The Shades of the Wilderness
Joseph A. Altsheler
Part 5 out of 6
knew that action would not be delayed much longer. Grant was in the East
now. He had gone in January to St. Louis to visit his daughter, who
lay there very ill, and then, after military delays, he had reached
Harry afterward heard the circumstances of his arrival, so characteristic
of plain and republican America. He came into Washington by train as a
simple passenger, accompanied only by his son, who was but fourteen years
of age. They were not recognized, and arriving at a hotel, valise in
hand, with a crowd of passengers, he registered in his turn: "U. S. Grant
and son, Galena, Ill." The clerk, not noticing the name, assigned the
modest arrival and his boy to a small room on the fifth floor. Then they
moved away, a porter carrying the valise. But the clerk happened to look
again at the register, and when he saw more clearly he rushed after them
with a thousand apologies. He did not expect the victor of great battles,
the lieutenant-general commanding all the armies of the Union, a battle
front of more than a million men, to come so modestly.
When Harry heard the story he liked it. It seemed to him to be the same
simple and manly quality that he found in Lee, both worthy of republican
institutions. But he did not have time to think about it long. The
signs were multiplying that the advance would soon come. The North had
never ceased to resound with preparations, and Grant would march with
veterans. All the spies and scouts brought in the same report. Butler
would move up from Fortress Monroe toward Richmond with thirty thousand
men and Grant with a hundred and fifty thousand would cross the Rapidan,
moving by the right flank of Lee until they could unite and destroy the
Confederacy. Such was the plan, said the scouts and spies in gray.
Longstreet with his corps had returned from the West and Lee gathered his
force of about sixty thousand men to meet the mighty onslaught--he alone
perhaps divined how mighty it would be--and when he was faced by the
greatest of his adversaries his genius perhaps never shone more brightly.
May and the full spring came. It was the third day of the month, and the
camp of the Army of Northern Virginia was as usual. Many of the young
soldiers played games among the trees. Here and there they lay in groups
on the new grass, singing their favorite songs. The cooks were preparing
their suppers over the big fires. Several bands were playing. Had
it not been for the presence of so many weapons the whole might have
been taken for one vast picnic, but Harry, who sat in the tent of the
commander-in-chief, was writing as fast as he could dispatch after
dispatch that the Southern leader was dictating to him. He knew
perfectly well, of course, that the commander-in-chief was gathering
his forces and that they would move quickly for battle. He knew, too,
how inadequate was the equipment of the army. Only a short time before
he had taken from the dictation of his chief a letter to the President
of the Confederacy a part of which ran:
My anxiety on the subject of provisions for the army is so great that I
cannot refrain from expressing it to your Excellency. I cannot see how
we can operate with our present supplies. Any derangement in their
arrival or disaster to the railroad would render it impossible for me to
keep the army together and might force a retreat into North Carolina.
There is nothing to be had in this section for men or animals. We have
rations for the troops to-day and to-morrow. I hope a new supply arrived
last night, but I have not yet had a report.
Harry had thought long over this letter and he knew from his own
observation its absolute truth. The depleted South was no longer able to
feed its troops well. The abundance of the preceding autumn had quickly
passed, and in winter they were mostly on half rations.
Lee, better than any other man in the whole South, had understood what
lay before them, and his foes both of the battlefield and of the spirit
have long since done him justice. Less than a week before this eve of
mighty events he had written to a young woman in Virginia, a relative:
I dislike to send letters within reach of the enemy, as they might serve,
if captured, to bring distress on others. But you must sometimes cast
your thoughts on the Army of Northern Virginia, and never forget it in
your prayers. It is preparing for a great struggle, but I pray and trust
that the great God, mighty to deliver, will spread over it His Almighty
arms and drive its enemies before it.
Harry had seen this letter before its sending, and he was not surprised
now when Lee was sending messengers to all parts of his army. With all
the hero-worshiping quality of youth he was once more deeply grateful
that he should have served on the staffs and been brought into close
personal relations with two men, Stonewall Jackson and Lee, who seemed
to him so great. As he saw it, it was not alone military greatness but
greatness of the soul, which was greater. Both were deeply religious--
Lee, the Episcopalian, and Jackson, the Presbyterian, and it was a piety
that contained no trace of cant.
Harry felt that the crisis of the great Civil War was at hand. It had
been in the air all that day, and news had come that Grant had broken up
his camps and was crossing the Rapidan with a huge force. He knew how
small in comparison was the army that Lee could bring against him,
and yet he had supreme confidence in the military genius of his chief.
He had written a letter with which an aide had galloped away, and then he
sat at the little table in the great tent, pen in hand and ink and paper
before him, but Lee was silent. He was dressed as usual with great
neatness and care, though without ostentation. His face had its usual
serious cast, but tinged now with melancholy. Harry knew that he no
longer saw the tent and those around him. His mind dwelled for a few
moments upon his own family and the ancient home that he had loved so
The interval was very brief. He was back in the present, and the
principal generals for whom he had sent were entering the tent. Hill,
Longstreet, Ewell, Stuart and others came, but they did not stay long.
They talked earnestly with their leader for a little while, and then
every one departed to lead his brigades.
The secretaries put away pen, ink and paper. Twilight was advancing in
the east and night suddenly fell outside. The songs ceased, the bands
played no more, and there was only the deep rumble of marching men and
"We'll ride now, gentlemen," said Lee to his staff.
Traveller, saddled and bridled, was waiting and the commander-in-chief
sprang into the saddle with all the agility of a young man. The others
mounted, too, Harry and Dalton as usual taking their places modestly in
A regiment, small in numbers but famous throughout the army for valor,
was just passing, and its colonel and its lieutenant-colonel, erect men,
riding splendidly, but gray like Lee, drew their swords and gave the
proud and flashing salute of the saber as they went by. Lee and his
staff almost with involuntary impulse returned the salute in like
fashion. Then the Invincibles passed on, and were lost from view in the
depths of the forest.
Harry felt a sudden constriction of the heart. He knew that he might
never see Colonel Leonidas Talbot nor Lieutenant-Colonel Hector
St. Hilaire again, nor St. Clair, nor Happy Tom either.
But his friends could not remain long in his mind at such a time.
They were marching, marching swiftly, the presence of the man on the
great white horse seeming to urge them on to greater speed. As the stars
came out Lee's brow, which had been seamed by thought, cleared. His plan
which he had formed in the day was moving well. His three corps were
bearing away toward the old battlefield of Chancellorsville. Grant would
be drawn into the thickets of the Wilderness as Hooker had been the year
before, although a greater than Hooker was now leading the Army of the
Harry, who foresaw it all, thrilled and shuddered at the remembrance.
It was in there that the great Jackson had fallen in the hour of supreme
triumph. Not far away were the heights of Fredericksburg, where Burnside
had led the bravest of the brave to unavailing slaughter. As Belgium had
been for centuries the cockpit of Europe, so the wild and sterile region
in Virginia that men call the Wilderness became the cockpit of North
While Lee and his army were turning into the Wilderness Grant and the
greatest force that the Union had yet assembled were seeking him.
It was composed of men who had tasted alike of victory and defeat,
veterans skilled in all the wiles and stratagems of war, and with hearts
to endure anything. In this host was a veteran regiment that had come
East to serve under Grant as it had served under him so valiantly in
the West. Colonel Winchester rode at its head and beside him rode his
favorite aide, young Richard Mason. Not far away was Colonel Hertford,
with a numerous troop of splendid cavalry.
Grant, alert and resolved to win, carried in his pocket a letter which he
had received from Lincoln, saying:
Not expecting to see you before the spring campaign opens, I wish to
express in this way my entire satisfaction with what you have done up to
this time, so far as I understand it. The particulars of your plans I
neither know nor seek to know. You are vigilant and self-reliant, and,
pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any constraints or restraints
upon you. While I am very anxious that any great disaster or the capture
of our men in great numbers should be avoided, I know these points are
less likely to escape your attention than they would mine. If there is
anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me
know it. And now, with a brave army and a just cause, may God sustain
A noble letter, breathing the loftiest spirit, and showing that moral
grandeur which has been so characteristic of America's greatest men.
He had put all in Grant's hands and he had given to him an army, the
like of which had never been seen until now on the American continent.
Never before had the North poured forth its wealth and energy in such
Four thousand wagons loaded with food and ammunition followed the army,
and there was a perfect system by which a wagon emptied of its contents
was sent back to a depot to be refilled, while a loaded wagon took its
place at the front. Complete telegram equipments, poles, wires,
instruments and all were carried with every division. The wires could be
strung easily and the lieutenant-general could talk to every part of his
army. There were, also, staffs of signalmen, in case the wires should
fail at any time. Grant held in his hand all the resources of the North,
and if he could not win no one could.
All through the night the hostile armies marched, and before them went
the spies and scouts.
THE GHOSTLY RIDE
Harry and Dalton kept close together during the long hours of the ghostly
ride. Just ahead of them were Taylor and Marshall and Peyton, and in
front Lee rode in silence. Now and then they passed regiments, and at
other times they would halt and let regiments pass them. Then the troops,
seeing the man sitting on the white horse, would start to cheer, but
always their officers promptly subdued it, and they marched on feeling
more confident than ever that their general was leading them to victory.
Many hours passed and still the army marched through the forests.
The trees, however, were dwindling in size and even in the night they
saw that the earth was growing red and sterile. Dense thickets grew
everywhere, and the marching became more difficult. Harry felt a sudden
thrill of awe.
"George," he whispered, "do you know the country into which we're riding?"
"I think I do, Harry. It's the Wilderness."
"It can't be anything else, George, because I see the ghosts."
"What are you talking about, Harry? What ghosts?"
"The thousands and thousands who have fallen in that waste. Why the
Wilderness is so full of dead men that they must walk at night to give
one another room. I only hope that the ghost of Old Jack will ride
before us and show us the way."
"I almost feel like that, too," admitted Dalton, who, however, was of a
less imaginative mind than Harry. "As sure as I'm sitting in the saddle
we're bound for the Wilderness. Now, what is the day going to give us?"
"Marching mostly, I think, and with the next noon will come battle.
Grant doesn't hesitate and hold back. We know that, George."
"No, it's not his character."
Morning came and found them still in the forests, seeking the deep
thickets of the Wilderness, and Grant, warned by his scouts and spies,
and most earnestly by one whose skill, daring and judgment were unequaled,
turned from his chosen line of march to meet his enemy. Once more Lee
had selected the field of battle, where his inferiority in numbers would
not count so much against him.
It was nearly morning when the march ceased, and officers and troops,
save those on guard, lay down in the forest for rest. Harry, a seasoned
veteran, could sleep under any conditions and with a blanket over him and
a saddle for a pillow closed his eyes almost immediately. Lee and his
older aides, Taylor and Peyton and Marshall, slept also. Around them the
brigades, too, lay sleeping.
A while before dawn a large man in Confederate uniform, using the soft,
lingering speech of the South, appeared almost in the center of the army
of Northern Virginia. He knew all the pass words and told the officers
commanding the watch that the wing under Ewell was advancing more rapidly
than any of the others. Inside the line he could go about almost as he
chose, and one could see little of him, save that he was large of figure
and deeply tanned, like all the rest.
He approached the little opening in which Lee and his staff lay, although
he kept back from the sentinels who watched over the sleeping leader.
But Shepard knew that it was the great Confederate chieftain who lay in
the shadow of the oak and he could identify him by the glances of the
sentinels so often directed toward the figure.
There were wild thoughts for a moment or two in the mind of Shepard.
A single bullet fired by an unerring hand would take from the Confederacy
its arm and brain, and then what happened to himself afterward would not
matter at all. And the war would be over in a month or two. But he put
the thought fiercely from him. A spy he was and in his heart proud of
his calling, but no such secret bullet could be fired by him.
He turned away from the little opening, wandered an hour through the camp
and then, diving into the deep bushes, vanished like a shadow through the
Confederate lines, and was gone to Grant to report that Lee's army was
advancing swiftly to attack, and that the command of Ewell would come in
touch with him first.
Not long after dawn Harry was again on the march, riding behind his
general. From time to time Lee sent messengers to the various divisions
of his army, four in number, commanded by Longstreet, Early, Hill and
Stuart, the front or Stuart's composed of cavalry. Harry's own time came,
when he received a dispatch of the utmost importance to take to Ewell.
He memorized it first, and, if capture seemed probable, he was to tear
it into bits and throw it away. Harry was glad he was to go to Ewell.
In the great campaign in the valley he had been second to Jackson,
his right arm, as Jackson had been Lee's right arm. Ewell had lost a leg
since then, and his soldiers had to strap him in the saddle when he led
them into battle, but he was as daring and cheerful as ever, trusted
implicitly by Lee.
Harry with a salute to his chief rode away. Part of the country was
familiar to him and in addition his directions were so explicit that he
could not miss the way.
The four divisions of the army were in fairly close touch, but in a
country of forests and many waters Northern scouts might come between,
and he rode with caution, his hand ever near the pistol in his belt.
The midday sun however clouded as the afternoon passed on. The thickets
and forests grew more dense. From the distance came now and then the
faint, sweet call of a trumpet, but everything was hidden from sight by
the dense tangle of the Wilderness, a wilderness as wild and dangerous as
any in which Henry Ware had ever fought. How it all came back to him!
Almost exactly a year ago he had ridden into it with Jackson and here the
armies were gathering again.
Imagination, fancy, always so strong in him, leaped into vivid life.
The year had not passed and he was riding to meet Stonewall Jackson,
who was somewhere ahead, preparing for his great curve about Hooker and
the lightning stroke at Chancellorsville. Rabbits sprang out of the
undergrowth and fled away before his horse's hoofs. In the lonely
wilderness, which nevertheless had little to offer to the hunter, birds
chattered from every tree. Small streams flowed slowly between dense
walls of bushes. Here and there in the protection of the thickets wild
flowers were in early bloom.
It was spring, fresh spring everywhere, but the bushes and the grass
alike were tinged with red for Harry. The strange mental illusion that
he was riding to Chancellorsville remained with him and he did not seek
to shake it off. He almost expected to see Old Jack ahead on a hill,
bent over a little, and sitting on Little Sorrel, with the old slouch hat
drawn over his eyes. They had talked of the ghost of Jackson leading
them in the Wilderness. He shivered. Could it be so? All the time he
knew it was an illusion, but he permitted it to cast its spell over him,
as one who dreams knowingly.
And Harry was dreaming back. Old Jack, the earlier of his two heroes,
was leading them. He foresaw the long march through the thickets of the
Wilderness, Stonewall forming the line of battle in the deep roads late
in the evening, almost in sight of Hooker's camp, the sudden rush of his
brigades and then the terrible battle far into the night.
He shook himself. It was uncanny. The past was the past. Dreams
were thin and vanished stuff. Once more he was in the present and saw
clearly. Old Jack was gone to take his place with the great heroes of
the past, but the Army of Northern Virginia was there, with Lee leading
them, and the most formidable of all the Northern chiefs with the most
formidable of all the Northern armies was before them.
He heard the distant thud of hoofs and with instinctive caution drew back
into a dense clump of bushes. A half-dozen horsemen were near and their
eager looks in every direction told Harry that they were scouts. There
was little difference then between a well worn uniform of blue or gray,
and they were very close before Harry was able to tell that they belonged
to Grant's army.
He was devoutly glad that his horse was trained thoroughly and stood
quite still while the Northern scouts passed. A movement of the bushes
would have attracted their attention, and he did not wish to be captured
at any time, least of all on the certain eve of a great battle. After a
battle he always felt an extra regret for those who had fallen, because
they would never know whether they had won or lost.
They were alert, keen and vigorous men, or lads rather, as young as
himself, and they rode as if they had been Southern youths almost born
in the saddle. Harry was not the only one to notice how the Northern
cavalry under the whip hand of defeat had improved so fast that it was
now a match, man for man, for that of the South.
The young riders rode on and the tread of their hoofs died in the
undergrowth. Then Harry emerged from his own kindly clump of bushes and
increased his speed, anxious to reach Ewell, without any more of those
encounters. He made good progress through the thickets, and soon after
sundown saw a glow which he took to be that of campfires. He advanced
cautiously, met the Southern sentinels and knew that he was right.
The very first of these sentinels was an old soldier of Jackson, who knew
"Mr. Kenton!" he exclaimed.
"Yes, Thorn! It's you!" said Harry without hesitation.
The soldier was pleased that he should be recognized thus in the dusk,
and he was still more pleased when the young aide leaned down and shook
"I might have known, Thorn, that I'd find you here, rifle on your arm,
watching," he said.
"Thank you, Mr. Kenton. You'll find the general over there on a log by
Harry dismounted, gave his horse to a soldier and walked into the glade.
Ewell sat alone, his crutch under his arms, his one foot kicking back the
coals, his bald head a white disc in the glow.
"General Ewell, sir," said Harry.
General Ewell turned about and when he saw Harry his face clearly showed
gladness. He could not rise easily, but he stretched out a welcoming
"Ah! Kenton," he said, "you're a pleasant sight to tired eyes like mine.
You bring back the glorious old days in the valley. So it's a message
from the commander-in-chief?"
"Yes, sir. Here it is."
Ewell read it rapidly by the firelight and smiled.
"He tells us we're nearest to the enemy," he said, "and to hold fast,
if we're attacked. You're to remain with us and report what happens,
but doubtless you knew all this."
"Yes, I had to commit it to memory before I started."
"Then stay here with me. I may want to report to General Lee at any
time. The enemy is in our front only three or four miles away. He knows
we're here and it was a villainous surprise to him to find us in his way.
They say this man Grant is a pounder. So is Lee, when the time comes to
pound, but he's that and far more. I tell you, young man, that General
Lee has had to trim a lot of Northern generals. McClellan and Pope and
Burnside and Hooker and Meade have been going to school to him, and now
Grant is qualifying for his class."
"But Grant is a great general. So our men in the West themselves say."
"He may be, but Lee is greater, greatest. And, Harry, you and I, who
knew him and loved him, wish that another who alone was fit to ride by
his side was here with him."
"I wish it from the bottom of my heart," said Harry.
"Well, well, regrets are useless. Help me up, Harry. I'm only part of a
man, but I can still fight."
"We saw you do that at Gettysburg," said Harry, as he put his arm under
Ewell's shoulder. Then Ewell took his crutch and they walked to the far
side of the glade, where several officers of his staff gathered around
"Lieutenant Kenton, whom you all know," said General Ewell, "has brought
a message from the commander-in-chief that we will be attacked first,
and to be on guard. We consider it an honor, do we not, my lads?"
"Yes, let them come," they said.
"Harry, you may want to see the enemy. Clayton, you and Campbell take
him forward through the pickets. But don't go too far. We don't want
to lose three perfectly good young officers before the battle begins.
After that it may be your business to get yourselves shot."
The two rode nearly two miles to the crest of a hill and then, using
their strong glasses in the moonlight, they were able to see the lights
of a vast camp.
"We hear that it is Warren's corps," said Clayton. "As General Ewell
doubtless has told you, the enemy know that we're in front, but I don't
believe they know our exact location. I believe we'll be in battle with
those men in the morning."
Harry thought so too. In truth, it was inevitable. Warren would advance
and Ewell would stand in his way. Yet he slept soundly when he went back
to camp, although he was awakened long before dawn the next day. Then he
ate breakfast, mounted and sat his horse not far away from Ewell, whom
two soldiers had strapped into his saddle, and who was watching with
eager eyes for the sunrise.
Harry, listening intently, heard no sound in front of them, save the wind
rippling through the dwarfed forests of the Wilderness, and he knew that
no battle had yet begun elsewhere. Sound would come far on that placid
May morning, and it was a certainty that Ewell was nearest to contact
with the enemy.
But Ewell did not yet move. All his men had been served with early
breakfast, such as it was, and remained in silent masses, partly hidden
by the forest and thickets. The dawn was cold, and Harry felt a little
chill, but it soon passed, as the red edge of the sun showed over the
eastern border of the Wilderness. Then the light spread toward the
zenith, but the golden glow failed to penetrate the somber thickets.
"It's going to be a good day," said Harry to an aide.
"A good day for a battle."
"We'll hear from the Yankees soon. They can't fail to discover our exact
location by sunrise, and they'll fight. Be sure of that."
It was now nearly six o'clock, and General Ewell, growing impatient,
rode forward a little. Harry followed with his staff. A half-dozen
Southern sharpshooters rose suddenly out of the thickets, and one of them
dared to lay his hands on the reins of the general's horse. But Ewell
was not offended. He looked down at the man and said:
"What is it, Strother?"
"Riflemen of the enemy are not more than three or four hundred yards
away. If you go much farther, General, they will certainly see you and
fire upon you."
"Thanks, Strother. So they've located us?"
"They're about to do it. They're feeling around. We've seen 'em in the
bushes. We ask you not to go on, General. We wouldn't know what to do
without you. There, sir! They're firing on our pickets!"
A half-dozen shots came from the front, and then a half-dozen or so
in reply. Harry saw pink flashes, and then spirals of smoke rising.
More shots were fired presently on their right, and then others on their
left. The Northern riflemen were evidently on a long line, and intended
to make a thorough test of their enemy's strength. Harry had no doubt
that Shepard was there. He would surely come to the point where his
enemy was nearest, and his eyes and ears would be the keenest of all.
The little skirmish continued for a few minutes, extending along a
winding line of nearly a mile through the thickets. Only two or three
were wounded and nobody killed on the Southern side. Harry understood
thoroughly, as Ewell had said, that the sharpshooters of the enemy were
merely feeling for them. They wanted to know if a strong force was there,
and now they knew.
The firing ceased, not in dying shots, but abruptly. The Wilderness in
front of them returned to silence, broken only by the rippling leaves.
Harry knew that the Northern sharpshooters had discovered all they wanted,
and were now returning to their leaders.
Ewell turned his horse and rode back toward the main camp, his staff
following. The cooking fires had been put out, the lines were formed
and every gun was in position. As little noise as possible was allowed,
while they waited for Grant; not for Grant himself, but for one of his
lieutenants, pushed forward by his master hand.
Harry and most of the staff officers dismounted, holding their horses by
the bridle. The young lieutenant often searched the thickets with his
glasses, but he saw nothing. Nevertheless he knew that the enemy would
come. Grant having set out to find his foe, would never draw back when
he found him.
A much longer period of silence than he had expected passed. The sun,
flaming red, was moving on toward the zenith, and no sounds of battle
came from either right or left. The suspense became acute, almost
unbearable, and it was made all the more trying by the blindness of that
terrible forest. Harry felt at times as if he would rather fight in the
open fields; but he knew that his commander-in-chief was right when he
drew Grant into the shades of the Wilderness.
When the suspense became so great that heavy weights seemed to be
pressing upon his nerves, rifle shots were fired in front, and
skirmishers uttered the long, shrill rebel yell. Then above both shots
and shouts rose the far, clear call of a bugle.
"Here they come!" Harry heard Ewell say to himself, and the next moment
the sound of human voices was drowned in the thunder of great guns and
the crash of fifty thousand rifles. The battle was so sudden and the
charge so swift that it seemed to leap into full volume in an instant.
Warren, a resolute and daring general, led the Northern column and it
struck with such weight and force that the Southern division was driven
back. Harry felt it yielding, as if the ground were sliding under his
There was so much flame and smoke that he could not see well, but the
sensation of slipping was distinct. General Ewell was near him, shouting
orders. His hat had fallen off, and his round, bald head had turned red,
either from the rush of blood or the cannon's glare. It shone like a red
dome, but Harry knew that there was no better man in such a crisis than
this veteran lieutenant of Stonewall Jackson.
The Wilderness, usually so silent, was an inferno now. The battle,
despite its tremendous beginning, increased in violence and fury.
Although Grant himself was not there, the spirit that had animated him
at Shiloh and Vicksburg was. He had communicated it to his generals,
and Warren brought every ounce of his strength into action. The long
line of his bayonets gleamed through the thickets and the Northern
artillery, superb as usual, rained shells upon the Southern army.
Ewell's men, fighting with all the courage and desperation that they had
shown on so many a field, were driven back further and further. Ewell,
strapped in his saddle, flourishing his sword, his round, bald head
glowing, rode among them, bidding them to stand, that help would soon
come. They continued to go backward, but those veterans of so many
campaigns never lost cohesion nor showed sign of panic. Their own
artillery and rifles replied in full volume. The heads of the charging
columns were blown away, but other men took their places, and Warren's
force came on with undiminished fire and strength.
Harry wondered if the attack at other points had been made with such
impetuosity, but there was such a roar and crash about him that it was
impossible to hear sounds of battle elsewhere. Men were falling very
fast, but the general was unharmed, and neither the young lieutenant nor
his horse was touched.
A sudden shout arose, and it was immediately followed by the piercing
rebel yell, swelling wild and fierce above the tumult of the battle.
Help was coming. Regiments in gray were charging down the paths and on
the left flank rose the thunder of hoofs as a formidable body of cavalry
under Sherburne, sabers aloft, swept down on the Northern flank.
Ewell's entire division stopped its retreat and, reinforced by the new
men, charged directly upon the Northern bayonets. Men met almost face to
face. The saplings and bushes were mown down by cannon and rifles and
the air was full of bursting shells. From time to time Ewell's men
uttered their fierce, defiant yell, and with a great bound of the heart
Harry saw that they were gaining. Warren was being driven back. Two of
his cannon were captured already, and the Southern men, feeling the glow
of the advance after retreat, charged again and again, reckless of death.
But Harry soon saw that ultimate victory here would rest with the South.
The troops of Warren, exhausted by their early rush, were driven from
one position to another by the seasoned veterans who faced them. The
Confederates retained the captured cannon and thrust harder and harder.
It became obvious that Warren must soon fall back to the main Northern
line, and though the battle was still raging with great fury Ewell
beckoned Harry to him.
"Don't stay here any longer," he shouted in his ear. "Ride to General
Lee and tell him we're victorious at this point for the day at least!"
Harry saluted and galloped away through the thickets. Behind him the
battle still roared and thundered. A stray shell burst just in front of
him, and another just behind him, but he and his horse were untouched.
Once or twice he glanced back and it looked as if the Wilderness were on
fire, but he knew that it was instead the blaze of battle. He saw also
that Ewell was still moving forward, winning more ground, and his heart
swelled with gladness.
How proud Jackson would have been had he been able to see the valor and
skill of his old lieutenant! Perhaps his ghost did really hover over
the Wilderness, where a year before he had fallen in the moment of
his greatest triumph! Harry urged his horse into a gallop. All his
faculties now became acute. He was beyond the zone of fire, but the roar
of the battle behind him seemed as loud as ever. Yet it was steadily
moving back on the main Union lines, and there could be no doubt of
Ewell's continued success.
The curves of the low hills and the thick bushes hid everything from
Harry's sight, as he rode swiftly through the winding paths of the
Wilderness. When the tumult sank at last he heard a new thunder in front
of him, and now he knew that the Southern center under Hill had been
attacked also, and with the greatest fierceness.
As Harry approached, the roar of the second battle became terrific.
Uncertain where General Lee would now be, he rode through the sleet of
steel, and found Hill engaged with the very flower of the Northern army.
Hancock, the hero of Gettysburg, was making desperate exertions to crush
him, pouring in brigade after brigade, while Sheridan, regardless of
thickets, made charge after charge with his numerous cavalry.
Harry remained in the rear on his horse, watching this furious struggle.
The day had become much darker, either from clouds or the vast volume of
smoke, and the thickets were so dense that the officers often could not
see their enemy at all, only their own men who stood close to them.
The struggle was vast, confused, carried on under appalling conditions.
The charging horsemen were sometimes swept from the saddle by bushes and
not by bullets. Infantrymen stepped into a dark ooze left by spring
rains, and pulling themselves out, charged, black to the waist with mud.
Sometimes the field pieces became mired, and men and horses together
dragged them to firmer ground.
Grant here, as before Ewell, continually reinforced his veterans, but
Hill, although he was not able to advance, held fast. The difficult
nature of the ground that Lee had chosen helped him. In marsh and
thickets it was impossible for the more numerous enemy to outflank him.
Harry saw Hill twice, a slender man, who had suffered severe wounds but
one of the greatest fighters in the Southern army. He had been ordered
to hold the center, and Harry knew now that he would do it, for the day
at least. Night was not very far away, and Grant was making no progress.
He rode on in search of Lee and before he was yet beyond the range of
fire he met Dalton, mounted and emerging from the smoke.
"The commander-in-chief, where is he?" asked Harry.
"On a little hill not far from here, watching the battle. I'm just
returning with a dispatch from Hill."
"I saw that Hill was holding his ground."
"So my dispatch says, and it says also that he will continue to hold it.
You come from Ewell?"
"Yes, and he has done more than stand fast. He was driven back at first,
but when reinforcements came he drove Warren back in his turn, and took
guns and prisoners."
"The chief will be glad to hear it. We'll ride together. Look out for
your horse! He may go knee deep into mire at any time. Harry, the
Wilderness looks even more somber to me than it did a year ago when we
"I feel the same way about it. But see, George, how they're fighting!
General Hill is making a great resistance!"
"Never better. But if you look over those low bushes you can see General
Lee on the hill."
Harry made out the figure of Lee on Traveller, outlined against the sky,
with about a dozen men sitting on their horses behind him. He hurried
forward as fast as he could. The commander-in-chief was reading a
dispatch, while the fierce struggle in the thickets was going on, but
when Harry saluted and Marshall told him that he had come to report the
general put away the dispatch and said:
"What news from General Ewell?"
"General Ewell was at first borne back by the enemy's numbers, but when
help came he returned to the charge, and has been victorious. He has
gained much ground."
A gleam of triumph shot from Lee's eyes, usually so calm.
"Well done, Ewell!" he said. "The loss of a leg has not dimmed his ardor
or judgment. I truly believe that if he were to lose the other one also
he would still have himself strapped into the saddle and lead his men to
victory. We thank you for the news you have brought, Lieutenant Kenton."
He put his glasses to his eyes and Harry and Dalton as usual withdrew to
the rear of the staff. But they used their glasses also, bringing nearer
to them the different phases of the battle, which now raged through
the Wilderness. They saw at some points the continuous blaze of guns,
and the acrid powder smoke, lying low, was floating through all the
But Harry now knew that the combat, however violent and fierce, was only
a prelude. The sun was already setting, and they could not fight at
night in those wild thickets, where men and guns would become mired
and tangled beyond extrication. The great struggle, with both leaders
hurling in their full forces, would come on the morrow.
The sun already hung very low, and in the twilight and smoke the savagery
of the Wilderness became fiercer than ever. The dusk gathered around Lee,
but his erect figure and white horse still showed distinctly through it.
Harry, his spirit touched by the tremendous scenes in the very center
of which he stood, regarded him with a fresh measure of respect and
admiration. He was the bulwark of the Confederacy, and he did not doubt
that on the morrow he would stop Grant as he had stopped the others.
The darkness increased, sweeping down like a great black pall over the
Wilderness. The battle in the center and on the left died. Lee and his
staff dismounting, prepared for the labors of the night.
When night settled down over the Wilderness the two armies lay almost
face to face on a long line. The preliminary battle, on the whole,
had favored the Confederacy. Hill had held his ground and Ewell had
gained, but Grant had immense forces, and, though naturally kind of heart,
he had made up his mind to strike and keep on striking, no matter what
the loss. He could afford to lose two men where the Confederacy lost one.
Harry, like many others, felt that this would be the great Northern
general's plan. To-morrow's battle might end in Southern success,
but Grant would be there to fight the following day with undiminished
resolution. He was as sure of this as he was sure that the day would
The night itself was somber and sinister, the heavens dusky and a raw
chill in the air. Heavy vapors rose from the marshes, and clouds of
smoke from the afternoon's battle floated about over the thickets,
poisoning the air as if with gas, and making the men cough as they
breathed it. It made Harry's heart beat harder than usual, and his head
felt as if it were swollen. Everything seemed clothed in a black mist
with a slightly reddish tint.
A small fire had been built in a sheltered place for the commander-in-
chief and his staff, and the cooks were preparing the supper, which was
of the simplest kind. While they ate the food and drank their coffee,
the darkness increased, with the faint lights of other fires showing here
and there through it. Around the muddy places frogs croaked in defiance
of armies, and, from distant points, came the crackling fire of
skirmishers prowling in the dusk.
Harry's horse, saddled and bridled, was tied to a bush not far away.
He knew that it was to be no night of rest for him, or any other member
of the staff. Lee would be sending messages continually. Longstreet,
although he had been marching hard, was not yet up on the right, and he
and his veterans must be present when the shock of Grant's mighty attack
came in the morning.
Hill, thin and pale, yet suffering from the effects of his wounds,
but burning as usual with the fire of battle, rode up and consulted long
and earnestly with Lee. Presently he went back to his own place nearer
the center, and then Lee began to send away his staff one by one with
messages. Harry was among the last to go, but he bore a dispatch to
He had heard that Longstreet had criticized Lee for ordering Pickett's
famous charge at Gettysburg, but if so, Lee had taken no notice of it,
and Longstreet had proved himself the same stalwart fighter as of old.
He and the prompt arrival of his veterans had enabled Bragg to win
Chickamauga, and it was not Longstreet's fault that the advantage gained
there was lost afterward. Now Harry knew that he would be up in time
with his seasoned veterans.
As the young lieutenant rode away he saw General Lee walking back and
forth before the low fire, his hands clasped behind him, and his eyes
as serious as those of any human being could be. Harry appreciated the
immensity of his task, and in his heart was a sincere pity for the man
who bore so great a burden. He was familiar with the statement that to
Lee had been offered the command of the Northern armies at the beginning
of the war, but believing his first duty was to his State he had gone
with Virginia when Virginia reluctantly went out of the Union. Truly no
one could regret the war more than he, and yet he had struck giant blows
for its success.
A moment more and the tall figure standing beside the low fire was
lost to sight. Then Harry rode among the thickets in the rear of the
Confederate line and it was a weird and ghastly ride. Now and then his
horse's feet sank in mud, and the frogs still dared to croak around the
pools, making on such a night the most ominous of all sounds. It seemed
a sort of funeral dirge for both North and South, a croak telling of the
ruin and death that were to come on the morrow.
Damp boughs swept across his face, and the vapors, rising from the earth
and mingled with the battle smoke, were still bitter to the tongue and
poisonous to the breath. Rotten logs crushed beneath his horse's feet
and Harry felt a shiver as if the hoofs had cut through a body of the
dead. Riflemen rose out of the thickets, but he always gave them the
password, and rode on without stopping.
Then came a space where he met no human being, the gap between Hill and
Longstreet, and now the Wilderness became incredibly lonely and dreary.
Harry felt that if ever a region was haunted by ghosts it was this.
The dead of last year's battle might be lying everywhere, and as the
breeze sprang up the melancholy thickets waved over them.
He was two-thirds of the way toward the point where he expected to find
Longstreet when he heard the sough of a hoof in the mud behind him.
Harry listened and hearing the hoof again he was instantly on his guard.
He did not know it, but the character of the night and the wild aspect of
the Wilderness were bringing out all the primeval and elemental qualities
in his nature. He was the great borderer, Henry Ware, in the Indian-
haunted forest, feeling with a sixth sense, even a seventh sense, the
presence of danger.
He was following a path, scarcely traceable, used by charcoal burners and
wood-cutters, but when he heard the hoof a second time he turned aside
into the deepest of the thickets and halted there. The hoofbeat came a
third time, a little nearer, and then no more. Evidently the horseman
behind him knew that he had turned aside, and was waiting and watching.
He was surely an enemy of great skill and boldness, and it was equally
sure that he was Shepard. Harry never felt a doubt that he was pursued
by the formidable Union spy, and he felt too that he had never been in
greater danger, as Shepard at such a moment would not spare his best
But he was not afraid. Danger had become so common that one looked upon
it merely as a risk. Moreover, he was never cooler or more ample of
resource. He dismounted softly, standing beside his horse's head,
holding the reins with one hand and a heavy pistol with the other.
He suspected that Shepard would do the same, but he believed that his
eyes and ears were the keener. The man must have been inside the
Confederate lines all the afternoon. Probably he had seen Harry riding
away, and, deftly appropriating a horse, had followed him. There was
no end to Shepard's ingenuity and daring.
Harry's horse was trained to stand still indefinitely, and the young man,
with the heavy pistol, who held the reins was also immovable. The
silence about him was so deep that Harry could hear the frogs croaking
at a distant pool.
He waited a full five minutes, and now, like the wild animals, he relied
more upon ear than eye. He had learned the faculty of concentration and
he bent all his powers upon his hearing. Not the slightest sound could
escape the tightly drawn drums of his ears.
He was motionless a full ten minutes. Nor did the horse beside him stir.
It was a test of human endurance, the capacity to keep himself absolutely
silent, but with every nerve attuned, while he waited for an invisible
danger. And those minutes were precious, too. The value of not a single
one of them could have been measured or weighed. It was his duty to
reach Longstreet at speed, because the general and his veterans must be
in line in the morning, when the battle was joined. Yet the incessant
duel between Shepard and himself was at its height again, and he did not
yet see how he could end it.
Harry felt that it must be essentially a struggle of patience, but when
he waited a few minutes longer, the idea to wait with ears close to the
earth, one of the oldest devices of primitive man, occurred to him.
It was fairly dry in the bushes, and he lay down, pressing his ear to the
soil. Then he heard a faint sound, as if some one crawling through the
grass, like a wild animal stalking its prey. It was Shepard, of course,
and then Harry planned his campaign. Shepard had left his horse, and was
endeavoring to reach him by stealth.
Leaving his own horse, he crept a little to the right, and then rising
carefully in another thicket he picked out every dark spot in the gloom.
He made out presently the figure of a riderless horse, standing partly
behind the trunk of an oak, larger than most of those that grew in the
Harry knew that it was Shepard's mount and that Shepard himself was some
distance in front of it creeping toward the thicket which he supposed
sheltered his foe. There was barely enough light for Harry to see the
horse's head and regretfully he raised his heavy pistol. But it had to
be done, and when his aim was true he pulled the trigger.
The report of the pistol was almost like the roar of a cannon in the
desolate Wilderness and made Harry himself jump. Then he promptly threw
himself flat upon his face. Shepard's answering fire came from a point
about thirty yards in front of the horse, and the bullet passed very
close over Harry's head. It was a marvelous shot to be made merely at
the place from which a sound had come. It all passed in a flash, and
the next moment Harry heard the sound of a horse falling and kicking a
little. Then it too was still.
He remained only a half minute in the grass. Then he began to creep back,
curving a little in his course, toward his own horse. He did not believe
that Shepard's faculty of hearing was as keen as his own, and he moved
with the greatest deftness. He relied upon the fact that Shepard had not
yet located the horse, and if Harry could reach it quickly it would not
be hard for him, a mounted man, to leave behind Shepard, dismounted.
It might be possible, too, that Shepard had gone back to see about his
own horse, not knowing that it was slain.
He saw the dusky outline of his horse, and, rising, made two or three
jumps. Then he snatched the rein loose, sprang upon his back, and lying
down upon his neck to avoid bullets, crashed away, reckless of bushes and
briars. He heard one bullet flying near him, but he laughed in delight
and relief as his horse sped on toward Longstreet.
He did not diminish his speed until he had gone two or three miles,
and then, knowing that Shepard had been left hopelessly behind, even
if he had attempted pursuit, he brought his horse down to a walk, and
laughed. There was a bit of nervous excitement in the laugh. He had
outwitted Shepard again. He had never seen the man, but it did not enter
his mind that it was not he. Each had scored largely over the other from
time to time, but Harry believed that he was at least even.
He steadied his nerves now and rode calmly toward Longstreet, coming soon
upon his scouts, who informed him that the heavy columns were not far
behind, marching with stalwart step to their appointed place in the line.
But it was Harry's business to see Longstreet himself, and he continued
his way toward the center of the division, where they told him the
general could be found.
He rode forward and in the moonlight recognized Longstreet at once,
a heavy-set, bearded man, mounted on a strong bay horse. He had a very
small staff, and he was first to notice the young lieutenant advancing.
He knew Harry well, having seen him with Lee at Gettysburg and with
Jackson before. He stopped and said abruptly:
"You come from the commander-in-chief, do you not?"
"Yes, sir," replied Harry, "and I've been coming as fast as I could."
He did not deem it necessary to say anything about his encounter with
"There has been heavy fighting. What are his orders?"
Harry told him, also giving him a written message, which the general read
by the light of a torch an aide held.
"You can tell General Lee that all my men will be in position for battle
before dawn," said the Georgian crisply.
Even as he spoke, Harry heard the heavy, regular tread of the brigades
marching forward through the Wilderness. He saluted General Longstreet.
"I shall return at once with your message," he said.
But Harry, having had one such experience, was resolved not to risk
another. He would make a wider circuit in the rear of the army. Shepard,
on foot, and anxious to avenge his defeat, might be waiting for him,
but he would go around him. So when he started back he made a wide curve,
and soon was in the darkness and silence again.
He had a good horse and his idea of direction being very clear he rode
swiftly in the direction he had chosen. But his curve was so great that
when he reached the center of it he was so far in the rear of the army
that no sound came from it. If the skirmishers were still firing the
reports of their rifles were lost in the distance. Where he rode the
only noises were those made by the wild animals that inhabited the
Wilderness, creatures that had settled back into their usual haunts after
the armies had passed beyond.
Once a startled deer sprang from a clump of bushes and crashed away
through the thickets. Rabbits darted from his path, and an owl,
wondering what all the disturbance was about, hooted mournfully from a
Long before dawn Harry reached the Southern sentinels in the center and
was then passed to General Lee, who remained at the same camp, sitting on
a log by some smothered coals. Several other members of his staff had
returned already, and the general, looking up when Harry came forward,
"I have seen General Longstreet, sir," said Harry, "and he bids me tell
you that he and his men will be in position before dawn. He was nearly
up when I left, and he has also sent you this note."
He handed the note to General Lee, who, bending low over the coals,
"Everything goes well," he said with satisfaction. "We shall be ready
for them. What time is it, Peyton?"
"Five minutes past four o'clock, sir."
"Then I think the attack should come within an hour."
"Perhaps before daybreak, sir."
"Perhaps. And even after the sun begins to rise it will be like twilight
in this gloomy place."
Grant, in truth, prompt and ready as always, had ordered the advance to
be begun at half-past four, but Meade, asking more time for arrangements
and requesting that it be delayed until six, he had consented to a
postponement until five o'clock and no more.
Harry had one more message to carry, a short distance only, and on his
return he found the Invincibles posted on the commander-in-chief's right,
and not more than two hundred yards away.
"You must be a body guard for the general," he said to Colonel Leonidas
"There could be no greater honor for the Invincibles, nor could General
Lee have a better guard."
"I'm sure of that, sir."
"What's happening, Harry? Tell us what's been going on in the night!"
"Our line of battle has been formed. General Longstreet and his men on
the right are soon to be in touch with General Hill. I returned from him
a little while ago. I can't yet smell the dawn, but I think the battle
will come before then."
Harry rode back and resumed his place beside Dalton. The troops
everywhere were on their feet, cannon and rifles ready, because it was a
certainty that the two armies would meet very early.
In fact, the Army of Northern Virginia began to slide slowly forward.
It was not the habit of these troops to await attack. Lee nearly always
had taken the offensive, and the motion of his men was involuntary.
They felt that the enemy was there and they must go to meet him.
"What time is it now?" whispered Dalton.
Harry was barely able to discern the face of his watch.
"Ten minutes to five," he replied.
"And the dawn comes early. It won't be long before Grant comes poking
his nose through the Wilderness."
Harry was silent. A few minutes more, and there was a sudden crackle of
rifles in front of them.
"The dawn isn't here, but Grant is," said Harry.
The crackling fire doubled and tripled, and then the fire of the Southern
rifles replied in heavy volume. The lighter field guns opened with a
crash, and the heavier batteries followed with rolling thunder. Leaves
and twigs fell in showers, and men fell with them. The deep Northern
cheer swelled through the Wilderness and the fierce rebel yell replied.
Gray dawn, rising as if with effort, over the sodden Wilderness found two
hundred thousand men locked fast in battle. It might have been a bright
sun elsewhere, but not here among the gloomy shades and the pine barrens.
The firing was already so tremendous that the smoke hung low and thick,
directly over the tops of the bushes, and the men, as they fought,
breathed mixed and frightful vapors.
Both sides fought for a long time in a heavy, smoky dusk, that was
practically night. Officers coming from far points, led, compass in hand,
having no other guide save the roar of battle. As the Southern leaders
had foreseen, Grant was throwing in the full strength of his powerful
army, hoping with superior numbers and better equipment to crush Lee
utterly that day.
The great Northern artillery was raking the whole Southern front.
Hancock, the superb, was hurling the heavy Northern masses directly upon
the main position of the South. He had half the Army of the Potomac,
and at other points Warren, Wadsworth, Sedgwick and Burnside were
advancing with equal energy and contempt of death. Fiercer and fiercer
grew the conflict. Hancock, remembering how he had held the fatal hill
at Gettysburg, and resolved to win a complete victory now, poured in
regiment after regiment. But in all the fire and smoke and excitement
and danger he did not neglect to keep a cool head. Hearing that a
portion of Longstreet's corps was near, he sent a division and numerous
heavy artillery to attack it, driving it back after a sanguinary struggle
of more than an hour.
Then he redoubled his attack upon the Southern center, compelling it to
give ground, though slowly. Harry felt that gliding movement backward
and a chill ran through his blood. The heavy masses of Grant and his
powerful artillery were prevailing. The strongest portion of the
Southern army was being forced back, and a gap was cut between Hill and
Longstreet. Had Hancock perceived the gap that he had made he might have
severed the Southern army, inflicting irretrievable retreat, but the
smoke and the dusk of the Wilderness hid it, and the moment passed into
one of the great "Ifs" of history.
Harry, on horseback, witnessed this conflict, all the more terrible
because of the theater in which it was fought. The batteries and the
riflemen alike were frequently hidden by the thickets. The great banks
of smoke hung low, only to be split apart incessantly by the flashes of
fire from the big guns. But the bullets were more dangerous than the
cannon balls and shells. They whistled and shrieked in thousands and
Lee sat on his horse impassive, watching as well as he could the tide of
battle. Messengers covered with smoke and sweat had informed him of the
gap between Hill and Longstreet, and he was dispatching fresh troops to
close it up. Harry saw the Invincibles march by. The two colonels at
their head beheld Lee on his white horse, and their swords flew from
their scabbards as they made a salute in perfect unison. Close behind
them rode St. Clair and Happy Tom, and they too saluted in like manner.
Lee took off his hat in reply and Harry choked. "About to die, we salute
thee," he murmured under his breath.
Then with a shout the Invincibles, their officers at their head, plunged
into the fire and smoke, and were lost from Harry's view. But he could
not stay there long and wonder at their fate. In a few minutes he was
riding to Longstreet with a message for him to bear steadily toward Hill,
that the gap might be closed entirely, and as soon as possible.
He galloped behind the lines, but bullets fell all around him, and often
a shell tore the earth. The air had become more bitter and poisonous.
Fumes from swamps seemed to mingle with the smoke and odors of burned
gunpowder. His lips and his tongue were scorched. But he kept on,
without exhaustion or mishap, and reached Longstreet, who had divined his
"The line will be solid in a few minutes," he said, and while the battle
was still at its height on the long front he touched hands with Hill.
Then both drove forward with all their might against Hancock, rushing to
the charge, with the Southern fire and recklessness of death that had
proved irresistible on so many fields. The advance, despite the most
desperate efforts of Hancock and his generals, was stopped. Then he was
driven back. All the ground gained at so much cost was lost and the
Southern troops, shouting in exultation, pushed on, pouring in a terrible
rifle fire. Longstreet, in his eagerness, rode a little ahead of his
troops to see the result. Turning back, he was mistaken in the smoke
by his own men for a Northern cavalryman, and they fired upon him, just
as Jackson had been shot down by his own troops in the dusk at
The leader fell from his horse, wounded severely, and the troops
advancing to victory became confused. The rumor spread that Longstreet
had been killed. There was no one to give orders, and the charge
stopped. Harry and a half-dozen others who had seen the accident or
heard of it, galloped to Lee, who at once rode into the very thick of the
command, giving personal orders and sending his aides right and left with
others. The whole division was reformed under his eye, and he sent it
anew to the attack.
The battle now closed in with the full strength of both armies. Hancock
strove to keep his place. The valiant Wadsworth had been killed already.
The dense thickets largely nullified Grant's superior numbers. Lee
poured everything on Hancock, who was driven from every position.
Fighting furiously behind a breastwork built the night before, he was
driven from that too.
Often in the dense shades the soldiers met one another face to face and
furious struggles hand-to-hand ensued. Bushes and trees, set on fire by
the shells, burned slowly like torches put there to light up the ghastly
scene of man's bravery and folly. Jenkins, a Confederate general,
was killed and colonels and majors fell by the dozen. But neither side
would yield, and Grant hurried help to his hard-pressed troops.
Harry had been grazed on the shoulder by a bullet, but his horse was
unharmed, and he kept close to Lee, who continued to direct the battle
personally. He knew that they were advancing. Once more the genius of
the great Confederate leader was triumphing. Grant, the redoubtable and
tenacious, despite his numbers, could set no trap for him! Instead he
had been drawn into battle on a field of Lee's own choosing.
The conflict had now continued for a long time, and was terrible in all
its aspects. It was far past noon, and for miles a dense cloud of smoke
hung over the Wilderness, which was filled with the roar of cannon,
the crash of rifles and the shouts of two hundred thousand men in deadly
conflict. The first meeting of the two great protagonists of the war,
Lee and Grant, was sanguinary and terrible, beyond all expectation.
Hundreds fell dead, their bodies lying hidden under the thickets.
The forest burned fiercely here and there, casting circles of lurid light
over the combatants, while the wind rained down charred leaves and twigs.
The fires spread and joined, and at points swept wide areas of the forest,
yet the fury of the battle was not diminished, the two armies forgetting
everything else in their desire to crush each other.
Harry's horse was killed, as he sat near Lee, but he quickly obtained
another, and not long afterward he was sent with a second message to
Ewell. He rode on a long battle front, not far behind the lines, and he
shuddered with awe as he looked upon the titanic struggle. The smoke
was often so heavy and the bushes so thick that he could not see the
combatants, except when the flame of the firing or the burning trees
lighted up a segment of the circle.
Halfway to Ewell and he stopped when he saw two familiar figures, sitting
on a log. They were elderly men in uniforms riddled by bullets. The
right arm of one and the left leg of the other were tightly bandaged.
Their faces were very white and it was obvious that they were sitting
there, because they were not strong enough to stand.
Harry stopped. No message, no matter how important, could have kept him
"Colonel Talbot! Colonel St. Hilaire!" he cried.
"Yes, here we are, Harry," replied Colonel Leonidas Talbot in a voice,
thin but full of courage. "Hector has been shot through the leg and has
lost much blood, but I have bound up his wound, and he has done as much
for my arm, which has been bored through from side to side by a bullet,
which must have been as large as my fist."
"And so for a few minutes," said Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire,
valiantly, "we must let General Lee conduct the victory alone."
"And the Invincibles!" exclaimed Harry, horrified. "Are they all gone
"Not at all," replied Colonel Talbot. "There is so much smoke about that
you can't see much, but if it clears a little you will behold Lieutenant
St. Clair and the youth rightly called Happy Tom and some three score
others, lying among the bushes, not far ahead of you, giving thorough
attention to the enemy."
"And is that all that's left of the Invincibles?"
"It's a wonder that they're so many. You were right about this man,
Grant, Harry. He's a fighter, and their artillery is numerous and
wonderful. John Carrington himself must be in front of us. We have not
seen him, but the circumstantial evidence is conclusive. Nobody else in
the world could have swept this portion of the Wilderness with shell and
shrapnel in such a manner. Why, he has mowed down the bushes in long
swathes as the scythe takes the grass and he has cut down our men with
them. How does the battle go elsewhere?"
"We're succeeding. We're driving 'em back. I can stop only a moment
now. I'm on my way to General Ewell."
"Then hurry. Don't be worried about us. I'll help Hector and Hector
will help me. And do you curve further to the rear, Harry. The worst
thing that a dispatch bearer can do is to get himself shot."
Waving his hand in farewell Harry galloped away. He knew that Colonel
Talbot had given him sound advice, and he bore back from the front,
coming once more into lonely thickets, although the flash of the battle
was plainly visible in front of him, and its roar filled his ears.
Yet when he rode alone he almost expected to see Shepard rise up before
him, and bid him halt. His encounters with this man had been under
such startling circumstances that it now seemed the rule, and not the
exception, for him to appear at any moment.
But Shepard did not come. Instead Harry began to see the badly wounded
of his own side drifting to the rear, helping one another as hurt
soldiers learn to do. Two of them he allowed to hang on his stirrups a
"They're fighting hard," said one, a long, gaunt Texan, "an' they're so
many they might lap roun' us. This man of theirs, Grant, ain't much of a
fellow to get scared, but I guess Marse Bob will take care of him just ez
he has took care of the others who came into Virginia."
"They're led in the main attack by Hancock," said the other, a Virginian.
"I caught a glimpse of him through the smoke, just as I had a view of him
for a minute back there by the clump of trees on the ridge at Gettysburg."
"Are you one of Pickett's men?" asked Harry.
"I am, sir, one of the few that's left. I went clear to the clump of
trees and how I got back I've never known. It was a sort of red dream,
in which I couldn't pick out anything in particular, but I was back with
the army, carrying three bullets that the doctors took away from me,
and here I've gathered up two more they'll rob me of in just the same
He spoke quite cheerfully, and when Harry, curving again, was compelled
to release them, both, although badly wounded, wished him good luck.
He found General Ewell in front, stamping back and forth on his crutches,
watching the battle with excitement.
"And so you're here again, Harry. Well it's good news at present!"
he cried. "It seems that their man, Grant, is going to school to Lee
just like the others."
"But some pupils learn too fast, sir!"
"That's so, but, Harry, I wish I could see more of the field. An
invisible battle like this shakes my nerves. Batteries that we can't see
send tornadoes of shot and shell among us. Riflemen, by the thousands,
hidden in the thickets rain bullets into our ranks. It's inhuman, wicked,
and our only salvation lies in the fact that it's as bad for them as it
is for us. If we can't see them they can't see us."
"You can hold your ground here?"
"Against anything and everything. Tell General Lee that we intend to eat
our suppers on the enemy's ground."
"That's all he wants to know."
As Harry rode back he saw that the first fires were spreading, passing
over new portions of the battlefield. Sparks flew in myriads and fine,
thin ashes were mingled with the powder smoke. The small trees, burnt
through, fell with a crash, and the flames ran as if they were alive up
boughs. Other trees fell too, cut through by cannon balls, and some were
actually mown down by sheets of bullets, as if they had been grass.
His way now led through human wreckage, made all the more appalling by an
approaching twilight, heavy with fumes and smoke, and reddened with the
cannon and rifle blaze. His frightened horse pulled wildly at the bit,
and tried to run away, but Harry held him to the path, although he
stepped more than once in hot ashes and sprang wildly. The dead were
thick too and Harry was in horror lest the hoof of his horse be planted
upon some unheeding face.
He knew that the day was waning fast and that the dark was due in some
degree to the setting sun, and not wholly to the smoke and ashes.
Yet the fury of the battle was sustained. The southern left maintained
the ground that it had gained, and in the center and right it could not
be driven back. It became obvious to Grant that Lee was not to be beaten
in the Wilderness. His advance suffered from all kinds of disadvantages.
In the swamps and thickets he could mass neither his guns nor his cannon.
Communications were broken, the telegraph wires could be used but little
and as the twilight darkened to night he let the attack die.
Harry was back with the commander-in-chief, when the great battle of the
Wilderness, one of the fiercest ever fought, sank under cover of the
night. It was not open and spectacular like Gettysburg, but it had a
gloomy and savage grandeur all its own. Grant had learned, like the
others before him, that he could not drive headlong over Lee, but sitting
in silence by his campfire, chewing his cigar, he had no thought, unlike
the others, of turning back. Nearly twenty thousand of his men had
fallen, but huge resources and a President who supported him absolutely
were behind him and he was merely planning a new method of attack.
In the Southern camp there was exultation, but it was qualified and
rather grim. These men, veterans of many battles and able to judge for
themselves, believed that they had won the victory, but they knew that it
was by no means decisive. The numerous foe with his powerful artillery
was still before them. They could see his campfires shining through
the thickets, and their spies told them that, despite his great losses,
there was no sign of retreat in Grant's camp.
An appalling night settled down on the Wilderness. The North American
Continent never saw one more savage and terrible. Twenty thousand
wounded were scattered through the thickets and dense shades, and
spreading fires soon brought death to many whom the bullets had not
killed at once. The smoke, the mists and vapors gathered into one dense
cloud, that hung low and made everything clammy to the touch.
Lee stood under the boughs of an oak, and ate food that had been prepared
for him hastily. But, as Harry saw, the act was purely mechanical.
He was watching as well as he could what was going on in front, and he
was giving orders in turns to his aides. Harry's time had not yet come,
and he kept his eyes on his chief.
There was no exultation in the face of Lee. He had drawn Grant into the
Wilderness and then he had held him fast in a battle of uncommon size and
fierceness. But nothing was decided. He had studied the career of Grant,
and he knew that he had a foe of great qualities with whom to deal.
He would have to fight him again, and fight very soon. He heard too with
a sorrow, hard to conceal, the reports of his own losses. They were
heavy enough and the gaps now made could never be refilled. The Army of
Northern Virginia, which had been such a powerful instrument in his hands,
must fight with ever diminishing numbers.
Harry was sent to inquire into the condition of Longstreet, whom he found
weak physically and suffering much pain. But the veteran was upborne by
the success of the day and his belief in ultimate victory. He bade Harry
tell the commander-in-chief that his men were fit to fight again and
better than ever, at the first shoot of dawn.
Harry rode back in the night, the burning trees serving him for torches.
Nearly all the soldiers were busy. Some were gathering up the wounded
and others were building breastworks. His eyes were reddened by the
powder-smoke, and often the heavy black masses of vapor were impenetrable,
save where the forest burned. Now he came to a region where the dead and
wounded were so thick that he dismounted and led his horse, lest a hoof
be planted upon any one of them. But he noticed that here as in other
battles the wounded made but little complaint. They suffered in silence,
waiting for their comrades to take them away.
Then he passed around a section of forest that was burning fiercely.
Here Southern and Union soldiers had met on terms of peace and were
making desperate efforts to save their helpless comrades. Harry would
have been glad to give aid himself, but he was too well trained now to
turn aside when he rode for Lee.
He saw many dark figures passing before the flaming background, and as
he walked more slowly than he thought, he saw one that looked remarkably
familiar to him. It was impossible to see the face, but he knew the
walk and the lift of the shoulders. Discipline gave way to impulse now,
and he ran forward crying:
Dick Mason, who had just dragged a wounded man beyond the range of the
flames, turned at the sound of the voice. Even had Harry seen his face
at first he would not have known him nor would Dick have known Harry.
Both were black with ashes, smoke and burned gunpowder. But Dick knew
the voice in an instant. Once more were the two cousins to meet in peace
on an unfinished battlefield.
Each driven by the same impulse stepped forward, and their hands met in
the strong grasp of blood kindred and friendship, which war itself could
"You're alive, Harry!" said Dick. "It seems almost impossible after what
has happened to-day."
"And you too are all right. Not harmed, I see, though your face is an
"I should call your own color dark and smoky."
"I wasn't sure that you were in the East. When did you come?"
"With General Grant, and I knew that you were on General Lee's staff.
I've a message to give him by you. Oh! you needn't laugh. It's a good
"Go ahead then and say it to me."
"You say to General Lee that it's all over. Tell him to quit and send
his soldiers home. If he doesn't he'll be crushed."
Harry laughed again and waved his finger at the somber battlefield,
upon which he stood.
"Does this look like it?" he asked. "We're farther forward to-night than
we were this morning. Wouldn't General Grant be glad if he could say as
"It makes no difference. I know you don't believe me, but it's so.
The North is prepared as it never was before. And Grant will hammer and
hammer forever. We know what a man Lee is. The whole North admits it,
but I tell you the sun of the South is setting."
"You're growing poetical and poetry is no argument."
"But unlimited men, unlimited cannon and rifles, unlimited ammunition and
supplies and a general who is willing to use them, are. Of course I know
that you can't carry any such message to General Lee, but I feel it to be
"We've a great general and a great army that say, no."
Nobody paid any attention to the two. It was merely another one of those
occasions when men of the opposing sides stood together amid the dead and
wounded, and talked in friendly fashion. But Harry knew that he could
not delay long.
"I've got to go, Dick," he said. "And I've a message too, one that I
want you to deliver to General Grant."
"What is it?"
"Tell him that we've more than held our own to-day, and that we'll thrash
him like thunder to-morrow, and whenever and wherever he may choose,
no matter what the odds are against us."
"I see that you won't believe even a little bit of what I tell you,"
he said "and maybe if I were in your place I wouldn't either. But it's
true all the same. Good-by, Harry."
The two hands, covered with battle grime, met again in the strong grasp
of blood kindred and friendship.
"Take care of yourself, old man!"
The words, exactly alike, were uttered by the two simultaneously.
Both were stirred deeply. Harry sprang on his horse, looked back once,
waving his hand, and rode rapidly to General Lee. Later in the night,
he received permission to hunt up the Invincibles, his heart full of fear
that they had perished utterly in the gloomy pit called the Wilderness,
lit now only by the fire of death.
He left his horse with an orderly and walked toward the point where he
had last seen them. He passed thousands of soldiers, many wounded,
but silent as usual, while the unhurt were sleeping where they had
dropped. The Invincibles were not at the point where he had seen them
last, and the colonels of several scattered regiments could not tell him
what had become of them. But he continued to seek them although the fear
was growing in his heart that the last man of the Invincibles had died
under the Northern cannon.
His search led toward the enemy's lines. Almost unconsciously he went in
that direction, however, his knowledge of the two colonels telling him
that they would take the same course. He turned into a little cove,
partly sheltered by the dwarfed trees and he heard a thin voice saying:
"Nonsense, Leonidas. I scarcely felt it, but yours, old friend, is
pretty bad. You must let me attend to it. Keep still! I'll adjust the
"Hector, why do you make a fuss over me, when I'm only slightly hurt,
and sacrifice yourself, a severely injured man!"
"With all due respect you'd better let me attend to you both," said a
voice that Harry recognized as St. Clair's.
"And maybe I could help a little," said another that he knew to be Happy
Tom's. But their voices, like those of the colonels, were weak. Still
he had positive proof that they were alive, and, as his heart gave a
joyful throb or two, he stepped into the glade. There was enough light
for him to see Colonel Leonidas Talbot, and Lieutenant-Colonel Hector
St. Hilaire, sitting side by side on the grass with their backs against
the earthly wall, very pale from loss of blood, but with heads erect and
eyes shining with a certain pride. St. Clair and Langdon lay on the
grass, one with an old handkerchief, blood-soaked, bound about his head
and the other with a bandage tightly fastened over his left shoulder.
Beyond them lay a group of soldiers.
"Good evening, heroes!" said Harry lightly as he stepped forward.
He was welcomed with an exclamation of joy from them all.
"We meet again, Harry," said Colonel Talbot, "and it is the second time
since morning. I fancy that second meetings to-day have not been common.
We have the taste of success in our mouths, but you'll excuse us for not
rising to greet you. We are all more or less affected by the missiles of
the enemy and for some hours at least neither walking nor standing will
be good for us."
"Mohammed must come to all the mountains," said St. Clair, weakly holding
out a hand.
Harry greeted them all in turn, and sat down with them. He was
overflowing with sympathy, but it was not needed.
"A glorious day," said Colonel Leonidas Talbot.
"Truly," said Harry.
"A most glorious day," said Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire.
"Most truly," said Harry.
"An especially glorious day for the Invincibles," said Colonel Talbot.
"The most glorious of all possible days for the Invincibles," said
Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire.
There was an especial emphasis to their words that aroused Harry's
"The Invincibles have had many glorious days," he said. "Why should this
be the most glorious of them all?"
"We went into battle one hundred and forty-seven strong," replied Colonel
Talbot quietly, "and we came out with one hundred and forty-seven
casualties, thirty-nine killed and one hundred and eight wounded.
We lay no claim to valor, exceeding that of many other regiments in
General Lee's glorious army, but we do think we've made a fairly
excellent record. Do you see those men?"
He pointed to a silent group stretched upon the turf, and Harry nodded.
"Not one of them has escaped unhurt, but most of us will muster up
strength enough to meet the enemy again to-morrow, when our great general
Harry's throat contracted for a moment.
"I know it, Colonel Talbot," he said. "The Invincibles have proved
themselves truly worthy of their name. General Lee shall hear of this."
"But in no boastful vein, Harry," said Colonel Talbot. "We would not
have you to speak thus of your friends."
"I do not have to boast for you. The simple truth is enough. I shall
see that a surgeon comes here at once to attend to your wounded. Good
"Good night," said the four together. Harry walked back toward General
Lee's headquarters, full of pride in his old comrades.
Harry secured a little sleep toward morning, and, although his nervous
tension had been very great, when he lay down, he felt greatly
strengthened in body and mind. He awakened Dalton in turn, and the two,
securing a hasty breakfast, sat near the older members of the staff,
awaiting orders. The commander-in-chief was at the edge of the little
glade, talking earnestly with Hill, and several other important generals.
Harry often saw through the medium of his own feelings, and the rim of
the sun, beginning to show over the eastern edge of the Wilderness,
was blood red. The same crimson and sinister tinge showed through the
west which was yet in the dusk. But in east and west there were certain
areas of light, where the forest fires yet smoldered.
Both sides had thrown up hasty breastworks of earth or timber, but the
two armies were unusually silent. A space of perhaps a mile and a half
lay between them, but as the light increased neither moved. There was no
crackle of rifle fire along their fronts. The skirmishers, usually so
active, seemed to be exhausted, and the big guns were at rest. The
fierce and tremendous fighting of the two days before seemed to have
taken all the life out of both North and South.
Harry, inured to war, understood the reasons for silence and lack of
movement. Grant had been drawn into a region that he did not like,
where he could not use his superior numbers to advantage, and he must be
shuddering at the huge losses he had suffered already. He would seek
better ground. Lee too, was in no condition to take advantage of his
successful defense. The old days when he could send Jackson on a great
turning movement, to fall with all the crushing impact of a surprise upon
the Northern flank, were gone forever. Stuart, the brilliant cavalryman,
was there, but his men were not numerous enough, and, however brilliant,
he was not Jackson.
The sun rose higher. Midmorning came, and the two armies still lay
close. Harry grew stronger in his opinion that they would not fight
again that day, although he watched, like the others, for any sign of
movement in the Northern camp.
Noon came, and the same dead silence. The fires had burned themselves
out now and the dusk that had reigned over the Wilderness, before the
battle, recovered its ground, thickened still further by the vast
quantities of smoke still hanging low under a cloudy sky. But the aspect
of the Wilderness itself was more mournful than ever. Coals smoldered in
the burned areas, and now and then puffs of wind picked up the hot ashes
and sent them in the faces of the soldiers. Thickets and bushes had been
cut down by bullets and cannon balls, and lay heaped together in tangled
confusion. Back of the lines, the surgeons, with aching backs, toiled
over the wounded, as they had toiled through the night.
Harry saw nearly the whole Southern front. The members of Lee's staff
were busy that day, carrying orders to all his generals to rectify their
lines, and to be prepared, to the last detail, for another tremendous
assault. It was not until the afternoon that he was able to look up the
Invincibles again. The two colonels and the two lieutenants were doing
well, and the colonels were happy.
"We've already been notified," said Colonel Talbot, "that we're to retain
our organization as a regiment. We're to have about a hundred new men
now, the fragments of destroyed regiments. Of course, they won't be like
the veterans of the Invincibles, but a half-dozen battles like that of
yesterday should lick them into shape."
"I should think so," said Harry.
"Do you believe that Grant is retreating?" asked Lieutenant-Colonel
"Our scouts don't say so."
"Then he is merely putting off the evil day. The sooner he withdraws the
more men he will save. No Yankee general can ever get by General Lee.
Keep that in your mind, Harry Kenton."
Harry was silent, but rejoicing to find that his friends would soon
recover from their wounds, he went back to his place, and saw all the
afternoon pass, without any movement indicating battle.
Night came again and the scouts reported to Lee that the Union army
was breaking camp, evidently with the intention of getting out of the
Wilderness and marching to Fredericksburg. Harry was with the general
when he received the news, and he saw him think over it long. Other
scouts brought in the same evidence.
Harry did not know what the general thought, but as for himself, although
he was too young to say anything, it was incredible that Grant should
retreat. It was not at all in accordance with his character, now tested
on many fields, and his resources also were too great for withdrawal.
But the night was very dark and no definite knowledge yet came out of it.
Lee stayed by his little campfire and received reports. Far after dusk
Harry saw the look of doubt disappear from his eyes, and then he began
to send out messengers. It was evident that he had formed his opinion,
and intended to act upon it at once.
He beckoned to Harry and Dalton, and bade them go together with written
instructions to General Anderson, who had taken the place of General
"You will stay with General Anderson subject to his orders," he said,
as Harry and Dalton, saluting, rode toward Anderson's command.
Their way led through torn, tangled and burned thickets. Sometimes a
horse sprang violently to one side and neighed in pain. His hoof had
come down on earth, yet so hot that it scorched like fire. Now and then
sparks fell upon them, but they pursued their way, disregarding all
obstacles, and delivered their sealed orders to General Anderson, who at
once gathered up his full force, and marched away from the heart of the
Wilderness toward Spottsylvania Court House.
Harry surmised that Grant was attempting some great turning movement,
and Lee, divining it, was sending Anderson to meet his advance. He never
knew whether it was positive knowledge or a happy guess.
But he was quite sure that the night's ride was one of the most singular
and sinister ever made by an army. If any troops ever marched through
the infernal regions it was they. In this part of the Wilderness the
fires had been of the worst. Trees still smoldered. In the hollows,
where the bushes had grown thickest, were great beds of coals. The smoke
which the low heavy skies kept close to the earth was thick and hot.
Gusts of wind sent showers of sparks flying, and, despite the greatest
care to protect the ammunition, they marched in constant danger of
Harry thought at one time that General Anderson intended to camp in
the Wilderness for the night, but he soon saw that it was impossible.
One could not camp on hot ground in a smoldering forest.
"I believe it's a march till day," he said to Dalton. "It's bound to be.
If a man were to lie down here, he'd find himself a mass of cinders in
the morning, and it will take us till daylight and maybe past to get out
of the Wilderness."
"If he didn't burn to death he'd choke to death. I never breathed such
"That's because it's mixed with ashes and the fumes of burned gunpowder.
A villainous compound like this can't be called air. How long is it
"About three hours, I think."
"You remember those old Greek stories about somebody or other going down
to Hades, and then having a hard climb out again. We're the modern
imitators. If this isn't Hades then I don't know what it is."
"It surely is. Phew, but that hurt!"
"I brushed my hand against a burning bush. The result was not happy.
Don't imitate me."
Dalton's horse leaped to one side, and he had difficulty in keeping the
saddle. His hoof had been planted squarely in the midst of a mass of hot
"The sooner I get out of this Inferno or Hades of a place the happier
I'll be!" said Dalton.
"I've never seen the like," said Harry, "but there's one thing about it
that makes me glad."
"And what's the saving grace?"
"That it's in Virginia and not in Kentucky, though for the matter of that
it couldn't be in Kentucky."
"And why couldn't it be in Kentucky?"
"Because there's no such God-forsaken region in all that state of mine."
"It certainly gets upon one's soul," said Dalton, looking at the gloomy
region, so terribly torn by battle.
"But if we keep going we're bound to come out of it some time or other."
"And we're not stopping. A man can't make his bed on a mass of coals,
and there'll be no rest for us until we're clear out of the Wilderness."
They marched on a long time, and, as day dawned, hundreds of voices
united in a shout of gladness. Behind them were the shades of the
Wilderness, that dismal region reeking with slaughter and ruin, and
before them lay firm soil, and green fields, in all the flush of a
brilliant May morning.
"Well, we did come out of Hades, Harry," said Dalton.
"And it does look like Heaven, but the trouble with our Hades, George,
is that the inmates will follow us. Put your glasses to your eyes and
look off there."
"Horsemen as sure as we're sitting in our own saddles."
"And Northern horsemen, too. Their uniforms are new enough for me to
tell their color. I take it that Grant's vanguard has moved by our right
flank and has come out of the Wilderness."
"And our surmises that we were to meet it are right. Spottsylvania Court
House is not far away, and maybe we are bound for it."
"And maybe the Yankees are too."
Harry's words were caused by the sound of a distant and scattering fire.
In obedience to an order from Anderson, he and Dalton galloped forward,
and, from a ridge, saw through their glasses a formidable Union column
advancing toward Spottsylvania. As they looked they saw many men fall
and they also saw flashes of flame from bushes and fences not far from
"Our sharpshooters are there," said Harry. And he was right. While the
Union force was advancing in the night Stuart had dismounted many of his
men and using them as skirmishers had incessantly harassed the march of
Grant's vanguard led by Warren.
"Each army has been trying to catch the other napping," said Dalton.
"And neither has succeeded," said Harry.
"Now we make a race for the Spottsylvania ridge," said Dalton. "You see
if we don't! I know this country. It's a strong position there, and
both generals want it."
Dalton was right. A small Union force had already occupied Spottsylvania,
but the heavy Southern division crossing the narrow, but deep, river Po,
drove it out and seized the defensive position.
Here they rested, while the masses of the two armies swung toward them,
as if preparing for a new battlefield, one that Harry surveyed with great
interest. They were in a land of numerous and deep rivers. Here were
four spreading out, like the fingers of a human hand, without the thumb,
and uniting at the wrist. The fingers were the Mat, the Ta, the Po,
and the Nye, and the unit when they united was called the Mattopony.
Lee's army was gathering behind the Po. A large Union force crossed it
on his flank, but, recognizing the danger of such a position, withdrew.
Lee himself came in time. Hill, overcome by illness and old wounds,
was compelled to give up the command of his division, and Early took his
place. Longstreet also was still suffering severely from his injuries.
Lee had but few of the able and daring generals who had served him in
so many fields. But Stuart, the gay and brilliant, the medieval knight
who had such a strong place in the commander-in-chief's affections, was
there. Nor was his plumage one bit less splendid. The yellow feather
stood in his hat. There was no speck or stain on the broad yellow sash
and his undimmed courage was contagious.
But Harry with his sensitive and imaginative mind, that leaped ahead,
knew their situation to be desperate. His opinion of Grant had proved to
be correct. Although he had found in Lee an opponent far superior to any
other that he had ever faced, the Union general, undaunted by his repulse
and tremendous losses in the Wilderness, was preparing for a new battle,
before the fire from the other had grown cold.
He knew too that another strong Union army was operating far to the south
of them, in order to cut them off from Richmond, and scouts had brought
word that a powerful force of cavalry was about to circle upon their
flank. The Confederacy was propped up alone by the Army of Northern
Virginia, which having just fought one great battle was about to begin
another, and by its dauntless commander.
The Southern admiration for Lee, both as the general and as the man,
can never be shaken. How much greater then was the effect that he
created in the mind of impressionable youth, looking upon him with
youth's own eyes in his moments of supreme danger! He was in very truth
to Harry another Hannibal as great, and better. The long list of his
triumphs, as youth counted them, was indeed superior to those of the
great Carthaginian, and he believed that Lee would repel this new danger.
Nearly all that day the two armies constructed breastworks which stood
for many years afterward, but neither made any attempt at serious work,
although there was incessant firing by the skirmishers and an occasional
cannon shot. Harry, whether carrying an order or not, had ample chance
to see, and he noted with increasing alarm the growing masses of the
Union army, as they gathered along the Spottsylvania front.
"Can we beat them?" "Can we beat them?" was the question that he
continually asked himself. He wondered too where the Winchester regiment
and Dick Mason lay, and where the spy, Shepard, was. But Shepard was not
likely to remain long in one place. Skill and courage such as his would
be used to the utmost in a time like this. Doubtless he was somewhere in
the Confederate lines, discovering for Grant the relatively small size of
the army that opposed him.
Near dusk and having the time he followed his custom and sought the
Invincibles. Both colonels had recovered considerable strength, and,
although one of them could not walk, he would be helped upon his horse
whenever the battle began, and would ride into the thick of it. But the
faces of St. Clair and Happy Tom glowed and their wounds apparently were
"Lieutenant Arthur St. Clair and Lieutenant Thomas Langdon are gone
forever," said Colonel Talbot. "In their places we have Major Arthur
St. Clair and Captain Thomas Langdon. All our majors and captains have
been killed, and with our reduced numbers these two will fill their
places, as best they can; and that they can do so most worthily we all
know. They received their promotions this afternoon."
Harry congratulated them both with the greatest warmth. They were very
young for such rank, but in this war the toll of officers was so great
that men sometimes became generals when they were but little older.
"Is it to be to-morrow?" asked Colonel Talbot.
"I think it likely that we'll fight again then," said Harry.
"And Grant has not yet had enough. He wants a little more of the same,
"It would appear so, sir."
"Then I take it without consulting General Lee that he is ready to deal
with the Yankees as he dealt with them in the Wilderness."
"I hope so. Good night."
"Good night!" they called to him, and Harry returned to the staff.
Taylor, the adjutant general, told him and Dalton to lie down and seek
a little sleep. Harry was not at all averse, as he was completely
exhausted again after the tremendous excitement of the battle, and the
long hours of strain and danger. But his nerves were so much on edge
that he could not yet sleep. His eyes were red and smarting from the
smoke and burned powder, and he felt as if accumulated smoke and dust
encased him like a suit of armor.
"I'd give a hundred dollars for a good long drink, just as long as I
liked to make it," he groaned, "and I mean a drink of pure cold water,
"Confederate paper or money?" said Dalton.
"I mean real money, but at the same time you oughtn't to make invidious
"Then the money's mine, but you can pay me whenever you feel like it,
which I suppose will be never. There's a spring in the thick woods just
back of your quarters. It flows out from under rocks, at the distance of
several yards makes a deep pool, and then the overflow of the pool goes
on through the forest to the Po. Come on, Harry! We'll luxuriate and
then tell the others."
Harry found that it was a most glorious spring, indeed; clear and cold.
He and Dalton drank slowly at first, and then deeply.
"I didn't know I could hold so much," said Dalton.
"Nor I," said Harry.
"Let's take another."
"I'm with you."
"Let's make it two more."
"I still follow you."
"Horace wrote about his old Falernian, and the other wines which he
enjoyed, as he and the leading Roman sports sat around the fountain,
flirting with the girls," said Dalton, "but I don't believe any wine ever
brewed in Latium was the equal of this water."
"I've always had an idea that Horace wasn't as gay as he pretended to be,
else he wouldn't have written so much about Chloe and her comrades.
I imagine that an old Roman boy would keep pretty quiet about his dancing
and singing, and not publish it to the public."
"Well, let him be. He's dead and the Romans are dead, and the Americans
are doing their best to kill off one another, but let's forget it for a
few minutes. That pool there is about four feet deep, the water is clear
and the bottom is firm ground; now do you know what I'm going to do?"
"Yes, and I'm going to do the same. Bet you even that I beat you into
They threw off their clothes rapidly, but the splashes were simultaneous
as their bodies struck the water. Although the limits of the pool were
narrow they splashed and paddled there for a while, and it was a long
time since they had known such a luxury. Then they walked out, dried
themselves and spread the good news. All night long the pool was filled
with the bathers, following one another in turn.
The water taken internally and externally soothed Harry's nerves.
His excitement was gone. A great army with which they were sure to fight
on the morrow was not far away, but for the time he was indifferent.
The morrow could take care of itself. It was night, and he had
permission to go to sleep. Hence he slumbered fifteen minutes later.
He slept almost through the night, and, when he was awakened shortly
before dawn, he found that his strength and elasticity had returned.
He and Dalton went down to the spring again, drank many times, and then
ate breakfast with the older members of the staff, a breakfast that
differed very little from that of the common soldiers.
Then a day or two of waiting, and watching, and of confused but terrible
fighting ensued. The forests were again set on fire by the bursting
shells and they were not able to rescue many of the wounded from the
flames. Vast clouds again floated over the whole region, drawing a veil
of dusk between the soldiers and the sun. But neither army was willing
to attack the other in full force.
Grant commanding all the armies of the East was moving meanwhile.
A powerful cavalry division, he heard, had got behind Beauregard, who was
to protect Richmond, and was tearing up an important railway line used
by the Confederacy. The daring Sheridan with another great division of
cavalry had gone around Lee's left and was wrecking another railway,
and with it the rations and medical supplies so necessary to the
Confederates. Grant, recognizing his antagonist's skill and courage and
knowing that to succeed he must destroy the main Southern army, resolved
to attack again with his whole force.
Back to Full Books