The Sword of Antietam by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter V. The Second Manassas
The sunbeams seemed fairly to dance over the dusty earth. The dust was not only over the earth, but over everything, men, animals, wagons and tents. Dick Mason who had struggled so hard through a storm but a few nights ago now longed for another like it. Anything to get away from this blinding blaze.
But he soon forgot heat and dust. He was conscious of a great quiver and thrill running through the whole army. Something was happening. Something had happened, but nobody knew what. Warner and Pennington felt the same quiver and thrill, because they looked at him as if in inquiry. Colonel Winchester showed it, too. He said nothing, but gazed uneasily toward the Northern horizon. Dick found himself looking that way also. Along the Rappahannock there was but little firing now, and he began to forget the river which had loomed so large in the affairs of the armies. Perhaps the importance of the Rappahannock had passed.
It was said that Pope himself with his staff had ridden away toward Washington, but Dick did not know. Far off toward the capital he saw dust clouds, but he concluded that they must be made by marching reinforcements.
The long hot hours dragged and then came a messenger. It was Shepard who had reported to headquarters and who afterwards came over to the shade of a tree where Colonel Winchester and his little staff were gathered. He was on the verge of exhaustion. He was black under the eyes and the veins of his neck were distended. Dust covered him from head to foot. He threw himself on the ground and drank deeply from a canteen of cool water that Dick handed to him. All saw that Shepard, the spy, the man whose life was a continual danger, who had never before shown emotion, was in a state of excitement, and if they waited a little he would speak of his own accord.
Shepard took the canteen from his lips, drew several long deep breaths of relief and said:
"Do you know what I have seen?"
"I don't, but I infer from your manner, Shepard, that it must be of great importance," said Colonel Winchester.
"I've seen Stonewall Jackson at the head of half of Lee's army behind us! Standing between us and Washington!"
"What! Impossible! How could he get there?"
"It's possible, because it's been done--I've seen the rebel army behind us. In these civilian clothes of mine, I've been in their ranks, and I've talked with their men. While they were amusing us here on the Rappahannock with their cannon, Jackson with the best of the army crossed the river higher up, passed through Thoroughfare Gap, marching two or three days before a soul of ours knew it, and then struck our great camp at Bristoe Station."
"Shepard, you must be sunstruck!"
"My mind was never clearer. What I saw at close range General Pope himself saw at long range. He and his staff and a detachment came near enough to see the looting and burning of all our stores--I don't suppose so many were ever gathered together before. But I was right there. You ought to have seen the sight, Colonel, when those ragged rebels who had been living on green corn burst into our camp. I've heard about the Goths and Vandals coming down on Rome and it must have been something like it. They ate as I never saw anybody eat before, and then throwing away their rags they put on our new uniforms which were stored there in thousands. At least half the rebel army must now be wearing the Union blue. And the way they danced about and sang was enough to make a loyal man's heart sick."
"You told all this to General Pope?"
"I did, sir, but I could not make him believe the half of it. He insists that it can only be a raiding detachment, that it is impossible for a great army to have come to such a place. But, sir, I was among them. I know Stonewall Jackson, and I saw him with my own eyes. He was there at the head of thirty thousand men, and we've already lost stores worth millions and millions. Jeb Stuart was there, too. I saw him. And I saw Munford, who leads Jackson's cavalry since the death of Turner Ashby. Oh, they'll find out soon enough that it's Jackson. We're trapped, sir! I tell you we're trapped, and our own commander-in-chief won't believe it. Good God, Colonel, the trap has shut down on us and if we get out of it we've got to be up and doing! This is no time for waiting!"
Colonel Winchester saw from the rapidity and emphasis with which Shepard spoke that his excitement had increased, but knowing the man's great devotion to the Union he had no rebuke for his plain speech.
"You have done splendid work, Mr. Shepard," he said, "and the commander- in-chief will recognize what great risks you have run for the cause. I've no doubt that the accuracy of your reports will soon be proved."
Colonel Winchester in truth believed every word that Shepard had said, sinister though they were. He said that Jackson was behind them, that he had done the great destruction at Bristoe Station and he had not the slightest doubt that Jackson was there.
Shepard flushing a little with gratification at Colonel Winchester's praise quickly recovered his customary self possession. Once more he was the iron-willed, self-contained man who daily dared everything for the cause he served.
"Thank you, Colonel," he said, "I've got to go out and get a little food now. All I say will be proved soon enough."
The three boys, like Colonel Winchester, did not doubt the truth of Shepard's news, and they looked northeast for the dust clouds which should mark the approach of Jackson.
"We've been outmaneuvered," said Warner to Dick, "but it's no reason why we should be outfought."
"No, George, it isn't. We've eighty thousand men as brave as any in the world, and, from what we hear they haven't as many. We ought to smash their old trap all to pieces."
"If our generals will only give us a chance."
Shepard's prediction that his news would soon prove true was verified almost at once. General Pope himself returned to his army and dispatch after dispatch arrived stating that Jackson and his whole force had been at Bristoe Station while the Union stores were burning.
"Now is our chance," said Dick to his comrades, "why doesn't the general move on Jackson at once, and destroy him before Lee can come to his help?"
"I'm praying for it," said Warner.
"From what I hear it's going to be done," said Pennington.
Their hopes came true. Pope at once took the bold course, and marched on Jackson, but the elusive Stonewall was gone. They tramped about in the heat and dust in search of him. One portion of the army including Colonel Winchester's regiment turned off in the afternoon toward a place of a few houses called Warrenton. It lay over toward the Gap through which Jackson had gone and while the division ten thousand strong did not expect to find anything there it was nevertheless ordered to look.
Dick rode by the side of his colonel ready for any command, but the mystery, and uncertainty had begun to weigh upon him again. It seemed when they had the first news that Jackson was behind them, that they had a splendid opportunity to turn upon him and annihilate him before Lee could come. But he was gone. They had looked upon the smoldering ruins of their great supply camp, but they had found there no trace of a Confederate soldier. Was Harry Kenton right, when he told them they could not beat Jackson? He asked himself angrily why the man would not stay and fight. He believed, too, that he must be off there somewhere to the right, and he listened eagerly but vainly for the distant throb of guns in the east.
A cloud of dust hovered over the ten thousand as they marched on in the blazing sunshine. The country was well peopled, but all the inhabitants had disappeared save a few, and from not one of these could they obtain a scrap of information.
Dick noticed through the dusty veil a heavy wood on their left extending for a long distance. Then as in a flash, he saw that the whole forest was filled with troops, and he saw also two batteries galloping from it toward the crest of a ridge. It occurred to him instantly that here was the army of Jackson, and others who saw had the same instinctive belief.
There was a flash and roar from the batteries. Shot and shell cut through the clouds of dust and among the ranks of the men in blue. Now came from the forest a vast shout, the defiant rebel yell and nobody in the column doubted that Jackson was there. He had swung away toward the Gap, where Lee could come to him more readily, and he would fight the whole Union army until Lee came up.
As the roar of the first discharge from the batteries was dying swarms of skirmishers sprang up from ambush and poured a storm of bullets upon the Union front and flanks. A cry as of anguish arose from the column and it reeled back, but the men, many of them hardy young farmers from the West, men of staunch stuff, were eager to get at the enemy and the terrible surprise could not daunt them. Uttering a tremendous shout they charged directly upon the Southern force.
It was a case largely of vanguards, the main forces not yet having come up, but the two detachments charged into each other with a courage and fierceness that was astounding. In a minute the woods and fields were filled with fire and smoke, and hissing shells and bullets. Men fell by hundreds, but neither side yielded. The South could not drive away the North and the North could not hurl back the South.
The field of battle became a terrible and deadly vortex. The fire of the opposing lines blazed in the faces of each other. Often they were only three or four score yards apart. Ewell, Jackson's ablest and most trusted lieutenant, fell wounded almost to death, and lay long upon the field. Other Southern generals fell also, and despite their superior numbers they could not drive back the North.
Dick never had much recollection of the combat, save a reek of fire and smoke in which men fought. He saw Colonel Winchester's horse pitch forward on his head and springing from his own he pulled the half-stunned colonel to his feet. Both leaped aside just in time to avoid Dick's own falling horse, which had been slain by a shell. Then the colonel ran up and down the lines of his men, waving his sword and encouraging them to stand fast.
The Southern lines spread out and endeavored to overlap the Union men, but they were held back by a deep railroad cut and masses of felled timber. The combat redoubled in fury. Cannon and rifles together made a continuous roar. Both sides seemed to have gone mad with the rage of battle.
The Southern generals astonished at such a resistance by a smaller force, ordered up more men and cannon. The Union troops were slowly pushed back by the weight of numbers, but then the night, the coming of which neither had noticed, swept down suddenly upon them, leaving fifteen hundred men, nearly a third of those engaged, fallen upon the small area within which the two vanguards had fought.
But the Union men did not retreat far. Practically, they were holding their ground, when the darkness put an end to the battle, and they were full of elation at having fought a draw with superior numbers of the formidable Jackson. Dick, although exultant, was so much exhausted that he threw himself upon the ground and panted for breath. When he was able to rise he looked for Warner and Pennington and found them uninjured. So was Sergeant Whitley, but the sergeant, contrary to his custom, was gloomy.
"What's the matter, sergeant?" exclaimed Dick in surprise. "Didn't we give 'em a great fight?"
"Splendid, Mr. Mason, I don't believe that troops ever fought better than ours did. But we're not many here. Where's all the rest of our army? Scattered, while I'm certain that Jackson with twenty-five or thirty thousand men is in front of us, with more coming. We'll fall back. We'll have to do it before morning."
The sergeant on this occasion had the power of divination. An hour after midnight the whole force which had fought with so much heroism was withdrawn. It was a strange night to the whole Union army, full of sinister omens.
Pope, in his quest for Jackson, had heard about sunset the booming of guns in the west, but he could not believe that the Southern general was there. Many of his dispatches had been captured by the hard-riding cavalry of Stuart. His own division commanders had lost touch with him. It was not possible for him to know what to do until morning, and no one could tell him. Meanwhile Longstreet was advancing in the darkness through the Gap to reinforce Jackson.
Dick had found another horse belonging to a slain owner, and, in the darkness, his heart full of bitterness, he rode back beside Colonel Winchester toward Manassas. Could they never win a big victory in the east? The men were brave and tenacious. They had proved it over and over again, but they were always mismanaged. It seemed to him that they were never sent to the right place at the right time.
Nevertheless, many of the Northern generals, able and patriotic, achieved great deeds before the dawn of that momentous morning. Messengers were riding in the darkness in a zealous attempt to gather the forces together. There was yet abundant hope that they could crush Jackson before Lee came, and in the darkness brigade after brigade marched toward Warrenton.
Dick, after tasting all the bitterness of retreat, felt his hopes rise again. They had not really been beaten. They had fought a superior force of Jackson's own men to a standstill. He could never forget that. He cherished it and rolled it under his tongue. It was an omen of what was to come. If they could only get leaders of the first rank they would soon end the war.
He found himself laughing aloud in the anticipation of what Pope's Army of Virginia would do in the coming day to the rebels. It might even happen that McClellan with the Army of the Potomac would also come upon the field. And then! Lee and Jackson thought they had Pope in a trap! Pope and McClellan would have them between the hammer and the anvil, and they would be pounded to pieces!
"Here, stop that foolishness, Dick! Quit, I say, quit it at once!"
It was Warner who was speaking, and he gripped Dick's arm hard, while he peered anxiously into his face.
"What's the matter with you?" he continued. "What do you find to laugh at? Besides, I don't like the way you laugh."
Dick shook himself, and then rubbed his hand across his brow.
"Thanks, George," he said. "I'm glad you called me back to myself. I was thinking what would happen to the enemy if McClellan and the Army of the Potomac came up also, and I was laughing over it."
"Well, the next time, don't you laugh at a thing until it happens. You may have to take your laugh back."
Dick shook himself again, and the nervous excitement passed.
"You always give good advice, George," he said. "Do you know where we are?"
"I couldn't name the place, but we're not so far from Warrenton that we can't get back there in a short time and tackle Jackson again. Dick, see all those moving lights to right and left of us. They're the brigades coming up in the night. Isn't it a weird and tremendous scene? You and I and Pennington will see this night over and over again, many and many a time."
"It's so, George," said Dick, "I feel the truth of what you say all through me. Listen to the rumble of the cannon wheels! I hear 'em on both sides of us, and behind us, and I've no doubt, too, that it's going on before us, where the Southerners are massing their batteries. How the lights move! It's the field of Manassas again, and we're going to win this time!"
All of Dick's senses were excited once more, and everything he saw was vivid and highly colored. Warner, cool of blood as he habitually was, had no words of rebuke for him now, because he, too, was affected in the same way. The fields and plains of Manassas were alive not alone with marching armies, but the ghosts of those who had fallen there the year before rose and walked again.
Despite the darkness everything swelled into life again for Dick. Off there was the little river of Manassas, Young's Branch, the railway station, and the Henry House, around which the battle had raged so fiercely. They would have won the victory then if it had not been for Stonewall Jackson. If he had not been there the war would have been ended on that sanguinary summer day.
But Jackson was in front of them now, and they had him fast. Lee and Jackson had thought to trap Pope, but Jackson himself was in the trap, and they would destroy him utterly. His admiration for the great Southern general had changed for the time into consuming rage. They must overwhelm him, annihilate him, sweep him from the face of the earth.
They mounted again and moved back, but did not go far.
"Get down, Dick," said Colonel Winchester. "Here's food for us, and hot coffee. I don't remember myself how long we've been in the saddle and how long we've been without food, but we mustn't go into battle until we've eaten."
Dick was the last of the officers to dismount. He, too, did not remember how long they had been in the saddle. He could not say at that moment, whether it had been one night or two. He ate and drank mechanically, but hungrily--the Union army nearly always had plenty of stores--and then he felt better and stronger.
A faint bluish tint was appearing under the gray horizon in the east. Dick felt the touch of a light wind on his forehead. The dawn was coming.
Yes, the dawn was coming, but it was coming heavy with sinister omens and the frown of battle. Before the bluish tint in the east had turned to silver Dick heard the faint and far thudding of great guns, and closer a heavy regular beat which he knew was the gallop of cavalry. Surely the North could not fail now. Fierce anger against those who would break up the Union surged up in him again.
The gray came at last, driving the bluish tint away, and the sun rose hot and bright over the field of Manassas which already had been stained with the blood of one fierce battle. But now the armies were far greater. Nearly a hundred and fifty thousand men were gathering for the combat, and Dick was still hoping that McClellan would come with seventy or eighty thousand more. But within the Confederate lines, where they must always win and never lose, because losing meant to lose all there was a stern determination to shatter Pope and his superior numbers before McClellan could come. Never had the genius and resolution of the two great Southern leaders burned more brightly.
As the brazen sun swung slowly up Dick felt that the intense nervous excitement he had felt the night before was seizing him again. The officers of the regiment remained on foot. Colonel Winchester had sent their horses away to some cavalrymen who had lost their own. He and his staff and other officers, dismounted, could lead the men better into battle.
And that it was battle, great and bloody, the youngest of them all could see. Never had an August day been brighter and hotter. Every object seemed to swell into new size in the vivid and burning sunlight. Plain before them lay Jackson's army. Two of his regiments were between them and a turnpike that Dick remembered well. Off to the left ran the dark masses in gray, until they ended against a thick wood. In the center was a huge battery, and Dick from his position could see the mouths of the cannon waiting for them.
But he also saw the great line of the Northern Army. It was both deeper and longer than that of the South, and he knew that the men were full of resolve and courage.
"How many have we got here?" Dick heard himself asking Warner.
"Forty or fifty thousand, I suppose," he heard Warner replying, "and before night there will be eighty thousand. Our line is two miles long now. We ought to wrap around Jackson and crush him to death. Listen to the bugles! What a mellow note! And how they draw men on to death! And listen to the throbbing of the big cannon, too!"
Warner's face was flushed. He had become excited, as the two armies stood there, and looked at each other a moment or two like prize fighters in the ring before closing in battle. Then they heard the order to charge and far up and down the line their own cannon opened with a crash so great that Dick and his comrades could not hear one another talking.
Then they charged. The whole army lifted itself up and rushed at the enemy, animated by patriotism, the fire of battle and the desire for revenge. Among the officers were Milroy and Schenck and others who had been beaten by Jackson in the valley. There, too, was the brigade of Germans whom Jackson had beaten at Cross Keyes. Many of them were veterans of the sternest discipline known in Europe and they longed fiercely for revenge. And there were more Germans, too, under Schurz-- hired Germans, fighting nearly a hundred years before to prevent the Union--and free Germans now fighting to save it.
Driven forward thus by all the motives that sway men in battle, the Union army rushed upon Jackson. Confident from many victories and trusting absolutely in their leader the Southern defense received the mighty charge without flinching. The wood now swarmed with riflemen and they filled the air with their bullets, so many of them that their passage was like the continual rush of a hurricane. Along the whole line came the same metallic scream, and the great battery in the center was a volcano, pouring forth a fiery hurricane of shot and shell.
Dick felt their front lines being shorn. Although he was untouched it was an actual physical sensation. He could see but little save that fearful blaze in their faces, and the cries of the wounded and dying were drowned by the awful roar of so many cannon and rifles.
The cloud of dust and smoke had become immense and overwhelming in an instant, but it was pierced always in front by the blaze of fire, and by its flaming light Dick saw the long lines of the Southern men, their faces gray and fixed, as he knew those of his own comrades were.
But the charge, brave, even reckless, failed. The brigades broke in vain on Jackson's iron front. Riddled by the fire of the great battery and of the riflemen they could not go on and live. The Germans had longed for revenge, but they did not get it. The South Carolinians fell upon them at the edge of the wood and hurled them back. They rallied, and charged again, but again they were handled terribly, and were forced back by the charging masses of the Southerners.
Dick had been at Shiloh. He had seen the men of the west in a great battle, and now he saw the men of the east in a battle yet greater. There it had been largely in the forest, here it was mostly in the open, yet he saw but little more. One of the extraordinary features of this battle was dust. Trampled up from the dry fields by fighting men in scores of thousands it rose in vast floating clouds that permeated everything. It was even more persistent than the smoke. It clogged Dick's throat. It stung and burnt him like powder. Often it filled his eyes so completely that for a moment or two he could not see the blaze of the cannon and rifle fire, almost in his face.
But as they fell back he felt again that sensation of actual physical pain, although he was still untouched. Added to it was an intense mental anguish. They were failing! They had been driven back! They had not crushed Jackson! He forgot all about Colonel Winchester, and his comrades Warner and Pennington. He forgot all about his own danger in this terrible reversal of his hopes, and he began to shout angrily at the men to stand. He did not know by and by that no sound came from his mouth, that words could not come from a throat so choked with dust and burned gunpowder.
But the charge was made again. The thudding great guns now told all the Northern divisions where Jackson was. The eighty thousand men of Pope were crowding forward to attack him, and the batteries were galloping over the plateau to add to the volume of shot and shell that was poured upon the Southern ranks.
Dick was quite unconscious of the passage of time. Hope had sprung anew in his breast. He heard a report that ten thousand fresh troops under Kearney had arrived and were attacking the Southerners in the wood. He knew by the immense volume of fire coming from that point that the report was true, and he heard that McDowell, too, would soon be at hand with nearly thirty thousand men.
Then he saw Colonel Winchester, his face a mass of grime and his clothing flecked with blood. But he did not seem to have suffered any wound and he was calmly rallying his men.
"It's hot!" Dick shouted, why he knew not.
"Yes, my boy, and it will soon be hotter! Look at the new brigades coming into battle! See them on both right and left! We'll crush Jackson yet!"
It was now mid-morning, and neither Colonel Winchester nor any other of the Northern officers facing the Southern force knew that Lee and the other Southern army was at hand. The front ranks of Longstreet were already in battle, and the most difficult and dangerous of all tasks was accomplished. Two armies coming from points widely divergent, but acting in concert had joined upon the field of battle at the very moment when the junction meant the most. Lee had come, but McClellan and the Army of the Potomac were far away.
Dick heard the trumpets calling again, and once more they charged, hurling heavy masses now upon the wood, which was held by the Southern general, A. P. Hill. Rifle fire gave way to bayonet charges by either side, and after swaying back and forth the Union men held the wood for a while, but at last they were driven out to stay, and as they retreated cannon and rifles decimated their ranks.
The regiment had suffered so terribly that after its retreat it was compelled to lie down a while and rest. Dick gasped for breath, but he was not as much excited as he had been earlier in the day. Perhaps one can become hardened to anything. Although he and his immediate comrades were resting he could see no diminution of the battle.
As far to left and right as the eye reached, cannon and rifles blazed and thundered. In front of their own exhausted regiment hundreds of sharpshooters, creeping forward, were now pouring a deadly fire among the Southern troops who held the wood. They were men of the west and northwest, accustomed all their lives to the use of firearms, and if a Confederate officer in the forest showed himself for a moment it was at the risk of his life. Captains and lieutenants fell fast beneath the aim of the sharpshooters.
The burning sun was at the zenith, pouring fiery rays upon the vast conflict which raged along a front of two miles. Pope himself was now upon the field and his troops were pouring from every point to his aid. So deadly was the fire of the sharpshooters that they regained the wood, driving out the Southerners who had exhausted their cartridges. Hill's division of the Confederates was almost cut to pieces by the cannon and rifles, and the Southern leaders from their posts on the hills saw brigades and regiments continually coming to the help of the North.
Dick saw or rather felt the fortunes of the North rising again, and as his regiment stood up for action once more he began to shout with the others in triumph. The roar of the battle grew so steady that the voices of men became audible and articulate beneath it.
"They shut their trap down upon us, but we're breaking that trap all to pieces," he heard Pennington say.
"Looks as if we might win a victory," said the cooler Warner.
Then he heard no more, as they were once again upon the enemy who received them almost hand to hand, and the battle swelled anew. It was now long past noon, and in that prodigious canopy of dust and fire and smoke it seemed for a while that the Union army in truth had shattered the trap. The men in gray were borne back by the courage and weight of their opponents. Hooker, Kearney, Reynolds and all the gallant generals of the North continually urged on their troops. Confidence in victory at last passed through all the army, and incited it to greater efforts.
But Jackson was undaunted. Never was he cooler. Never did his genius shine more brilliantly. Never did any man in all the fury and turmoil of battle, amid a thousand conflicting reports and appalling confusion, have a keener perception, a greater power to sum up what was actually passing, and a better knowledge of what to do.
Lee was a mile away, standing on a wooded hill, the bearded Longstreet by his side, watching the battle in his immediate front, where accumulating masses under Pope's own eye were gathering. On the other flank where Jackson stood and the conflict was heaviest he trusted all to his great lieutenant and not in vain.
Jackson had formed his plan. There came for a few moments a lull in the battle which had now lasted nine hours, and then gathering a powerful reserve he sent them charging through the wood with the bayonet. Dick saw the massive line of glittering steel coming on at the double quick and he felt his regiment giving back. The men could not help it. Physically exhausted and with ammunition running low they slowly yielded the wood. Many of the youths wept with rage, but although they had lost thousands in five desperate charges they were compelled to see all five fail.
Dick, aghast, gazed at Warner through the smoke.
"It's true!" gasped Warner, "we didn't break the trap, Dick. But maybe they'll succeed off there to the left! Our own commander is there, and they say that Lee himself has come to the help of Jackson!"
They had been driven back at all points and their own battle was dying, but off to the left it thundered a while longer, and then as night suddenly rushed over the field it, too, sank, leaving the hostile forces on that wing also still face to face, but with the North pushed back.
The coming of night was as sudden to Dick as if it had been the abrupt dropping of a great dark blanket. In the fury of conflict he had not noticed the gathering shadows in the west. The dimness around him, if he had taken time to think about it, he would have ascribed to the vast columns of dust that eddied and surged about.
Again it was the dust that he felt and remembered. The surging back and forth of seven score thousand men, the tread of horses and the wheels of hundreds of cannon raised it in such quantities that it covered the forest and the armies with a vast whitish curtain. Even in the darkness it showed dim and ghastly like a funeral veil.
Out of that fatal forest came a dreadful moaning. Dick did not know whether it was the wind among the leaves or the dying. Once more the ghosts of the year before walked the fatal field, but the ghosts of this year would be a far greater company. They had not broken the trap and Dick knew that the battle was far from over.
It would be renewed in the morning with greater fierceness than ever, but he was grateful for the present darkness and rest. He and his comrades had thrown themselves upon the ground, and they felt as if they could never move again. Their bones did not ache. They merely felt dead within them.
Dick was roused after a long time. The camp cooks were bringing food and coffee. He saw a figure lying at his feet as still as death, and he shoved it with his foot.
"Get up, Frank," he said. "You're not dead."
"No, I'm not, but I'm as good as dead. You just let me finish dying in peace."
Dick shoved him again and Pennington sat up. When he saw the food and coffee he suddenly remembered to be hungry. Warner was already eating and drinking. Off to the left they still heard cannon and rifles, although the sound was sinking. Occasionally flashes from the mouths of the great guns illumined the darkness.
Dick did not know what time it was. He had no idea how long he had been lying upon the ground panting, the air surcharged with menace and suspense. The vast clouds of dust, impregnated with burned gunpowder still floated about, and it scorched his mouth and throat as he breathed it.
The boys, after eating and drinking lay down again. They still heard the firing of pickets, but it was no more than the buzzing of bees to them, and after a while they fell into the sleep of nervous and physical exhaustion. But while many of the soldiers slept all of the generals were awake.
It was a singular fact but in the night that divided the great battle of the Second Manassas into two days both sides were full of confidence. Jackson's men, who had borne the brunt of the first day, rested upon their arms and awaited the dawn with implicit confidence in their leader. On the other flank Lee and Longstreet were massing their men for a fresh attack.
The losses within the Union lines were replaced by reinforcements. Pope rode among them, sanguine, full of hope, telegraphing to Washington that the enemy had lost two to his one, and that Lee was retreating toward the mountains.
Dick slept uneasily through the night, and rose to another hot August sun. Then the two armies looked at each other and it seemed that each was waiting for the other to begin, as the morning hours dragged on and only the skirmishers were busy. During this comparative peace, the heavy clouds of dust were not floating about, and Dick whose body had come to life again walked back and forth with his colonel, gazing through their glasses at the enemy. He scarcely noticed it, but Colonel Winchester's manner toward him had become paternal. The boy merely ascribed it to the friendly feeling an officer would feel for a faithful aide, but he knew that he had in his colonel one to whom he could speak both as a friend and a protector. Walking together they talked freely of the enemy who stood before them in such an imposing array.
"Colonel," said Dick, "do you think General Pope is correct in stating that one wing of the Southern army is already retreating through Thoroughfare Gap?"
"I don't, Dick. I don't think it is even remotely probable. I'm quite sure, too, that we have the whole Confederate army in front of us. We'll have to beat both Lee and Jackson, if we can."
"Where do you think the main attack will be?"
"On Jackson, who is still in front of us. But we have waited a long time. It must be full noon now."
"It is past noon, sir, but I hear the trumpets, calling up our men."
"They are calling to us, too."
The regiment shifted a little to the right, where a great column was forming for a direct attack upon the Confederate lines. Twenty thousand men stood in a vast line and forty thousand were behind them to march in support.
Dick had thought that he would be insensible to emotions, but his heart began to throb again. The spectacle thrilled and awed him--the great army marching to the attack and the resolute army awaiting it. Soon he heard behind him the firing of the artillery which sent shot and shell over their heads at the enemy. A dozen cannon came into action, then twenty, fifty, a hundred and more, and the earth trembled with the mighty concussion.
Dick felt the surge of triumph. They had yet met no answering fire. Perhaps General Pope and not Colonel Winchester had been right after all, and the Confederates were crushed. Awaiting them was only a rear guard which would flee at the first flash of the bayonets in the wood.
The great line marched steadily onward, and the cannon thundered and roared over the heads of the men raking the wood with steel. Still no reply. Surely the sixty thousand Union men would now march over everything. They were driving in the swarms of skirmishers. Dick could see them retreating everywhere, in the wood over the hills and along an embankment.
Warner was on his right and Pennington on his left. Dick glanced at them and he saw the belief in speedy victory expressed on the faces of both. It seemed to him, too, that nothing could now stop the massive columns that Pope was sending forward against the thinned ranks of the Confederates.
They were much nearer and he saw gray lines along an embankment and in a wood. Then above the crash and thunder of their covering artillery he heard another sound. It was the Southern bugles calling with a piercing note to their own men just as the Northern trumpets had called.
Dick saw a great gray multitude suddenly pour forward. It looked to him in the blur and the smoke like an avalanche, and in truth it was a human avalanche, a far greater force of the South than they expected to meet there. Directly in front of the Union column stood the Stonewall Brigade, and all the chosen veterans of Stonewall Jackson's army.
"It's a fight, face to face," Dick heard Colonel Winchester say.
Then he saw a Union officer, whose name he did not know suddenly gallop out in front of the division, wave his saber over his head and shout the charge. A tremendous rolling cry came from the blue ranks and Dick physically felt the whole division leap forward and rush at the enemy.
Dick saw the officer who had made himself the leader of the charge gallop straight at a breastwork that the Southerners had built, reach and stand, horse and rider, a moment at the top, then both fall in a limp heap. The next instant the officer, not dead but wounded, was dragged a prisoner behind the embankment by generous foes who had refused to shoot at him until compelled to do so.
The Union men, with a roar, followed their champion, and Dick felt a very storm burst upon them. The Southerners had thrown up earthworks at midnight and thousands of riflemen lying behind them sent in a fire at short range that caused the first Union line to go down like falling grain. Cannon from the wood and elsewhere raked them through and through.
It was a vortex of fire and death. The Confederates themselves were losing heavily, but taught by the stern Jackson and knowing that his eye was upon them they refused to yield. The Northern charge broke on their front, but the men did not retreat far. The shrill trumpet called them back to the charge, and once more the blue masses hurled themselves upon the barrier of fire and steel, to break again, and to come yet a third time at the trumpet's call. Often the combatants were within ten yards of one another, but strive as they would the Union columns could not break through the Confederate defense.
Elsewhere the men of Hill and Longstreet showed a sternness and valor equal to that of Jackson's. Their ranks held firm everywhere, and now, as the long afternoon drew on, the eye of Lee, watching every rising and falling wave of the battle, saw his chance. He drew his batteries together in great masses and as the last charge broke on Jackson's lines the trumpets sounded the charge for the Southern troops who hitherto had stood on the defensive.
Dick heard a tremendous shout, the great rebel yell, that he had heard so often before, and that he was destined to hear so often again. Through the clouds of smoke and dust he saw the long lines of Southern bayonets advancing swiftly. His regiment, which had already lost more than half its numbers, was borne back by an appalling weight.
Then hope deserted the boy for the first time. The Union was not to be saved here on this field. It was instead another lost Manassas, but far greater than the first. The genius of Lee and Jackson which bore up the Confederacy was triumphing once again. Dick shut his teeth in grim despair. He heard the triumphant shouts of the advancing enemy, and he saw that not only his own regiment, but the whole Northern line, was being driven back, slowly it is true, but they were going.
Now at the critical moment, Lee was hurling forward every man and gun. Although his army was inferior in numbers he was always superior at the point of contact, and his exultant veterans pressed harder and harder upon their weakening foes. Only the artillery behind them now protected Dick and his comrades. But the Confederates still came with a rush.
Jackson was leading on his own men who had stood so long on the defensive. The retreating Union line was broken, guns were lost, and there was a vast turmoil and confusion. Yet out of it some order finally emerged, and although the Union army was now driven back at every point it inflicted heavy losses upon its foe, and under the lead of brave commanders great masses gathered upon the famous Henry Hill, resolved, although they could not prevent defeat, to save the army from destruction.
Night was coming down for the second time upon the field of battle, lost to the North, although the North was ready to fight again.
Lee and Jackson looked upon the heavy Union masses gathered at the Henry Hill, and then looking at the coming darkness they stopped the attack. Night heavier than usual came down over the field, covering with its friendly veil those who had lost and those who had won, and the twenty-five thousand who had fallen.