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Vicksburg

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

SEVERAL days later, having crossed at Vidalia and passed through Natchez, he came to Vicksburg. "The —th Virginia ?" "Camped, I think, in a vacant lot near the Court-House. Fine regiment!"

"Yes, fine regiment. Why is the town so dressed up ? I have not heard so many bands since General Lee reviewed us on the Opequon."

"Similar occasion! The President and General Johnston are here. They came from Jackson yesterday. This morning they inspect the defences, and this afternoon there will be a review."

"Give me all the news. I have been in another world."

"Grant and Sherman are preparing to swoop. The first is at Oxford with fifty thousand men, the second has left Memphis. He has thirty-five thousand, and the Gunboat Squadron. We're in for it I reckon! But the town's taking it like a birthday party. — When I was a boy my father and mother always gave me a birthday party, and always every boy in town but me was there! Can't skip this one, however! — They say Forrest is doing mighty good work east of Memphis, and there came a rumour just now that Van Dorn had something in hand. — You're welcome!"

The fair-sized town, built up from the riverside and over a shady, blossomy plateau, lay in pale sunshine. The devious river, yellow, turbid, looping through the land, washed the base of bluff and hill. Gone was the old clanging, riverside life, the coming and going of the packets, laughter and shouting of levee and wharf, big ware-houses looking benignantly on, manoeuvres of wagons and mules and darkies; gone were the cotton bales and cotton bales and cotton bales rolling down the steep ways into the boats; gone the singing and singing and casual sound of the banjo! There was riverside life now, but it partook of the nature of War, not of Peace. It was the life of river batteries, and of the few, few craft of war swinging at anchor in the yellow flood. Edward Cary, climbing from the water side, saw to right and left the little city's girdle of field-works, the long rifle-pits, the redoubts and redans and lunettes. All the hill-sides were trenched, and he saw camp-fires. He knew that not more than five thousand men were here, the remainder of the Army of the West being entrenched at Grenada, behind the Yallabusha. Above him, from the highest ground of all, sprang the white cupola of the Court-House. Around were fair, comfortable houses, large, old, tree-embowered residences. The place was one of refinement of living, of boundless hospitality. Two years ago it had been wealthy, a centre of commerce.

Edward came into a wider street. Here were people, and, in the distance, a band played "Hail to the Chief." Every house that could procure or manufacture a flag had hung one out, and there were garlands of cedar and the most graceful bamboo vine. In the cool, high, December sunlight everything and everybody wore a holiday air, an air of high and confident spirits. Especially did enthusiasm dwell in woman's eye and upon her lip. There were women and children enough at doors and gateways and on the irregular warm brick pavement. There were old men, too, and negro servants, and a good sprinkling of convalescent soldiers, on crutches or with arms in slings, or merely white and thin from fever. But young men or men in their prime lacked, save when some company swung by, tattered and torn, bronzed and bright-eyed. Then the children and the old men cheered and the negroes laughed and clapped, and the women waved their handkerchiefs, threw their kisses, cried, "God bless you!" East and west and north and south, distant and near, from the works preparing for inspection, called the bugles.

Edward, moving without haste up the street, came upon a throng of children stationed before what was evidently a schoolroom. A boy had a small flag — the three broad stripes, the wreath of stars. He held it solemnly, with a thin, exalted face and shining eyes. The girl beside him had a bouquet of autumn flowers. Upon the doorstep stood the teacher, a young woman in black.

The group pressed together a little so that the soldier looking for his regiment might pass. As with a smile he made his way, his hand now on this small shoulder, now on that, the teacher spoke.

"It's a great day, soldier! They must all remember it, must n't they ? "

" Yes, yes!" said Edward. He paused beside her, gazing about him. "I am of the Virginia troops. We passed through Vicksburg a fortnight ago, but it was at night. — Well! the place wears its garland bravely, but I hope the siege will not come."

"If it does," said the young woman, "we shall stand it. We stood the bombardment last summer."

The boy nearest her put in a voice. "Ho! that was n't anything! That was just fun! There was n't more 'n a dozen killed and one lady."

"An' the house next ours burned up!" piped a little girl. "An' a shell made a hole in the street before my grandma's door as big as — big as — big as — big as the moon!"

All the children began to talk. "It was awful --"

"Ho! it was n't awful. I liked it."

"We got up in the middle of the night an' it was as light as day! An' the ground shook so it made your ears ring, an' everybody had to shout so's they 'd be heard —"

"An' it was n't just one night! It was a whole lot of nights an' days. Old Porter an' old Farragut —"

"An' Miss Lily used to give us holiday —"

"Huh! She would n't give it less'n the noise got so loud she had to scream to make us hear! When we could honest-Injun say, `Miss Lily, we can't hear you! ' then she'd give it — "

"We had a whole lot of holiday. An' then old Porter an' old Farragut went away —"

The boy who held the banner had not spoken. Now he waved it once, looking with his brilliant eyes up and out, beyond the river. "The damn-Yankees went away, and if the damn-Yankees come any more, they can go away over again —"

"Gordon! don't use injurious epithets!" said Miss Lily, very gently.

Edward laughed and said good day. Farther on, keeping step for a moment with a venerable old gentleman, he asked, "What, sir, are all those small excavations in the hillsides, there, beyond the houses —"

"They are refuges, sir, for the women and children and sick and helpless. We made them when Farragut came up the river and Porter came down it and poured shot and shell in upon us every few days for a month or two! If signs may be trusted, it is apparent, sir, that we shall find use for them again."

"I am afraid it is. I am not sure that it is correct to try to hold the place."

The old gentleman struck his cane against the ground. "I am na strategist, sir, and I do not know a great deal about abstract correctness! But I am not a giver-up, and I would eat mule and live in a rat-hole for the balance of my existence before I would give up Vicksburg! Yes, sir! If I were a two-year-old, and expected to live as long as Methuselah, those would be my sentiments! Damn the outrageousness of their presence on the Mississippi River, sir! Our women are heroic, sir. They, too, will eat mule and live in rat-holes for as long a time as may be necessary! — No, sir; the President may be trusted to see that the town must be held!"

"Will General Johnston see it so ?"

The old gentleman wiped his forehead with a snowy handkerchief. "Why should n't he see it so? He's a good general. General Pemberton sees it so. Why shouldn't General Johnston see it so ?"

Edward smiled. "Evidently you see it so, sir. — Yes; I know that except for Port Hudson, it's the only defensible place between Memphis and New Orleans! We won't cross swords. Only our forces are n't exactly as large as were Xerxes'!"

"Xerxes! Xerxes, sir, was an effete Oriental — I gather from your accent, sir, that you are from Virginia. I don't know how it may be with Virginia, — though we have heard good reports, — but our people, sir, — our people are determined!"

" Oh," said the other, with a happy laugh. "I like your people mighty well, sir! Do you happen to know where the —th Virginia is camped ?"

The old gentleman waved his hand toward another and still broader street. Cary, passing into it, found more banners, more garlands, more people, and in addition carriages and civic dignitaries. In front of him, before a dignified, pillared residence, was an open place with soldiers drawn up. He gathered that this was the vacant lot for which he was searching, but nearer approach failed to reveal the —th Virginia. A lieutenant stood beneath a tree, pondering his forming company. Edward saluted, begged for information.

The Virginia? Ordered off at dawn to Grenada. Something's up over that way. Grant making a flourish from Oxford, I reckon.

Or maybe it's Van Dorn. Do you belong to the Virginia?"

The major came up. "Are you looking for the Virginia?

Yes? Then may I ask if you are Edward Cary? Yes? Then I promised Captain Carrington to look out for you. He was worried — he said that you must have been hurt worse than he thought —"

"I was not badly hurt, but a levee broke and flooded that region, and I could not get by."

"I am glad to see you. It's not only Carrington — I 've heard a deal about you from a brother of mine, in your class at the University, Oliver Hιbert."

"Oh, are you Robert ?"

"Yes. Oliver's in Tennessee with Cleburne. I hope you'll dine with me to-day? Good! Now to your affair. The regiment's going on to-morrow to Grenada with the President and General Johnston. You'd best march with us. We 're waiting now for the President — detachment 's to act as escort. He '11 be out presently. He slept here last night."

The company, whose first line had opened to include Edward, moved nearer the pillared house. Orderlies held horses before the door, aides came and went. Down the street sounded music and cheering. An officer rode before the waiting escort.

"Attention!"

"That's Old Joe they're cheering," said the private next Edward. "Glad Seven Pines could n't kill him! They say he's got a record for wounds — Seminole War — Mexican War — little scrimmage we 're engaged in now! — always in front, however. I was at Seven Pines. Were you ?"

"Yes."

"Awful fight! — only we've had so many awful fights since — There he is ! — General Johnston ! General Johnston ! General Johnston!"

Johnston appeared, spare, of medium height, with grizzled hair, mustache and imperial, riding a beautiful chestnut mare. But recently recovered from the desperate wound of Seven Pines, recently appointed to the command of the Department of the West, the bronze of the field had hardly yet ousted the pallor of illness. He rode very firmly, sitting straight and soldierly, a slight, indomitable figure, instinct with intellectual strength. He lifted his hat to the cheering lines and smiled — a very sweet, affectionate smile. It gave winsomeness to his quiet face. He was mingled Scotch and English, — somewhat stubborn, very able.

Beside him rode General Pemberton, commanding the forces at Vicksburg and Grenada. The two were speaking; Edward caught Johnston's quick, virile voice. "I believed that, apart from any right of secession, the revolution begun was justified by the maxims so often repeated by Americans, that free government is founded on the consent of the governed, and that every community strong enough to establish and maintain its independence has a right to assert it. My father fought Great Britain in defence of that principle. Patrick Henry was my mother's uncle. Having been educated in such opinions, I naturally returned to the State of which I was a native, joined my kith and kin, the people among whom I was born, and fought — and fight — in their defence."

He reached the broad steps and dismounted. As he did so, the door of the house opened and the President, a number of men behind him, came out upon the portico. Tall and lean as an Indian, clear-cut, distinguished, theorist and idealist, patriot undoubtedly, able undoubtedly, Jefferson Davis breathed the morning air. Mississippi was his State; Beauvoir, his home, was down the country. He looked like an eagle from his eyrie.

Johnston having mounted the steps, the two met. "Ah, General, I wish that I were in the field with this good town to defend!"

"Your Excellency slept well, I trust — after the people would let you sleep ?"

"I slept. General Pemberton, good morning — What are your arrangements ?"

"In a very few moments, if your Excellency pleases, we will start. The line of works is extensive."

"Haynes Bluff to Warrenton," said Johnston. " About fifteen miles."

"It is not expected," said Pemberton, "that his Excellency shall visit the more distant works."

Mr. Davis, about to descend the steps, drew a little back. Between his brows were two fine, parallel lines. "You think, General Johnston, that the lines are too extensive ?"

"Under the circumstances — yes, your Excellency."

"Then what is in your mind ? Pray, speak out ! "

"I think, sir, that one strong work should be constructed above the town, at the bend in the river. It should be made very strong. I would provision it to the best of our ability, and I would put there a garrison, say of three thousand. The remainder of General Pemberton's forces I would keep in the field, adding to them —"

"Yes ? Pray, be frank, sir."

"It is my custom, your Excellency. I hesitated because I have already so strongly made this representation that I cannot conceive ... Adding to them the Army of the Trans-Mississippi."

"I cannot consent to rob Peter, sir, to pay Paul."

"I conceive, sir, that it is neither Peter nor Paul that is in question, but the success of our arms. The enemy's forces are uniting to invade. Equally ours should unite to repel. General Holmes and his army are doing little in Arkansas. Here they might do much. — If we had the strong works and garrison I speak of "

"You would abandon all the batteries up and down the river?" "A giant properly posted will guard the Mississippi better than will your long line of dwarfs."

"Pray, sir, do not say my line of batteries. They are not mine." "I will say, then, your Excellency, General Pemberton's." "You, sir, and not General Pemberton, are in command of the Department of the West."

"So, when it is convenient, it is said. I have, then, sir, authority to concentrate batteries and a certain proportion of troops at the bend of the river ?"

"We will take, sir, your ideas under consideration."

The President moved to the steps, the others following. The line was still between Mr. Davis's brows. All mounted, wheeled their horses, moved into the street. The aides came after, the escort closed in behind. With jingle and tramp and music, to salutes and cheering, the party bent on inspection of the Vicksburg defences moved toward its object.

The words upon the portico had not of course floated to the ears of the soldiers below. But the Confederate soldier was as far removed from an automaton as it is conceivable for a soldier to be. Indeed, his initiative in gathering knowledge of all things and moods governing the Board of War was at times as inconvenient as it was marked. His intuition worked by grapevine.

" What," asked the soldier nearest Edward, "made the quarrel ?" "Old occasions, I believe. Now each is as poison to the other."

The inspection of water batteries and field-works was over, the review of the afternoon over. Amid cheering crowds the President left Vicksburg for Grenada, with him General Johnston and General Pemberton. The regiment which had given Edward Cary hospitality made a night march.

In the cold December dawn they came to a stream where, on the opposite bank, a cavalry detail could be made out watering its horses. There was a bridge. Infantry crossed and fraternized.

"What's the news ? We had a big day in Vicksburg yesterday! The President and Old Joe —"

"Have you heard about the raid ?"

"What raid ?"

"Boys, they have n't heard! — Oh, I see our captain over there telling it to your colonel."

"That's all right! We'll get it from the colonel. But you fellows might as well tell — seeing that you 're dying to do it! What raid ?"

" Van Dorn's raid — our raid ! Raid on Holly Springs! Raid round Grant ! Yaaaih ! Yaaiih ! Yaaaaih !"

A tall and strong trooper, with a high forehead, deep eyes, and a flowing black beard, began to speak in a voice so deep and sonorous that it boomed like a bell across the water. "Van Dorn 's a jewel. Van Dorn loves danger as he might love a woman with a temper. When she's smiling she's so white-angry, then he loves her best. Van Dorn rides a black thoroughbred and rides her hard. Van Dorn, with his long yellow hair —"

"Listen to Llewellen chanting like the final bard! — Well, he is handsome, — Van Dorn!"

"He ain't tall, but he 's pretty. Go on, Llewellen ! "

"Van Dom riding like an Indian —"

"He did fine in the Comanche War. Did you ever hear about the arrow ? "

"Van Dom and two thousand of us — two thousand horse!" "Dead night and all of them fast asleep!"

"Holly Springs — Grant's depot of supplies — three months' stores for sixty thousand men —"

"Burnt all his supplies — cut his lines of communication — captured the garrison ! — Hurrah!"

"Ulysses S. Grant's campaign's deranged —"

"Reckon Vicksburg 's safe for this time! Reckon he'll have to trot Sherman back to Memphis —"

"Reckon he'll have to clear out of Mississippi himself!"

"Light as hell in the dead night and all of them scampering! Hurrah! Van Dorn and two thousand horse — "

" ` Now, men,' says Van Dorn,` I want Glory with a capital letter, and I reckon we 're most of us built the same way! Well, Glory Hallelujah is growing round Grant's army like tiger lilies round a beehive —' "

"Van Dorn and two thousand horse — took 'em like a thunder-clap! Burned three months' supplies for sixty thousand men — cut their lines —"

"Toled danger away from Vicksburg —"

"Van Dorn and —"

Fall in ! Fall in !

That evening the infantry regiment bivouacked within sight of Grenada. The next morning, early, it swung out toward the Yallabusha. Passing a line of ragged sentries it presently came to a region of ragged, huge fields with cotton all ungathered, ragged, luxuriant forest growth, ragged, gully-seamed, low hills. From behind one of these floated the strains of "Dixie" played by ragged Confederate bands. The regiment climbed a few yards and from a copse of yellow pine looked down and out upon a ragged plain, an almost tentless encampment, and upon a grand review of the Army of the West.

Halt ! In place ! Rest !

The regiment, leaning on its muskets, watched through a veil of saplings. Officers and men were vividly interested and comment was free, though carried on in low tones. Not far below waved the colours marking the reviewing-stand. The music of the massed bands came from the right, while in front a cluster of well-mounted men was moving down the great field from division to division. A little in advance rode two figures. "The President and General Johnston," said the colonel and the major and the captains. "Old Joe and the President," remarked the men.

The day was bright and still and just pleasantly cold. A few white clouds sailed slowly from west to east, the sky between of the clearest azure. A deep line of trees, here bare or partly bare, here evergreen, marked the course of the Yallabusha. The horizon sank away in purple mist. The sun came down and glinted brightly on sixteen thousand bayonets, and all the flags glowed and moved like living things. The trumpets brayed, the drums beat; there stood out the lieutenant-general, Pemberton, the major-generals, Loring and Dabney Maury and Earl Van Dorn, the latter laurel-crowned from as brilliant a raid as the War had seen. Back to the colours fluttering beneath a live-oak came the reviewing party. Brigade by brigade, infantry, cavalry, and artillery, the army passed in review.

Past the President of the Confederacy went an array of men that, in certain respects, could only be matched in the whole earth by the other armies of that Confederacy. They were of a piece with the Army of Tennessee now operating near Chattanooga, and with the Army of Northern Virginia now watching Burnside across the Rappahannock, and with other grey forces scattered over the vast terrain of the War.

It emerged at once how spare they were and young and ragged. There were men from well-nigh every Southern State; from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, Kentucky, the Carolinas; — but whether they came from lands of cotton and cane, or lands of apple and wheat, they were alike lean and bronzed and ragged and young. Men in their prime were there, and men past their prime; there did not lack grey-beards. Despite this, the impression was overwhelmingly one of youth. Oh, the young, young men, and lean as Indians in winter! Brigade by brigade, — infantry, cavalry, artillery, — with smoke-stained, shot-riddled colours, with bright, used muskets, with the guns, with the war-horses, with the bands playing "Dixie," they went by Mr. Davis and General Johnston beneath the live-oak.

Toward noon the regiment from Vicksburg found its chance to report, and a little later Edward Cary rejoined his command. The command was glad to see him; not all his comrades understood him, but they liked him exceedingly. That night, the first lieutenant, with whom at the University, he had read George Sand and the dramas of M. Victor Hugo, found him seated under a yellow pine with a pine stump for table, and a pine torch for lamp, slowly covering with strong, restrained handwriting, several sheets of bluish Confederate paper.

The lieutenant threw himself down upon the pine needles. " Writing home ?"

"No. Not to-night."

Two letters lay addressed in their envelopes. The lieutenant, weary and absent-minded, took them up, fingering them without thinking. Edward drew the letter he was writing into the shadow, guarded it with his arm, and, smiling, held out the other hand.

Colonel Henry Gaillard,
— Louisiana Cavalry,
Mobile, Alabama.

Captain Louis Gaillard,
— Louisiana,
Barton's Brigade

read the lieutenant. He dropped the letters. "I am sure I beg your pardon, Cary! I did n't in the least think what I was doing!"

"There's no harm done, Morton." He repossessed himself of the letters, struck the torch at another angle, and turned from the forest table. "Morton, I'm going in for promotion."

The lieutenant laid down his pipe. " Well, if you go in for it, I'll back you to get it, but I thought you said --"

"I did."

"What do you want it for? Vain-glory ? "

Edward locked his hands behind his head. " No; not for vain-glory — though it 's remarkable how brothers and fathers and kinsfolk generally like the clang of `Colonel' or `Brigadier'! After the Merrimac and Monitor I would n't take promotion, but I did get a furlough. . . . Morton, I 'm going in for furloughs and a lieutenant-colonelcy. Back me up, will you ?"

"Oh, we '11 all do that !" quoth Morton. "You might have entered as captain and been anything most by now —" "I didn't care to bother. But now I think I will."

"All right!" said Morton. "I gather that presently there will be chances thick as blackberries."

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