( Originally Published Early 1900's )
ON the eighteenth of October, the grey being again drawn up at Fisher's Hill, Gordon, with General Clement Evans and Jed Hotchkiss and Major Hunter of Gordon's staff, climbed Massanutten, overhanging the Confederate right. Up here, on the craggy mountain brow, high in the blue air, resting a moment amid red scrub oak and yellow hickory, they looked forth. They saw the wonderful country, the coloured forest falling, slope after slope, from their feet, the clear-flowing Shenandoah, Cedar Creek winding between hills, and on these hills they saw with their field-glasses Sheridan's army. "Not only," says Gordon, "did we see the general outlines of Sheridan's breastworks, but every parapet where his heavy guns were mounted, and every piece of artillery, every wagon and tent and supporting line of troops. . . . I could count, and did count, the number of his guns. I could see distinctly the three colours of trimmings on the jackets respectively of infantry, artillery, and cavalry, and locate each, while the number of flags gave a basis for estimating approximately the forces with which we were to contend in the proposed attack."
Down went Gordon and reported to Early. "We can turn his flank, sir. We can come with one spring upon his left and rear. Demonstrate right and centre where he is formed to repel us, but strike him on the left where he is n't! He thinks he's got there for shield an impassable mountain and a river."
Early swore. "Well, is n't the mountain impassable? It looks it. It's precipitous."
"No. There's a very narrow path. Start at nightfall and we can cross the corps, single-file, by dawn."
Early swore again, but in the end approved. " ! It's a desperate game, but then we're desperate gamesters! ! All right, General! Get your men ready."
The red-gold day drew to a close. Through all the Second Corps there ran an undefined tremor, a beat of hope, a feeling as of, perhaps, God knew! better things at last! Supperless men looked almost fed. With the shining-out of the evening star the Second Corps began to move across the face of Massanutten. The way was narrow. Above sprang the mountain heights, below rolled the Shenandoah. Soldier followed in soldier's footsteps, very silently, sure-footed, under orders not to speak. Ragged and grey and silent, their gun-barrels faintly gleaming, they went along, high on the side of Massanutten, a long, thin, moving thread, moving all night in the autumn wind. Steve was of it, of it because he could not help him-self. He had tried he certainly had tried hard, as he told himself with water in his eyes but Dave Maydew had adopted him, and would n't let him out of his sight. Now he was moving between Dave and Jim Watts and he was n't let to speak and he heard Shenandoah brawling, brawling down below and the world was lonesomer than lonesome! There were to-night a number of shooting stars. There was something awful in the height of the sky and in the appearance and disappearance of these swift lights. Steve felt an imaginative horror. The end of the world began to trouble him, and a query as to when it was going to happen. " Maybe it's goin' to happen sooner 'n we think!"
Ahead, where there was a buttress of cliff, very evident from where the Sixty-fifth moved in a concave filled with shadow, occurred a gash across the footpath which made it dangerous. This side of the shoulder was well hidden from any blue picket across the water. A torch had been lighted and was now held close to the earth, so that eyes might read and feet might safely cross the gash in the way. The red, smoky, upstreaming light just showed each passing soldier. The Golden Brigade moved forward, regiment by regiment. The Sixty-fifth yet halted in the hollow of the mountain, recognized Cleave as he stood a moment bathed in the red light. There was a sound of satisfaction. "We're all right. We're going to win some more."
Over the face of Massanutten went the Second Corps over in silence and safety over and on to the woods beside Shenandoah. Here the divisions were halted, here they lay down on the fallen leaves and waited. They heard the river, they heard the voices of the blue vedettes upon the farther side. They waited all the ragged grey troops lying on the leaves, in the cold hour before the dawn. They were very hungry, very tired. Some of them slept; others lay and thought and thought, or looked at pictures in the dark. Steve still watched the shooting stars, still thought of the Judgment Day. He was conscious of a kind of exaltation. "I'm gettin' to be a fighter with the best of them!"
The lines of grey rose from the moss and leaves. A cold and pallid light was in the forest. Ahead broke out shouting, and then a rapid carbine firing. Payne and his cavalry were on the bank of Shenandoah, midstream in Shenandoah, on the farther bank, in touch, like lightning before the storm, with the blue vedettes and mounted supports! Fall in! Fall in! Forward!
How cold was the water of Shenandoah! North Carolina and Georgia troops and Terry's brigade, that held within it most of the fragments of the old Stonewall Brigade, were the first to enter. Be-hind came all the others, the mass of the Second Corps. Cold was the October water, cold, deep, and rushing fast to the sea. Over it, holding high every musket, went the Second Corps, and made no tarrying, formed in the thickening light in the woods where the blue outposts had been, formed and went forward at a run, led by the din of the cavalry ahead. Not only the cavalry, for now they heard Kershaw thundering upon the front. Everywhere noise arose and tore the solemn dawn. The woods opened, there came a sense of cleared spaces, and then a vision of a few breastworks, not many, for Sheridan had not thought his army could be turned, of serried tents, of a headquarters flag, of a great park of bubbly, white-topped wagons, of the rear, in short, of the Army of the Shenandoah. It showed a scene of vast and sudden confusion and noise; it buzzed like an overturned hive. " Yaaihhh ! Yaaiihhh ! Yaaaaiiiihhh !" rang the yell of the Second Corps.
It struck so fierce and it struck so fell, while in front Kershaw and Rosser aided so ably the bees all left the hive and, save those who were struck to the ground and they were many, and those who were captured and they were many, streamed to the northward in a strange panic. They dashed from the tents where they had been sleeping; with the sleep yet in their eyes they poured across the fields. They left the wide camp, left arms, knapsacks, clothing, and their huge supplies. They "possessed not even a company organization but crying, as the grey had cried, hereabouts, a month before, "Flanked! We are flanked! "the Eighth and Nineteenth Corps, taken with madness, hurried northward by the pike and by the fields. It was a rout that for a time savoured of the old, old First Manassas rout. The blue, as the grey, were brave enough, no one by now in this war doubted blue courage or grey courage, but to be flanked at dawn was to be flanked at dawn, and brave men or not brave men, and however often in this war you had outgazed her, smiled her from the field, Panic Fear was yet a giantess of might! Now or then, here or there, in a blue moon, she had her innings.
The Sixth Corps on the right stood fast. Gordon proposed to mass the grey artillery against it, then to attack with infantry. "At this moment," he says, "General Early came upon the field and said, `Well, Gordon, this is glory enough for one day! This is the nineteenth. Precisely one month ago to-day we were going in the opposite direction.' . . . I pointed to the Sixth Corps and explained the movements I had ordered, which I felt sure would compass the capture of that corps certainly its destruction. When I had finished, he said, `No use in that. They will all go directly." That is the Sixth Corps, General. It will not go unless we drive it from the field.' `Yes, it will go, too, directly.
Down went Gordon's heart, down, down! "And so," he says, "it came to pass that the fatal halting, the hesitation, the spasmodic firing and the isolated movements in the face of the sullen, slow, and orderly retreat of the superb Federal corps, lost us the great opportunity."
Jubal Early thinks otherwise and says so. He says that the position of the Sixth Corps was very strong and not to be attacked on the left because the approach was over open, boggy ground, swept by the blue artillery. He did attack on the right, but just as Ramseur and Pegram were advancing to occupy an evacuated position, the enemy's great force of cavalry began to press heavily on the right, and Pegram was sent to the north of Middletown to take position across the pike and oppose this force. Kershaw and Gordon's commands were broken and took time to re-form. Lomax had not arrived. Rosser, on the left, had all he could do barely to hold in check the cloud of threatening cavalry. The enemy had taken up a new position north of Middletown. Early now, the morning advancing, ordered Gordon, he says, "to take position on Kershaw's left and advance with the purpose of driving the enemy from his new position Kershaw and Ramseur being ordered to advance at the same time." He continues: " As the enemy's cavalry on our left was very strong, and had the benefit of an open country to the rear of that flank, a repulse at this time would have been disastrous, and I therefore directed General Gordon, if he found the enemy's line too strong to attack with success, not to make the assault. The advance was made for some distance, when Gordon's skirmishers came back reporting a line of battle in front behind breastworks, and General Gordon did not make the attack. It was now apparent that it would not do to press my troops farther. They had been up all night and were much jaded. In passing over rough ground to attack the enemy in the early morning their own ranks had been much disordered, and the men scattered, and it required time to re-form them. Their ranks, moreover, were much thinned by the absence of men engaged in plundering the enemy's camps. . . . The delay . . . had enabled the enemy to rally a portion of his routed troops, and his immense force of cavalry, which remained intact, was threatening both of our flanks in an open country, which of itself rendered an advance extremely hazardous. I determined, therefore, to try and hold what had been gained."
Now Gordon was a generous, chivalrous, bold, and devoted soldier. And Jubal Early was a bold and devoted man and a general of no mean ability. Which was right and which was wrong, or how largely both were right, will, perhaps, be never known. But hard upon Early's slur upon the conduct of the troops, his repeated statement that they were too busy plundering to go forward, there comes an indignant cry of denial. Says Clement Evans, " My command was not straggling and plundering." And General Battle, "I never saw troops behave better than ours did at Cedar Creek." And General Wharton, "It is true that there were parties passing over the field and perhaps pillaging, but most of these were citizens, teamsters, and persons attached to the quartermaster's and other departments, and perhaps a few soldiers who had taken the wounded to the rear. No, General; the disaster was not due to the soldiers leaving their commands and pillaging." And another officer, "The men went through a camp just as it was deserted, with hats, boots, blankets, tents, and such things as tempt our soldiers scattered over it, and after diligent enquiry I heard of but one man who even stopped to pick up a thing. He got a hat and has charges preferred against him." And one of the grey chaplains, who says that he was a free-lance that day, and all over the field from rear to front, "It is true that many men straggled and plundered; but they were men who in large numbers had been wounded in the summer's campaign, who had come up to the army for medical examination, and who came like a division down the pike behind Wharton, and soon scattered over the field and camps and helped themselves. They were soldiers more or less disabled and not on duty. This body I myself saw a* they came on the battlefield and scattered. They were not men with guns. But there can be no doubt that General Early mistook them for men who had fallen out of ranks." And Gordon, " Many of the dead commanders left on record their testimony; and it is true, I think, that every living Confederate officer who commanded at Cedar Creek a corps, or division, or brigade, or regiment, or company would testify that his men fought with unabated ardour, and did not abandon their places in line to plunder the captured camps."
So the Army of the Valley that is about to go down to defeat need not go there with any imputation of misconduct. Let us say instead that it continued to do well.
And now it stands there waiting for orders to advance, for orders to go into battle, to engage the Sixth Corps, and now the day is growing old, and now Crook and Wright, far down the Valley Pike, begin to check the fleeing masses of the Eighth and Nineteenth, to bring them into something more than company organization, and to force them to listen to talk of going back and retrieving and now news comes to Sheridan himself who had slept the night of the eighteenth in Winchester.
As he mounted his horse there came a confused rumour of disaster; as, a hard rider, he thundered out of Winchester with twenty miles to make, the wind brought him faintly the din of distant battle. He bent to the horse's neck and used the spur. About nine o'clock, south of Winchester, "the head of the fugitives appeared in sight, trains and men coming to the rear with appalling rapidity." His followers did what they could to stop the torrent; he galloped on.
The day wore away, the grey under arms, but inactive, waiting waiting. Upon the top of Massanutten, in a wine-hued world above the smoke and clamour, was a grey signal station, and it signalled the Army of the Valley below. It signalled first, "The enemy has halted and is re-forming." It signalled second, "They are coming back by the pike and neighbouring roads." It signalled third, "The enemy's cavalry has checked General Rosser, and assumed the offensive." It signalled fourth, "The enemy, in heavy column, is coming up the pike."
The rallied Eighth and Nineteenth Corps, Sheridan at their head, came back and joined the steadfast Sixth. Together they gave battle to the grey who had waited for this strange hour. In it the tables were turned. Command after command, the grey were broken. There was a gap in the line, left who knew how? Through it like a river in freshet roared the blue.
It beat upon Steve's brain like waves of hell, that battle. The Sixty-fifth had held him like a vise; not for one moment had he escaped. In the midst of plenty he was not let to plunder; in the face of danger he was not somehow able to fall out, to straggle, or to malinger. All his talents seemed to desert him. Perhaps Dave Maydew had him really under observation, or perhaps he only fancied that that was the case. He was afraid of Dave. Through the fore-noon, indeed, hope sustained him. The Yankees had run away, and though the Golden Brigade with others shifted its place, moving from left to right, and though, beside the first great onset, it came sharply several times into touch with the foe, it, too, under division orders, must end in waiting, waiting. Steve was convinced that the Yankees were too frightened to come back, and that presently there would be broken ranks and permission to the men to help themselves in moderation. The hope kept him cheerful, despite the grumbling of the Sixty-fifth. " Why don't we go forward ? What are we waiting here for? We're losing time, and losing it to them. Why don't we What are they signalling up there on the mountain?" And then burst the storm and hope went out.
The lantern slides shifted rapidly now black, now fearful, vivid pictures. For what seemed an eternity Steve did tear cartridges, load and fire with desperation. A black ring came round his mouth; the sweat poured down, his chest heaved beneath his ragged shirt. Fire ! Fire ! Fire ! Fire ! And all to right and left was the Sixty-fifth, fighting grimly, and beyond, the balance of the Golden Brigade, fighting grimly. He saw Dave Maydew sink to his knees, and then forward upon his hands, and at last roll over and lie dead with a quiet face. He saw Sergeant Billy Maydew, passing down the line, pause just a moment when he saw Dave. "I reckon I'll be coming, too, directly, Dave," said Billy, then went on with his duty. He saw Allan, tall and strong and fair, set in a great smoke wreath firing steadily. Fire ! Fire ! Fire ! Fire ! There rose a question of ammunition. Jim Watts was one of those who went for cart-ridges and brought them while the air was a shriek of shells. Steve saw the cartridge-bearers askance, coming, earnest-faced, through the cloud then the cloud grew red-bosomed, and he saw them no more. He heard a voice, "Fix bayonets!" and he saw Cleave, dismounted, leading the charge. He went with the Sixty-fifth; he could not help it; he had in effect run run amuck. He felt the uneven ground beneath his feet like a rhythm, and the shrieking of the mines became, for the first and only time in his life, a siren's song. Then through the smoke came a loom of forms; he saw the blue cavalry bearing down, many and fast. Halt!Left Face ! Fire! but on they came, for all the emptied saddles. A thousand cymbals clashed in the air, a thousand forms, gigantic in the reek, towered before the vision; there came a chaos of voices, appalled or triumphant, a frightful heat, a pressure, a roaring in the brain. Steve saw Richard Cleave where he fell, desperately wounded, he saw the Golden Brigade, he saw the Sixty-fifth Virginia broken and dashed to pieces. With the cry of a Thunder Run creature in a trap, he caught at the reins of the horse that reared above him, red-nostrilled, with eyes of fire. Its rider, a tall and powerful man with yellow mustaches, bending side-ways, cut at him with a sabre. Steve, a gash across each arm, dropped the bridle. The horse's hoof struck him on the forehead, and the world went down in a black and roaring sea.
When he came to himself it was dark. The smoke hung heavy and there was the taste and scent of the battle-field. At first there seemed no noise, then he heard the groaning and the sighing. The greater noise, the thunder and shouting, had, however, rolled away. He raised himself on his elbow, and then he sat up and rested his head on his knees. He was deadly sick and shivering. As little by little his wits came back, he began to draw conclusions.
There had been a battle now he remembered and the army was beaten. . . . He listened now in reality and he heard, far up the pike and across the fields, in the darkness, the sound of retreat and pursuit. It made a wall of sound, stretching east and west, rolling southward, going farther and farther away, dwindling at last into a hollow murmur, leaving behind it the bitter, pungent night, and the sounds as near at hand as crickets in the grass. Water water water water . . . O God ! O God ! O God !
Steve rose uncertainly. His tongue, too, was swollen with thirst. He saw lights wavering over the field, and here and there a flare where camp followers had built themselves a fire. There reached his ears a burst of harsh laughter, then from some quarter where there was pillaging a drunken quarrel. The regularly moving lights were, he knew, gatherers of the wounded. A shrill crying from a hollow where was a red glare proclaimed a field hospital. But the gatherers of the wounded were clothed in blue. They would touch no grey wounded until their own were served, and then, if events allowed them to minister, they would prove but lifters and forwarders to Northern prisons. Steve, swaying as he stood, stared at the bobbing lights. He was dead from hunger, tortured with thirst, and his head ached and ached from the blow of the horse's hoof. A thought came to him. If he told the bobbing lights that he loved the North and would fight for it in a blue coat, then, maybe, things would happen like a full canteen and a handful of hard-tack and a long and safe sleep beside one of those camp-fires. He started toward the lights. Water!Water!Water!Water! cried the plain. Ahhhh! Aaahhh! Water!
Somewhere out of starveling and poor soil there pushed upward in the soul of Steve, came into a murky and muddy light, and there flowered, though after a tarnished and niggard sort, a something that first stayed his steps, then turned them away from the bobbing lights. It was not a strong growth, but the flower of it rubbed his eyes so that he saw Thunder Run rather than Northern plenty, and the haggard, fleeing grey army rather than a turned coat. He did not feel virtuous as he had done when he saved the army from the "avalanche," he only felt homesick and wretched and horribly suffering. When at a few paces he came to a deep gully and slipped and slid down its side to the bottom, where he was safe from the lights and from the thrust of some plunderer of the dead,or the wounded whom they often, as safest, made the dead, he found here beside him his old companion, Fear. Before this, on the day of Cedar Creek, from dawn to dusk, he had hardly once been afraid. Now he was he was horribly afraid. There was long grass at the bottom of the gully, and he hoped for a runlet of some sort. He dragged himself along, hands and breast, until he felt mud, and then more and more moisture, until at last there came a puddle out of which he drank and drank as though he would never stop. It was too dark to see how bloody it was, and not even after moving his arm a little to the left and encountering the body of a soldier, did he cease to drink. His own arms were yet bleeding from the sabre cut and he was so dizzy that even here, with the lanterns all left behind, there were lights in the night like will-o'-the-wisps.
But the water, such as it was, put some spirit into him. Hands and knees, he crept down the floor of the gully until it deepened and widened into a ravine. Finally it led him to the creek side. Here, half in, half out of the water, was something that he put his foot upon for a log, but discovered to be the body of a man. Having reasoned that in this locality it would not improbably be the body of a blue vedette, Steve took it by the legs and drew it quite out upon the miry bank. He was correct, and there was a haversack, and in it bread and slices of meat. Steve, squatting in the mire, ate it all, then drank of the creek. He was dead for sleep; there had been none the night before, clambering along the face of Massanutten, and not too much the night before that; dead for sleep, and more tired than any dog. . . . He stood up, gazing haggardly into the night beyond the creek, then shook his head, and dropped upon the soft earth beside the dead vedette. It seemed to him that he had hardly closed his eyes when he heard a bugle and then the sound of trotting horse. "Cavalry comin' this way Damn them to hell!" He staggered to his feet and down into the stream, crossed it somehow, and went up the farther bank, and on through forest and field, over stock and stone. He went away from the pike. "For I never want to see it again. It's ha'nted."
He went westward toward the mountains, and he walked all night over stock and stone and briar. Day broke, wan and sickly. It showed him a rough country, rising steeply to the wilder mountains, rough and so sparsely inhabited that he did not see a house. He went on, swaying now in his gait, and presently by the rising sun he saw a sloping field, ragged and stony and covered with a poor stand of corn, and at the top a fairish log cabin set against a pine wood. A curl of smoke was coming from the chimney.
Steve stumbled up the hillside and through a garden path to a crazy porch overhung by a gourd vine. Here a lean mountain woman met him. "Better be keerful!" she said. "The dawg's awful fierce! Here, dawg!"
The dog came, bristling. Steve retreated a few steps. "I ain't nothin' but a poor Confederate soldier! 'n' I'm jest about dead for hunger 'n' tiredness. There's been an awful big battle 'n' I got my wounds. If you'd jest let me rest a bit here, ma'am, 'n', for God's sake, give me somethin' to eat "
"Well," said the woman, "you kin rest, an' then you kin pay by helpin' me stack the corn. My husband was killed over in Hampshire, bushwhackin', an' the dawg an' Ian' a gun air livin' together."
Steve slept all day in the lean-to, beneath a quilt of bright patch-work. He had cornbread and a chicken for supper, and then he wrapped himself luxuriously in the quilt again and slept all night. The next day he helped the mountain woman stack the corn.
"You live so out of the way," he said, "I don't reckon Sheridan 'II never come burnin"n' slayin' up here! You got chickens 'n' a cow 'n' the fat of the land."
"It air a peaceful mountain," agreed the woman. "I ain't never seen a Yankee an' I don't know as I want to. Thar's a feud on between the folks in the Cove an' the folks on Deer Mountain, but my husband was a Hampshire man, an' I'm out of it. Don't nobody give me any trouble an' I get along. Yaas, the cow 's a good milker an' I got a pig an' plenty of chickens."
"Don't you get lonesome, livin' this way by yourself 'n' you a fine-lookin' woman, too?"
"Am I fine-lookin'? " said the mountain woman. "I never knew that before."
They stacked the corn all day, and at dark Steve had another chicken and more cornbread and an egg for supper.
"Tell me about your folks," said the woman, "an' how life 's done you, an' about soldiering."
They sat on either side of the hearth, for the night was cold, and while the hickory log blazed, and the mountain woman used snuff, Steve indulged in a rhodomontade that did him credit.
"But I ain't sure I'll go soldierin' any more," he closed. "Savin' the army 'n' all's enough. I got a honourable discharge."
The mountain woman dipped a bit of hazel twig again into the small round tin box of snuff. She was not much older than Steve, and, in a gaunt way, not bad-looking. "An' you ain't married?"
" Nam. I ain't never found any one to suit meat least, till recently I thought I had n't."
In the lean-to, when he had rolled himself in the rising-sun quilt, he lay and looked out of the open door at the stars below the hilltop. "The army's beaten," he thought, "'n' the war's ended, or most ended. Anyhow it's fightin' now without any chance of anything but dyin'." He sat up and rested his chin on his knees. "I ain't ready to die . . . Sheridan 's drivin' the Second Corps, 'n' the Sixty-fifth 's all cut to pieces 'n' melted away, 'n' Grant's batterin' down Petersburg 'n' gettin' ready to fall on Richmond. We're beaten, 'n' I know it, 'n' I ain't a-goin' back; 'n' I ain't a-goin' back to Thunder Run neither not yet awhile! An' she 's strong 'n' a good worker, 'n' she's got property, 'n' I've seen a plenty worse-lookin'. Lucinda Heard was worse-lookin'."
The next day they gathered apples, for the mountain woman said she would make apple butter. It was beautiful weather, mild and bright. Steve lay on the porch beneath the gourd vine and watched his hostess hang the kettle over the outdoor fire and bring water in a bucket from the spring and fill it. While the fire was burning she came and sat down on the porch edge. "When air you goin' away?"
Steve grinned propitiatively. "Gawd knows I don't want to go away at all! I like it here fust-rate. You ain't never told me your name ? "
"My name's Cyrilla."
"That's an awful pretty name," said Steve. "It's prettier 'n Christianna, 'n' Lucinda, 'n' a lot others I've heard."
After supper they sat again on either side of the hearth, with a blazing hickory log between, and the mountain woman dipped snuff and Steve nursed his ankle.
"It's this-a-way," he remarked after a silence in which-the crickets chirped. "I've kind of thought it out. War kills men off right along. When they 're brave they get killed all the quicker, or they just get off by the skin of their teeth like I done. No matter how strong, 'n' brave, 'n' enterprisin', 'n' volunterin' they are, they get killed, 'n' killed. Killed off jest the same 's the bees sting the best fruit. 'N' then what becomes of the country? It ain't populated 'less 'n the rest of us them that got off by the skin of their teeth like I did, 'n' them that ain't never gone in like some bomb-proofs I know 'less 'n the rest of us acts our part! That 's what war does. It 'liminates the kind that pushes to the front 'n' plants flags. 'N' then as Living don't intend to drop off what's the rest of us that's left got to be? We got to be what I heard a preacher call `seed-corn 'n' ancestors.' We got to marry 'n' people the earth. We ain't killed." Steve ceased to nurse his ankle, straightened his lean red body, and widening his lips until his lean red jaws wrinkled, turned to his hostess. "Cyrilla. That's a mighty pretty name. . . . Why should n't you 'n' me marry? You got a house 'n' I got a house, over in Blue Ridge on Thunder Run Mountain, 'n' I got a little real money, too! When the war's over we can go get it. What d' ye say?"
Cyrilla screwed on the top of the snuff-box. "I been right lone-some," she admitted. "But of I marry you, you got to promise not to go bushwhackin' ! You got to stay safe at home, 'n' you got to do what I tell you. I ain't goin' to have two husbands killed fightin' Yankees."