The Guns of Bull Run by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter IV. The First Capital
Harry and Arthur stood two days later upon the sea wall of Charleston. Sumter rose up black and menacing in the clear wintry air. The muzzles of the cannon seemed to point into the very heart of the city, and over it, as ever, flew the defiant flag, the red and blue burning in vivid colors in the thin January sunshine. The heart of Charleston, that most intense of all Southern cities, had given forth a great throb. The Star of the West was coming from the North with provisions for the garrison of beleaguered Sumter. They would see her hull on the horizon in another hour.
Both Harry and Arthur were trembling with excitement. They were not on duty themselves, but they knew that all the South Carolina earthworks and batteries were manned. What would happen? It still seemed almost incredible to Harry that the people of the Union--at least of the Union that was--should fire upon one another, and his pulse beat hard and strong, while he waited with his comrade.
As they stood there gazing out to sea, looking for the black speck that should mark the first smoke of the Star of the West, Harry became conscious that another man was standing almost at his elbow. He glanced up and saw Shepard, who nodded to him.
"I did not know that I was standing by you until I had been here some time," said Shepard, as if he sought to indicate that he had not been seeking Harry and his comrade.
"I thought you had left Charleston," said Harry, who had not seen him for a week.
"Not at such a time," said Shepard, quietly. "So much of overwhelming interest is happening here that nobody who is alive can go away."
He put a pair of powerful glasses to his eyes and scanned the sea's rim. He looked a long time, and then his face showed excitement.
"It comes! It comes!" he exclaimed, more to himself than to Harry and Arthur.
"Is it the steamer? Is it the Star of the West?" exclaimed Harry forgetting all doubts of Shepard in the thrill of the moment.
"Yes, the Star of the West! It can be no other!" replied Shepard. "It can be no other! Take the glasses and see for yourself!"
When Harry looked he saw, where sea and sky joined, a black dot that gradually lengthened out into a small plume. It was not possible to recognize any ship at that distance, but he felt instinctively that it was the Star of the West. He passed the glasses to Arthur, who also took a look, and then drew a deep breath. Harry handed the glasses back to Shepard, saying:
"I see the ship, and I've no doubt that it's the Star of the West. Do you know anything about this vessel, Mr. Shepard?"
"I've heard that she's only a small steamer, totally unfitted for offense or defense."
"If the batteries fire upon her she's bound to go back."
"You put it right."
"Then, in effect, this is a test, and it rests with us whether or not to fire the first shot."
"I think you're right again."
Others also saw the growing black plume of smoke rising from the steamer's funnel, and a deep thrilling murmur ran through the crowd gathered on the sea walls. To many the vessel, steaming toward the harbor, was foreign, carrying a foreign flag, but to many others it was not and could never be so.
Shepard passed the glasses to the boy again, and he looked a second time at the ship, which was now taking shape and rising fast upon the water. Then he examined the walls of Sumter and saw men in blue moving there. They, too, were watching the coming steamer with the deepest anxiety.
Arthur took his second look also, and Shepard watched through the glasses a little longer. Then he put them in the case which he hung over his shoulder. Glasses were no longer needed. They could now see with the naked eye what was about to happen--if anything happened at all.
"It will soon be decided," said Shepard, and Harry noticed that his voice trembled. "If the Star of the West comes without interference up to the walls of Sumter there will be no war. The minds of men on both sides will cool. But if she is stopped, then--"
He broke off. Something seemed to choke in his throat. Harry and Arthur remained silent.
The ship rose higher and higher. Behind her hung the long black trail of her smoke. Soon, she would be in the range of the batteries. A deep shuddering sigh ran through the crowd, and then came moments of intense, painful silence. The little blue figures lining the walls of Sumter were motionless. The sea moved slowly and sleepily, its waters drenched in wintry sunshine.
On came the Star of the West, straight toward the harbor mouth.
"They will not fire! They dare not!" cried Shepard in a tense, strained whisper.
As the last word left his lips there was a heavy crash. A tongue of fire leaped from one of the batteries, followed by a gush of smoke, and a round shot whistled over the Star of the West. A tremendous shout came from the crowd, then it was silent, while that tongue of flame leaped a second time from the mouth of a cannon. Harry saw the water spring up, a spire of white foam, near the steamer, and a moment later a third shot clipped the water close by. He did not know whether the gunners were firing directly at the vessel or merely meant to warn her that she came nearer at her peril, but in any event, the effect was the same. South Carolina with her cannon was warning a foreign ship, the ship of an enemy, to keep away.
The Star of the West slowed down and stopped. Then another shout, more tremendous than ever, a shout of triumph, came from the crowd, but Harry felt a chill strike to his heart. Young St. Clair, too, was silent and Harry saw a shadow on his face. He looked for Shepard, but he was gone and the boy had not heard him go.
"It is all over," said St. Clair, with the certainty of prophecy. "The cannon have spoken and it is war. Why, where is Shepard?"
"I don't know. He seems to have slipped away after the first two or three shots."
"I suppose he considered the two or three enough. Look, Harry! The ship is turning! The cannon have driven her off!"
He was right. The Star of the West, a small steamer, unable to face heavy guns, had curved about and was making for the open sea. There was another tremendous shout from the crowd, and then silence. Smoke from the cannon drifted lazily over the town, and, caught by a contrary breeze, was blown out over the sea in the track of the retreating steamer, where it met the black trail left by that vessel's own funnel. The crowd, not cheering much now, but talking in rather subdued tones, dispersed.
Harry felt the chill down his spine again. These were great matters. He had looked upon no light event in the harbor of Charleston that day. He and Arthur lingered on the wall, watching that trailing black dot on the horizon, until it died away and was gone forever. The blue figures on the walls of Sumter had disappeared within, and the fortress stood up, grim and silent. Beyond lay the blue sea, shimmering and peaceful in the wintry sunshine.
"I suppose there is nothing to do but go back to Madame Delaunay's," said Harry.
"Nothing now," replied St. Clair, "but I fancy that later on we'll have all we can do."
"If not more."
"Yes, if not more."
Both boys were very grave and thoughtful as they walked to Madame Delaunay's most excellent inn. They realized that as yet South Carolina stood alone, but in the evening their spirits took a leap. News came that Mississippi also had gone out. Then other planting states followed fast. Florida was but a day behind Mississippi, Alabama went out the next day after Florida, Georgia eight days later, and Louisiana a week after Georgia. Exultation rose high in Charleston. All the Gulf and South Atlantic States were now sure, but the great border states still hung fire. There was a clamor for Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri, and, though the promises from them came thick and fast, they did not go out. But the fiery energy of Charleston and the lower South was moving forward over all obstacles. Already arrangements had been made for a great convention at Montgomery in Alabama, and a new government would be formed differing but little from that of the old Union.
Now Harry began to hear much of a man, of whom he had heard his father speak, but who had slipped entirely from his mind. It was Jefferson Davis, a native of Kentucky like Abraham Lincoln. He had been a brave and gallant soldier at Buena Vista. It was said that he had saved the day against the overwhelming odds of Santa Anna. He had been Secretary of War in the old Union, now dissolved forever, according to the Charleston talk. Other names, too, began to grow familiar in Harry's ears. Much was said about the bluff Bob Toombs of Georgia, who feared no man and who would call the roll of his slaves at the foot of Bunker Hill monument. And there was little weazened Stephens, also of Georgia, a great intellect in a shrunken frame, and Benjamin of the oldest race, who had inherited the wisdom of ages. There would be no lack of numbers and courage and penetration when the great gathering met at Montgomery.
These were busy and on the whole happy days for Harry and St. Clair. Harry drilled with his comrade in the Palmetto Guards now, and, in due time, they were going to Montgomery to assist at the inauguration of the new president, whoever he might be. No vessel had come in place of the Star of the West. The North seemed supine, and Sumter, grim and dark though she might be, was alone. The flag of the Stars and Stripes still floated above it. Everywhere else the Palmetto flag waved defiance. But there was still no passage of arms between Sumter and its hostile neighbors. Small boats passed between the fort and the city, carrying provisions to the garrison, and also the news. The Charlestonians told Major Anderson of the states that went out, one by one, and the brave Kentuckian, eating his heart out, looked vainly toward the open sea for the help that never came.
Exultation still rose in Charleston. The ball was rolling finely. It was even gathering more speed and force than the most sanguine had expected. Every day brought the news of some new accession to the cause, some new triumph. The Alabama militia had seized the forts, Morgan and Gaines; Georgia had occupied Pulaski and Jackson; North Carolina troops had taken possession of the arsenal at Fayetteville, and those of Florida on the same day had taken the one at Chattahoochee. Everywhere the South was accumulating arms, ammunition and supplies for use--if they should be needed. The leaders had good cause for rejoicing. They were disappointed in nothing, save that northern tier of border states which still hesitated or refused.
Harry in these days wondered that so little seemed to happen in the North. His strong connections and his own good manners had made him a favorite in Charleston. He went everywhere, perhaps most often to the office of the Mercury, controlled by the powerful Rhett family, among the most fiery of the Southern leaders. Exchanges still came there from the northern cities, but he read little in them about preparations for war. Many attacked Buchanan, the present President, for weakness, and few expected anything better from the uncouth western figure, Lincoln, who would soon succeed him.
Meanwhile the Confederate convention at Montgomery was acting. In those days apathy and delay seemed to be characteristic of the North, courage and energy of the South. The new government was being formed with speed and decision. Jefferson Davis, it was said, would be President, and Stephens of Georgia would be Vice-President.
The time for departure to Montgomery drew near. Harry and Arthur were in fine gray uniforms as members of the Palmetto Guards. Arthur, light, volatile, was full of pleased excitement. Harry also felt the thrill of curiosity and anticipation, but he had been in Charleston nearly six weeks now, and while six weeks are short, they had been long enough in such a tense time to make vital changes in his character. He was growing older fast. He was more of a man, and he weighed and measured things more. He recognized that Charleston, while the second city of the South in size and the first in leadership, was only Charleston, after all, far inferior in weight and numbers to the great cities of the North. Often he looked toward the North over the vast, intervening space and tried to reckon what forces lay there.
The evening before their departure they sat on the wide piazza that swept along the entire front of the inn of Madame Delaunay. Colonel Leonidas Talbot and Major Hector St. Hilaire sat with them. They, too, were going to Montgomery. Mid-February had passed, and the day had been one of unusual warmth for that time of the year, like a day in full spring. The wind from the south was keen with the odor of fresh foliage and of roses, and of faint far perfumes, unknown but thrilling. A sky of molten silver clothed city, bay, and forts in enchantment. Nothing seemed further away than war, yet they had to walk but a little distance to see the defiant flag over Sumter, and the hostile Palmetto flags waving not far away.
Madame Delaunay appeared in the doorway. She was dressed as usual in white and her shining black hair was bound with the slender gold fillet.
"We are going away tomorrow, Madame," said Colonel Talbot, "and I know that we cannot find in Montgomery any such pleasant entertainment as my young friends have enjoyed here."
Harry was confirmed in his belief that the thread of an old romance still formed a firm tie between them.
"But you will come back," said Madame Delaunay. "You will come back very soon. Surely, they will not try to keep us from going our ways in peace."
A sudden thrill of passion and feeling had appeared in her voice.
"That no one can tell, Julie," said Colonel Talbot very gravely--it was the first time that Harry had ever heard him call her by her first name--"but it seems to me that I should tell what I think. A Union such as ours has been formed amid so much suffering and hardship, courage and danger, that it is not to be broken in a day. We may come back soon from Montgomery, Julie, but I see war, a great and terrible war, a war, by the side of which those we have had, will dwindle to mere skirmishes. I shut my eyes, but it makes no difference. I see it close at hand, just the same."
Madame Delaunay sighed.
"And you, Major St. Hilaire?" she said.
"There may be a great war, Madame Delaunay," he said, "I fear that Colonel Talbot is right, but we shall win it."
Colonel Talbot said nothing more, nor did Madame Delaunay. Presently she went back into the house. After a long silence the colonel said:
"If I were not sure that our friend Shepard had left Charleston long since, I should say that the figure now passing in the street is his."
A small lawn filled with shrubbery stretched before the house, but from the piazza they could see into the street. Harry, too, caught a glimpse of a passing figure, and like the colonel he was sure that it was Shepard.
"It is certainly he!" he exclaimed.
"After him!" cried Colonel Talbot, instantly all action. "As sure as we live that man is a spy, drawing maps of our fortifications, and I should have warned the Government before."
The four sprang from the piazza and ran into the street. Harry, although he had originally felt no desire to seize Shepard, was carried along by the impetus. It was the first man-hunt in which he had ever shared, and soon he caught the thrill from the others. The colonel, no doubt, was right. Shepard was a spy and should be taken. He ran as fast as any of them.
Shepard, if Shepard it was, heard the swift footsteps behind him, glanced back and then ran.
"After him!" cried Major St. Hilaire, his volatile blood leaping high. "His flight shows that he's a spy!"
But the fugitive was a man of strength and resource. He ran swiftly into a cross street, and when they followed him there he leaped over the low fence of a lawn, surrounding a great house, darted into the shrubbery, and the four, although they were joined by others, brought by the alarm, sought for him in vain.
"After all, I'm not sorry he got away," said Colonel Talbot, as they walked back to Madame Delaunay's. "There is no war, and hence, in a military sense, there can be no spies. I doubt whether we should have known what to do with him had we caught him, but I am certain that he has complete maps of all our defenses."
Harry, with Arthur and many others whom he knew, started the next day for Montgomery. Jefferson Davis had already been chosen President, and Alexander H. Stephens Vice-President, and Davis was on his way from his Mississippi home to the same town to be inaugurated. In the excitement over the great event, so near at hand, Harry forgot all about Shepard and his doubts. He bade a regretful farewell to Charleston, which had taken him to its heart, and turned his face to this new place, much smaller, and, as yet, without fame.
Harry, Arthur, and their older friends began the momentous journey across the land of King Cotton, passing through the very heart of the lower South, as they went from Charleston to Montgomery. Davis and Stephens would be inaugurated on the 17th of that month, which was February. But the Palmetto Guards would arrive at Montgomery before Davis himself, who had left his home and who would cross Mississippi, Alabama, and a corner of Georgia before he reached the new capital to receive the chief honor.
Trains were slow and halting, and Harry had ample opportunity to see the land and the people who crowded to the stations to bring news or to hear it. He crossed a low, rolling country with many rivers, great and small. He saw large houses, with white-pillared porticos, sitting back among the trees, and swarms of negro cabins. Much of the region was yet dead and brown from the touch of winter, but in the valleys the green was appearing. Spring was in the air, and the spirits of the Palmetto Guards, nearly all of whom were very young, were rising with it.
The train drew into Montgomery, the little city that stood on the high banks of the Alabama River. Here they were in the very heart of the new Confederacy, and Harry and Arthur were eager to see the many famous Southern men who were gathered there to welcome the new President. Jefferson Davis was expected on the morrow, and would be inaugurated on the day following. They heard that his coming was already a triumphal progress. Vast crowds held his train at many points, merely to see him and listen to a few words. Generally he spoke in the careful, measured manner that was natural to him, but it was said that in Opelika, in Alabama, he had delivered a warning to the North, telling the Northern states that they would interfere with the Southern at their peril.
Harry and Arthur, despite their eagerness to see the town and the great men, were compelled to wait. The Palmetto Guards went into camp on the outskirts, and their commander, Colonel Leonidas Talbot, late of the United States Army, was very strict in discipline. His second in command, Major Hector St. Hilaire, was no whit inferior to him in sternness. Harry had expected that this old descendant of Huguenots, reared in the soft air of Charleston, would be lax, or at least easy of temper, but whatever of military rigor Colonel Talbot forgot, Major St. Hilaire remembered.
The guards were about three hundred in number, and their camp was pitched on a hill, a half mile from the town. The night, after a beautiful day, turned raw and chill, warning that early spring, even in those southern latitudes, was more of a promise than a performance. But the young troops built several great fires and those who were not on guard basked before the glow.
Harry had helped to gather the wood, most of which was furnished by the people living near, and his task was ended. Now he sat on his blanket with his back against a log and, with a great feeling of comfort, saw the flames leap up and grow. The cooks were at work, and there was an abundance of food. They had brought much themselves, and the enthusiastic neighbors doubled and tripled their supplies. The pleasant aroma of bacon and ham frying over the coals and of boiling coffee arose. He was weary from the long journey and the work that he had done, and he was hungry, too, but he was willing to wait.
All the troops were South Carolinians except Harry and perhaps a dozen others. They were a pleasant lot, quick of temper, perhaps, but he liked them. Their prevailing note was high spirits, and the most cheerful of all was a tall youth named Tom Langdon, whose father owned one of the smaller of the sea islands off the South Carolina coast. He was quite sanguine that everything would go exactly as they wished. The Yankees would not fight, but, if by any chance they did fight, they would get a most terrible thrashing. Tom, with a tin cup full of coffee in one hand and a tin plate containing ham and bread in the other, sat down by the side of Harry and leaned back against the log also. Harry had never seen a picture of more supreme content than his face showed.
"In thirty-six hours we'll have a new President, do you appreciate that fact, Harry Kenton?" asked young Langdon.
"I do," replied Harry, "and it makes me think pretty hard."
"What's the use of worrying? Why, it's just the biggest picnic that I ever took part in, and if the Yankees object to our setting up for ourselves I fancy we'll have to go up there and teach 'em to mind their own business. I wouldn't object, Harry, to a march at somebody else's expense to New York and Philadelphia and Boston. I suppose those cities are worth seeing."
Harry laughed. Langdon's good spirits were contagious even to a nature much more serious.
"I don't look on it as a picnic altogether," he said. "The Yankees will fight very hard, but we live on the land almost wholly, and the grass keeps on growing, whether there's war or not. Besides, we're an outdoor people, good horsemen, hunters, and marksmen. These things ought to help us."
"They will and we'll help ourselves most," said Langdon gaily. "I'm going to be either a general or a great politician, Harry. If it's a long war, I'll come out a general; if it's a short one, I mean to enter public life afterward and be a great orator. Did you ever hear me speak, Harry?"
"No, thank Heaven," replied Harry fervently. "Don't you think that South Carolina has enough orators now? What on earth do all your people find to talk about?"
Langdon laughed with the utmost good nature.
"We fire the human heart," he replied. "'Words, words, empty words,' it is not so. Words in themselves are often deeds, because the deeds start from them or are caused by them. The world has been run with words. All great actions result from them. Now, if we should have a big war, it would be said long afterward that it was caused by words, words spoken at Charleston and Boston, though, of course, the things they say at Boston are wrong, while those said at Charleston are right."
Harry laughed in his turn.
"It's quite certain," he said, "that you'll have no lack of words yourself. I imagine that the sign over your future office will read, 'Thomas Langdon, wholesale dealer in words. Any amount of any quality supplied on demand.'"
"Not a bad idea," said Langdon. "You mean that as satire, but I'll do it. It's no small accomplishment to be a good dictionary. But my thoughts turn back to war. You think I never look beyond today, but I believe the North will come up against us. And you'll have to go into it with all your might, Harry. You are of fighting stock. Your father was in the thick of it in Mexico. Remember the lines:
"We were not many, we who stood Before the iron sleet that day; Yet many a gallant spirit would Give half his years if he but could Have been with us at Monterey."
"I remember them," said Harry, much stirred. "I have heard my father quote them. He was at Monterey and he says that the Mexicans fought well. I was at Frankfort, the capital of our state, myself with him, when they unveiled the monument to our Kentucky dead and I heard them read O'Hara's poem which he wrote for that day. I tell you, Langdon, it makes my blood jump every time I hear it."
He recited in a sort of low chant:
"The neighing troop, the flashing blade, The bugle's stirring blast, The charge, the dreadful cannonade, The din and shout are past. "Nor war's wild note, nor glory's peal Shall fill with fierce delight Those breasts that never more may feel The rapture of the fight."
They were very young and, in some respects, it was a sentimental time, much given to poetry. As the darkness closed in and the lights of the little city could be seen no longer, their thoughts took a more solemn turn. Perhaps it would be fairer to call them emotions or feelings rather than thoughts. In the day all had been talk and lightness, but in the night omens and presages came. Langdon was the first to rouse himself. He could not be solemn longer than three minutes.
"It's certain that the President is coming tomorrow, Harry, isn't it?" he asked.
"Beyond a doubt. He is so near now that they fix the exact hour, and the Guards are among those to receive him."
"I wonder what he looks like. They say he is a very great man."
They were interrupted by St. Clair, who threw himself down on a blanket beside them.
"That's the third cup of coffee you're taking, Tom," he said to Langdon. "Here, give it to me. I've had none."
Langdon obeyed and St. Clair drank thirstily. Then he took from the inside pocket of his coat a newspaper which he unfolded deliberately.
"This came from Montgomery," he said. "I heard you two quoting poetry, and I thought I'd come over and read some to you. What do you think of this? It was written by a fellow in Boston named Holmes and published when he heard that South Carolina had seceded. He calls it: 'Brother Jonathan's Lament for Sister Caroline.'"
"Read it!" exclaimed the others.
"She has gone--she has left us in passion and pride, Our stormy-browed sister so long at our side! She has torn her own star from our firmament's glow, And turned on her brother the face of a foe. "O Caroline, Caroline, child of the sun, We can never forget that our hearts have been one, Our foreheads both sprinkled in Liberty's name From the fountain of blood with the fingers of flame."
St. Clair read well in a full, round voice, and when he stopped with the second verse Harry said:
"It sounds well. I like particularly that expression, 'the fingers of flame.' After all, there's some grief in parting company, breaking up the family, so to speak."
"But he's wrong when he says we left in passion and pride," exclaimed Langdon. "In pride, yes, but not in passion. We may be children of the sun, too, but I've felt some mighty cold winds sweeping down from the Carolina hills, cold enough to make fur-lined overcoats welcome. But we'll forget about cold winds and everything else unpleasant, before such a jolly fire as this."
They finished an abundant supper, and soon relapsed into silence. The flames threw out such a generous heat that they were content to rest their backs against the log, and gaze sleepily into the coals. Beyond the fire, in the shadow, they saw the sentinels walking up and down. Harry felt for the first time that he was really within the iron bands of military discipline. He might choose to leave the camp and go into Montgomery, but he would choose and nothing more. He could not go. Colonel Leonidas Talbot and Major Hector St. Hilaire were friends, but they were masters also, and he was recognizing sooner than some of the youths around him that it was not merely play and spectacle that awaited them.