The Star of Gettysburg by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter III. Jackson Moves
It was impossible for Harry to restrain a vivid feeling of exultation. He was in the open, and he was leaving the Northern cavalry far behind. Nor was it likely that any further enemy would appear now between him and Jackson's army. Chance had certainly favored him. What a glorious goddess Chance was when she happened to be on your side! Then everything fell out as you wished it. You could not go wrong.
The horse he rode was even better than the one he had lost, and a pair of splendid pistols in holsters lay across the saddle. He could account for two enemies if need be, but when he looked back he saw no pursuers in sight, and he slowed his pace in order not to overtax the horse.
Not long afterwards he saw the Southern pickets belonging to the vanguard of the Invincibles. St. Clair himself was with them, and when he saw Harry he galloped forward, uttering a shout.
St. Clair had known of the errand upon which Harry had gone with Sherburne, and now he was alarmed to see him riding back alone, worn and covered with dust.
"What's the matter, Harry?" he cried, "and where are the others?"
"Nothing's the matter with me, and I don't know where the others are. But, Arthur, I've got to see General Jackson at once! Where is he?"
Harry's manner was enough to impress his comrade, who knew him so well.
"This way," he said. "Not more than four or five hundred yards. There, that's General Jackson's tent!"
Harry leaped from his horse as he came near and made a rush for the tent. The flap was open, but a sentinel who stood in front put up his rifle, and barred the way. A low monotone came from within the tent.
"The General's praying," he said. "I can't let you in for a minute or two."
Harry took off his hat and stood in silence while the two minutes lasted. All his haste was suddenly gone from him. The strong affection that he felt for Jackson was tinged at times with awe, and this awe was always strongest when the general was praying. He knew that the prayer was no affectation, that it came from the bottom of his soul, like that of a crusader, asking forgiveness for his sins.
The monotone ceased, the soldier took down his rifle which was held like a bar across the way, and Harry, entering, saluted his general, who was sitting in the half light at a table, reading a little book, which the lad guessed was a pocket Bible.
Harry saluted and Jackson looked at him gravely.
"You've come back alone, it seems," he said, "but you've obeyed my instructions not to come without definite news?"
"I have, sir."
"What have you seen?"
"We saw the main army of General McClellan crossing the Potomac at Berlin. He must have had there a hundred thousand men and three or four hundred guns, and others were certainly crossing elsewhere."
"You saw all this with your own eyes?"
"I did, sir. We watched them for a long time. They were crossing on a bridge of boats."
"You are dusty and you look very worn. Did you come in contact with the enemy?"
"Yes, sir. Many of their horsemen were already on this side of the river, and this morning I was pressed very hard by a troop of their cavalry. I gained a wood, but just at the edge of it my horse was killed by a chance shot."
"Your horse killed? Then how could you escape from cavalry?"
"Chance favored me, sir. I dodged them for a while in the woods and underbrush, helped by gullies here and there, and when I came to the edge of the wood only a single horseman was near me. I hid behind a tree and knocked him out of the saddle as he was riding past."
"I hope you did not kill him."
"I did not. He was merely stunned. He will have a headache for a day or two, and then he will be as well as ever. I jumped on his horse and galloped here as straight and fast as I could."
A faint smile passed over Jackson's face.
"You were lucky to make the exchange of horses," he said, "and you have done well. The enemy comes and our days of rest are over. Do you know anything of Captain Sherburne and his troop?"
"Captain Sherburne, under the urgency of pursuit, scattered his men in order that some of them at least might reach you with the news of General McClellan's crossing. I was the first detached, and so I know nothing of the others."
"And also you were the first to arrive. I trust that Captain Sherburne and all of his men will yet come. We can ill spare them."
"I truly hope so, sir."
"You need food and sleep. Get both. You will be called when you are needed. You have done well, Lieutenant Kenton."
"Thank you, sir."
Harry, saluting again, withdrew. He was very proud of his general's commendation, but he was also on the verge of physical collapse. He obtained some food at a camp fire near by, ate it quickly, wrapped himself in borrowed blankets, and lay down under the shade of an oak. Langdon saw him just as he was about to close his eyes, and called to him:
"Here, Harry, I didn't know you were back. What's your news?"
"That McClellan and the Yankee army are this side of the Potomac. That's all. Good night."
He closed his eyes, and although it was near the middle of the day, with the multifarious noises of the camp about him, he fell into the deep and beautiful sleep of the tired youth who has done his duty.
He was still asleep when Captain Sherburne, worn and wounded slightly, came in and reported also to General Jackson. He and his main force had been pursued and had been in a hot little brush with the Union cavalry, both sides losing several men. Others who had been detached before the action also returned and reported. All of them, like Harry, were told to seek food and sleep.
Harry slept a long time, and the soldiers who passed, making many preparations, never disturbed him. But the entire Southern army under Lee, assisted by his two great corps commanders, Jackson and Longstreet, was making ready to meet the Army of the Potomac under McClellan. The spirit of the Army of Northern Virginia was high, and the news that the enemy was marching was welcome to them.
When Harry awoke the sun had passed its zenith and the cool October shadows were falling. He yawned prodigiously, stretched his arms, and for a few moments could not remember where he was, or what he had been doing.
"Quit yawning so hard," said Happy Tom Langdon. "You may get your mouth so wide open that you'll never be able to shut it again."
"What's happened, while you were asleep? Well, it will take a long time to tell it, Mr. Rip Van Winkle. You have slept exactly a week, and in the course of that time we fought a great battle with McClellan, were defeated by him, chiefly owing to your comatose condition, and have fallen back on Richmond, carrying you with us asleep in a wagon. If you will look behind you you will see the spires of Richmond. Oh, Harry! Harry! Why did you sleep so long and so hard when we needed you so much?"
"Shut up, Tom. If ever talking matches become the fashion, I mean to enter you in all of them for the first prize. Now, tell me what happened while I was asleep, and tell it quick!"
"Well, me lad, since you're high and haughty, not to say dictatorial about it, I, as proud and haughty as thyself, defy thee. George, you tell him all about it." Dalton grinned. A grave and serious youth himself, he liked Langdon's perpetual fund of chaff and good humor.
"Nothing has happened, Harry, while you slept," he said, "except that the army, or at least General Jackson's corps, has been making ready for a possible great battle. We're scattered along a long line, and General Lee and General Longstreet are some distance from us, but our generals don't seem to be alarmed in the least. It's said that McClellan will soon be between us and Richmond, but I can't see any alarm about that either."
"Why should there be?" said St. Clair, who was also sitting by. "It would make McClellan's position dangerous, not ours."
"Arthur puts it right," said Langdon. "When we go to our tents, show him the new uniform you've got, Arthur. It's the most gorgeous affair in the Army of Northern Virginia, and it cost him a whole year's pay in Confederate money. Have you noticed, Harry, that the weakest thing about us is our money? We're the greatest marchers and fighters in the world, but nobody, not even our own people, seem to fall in love with our money."
"I suppose that General Jackson is now ready to march whenever the word should come," said St. Clair. "The boys, as far as I can see, have returned to their rest and play. There's that Cajun band playing again."
"And it sounds mighty good," said Harry. "Look at those Louisiana Frenchmen dancing."
The spirits of the swarthy Acadians were irrepressible. As they had danced in the great days in the valley in the spring, now they were dancing when autumn was merging into winter, and they sang their songs of the South, some of which had come from old Brittany through Nova Scotia to Louisiana.
Harry liked the French blood, and he had learned to like greatly these men who were so much underestimated in the beginning. He and his comrades watched them as they whirled in the dance, clasped in one another's arms, their dark faces glowing, white teeth flashing and black eyes sparkling. He saw that they were carried away by the music and the dance, and as they floated over the turf they were dreaming of their far and sunny land and the girls they had left behind them. He had been reared in a stern and more northern school, but he had learned long since that a love of innocent pleasure was no sign of effeminacy or corruption.
"Good to look on, isn't it, Harry?" said St. Clair.
"Yes, and good to hear, too."
"Come with me into this little dip, and I'll show you another sight that's good to see."
There was a low ridge on their right, crested with tall trees and dropping down abruptly on the other side. A little distance on rose another low ridge, but between the two was a snug and grassy bowl, and within the bowl, sitting on the dry grass, with a chessboard between them, were Colonel Leonidas Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire. They were absorbed so deeply in their game that they did not notice the boys on the crest of the bank looking over at them.
Colonel Leonidas Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire had not changed a particle--to the eyes, at least--in a year and a half of campaigning and tremendous battles. They may have been a little leaner and a little thinner, but they were lean and thin men, anyhow. Their uniforms, although faded and worn, were neat and clean, and as each sat on a fragment of log, while the board rested on a stump between, they were able to maintain their dignity.
It was Colonel Talbot's move. His hand rested on the red king and he pondered long. Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire waited without a sign of impatience. He would take just as long a time with his knight or bishop, or whichever of the white men he chose to use.
"I confess, Hector," said Colonel Talbot at length, "that this move puzzles me greatly."
"It would puzzle me too, Leonidas, were I in your place," said Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire; "but you must recall that just before the Second Manassas you seemed to have me checkmated, and that I have escaped from a most dangerous position."
"True, true, Hector! I thought I had you, but you slipped from my net. Those were, beyond all dispute, most skillful and daring moves you made. It pays to be bold in this world."
"Do you know," whispered St. Clair to Harry, "that this unfinished game is the one they began last spring in the valley? We saw them playing it in a fence corner before action. They've taken it up again at least four or five times between battles, but neither has ever been able to win. However, they'll fight it out to a finish, if a bullet doesn't get one first. They always remember the exact position in which the figures were when they quit."
Colonel Talbot happened to look up and saw the boys.
"Come down," he said, "and join us. It is pleasant to see you again, Harry. I heard of your mission, its success and your safe return. Hector, I suppose we'll have to postpone the next stage of our game until we whip the Yankees again or are whipped by them. I believe I can yet rescue that red king."
"Perhaps so, Leonidas. Undoubtedly you'll have plenty of time to think over it."
"Which is a good thing, Hector."
"Which is undoubtedly a good thing, Leonidas."
They put the chess men carefully in a box, which they gave to an orderly with very strict injunctions. Then both, after heaving a deep sigh, transformed themselves into men of energy, action, precision and judgment. Every soldier and officer in the trim ranks of the Invincibles was ready.
But action did not come as soon as Harry and his friends had thought. Lee made preliminary movements to mass his army for battle, and then stopped. The spies reported that political wire-pulling, that bane of the North, was at work. McClellan's enemies at Washington were active, and his indiscreet utterances were used to the full against him. Attention was called again and again to his great overestimates of Lee's army and to the paralysis that seemed to overcome him when he was in the presence of the enemy. Lincoln, the most forgiving of men, could not forgive him for his failure to use his full opportunity at Antietam and destroy Lee.
The advance of McClellan stopped. His army remained motionless while October passed into November. The cold winds off the mountains swept the last leaves from the trees, and Harry wondered what was going to happen. Then St. Clair came to him, precise and dignified in manner, but obviously anxious to tell important news.
"What is it, Arthur?" asked Harry.
"We've got news straight from Washington that McClellan is no longer commander of the Army of the Potomac."
"What! They've nobody to put in his place."
"But they have put somebody in his place, just the same."
"Burnside, Ambrose E. Burnside, with a beautiful fringe of whiskers along each side of his face."
"Well, we can beat any general who wears side whiskers. After all, I'm glad we don't have McClellan to deal with again. Wasn't this Burnside the man who delayed a part of the Union attack at Antietam so long that we had time to beat off the other part?"
"Then I'm thinking that he'll be caught between the hammer and the anvil of Lee and Jackson, just as Pope was."
"Most likely. Anyhow, our army is rejoicing over the removal of McClellan as commander-in-chief of the Army of the Potomac. That's something of a tribute to McClellan, isn't it?"
"Yes, good-bye, George! We've had two good fights with you, Seven Days and Antietam, with Pope in between at the Second Manassas, and now, ho! for Burnside!"
The reception of the news that Burnside had replaced McClellan was the same throughout the Army of Northern Virginia. The officers and soldiers now felt that they were going to face a man who was far less of a match for Lee and Jackson than McClellan had been, and McClellan himself had been unequal to the task. They were anxious to meet Burnside. They heard that he was honest and had no overweening opinion of his own abilities. He did not wish to be put in the place of McClellan, preferring to remain a division or corps commander.
"Then, if that's so," said Sherburne, "we've won already. If a man thinks he's not able to lead the Army of the Potomac, then he isn't. Anyhow, we'll quickly see what will happen."
But again it was not as soon as they had had expected. The Northern advance was delayed once more, and Jackson with his staff and a large part of his force moved to Winchester, the town that he loved so much, and around which he had won so much of his glory. His tent was pitched beside the Presbyterian manse, and he and Dr. Graham resumed their theological discussions, in which Jackson had an interest so deep and abiding that the great war rolling about them, with himself as a central figure, could not disturb it.
The coldness of the weather increased and the winds from the mountains were often bitter, but the new stay in Winchester was pleasant, like the old. Harry himself felt a throb of joy when they returned to the familiar places. Despite the coldness of mid-November the weather was often beautiful. The troops, scattered through the fields and in the forest about the town, were in a happy mood. They had many dead comrades to remember, but youth cannot mourn long. They were there in ease and plenty again, under a commander who had led them to nothing but victory. They heard many reports that Burnside was marching and that he might soon cross the Rappahannock, and they heard also that Jackson's advance to Winchester with his corps had created the deepest alarm in Washington. The North did not trust Burnside as a commander-in-chief, and it had great cause to fear Jackson. Even the North itself openly expressed admiration for his brilliant achievements.
Reports came to Winchester that an attack by Jackson on Washington was feared. Maryland expected another invasion. Pennsylvania, remembering the daring raid which Stuart had made through Chambersburg, one of her cities, picking up prisoners on the way, dreaded the coming of a far mightier force than the one Stuart had led. At the capital itself it was said that many people were packing, preparatory to fleeing into the farther North.
But Harry and his comrades thought little of these things for a few days. It was certainly pleasant there in the little Virginia town. The people of Winchester and those of the country far and wide delighted to help and honor them. Food was abundant and the crisp cold strengthened and freshened the blood in their veins. The fire and courage of Jackson's men had never risen higher.
Jackson himself seemed to be thinking but little of war for a day or two. His inseparable companion was the Presbyterian minister, Dr. Graham, to whom he often said that he thought it was the noblest and grandest thing in the world to be a great minister. Harry, as his aide, being invariably near him, was impressed more and more by his extraordinary mixture of martial and religious fervor. The man who prayed before going into battle, and who was never willing to fight on Sunday, would nevertheless hurl his men directly into the cannon's mouth for the sake of victory, and would never excuse the least flinching on the part of either officer or private.
It seemed to Harry that the two kinds of fervor in Jackson, the martial and the religious, were in about equal proportions, and they always inspired him with a sort of awe. Deep as were his affection and admiration for Jackson, he would never have presumed upon the slightest familiarity. Nor would any other officer of his command.
Yet the tender side of Jackson was often shown during his last days in his beloved Winchester. The hero-worshipping women of the South often brought their children to see him, to receive his blessing, and to say when they were grown that the great Jackson had put his hands upon their heads.
Harry and his three comrades of his own age, who had been down near the creek, were returning late one afternoon to headquarters near the manse, when they heard the shout of many childish voices.
They saw that he was walking again with the minister, but that he was surrounded by at least a dozen little girls, every one of whom demanded in turn that he shake her hand. He was busily engaged in this task when the whole group passed out of sight into the manse.
"The Northern newspapers denounce us as passionate and headstrong, with all the faults of the cavaliers," said St. Clair. "I only wish they could see General Jackson as he is. Lee and Jackson come much nearer being Puritans than their generals do."
Harry that night, as he sat in the little anteroom of Jackson's quarters awaiting orders, heard again the low tone of his general praying. The words were not audible, but the steady and earnest sound came to him for some time. It was late, and all the soldiers were asleep or at rest. No sound came from the army, and besides Jackson's voice there was none other, save the sighing of the winds down from the mountains.
Harry, as he listened to the prayer, felt a deep and overwhelming sense of solemnity and awe. He felt that it was at once a petition and a presage. Sitting there in the half dark mighty events were foreshadowed. It seemed to him that they were about to enter upon a struggle more terrible than any that had gone before, and those had been terrible beyond the anticipation of anybody.
The omens did not fail. Jackson's army marched the next morning, turning southward along the turnpike in order to effect the junction with Lee and Longstreet. All Winchester had assembled to bid them farewell, the people confident that the army would win victory, but knowing its cost now.
There was water in Harry's eyes as he listened to the shouts and cheers and saw the young girls waving the little Confederate flags.
"If good wishes can do anything," said Harry, "then we ought to win."
"So we should. I'm glad to have the good wishes, but, Harry, when you're up against the enemy, they can't take the place of cannon and rifles. Look at Colonel Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire. See how straight and precise they are. But both are suffering from a deep disappointment. They started their chess game again last night, Colonel Talbot to make the first move with his king, but before he could decide upon any course with that king the orders came for us to get ready for the march. The chessmen went into the box, and they'll have another chance, probably after we beat Burnside."
They went on up the valley, through the scenes of triumphs remembered so well. All around them were their battlefields of the spring, and there were the massive ridges of the Massanuttons that Jackson had used so skillfully, not clothed in green now, but with the scanty leaves of closing autumn.
Neither Harry nor any of his comrades knew just where they were going. That secret was locked fast under the old slouch hat of Jackson, and Harry, like all the others, was content to wait. Old Jack knew where he was going and what he meant to do. And wherever he was going it was the right place to go to, and whatever he meant to do was just the thing that ought to be done. His extraordinary spell over his men deepened with the passing days.
As they went farther southward they saw sheltered slopes of the mountains where the foliage yet glowed in the reds and yellows of autumn, "purple patches" on the landscape. Over ridges to both east and west the fine haze of Indian summer yet hung. It was a wonderful world, full of beauty. The air was better and nobler than wine, and the creeks and brooks flowing swiftly down the slopes flashed in silver.
There were no enemies here. The people, mostly women and children-- nearly all the men had gone to war--came out to cheer them as they passed, and to bring them what food and clothing they could. The Valley never wavered in its allegiance to the South, although great armies fought and trod back and forth over its whole course through all the years of the war.
They turned east and defiled through a narrow pass in the mountains, where the sheltered slopes again glowed in yellow and gold. Jackson, in somber and faded gray, rode near the head of the corps on his faithful Little Sorrel, his chin sunk upon his breast, his eyes apparently not seeing what was about them, the worn face somber and thoughtful. Harry knew that the great brain under the old slouch hat was working every moment, always working with an intensity and concentration of which few men were ever capable. Harry, following close behind him, invariably watched him, but he could never read anything of Jackson's mind from his actions.
Then came the soldiers in broad and flowing columns, that is, they seemed to Harry, in the intense autumn light, to flow like a river of men and horses and steel, beautiful to look on now, but terrible in battle.
"We're better than ever," said the sober Dalton. "Antietam stopped us for the time, but we are stronger than we were before that battle."
"Stronger and even more enthusiastic," Harry concurred. "Ah, there goes the Cajun band and the other bands and our boys singing our great tune! Listen to it!"
"Southrons hear your country call you; Up, lest worse than death befall you! To arms! To arms! To arms in Dixie! Lo! all the beacon fires are lighted-- Let all hearts now be united! To arms! To arms! To arms in Dixie!"
The chorus of the battle song, so little in words, so great in its thrilling battle note, was taken up by more than a score of thousand, and the vast volume of sound, confined in narrow defiles, rolled like thunder, giving forth mighty echoes. Harry was moved tremendously and he saw Jackson himself come out of his deep thought and lift up his face that glowed.
"It's certainly great," said Dalton to Harry. "It would drag a man from the hospital and send him into battle. I know now how the French republican troops on the march felt when they heard the Marseillaise."
"But the words don't seem to me to be the same that I heard at Bull Run."
"No, they're not; but what does it matter? That thrilling music is always the same, and it's enough."
Already the origin of the renowned battle song was veiled in doubt, and different versions of the words were appearing; but the music never changed and every step responded to it.
The army passed through the defile, entered another portion of the valley, forded a fork of the Shenandoah, crossed the Luray Valley, and then entered the steep passes of the Blue Ridge. Here they found autumn gone and winter upon them. As the passes rose and the mountains, clothed in pine forest, hung over them, the soft haze of Indian summer fled, and in its place came a low, gray sky, somber and chill. Sharp winds cut them, but the blood flowed warm and strong in their veins as they trod the upward path between the ridges. Once more a verse of the defiant Dixie rolled and echoed through the lofty and bleak pine forest:
"How the South's great heart rejoices At your cannon's ringing voices; To arms! For faith betrayed, and pledges broken, Wrongs inflicted, insults spoken To arms! Advance the flag of Dixie."
Now on the heights the last shreds and patches of autumn were blown away by the winds of winter. The sullen skies lowered continually. Flakes of snow whirled into their faces, but they merely bent their heads to the storm and marched steadily onward. They had not been called Jackson's Foot Cavalry for nothing. They were proud of the name, and they meant to deserve it more thoroughly than ever.
"I take it," said Dalton to Harry, "that some change has occurred in the Northern plans. The Army of the Potomac must be marching along in a new line."
"So do I. The battle will be fought in lower country."
"And we will be with Lee and Longstreet in a day or two."
"So it looks."
Jackson stopped twice, a full day each time, for rest, but at the end of the eighth day, including the two for rest, he had driven his men one hundred and twenty miles over mountains and across rivers. They also passed through cold and heavy snow, but they now found themselves in lower country at the village of Orange Court House. The larger town of Fredericksburg lay less than forty miles away. Harry was not familiar with the name of Fredericksburg, but it was destined to be before long one that he could never forget. In after years it was hard for him to persuade himself that famous names were not famous always. The name of some village or river or mountain would be burned into his brain with such force and intensity that the letters seemed to have been there since the beginning.
It lacked but two days of December when they came to Orange Court House, but they heard that the Northern front was more formidable and menacing than ever. Burnside had shown more energy than was expected of him. He had formed a plan to march upon Richmond, and, despite the alterations in his course, he was clinging to that plan. He had at the least, so the scouts said, one hundred and twenty thousand men and four hundred guns. The North, moreover, which always commanded the water, had gunboats in the Rappahannock below Fredericksburg, and they would be, as they were throughout the war, a powerful arm.
Harry knew, too, the temper and resolution of the North, the slow, cold wrath that could not be checked by one defeat or half a dozen. Antietam, as he saw it, had merely been a temporary check to the Confederate arms, where the forces of Lee and Jackson had fought off at least double their number. The Northern men could not yet boast of a single clean-cut victory in the battles of the east, but they were coming on again as stern and resolute as ever. Defeat seemed to serve only as an incentive to them. After every one, recruits poured down from the north and west to lift anew the flag of the Union.
There was something in this steady, unyielding resolve that sent a chill through Harry. It was possible that men who came on and who never ceased coming would win in the end. The South--and he was sanguine that such men as Lee and Jackson could not be beaten----might wear itself out by the very winning of victories. The chill came again when he counted the resources pitted against his side. He was a lad of education and great intelligence, and he had no illusions now about the might of the North and its willingness to fight.
But youth, in spite of facts, can forget odds as well as loss. The doubts that would come at times were always dispelled when he looked upon the glorious Army of Northern Virginia. It was now nearly eighty thousand strong, with an almost unbroken record of victory, trusting absolutely in its leadership and supremely confident that it could whip any other army on the planet. Its brilliant generals were gathered with Jackson or with Lee and Longstreet. They were as confident as their soldiers and no movement of the enemy escaped them. Stuart, with his plume and sash, at which no man now dared to scoff, hung with his horsemen like a fringe on the flank of Burnside's own army, cutting off the Union scouts and skirmishers and hiding the plans of Lee.
Messengers brought news that Burnside would certainly cross the Rappahannock, covered by the Union artillery, which was always far superior in weight and power to that of the South. Harry heard that the passage of the river would not be opposed, because the Southern army could occupy stronger positions farther back, but he did not know whether the rumors were true.
The word now came, and they went forward from Orange Court House toward Fredericksburg to join Lee and Longstreet. When they marched toward the Second Manassas they had suffered from an almost intolerable heat and dust. Now they advanced through a winter that seemed to pour upon them every variety of discomfort. Heavy snows fell, icy rains came and fierce winds blew. The country was deserted, and the roads beneath the rain and snow and the passage of great armies disappeared. Vast muddy trenches marked where they had been, and the mud was deep and sticky, covering everything as it was ground up, and coloring the whole army the same hue. Somber and sullen skies brooded over them continually. Not even Jackson's foot cavalry could make much progress through such a sea of mud.
"A battle would be a relief," said Harry, as he rode with the Invincibles, having brought some order to Colonel Talbot. "There's nothing like this to take the starch out of men. Isn't that so, Happy?"
"It depresses ordinary persons like you, Harry," replied Langdon, "but a soul like mine leaps up to meet the difficulties. Mud as an obstacle is nothing to me. As I was riding along here I was merely thinking about the different kinds we have. I note that this Virginia mud is tremendously sticky, inclined to be red in color, and I should say that on the whole it's not as handsome as our South Carolina mud, especially when I see our product at its best. What kind of mud do you have in Kentucky, Harry?"
"All kinds, red, black, brown and every other shade."
"Well, there's a lot of snow mixed with this, too. I think that at the very bottom there is a layer of snow, and then the mud and the snow come in alternate layers until within a foot of the top, after which it's all mud. Harry, Old Jack doesn't believe it's right to fight on Sunday, but do you believe it's right to fight in winter, when the armies have to waste so much strength and effort in getting at one another?"
He was interrupted by the mellow tones of a bugle, and a brilliant troop of horsemen came trotting toward them through a field, where the mud was not so deep. They recognized Stuart in his gorgeous panoply at their head and behind him was Sherburne.
Stuart rode up to the Invincibles. Colonel Leonidas Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire gravely saluted the brilliant apparition.
"I am General Stuart," said Stuart, lifting the plumed hat, "and I am glad to welcome the vanguard of General Jackson. May I ask, sir, what regiment is this?"
"It is the South Carolina regiment known as the Invincibles," said Colonel Talbot proudly, as he lifted his cap in a return salute, "although it does not now contain many South Carolinians. Alas! most of the lads who marched so proudly away from Charleston have gone to their last rest, and their places have been filled chiefly by Virginians. But the Virginians are a brave and gallant people, sir, almost equal in fire and dash to the South Carolinians."
Stuart smiled. He knew that it was meant as a compliment of the first class, and as such he took it.
"I think, sir," he said, "that I am speaking to Colonel Leonidas Talbot?"
"You are, sir, and the gentleman on my right is the second in command of this regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire, a most noble gentleman and valiant and skillful officer. We have met you before, sir. You saved us before Bull Run when we were beleaguered at a fort in the Valley."
"Ah, I remember!" exclaimed Stuart. "And a most gallant fight you were making. And I recognize this young officer, too. He was the messenger who met me in the fields. Your hand, Mr. Kenton."
He stretched out his own hand in its long yellow buckskin glove, and Harry, flushing with pride, shook it warmly.
"It's good of you, General," he said, "to remember me."
"I'm glad to remember you and all like you. Is General Jackson near?"
"About a quarter of a mile farther back, sir. I'm a member of his staff, and I'll ride with you to him."
"Thanks. Lead the way."
Harry turned with Stuart and Sherburne and they soon reached General Jackson, who was plodding slowly on Little Sorrel, his chin sunk upon his breast as usual, the lines of thought deep in his face. General Stuart bowed low before him and the plumed hat was lifted high. The knight paid deep and willing deference to the Puritan.
Jackson's face brightened. He wished plain apparel upon himself, but he did not disapprove of the reverse upon General Stuart.
"You are very welcome, General Stuart," he said.
"I thank you, sir. I have come to report to you, sir, that General Burnside's army is gathering in great force on the other side of the Rappahannock, and that we are massed along the river and back of Fredericksburg."
"General Burnside will cross, will he not?"
"So we think. He can lay a pontoon bridge, and he has a great artillery to protect it. The river, as you know, sir, has a width of about two hundred yards at Fredericksburg, and the Northern batteries can sweep the farther shore."
"I'm sorry that we've elected to fight at Fredericksburg," said General Jackson thoughtfully. "The Rappahannock will protect General Burnside's army."
Stuart gazed at him in astonishment.
"I don't understand you, sir," he said. "You say that the Rappahannock will protect General Burnside when it seems to be our defense."
"My meaning is perfectly clear. When we defeat General Burnside at Fredericksburg he will retreat across the river over his bridge or bridges and we shall not be able to get at him. We will win a great victory, but we will not gather the fruits of it, because of our inability to reach him."
"Oh, I see," said Stuart, the light breaking on his face. "You consider the victory already won, sir?"
"Beyond a doubt."
"Then if you think so, General Jackson, I think so, too," said Stuart, as he saluted and rode away.