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The Guns

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

MORNING broke with a heavy mist over Oostenaula and Connesauga, over Rocky Face and Snake Creek Gap, over the village of Resaca, over the Western and Atlantic Rail-road, over the grey army and the blue army. A keen, continual skirmishing began with the light. It extended along the whole front, but with especial sharpness upon Hardee's line. Some blue cannon opened here, and for a time it seemed that at any moment the main bodies, blue and grey, might crash through the fog into a general and furious battle. Stevenson's division, moving forward, reoccupied the position gained the evening before. Wrapped in the mist, wet with the morning dew, the men fell to work upon log and rail and stump defences. Hindman's line was next to Stevenson's, and a blue battery, well placed, was sending against Hindman, engaged in thrusting back a blue assault, a stream of grape and canister. Stevenson, ordered to help out Hindman, sent Max Van den Corput's battery of Johnston's battalion to a point eighty yards in front of his own line — a zagged hill, rising abruptly from the field, with a wide and deep ravine beyond. In dust and thunder the battery came to this place; the guns were run into position, the guns were served, steady, swift, and well. "But," says Stevenson, "the battery had hardly gotten into position when the enemy hotly engaged my skirmishers, driving them in, and pushing on to the assault with great impetuosity. So quickly was all this done that it was impossible to remove the artillery before the enemy had effected a lodgment in the ravine in front of it, thus placing it in such a position that, while the enemy was entirely unable to remove it, we were equally so, without driving off the enemy massed in the ravine beyond it, which would have been attended with great loss of life. The assaults of the enemy were in heavy force and made with the utmost impetuosity, but were met with a cool, steady fire which each time mowed down their ranks and drove them back, leaving the ground thickly covered in places with their dead."

Along Hardee's line the white puffs of cannon smoke showed all day through. In the early afternoon came a courier with a note from Walker, now at Calhoun. "No movement of the enemy observed. Think report of passage of Oostenaula unfounded." Johnston read, then dispatched an order to Hood. "Prepare to attack enemy's left as indicated yesterday evening. Three brigades of Polk's and Hardee's will support." But later, as Hood was preparing to move forward, there came a more breathless messenger yet from Walker. "The first report was true, General! They crossed at Lay's Ferry. Two divisions are over, and others on the way." Johnston listened with an impassive face, then sent at once and countermanded Hood's order. Stewart's division only was not checked in time. It attacked, and was roughly handled before it could be recalled.

Lieutenant T. B. Mackall, aide-de-camp to General Mackall, chief of staff, kept a journal of the operations, during these days, of the Army of Tennessee. May fifteenth, 1864, he writes: —

" ... 7 A.M. General Johnston has been on hill where Selden's battery is posted since firing began; is just going to ride to the right, leaving General Mackall here. Skirmishing and artillery still going on. 10 A.m. General Johnston returned to Selden's battery an hour ago. Answer sent to cipher of the President received yesterday: `Sherman cannot reinforce Grant without my knowledge, and will not as we are skirmishing along our entire line. We are in presence of whole force of enemy assembled from North Alabama and Tennessee.' Ferguson's brigade of cavalry, also Brigadier-General Jackson have reached Rome. Wheeler has just gone to upper pontoon bridge, which will not be ready for crossing for fifteen minutes. It is in long range of the six-gun battery put up last night on the hill which they captured. 11 A.M. Very heavy musketry and artillery firing going on, apparently on Hindman's line. Just before it became so rapid General Johnston rode up the Dalton road, apparently on account of some news brought by Hampton from Hardee. About 11.15 battery on our extreme right opened. Firing slackened on Hindman's front. Battery on hill on our left enfilades our trenches; riflemen annoying to our gunners. 12 M. General Johnston has come back to Selden's battery. The firing on extreme right three quarters of an hour ago caused by enemy's crossing Connesauga in rear of Hood, capturing Hood's hospital. A brigade of our cavalry after them, supported by a brigade of Stewart's. Captain Porter, who went with General Johnston, came back. Says last reports represent our troops driving enemy's cavalry. 1.30 P.M. Heavy musketry and artillery on Hindman's front; began about fifteen minutes ago. Lieutenant Wigfall has just come up to say enemy are making a very determined attack on Hindman. General Johnston preparing to mount to ride to Hood's. Firing continuous. 3.30 P.M. Few minutes after writing above rode off to General Hood's with General Mackall, who accompanied General Johnston. Found Hood where Dalton dirt road and railroad are near each other and where we now are. Hindman, a few minutes after we arrived, repulsed the enemy, who came up in some places to his breast-works. Our reserves not used. Orders given for Stewart to take enemy in flank; for wagons which were sent back to be brought up to Resaca. Stevenson and Hindman to take up movement of Stew-art. Featherston brought from Polk's line, also Maney and from Cheatham. These supports came up in very short time. Stevenson, however, sent word that enemy in three lines were pre-paring to attack Stewart's centre. 3.40 P.M. (In rear of Stewart's line near railroad) Stewart directed to receive attack and pursue. But slight skirmishing now; enemy not making attack. 9.30 P.M. At house behind Selden's battery (headquarters at night). Orders given to withdraw from this place; arrangements made and trains moving. This afternoon, about 4.30 P.M., Stewart, in obedience to orders to attack if his position was not assaulted, advanced; soon his line was broken by a terrible fire of Hooker's corps, who were ready to attack. I had been sent to accompany Major Ratchford to General Featherston (held in reserve) to order him in the General's name to take position in support of Stewart, near Green's house.

"Monday, May i6. On Calhoun and Adairsville road, two miles south of Calhoun. While in field in rear of Stewart's line and near railroad last night, about dark, corps and division commanders assembled and instructions given to effect withdrawal of army to south bank of Oostenaula. Enemy had crossed force to south bank of river at Dobbin's Ferry; reported two divisions. Walker was facing them, immediately in our front. He was entrenched, his line ex-tending from Oostenaula River to Tilton on Connesauga. . . . In two hours after Stewart's repulse, Cheatham, Hindman, Cleburne, etc., were assembled around the camp-fires. Hardee had been there all evening. Routes and times fixed; cars to be sent for the wounded; wagons and ambulances and most of artillery to cross pontoons above; troops and artillery on Polk's line on railroad and small trestle bridge; an hour occupied in giving orders, etc., and all dispersed, going to their headquarters. We rode in; wagons not brought over. After writing dispatches . . . lay down (sleeping on porch of house in rear of Selden's battery) ; waked by noise — firing, confusion, etc.; saddle and mount. General Loring comes up; all ride to roadside at foot of Selden's battery, passing through Hindman's column, going to railroad bridge. Cheatham's pass from his line over small trestle bridge below. Night cloudy. Firing of musketry and small arms on Hood's line, which was rapid and continuous on first waking, decreased. These troops (Cheatham's and Hood's) did not seem at all alarmed, rather noisy and in very good humour. Enemy's line on river remarkably quiet. . . . Near Calhoun, 5.30 P.M. Order given to send wagons back one mile and a half south of Adairsville. 6.3o P.M. Our wagons parking; saddling.

"Tuesday, May 17. We reached Adairsville just before day, a little ahead of troops. Cultivated, rolling country from Resaca to Adairsville."

Edward Cary lay, not in the hospital that was raided, but in a house in the village. It was a fairly large house, and upstairs and down it was filled with the wounded. The surgeons and the village women had their hands full. He lay quite conscious, much weakened, but going to recover. There were a number of pallets in this upper hall where he had been placed. Officers and men occupied them, some much hurt, others more slightly. A surgeon with a woman to help went from bed to bed. The more frightful cases were downstairs, and from that region there came again and again a wailing cry from flesh and blood and bone under probe and saw. Out of doors the sun shone hot, and in at the open, unshaded windows came a dull sound of firing. The flies were bad. Two girls with palm-leaf fans, moving from pallet to pallet, struggled with them as best they might, but in the blood and glare and heat they settled again. The wounded moved their heads from side to side, fought them away with their hands. Désirée came up the stairs and into the hall. She had hanging at her waist a pair of scissors, and in her arms a bolt of something dusty-white. Unrolled at the stairhead, and cut swiftly into lengths, it proved to be mosquito netting. "I found it in a little store here. They did n't know they had it."

The hot, bright morning went on. Outside the firing swelled and sank and swelled again. Sometimes it sounded far away, sometimes as though it were in the street below. The less injured, the reason-ably comfortable, listened with feverish interest. "On the right again! — Stevenson and Stewart have had the brunt. — No! that 's centre now. — Cleburne, I think. He's a good one! Who 's passing through the street below? Old Joe? Give him a cheer, whoever's got a voice!"

The morning wore on to hot noon. The village women had furnished kettlefuls of broth that stony necessity made very thin. Such as it was, it tasted good to the wounded who could eat and drink. For those who turned moaningly away their comrades had the divinest pity. "Poor fellow ! he's badly off ! I reckon he's going to die — Do you remember, at Baker's Creek, how he fought that gun all alone ? "

Hot noon wore into sultry afternoon. The sun went behind a smooth pall of greyish cloud. His going did not lessen the heat; there was no air, a kind of breathless oppression. In the midst of it, and during what seemed a three-quarter circle of firing, north, east, and west, surgeons and orderlies appeared in the upper hall. " We've got to move you folk! Yankees marching on Calhoun and so's the Army of Tennessee. Six miles by rail and the wagons are ready to take you to the station. Cheer up, now! the whole Western Atlantic 's reserved for us!"

The crowded wagons drew off, each in a dust-cloud. They jolted, the straw was thin in the bottom. The wounded tried to set their teeth, but many failed and there were groans enough. The surgeon, riding at the end of the wagon, kept up a low, practised, cheerful talk, and some of the less hurt helped as best they might the others. Désirée, because her eyes were so appealing, because she expected to go and said as much, was given place upon the bed of one of the larger wagons. She sat, curled up upon the straw, Edward's head upon her lap, her bent knee and the softness of her skirt easing, too, the position of a grizzled lieutenant with a bullet through his cheek. The line of wagons jolted through the dust to the station, where was the weary, rusty engine, and the weary, dingy cars. Six miles over that roadbed with green wood for fuel, with stalling and hesitations and pauses for examination, meant a ride of an hour.

From some of the cars all the seats had been removed; others had seats at one end, while two thirds of the flooring was bare. The badly hurt were laid in rows upon the planks; those less injured were given the seats, two, sometimes three, to a bench; others with bandaged arms and heads must stand. Every box-on-wheels was crowded, noisy, hot, of necessity dirty, of necessity evil-smelling. The cars and their burden made the best of it; there was much suffering but no whining. The engine wheezed and puffed, the wheels moved, the train rolled southward out of Resaca. The more lively of the passengers, who were by windows, talked for the benefit of the others. "Troops moving on both roads — everybody getting in column — quiet and orderly — Old Joe fashion ! Still firing on the fringe of things — regular battle-cloud over on our right! — Going to cross the river! Pretty river and pretty name for it. — Rivers and mountains — I've learned more geography in this war!"

The train creaked and wavered across the Oostenaula. At the station some one had given a wounded officer a newspaper procured from headquarters — a three-days' old issue of a Milledgeville paper. The officer had both eyes bandaged across, and the man beside him could not read aloud because his wound was in the throat. A third, sitting on the floor, propped against the side of the car, tried, but after he had read the headline he said that the letters all ran together. The headline had said "GREAT BATTLE IN VIRGINIA" and the car — that part of it which was at all at ease enough to listen — wanted to hear. Désirée, standing beside Edward, took the paper and read aloud. Her voice was sweet and deep and clear as a bell.

"From Richmond. There has been a great battle in the Wilderness — " "The Wilderness! Like Chancellorsville —"

"General Grant crossed on the fourth to the south side of Rapidan. We met them on the fifth. The battle raged all day with varying success, but when darkness fell the honours remained with us —"

"Hip — hip — hooray!"

"At dawn the attack was renewed, and this day saw also a bloody struggle. General Longstreet, we regret to report was severely wounded—" "Old Pete! How he struck at Chickamauga!"

"At sunset Gordon of Ewell's attacked the enemy's right flank with such fury that he drove him for a mile, capturing his entrenchments and a great number of prisoners. Darkness closed the battle. Our loss very heavy, the enemy's much greater. As we go to press we learn that on the eighth Grant began to move toward Spottsylvania Court-House."

"The eighth! A week ago! Is that all it says?"

"There is nothing more from Virginia. But here is a letter from Ripley, Mississippi. Forrest has been through that place, the enemy after him —"

"Read that!"

On creaked the slow train, past the windows unrolled the Georgia countryside, and where one saw a road one saw grey troops, grey infantry, grey artillery, grey wagon-trains, all moving with the train of the wounded, moving deeper into Georgia, moving toward Atlanta. They moved nor fast nor slow, and if it was an army in retreat it did not look the rôle. On went the train, in the heat, with the wounded. No sun tormented, but the pall of the clouds held in the heat. There had been two buckets of water to each car, but the water gave out before they had been fifteen minutes from Resaca.

Hardee's corps, reaching Calhoun, moved by Johnston's orders out upon the Rome road to where was met the Snake Creek Gap road to Adairsville, upon which road the enemy was advancing.' Here Hardee deployed, formed a line, and held the blue in check while the remainder of the grey came up. Joe Wheeler, in the rear, retarded all advance from Resaca itself. The blue passage of the Oostenaula met, too, with certain delays. Sherman, moving from Dalton behind Rocky Face to cut the grey lines at Resaca, found the Army of Tennessee there before him. Moving now behind Oostenaula to come upon the rear of the grey at Calhoun, he found himself, as at Resaca, again face to face.

Back in front of Resaca, under the darkening sky, upon the mound in front of Stevenson's line, above the ravine which had filled with a blue host, stood yet the four guns which had been cut off early in the day. "I covered the disputed battery with my fire," says Stevenson, "in such a manner that it was utterly impossible for the enemy to remove it, and I knew that I could retake it at any time, but thought it could be done with less loss of life at night, and therefore postponed my attack. When ordered to retire I represented the state of things to the general commanding, who decided to abandon the guns." And says Hood: "During the attack on General Stevenson a four-gun battery was in position thirty paces in front of his line, the gunners being driven from it and the battery left in dispute. The army withdrew that night, and the guns, without caissons or limber-boxes, were abandoned to the enemy, the loss of life it would have cost to withdraw them being considered worth more than the guns."

These four pieces constituted the only material lost or abandoned during the seventy days. Now they stood there in a row with their grey friends and comrades gone, with the blue rear guard not yet come to take them; stood there in a solitude after throngs, in a silence after sound. The sky was iron grey, the grass was trampled, the dead lay upon the slope. The guns were all alone. Their metal was cold, their lips no longer red; they stood like four sentinels frozen in death. They stood high, against the wide and livid heaven. The cloudy day declined; the night came dark and close, and into its vastness the guns sank and disappeared like the guns of an injured ship at sea.

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