The Star of Gettysburg by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter X. The Northern March
It was days before Harry felt as if life could move on in the usual way. He had loved Jackson next to his father. In fact, in the absence of his own father the great general had stood in that place to him. He had received from him so many marks of approval, and, riding as a trusted member of Jackson's staff, his head had been in such a rosy cloud of glory and victory, that now it seemed for a while as if the world had come to an end.
He was disappointed, too, that they had reaped so little from Chancellorsville. He believed at times that his general had died in vain. He had but to ride a little distance and see the enemy across the Rappahannock, where he had been so many months, with the same bristling guns and the same superior forces.
He had been eager, like all the other young officers, to move directly after the battle and attack the foe on his own ground, but when he talked with the two colonels he realized that their numbers were too small. They must wait for Longstreet's great division, which had been detached from the battle to guard against a possible flank attack upon Richmond. Oh, if Longstreet and his twenty thousand veterans had been at Chancellorsville! And if Jackson had not fallen just at the moment when he was about to complete the destruction of Hooker's right wing! He believed that then they would have annihilated the Army of the Potomac, that only a few fugitives from it would have escaped across the Potomac. The time came to him in after years when he often asked himself would such a result have been a good result for the American people.
But now he was only a boy, as old, it is true, as many boys who led companies, or even regiments, and the days were sufficient for his thoughts. He was not thinking of the distant years and what they might bring. Both he and Dalton felt joy when General Lee sent for them and told them that, having been valued members of General Jackson's staff, they were now to become members of his own. All he asked of them was to serve him as well as they had served General Jackson.
Harry was moved so deeply that he could scarcely thank him. He felt springing up in his breast the same affection and hero-worship for Lee that he had felt for Jackson. And as the close association with Lee continued, this feeling grew both in his heart and in that of Dalton.
The soul of youth cannot be kept down, and Harry's spirits returned as he rode back and forth on Lee's errands. Moreover, spring was in full tide and his blood rose with it. The Wilderness, in which the dead men lay, and all the surrounding country were turning a deep green, and the waters of the Rappahannock often flashed in gold or silver as the sun blazed or grew dim. Pleasant relations between the sentries on the two sides of the river were renewed. Tobacco, newspapers, and other harmless articles were passed back and forth, when the officers conveniently turned their backs. Nor was it always that the younger officers turned away.
Harry was in a boat near the right bank when he saw another boat about thirty yards from the left shore. It contained a half dozen men, and he recognized one of the figures at once. Putting his hands, trumpet-shaped, to his mouth, he shouted:
"Mr. Shepard! Oh, I say, Mr. Shepard!"
The man looked up, and, evidently recognizing Harry, he had the boat rowed a little nearer. Harry had his own moved forward a little, and he stopped at a point where they could talk conveniently.
"You may not believe me," said Shepard, "but I felt pleasure when I heard your voice and recognized your face. I am glad to know that you did not fall in the great battle."
"I do believe you, and I am not merely exchanging compliments when I say that I rejoice that you, too, came out of it alive."
"Nevertheless, luck was against us then," said Shepard, and Harry, even at the distance, saw a shadow cross his face. "I saw the great flank movement of Jackson and I understood its nature. I was on my way to General Hooker with all speed to warn him, and I would have got there in time had it not been for a chance bullet that stunned me. That bullet cost us thousands of men."
"And the bullets that struck General Jackson will cost us a whole army corps."
"We hear that they were fired by your own men."
"So they were. A North Carolina company in the darkness took us for the enemy."
"I don't rejoice over the fall of a great and valiant foe, but whether Jackson lived or died the result would be the same. I told you long ago that the forces of the Union could never be beaten in the long run, and I repeated it to you another time. Now I repeat it once more. We have lost two great battles here, but you make no progress. We menace you as much as ever."
"But your newspapers say you're growing very tired. There's no nation so big that it can't be exhausted."
"But you'll be exhausted first. So long, I see some of our generals coming out on the bluffs with their glasses. I suppose we mustn't appear too friendly."
"Good-bye, Mr. Shepard. We've lost Jackson, but we've many a good man yet. I think our next great battle will be farther north."
They had not spoken as enemies, but as friends who held different views upon an important point, and now they rowed back peacefully, each to his own shore.
With the return of Longstreet, the Southern army was raised to greater numbers than at Chancellorsville. With Stuart's matchless cavalry it numbered nearly eighty thousand men, most of them veterans, and a cry for invasion came from the South. What was the use of victories like Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, if they merely left matters where they were? The fighting hitherto had been done on Southern soil. The South alone had felt the presence of war. It was now time for the North to have a taste of it.
Harry and his comrades heard this cry, and it seemed to them to be full of truth. They ought to strike straight at the heart of the enemy. When their victorious brigades threatened Philadelphia and New York, the two great commercial centers of the North, then the Northern people would not take defeat so easily. It would be a different matter altogether when a foe appeared at their own doors.
Rumors that the invasion would be undertaken soon spread thick and fast. Harry saw his general, Lee now in place of Jackson, in daily conference with his most trusted lieutenants. Longstreet and A. P. Hill were there often, and one day Harry saw riding toward headquarters a man who had only one leg and who was strapped to his saddle. But a strong Roman nose and a sharp, penetrating eye showed that he was a man of force and decision. Once, when he lifted his hat to return a salute, he showed a head almost wholly bald.
Harry looked at him for a moment or two unknowing, and then crying "General Ewell!" ran forward to greet him.
Harry was right. It was what was left of him who had been Jackson's chief lieutenant in the Valley campaigns and who had fallen wounded so terribly at the Second Manassas. After nine months of suffering, here he was again, as resolute and indomitable as ever, able to ride only when he was strapped in his saddle, but riding as much as any other general, nevertheless.
And Ewell, who might well have retired, was one of those who had most to lose by war. He had a great estate in the heart of a rich country near Virginia's ancient capital, Williamsburg. There he had lived in a large house, surrounded by a vast park, all his own. Even as the man, maimed in body but as dauntless of mind as ever, rode back to Lee, his estate was in the hands of Union troops. He had all to lose, but did not hesitate.
Harry saluted him and spoke to him gladly. Ewell turned his piercing eyes upon him, hesitated a moment, and then said:
"It's Kenton, young Harry Kenton of Jackson's staff. I remember you in the Valley now. We've lost the great Jackson, but we'll beat the Yankees yet."
Then he let loose a volley of oaths, much after the fashion of the country gentleman of that time, both in America and England. But Harry only smiled.
"I'm to have command of Jackson's old corps, the second," said Ewell, "and if you're not placed I'll be glad to have you on my staff."
"I thank you very much, General," said Harry with great sincerity, "but General Lee has taken me over, because I was with Jackson."
"Then you'll have all the fighting you want," said the indomitable Ewell. "General Lee never hesitates to strike. But don't be the fool that I was and get your leg shot off. If anything has to go, let it be an arm. Look at me. I could ride with any man in all Virginia, a state of horsemen, and now a couple of men have to come and fasten me in the saddle with straps. But never mind."
He rode cheerily on, and Harry, turning back, met St. Clair and Langdon. Both showed a pleased excitement.
"What is it?" asked Harry.
"Colonel Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire are at it again, and there have been results!"
"What has happened?"
"Colonel Talbot has lost a bishop and Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire has lost a knight. Each claims that he has gained a technical advantage in position, and they've stopped playing to argue about it. From the way they act you'd think they were Yankee generals. See 'em over there under the boughs of that tree, sitting on camp stools, with the chessmen on another camp stool between them."
Harry looked over a little ridge and saw the two colonels, who were talking with great earnestness, each obviously full of a desire to convince the other.
"My dear Hector," said Colonel Talbot, "each of us has taken a piece. It is not so much a question of the relative value of these pieces as it is of the position into which you force your opponent."
"Exactly so, Leonidas. I agree with you on that point, and for that reason I aver that I have made a tactical gain."
"Hector, you are ordinarily a man of great intelligence, but in this case you seem to have lost some part of your mental powers."
"One of us has suffered such a loss, and while I am too polite to name him, I am sure that I am not the man."
"Ah, well, we'll not accuse each other while the issue still hangs in doubt. Progress with the game will show that I am right."
When Harry passed that way an hour later they were still bent over the board, the best of friends again, but no more losses had been suffered by either.
May was almost spent and spring was at the full. The Southern army was now at its highest point in both numbers and effectiveness. Only Jackson was gone, but he was a host and more, and when Lee said that he had lost his right arm, he spoke the truth, as he was soon to find. Yet the Southern power was at the zenith and no shadow hung over the veteran and devoted troops who were eager to follow Lee in that invasion of the North of which all now felt sure.
Doubts were dispelled with the close of May. Harry was one of the young officers who carried the commander-in-chief's orders to the subordinate generals, and while he knew details, he wondered what the main plan would be. Young as he was he knew that no passage could be forced across the Rappahannock in the face of the Army of the Potomac, which was now as numerous as ever, and which could sweep the river and its shores with its magnificent artillery. But he had full confidence in Lee. The spell that Jackson had thrown over him was transferred to Lee, who swayed his feelings and judgment with equal power.
The figure of Lee in the height and fullness of victory was imposing. An English general who saw him, and who also saw all the famous men of his time, wrote long afterward that he was the only great man he had ever seen who looked all his greatness. Tall, strongly built, with thick gray hair, a short gray beard, clipped closely, ruddy complexion and blue eyes, he was as careful in dress as Jackson had been careless. He spoke with a uniform politeness, not superficial, but from the heart, and his glance was nearly always grave and benevolent.
General Lee in these warm days of late spring occupied a large tent. Even when the army was not on the march he invariably preferred tents to houses, and now Harry saw nearly all the famous Southern generals in the east passing through that door. There was Longstreet, blue of eye like Lee, full bearded, thick and powerful, and proud of his horsemanship, in which he excelled.
Ewell, too, stumped in on his crutches, vigorous, enthusiastic, but never using profane language where Lee was. And there was A. P. Hill, of soldierly slenderness and of fine, pleasing manner; McLaws, who had done so well at Antietam; Pickett, not yet dreaming of the one marvelous achievement that was to be his; Old Jubal Early, as he was familiarly called, bald, bearded, rheumatic, profane, but brave and able; Hood, tall, yellow-haired; Pender, the North Carolinian, not yet thirty, religious like Jackson, and doomed like him to fall soon in battle; Tieth, Edward Johnson, Anderson, Trimble, Stuart, as gay and dandyish as ever; Ramseur, Jones, Daniel, young Fitzhugh Lee; Pendleton, Armistead, and a host of others whose names remained memorable to him. They were all tanned and sun-burned men. Few had reached early middle age, and the shadows of death were already gathering for many of them.
But the high spirits of the Southern army merely became higher as they began to make rapid but secret preparation for departure. The soldiers did not know where they were going, except that it was into the North, and they began to discuss the nature of the country they would find there. Harry took the message to the Invincibles to pack and march. Colonel Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire reluctantly dropped their unfinished game, put up the chessmen, and in an hour the Invincibles--few, but trim and strong--were marching to a position farther up the river.
The corps of Longstreet was to lead the way, and it would march the next morning. Harry now knew that the army would advance by way of the Shenandoah valley. The Northern troops had been raiding in the great valley and again had retaken Winchester, the pleasant little city so beloved of Jackson. Harry shared the anger at this news that Jackson would have felt had he been alive to hear it.
Harry was well aware, however, that the army could not slip away from its opponent. Hooker, still in command, was watching on the heights across the river, and there were the captive balloons hovering again in the sky. But the spirit of the troops was such that they did not care whether their march was known or not.
Harry and Dalton were awake early on the morning of the third of June, and they saw the corps of Longstreet file silently by, the bugle that called them away being the first note of the great and decisive Gettysburg campaign. They were better clothed and in better trim than they had been in a long time. They walked with an easy, springy gait, and the big guns rumbled at the heels of the horses, fat from long rest and the spring grass. They were to march north and west to Culpeper, fifty miles away, and there await the rest of the army.
Harry and Dalton felt great exhilaration. Movement was good not only for the body, but for the spirit as well. It made the blood flow more freely and the brain grow more active. Moreover, the beauty of the early summer that had come incited one to greater hope.
The great adventure had now begun, but it was not unknown to Hooker and his watchful generals on the other shore. The ground was dry and they had seen a column of dust rise and move toward the northwest. Their experienced eyes told them that such a cloud must be made by marching troops, and the men in the balloons with their glasses were able to catch the gleam of steel from the bayonets of Longstreet's men as they took the long road to Gettysburg.
Hooker had good men with him. He, too, as he stood on the left bank of the Rappahannock, was surrounded by able and famous generals, and others were to come. There was Meade, a little older than the others, but not old, tall, thin, stooped a bit, wearing glasses, and looking like a scholar, with his pale face and ragged beard, a cold, quiet man, able and thorough, but without genius. Then came Reynolds, modest and quiet, who many in the army claimed would have shown the genius that Meade lacked had it not been for his early death, for he too, like Pender, would soon be riding to a soldier's grave. And then were Doubleday and Newton and Hancock, a great soldier, a man of magnificent presence, whose air and manner always inspired enthusiasm, soon to be known as Hancock the Superb; Sedgwick, a soldier of great insight and tenacity; Howard, a religious man, who was to come out of the war with only one arm; Hunt and Gibbon, and Webb and Sykes, and Slocum and Pleasanton, who commanded the cavalry, and many others.
These men foresaw the march of Lee into the North, and the people behind them realized that they were no longer carrying the battle to the enemy. He was bringing it to them. Apprehension spread through the North, but it was prepared for the supreme effort. The Army of the Potomac, despite Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, had no fear of its opponent, and the veterans in blue merely asked for another chance.
On the following morning and the morning after, Ewell's corps followed Longstreet in two divisions toward the general rendezvous at Culpeper Court House, but Lee himself, although most of his troops were now gone, did not yet move. Hill's corps had been held to cover any movement of the Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg, and Lee and his staff remained there for three days after Longstreet's departure.
The Invincibles had gone, but Harry and Dalton were just behind Lee, who sat on his white horse, Traveler, gazing through his glasses toward a division of the Army of the Potomac which on the day before had crossed the Rappahannock, under a heavy fire from Hill's men.
But Harry knew that it was no part of Lee's plan to drive these men back across the river. A. P. Hill on the heights would hold them and would be a screen between Hooker's army and his own. So the young staff officer merely watched his commander who looked long through his glasses.
It was now nearly noon, and the June sky was brilliant with the sun moving slowly toward the zenith. Lee at length lowered his glasses and, turning to his staff, said:
"Now, gentlemen, we ride."
Harry by some chance looked at his watch, and he always remembered that it was exactly noon when he started on the journey that was to lead him to Gettysburg. He and Dalton from a high crest looked back toward the vast panorama of hills, valleys, rivers and forest that had held for them so many thrilling and terrible memories.
There lay the blackened ruins of Fredericksburg. There were the heights against which the brave Northern brigades had beat in vain and with such awful losses. And beyond, far down under the horizon, was the tragic Wilderness in which they had won Chancellorsville and in which Jackson had fallen. Harry choked and turned away from the fresh wound that the recollection gave him.
Lee and his staff rode hard all that afternoon and most of the night through territory guarded well against Northern skirmishers or raiding bands, and the next day they were with the army at Culpeper Court House. Meanwhile Hooker was undecided whether to follow Lee or move on Richmond. But the shrewd Lincoln telegraphed him that Lee was his "true objective." At that moment the man in the White House at Washington was the most valuable general the North had, knowing that Lee in the field with his great fighting force must be beaten back, and that otherwise Richmond would be worth nothing.
It was Harry's fortune in the most impressionable period of life to be in close contact for a long time with two very great men, both of whom had a vast influence upon him, creating for him new standards of energy and conduct. In after years when he thought of Lee and Jackson, which was nearly every day, no weighing of the causes involved in the quarrel between the sections was made in his mind. They were his heroes, and personally they could do no wrong.
As Lee rode on with his staff through the fair Virginia country he talked little, but more than was Jackson's custom. Harry saw his brow wrinkle now and then with thought. He knew that he was planning, planning all the time, and he knew, too, what a tremendous task it was to bring all the scattered divisions of an army to one central point in the face of an active enemy. This task was even greater than Harry imagined, as Lee's army would soon be strung along a line of a hundred miles, and a far-seeing enemy might cut it apart and beat it in detail. Lee knew, but he showed no sign.
Harry felt an additional elation because he rode westward and toward that valley in which he had followed Jackson through the thick of great achievements. In the North they had nicknamed it "The Valley of Humiliation," but Jackson was gone, and Milroy, whom he had defeated once, was there again, holding and ruling the little city of Winchester. Harry's blood grew hot, because he, too, as Jackson had, loved Winchester. He did not know what was in Lee's mind, but he hoped that a blow would be struck at Milroy before they began the great invasion of the North.
Culpeper was a tiny place, a court house and not much more, but now its eager and joyous citizens welcomed a great army. Although Hill and his corps were yet back watching Hooker, fifty thousand veterans were gathered at the village. Soon they would be seventy thousand or more, and Culpeper rejoiced yet again. The women and children--the men were but few, gone to the war--were never too tired to seek glimpses of the famous generals, whom they regarded as their champions. Stuart, in his brilliant uniform, at the head of his great cavalry command, appealed most to the young, and his gay spirit and frank manners delighted everybody. They paid little attention to the Northern cavalry and infantry on the other side of the Rappahannock, knowing that Hooker's main army was yet far away, and feeling secure in the protection of Lee and his victorious army.
Harry slept heavily that night, wearied by the long ride. He, Dalton and two other young officers had been assigned to a small tent, but, taking their blankets, they slept under the stars. Harry seldom cared for a roof now on a dry, warm night. He had become so much used to hardships and unlimited spaces that he preferred his blankets and the free breezes that blew about the world. It was a long time after the war before he became thoroughly reconciled to bedrooms in warm weather.
He was aroused the next morning by Dalton, who pulled him by his feet out of his blankets.
"Stick your head in a pail of water," said Dalton, "and get your breakfast as soon as you can. Everything is waiting on you."
"How dare you, George, drag me by the heels that way? I was marching down Broadway in New York at the head of our conquering army, and millions of Yankees were pointing at me, all saying with one voice: 'That's the fellow that beat us.' Now you've spoiled my triumph. And what do you mean by saying that everything is waiting for me?"
"Our army, as you know, is spectacular only in its achievements, but to-day we intend to have a little splendor. The commander-in-chief is going to review Jeb Stuart's cavalry. For dramatic effect it's a chance that Stuart won't miss."
"That's so. Just tell 'em I'm coming and that the parade can begin."
Harry bathed his face and had a good breakfast, but there was no need to hurry. Jeb Stuart, as Dalton had predicted, was making the most of his chance. He was going not only to parade, but to have a mock battle as well. As the sun rose higher, making the June day brilliant, General Lee and his staff, dressed in their best, rode slowly to a little hillock commanding a splendid view of a wide plain lying east of Culpeper Court House.
General Lee was in a fine uniform, his face shaded by the brim of the gray hat which pictures have made so familiar. His cavalry cape swung from his shoulders, but not low enough to hide the splendid sword at his belt. His face was grave and his whole appearance was majestic. If only Jackson were there, riding by his side! Harry choked again.
Lee sat on his white horse, Traveler, and above him on a lofty pole a brilliant Confederate flag waved in the light wind. Harry and Dalton, as the youngest, took their modest places in the rear of the group of staff officers, just behind Lee, and looked expectantly over the plain. They saw at the far edge a long line of horsemen, so long, in fact, that the eye did not travel its full distance. Nearer by, all the guns of "Stuart's Horse Artillery" were posted upon a hill.
Harry's heart began to beat at the sight--mimic, not real, war, but thrilling nevertheless. A bugle suddenly sounded far away, its note coming low, but mellow. Other bugles along the line sang the same tune, and then came rolling thunder, as ten thousand matchless horsemen, led by Stuart himself, charged over the plain straight toward the hill on which Lee sat on his horse.
The horsemen seemed to Harry to rise as if they were coming up the curve of the earth. It was a tremendous and thrilling sight. The hoofs of ten thousand horses beat in unison. Every man held aloft his sabre, and the sun struck upon their blades and glanced off in a myriad brilliant beams. Harry glanced at Lee and he saw that the blue eyes were gleaming. He, too, sober and quiet though he was, felt pride as the Murat of the South led on his legions.
The cavalrymen, veering a little, charged toward the guns on the hill, and they received them with a discharge of blank cartridges which made the plain shake. Back and forth the mimic battle rolled, charge and repulse, and the smoke of the firing drifted over the plain. But the wild horsemen wheeled and turned, always keeping place with such superb skill that the officers and the infantry looking on burst again and again into thunderous applause.
The display lasted some time. When it was over and the smoke and dust were settling, General Lee and his staff rode back to their quarters, the young officers filled with pride at the spectacle and more confident than ever that their coming invasion of the North would be the final triumph.
Northern cavalry, on the other side of the river, had heard the heavy firing and they could not understand it. Could their forces following Lee on the right bank be engaged in battle with him? They had not heard of any such advance by their own men, yet they plainly heard the sounds of a heavy cannonade, and it was a matter into which they must look. They had disregarded sharp firing too often before and they were growing wary. But with that wariness also came a daring which the Union leaders in the east had not usually shown hitherto. They had a strong cavalry force in three divisions on the other side of the river, and the commanders of the divisions, Buford, Gregg and Duffie, with Pleasanton over all, were forming a bold design.
Events were to move fast for Harry, much faster than he was expecting. He was sent that night with a note to Stuart, who went into camp with his ten thousand cavalry and thirty guns on a bare eminence called Fleetwood Hill. The base of the hill was surrounded by forest, and not far away was a little place called Brandy Station. Harry was not to return until morning, as he had been sent late with the message, and after delivering it to Stuart he hunted up his friend Sherburne.
He found the captain sitting by a low campfire and he was made welcome. Sherburne, after the parade and sham battle, had cleaned the dust from his uniform and he was now as neat and trim as St. Clair himself.
"Sit down, Harry," he said with the greatest geniality. "Here, orderly, take his horse, but leave him his blankets. You'll need the blankets to-night, Harry, because you bunk with us in the Inn of the Greenwood Tree. We've got a special tree, too. See it there, the oak with the great branches."
"I'll never ask anything better in summer time, provided it doesn't rain," said Harry.
"Wasn't that a fine parade?" Sherburne ran on. "And this is the greatest cavalry force that we've had during the war. Why, Stuart can go anywhere and do anything with it. A lot of Virginia scouts under Jones are watching the fords, and we've got with us such leaders as Fitz Lee, Robertson, Hampton and the commander-in-chief's son, W. H. F. Lee--why should a man be burdened with three initials? We can take care of any cavalry force that the Yankees may send against us."
"I've noticed in the recent fighting," said Harry, "that the Northern cavalrymen are a lot better than they used to be. Most of us were born in the saddle, but they had to learn to ride. They'll give us a tough fight now whenever we meet 'em."
"I agree with you," said Sherburne, "but they can't beat us. You can ride back in the morning, Harry, and report to the commander-in-chief that he alone can move us from this position. Listen to that stamping of hoofs! Among ten thousand horses a lot are likely to be restless; and look there at the hilltop where thirty good guns are ready to turn their mouths on any foe."
"I see them all," said Harry, "and I think you're right. I'll ride back peaceably to General Lee in the morning, and tell him that I left ten thousand cavalrymen lying lazily on the grass, and ten thousand horses eating their heads off near Brandy Station."
"But to-night you rest," said one of the young officers. "Do you smoke?"
"I've never learned."
"Well, I don't smoke either unless we get 'em from the Yankees. Here's what's left of a box that we picked up near the Chancellor House. It may have belonged to Old Joe Hooker himself, but if so he'll never get it back again."
He distributed the cigars among the smokers, who puffed them with content. Meanwhile the noises of the camp sank, and presently Harry, taking his blankets and saying good night, went to sleep in the Inn of the Greenwood Tree.