The Shades of the Wilderness by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter XII. In Winter Quarters
Harry was sent a few days later with dispatches from the president to General Lee, who was still in his camp beside the Opequan. Dalton was held in the capital for further messages, but Harry was not sorry to make the journey alone. The stay in Richmond had been very pleasant. The spirits of youth, confined, had overflowed, but he was beginning to feel a reaction. One must return soon to the battlefield. This was merely a lull in the storm which would sweep with greater fury than ever. The North, encouraged by Gettysburg and Vicksburg, was gathering vast masses which would soon be hurled upon the South, and Harry knew how thin the lines there were becoming.
He thought, too, of Shepard, who was the latest to score in their duel, and he believed that this man had already sent to the Northern leaders information beyond value. Harry felt that he must strive in some manner to make the score even.
It was late in the summer when he rejoined the Army of Northern Virginia and delivered the letters to the commander-in-chief, who sat in the shade of a large tree. Harry observed him closely. He seemed a little grayer than before the Battle of Gettysburg, but his manner was as confident as ever. He filled to both eye and mind the measure of a great general. After asking Harry many questions he dismissed him for a while, to play, so he said.
The young Kentuckian at once, and, as a matter of course, sought the Invincibles. St. Clair and Langdon hailed him with shouts of joy, but to his great surprise, Colonel Leonidas Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire were not playing chess.
"We were getting on with the game last night, Harry," explained Colonel Talbot, "but we came to a point where we were about to develop heat over a projected move. Then, in order to avoid such a lamentable occurrence, we decided to postpone further play until to-night. But we find you looking uncommonly well, Harry. The flesh pots of Egypt have agreed with you."
"I had a good time in Richmond, sir, a fine one," replied Harry. "The people there have certainly been kind to me, as they are to all the officers of the Army of Northern Virginia."
"What have you done with the grave Dalton, who was your comrade on your journey to the capital?"
"They've kept him there for the present. They think he's stronger proof against the luxuries and temptations of a city than I am."
"Youth is youth, and I'm glad that you've had this little fling, Harry. Perhaps you'll have another, as I think you'll be sent back to Richmond very soon."
"What has been going on here, Colonel?"
"Very little. Nothing, in fact, of any importance. When we crossed the swollen Potomac, although threatened by an enemy superior to us in numbers, I felt that we would not be pushed. General Meade has been deliberate, extremely deliberate in his offensive movements. Up North they call Gettysburg a great victory, but we're resting here calmly and peacefully. Hector and I and our young friends have found rural peace and ease among these Virginia hills and valleys. You, of course, found Richmond very gay and bright?"
"Very gay and bright, Colonel, and full of handsome ladies."
Colonel Talbot sighed and Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire sighed also.
"Hector and I should have been there," said Colonel Talbot. "Although we've never married, we have a tremendous admiration for the ladies, and in our best uniforms we're not wholly unpopular among them, eh, Hector?"
"Not by any means, Leonidas. We're not as young as Harry here, but I know that you're a fine figure of a man, and you know that I am. Moreover, our experience of the dangerous sex is so much greater than that of mere boys like Harry and Arthur and Tom here, that we know how to make ourselves much more welcome. You talk to them about frivolous things, mere chit chat, while we explain grave and important matters to them."
"Are you sure, sir," asked St. Clair, "that the ladies don't really prefer chit chat?"
"I was not speaking of little girls. I was alluding to those ornaments of their sex who have arrived at years of discretion. Ah, if Leonidas and I were only a while in Richmond! It would be the next best thing to being in Charleston."
"Maybe the Invincibles will be sent there for a while."
"Perhaps. I don't foresee any great activity here in the autumn. How do they regard the Army of Northern Virginia in Richmond now, Harry?"
"With supreme confidence."
The talk soon drifted to the people whom Harry had met at the capital, and then he told of his adventure with Shepard, the spy.
"He seems to be a most daring man," said Talbot; "not a mere ordinary spy, but a man of a higher type. I think he's likely to do us great harm. But the woman, Miss Carden, was surely kind to you. If she hadn't found you wandering around in the rain you'd have doubtless dropped down and died. God bless the ladies."
"And so say we all of us," said Harry.
He returned to Richmond in a few days, bearing more dispatches, and to his great delight all that was left of the Invincibles arrived a week later to recuperate and see a little of the world. St. Clair and Happy Tom plunged at once and with all the ardor of youth into the gayeties of social life, and the two colonels followed them at a more dignified but none the less earnest pace. All four appeared in fine new uniforms, for which they had saved their money, and they were conspicuous upon every occasion.
Harry was again at the Curtis house, and although it was not a great ball this time the assemblage was numerous, including all his friends. The two colonels had become especial favorites everywhere, and they were telling stories of the old South, which Harry had divined was passing; passing whether the South won or not.
Although there had been much light talk through the evening and an abundance of real gayety, nearly every member of the company, nevertheless, had serious moments. The news from Tennessee and Georgia was heavy with import. It was vague in some particulars, but it was definite enough in others to tell that the armies of Rosecrans and Bragg were approaching each other. All eyes turned to the West. A great battle could not be long delayed, and a powerful division of the Army of Northern Virginia under Longstreet had been sent to help Bragg.
Harry found himself late at night once more in that very room in which the map had disappeared so mysteriously. The two colonels, St. Clair and Langdon, and one or two others had drifted in, and the older men were smoking. Inevitably they talked of the battle which they foresaw with such certainty, and Harry's anxiety about it was increased, because he knew his father would be there on one side, and the cousin, for whom he cared so much, would be on the other.
"If only General Lee were in command there," said Colonel Talbot, "we might reckon upon a great and decisive victory."
"But Bragg is a good general," said Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire.
"It's not enough to be merely a good general. He must have the soul of fire that Lee has, and that Jackson had. Bragg is the Southern McClellan. He is brave enough personally, but he always overrates the strength of the enemy, and, if he is victorious on the field, he does not reap the fruits of victory."
"Where were the armies when we last heard from them?" asked a captain.
"Bragg was turning north to attack Rosecrans, who stood somewhere between him and Chattanooga."
"I'm glad that it's Rosecrans and not Grant who commands the Northern army there," said Harry.
"Why?" asked Colonel Talbot.
"I've studied the manner in which he took Vicksburg, and I've heard about him from my father, and others. He won't be whipped. He isn't like the other Northern generals. He hangs on, whatever happens. I heard some one quoting him as saying that no matter how badly his army was suffering in battle, the army of the other fellow might be suffering worse. It seems to me that a general who is able to think that way is very dangerous."
"And so he is, Harry," said Colonel Talbot. "I, too, am glad that it's Rosecrans and not Grant. If there's any news of a battle, we're not in a bad place to hear it. It's said that Mr. Curtis always knows as soon as our government what's happened."
The talk drifted on to another subject and then a hum came from the larger room. A murmur only, but it struck such an intense and earnest note that Harry was convinced.
"It's news of battle! I know it!" he exclaimed.
They sprang to their feet and hurried into the ballroom. William Curtis, his habitual calm broken, was standing upon a chair and all the people had gathered in front of him. A piece of paper, evidently a telegram, was clutched in his hand.
"Friends," he said in a strained, but exultant voice, "a great battle has been fought near Chattanooga on a little river called the Chickamauga, and we have won a magnificent victory."
A mighty cheer came from the crowd.
"The army of Rosecrans, attacked with sudden and invincible force by Bragg, has been shattered and driven into Chattanooga."
Another cheer burst forth.
"No part of the Union army was able to hold fast, save one wing under Thomas."
A third mighty cheer arose, but this time Harry did not join in it. He felt a sudden sinking of the heart at the words, "save one wing under Thomas." Then the victory was not complete. It could be complete only when the whole Union army was driven from the field. As long as Thomas stood, there was a flaw in the triumph. He had heard many times of this man, Thomas. He had Grant's qualities. He was at his best in apparent defeat.
"Is there anything else, Mr. Curtis?" asked Colonel Talbot.
"That is all my agent sends me concerning its results, but he says that it lasted two days, and that it was fierce and bloody beyond all comparison with anything that has happened in the West. He estimated that the combined losses are between thirty and forty thousand men."
A heavy silence fell upon them all. The victory was great, but the price for it was great, too. Yet exultation could not be subdued long. They were soon smiling over it, and congratulating one another. But Harry was still unable to share wholly in the joy of victory.
"Why this gloom in your face, when all the rest of us are so happy?" asked St. Clair.
"My father was there. He may have fallen. How do I know?"
"That's not it. He always comes through. What's the real cause? Out with it!"
"You know that part of the dispatch saying, 'No part of the Union army was able to hold fast save one wing under Thomas.' How about that wing! You heard, too, what the colonel said about General Bragg. He always overestimates the strength of the enemy, and while he may win a victory he will not reap the fruits of it. That wing under Thomas still may be standing there, protecting all the rest of the Union army."
"Come now, old Sober Face! This isn't like you. We've won a grand victory! We've more than paid them back for their Gettysburg."
Harry rejoiced then with the others, but at times the thought came to him that Thomas with one wing might yet be standing between Bragg and complete victory. When he and Dalton went back home--they were again with the Lanhams--they found the whole population of Richmond ablaze with triumph. The Yankee army in the West had been routed. Not only was Chickamauga an offset for Gettysburg, but for Vicksburg as well, and once more the fortunes of the South were rising toward the zenith.
Dalton had returned from the army a little later this time than Harry, but he had joined him at the Lanhams', and he too showed gravity amid the almost universal rejoicing.
"I see that you're afraid the next news won't be so complete, Harry," he said.
"That's it, George. We don't really know much, except that Thomas was holding his ground. Oh, if only Stonewall Jackson were there! Remember how he came down on them at the Second Manassas and at Chancellorsville! Thomas would be swept off his feet and as Rosecrans retreated into Chattanooga our army would pour right on his heels!"
They waited eagerly the next day and the next for news, and while Richmond was still filled with rejoicings over Chickamauga, Harry saw that his fears were justified. Thomas stood till the end. Bragg had not followed Rosecrans into Chattanooga. The South had won a great battle, but not a decisive victory. The commanding general had not reaped all the rewards that were his for the taking. Bragg had justified in every way Colonel Talbot's estimate of him.
And yet Richmond, like the rest of the South, felt the great uplift of Chickamauga, the most gigantic battle of the West. It told South as well as North that the war was far from over. The South could no longer invade the North, nor could the North invade the South at will. Even on the northernmost border of the rebelling section the Army of Northern Virginia under its matchless leader, rested in its camp, challenging and defiant.
Harry was glad to return with his friends to the army. His brief period of festival was over, and his fears for his father had been relieved by a letter, stating that he had received no serious harm in the great and terrible battle of Chickamauga.
After the failure of the armies of Lee and Meade to bring about a decisive battle at Mine Run, the Army of Northern Virginia established its autumn and winter headquarters on a jutting spur of the great range called Clarke's Mountain, Orange Court House lying only a few miles to the west. The huge camp was made in a wide-open space, surrounded by dense masses of pines and cedars. Tents were pitched securely, and, feeling that they were to stay here a long time many of the soldiers built rude log cabins.
General Lee himself continued to use his tent, which stood in the center of the camp, the streets of tents and cabins radiating from it like the spokes of a wheel. Close about Lee's own tent were others occupied by Colonel Taylor, his adjutant general, Colonel Peyton, Colonel Marshall, and other and younger officers, including Harry and Dalton. A little distance down one of the main avenues, which they were pleased to call Victory Street, the Invincibles were encamped, and Harry saw them almost every day.
The troops were well fed now, and the brooks provided an abundance of clear water. The days were still warm, but the evenings were cold, and, inhaling the healing odors of the pines and cedars, wounded soldiers returned rapidly to health.
It was a wonderful interval for Harry and his friends associated with him so closely. Save for the presence of armies, it seemed at times that there was no war. Deep peace prevailed along the Rapidan and the slopes of the mountain. It was the longest period of rest that he and his comrades were to know in the course of the mighty struggle. The action of the war was now chiefly in the Southwest, where Grant, taking the place of Rosecrans, was seeking to recover all that was lost at Chickamauga.
Harry had another letter from his father, telling him that his own had been received, and giving personal details of the titanic struggle on the Chickamauga. He did not speak out directly, but Harry saw in his words the vain regret that the great opportunity won at Chickamauga at such a terrible price had not been used. In his belief the whole Federal army might have been destroyed, and the star of the South would have risen again to the zenith.
Here Harry sighed and remembered his own forebodings. Oh, if only a Stonewall Jackson had been there! His mighty sweep would have driven Thomas and the rest in a wild rout. A tear rose in his eye as he remembered his lost hero. He sincerely believed then and always that the Confederacy would have won had he not fallen on that fatal evening at Chancellorsville. It was an emotion with him, a permanent emotion with which logic could not interfere.
Harry was conscious, too, that the long quiet on the Eastern front was but a lull. There was nothing to signify peace in it. If the North had ever felt despair about the war Gettysburg and Vicksburg had removed every trace of it. He knew that beyond the blue ranges of mountains, both to east and west, vast preparations were going forward. The North, the region of great population, of illimitable resources, of free access to the sea, and of mechanical genius that had counted for so much in arming her soldiers, was gathering herself for a supreme effort. The great defeats of the war's first period were to be ignored, and her armies were to come again, more numerous, better equipped and perhaps better commanded than ever.
Nevertheless, his mind was still the mind of youth, and he could not dwell continuously upon this prospect. The camp in the hills was pleasant. The heats had passed, and autumn in the full richness of its coloring had come. The forests blazed in all the brilliancy of red and yellow and brown. The whole landscape had the color and intensity that only a North American autumn can know, and the October air had the freshness and vitality sufficient to make an old man young.
The great army of youth--it was composed chiefly of boys, like the one opposing it--enjoyed itself during these comparatively idle months. The soldiers played rural games, marbles even, pitching the horseshoe, wrestling, jumping and running. It was to Harry like Hannibal in winter quarters at Capua, without the Capua. There was certainly no luxury here. While food was more abundant than for a long time, it was of the simplest. Instead of dissipation there was a great religious revival. Ministers of different creeds, but united in a common object, appeared in the camp, and preached with power and energy. The South was emotional then and perhaps the war had made it more so. The ministers secured thousands of converts. All day long the preaching and singing could be heard through the groves of pine and cedar, and Harry knew that when the time for battle came they would fight all the better because of it. Yielding to the enemy was no part of the Christianity that these ministers preached.
Harry also saw the growth of the hero-worship accorded to his great commander. He did not believe that any other general, except perhaps Napoleon in his earlier career, had ever received such trust and admiration. Many soldiers who had felt his guiding hand in battle now saw him for the first time. He had an appearance and manner to inspire respect, and, back of that, was something much greater, a firm conviction in the minds of all that he had illimitable patience, a willingness to accept responsibility, and a military genius that had never been surpassed. Such was the attitude of the Southern people toward their great leader then, and, to an even greater degree now, when his figure, like that of Lincoln, instead of becoming smaller grows larger as it recedes into the past.
Harry often rode with him. He seemed to have an especial liking for the very young members of his staff, or for old private soldiers, bearded and gray like himself, whom he knew by name. Far in October he rode down toward the Rapidan where Stuart was encamped, taking with him only Harry and Dalton. He was mounted on his great white war horse, Traveller, which the soldiers knew from afar. Cheering arose, but when he raised his hand in a deprecating way the soldiers, obedient to his wish, ceased, and they heard only the murmur of many voices, as they went on. The general made the lads ride, one on his right and the other on his left hand, and brilliant October coloring and crisp air seemed to put him in a mood that was far from war.
"I pine for Arlington," he said at length to Harry, "that ancestral home of mine that is held by the enemy. I should like to see the ripening of the crops there. We Virginians of the old stock hold to the land, and you Kentuckians, who are really of the same race, hold to it, too."
"It is true, sir," said Harry. "My father loves the land. After his retirement from the army, following the Mexican war, he worked harder upon our place in Kentucky than any slave or hired man. He was going to free his slaves, but I suppose, sir, that the war has made him feel different about it."
"Yes, we're often willing to do things by our own free will, but not under compulsion. The great Washington himself wrote of the evils of slave labor. The 'old fields' scattered all over Virginia show what it has done for this noble commonwealth."
Harry remembered quite well similar "old fields" in Kentucky. Slaves were far less numerous there than in Virginia, and he was old enough to have observed that, in addition to the wrong of slavery, they were a liability rather than an asset. But he too felt anew the instinctive rebellion against being compelled to do what he would perhaps do anyhow.
General Lee talked more of the land and Harry and Dalton listened respectfully. Harry saw that his commander's heart turned strongly toward it. He knew that Jefferson had dreamed of the United States as an agricultural community, having no part in the quarrels of other nations, but he knew that it was only a dream. The South, the section that had followed Jefferson's dream, was now at a great disadvantage. It had no ships, and it did not have the mills to equip it for the great war it was waging. He realized more keenly than ever the one-sided nature of the South's development.
The general turned his horse toward the banks of the Rapidan, and a resplendent figure came forward to meet him. It was that incarnation of youth and fantastic knighthood, Jeb Stuart, who had just returned from a ride toward the north. He wore a new and brilliant uniform and the usual broad yellow sash about his waist. His tunic was embroidered, too, and his epaulets were heavy with gold. The thick gold braid about his hat was tied in a gorgeous loop in front. His hands were encased in long gloves of the finest buckskin, and he tapped the high yellow tops of his riding boots with a little whip.
Harry always felt that Stuart did not really belong to the present. His place was with the medieval knights who loved gorgeous armor, who fought by day for the love of it and who sat in the evening on the castle steps with fair ladies for the love of it, and who in the dark listened to the troubadours below, also for the love of it. A great cavalry leader, he shone at his brightest in the chase, and, when there was no fighting to be done, his were the spirits of a boy, and he was as quick for a prank as any lad under his own command.
But Stuart, although he had joked with Jackson, never took any liberties with Lee. He instantly swept the ground with his plumed hat and said in his most respectful manner:
"General, will you honor us by dining with us? We've just returned from a long ride northward and we've made some captures."
Lee caught a twinkle in his eye, and he smiled.
"I see no prisoners, General Stuart," he replied, "and I take it that your captures do not mean human beings."
"No, sir, there are other things just now more valuable to us than prisoners. We raided a little Yankee outpost. Nobody was hurt, but, sir, we've captured some provisions, the like of which the Army of Northern Virginia has not tasted in a long time. Would you mind coming with me and taking a look? And bring Kenton and Dalton with you, if you don't mind, sir."
"This indeed sounds tempting," said the commander-in-chief of the Army of Northern Virginia. "I accept your invitation, General Stuart, in behalf of myself and my two young aides."
He dismounted, giving the reins of Traveller to an orderly, and walked toward Stuart's tent, which was pitched near the river. The "captures" were heaped in a grassy place.
"Here, sir," said General Stuart, "are twenty dozen boxes of the finest French sardines. I haven't tasted sardines in a year and I love them."
"I've always liked them," said General Lee.
"And here, sir, are several cases of Yorkshire ham, brought all the way across the sea--and for us. It isn't as good as our Virginia ham, which is growing scarce, but we'll like it. And cove oysters, cases and cases of 'em. I like 'em almost as well as sardines."
"And real old New England pies, baked, I suppose, in Washington. We can warm 'em over."
"I see that you have the fire ready."
"And jars of preserves, a half-dozen kinds at least, and all of 'em look as if two likely youngsters like Kenton and Dalton would be anxious to get at 'em."
"You judge us rightly, General," said Harry. "We'll show no mercy to such prisoners as we have here."
"You wouldn't be boys and you wouldn't be human if you did," rejoined Stuart, "would they, General?"
"They would not," replied Lee. "One of the principal recollections of my boyhood is that I was always hungry. Our regular three meals a day were not enough for us, however much we ate at one time. Virginia, like your own Kentucky, Harry, is full of forage, and we moved in groups. Now, didn't you find a lot of food in the woods and fields?"
"Oh, yes, sir," rejoined Harry with animation. "I was hungry all the time, too. An hour after breakfast I was hungry again, and an hour after dinner, which we had in the middle of the day, I was hungry once more."
"But you knew where to go for supplies."
"Yes, sir; we had berries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, dewberries, cherries, all of them growing wild although some of them started tame. And then we could forage for pears, peaches, plums, damsons, all kinds of apples, paw paws, and then later for the nuts, hickory nuts, walnuts, chestnuts, hazel nuts, chinquapins, and a lot more. We could have almost lived in the woods and fields from early spring until late fall."
"We did the same in Virginia," said the commander-in-chief. "I've often thought that our forest Indians did not develop a higher civilization, because it was so easy for them to live, save in the depths of a hard winter. They had most of the berries and fruits and nuts that we white boys had. The woods were full of game, and the lakes and rivers full of fish. They were not driven by the hard necessity that creates civilization."
"Dinner is ready, sir," announced General Stuart, who had been directing the orderlies. "I can offer you and the others nothing but boxes and kegs to sit on, but I can assure you that this Northern food, some of which comes in cans, is excellent."
The two lads and General Stuart fell to work with energy. General Lee ate more sparingly. Stuart was a boy himself, talking much and running over with fun.
"Have you heard what happened to General Early, sir?" he asked the commander-in-chief.
"But you will, sir, to-morrow. Early will be slow in sending you that dispatch. He hasn't had time to write it yet. He's not through swearing."
"General Early is a valiant and able man, but I disapprove of his swearing."
"Why, sir, 'Old Jube' can't help it. It's a part of his breathing, and man cannot live without breath. He sent one of his best aides with a dispatch to General Hill, who is posted some distance away. Passing through a thick cedar wood the aide was suddenly set upon by a genuine stage villain, large, dark and powerful, who clubbed him over the head with the butt of a pistol, and then departed with his dispatch."
"And what happened then?"
"The aide returned to General Early with his story, but without his dispatch. The general believed his account, of course, but he called him names for allowing himself to be surprised and overcome by a single Yankee. He cursed until the air for fifty yards about him smelled strongly of sulphur and brimstone."
"Did he do anything more?"
"Yes, General. He sent a duplicate of the dispatch by an aide whom he said he could trust. In an hour the second man came back with the same big lump on his head and with the same story. He had been ambushed at the crossing of a ravine full of small cedars, and the highwayman was undoubtedly the same, too, a big, powerful fellow, as bold as you please."
Harry's pulse throbbed hard for a few moments, when he first heard mention of the man. The description, not only physical, but of manner and action as well, answered perfectly. He had not the slightest doubt that it was Shepard.
"A daring deed," said General Lee. "We must see that it is not repeated."
"But that wasn't all of the tale, sir. While the second man was sitting on the bank, nursing his broken head, the Yankee Dick Turpin read the dispatch and saw that it was a duplicate of the first. He became red-hot with wrath, and talked furiously about the extra and unnecessary work that General Early was forcing upon him. He ended by cramming the dispatch into the man's hands, directing him to take it back, and to tell General Early to stop his foolishness. The aide was a bit dazed from the blow he received and he delivered that message word for word. Why, sir, General Early exploded. People who have heard him swear for years and who know what an artist he is in swearing, heard him then utter swear words that they had never heard before, words invented on the spur of the moment, and in the heat of passion, words full of pith and meaning."
"And that was all, I suppose?"
"Not by any means, sir. General Early picked two sharpshooters and sent them with another copy of the dispatch. They passed the place of the first hold-up, and next the ravine without seeing anybody. But as they were riding some distance further on both of their horses were killed by shots from a small clump of pines. Before they could regain their feet Dick Turpin came out and covered them with his rifle--it seems that he had one of those new repeating weapons.
"The men saw that his eye was so keen and his hand so steady that they did not dare to move a hand to a pistol. Then as he looked down the sights of his rifle he lectured them. He told them they were foolish to come that way, when the two who came before them had found out that it was a closed road. He said that real soldiers learned by experience, and would not try again to do what they had learned to be impossible.
"Then he said that after all they were not to blame, as they had been sent by General Early, and he made one of them who had the stub of a pencil write on the back of the dispatch these words: 'General Jubal Early, C. S. A.: This has ceased to be a joke. After your first man was stopped, it was not necessary to do anything more. I have the dispatch. Why insist on sending duplicate after duplicate?' And the two had to walk all the way back to General Early with that note, because they didn't dare make away with the dispatch.
"I have a certain respect for that man's skill and daring, but General Early had a series of spells. He retired to his tent and if the reports are not exaggerated, a continuous muttering like low thunder came from the tent, and all the cloth of it turned blue from the lightnings imprisoned inside."
General Lee himself smiled.
"It was certainly annoying," he said. "I hope the dispatch was not of importance."
"It contained nothing that will help the Yankees, but it shows that the enemy has some spies--or at least one spy--who are Napoleons at their trade."