The Star of Gettysburg by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter IX. Chancellorsville
Harry and Dalton sat down on a tiny hillock and waited while the two generals carried on their long conference, to which now and then they summoned McLaws, Anderson, Pender and other division or brigade commanders. The two lads even then felt the full import of that memorable night.
Nature herself had stripped away all softness, leaving only sternness and desolation for the terrible drama which was about to be played in the Wilderness. The night was dark, and to Harry's imaginative mind the forest turned to some vast stretch of the ancient, primitive world.
Naturally cheerful and usually alive with the optimism of youth, the air seemed to him that night to be filled with menacing signals. Often he started at familiar sounds. The clank of arms to which he had been so long used sent a chill down his spine. As the campfires died, the gloom that hung over the Wilderness became for him heavier and more ominous.
"What's the matter, Harry?" asked Dalton, catching a glimpse of his face in the moonlight.
"I don't know, George. I suppose this war is getting on my nerves. I must be looking too much into the future. Anyway, I'm oppressed to-night, and I don't know what it is that's oppressing me so much."
"I don't feel that way. Maybe I'm becoming blunted. But the generals are talking a long time."
"I suppose they have need to do a lot of talking, George. You know how small our army is, and we can't rush Hooker behind the strong intrenchments they say he has thrown up. Oh, if only Longstreet and his corps were back with us!"
"Well, Longstreet and his men are not here, and we'll have to do the best we can without them. Hold up your head, Harry. Lee and Jackson will find a way."
While Lee and Jackson and their generals conferred, another conference was going on three miles away at the Chancellor House in the depths of the Wilderness. Hooker, a brave man, who had proved his courage more than once, was bewildered and uneasy. He lacked the experience in supreme command in which his great antagonist, Lee, was so rich. The field telegraph had broken down just before sunset, and his subordinates, Sedgwick and Reynolds, brave men too, who had divisions elsewhere, were vague and uncertain in their movements. Hooker did not know what to expect from them.
Some of the generals, chafing at retreat before a force which they knew to be smaller than their own, wanted to march out and attack in the morning. Hooker, suddenly grown prudent, awed perhaps by his great responsibilities, wished to contract his camp and build intrenchments yet stronger. He compromised at last amid varying counsels, and decided to hold his present intrenched lines along their full length. His gallant officers on the extended right and left were indignant at the thought of withdrawing before the enemy, sure that they could beat him back every time.
But there were bolder spirits at the Southern headquarters, three miles away. Lee and Jackson always saw clearly and were always able to decide upon a course. Besides, their need was far more desperate. The Southern army did not increase in numbers. Victories brought few new men to its standards. Winning, it held its own, and losing, it lost everything. Before it stood the Army of the Potomac, outnumbering it two to one, and behind that army stood a great nation ready to pour forth more men by the hundreds of thousands and more money by the hundreds of millions to save the Union.
Harry, leaning against a bush, fell into a light doze, from which Dalton aroused him bye and bye. But the habit of war made him awake fully and instantly. Every faculty was alive. He arose to his feet and saw that Lee and Jackson were just parting. A faint moon shone over the Wilderness, revealing but little of the great army which lay in its thickets.
"I fancy that the plan which will give us either victory or defeat is arranged," said Dalton.
But neither Harry nor Dalton was called, and bye and bye they sank into another doze. They were awakened toward morning by Sherburne, who stood before them holding his horse by the bridle. The horse was wet with foam, and it was evident that he had been ridden far and hard.
"What is it?" asked Harry, springing to his feet. "I've been riding with General Stuart," replied Sherburne, who looked worn and weary, but nevertheless exultant. "How many miles we've ridden I'll never know, but we've been along the whole Northern front and around their wings. With the help of Fitz Lee we've discovered their weak point. The Northern left, fortified in the thickets, is impossible. We'd merely beat ourselves to pieces against it; but their right has no protection at all, that is, no trenches or breastworks. I thought you boys might be wanted presently, and, as I saw you sleeping here, I've awakened you. Look down there and you'll see something that I think the Northern army has cause to dread."
Harry and Dalton looked at a little open space in the center of which Lee and Jackson sat, having met for another talk, each on an empty cracker box, taken from a heap which the Northern army had left behind when it withdrew the day before. The generals faced each other and two or three men were standing by. One of them was a major named Hotchkiss, whom Harry knew.
Harry and Dalton did not hear the words said, but one of those present subsequently told them much that was spoken at this last and famous conference. A man named Welford had recently cut a road toward the northwest through the Wilderness in order that he might haul wood and iron ore to a furnace that he had built. He had certainly never dreamed of the far more important purpose to which this road would be put, but he had been found at his home by Hotchkiss, the major, and, zealous for the South, he had given him the information that was of so much value. He had also volunteered to guide the troops along his road and he had marked it on a map which the major carried.
"What is your report, Major Hotchkiss?" asked General Lee.
The major took a cracker box from the heap, put it between the two generals, and spread his map upon it, pointing to Welford's road. The two generals studied it attentively, and then Lee asked Jackson what he would suggest. Jackson traced the road with his finger and replied that he would like to follow it with his whole corps and fall upon the Northern flank. He suggested that he leave his commander with only a small force to make a noisy demonstration in the Northern front, while Jackson was executing his great turning movement.
Lee considered it only a few moments and agreed. Then he wrote brief and crisp instructions, and when he finished, General Jackson rose to his feet, his face illumined with eagerness. He was absolutely confident that he would succeed in the daring deed he was about to undertake.
"It's over," said Dalton. "Whatever it is, we start on it at once."
Jackson beckoned to all his staff, and soon Harry, Dalton and the others were busy carrying orders for a great march that Jackson was about to begin. Many of these orders related to secrecy. The ranks were to be kept absolutely close and compact. If anybody straggled he was to receive the bayonet.
The Invincibles were in the vanguard. Harry and Dalton were near, behind Jackson. Harry could speak now and then with his friends.
"It's the Second Manassas over again, isn't it, Harry?" said St. Clair.
"If it is, why do we seem to be marching away from the enemy?"
"I don't know any more than you do. But I take it that when Stonewall Jackson draws back from the enemy he merely does it in order to make a bigger jump. We all know that."
The dark South Carolinian, Bertrand, was riding just in front of them. Now he turned suddenly and said:
"St. Clair, we're about to go into a great battle, and I've felt for some time that I provoked the quarrel with you. I'm sorry and I apologize."
St. Clair looked astonished, but he was not one to refuse so manly an advance.
"That's so, Captain, we did have a quarrel," he said, "but I had forgotten it. It's not necessary for anybody to apologize where there's no rancor."
He took Bertrand's hand in a hearty grasp, which Bertrand returned with equal vigor. Then the captain pushed his horse and rode a little ahead of them.
"Now, that was a singular thing," said Dalton, who came of a deeply religious family, "and to my mind it was predestined."
"Yes, predestined! Decreed! Captain Bertrand is going to die. He'll be killed in the coming battle. He was moved to make up the quarrel which he forced on St. Clair because of his approaching fate, although he does not know of it himself."
"Come, come, George! So much battle has keyed your mind too highly."
But Dalton shook his head and remained resolute in his belief.
Harry's confidence returned with action and the glorious flush of a May morning. They had started after dawn. A splendid sun was rising in a sky of satin blue. It even gilded the somber foliage of the Wilderness, and the spirits of all the men in the great corps rose.
Jackson stopped presently with his staff and let some of the regiments file past him. General Lee was awaiting him there and the two talked briefly. Harry saw that both were firm and confident. It was rare with him, but Jackson's face was flushed and his eyes shining. He lingered for only a few moments, and then rode on with his column. Lee's eyes followed him, but he and his great lieutenant had spoken together for the last time.
Now they settled into silence, save for the marching sounds, of which the most dominant was the rumbling of the artillery. But all the men in the great column knew that they were embarked upon some mighty movement. Very few asked themselves what it was. Nor did they care. They put their faith in the great leader who had always led them to victory. He could lead them where he chose.
A light wind arose and the bushes and scrub forest of the Wilderness moved gently like the surface of a lake. But that forest, as dense as ever, extended on all sides of them and hid the tens of thousands who marched in its shade.
Harry presently heard the rolling of artillery fire and the distant crash of rifles behind them. But he knew that it was Lee with the minor portion of his army making the demonstration in Hooker's front, deceiving him into the belief that he was about to be attacked by the whole Southern army, while Jackson with his main force was making the wide circuit under cover of the Wilderness in order to fall like a thunderbolt upon his flank.
Harry admired the daring of his two leaders, and at the same time he trembled with apprehension. They had split their force, already far smaller, in the face of the foe. Suppose that foe, with his army of splendid fighters, should come suddenly from his intrenchments and attack either division. Surely the Northern scouts and spies were in the thickets. So great a movement as this could not escape their attention. It would be impossible for a large army to pass on that journey of many miles around Hooker and not one of the hundred thousand men he had in the Wilderness bring him a word of it.
They might be discovered by one of the balloons, and Harry strained his eyes toward the far Rappahannock. He saw a black speck floating in the sky, which he thought to be one of the balloons, and he felt a little dread, but in a moment he realized that Jackson's army was as completely hidden by the Wilderness from any such possible observer as if a blanket lay over it. Then he dismissed all thoughts of balloons and rode on in silence beside Dalton.
Now he listened to the roar behind them. It had the violence of a great battle, but he noticed that the sounds neither advanced nor retreated. He smiled a little. Lee was still amusing Hooker, but it was a grim amusement.
A long time passed. Although the army could not move fast in the Wilderness, its march was steady. The roar of Lee's attack had become subdued, but Harry knew that the effect was due only to distance. His trained ear told him that the demonstration in Hooker's front, instead of decreasing, had increased in vigor. It was assuming the proportions of a real battle, and with thickets and forests to obscure sight, Hooker might well believe that the whole Southern army was yet in front of him.
The onward march had become rhythmic now. It was to Harry like the regular throbbing of a pulse. The tread of many men, the beat of horses' hoofs, and the clanking of guns melted into one musical note. The sun crept slowly up, gilding thickets and forests with pure gold. The sky was still an unbroken blue, save for the little white clouds that floated in its bosom. The breeze of that May morning was wonderfully crisp and fresh. It came tingling with life to the thousands, so many of whom were about to die.
It seemed to Harry as they went on through the thickets of the Wilderness that the Union scouts would never discover them, but Northern troops on an open eminence of Hazel Grove had seen a long column moving away through the thickets and made report of it to the Northern generals. But these leaders did not understand it. They had not grasped the great daring of Jackson's march.
They believed that Lee was merely extending his lines, but an hour before noon a battery opened fire from a hill upon the marching Confederate column. Harry and Dalton heard shrapnel whizzing over their heads. After the first involuntary shiver they regained the calm of youthful veterans and rode on in silence.
But the fire of the Northern artillery was damaging, even at great range. Shells and shrapnel sprayed showers of steel over the column. Men were killed and others wounded. As they could not turn back to fight those troublesome cannon, the column turned farther away and forced a road through a new path. It seemed now that Jackson's march was discovered and that the whole Northern army might press in between him and Lee. Harry's heart rose in his throat and he looked at his general. But Jackson rode calmly on.
The curiosity of the Union generals in regard to that marching column increased. Several of them appealed to Hooker to let them advance in force and see what it was. Sickles was allowed to go out with a strong division, but instead of reaching Jackson he was confronted by a portion of Lee's force, thrown forward to meet him, and the battle was so fierce that Sickles was compelled to send for help. A formidable force came and drove the Southern division before it, but the vigilant Jackson, informed by his scouts of what was happening behind him, turned his rear guard to meet the attack, and Sickles was driven off a second time with great loss. Then Jackson's men quickly rejoined him and they continued their march, the vanguard, in fact, never having stopped.
Harry took no part in this, but from a distance he saw much of it. Once more he admired the surpassing alertness and vigor of Jackson, who never seemed to make a mistake, a man who was able while on a great march to detach men for the help of his chief, while never ceasing to pursue his main object.
The Northern forces, although they had fought bravely, retreated, and the great movement that was going on remained hidden from them. The gap between Lee and Jackson was growing wider, but they did not know it was there. Hooker's retreat with his great army into the Wilderness had given his enemies a chance to befog and bewilder him.
Harry's supreme confidence returned. All things seemed possible to his chief, and once more they were marching, unimpeded. It was now much past noon, and they turned into a new road, leading north through the thickets.
"It scarcely seems possible that we can pass around a great army in this way," said Dalton; "but, Harry, I'm beginning to believe the general will do it."
"Of course he will," said Harry. "It's Old Jack's chief pleasure to do impossible things. He leaves the possible to ordinary men. See him. He didn't even stop to look back while our rear guard returned to help drive off the Yankees."
The sun was near the zenith and the afternoon grew warm. They had come upon hard, dry paths, and under the tread of the army great clouds of dust arose, but it did not float high in the air, the thick boughs of the trees and bushes catching it. But as it hovered so close to the ground it made the breathing of the soldiers difficult and painful. It rasped their throats, and soon they began to burn with the heat. Many fell exhausted beside the paths, but they were helped by their comrades or were put into the wagons, and the long column of steel never ceased to wind onward.
Near the middle of the afternoon, when they were about to cross the western extension of the plank road, a young cavalry officer galloped up and rode straight for Jackson. It was Fitzhugh Lee, whose services were great at Chancellorsville. His glowing face showed that he brought news of great importance.
As he saluted, General Jackson checked his horse and Harry heard his general ask:
"You bring news. What is it?"
"I do, sir," responded young Lee eagerly. "I have something to show you. A great Northern force is only a short distance away, and it does not suspect your advance at all. If you will come with me to the crest of a little hill here, I can show them to you."
Jackson never hesitated a moment, signing to Harry to follow him, evidently meaning to use him as a courier, if need arose. The three then turned and rode through the bushes toward the hill, and Harry's heart beat so hard that it gave him an actual physical pain when he looked down on the sight below. He glanced at Jackson and saw that his face was flushed and his eyes glowing.
They were gazing upon a great Northern force which was to protect Hooker's right. Its first lines were only three or four hundred yards away. There were breastworks and other lines of defense running far through the forest, positions that were formidable, but not manned at this moment by riflemen or cannoneers. Rifles were stacked neatly behind the intrenchments, extending in a long line as far as they could see. Thousands of soldiers were sitting on the grass and among the bushes, some asleep, some playing games, while others were cooking, reading newspapers sent from the North, and some were singing. It was a picture of idleness and ease in a camp, and not one among them suspected that thirty thousand veterans of the South, led by Stonewall Jackson himself, were within rifle shot, hidden under the vast canopy of the Wilderness.
Harry drew a deep breath, and then another. It was extraordinary, unbelievable, but it was true. He looked again at Jackson and saw that his eyes were still burning with blue fire. The general gazed for five minutes, but never said a word. Then he turned and rode down the hill, and swiftly the word was passed through the army that they would soon be upon the enemy.
"What is it, Harry?" asked St. Clair eagerly, as Harry rode along the lines with a message for a general for whom he was looking.
"They're just over there," replied Harry, nodding toward his right.
"And they don't know we're here?"
"They don't dream it."
"And Lee and Jackson have got 'em in the trap again?"
"It looks like it."
Then Harry was gone with his message. And he bore other messages, and like most of those he had borne earlier, their burden was secrecy and silence. He never forgot any detail of that memorable day. Years afterwards he could shut his eyes at any time and see the eve of Chancellorsville in all its vivid colors, thirty thousand Southern troops lying hidden in the thickets, General Jackson, followed by himself and two other aides, riding upon the hill again and taking one more look at the unsuspecting enemy below, the spreading out of the cavalry like a curtain between them and Howard's corps to keep even a single stray Northern picket or scout from seeing the mortal danger at hand, and then Jackson dismounting and, seated on a stump, writing to Lee that he was on the enemy's flank and would attack as soon as possible. Harry was in fear lest the general should choose him to carry back the dispatch, as he wished to stay with the corps and see what happened, but the duty was assigned to another man.
Confidence meanwhile reigned in the Union army. In the morning Hooker had ridden around his whole line, and cheers received him as he came. Scouts had brought him word that Jackson was moving, and he had taken note of the encounter with the rearguard of Stonewall's force. But as that force continued its march into the deep forest and disappeared from sight, the brave and sanguine Hooker was confirmed in his opinion that the whole Southern army was retreating. His belief was so firm that he sent a dispatch to Sedgwick, commanding the detached force near Fredericksburg, to pursue vigorously, as the enemy was fleeing in an effort to save his train.
While Hooker was writing this dispatch the "fleeing enemy," led by the greatest of Lee's lieutenants, lay in full force on his flank, almost within rifle-shot, preparing with calmness and in detail for one of the greatest blows ever dealt in war. Truly no soldiers ever deserved higher praise than those of the Army of the Potomac, who, often misled and mismanaged by second-rate men, grew better and better after every defeat, and never failed to go into battle zealous and full of courage.
It seemed almost incredible to Harry, who had twice looked down upon them, that the whole Union right should remain ignorant of Jackson's presence. Twenty-eight regiments and six batteries strong, the Northern troops were now getting ready to cook their suppers, and there was much laughter and talk as they looked around at the forest and wondered when they would be sent in pursuit of the fleeing enemy. Six of the regiments were composed of men born in Germany, or the sons of Germans, drawn from the great cities of the North, little used to the forests and thickets and having the stiffness of Germans on parade. They were at the first point of exposure, and they were certainly no match for the formidable foe who was creeping nearer and nearer.
Not all the country here was in forest. There were some fields, a little wooden cottage on a hill, and in the fields a small house of worship called the Wilderness Church. It was the little church of Shiloh and the Dunkard church of Antietam over again.
Harry and Dalton in the front of the lines often saw the gleam of Northern guns and Northern bayonets through the foliage, but there was still no sign that anyone in the Northern right flank dreamed of their presence. Evidently the unconscious thousands there thought that all chance of battle had passed until the morrow. The sun was already going down the western heavens, and behind them in the Wilderness the first shadows were gathering.
Jackson's troops were filled with confidence and exultation. As they formed for battle among the trees and bushes they too talked, and with the freedom of republican troops, who fight all the better for it, they chaffed the young officers, especially the aides, as they passed. Harry received the full benefit of it.
"Sit up straight in the saddle, sonny. Don't dodge the bullets!"
"You haven't told the Yanks that we're comin'."
"Will me that hoss if you get shot. I always did like a bay boss."
"Tell old Hooker that we jest had to arrange a surprise party for him."
"Tell 'em to make way there in front. We want to git into the fuss before it's all over."
"Tell Old Jack I'm here and that he can begin the battle."
Harry smiled, and sometimes chaffed back. They were boys together. Most of the troops in either army were very young. He recognized that all this talk was the product of exuberant spirits, and officers much older than he, chaffed in a like manner, took it in the same way.
But as they drew nearer, orders that all noise should cease were given, and officers were ready to enforce them. But there was little need for sternness. The soldiers themselves understood and obeyed. They were as eager as the officers to achieve a splendid triumph, and it remains a phenomenon of history how a great army came creeping, creeping within rifle shot of another, and its presence yet remained unknown.
The Southern lines now stretched for a long distance through the forest, cutting across a turnpike, down which the muzzles of four heavy guns pointed. The cavalry, not far away, were holding back their magnificent horses. Harry saw Sherburne on their flank nearest to him, and a smile of triumph passed between them. Off in the forest the strong division of A. P. Hill was advancing, the sound of their coming audible to the South but not to the North.
For an hour and a half the formation of the Southern army went on. Despite the danger of discovery, present every moment, Jackson was resolved to perfect his preparations for the attack. He was calm, methodical, and showed no emotion now, however much he may have felt it. Harry rode back and forth, sometimes with him and sometimes alone, carrying messages. He expected every instant to hear the crack of some Northern scout's rifle and his shout of alarm, but the incredible not only happened--it kept on happening. There was not a single Northern skirmisher in the bushes. The only sounds that came from their camp to the Southern scouts were the clatter of dishes and the laughter of youths who knew that no danger was near.
The sun was far down the western arch, and it seemed to Harry for a moment or two that no battle might occur that day, but a glance at Jackson and his incessant activity showed him he was mistaken. The arrangements were now almost complete. In front were the skirmishers, then the first line, and a little behind it the second line, and then Hill with the third line. Although they stood in thick forest, the lines were even and regular, despite trees and bushes.
The Invincibles were in the second line. Owing to the density of the forest, the two colonels and their young staff officers had dismounted. Harry passed them, and Colonel Talbot said to him:
"Do you know when we'll advance, Harry?"
"It can't be much longer. What time is it, Colonel?"
Colonel Talbot opened his watch, looked carefully at the face, and as he closed it again and put it back in his pocket, he replied gravely:
"It's five forty-five o'clock of a memorable afternoon, Harry."
"It's true, Leonidas," said Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire, "and whatever happens to us, it will be a pleasure to us both to know, even beyond the grave, that we have served long under the Christian soldier and great genius, Stonewall Jackson."
"You'll both go through it," said Harry. "I know you'll be with us when our victorious army goes over the Long Bridge and enters Washington."
St. Clair and Langdon stood near, but said nothing. Harry saw that they were enveloped by the mystery, the vastness and the terrible grandeur of the occasion. So he said nothing to them, but rode back toward his commander. Then he glanced again at the sun and saw that it was low, filling all the western heavens with bars of red and yellow and gold. He looked once again at that formidable line of battle, stretching in either direction through the forest farther than he could see, the soldiers eager, excited and straining hard at the hand that held them there so firmly. It seemed now that nothing was left to be done, and the time had grown to six o'clock in the evening.
Jackson turned to Rodes, who commanded the first line of battle, just in the rear of the skirmishers, and said:
"Are you ready, General?"
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Then charge," said Jackson.
Rodes nodded toward the leader of the skirmishers, who gave the word. A powerful man put a glittering brazen bugle to his throat and blew a long, mellow note that was heard far through the forest. It was followed by a shout poured from thirty thousand throats, the guns in the turnpike fired a terrible volley straight into the Union camp, and then the whole army of Jackson, line upon line, rushed from the thickets and hurled itself upon its foe.
The Northern army was paralyzed for a moment. Never was surprise more sudden and terrific. Brave as anybody, the Union men rushed to their arms, but there was no time to use them. The flood was upon them and overwhelmed them. The German regiments were cut to pieces in an instant, and the demoralized survivors retreated into the mass. Elsewhere a battery was manned and stopped for a moment the Southern advance, but only for a moment. It, too, was overwhelmed by the Southern artillery which rushed forward, firing as fast as the cannoneers could load and reload.
Jackson himself was with his artillery, shouting to them and encouraging them, and Harry, trying to follow him, found it hard to keep clear of the guns. The second and third lines of the Southern army pressed forward with the first, and the terrific impact overwhelmed everything. The Northern officers showed supreme courage in their attempt to stem the rout. Everyone on horseback was either killed or wounded, and their bravery and self-sacrifice were in vain. Nothing could stem the relentless tide that poured upon them. Harry had never before seen the Southern troops so exultant. Jackson's march of a whole day, unseen, almost by the side of the enemy, and then his sudden attack upon his right flank, made their battle rush fierce and irresistible. They might be stayed for a few moments, but they swept on and on, carrying before them the blue brigades.
The scene, while extraordinarily vivid to Harry, was nevertheless wild and confused. The fire of the cannon and rifles on a long line was so rapid and terrific that he was almost blinded by the incessant blaze, which was like one solid sheet of flame. The dense smoke gathered once more among the bushes and trees and the forest was filling with a tremendous shouting.
Harry kept as close as he could to his general, who was now in the very heart of the conflict. But it was a difficult task. His clothing was torn by bushes and briars, and boughs whipped him across the face. Now and then in a rift in the smoke he beheld a terrible sight. The ground was covered with the arms and blankets and tents of the Union army. Ahead of them were great masses of men, retreating and jammed among the wagons. The horses, many of them wounded, were running about, neighing in pain and terror. Officers, their uniforms often red from wounds, were rushing everywhere, seeking to stay the panic.
Yet the Union officers at last succeeded in getting some order out of the chaos. A battery was rallied on a hill and threw a sleet of steel on the charging men in gray. Some of the seasoned infantry regiments were managing to form a line and they were beginning to send back a rifle fire. Harry felt that the resistance in front of them was hardening a little.
But as usual the eye of Jackson saw everything, even through the flame and smoke and confusion of a battle fought in dense forests and thickets.
He galloped up the turnpike himself, his staff hot at his heels, and shouting to the gunners and pointing forward, he urged on the artillery. Then he rode among the infantry, and they, as eager as he, rushed on at increased speed. Yet the Northern resistance was still hardening. Some of the German regiments atoned for their earlier panic by reforming and making a brave resistance. Other regiments formed behind a breastwork.
"They are going to make a bold stand," shouted Harry to Dalton.
"But it will not help them," the Virginian replied.
The Southern battle front, which for a few minutes had lost cohesion, now swelled higher than ever. Led by Jackson in person, nearly all the officers in front sword in hand, the whole division with a mighty shout charged. Harry saw the Invincibles in the first line, the two colonels, one on either flank, waving their swords and their faces young again with the battle fire. But it was only a glimpse. Then they were lost from his sight in the fire and smoke.
There could be no sufficient defense against the charge of such a foe, numerous, prepared and wild with victory. They swept over the breastwork, they seized the cannon, they took prisoners, and before them they swept the right wing of the Union army in irreparable rout and confusion. Harry had not seen its like in the whole war, nor was he destined to see it again. An entire corps had been annihilated. The Wilderness was filled with the fragments of regiments seeking to join the main force with Hooker at Chancellorsville.
Harry thought Jackson would stop. They were now in the deep woods. The sun was almost gone. The shadows from the east had crept over the whole sky, and it was already dark among the dense thickets of the Wilderness. An hour had passed since the first rush, and few generals would have had the daring to push on in the forest, dark already and rapidly growing darker. But Jackson was one of the few. He continued to urge on his men, and he sent his staff officers galloping back and forth to help in the task. There was a road in the very rear of Hooker. He intended to seize it, and he was resolved before the night closed down utterly to plant himself so firmly against the very center of the Union army that Hooker's complete defeat in the morning would be sure.
The bugles sang the charge again all along the Southern line, and in the dying twilight, lit by the flame of cannon and rifles, they swept forward, driving all resistance before them.
It was one of the most appalling moments in the history of a nation which has had to win its way with immense toil and through many dangers. Hooker, brave, not lacking in ability, but far from being a match for the extraordinary combination that faced him, two men of genius working in perfect harmony, had been sitting with two of his staff officers on the portico of the Chancellor House. He was serene and confident. He knew the courage of his soldiers and their numbers. The cannonade in his front had died down. He was a full-faced man, ruddy and stalwart, and with his powerful army of veterans he felt equal to anything. There was nothing to indicate that the Southern army was not in full retreat, as he had stated in his dispatch earlier in the day. The thought of Jackson had passed out of his mind for the time, because his long columns, he was sure, were marching farther and farther away.
Hooker, as the cool of the later afternoon, so pleasant after the heat of the day, came on, felt an increase of satisfaction. All his great forces would be massed in the morning. Now and then he heard in the east the far sound of cannon like muttering thunder on the horizon, but after a while it ceased entirely. He heard that distant thunder in the south, too, but it passed farther and farther away, and he felt sure that it came from his valiant guns hanging on the rear guard of the retreating Jackson.
One wonders what must be the feelings of a man who, sitting in apparent security, is suddenly plunged into a terrible pit. Commanders less able than Hooker have had better luck. What had he to fear? With one hundred and thirty thousand veterans of the Army of the Potomac within call, almost any other general in his place would have felt a like security. But he had not fathomed fully the daring and skill of the two men who confronted him.
It is related that on the approach of that memorable evening there was a remarkable peace and quiet at the Chancellor House itself. Hooker was conversing quietly with his aides. Officers inside the house were copying orders. The distant mutter of the guns that came now and then was harmonious and rather soothing. The east was already darkening and it seemed that a quiet sun would set over the Wilderness.
The cannonade in the south seemed to pass into a new direction, but the officers at the Chancellor House did not give it much attention. Hooker was still quiet and confident. Suddenly a terrific crash of cannon fire came from a point in the northwest. It was followed by another and then others, so swiftly that they merged. It never ceased for an instant and it rapidly rolled nearer. Hooker and his officers leaped to their feet and gazed appalled at the forest whence came those ominous sounds. An officer ran upon the plank road and took a look through his glasses.
"Good God!" he cried, as he turned quickly back. "Here they come!"
Down the road was pouring a mass of fugitives, and they brought with them news that did not suffer in the telling, either in magnitude or color. Stonewall Jackson and the bulk of the rebel army had suddenly fallen on their wing, they said, and he and his men were hard upon their heels. Hooker passed in a moment from the certainty of victory to the certainty that his army must fight for its very existence. Yet he and his generals showed presence of mind and great courage in the crisis, bringing forward troops rapidly and, above all, massing the superb artillery.
Harry Kenton, his horse shot under him, again was in the front line of the Southern troops that followed the mass of fugitives down the road toward the Chancellor House. In the mad rush he lost sight of Jackson for the time, and found himself mingled with the Invincibles. Both the colonels were bleeding from slight wounds, but with fire equal to that of any youth they were still at the head of their troops, leading them straight toward the Union center.
Harry only had time to glance at his friends and receive their glances in return, and then he found Jackson again. Catching one of the riderless horses, so numerous, he sprang upon him and rode close behind his general, where Dalton, a slight bullet wound in the arm, had been able to remain through all the confusion.
Now the Southern troops were crashing through the woods and bearing down upon the Chancellor House. The blaze of the cannon and rifles lit up the early night, and the crash and tumult around the place became indescribable. Many a Northern officer thought that all was lost, but the trained artillerymen of the North never flinched. Occupying an eminence, battery after battery was wheeled into line, until fifty cannon manned by the best gunners in the world were pouring an awful fire upon the Southern front. Jackson's men were compelled to stop, and elsewhere the Southern line was halted also by the density of the thickets.
Yet it was but a lull. It was far into the night. Nevertheless, Jackson meant to push the battle. He rode among his troops and encouraged them for another effort. Everywhere he was received with tremendous cheers, and the men were willing and eager to push on the attack. Lee, his chief, meanwhile was closing in with the smaller force. The whole line was reformed. Jackson cried to Hill and Lane and other generals to push on. The whole army was in line for a fresh attack, and they could hear the sounds made by the enemy cutting down timber and fortifying.
It was now nearly nine o'clock at night, and save for the fires that burned here and there and the flash of the picket firing, the night that hung over the Wilderness was dark and heavy.
Harry passed once more near the Invincibles, who were lying down, panting with weariness, but exultant. They had lost a third of their numbers in the attack, but the wounds of his own friends were not serious.
"Do you know whether we charge them again, Harry?" asked Colonel Talbot.
"I don't know, sir; but you know General Jackson."
"Then it probably means that we attack. Keep down, Captain Bertrand! Those Northern pickets in the bushes in front of us are active, and, upon my word, they know how to shoot, as the honorable wounds of many of us attest!"
Bertrand, eager to see the enemy, was standing on a hillock, and he did not seem to hear the words of his chief. A rifle cracked in the bushes and he fell back without a word. The arms of St. Clair received him and eased him gently to the earth. But Harry saw at a glance that the man and his fevered ambitions were gone forever. He was dead before he touched the ground.
"I'm glad that I was the one to catch his body," said St. Clair simply.
Harry was moved at the fall of this man, although he had never really liked him, but he went on and rejoined his general. Colonel Talbot was right. Jackson was still intent upon pressing the attack. Night and darkness were now nothing to him. He meant to achieve Hooker's ruin.
Harry always believed afterward that he felt the shadow of the great tragedy soon to come. The roar of the cannon had died down, but from every direction came the firing of scattered riflemen, skirmishers and pickets. They buzzed like angry bees, and no man on the front of either army was safe from their sting. But all through the Wilderness along the line of Jackson's charge the dead and wounded lay. Here and there clumps of fallen and dead wood of the winter before, set on fire by the shells, were burning slowly. The smoke from so much firing drifted in vast banks of vapor through the forest. The air was filled with bitter odors.
Harry felt a sensation of awe and terror, not terror inspired by man, but of the unknown or uncontrolled forces that drive men to meet one another in such deadly combat. Now night did not suffice to stop the titanic struggle. He saw all around him the regiments ready for a new attack, and he plainly heard in front of him the thud of axes as the Northern men cut down trees for their defense. Now and then stray moonbeams, penetrating the forest and the smoke, fell over them like discs of burnished silver, but faded quickly.
The firing of the skirmishers increased. Twigs and leaves cut off by the bullets fell in little showers to the earth. Harry, on horseback now, saw an impatient look pass over the general's face. The intrepid fighter, A. P. Hill, was coming up fast, but not fast enough for Stonewall Jackson. He turned and rode back toward him, careless of the danger from the Northern skirmishers, who might at any moment see him.
"General," said one of his staff in protest, "don't expose yourself so much."
"There is no danger," said the general quickly. "The enemy is routed and we must push him hard. Hurry to General Hill and tell him to press forward."
The little group of men, Jackson and his staff, rode on. It was very dark where they were, in the shade of the stunted forest. No moonlight reached them there. Jackson paused, listening to the rising fire of the skirmishers. A rifle suddenly flashed in the thickets before them. Northern troops, lost in the bush and the darkness, were coming directly their way.
Jackson turned and, followed by his staff, rode toward his own lines. The men of a North Carolina regiment, dimly seeing a group of horsemen coming down upon them, thought they were about to be attacked, and an officer gave an order to fire. He was obeyed at once, and the most costly volley fired by Southern troops in the whole war sent the deadly bullets whistling into Jackson's group.
Officers and horses fell, shot down by their own men. Jackson was struck in the right hand and received two bullets in his left arm. One cut an artery and another shattered the bone near the shoulder. The reins dropped from his hands, and his horse, the famous Little Sorrel, broke violently away, rushing through the woods toward the Northern lines. A bough struck Jackson in the face and he reeled in the saddle. But with a violent effort he righted himself, seized the bridle in his stricken right hand, and turned back his frightened horse.
Harry had sat still in his saddle, petrified with horror. Then he urged forward his horse and tried to reach his general, but another aide, Captain Wilbourn, was before him. Wilbourn seized the reins of Little Sorrel and then Harry felt the thrill of horror again as he saw Jackson reel forward and fall. But he was caught in the arms of the faithful Wilbourn.
They laid Jackson on the ground, and a courier was sent in haste for his personal physician, Dr. McGuire. Harry sprang down, and abandoning his horse, which he never saw again, knelt beside his general. Wilbourn with a penknife was cutting the sleeve from the shattered arm.
The whole battle passed away for Harry. Death was in his heart at that moment. When he looked at the white, drawn face of Jackson and his shattered arm, he had no hope then, nor did he ever have any afterwards, save for a few moments. The paladin of the Confederacy was gone, shot down in the dark by his own men.
General Hill, who also had been in great danger from the bullets of the North Carolinians, galloped up, sprang from his horse and helped to bind up the shattered arm.
"Are you much hurt, General?" he asked, his face distorted with grief and alarm.
"I fear so," was the reply, in a weak voice, "and I have suffered all my wounds from my own men. I think my right arm is broken."
Harry remained motionless. He saw Dalton by his side, and he also saw tears on his face. Jackson closed his eyes and uttered no word of complaint, although it was obvious that he was suffering terribly. General Hill felt his pulse. He was rapidly growing weaker. Harry was so stunned that he would not have known what to do, even had not senior officers been present. When his pulse began to beat again he remained silent, waiting upon his superiors.
But Harry was now alert and watchful again. He heard the heavy firing of the skirmishers on the right, on the left, and in front, and through the darkness he saw the flashes of flame. The little group around the fallen man was detached from the army and the enemy might come upon them at any moment. Even as he looked, two Union skirmishers came through the thicket and, pausing, their rifles in the hollows of their arms, looked intently at the shadowy figures before them, trying to discern who and what they were. It was General Hill who acted promptly. Turning to Harry and Dalton, he said in a low tone:
"Take charge of those men."
The two young lieutenants, with levelled pistols, instantly sprang forward and seized the soldiers before they had time to resist. They were given to orderlies and sent to the rear. Harry and Dalton returned to the side of their fallen general. While all stood there trying to decide what to do, an aide who had gone down the road reported that a battery of Northern artillery was unlimbering just before them.
"Then we must take the General away at once," said Hill.
Hill lifted in his arms the great leader who was now almost too weak to speak, although he opened his eyes once, and, as ever, thoughtful of his troops and the cause for which he fought, said.
"Tell them it's only a wounded Confederate soldier whom you are carrying."
Then he closed his eyes again and lay heavy and inert in Hill's arms. Hill held him on his feet, and the young staff officers, now crowding around, supported him. Thus aided he walked among the trees until they came to the road. It was as dark as ever, save for the flash of the firing which went on continuously to right, to left, and in front, mingled now with the sinister rumble of cannon.
Harry, helping to support Jackson and overwhelmed with grief, felt as if the end of the world had come. The darkness, the flash of the rifles, the mutter of cannon, the blaze of gunpowder, the fierce shouts that rose now and then in the thickets, the foul odors, made him think that they had truly reached the infernal regions.
The lieutenant, who saw the battery unlimbering, had not been deceived by his imagination. Just as they entered the road it fired a terrible volley of grape and shrapnel. Luckily in the darkness it fired high, and the little Southern group heard the deadly sleet crashing in the bushes and boughs over their heads.
The devoted young staff officers instantly laid Jackson down in the road, and, sheltering him with their own bodies as they lay beside him, remained perfectly still while the awful rain of steel swept over their heads again. Whether Jackson was conscious of it Harry never knew.
It was one of the most terrible moments of Harry's life. He felt the most overwhelming grief, but every nerve, nevertheless, was sensitive to the last degree. His first conviction that Jackson's wounds were mortal was in abeyance for the moment. He might yet recover and lead his dauntless legions as of old to victory, and he, like the other young officers who lay around him, was resolved to save him with his own life if he could.
The deadly rain from the cannon did not cease. It swept over their heads again and again, all the more fearful because of the darkness. Harry felt the twigs and leaves, cut from the bushes, falling on his face. The whining of the grape and shrapnel and canister united in one ferocious note. Some of it struck in the roadway beyond them and fire flew from the stones.
The general revived a little after a while and tried to get up, but one of the young officers threw his arms around him and, holding him down, said:
"Be still, General! You must! It will cost you your life to rise!"
The general made no further attempt to rise, and perhaps he lapsed into a stupor for a little space. Harry could not tell how long that dreadful shrieking and whining over their heads continued. It was five minutes perhaps, but to him it seemed interminable. Presently the missiles gave forth a new note.
"They're using shells now," said Dalton, "because they're seeking a longer range, and they're going much higher over our heads than the canister."
"And here are men approaching," said Harry. "I can make out their figures. They must be our own."
"So they are!" said Dalton, as they came nearer.
It was a heavy mass of Confederate infantry pressing forward in the darkness, and the young officers who had been so ready to give their lives for their hero lifted him to his feet. Not wishing to have the ardor of his men quenched by the sight of his wounds, Jackson bade them take him aside into the thick bushes. But Pender, the general who was leading these troops, saw him and recognized him, despite the heavy veil of darkness and smoke.
Pender rushed to Jackson, betraying the greatest grief, and said that he was afraid he must fall back before the tremendous artillery fire of the enemy. As he spoke, that fire increased. Shells and round shot, grape and canister and shrapnel shrieked through the air, and the bullets, too, were coming in thousands, whistling like hail driven by a hurricane. Men fell all about them in the darkness.
But the great soul of Jackson, wounded to death and unable to stand, was unshaken. Harry saw him suddenly straighten up, draw himself away from those who were supporting him, and say:
"You must hold your ground, General Pender! You must hold out to the very last, sir!"
Once more the eyes shot forth blue fire. Once more the unquenchable spirit had spoken. The figure reeled, and the young officers sprang to his support. He wanted to lie down there and rest, but the youths would not let him, because every form of missile hurled from a cannon's mouth was crashing among them. A litter arrived now and they carried him toward a house that had been used as a tavern. A shot struck one of the men who held the litter in his arm and he was compelled to let go. The litter tipped over and Jackson fell heavily to the ground, his whole weight crashing upon his wounded arm. Harry heard him utter then his first and only groan. The boy himself cried out in horror.
But they lifted him up again, and the litter bearers carried him on, the young officers crowded close around him. Although it was far on toward midnight, the roar of the battle swelled afresh through the Wilderness. They came presently to an ambulance, by the side of which Jackson's physician, Dr. McGuire, stood. The surgeon, tears in his eyes, bent over the general and asked him if he were badly hurt. Jackson replied that he thought he was dying.
An officer of high rank, Colonel Crutchfield, whom Jackson esteemed highly, was already lying in the ambulance, wounded severely. They put Jackson beside him and drove slowly toward the rear. Once, when Crutchfield groaned under the jolting of the ambulance, Jackson made them stop until his comrade was easier. Then the mournful procession moved on, while the battle roared and crashed about the lone ambulance that bore the stricken idol of the Confederacy, Lee's right arm, the man without whom the South could not win. Harry heard long afterward that a minister in New Orleans used in his prayer some such words as these, "Oh, Lord, when Thou in Thy infinite wisdom didst decree that the Southern Confederacy should fail, Thou hadst first to take away Thy servant, Stonewall Jackson."
Harry and Dalton might have followed the ambulance that carried Jackson away, as they were members of his staff, but they felt that their place was on this dusky battlefield. While they paused, not knowing what to do, a body of men came through the brushwood and they recognized the upright and martial figures of Colonel Leonidas Talbot and Lieutenant- Colonel Hector St. Hilaire. Just behind them were St. Clair, Langdon and the rest of the Invincibles. The two colonels turned and gazed at the retreating ambulance, a shadow for a moment in the dusk, and then a shadow gone.
"I saw them putting an officer in that ambulance, Harry," said Colonel Talbot. "Who was it?"
Harry choked and made no answer.
Colonel Talbot, surprised, turned to Dalton.
"Who was it?" he repeated.
Dalton turned his face away, and was silent.
At sight of this emotion, a sudden, terrible suspicion was born in the mind of Colonel Leonidas Talbot. It was like a dagger thrust.
"You don't mean--it can't be--" he exclaimed, in broken words.
Harry could control his feelings no longer.
"Yes, Colonel," he burst forth. "It was he, Stonewall Jackson, shot down in the darkness and by mistake by our own men!"
"Was he hurt badly?"
"One arm was shattered completely, and he was shot through the hand of the other."
The moonlight shone on Harry's face just then, and the colonel, as he looked at him, drew in his breath with a deep gasp.
"So bad as that!" he muttered. "I did not think our champion could fall."
Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire, Langdon and St. Clair, who had heard him, also turned pale, but were silent.
"We must not tell it," said Harry. "General Jackson did not wish it to be known to the soldiers, and there is fighting yet to be done. Here comes General Hill!"
Harry and Dalton flung themselves into the ranks of the Invincibles. Hill took command in Jackson's place, but was soon badly wounded by a fragment of shell, and was taken away. Then Stuart, the great horseman, rode up and led the troops to meet the return attack for which the Northern forces were massing in their front. Harry saw Stuart as he came, eager as always for battle, his plumed hat shining in the light of the moon, which was now clear and at the full.
"If Jackson can lead no longer, then Stuart can," said Colonel Talbot, looking proudly at the gallant knight who feared no danger. "What time is it, Hector?"
"Nearly midnight, Leonidas."
"And no time for fighting, but fighting will be done. Can't you hear their masses gathering in the wood?"
"I do, Hector. The Yankees, despite their terrible surprise, have shown great spirit. It is not often that routed troops can turn and put on the defense those who have routed them."
"Yes, and they'll be on us in a minute," said Harry.
It was much lighter now, owing to the clearness of the moon and the lifting of the smoke caused by a lull in the firing. But Harry was right in his prediction. Within five minutes the Northern artillery, sixty massed guns, opened with a frightful crash. Once more that storm of steel swept through the woods, but now the lack of daylight helped the Southerners. Many were killed and wounded, but most of the rain of death passed over their heads, as they were all lying on the ground awaiting the charge, and the Northern gunners, not able to choose any targets, fired in the general direction of the Southern force.
The cannon fire went on for several minutes, and then, with a mighty shout, the Northern force charged, but in a great confused struggle in the woods and darkness it was beaten back, and soon after midnight the battle for that day ceased.
Yet there was no rest for the troops. Stuart, appreciating the numbers of his enemy and fearing another attack, moved his forces to the side to close up the gap between himself and Lee, in order that the Southern army should present a solid line for the new conflict that was sure to come in the morning.
All that night the Wilderness gave forth the sound of preparations made by either side, and Harry neither slept nor had any thought of it. He knew well that the battle was far from over, and he knew also that the Union army had not yet been defeated. Hooker's right wing had been crushed by the sudden and tremendous stroke of Jackson, but his center had rallied powerfully on Chancellorsville, and instead of a mere defense had been able to attack in the night battle. The fall of Jackson, too, had paralyzed for a time the Southern advance, and Lee, with the slender forces under his immediate eye, had not been able to make any progress.
Harry and Dalton finally left the Invincibles and reported to General Stuart, who instantly recognized Harry.
"Ah," he said, "you were on the staff of General Jackson!"
"Yes, sir," replied Harry, "and so was Lieutenant Dalton here. We report to you for duty."
"Then you'll be on mine for to-night. After that General Lee will dispose of you, but I have much for you both to do before morning."
Stuart was acting with the greatest energy and foresight, manning his artillery and strengthening his whole line. But he knew that it was necessary to inform his commander-in-chief of all that was happening, in order that Lee in the morning might have the two portions of the Southern army in perfect touch and under his complete command. He selected Wilbourn to reach him, and Harry was detailed to accompany that gallant officer. They were well fitted to tell all that had happened, as they had been in the thick of the battle and had been present at the fall of Jackson.
The two officers, saying but little, rode side by side through the Wilderness. They were so much oppressed with grief that they did not have the wish to talk. Both were devotedly attached to Jackson, and to both he was a hero, without fear and without reproach. They heard behind them the occasional report of a rifle. But it was only a little picket firing. Most of the soldiers, worn out by such tremendous efforts, lay upon the ground in what was a stupor rather than sleep.
As they rode forward they met pickets of their own men who told them where Lee and his staff were encamped, and they rode on, still in silence, for some time. Harry's cheeks were touched by a freshening breeze which had the feel of coming dawn, and he said at last:
"The morning can't be far away, Captain."
"No, the first light of sunrise will appear very soon. It seems to me I can see a faint touch of gray now over the eastern forest."
They were riding now through the force that had been left by General Lee. Soldiers lay all around them and in all positions, most to rise soon for the fresh battle, and some, as Harry could tell by their rigidity, never to rise at all.
They asked again for Lee as they went on, and a sentinel directed them to a clump of pines. Wilbourn and Harry dismounted and walked toward a number of sleeping forms under the pines. The figures, like those of the soldiers, were relaxed and as still as death. The dawn which Harry has felt on his face did not appear to the eye. It was very dark under the boughs of the pines, and they did not know which of the still forms was Lee.
Wilbourn asked one of the soldiers on guard for an officer, and Lee's adjutant-general came forward. Wilbourn told him at once what had occurred, and while they talked briefly one of the figures under the pines arose. It was that of Lee, who, despite his stillness, was sleeping lightly, and whom the first few words had awakened. He put aside an oilcloth which some one had put over him to keep off the morning dew, and called:
"Who is there?"
"Messengers, sir, from General Jackson," replied Major Taylor, the Adjutant-General.
General Lee pointed to the blankets on which he had been lying, and said:
"Sit down here and tell me everything that occurred last evening."
Wilbourn sat down on the blankets. Harry stood back a little. The other staff officers, aroused by the talk, sat up, but waited in silence. Captain Wilbourn began the story of the night, and Lee did not interrupt him. But the first rays of the dawn were now stealing through the pines, and when Wilbourn came to the account of Jackson's fall, Harry saw the great leader's face pale a little. Lee, like Jackson, was a man who invariably had himself under complete command, one who seldom showed emotion, but now, as Wilbourn finished, he exclaimed with deep emotion:
"Ah, Captain Wilbourn, we've won a victory, but it is dearly bought, when it deprives us of the services of General Jackson, even for a short time!"
Harry inferred from what he said that he did not think General Jackson's wounds serious, and he wished that he could have the same hope and belief, but he could not. He had felt the truth from the first, that Jackson's wounds were mortal. Then Lee was silent so long that Captain Wilbourn rose as if to go.
Lee came out of his deep thought and bade Wilbourn stay a little longer. Then he asked him many questions about the troops and their positions. He also gave him orders to carry to Stuart, and as Wilbourn turned to go, he said with great energy:
"Those people must be pressed this morning!"
Then Wilbourn and Harry rode away at the utmost speed, guiding their horses skilfully through lines of soldiers yet sleeping. The freshening touch of dawn grew stronger on Harry's cheeks and he saw the band of gray in the east broadening. Presently they reached their own corps, and now they saw all the troops ready and eager. Harry rode at once with Wilbourn to Stuart and fell in behind that singular but able general.
Harry saw that Stuart's face was flushed with excitement. His eyes fairly blazed. It had fallen to him to lead the great fighting corps which had been led so long by Stonewall Jackson, and it was enough to appeal to the pride of any general. Nor had he shed any of the brilliant plumage that he loved so well. The great plume in his gold-corded hat lifted and fluttered in the wind as he galloped about. The broad sash of yellow silk still encircled his waist, and on his heels were large golden spurs. Harry, as he followed him, heard him singing to himself, "Old Joe Hooker, won't you come out of the Wilderness?" That line seemed to have taken possession of Stuart's mind.
All the staff and many of the soldiers along the battle front noted the difference between their new commander and the one who had fallen so disastrously in the night. There was never anything spectacular about Jackson. In the soberest of uniforms, save once or twice, he would ride along the battle front on his little sorrel horse, making no gestures.
It was not until the soldiers saw Stuart in the light that they knew of Jackson's fall. Then the news spread among them with astonishing rapidity, and while they liked Stuart, their hearts were with the great leader who lay wounded behind them. But eagerness for revenge added to their warlike zeal. Along the reformed lines ran a tremendous swelling cry: "Remember Jackson!"
They wheeled a little further to the right in order to come into close contact with Lee, and then, as the first red touch of the dawn showed in the Wilderness, the trumpets sounded the charge. The batteries blazed as they sent forth crashing volleys, and in a minute the thunder of guns came from the east and south, where Lee also attacked as soon as he heard the sounds of his lieutenant's charge.
Nothing could withstand the terrible onset of the troops who were still shouting "Remember Jackson!" and who were led on by a plumed knight out of the Middle Ages, shaking a great sabre and now singing at the top of his voice his favorite line, "Old Joe Hooker, won't you come out of the Wilderness?"
They swept away the skirmishers and seized the plateau of Hazel Grove which had been of such use to Hooker the night before, and the Southern batteries, planted in strength upon it, rained death on the Northern ranks. The veterans with Lee rushed forward with equal courage and fire, and from every point of the great curve cannon and rifles thundered on the Union ranks.
Harry and Dalton stayed as closely as they could with their new chief, who, reckless of the death which in truth he seemed to invite, was galloping in the very front ranks, still brandishing his great sabre, and now and then making it whirl in a coil of light about his head. He continually shouted encouragement to his men, who were already full of fiery zeal, but it was the spirit of Jackson that urged them most. It seemed to Harry, excited and worshipping his hero, that the figure of Jackson, misty and almost impalpable, still rode before him.
But it was no mere triumphal march. They met stern and desperate resistance. It was American against American. Once more the superb Northern batteries met those of the South with a fire as terrible as their own. The Union gunners willingly exposed themselves to death to save their army, and from their breastworks sixty thousand riflemen sent vast sheets of bullets.
But the Northern leader was gone. As Hooker leaned against a pillar in the portico of the Chancellor House a shell struck it over his head, the concussion being so violent that he was thrown to the floor, stunned and severely injured. He was carried away, unconscious, but the brave and able generals under him still sustained the battle, and had no thought of yielding.
The Southern army, Lee and Stuart in unison, never ceased to push the attack. The forces were now drawing closer together. The lines were shorter and deeper. The concentrated fire on both sides was appalling. Bushes and saplings fell in the Wilderness as if they had been levelled with mighty axes.
Harry saw a vast bank of fire and smoke and then he saw shooting above it pyramids and spires of flame. The Chancellor House and all the buildings near it, set on fire by the flames, were burning fiercely, springing up like torches to cast a lurid light over that scene of death and destruction. Then the woods, despite their spring sap and greenness, caught fire under the showers of exploding shells, and their flames spread along a broad front.
The defense made by the Union army was long and desperate. No men could have shown greater valor, but they had been surprised and from the first they had been outgeneralled. An important division of Hooker's army had not been able to get into the main battle. The genius of Lee gathered all his men at the point of contact and the invisible figure of Jackson still rode at the head of his men.
For five hours the battle raged, and at last the repeated charges of the Southern troops and the deadly fire of their artillery prevailed.
The Northern army, its breastworks carried by storm, was driven out of Chancellorsville and, defeated but not routed, began its slow and sullen retreat. Thirty thousand men killed or wounded attested the courage and endurance with which the two sides had fought.
The Army of the Potomac, defeated but defiant and never crushed by defeat, continued its slow retreat to Fredericksburg, and for a little space the guns were silent in the Wilderness.
The men of Hooker, although surprised and outgeneralled, had shown great courage in battle, and after the defeat of Chancellorsville the retreat was conducted with much skill. Lee had been intending to push another attack, but, as usual after the great battles of the Civil War, Chancellorsville was followed by a terrific storm. It burst over the Wilderness in violence and fury.
The thunder was so loud and the lightning so vivid that it seemed for a while as if another mighty combat were raging. Then the rain came in a deluge, and the hoofs of horses and the wheels of cannon sank so deep in the spongy soil of the Wilderness that it became practically impossible to move the army.
After a night of storm, Harry and Dalton rode forward with Sherburne and his troop of cavalry, sent by Stuart to beat up the enemy and see what he was doing. They found that Hooker's whole army had crossed the river in the night on his bridges.
Twice the Northern army had been driven back across the Rappahannock at the same place--after Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville--but Harry felt no elation as he returned slowly through the mud with Sherburne.
"If it were in my power," he said, "I'd gladly trade the victory of Chancellorsville, and more like it, to have our General back."
By "our General" he of course meant Jackson, and both Sherburne and Dalton nodded assent. The news had come to them that Jackson was not doing well. His shattered arm had been amputated near the shoulder, and the report spread through the army that he was sinking. Just after the victory, Lee, with his wonted greatness of soul, had sent him a note that it was chiefly due to him. Jackson, although in great pain, had sent back word that General Lee was very kind, "but he should give the praise to God."
The deep religious feeling was no affectation with him. It showed alike in victory and suffering. It was a part of the man's being, bred into every fiber of his bone and flesh.
As soon as the news of Hooker's escape across the Rappahannock had been told, Harry and Dalton asked leave of Stuart to visit General Jackson. It was given at once. Stuart added, moreover, that he had merely taken them on his staff while the battle lasted. They were now to return to their own chief. But his heart warmed to them both and he said to them that if they happened to need a friend to come to him.
They thanked Stuart and rode away, two very sober youths indeed. Both were appalled by the vast slaughter of Chancellorsville. Harry began to have a feeling that their victories were useless. After every triumph the enemy was more numerous and powerful than ever. And the cloud of Jackson's condition hung heavy over both. When he was first struck down in the Wilderness, Harry had felt no hope for him, and now that premonition was coming true.
They learned that he was in the Chandler House at a little place called Guiney's Station, and they rode briskly toward it. They passed many troops in camp, resting after their tremendous exertions, many of whom knew them to be officers of Jackson's staff. They were besieged by these. Young soldiers fairly clung to their horses and demanded news of Jackson, who, they had heard, was dying. Harry and Dalton returned replies as hopeful as they could make them, but their faces belied their word. Gloom hung over the Southern army which had just won its most brilliant victory.
Harry and Dalton found the same gloom at the Chandler House. The officers who were there welcomed them in subdued tones, and in the house everybody moved silently. The general's wife and little daughter had just arrived from Richmond, and they were with him. But after a while the two young lieutenants were admitted. Jackson spoke a few words to both, as they bent beside his bed, and commended them as brave soldiers. Harry knew now, when he looked at the thin face and the figure scarcely able to move, that the great Jackson was going.
They went out oppressed by grief, and sought the Invincibles, whom they at last found encamped in an old orchard. Colonel Talbot and Lieutenant- Colonel St. Hilaire sat beneath an apple tree, and the chessboard was between them.
"They've been sitting there an hour," whispered Langdon, "but they haven't made a single move, nor will they make one if they stay there all day. It's in my mind that neither of them sees the chessmen. Instead they see the General--they visited him this morning."
Harry did not speak to the two colonels, but turned away.
"We found the body of Bertrand yesterday," said Langdon, "and buried it just where he fell."
"I'm glad of that," said Harry.
Harry and Dalton lingered at the Chandler House with the staff to which they belonged. Three days passed and Sunday came. Jackson was sinking all the while, and that morning the doctor informed his wife that he was about to die. Pneumonia had followed the weakness from his wounds and his breathing had grown very faint. Mrs. Jackson herself told him that all hope for him was gone, and he heard the words with resignation.
After a while, as Harry learned, his mind began to wander. He spoke in disjointed sentences of the army, of his battles, of his boyhood and of his friends. This lasted into the afternoon, when he sank into unconsciousness. Then came his death, and it was much like that of Napoleon. He awoke suddenly from a deep stupor and cried out, in a clear voice:
"Order A. P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front! Tell Major Hawks--"
He stopped, seemed to sink into a stupor again, but a little later roused suddenly from it once more, and said, in the same clear voice:
"Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees."
Then, as his eyes closed, the soul of the great Christian soldier passed into the fathomless beyond, to sit in peace with Cromwell and Washington, and in time with Lee and Grant and Thomas, who were yet to come.
That night a whole army wept.