at his weakness, and walked among them, looking for the two colonels and the two lieutenants. A figure suddenly sat up before him and a dignified voice said:
"Your footstep awakened me, Harry, and if there is a message, I am here to receive it. But I ask you in the name of mercy to be quick. I was never before so much overpowered that I could not hold up my head a minute."
Before Harry could speak another figure rose.
"Yes, Harry, be quick if you can, and let us go back to sleep," said Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire in a pleading voice.
"Thank God I've found you both. I have no message for you. I was merely looking to see if all of you were alive."
"You've always had a kind heart, Harry," said Colonel Talbot, "and we can't tell you how much we appreciate what you've done."
"Are St. Clair and Happy Tom here?"
"I cannot tell you. We suffered from such tremendous exhaustion that our men fell upon the grass, we with them, and all of us sank into stupor. But, Harry, they must be here! We couldn't have lost those boys! Why, I can't think of them as not living!"
"If you'll let me make a suggestion, lie down and go to sleep again," said Harry. "I'll find 'em."
The two colonels stretched a little, as if they were about to rise and go with him, but the effort was beyond their powers. They sank back and returned to sleep. Harry went on, his heart full of fear for the two young friends who were so dear to him.
The survivors of the Invincibles lay in all sorts of positions, some on their backs, some on their sides, some on their faces, and others doubled up like little children. It was hard to recognize those dark figures, but he came at last to one in a lieutenant's uniform, and he was sure that it was Langdon. He was afraid at first that he was dead, but he put his hand on his shoulder and shook it.
There was no response, but Harry felt the warmth of the body pass through the cloth to his hand, and he knew that Langdon was living. He shook him again.
Happy opened his eyes slowly and regarded Harry with a long stare.
"Are you a ghost?" he asked solemnly.
"No, I was never more alive than I am now."
"I don't believe you, Harry. You're a ghost and so am I. Look at the dead men lying all around us. We're just the first up. Why, Harry, nobody could go through the crater of an active volcano, as we've done, and live. I was either burned to death or shot to death with a bullet or blown to pieces with a shell. I don't know which, but it doesn't matter. What kind of a country is this, Harry, into which we've been resurrected?"
"Stop your foolishness, Happy. You're alive, all right, although you may not be to-morrow night. The whole Army of the Potomac is coming up and there's going to be another great battle."
"Then it's just as well that I'm alive, because General Lee will need me. But, Harry, don't you think I've answered enough questions and that I've been awake long enough? Harry, remember that I'm your friend and comrade, almost your brother, and let me go back to sleep."
"Where is St. Clair? Was he killed?"
"No. A million shells burst over both of us, but we escaped them all. But Arthur will be dead to the world for a while, just the same. His is the fourth figure beyond me, but you couldn't wake him if you fired a
cannon at his ear, and in two minutes you won't be able to wake me with another cannon."
Happy's head fell back as he spoke, and in less than half the time he gave he had joined the band of the original seven sleepers. Harry, stepping lightly over the slumbering figures--he had left his horse on the hill--went back to the staff, where he saw that many were yet watching. At the urgent advice of an older officer he stretched himself between two blankets to protect his body from dew and slept a little before dawn. He, too, had felt the exhaustion shown by the Invincibles, but his nervous system was keyed highly, too high, in fact, to sleep long. Moreover, he seemed to find some new reserve of strength, and when Dalton put his hand upon his shoulder he sprang to his feet, eager and active. Dalton had not been sent on many errands the night before, and, sleeping longer than Harry, he had been up a half hour earlier.
"You'll find coffee and food for the staff back a little," said Dalton, "and I'd advise you to take breakfast, Harry."
"I will. What's going on?"
"Nothing, except the rising of the sun. See it, Harry, just coming over the edge of the horizon behind those two queer hills."
The rim of the eastern sky was reddening fast, and Round Top and Little Round Top stood out against it, black and exaggerated. They were raised in the dawn, yet dim, to twice their height, and rose like gigantic towers.
But there was light enough already for Harry to see masses of men on the opposing slopes, and stone fences running along the hillsides, some of which had been thrown up in the night by soldiers.
"I take it that the whole Army of the Potomac is here," he said.
"So our scouts tell us," replied Dalton. "Our forces are gathered, too, except the six thousand infantry under Pickett and McLaws and the cavalry under Stuart. But they'll come."
Harry and Dalton ate breakfast quickly, and, hurrying back, stood near their chief, ready for any service. All the Southern forces were in line. Heth held the right, Pender the left, and Anderson, Hood, and McLaws and the others were stationed between. The brilliant sun moved slowly on and flooded the town, the hills and the battlefield of the day before with light. The officers of either side with their powerful glasses could plainly see the hostile troops. Harry had glasses of his own, and he looked a long time. But he saw little movement in the hostile ranks. Meade and
Hancock and the others had worked hard in the hours of darkness and the Army of the Potomac was ready.
Harry expected to hear the patter of rifles. Surely the battle would open at once. But there was no sound of strife. It seemed instead that a great silence had settled over the two armies and all between. Perhaps each was waiting for the other to make the first cast of the dice.
Harry studied Lee's face, but he could read nothing there. Like Jackson he had the power of dismissing all expression. He wore a splendid new uniform which had recently been sent to him by the devoted people of Virginia, and with his height and majestic figure, his presence had never seemed more magnificent than on that morning. It was usually he who opened the battle, never waiting for the enemy, but as yet he gave no order.
Longstreet, Hill and Hood presently joined Lee, and the four walked a little higher up the ridge, where they examined the Northern army for a long time through their glasses. Lee must have recognized the strength of that position, the formidable ridges, the stone walls bristling with batteries, all crowned with an army of veterans more numerous than his own, and, even when Stuart and Pickett should come, more numerous yet by fifteen thousand men. But his army, with the habit of victory, was eager for battle, sure that it could win, despite the numbers and position of the enemy.
The generals came back, but Lee said little. Harry often wished that he could have penetrated the mind of the great commander that morning, a mind upon which so much hung and which must have been assailed by doubts and fears, despite the impenetrable mask of his face. But he did not yet give any orders to attack, and Harry and Dalton, who had nothing to do but look on, were amazed. There was the Army of the Potomac waiting, and it was not Lee's habit to let it wait.
Slow though the sun was, it was now far up the blue arch and the day was intensely hot. The golden beams poured down and everything seemed to leap out into the light. Harry clearly saw the Northern cannon and now and then he saw an officer moving about. But the men in blue were mostly still, lying upon their arms. The troops of his own army were quiet also, and they, too, were lying down.
It suddenly occurred to Harry that no more fitting field for a great and decisive battle could have been chosen. It was like a vast arena, enclosed by the somber hills and the two Round Tops, on both of which flew the flags of the Union signalmen.
Yet the day drew on. The two armies of nearly two hundred thousand men merely sat and stared at each other. Noon passed and the afternoon advanced. Harry yet wondered, as many another did. But it was not for him to criticize. They were led by a man of genius, and the great mind must be working, seeking the best way.
He and Dalton and some others lay down on the grass, while the heavy silence still endured. Not a single cannon shot had been fired all that day, and soon the sun would begin its decline from the zenith.
"I think I'll go to sleep," said Dalton.
"You couldn't if you tried," said Harry, "and you know it. If General Lee is waiting, it's because he has good reasons for waiting, and you know that, too."
"You're right in both instances, Harry. I could never shut my eyes on a scene like this, and, late as it grows, there will yet be a battle to-day. Weren't some orders sent along the line a little while ago?"
"Yes, the older men took 'em. What time is it, George?"
"Four o'clock." Then he closed his watch with a snap, and added:
"The battle has begun."
The heavy report of a cannon came from the Southern right under Longstreet. It sped up the valleys and returned in sinister echoes. It was succeeded by silence for a moment, and then the whole earth shook beneath a mighty shock. All the batteries along the Southern line opened, pouring a tremendous volume of fire upon the whole Northern position.
The young officers leaped to their feet. A volcano had burst. The Union batteries were replying, and the front of both armies blazed with fire. The smoke hung high and Harry and Dalton could see in the valley beneath it. They caught the gleam of bayonets and saw the troops of Longstreet advancing in heavy masses to the assault of the slope where the peach trees grew, now known as the Peach Orchard. Here stood the New Yorkers who had been thrust forward under Sickles, a rough politician, but brave and in many respects capable. There was some confusion among them as they awaited the Confederates, Sickles, it is charged, having gone too far in his zeal, and then endeavoring to fall back when it was too late. But the men under him were firm. On this field the two great states of New York and Pennsylvania, through the number of troops they furnished for it, bore the brunt of the battle.
Harry and Dalton, crouched down in order that they might see better under the smoke, watched the thrilling and terrible spectacle. The Southern vanguard was made up of Texans, tall, strong, tanned men, led by the impetuous Hood, and shouting the fierce Southern war cry they rushed straight at the corps of Sickles. The artillery and rifle fire swept through their ranks, but they did not falter. Many fell, but the others rushed on, and Harry, although unconscious of it, began to shout as he saw them cross a little stream and charge with all their might against the enemy.
The combat was stubborn and furious. The men of Sickles redoubled their efforts. At some points their line was driven in and the Texans sought to take their artillery, but at others they held fast and even threatened the Southern flank. They knew, too, that reinforcements were promised to them and they encouraged one another by saying they were already in sight.
Harry could not turn his eyes away from this struggle, much of which was hidden in the smoke, and all of which was confused. The cannon of Hill and Ewell were thundering elsewhere, but here was the crucial point. The Round Tops rose on one side of the combatants. Round Top itself seemed too lofty and steep for troops, but Little Round Top, accessible to both men and cannon, would dominate the field, and he believed that Hood, as soon as his men crushed Sickles, would whirl about and seize it. But he could not yet tell whether fortune favored the Blue or the Gray.
The generals from both sides watched the struggle with intense anxiety and hurried forward fresh troops. Woods and rocks and slopes helped the defense, but the attack was made with superior numbers. Longstreet himself was directing the action and a part of Hill's men were coming up to his aid. Sedgwick and Sykes, able generals, were rushing to help Sickles. The whole combat was beginning to concentrate about the furious struggle for the Peach Orchard and Little Round Top.
Hood, in all the height of the struggle, saw the value of Little Round Top and tried his utmost to seize it. Again the Northern generals were to show that they had learned how to see what should be done and to do it at once. Little Round Top rose up, dominant over the whole field, a prize of value beyond all computation. Just then it was the most valuable hill in all the world.
A Northern general,
Warren, the chief engineer of the army, had seen the value of Little Round Top as quickly as Hood. The signalmen were about to leave, but he made them stay. An entire brigade, hurrying to the battle, was passing the slope, when Warren literally seized upon them by force of command and rushed the men and their cannon to the crest.
Hood's soldiers were already climbing the slopes, when the fire of the brigade, shell and bullets, struck almost in their faces. Harry, watching through his glasses, saw them reel back and then go on again, firing their own rifles as they climbed over the rocky sides of Little Round Top. Again that fierce volley assailed them, crashing through their ranks, and again they went on into the flame and the smoke.
Harry saw the battle raging around the crest of Little Round Top. Then he uttered a cry of despair. The Southerners, with their ranks thin--woefully thin--were falling back slowly and sullenly. They had done all that soldiers could do, but the commanding towers of Little Round Top remained in Union hands, and the
Union generals were soon crowding it with artillery that could sweep every point in the field below.
But Sickles himself was not faring so well. His men, fighting for every inch of ground about the Peach Orchard, were slowly driven back. Sickles himself fell, a leg shattered, and walked on one leg for more than fifty years afterwards. Hood, his immediate opponent, also fell, losing an arm then and a leg later at Chickamauga, but Longstreet still pushed the attack, and the Northern generals who had stood around Sickles resisted with the stubbornness of men who meant to succeed or die.
Early in the battle Harry had seen General Lee walk forward to a point in the center of his line and sit down on a smooth stump. There he sat a long time, apparently impassive. Harry sometimes took his eyes away from the combat for the Peach Orchard and Little Round Top to watch his commander-in-chief. But the general never showed emotion. Now and then General Hill or his military secretary, General Long, came to him and they would talk a little together, but they made no gestures. Lee would rise when the generals came, but when they left he would resume his place on the stump and watch the struggle through his glasses. Throughout the whole battle of that day he sent a single order and received but one message. He had given his orders before the advance, and he left the rest to his lieutenants.
"I wish I could be as calm as he is," said Harry.
"I'll risk saying that he isn't calm inside," said Dalton. "How could any man be at such a time?"
"You're right. Duck! Here comes a shell!"
But the shell fell short and exploded on the slope.
"Now listen, will you!" exclaimed Harry. "That's the spirit!"
Immediately after the shell burst a Southern band began to play. And it played the merriest music, waltzes and polkas and all kinds of dances. Harry felt his feet move to the tunes, while the battle below, at its very height, roared and thundered.
But he promptly forgot the musicians as he watched the battle. He knew that the Invincibles were somewhere in that volcano of fire and smoke, and it was almost too much to hope that they would again come unhurt out of such a furious conflict. But they, too, passed quickly from his mind. The struggle would let nothing else remain there long.
He saw that the Union troops were still in the Peach Orchard and that they were pouring a deadly fire also from Little Round Top. Hancock had come to take the place of Sickles, and he was drawing every man he could to his support. The afternoon was waning, but the battle was still at its height. Men were falling by thousands, and generals, colonels, majors, officers of all kinds were falling with them. The Southerners had not encountered such resistance in any other great battle, and the ground, moreover, was against them.
Yet the grim fighter, Longstreet, never ceased to push on his brigades. The combat was now often face to face, and sharpshooters, hidden in every angle and hollow of the earth, picked off men by hundreds. The great rocky mass known as the Devil's Den was filled with Northern sharpshooters and for a long time they stung the Southern flank terribly, until a Southern battery, noticing whence the deadly stream of bullets issued, sprayed it with grape and canister until most of the sharpshooters were killed, while those who survived fled like wolves from their lairs.
The day was now passing, but Harry could see no decrease in the fury of the battle. Longstreet was still hurling his men forward, and they were met with cannon and rifle and bayonet. The Confederate line now grew more compact. The brigades were brought into closer touch, and, gathering their strength anew, they rushed forward in a charge, heavier and more desperate than any that had gone before. Generals and colonels led them in person. Barksdale, young, but with snow-white hair, was riding at the very front of the line, and he fell, dying, in the Union ranks.
The Southern charge was stopped again on the left wing of the Union army, and with the coming of the night the battle there sank, but elsewhere the South was meeting with greater success. Ewell, making a renewed and fierce attack at sunset, drove in the Northern right, and, seconded by Early, took their defenses there. But the darkness was coming fast, and although the firing went on for a long time, it ceased at last, with the two enemies still face to face and the battle drawn.
Harry, who had expected to see a glorious victory won by the setting of the sun, was deeply depressed. His youth did not keep him from seeing that very little advantage had been won in that awful conflict of the afternoon, and he saw also that the Army of the Potomac had been fighting as if it had been improved by defeat. Nor had Lee thrown in his whole force where it was needed most. If Jackson had only been there! Harry pictured his swift flank movement, his lightning stroke, and the crumpling up of the enemy. Jackson loomed larger than ever now to his disappointed and excited mind.
Harry had been all day long and far into the night on Seminary Hill. Often he had scarcely moved for an hour, and now, when the firing ceased and he stood up and tried to peer into the valley of death, he found his limbs so stiff for a minute or two that he could scarcely move. His eyes ached and his throat was raw from smoke and the fumes of burned gunpowder. But as he shook himself and stretched his muscles, he regained firmness of both mind and body.
"We didn't win much," he said to Dalton.
"Not to-day, but we will to-morrow. Harry, wasn't it awful? It looks to me down there like a pit of destruction."
And Dalton described it truly. The losses of the day before had been doubled. Thirty thousand men on the two sides had now fallen, and there was another day to come.
Harry saw that the generals themselves were assailed by doubts and fears. He with other young staff officers witnessed the council of Lee and his leading officers in the moonlight on Seminary Ridge. Some spoke of retreat. A drawn battle in the enemy's country, and with an inferiority of numbers, was for them equivalent to a defeat. Others pointed out, however, that while their losses had been enormous, the courage and spirit of the Army of Northern Virginia were unshaken. Stuart with the cavalry, expected earlier, would certainly be up soon, and, after all, the day had not been without its gains. Longstreet held the Peach Orchard and Ewell was in the Union defenses on the flank of Gettysburg.
But Lee thought most of the troops. These ragged veterans of his who had been invincible asked to be led once more against the enemy. A spirit so high as theirs could not be denied. His decision was given. They would stay and smash the Union army on the morrow.
Harry heard of the decision. He had never doubted that it would be so. They must surely win the next day with the addition of Pickett's men and Stuart's cavalry. He wondered why Stuart had not come up already, but he learned the next morning that a good reason had held him back.
The Union cavalry, always vigilant now, had intercepted Stuart in the afternoon and had given him battle, just when the combat of the second day had begun at Gettysburg. Gregg led the horsemen in blue and there was another combat like that at Brandy Station, now about five thousand sabres on a side. There was a long and desperate struggle in which neither force could win, young
Custer in particular showing uncommon skill and courage for the North, while
Wade Hampton performed prodigies for the South. At last they drew off by mutual consent, Gregg into the forest, while Stuart, with his reduced force, rode on in the night to Lee. But Gregg in holding back Stuart had struck the Southern army a great blow.
Harry and Dalton with nothing to do received permission to go among the soldiers, and as they marked their spirits, their own rose. Then they passed down toward the battlefield. Harry had some idea that they might again find the Invincibles, as they had found them the night before, but their time was too short. The Invincibles were somewhere in the front, he learned, and, disappointed, he and Dalton turned back into the valley.
The night was clear and bright, and they saw many men coming and going from a cold spring under the shadow of the trees. Some of them were wounded and limped painfully. Others carried away water in their hats and caps for comrades too badly wounded to move. Harry observed that some wore the blue, and some the gray. Both he and Dalton were assailed by a burning thirst at the sight of the water, and they went to the spring.
Here men who an hour or two ago had been striving their utmost to kill one another were gathered together and spoke as friends. When one went away another took his place. No thought of strife occurred to them, although there would be plenty of it on the morrow. They even jested and foes complimented foes on their courage. Harry and Dalton drank, and paused a few moments to hear the talk.
The moon rode high, and it has looked down upon no more extraordinary scene than this, the enemies drinking together in friendship at the spring, and all about them the stony ramparts of the hills, bristling with cannon, and covered with riflemen, ready for a red dawn, and the fields and ridges on which thirty thousand had already fallen, dead or wounded.
"Another meeting, Mr. Kenton," said a man who had been bent down drinking. As he rose the moonlight shone full upon his face and Harry was startled. And yet it was not strange that he should be there. The face revealed to Harry was one of uncommon power. It seemed to him that the features had grown more massive. The powerful chin and the large, slightly curved nose showed indomitable spirit and resolution. The face was tanned almost to blackness by all kinds of weather. Harry would not have known him at first, had it not been for his voice.
"We do meet in unexpected places and at unexpected times, Mr. Shepard," he said.
"I'm not merely trying to be polite, when I tell you that I'm glad to find you alive. You and I have seen battles, but never another like this."
"And I can truthfully welcome you, Mr. Shepard, as an old acquaintance and no real enemy."
It was an impulse but a noble one that made the two, different in years and so unlike, shake hands with a firm and honest grip.
"Your army will come again in the morning," said Shepard, not as a question, but as a statement of fact.
"Can you doubt it?"
"No, I don't, but to-morrow night, Mr. Kenton, you will recall what I told you at our first meeting in
Montgomery more than two years ago."
"You said that we could not win."
"And you cannot. It was never possible. Oh, I know that you've won great victories against odds! You've done better than anybody could have expected, but you had genius to help you, while we were led by mediocrity in the saddle. But you have reached your zenith. Mark how the Union veterans fought today. They're as brave and resolute as you are, and we have the position and the men. You'll never get beyond Gettysburg. Your invasion is over. Hereafter you fight always on the defensive."
Harry was startled by his emphasis. The man spoke like an inspired prophet of old. His eyes sparkled like coals of fire in the dark, tanned face. The boy had never before seen him show so much emotion, and his heart sank at the appalling prophecy. Then his courage came back.
"You predict as you hope, Mr. Shepard," he said.
Shepard laughed a little, though not with mirth, and said:
"It is well that it should be settled here. There will be death on a greater scale than any the war has yet seen, but it will have to come sooner or later, and why not at Gettysburg? Good-bye, I go back to the heights. May we both be alive to-morrow night to see which is right."
"The wish is mine, too," said Harry sincerely.
Shepard turned away and disappeared in the darkness. Harry rejoined Dalton who was on the other side of the spring, and the two returned to Seminary Ridge, where they walked among sleeping thousands. They found their way to their comrades of the staff, and their physical powers collapsing at last they fell on the ground where they soon sank into a heavy sleep. The great silence came again. Sentinels walked back and forth along the hostile lines, but they made no noise. There was little moving of brigades or cannon now. The town itself became a town of phantom houses in the moonlight, nearly all of them still and deserted. On all the slopes of the hostile ridges lay the sleeping soldiers, and on the rocks and fields between lay the dead in thousands. But from the crest of Little Round Top, the precious hill so hardly won, the Union officers watched all through the night, and, now and then, they went through the batteries for which they were sure they were going to have great use.
Harry and Dalton awoke at the same time. Another day, hot and burning, had come, and the two armies once more looked across the valley at each other. Harry soon heard the booming of cannon off to his right, where Ewell's corps stood. It came from the Northern guns and for a long time those of the South did not answer. But after a while Harry's practiced ear detected the reply. The hostile wings facing each other were engaged in a fierce battle. He saw the flash of the guns and the rising smoke, but the center of the Army of Northern Virginia and the other wing did not yet move. He looked questioningly at Dalton and Dalton looked questioningly at him.
They expected every instant that the combat would spread along the entire front, but it did not. For several hours they listened to the thunder of the guns on the left, and then they knew by the movement of the sound that the Southern wing had been driven back, not far it is true, but still it had been compelled to yield, and again Harry's heart sank.
But it rose once more when he concluded that Lee must be massing his forces in the center. The left wing had been allowed to fight against overwhelming numbers in order that the rest of the army might be left free to strike a crushing blow.
Then noon came and the battle on their left died completely. Once more the great silence held the field and Harry was mystified and awed. Lee, as calm and impassive as ever, said little. The ridges confronted one another, bristling with cannon but the armies were motionless. The day was hotter than either of those that had gone before. The sun, huge and red, poised in the heavens, shot down fiery rays in millions. Harry gasped for breath, and when at last he spoke in the stillness his voice sounded loud and harsh in his own ears.
"What does it mean, George?" he said.
"I don't know, but I think they are massing behind us for a charge."
"Not against the sixty or seventy thousand men and the scores of cannon on those heights?"
"Maybe not yet. It's likely there will be a heavy artillery fire first. Yes, I'm right! There go the guns!"
One cannon shot was followed by many others, and then for a while a tremendous cannonade raged along the front of the armies, but it too died, the smoke lifted, and then came the breathless, burning heat again.
The fire of the sun and of the battle entered Harry's brain. The valley, the town, the hills, the armies, everthing swam in a red glare. The great pulses leaped in his throat. He was anxious for them to go on, and get it over. Why were the generals lingering when there was a battle to be finished? Half the day was gone already and nothing was decided.
Conscious that he was about to lose control of himself he clasped his hands to his temples and pressed them tightly. At the same time he made a mighty effort of the will. The millions of black specks that had been dancing before his eyes went away. The solid earth ceased to quiver and settled back into its place, careless of the armies that trampled over it. Again he clearly saw through his glasses the long lines of men in blue along the slopes and on the crest of Cemetery Hill. He marked, too, there, at the highest point, a clump of trees waving their summer green in the hot sunshine. Turning his glasses yet further he saw the massed artillery on Little Round Top, and the gunners leaning on their guns. A house, set on fire purposely or by shells, was burning brightly, like some huge torch to light the way to death.
"You told me they were preparing for a charge," he said to Dalton.
"So they are, Harry. Pickett's men, who have not been here long, are forming up in the rear, but their advance will be preceded by a cannonade. You can see them wheeling guns into line."
Lee, with Hill and Longstreet, had recently ridden along the lines followed by the older staff officers, and often shells and the bullets of sharpshooters had struck about them, but they remained unhurt. Now Lee stopped at one of his old points of observation. It was now about one o'clock in the afternoon, and as the last gun took its place the whole artillery of the Southern army opened with a fire so tremendous that Harry felt the earth trembling, and he was compelled to put his fingers in his ears lest he be deafened.
A storm of metal flew across the valley toward the Northern ranks, but the guns there did not reply yet. The Union troops lay close behind their intrenchments and mostly the storm beat itself to pieces on the side of the hill. The smoke soon became so great that Harry could not tell even with glasses what was going on in the enemy's ranks, but he inferred from the fact that they were not yet replying that they were not suffering much.
But in a quarter of an hour the tremendous cannonade was suddenly doubled in volume. The Union guns were now answering. Two hundred cannon facing one another across the valley were fighting the most terrible artillery duel ever known in America. The air was filled with shells, shot, grape, shrapnel, canister and every form of deadly missile.
Harry and Dalton sprang to cover, as some of the shells struck about them, but they stood up again when they saw that Lee was talking calmly with his generals.
The Southern fire was accurate.
General Meade's headquarters were riddled. Many important officers were wounded, but the Northern gunners, superb always, never flinched from their guns. They fell fast, but others took their places. Guns were dismounted but those in the reserve were brought up instead.
The appalling tumult increased. The shells shrieked as they flew through the air in hundreds, and shrapnel and grape whined incessantly. Harry thought it in very truth the valley of destruction, and it was a relief to him when he received an order to carry and could turn away for a little while. He saw now in the rear the brigades of Pickett which were forming up for the charge, about four thousand five hundred men who had not yet been in the battle, while nearly ten thousand more, under Trimble, Pettigrew and Wilcox, were ready to march on their flanks. Pickett's men were lying on their arms patiently waiting. The time had not quite come.
When Harry came back from his errand the cannonade was still at its height. The roar was continuous, deafening, shaking the earth all the time. A light wind blew the smoke back on the Southern position, but it helped, concealing their batteries to a certain extent, while those of the North remained uncovered.
The Northern army was now suffering terribly, although its infantry stood unflinching under the fire. But the South was suffering too. Guns were shattered, and the deadly rain of missiles carried destruction into the waiting regiments. Harry saw Lee and Longstreet continually under the Union fire. They visited the batteries and encouraged the men. Showers of shells struck around them, but they went on unharmed. Wherever Lee appeared the tremendous cheering could be heard amid the roar of the guns.
Now the Southern artillerymen saw that their ammunition was diminishing fast. Such a furious and rapid fire could not be carried on much longer, and Lee sent the word to Pickett to charge. Harry stood by when the men of Pickett arose--but not all of them. Some had been struck by the shells as they lay on the ground and had died in silence, but their comrades marched out in splendid array, and a vast shout arose from the Southern army as they strove straight into the valley of death.
Harry shouted with the rest. He was wild with excitement. Every nerve in him tingled, and once more the black specks danced before his eyes in myriads. Peace or war! Right or wrong! He was always glad that he saw Pickett's charge, the charge that dimmed all other charges in history, the most magnificent proof of man's courage and ability to walk straight into the jaws of death.
The dauntless Virginians marched out in even array, stepping steadily as if they were on parade, instead of aiming straight at the center of the Union army, where fifty thousand riflemen and a hundred guns were awaiting them. Their generals and those of the supporting divisions rode on their flanks or at their head. Besides Pickett, Garnett, Wilcox, Armistead, Pettigrew and Trimble were there.
The Southern cannon were firing over the heads of the marching Virginians, covering them with their fire, but the light breeze strengthened a little, driving away the smoke. There they were in the valley, visible to both friend and foe, marching on that long mile from hill to hill. The Southern army shouted again, and it is true that, at this moment, the Union ranks burst into a like cry of admiration, at the sight of a foe so daring, men of their own race and country.
But Harry never took his eyes for a moment from Pickett's column. He was using his glasses, and everything stood out strong and clear. The sun was at the zenith, pouring down rays so fiery that the whole field blazed in light. The nature of the ground caused the Virginians to turn a little, in order to keep the line for the Union center, but they preserved their even ranks, and marched on at a steady pace.
Harry began to shout again, but in an instant or two he saw a line of fire pass along the Union front. Forty guns together opened upon the charging column, and Hancock at the Union center, seeing and understanding the danger, was heaping up men and cannon to meet it.
The shells began to crash into the ranks of the Virginians and the ten thousand on their flanks. Men fell in hundreds and now the batteries on Little Round Top added to the storm of fire. The clouds of smoke gathered again, but the wind presently scattered them and Harry, waiting in agony, saw Pickett's division marching straight ahead, never faltering.
But he groaned when he saw that there was trouble on the flanks. The men of Pettigrew, exhausted by the great efforts they had already made in the battle, wavered and lost ground. Another division was driven back by a heavy flank attack. Others were lost in the vast banks of smoke that at times filled the valley. Only the Virginians kept unbroken ranks and a straight course for the Union center.
Pickett paused a few moments at the burning house for the others to get in touch with him, but they could not do so, and he marched on, with Cemetery Hill now only two hundred yards away. The covering fire of the Southern cannon had ceased long since. It would have been as dangerous now to friend as to foe. Harry, watching through his glasses, uttered another cry. Pickett and his men were marching alone at the hill. Half of them it seemed to him were gone already, but the other half never paused. The fire of a hundred guns had been poured upon them, as they advanced that deadly mile, but with ranks still even they rushed straight at their mark, the Union center.
Then Harry saw all the slopes and the crest of Cemetery Hill blaze with fire. The Virginians were near enough for the rifles now, and the bullets came in sheets. Harry saw it, and he groaned aloud. He no longer had any hope for those brave men. The charge could not succeed!
Yet he saw them rush into the Union ranks and disappear. A group in gray, still cleaving through the multitude, reappeared far up the slope, and then burst, a little band of a few dozen men, into the very heart of the Union center, the point to which they had been sent.
A battle raged for a few minutes under the clump of trees where Hancock had stood directing. There Armistead, who had led them, his hat on the point of his sword, fell dead among the Northern guns, and Cushing, his brave foe who commanded the battery, died beside him. All the others fell quickly or were taken. A few hundreds on the slopes cut their way back through the Union army and reached their own. Pickett, preserved by some miracle, was among them.
Harry gasped and threw down his glasses. Now he knew that the words Shepard had spoken to him the night before at the spring were true. The Southern invasion had been rolled back forever.
He looked at General Lee, who on foot had been watching the charge. The impenetrable mask was gone for a moment, and his face expressed deep emotion. Then the great soul reasserted itself and mounting his horse went forward to meet the fugitives and encourage them. He rode back and forth among them, and Harry heard him say once:
"All will come right in the end. We'll talk it over afterward, but meanwhile every good man must rally. We want all good and true men just now."
His manner was that of a father to his children, and, though they had failed, the spontaneous cheers again burst forth wherever he passed. The wounded as they were carried to the rear raised themselves up to see him, and their cheers were added to the others.
Harry never forgot anything that he saw or heard then. Although the battle, in effect, was over, the Northern artillery, roaring and thundering triumphantly, was sending its shells across the valley and upon Seminary Ridge. But he did not think anything of them, even when they struck near him. It would be days before he could feel fear again. He heard Lee say to an officer who rode up, and stated, between sobbing breaths, that his whole brigade was destroyed:
"Never mind, General. All this has been my fault. It is I who have lost this fight, and you must help me out of it in the best way you can."
To another he said:
"This has been a sad day for us, a sad day. But we can't expect always to gain victories."
Beholding such greatness of soul, Harry regained his own composure. He rejoined Dalton, and soon they saw the Southern army reform its lines, and turn a bristling front to the enemy. The Northern cannon were still flashing and thundering, but the Northern army made no return attack. Gettysburg, in all respects the greatest battle ever fought on the American continent, was over, and fifty thousand men had fallen.
The sun set, and Harry at last sank on the ground overpowered. The next day the two armies stood on their hills looking at each other, but neither cared to renew the battle after such frightful losses. That afternoon a fearful storm of thunder, lightning and rain burst over the field. It seemed to Harry an echo of the real battle of the day before.
That night Lee, having gathered up his wounded, his guns and his wagons, began his retreat toward the South. His army had lost, but it was still in perfect order, willing, even anxious to fight again. The wagons containing the wounded and the stores stretched for many miles, moving along in the rain, and the cavalry rode on their flanks to protect them.
It was not until the next morning that Harry discovered anything of the Invincibles. In the dawn he saw a covered wagon by the side of which rode an officer, much neater in appearance than the others. He knew at once that it was St. Clair and he galloped forward with a joyous shout.
"Arthur! Arthur!" he cried.
St. Clair turned a pale face that lighted up at the sight of his friend.
"Thank God, you're alive, Harry!" he said, as their hands clasped.
"Are you alone left?" asked Harry.
"Look into the wagon," he said.
Harry lifted a portion of the flap, and, looking in, saw Colonel Leonidas Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire sitting on rolls of blankets facing each other. One had his right arm in a sling and the other the left, but the chessmen rested on a board between them and they were playing intently. They stopped a moment or two to give Harry a glad welcome. Then he let the flap drop back.
"They began at daylight," said St. Clair.
"He's in the wagon, too. He's lying on some blankets behind them."
"Not hurt badly?"
"He was nipped in the shoulder, but it doesn't amount to anything. What he wanted was sleep and he's getting it. He told me not to wake him up again for a month."
"Well, Arthur, we lost."
"Yes, and I don't know just how it happened."
"But we're here, ready to fight them again whenever they come."
"So we are, Harry, and if they ever reach Richmond it will be many a long day before they do it."
"I say so, too."
The great train toiled on through the mud, and the Army of Northern Virginia continued its slow march southward.