( Originally Published Early 1900's )
EARLY's task in the Valley throughout this summer and autumn was to preserve a threatening attitude toward blue territory on the other side of the Potomac, to hinder and harass Federal use of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and to render the Northern Capital so continuously anxious that it might at any time choose to weaken Grant in order to add to its own defences. In addition he had presently Sheridan to contend with, Sheridan strengthened by Hunter, returned now from the Kanawha Valley to the main battlegrounds.
Sheridan's task in the Valley was to give body to the Northern reasoning as to the uses, at this stage of the game, of that section. With war rapidly concentrating as it now was, the Northern Govern-ment saw the Valley no more as a battleground, nor as of especial use to the blue colour on the chessboard. But it was of use to the grey, especially that rich portion of it called the Shenandoah Val-ley. Moreover it was grey; scourge it well and you scourged a grey province. Make it untenable, a desert, and the loss would be felt where it was meant to be felt. Sheridan, with Hunter to aid, devastated as thoroughly as if his name had been Attila. McCausland made a cavalry raid into Pennsylvania and, in reprisal for Hunter's burnings, burned the town of Chambersburg. It did not stop the burnings across the river; they went on through the length and breadth of the Valley of Virginia. Over the mountains, in Northern Virginia, in the rolling counties of Fauquier and Loudoun, was "Mosby's Confederacy," where the most daring of all grey partisan leaders "operated in the enemy's lines." Mosby did what lay in man to do to help the lower Valley. He "worried and harassed" Sheridan by day and by night. But the burning and lifting went on. When late autumn came, with winter before it, a great region lay bare, and over it wandered a vision of drawn faces of women and a cry of small children.
Sheridan in person did not come until the first week in August. Late in July Early fought the Army of West Virginia, Crook and Averell, at Winchester fought and won. Here the Golden Brigade did good service, and here the "Fighting Sixty-fifth" won mention again, and here Steve Dagg definitely determined to renounce the Confederate service.
Life had taken on for Steve an aspect of '62 in the Valley only worse. In a dreadful dream he seemed to be recovering old tints, repeating old experiences from Front Royal to Winchester but all darkened and hardened. In '62 the country was still rich, and you could forage, but now there was no foraging. There was no-thing to forage for. Then the old Army of the Valley had been ill-clad and curiously confident and cheerful, with Mr. Commissary Banks double-quicking down the pike, before Old Jack! Now the Second Corps was worse-clad, and far, far from the ancient careless cheer. It still laughed and joked and sang, but less often, and al-ways, when it did laugh, it was with a certain grimness as of Despair not far off. On night and day marches, you heard song and jest,. indeed, but you heard heavy sighs as well a heavy sighing in the night-time or the daytime, as the army moved on the Valley Pike. Now confident good cheer in others was extraordinarily necessary to Steve. When it flagged, it was as though a raft had sunk from beneath him. Yes, it was '62 over again, but a homesick, strange, far worse '62 ! Daily life grew to be for him a series of shocks, more or less violent, but all violent. Life went in magic-lantern slides alternate blackness and frightful, vivid pictures in which blood red predominated. Steve developed a morbid horror of blood.
August came. At Moorefield occurred a cavalry fight, Averell against McCausland and Bradley Johnson, the grey suffering defeat. On the seventh came Sheridan with the Sixth and the Nineteenth Army Corps and Torbert's great force of cavalry. The blue forces in the Valley now numbered perhaps forty-five thousand, with some thousands more in garrison at Martinsburg and Harper's Ferry. Lee sent in this month Kershaw's division and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry, but in a few weeks, indeed, Kershaw must be recalled to Peters-burg, where they needed every man every man and more ! In the Valley August and the first third of September went by in marchings and counter-marchings, infantry skirmishing and cavalry raids. The third week of the latter month found the grey gathered behind the Opequon.
Mid-September and the woods by the Opequon turning red and gold. "Ah," said the Sixty-fifth, "we camped here after Sharps-burg, before we went over the mountains and fought at Fredericksburg! But it isn't as it was it isn't as it was "
Gordon and Breckenridge and Ramseur and Rodes, with Fitz Lee's cavalry sent up from Tidewater, all camped for a time beside the Opequon. The stream ran with an inner voice, an autumn colouring was on the land. "But it is n't bright," said the men, "it isn't bright like it was that fall!" "Is n't time yet for it to be bright. Bright in October." "Yes, of course but that fall it was bright all the time! The seasons are changing anyhow." "What's that the Bible student 's saying? `The lean kine and the lean ears of corn '" Opequon flowed on, brown and clear, but much of the woodland by Opequon had been hewed away, and the bordering lands were not now under cultivation. All were bare and sorrowful. There were no cattle, no stock of any kind. The leaves turned red and the leaves turned yellow and the wind murmured through the hacked and hewed forest, and the nights were growing chill. "Do you remember," said the men, "the day that Heros von Borcke brought Old Jack the new uniform from Jeb Stuart ?" "Do you remember the revival here ? "
"We're tenting tonight on the old camp-ground,
The seventeenth and eighteenth all divisions moved nearer to Winchester. The nineteenth the battle of Winchester had its moment in time, a battle very fortunate for the Confederates early in the day, not at all so fortunate later in the day, a fierce, drama-tic battle, in which the blue cavalry played the lion's part, blue cavalry very different, under Sheridan in '64, from the untrained and weakly handled blue cavalry of the earlier years, a battle in which Rodes was killed and Fitzhugh Lee wounded, in which killed and wounded and missing the blue lost upward of five thousand, and in killed and wounded and captured the grey lost as many a bitter battle!
Steve had to fight he could not get out of it. He was out on the Berryville road Abraham's Creek at his back. The Sixty-fifth was about him; it was steady and bold, and he got some warmth about his heart out of the fact. In the hopeful first half of the day, with a ruined stone wall for breastwork, with Nelson's and Braxton's guns making a shaken grey rag of the atmosphere, with Ramseur standing fast, with Gordon and Rodes sweeping to Ramseur's aid, with Breckenridge, the "Kentucky Gamecock," fighting as magnificently as he looked, with Lomax and Fitz Lee, with the storm and shouting, and the red field and blue and starry cross advanced, with about him the strength of the Golden Brigade and the untroubled look of the Sixty-fifth, Steve even fought as he had never fought before. He tore cartridges, loaded and fired, and he grinned when the wind blew the smoke, and the opposite force was seen to give way. When the Golden Brigade went forward in a charge, he went with it a good part of the way. But then he stumbled over a stone and fell with an oath as of pain. The Golden Brigade and the Sixty-fifth went on and left him there near a convenient cairn of stones with a reddened vine across it. His action had been largely automatic; he had no longer in such matters the agony of choosing; as soon as fear entered his heart his joints acted. Now they drew him more securely behind the heap of stones. Far ahead, he heard, through the thunder of the guns, the voice of the Golden Brigade, the voice of the Sixty-fifth Virginia charging the foe. He looked down, and to his horror he saw that he was really wounded.
This was high noon, and at high noon the grey thought with justice that they had the field, had it, despite the fall of Rodes, a general beloved. Now set in a level two hours of hard fighting to hold that field. . . . And then wheeled on the afternoon, and the tide definitely turned. Crook's corps, not until now engaged, struck the left on the Martinsburg Pike, and the blue cavalry, disciplined now and strong, came in a whirlwind upon the rear of this wing, pushing it and a cavalry brigade of Fitz Lee's back back back through Winchester back on the centre and right, now furiously attacked by all three arms. The tide raced to its ebb with the grey. . . . Gordon found his wife in the street in Winchester, pleading with Gordon's men to go back and strike them anyhow. Her tears were streaming. "The first time I ever saw Confederate lines broken, and I hope it will be the last!"
They were broken. It was not wild panic nor rout, but it was a lost battle, known as such at last by even the most stubbornly determined or recklessly brave. By twilight the Second Corps was in retreat, moving in order up the Valley Pike, sullen and sorrowful, torn and decimated and weary, heartsick with the dead and wounded and captured left behind. Kernstown! They looked at the old field with unseeing eyes.
Steve, behind his cairn of stones, had viewed with agony a blue cavalry charge coming. It passed him in dust and thunder, the hoof of a great chestnut actually striking his shoulder. It passed, but the dust had not settled before infantry of Rodes, pressed this way, overran his fraction of the field, behind them another wild cavalry dash. It was sickening to see the horses ride men down, ride them down and strike them under! It was sickening to see the sabres flash, descend all bright and rise so red! It was sickening to hear cries, oaths, adjuration, and under all a moaning, moaning! And the smoke, so thick and stifling, and a horror even of taste and smell . . . Steve, with a flesh wound across his thigh where a bullet had glanced, got up and ran, dropping blood.
As he went he found about him the wildest confusion. Units and groups of cavalry, infantry, and artillery were shaken together as in a glass. Here infantry preponderated, here mad horses, larger than nature, appeared to rear in the smoke, and here panting men tried to drag away the guns. Here were the wounded, here were shouting and crying, here were officers, impassioned, rallying, appealing, coercing, and here were the half-sobbing answers of their men. "Lost, lost!" said in effect the answers of the men. "Lost, lost! You, the leaders, know it, and we know it. You would lead us to noble death, but we must keep to life if we can. We have fought very well, and now we are tired, and there is something to be said for knowing when you are beaten and trying another tack." "Lost, lost!" said the shot and shell. "Lost, lost!" said the wind whistling from the sabres of Merritt's charging cavalry. "Lost, lost!" said the autumn night. "Lost, lost!" said the dust on the Valley Pike.
Steve tried to get taken on in an ambulance, but the surgeon in charge first laid practised fingers around his wrist, and then told him to go to hell in short to walk to hell and leave ambulances for hurt folks. " Gawd! " thought Steve, "'n' I saved this army on the road to Buford's!"
Night came on, night without and night within. The outer night was a night of stars. Myriads and myriads, they showed, star clouds in the Milky Way, and scattered stars in the darker spaces. The air was very clear, and the starshine showed the road the long, palely gleaming, old, old, familiar road. Within, the night was dark, dark! and peopled with broken hopes. Tramp, tramp ! on the Valley Pike. Tramp, tramp! with sore and tired feet, with hot and tired hearts. Tramp, tramp ! and all the commands were broken, officers seeking for their men and men for their officers, a part of one regiment marching with a part of another, all the moulds cracked. Tramp, tramp! Tramp, tramp! and fathers were weeping silently for sons, and sons for their fathers, and brothers for brothers, and many for their country. Tramp, tramp! and there came a vision of the burning Valley, and of Atlanta burning, burning, for not one house, said the dispatches, had Sherman left standing, and a vision of the trenches at Petersburg, and a vision of Richmond, Richmond perhaps crashing down in ruin to-night, wall and pillar, and the flames going up. Tramp, tramp and a flame of wrath came into the marching hearts, welcome because it warmed, welcome because anger and hate gave at least a strength, like a pale reflex of the strength of love, welcome because before it fled the shadows of weakness, and in it despair grew heroic. Now the men, exhausted as they were, would have turned, and gone back and struck Sheridan. Tramp, tramp! Tramp, tramp! and there came a firmness into the sound. Through-out the night, now it came and now it went, and now it came again.
The night went by, though it was long in going. Dawn came, though it was slow in coming. When it was light we saw Massanutten, and the north fork of Shenandoah, and Fisher's Hill. "This is a good place to stand,"said Early, and began to build breastworks. In the afternoon up came Sheridan, something over twice as many-numbered as the grey, and all flushed with victory, and took his stand on Cedar Creek, several miles from Fisher's Hill. All day the twenty-first and part of the twenty-second he reconnoitred, and in the night-time of the twenty-first he placed Crook and the Army of West Virginia in the deep forest between Little North Mountain and the Confederate left. They stayed there hidden until nearly sundown of the twenty-second. Then he brought them out in a flank attack, so sudden and so swift! And at the same moment all his legions struck against the centre.
Steve heard the cry, "Flanked! We are flanked!" He witnessed the rush of arms, and then he waited not to see defeat which came. He fled at once. Halfway to Woodstock he stopped at a Dunkard's house, where an old, long-bearded man gave him a piece of bread and asked no questions, but sat looking at him with dreamy, disapproving eyes. "Yes, the soldier could sleep here, although to be a soldier was to be a great sinner." Steve did not care for that. He slept very well for an hour on the floor of a small bare room above the porch. At the end of that time he was awakened by a sound upon the pike. He sat up, then went on all fours across to the window and put out his head. " Gawd ! they're comin' up the pike retreatin'!" He felt a wild indignation. "The Second Corps ain't any more what it used to be! Retreatin' every whipstitch like it's been doin'." Tramp, tramp! Tramp, tramp! He heard them through the dark, clear night, growing loud now upon the limestone pike. "Well, I ain't a-goin' along! I'm tireder than any dawg! 'n' hurt besides." He lay down beneath the window and shut his eyes. But he could not keep the sound out, nor a picture of the column from winding through his brain. "They ain't got any shoes, 'n' they're gettin' so ragged, 'n' hunger-pinched. They 're gettin' hunger-pinched. They've fought 'n' fought till they're most at a standstill. They've fought mighty hard. Ain't anybody ever fought any harder. But now they're tired awful tired. No shoes, 'n' ragged, 'n' hunger-pinched Coffin, 'n' Allan, 'n' Billy, 'n' Dave, 'n' Jim Watts, 'n' Bob White, 'n' Reynolds, 'n' all of them. Even Zip the coon's hunger-pinched. They 've all got large eyes, 'n' they've fought most to a standstill, 'n' the flags are gettin' heavy to carry. . . ." Tramp, tramp! Tramp, tramp! He dozed and heard the gun-wheels in a half dream, crossing a bridge with a hollow sound. Wheels and wheels and a hollow sound. Memory played him a trick. He was lying in a miry, weedy ditch under a small bridge on the road between Middletown and Winchester. The guns were passing over his head, rumble, rumble, rumble! And then a plank broke and a gun-wheel came down and tried to knock him into Kingdom Come. . . . He woke fully with a violent start and the sweat cold upon his body. . . . The column was directly passing, he heard voices, marching feet, officers' orders, wheels, hoofs, marching feet, voices, all distant, continuous sound broken, become a loud, immediate, choppy sea. "Go on!" whispered Steve. "Go on! I ain't a-goin' with you."
The column went on, marching by the little dark and silent house, on up the pike, beneath the stars, toward Woodstock, and some pause perhaps beyond. It moved so near that Steve heard at times what the soldiers said. He gathered that Fisher's Hill was a word of gloom and would remain so. On it went, on it went, until from van to rear ten thousand men had passed. And then, as the sound of the sea was lessening, a knot of officers drew up almost beneath the window. They spoke in slow, tired, dragging voices. "Orders are no halt until we've passed Woodstock. Six miles yet. Where then? I do not know. Fight again? Yes, of course fight to the bitter end! I don't suppose it's far off. Here's Berkeley. Well, what's the news, Captain ?"
"Sheridan 's after us, sir. . . . Listen!"
They listened. "Yes. . . . Coming up the pike. . . . I should say he has thirty thousand infantry and as many horse as we have of all three arms. Well ! let the curtain ring down. We've made good drama."
When they were gone, Steve rose and leaned cautiously out of the window. Yes, he could hear the Yankees, he could hear them coming. They were far off, but they were coming, coming. A light burst forth in the night, in the north, then another and another. "They're firin' barns and houses as they pass." Below him rose a final clatter of horses' hoofs, voices, curt orders, oaths the grey rear guard drawing off, following the main body. Steve ran downstairs and out into the road. He stopped a horseman. "For Gawd's sake, comrade, take me on behind you! I marched with the boys till I just dropped, 'n' I said, `Go on, 'n' maybe a horse or a wagon'll be good to me.' I got a sore hurt in the leg "
"All right," said the horseman. " Get up!" and they went on up the pike with the sky red behind them, and night before. "It's most the end, I reckon."
Woodstock and a halt below at Narrow Passage then on a windy, dusty day to New Market, while Sheridan paused and finally went into camp at Mount Jackson then aside from the Valley Pike, eastward by the Port Republic road then into the great shady amphitheatre of Brown's Gap and here quiet at last, quiet and rest. Again it was an old, old camping-ground. The Second Corps stared, sombre-eyed, with faces that worked. "Old Jube is all right but, O God, for Stonewall Jackson!"
Weeks went by. The woods changed, indeed. The leaves brightened and brightened, and now they began to fall in every wind. To and fro, forth from the gaps of the Blue Ridge and back to their shelter, moved the Army of the Valley, to and froto and fro. In these days came Kershaw, sent by Lee twenty-seven hundred infantry and Cutshaw's battery. The Second Corps welcomed South Carolina. "You're the fiery boys! `Come, give us a song to cheer!' Never have forgotten how you taught us to cook rice! in the first century, along about First Manassas. Never have forgotten, but the commissary's out of rice."
In these days Sheridan, keeping his main force between New Market and Woodstock, began with that great force of Torbert's cavalry to harry the Valley as it had not yet been harried. He wrecked the Central Railroad and burned bridges and sent the Confederate stores at Staunton up in flames. That was all right; that was understood but Sheridan stopped there as little as would Attila have done. Before winter came, he swept the Valley bare as Famine's hand; he made it so bare that he said himself, "A crow, flying over the Valley of Virginia, would have had to take his rations with him."
A little past the middle of October Early determined to attack. With Kershaw and with Rosser's small reinforcement of cavalry, he could bring into the field a force little more than a third the size of the blue army now lined up behind Cedar Creek. But forage and supplies were gone; it was risk all or lose all. "`Beggars must not be choosers,' said Early, and the Second Corps went back to the Val-ley Pike and marched toward Fisher's Hill. It marched through a country where all was burned, houses, mills, barns, wheat and straw and hay, wagons and farm implements, smithies, country stores and hostelries, all, all charred and desolate. It saw women and children, crouching for warmth against blackened chimney-stacks.
It marched hungry itself and now with tattered clothing all the small divisions, the small brigades, the small regiments all the defenders of the Valley, taking now so little room on the Valley Pike. It marched with a fringe of stragglers, with a body of the sick and straggling bringing up the rear. Nowadays men straggled who had never done that before; nowadays men deserted who were not deserters by nature. And mostly these deserted because a cry, insistent and wild, reached them from home. "Starving! We are starving and homeless. I, your mother, am crying for bread! I, your wife, am crying for bread! We, your children, are crying for bread! We are sick we are dyingwe will never see you again"