The Sword of Antietam by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter IX. Across the Stream
Dick and his comrades had not heard of the taking of Harper's Ferry and they were full of enthusiasm that brilliant morning in mid-September. McClellan, if slow to move, nevertheless had shown vigor in action, and the sanguine youths could not doubt that they had driven Lee into a corner. The Confederates, after the fierce fighting of the day before, had abandoned both gaps, and the way at last lay clear before the Army of the Potomac.
Dick was mounted again. In fact his horse, after pulling the reins from his hands and fleeing from the Confederate fire, had been retaken by a member of his own regiment and returned to him. It was another good omen. The lost had been found again and defeat would become victory.
But Dick said nothing to anybody of his duel with Harry Kenton. He shuddered even now when he recalled it. And yet there had been no guilt in either. Neither had known that the other lay behind the stone, but happy chance had made all their bullets go astray. Again he was thankful.
"How did you stand that fighting yesterday afternoon, George?" Dick asked of Warner.
"First rate. The open air agreed with me, and as no bullet sought me out I felt benefited. I didn't get away from that hospital too soon. How far away is this Antietam River, behind which they say Lee lies?"
"It's only eight miles from the gap," said Pennington, who had been making inquiries, "and as we have come three miles it must be only five miles away."
"Correct," said Warner, who was in an uncommonly fine humor. "Your mathematical power grows every day, Frank. Let x equal the whole distance from the gap to the Antietam, which is eight miles, let y equal the distance which we have come which is three miles, then x minus y equals the distance left, which is five miles. Wonderful! wonderful! You'll soon have a great head on you, Frank."
"If some rebel cannoneer doesn't shoot it off in the coming battle. By George, we're driving their skirmishers before us! They don't seem to make any stand at all!"
The vanguard certainly met with no very formidable resistance as it advanced over the rolling country. The sound of firing was continuous, but it came from small squads here and there, and after firing a few volleys the men in gray invariably withdrew.
Yet the Northern advance was slow. Colonel Winchester became intensely impatient again.
"Why don't we hurry!" he exclaimed. "Of all things in the world the one that we need most is haste. With Jackson tied up before Harper's Ferry, Lee's defeat is sure, unless he retreats across the Potomac, and that would be equivalent to a defeat. Good Heavens, why don't we push on?"
He had not yet heard of the fall of Harper's Ferry, and that Jackson with picked brigades was already on the way to join Lee. Had he known these two vital facts his anger would have burned to a white heat. Surely no day lost was ever lost at a greater cost than the one McClellan lost after the finding of Orders No. 191.
"Do you know anything about the Antietam, colonel?" asked Dick.
"It's a narrow stream, but deep, and crossed by several stone bridges. It will be hard to force a crossing here, but further up it can be done with ease since we outnumber Lee so much that we can overlap him by far. I have my information from Shepard, and he makes no mistakes. There is a church, too, on the upper part of the peninsula, a little church belonging to an order called the Dunkards."
"Ah," murmured Dick, "the little church of Shiloh!"
"What do you mean by that?"
"There was a little church at Shiloh, too. The battle raged all around it more than once. We lost it at first, but in the end we won. It's another good omen. We're bound to achieve a great victory, colonel."
"I hope and believe so. We've the materials with which to do it. But we've got to push and push hard."
The colonel raised his glasses and took a long look in front. Dick also had a pair and he, too, examined the country before them. It was a fine, rolling region and all the forest was gone, except clumps of trees here and there. The whole country would have been heavy with forest had it not been for the tramp of war.
It was now nearly noon and the sunlight was brilliant and intense. The glasses carried far. Dick saw a line of trees which he surmised marked the course of the Antietam, and he saw small detachments of cavalry which he knew were watching the advance of the Army of the Potomac. Their purpose convinced him that Lee had not retreated across the Potomac, but that he would fight and surely lose. Dick now believed that so many good omens could not fail.
A horseman galloped toward them. It was Shepard again, dustier than ever, his face pale from weariness.
"What is it, Mr. Shepard?" asked Colonel Winchester.
"I've just reported to General McClellan that our whole command at Harper's Ferry, thirteen thousand strong, surrendered early this morning and that Jackson with picked men has already started to join Lee!"
"My God! My God!" cried the colonel. "Oh, that lost day! We ought to have fought yesterday and destroyed Lee, while Harper's Ferry was still holding out! What a day! What a day! Nothing can ever pay us back for the losing of it!"
Dick, too, felt a sinking of the heart, but despair was not written on his face as it was on that of his colonel. Jackson might come, but it would only be with a part of his force, that which marched the swiftest, and the victory of the Army of the Potomac would be all the grander. The more enemies crushed the better it would be for the Union.
"Why, colonel!" he exclaimed, "we can beat them anyhow!"
"That's so, my lad, so we can! And so we will! It was childish of me to talk as I did. Here, Johnson, blow your best on that trumpet. I want our regiment to be the first to reach the Antietam."
Johnson blew a long and mellow tune and the Winchester regiment swung forward at a more rapid gait. The weather, after a day or two of coolness, had grown intensely hot again, and the noon sun poured down upon them sheaves of fiery rays. Dick looked back, and he saw once more that vast billowing cloud of dust made by the marching army. But in front he saw only quiet and peace, save for a few distant horsemen who seemed to be riding at random.
"There's a little town called Sharpsburg in the peninsula formed by the Potomac and the Antietam," said Shepard, who stayed with them, his immediate work done, "and the Potomac being very low, owing to the dry season, there is one ford by which Lee can cross and go back to Virginia. But he isn't going to cross without a battle, that's sure. The rebels are flushed with victory, they think they have the greatest leaders ever born and they believe, despite the disparity of numbers, that they can beat us."
"And I believe they can't," said Dick.
"If it were not for that lost day we'd have 'em beaten now," said Shepard, "and we'd be marching against Jackson."
The regiment in its swift advance now came nearer to the Antietam, the narrow but deep creek between its high banks. One or two shots from the far side warned them to come more slowly, and Colonel Winchester drew his men up on a knoll, waiting for the rest of the army to advance.
Dick put his glasses to his eyes, and slowly swept a wide curve on the peninsula of Antietam. Great armies drawn up for battle were a spectacle that no boy could ever view calmly, and his heart beat so hard that it caused him actual physical pain.
He saw through the powerful glasses the walls of the little village of Sharpsburg, and to the north a roof which he believed was that of the Dunkard Church, of which Shepard spoke. But his eyes came back from the church and rested on the country around Sharpsburg. The Confederate masses were there and he clearly saw the batteries posted along the Antietam. Beyond the peninsula he caught glimpses of the broad Potomac.
There lay Lee before them again, and now was the time to destroy his army. Jackson, even with his vanguard, could not arrive before night, and the main force certainly could not come from Harper's Ferry before the morrow. Here was a full half day for the Army of the Potomac, enough in which to destroy a divided portion of the Army of Northern Virginia.
But Colonel Winchester raged again and again in vain. There was no attack. Brigade after brigade in blue came up and sat down before the Antietam. The cannon exchanged salutes across the little river, but no harm was done, and the great masses of McClellan faced the whole peninsula, within which lay Lee with half of his army. The Winchester regiment was moved far to the north, where its officers hopefully believed that the first attack would be made. Here they extended beyond Lee's line, and it would be easy to cross the Antietam and hurl themselves upon his flank.
Despite the delay, Dick and his comrades, thrilled at the great and terrible panorama spread before them. The mid-September day had become as hot as those of August had been. The late afternoon sun was brazen, and immense clouds of dust drifted about. But they did not hide the view of the armies, arrayed for battle, and with only a narrow river between.
Dick, through his own glasses saw Confederate officers watching them also. He tried to imagine that this was Lee and that Longstreet, and that one of the Hills, and the one who wore a gorgeous uniform must surely be Stuart. Why should they be allowed to ride about so calmly? His heart fairly ached for the attack. McClellan said that fifty thousand men were there, and that Jackson was coming with fifty thousand more, but Shepard, who always knew, said that they did not number more than twenty thousand. What a chance! What a chance! He almost repeated Colonel Winchester's words, but he was only a young staff officer and it was not for him to complain. If he said anything at all he would have to say it in a guarded manner and to his best friends.
The Winchester regiment went into camp in a pleasant grove at the northern end of the Union line. Dick and his two young comrades had no fault to find with their quarters. They had dry grass, warm air and the open sky. A more comfortable summer home for a night could not be asked. And there was plenty of food, too. The Army of the Potomac never lacked it. The coffee was already boiling in the pots, and beef and pork were frying in the skillets. Heavenly aromas arose.
Dick and his comrades ate and drank, and then lay down in the grove. If they must rest they would rest well. Now and then they heard the booming of guns, and just before dark there had been a short artillery duel across the Antietam, but now the night was quiet, save for the murmur and movement of a great army. Through the darkness came the sound of many voices and the clank of moving wheels.
Dick asked permission for his two comrades and himself to go down near the river and obtained it.
"But don't get shot," cautioned Colonel Winchester. "The Confederate riflemen will certainly be on watch on the other side of the stream."
Dick promised and the three went forward very carefully among some bushes. They were led on by curiosity and they did not believe that they would be in any great danger. The singular friendliness which always marked the pickets of the hostile armies in the Civil War would prevail.
It was several hundred yards down to the Antietam, and luckily the ribbon of bushes held out. But when they were half way to the stream a thick, dark figure rose up before them. Dick, in an instant, recognized Sergeant Whitley.
"We want to get a nearer view of the enemy," said the boy.
"I'll go with you," said the sergeant. "I'm on what may be called scouting duty. Besides, I've a couple of friends down there by the river, but on the other side."
"Friends on the other side of the Antietam. What do you mean, sergeant?"
"I was scouting along there and I came across 'em. Only one in fact is an old acquaintance, an' he's just introduced me to the other."
"I don't rightly know what 'cryptic' means, but I guess I don't make myself understood well. In my campaign on the plains against the Indians I had a comrade named Bill Brayton. A Tennesseean, Bill was an' a fine feller, too. Him an' me have bunked together many a time an' we've dug out of the snow together, too, after the blizzards was over. But when we saw the war comin' up, Bill had fool notions. Said he didn't know anything 'bout the right an' wrong of it, guessed there was some of each on each side, but whichever way his state would flop, he'd flop. Well, we waited. Tennessee flopped right out of the Union an' Bill flopped with it.
"I felt powerful sorry when Bill told me good-bye, and so did he. I ain't seen or heard of him since 'till to-night, when I was cruisin' down there by the side of the river in the dark an' keepin' under cover of the bushes. Had no intention of shootin' anybody. Just wanted to take a look. I saw on the other side a dim figure walkin' up an' down, rifle on shoulder. Thought I noticed something familiar about it, an' the longer I watched the shorer I was.
"At last I crept right to the edge of the bank an' layin' down lest some fool who didn't know the manners of our war take a pot shot at me, I called out, 'Bill Brayton, you thick-headed rebel, are you well an' doin' well?'
"You ought to have seen him jump. He stopped walkin', dropped his rifle in the hollow of his arm, looked the way my voice come and called out, likewise in a loud voice: 'Who's callin' me a thick-headed rebel? Is it some blue-backed Yankee? You know we see nothin' of you but your backs. Come out in the light, an' I'll let some sense into you with a bullet.'
"'Oh, no I won't,' says I, still layin' close, an' not mindin' his taunt 'bout seein' our backs only. 'You couldn't hit me if I stood up an' marked the place on my chest. Nothin' will save you but them days on the plain in the blizzards when you was more useful with a shovel than you are with a rifle, 'cause to-morrow at sunrise we're goin' to cross this little river and tie all you fellows hand an' foot an' take you away as prisoners to Washington.'
"That made him mighty mad, but the part 'bout the blizzards on the plains set him to thinkin', too. 'Who in thunderation are you?' sez he. 'You're Bill Brayton, of Tennessee, fightin' in the rebel army, when you ought to know better,' says I. 'Now, who in thunderation am I?' 'Sufferin' Moses!' says he, 'that voice grows more like his every time he speaks. It can't be that empty-headed galoot, Dan Whitley, who never knew nothin' 'bout the rights an' wrongs of the war, an' had to go off with the Yanks!'
"'It's him an' nobody else,' says I, as I rose right up an' stood there on the bank, 'an' mighty glad am I to see you Bill, an' to know that your fool head ain't knocked off by a cannon ball.' He shorely jumped up an' down with pleasure an' he called back: 'The good Lord certainly watches over them that ain't got any sense. Dan, you flat-headed, hump-backed, round-shouldered, thin-chested, knock-kneed, club-footed son of a gun, I was never so glad to see anybody before in my life.'
"His eyes were shinin' with delight an' I know mine was, too. Reunions of old friends who for all each know have been dead a year or two, clean blowed to pieces by shells, or shot through by a hundred rifle bullets are powerful affectin'. He come down to the edge of the river an' he shot questions across to me, an' I shot questions at him, an' I felt as if a brother had riz from the dead. An' as we can't shake hands we reaches out the muzzles of our guns and shakes them towards each other in the most friendly way. Then another picket comes up, fellow by name of Henderson, from Mississippi. Bill introduces him to his good old pal, an' we three have a friendly talk. Guess they're down there yet, if you want to see 'em. I liked that fellow, Henderson, too, though he was a powerful boaster."
"All right," said Dick. "Lead on, but don't get us shot."
They went cautiously through the bushes to the bank of the river, and then the sergeant blew softly between his fingers. Two figures at once appeared on the other side, and Sergeant Whitley and the boys rose up.
"Mr. Brayton and Mr. Henderson," said the sergeant politely, "I want to introduce my friends, Lieutenant Mason, Lieutenant Warner and Lieutenant Pennington."
"Movin' in mighty good comp'ny, though young, Dan," said Brayton, who was about Whitley's age and build.
"They're officers, an' they're young, as you say," said Whitley, "but they're good ones."
"Them's the kind we eat alive, when we ain't got anything else to eat," said the Mississippian, a very tall, sallow and youngish man. "We're never too strong on rations, and when I eat prisoners I like 'em under twenty the best. They ain't had time to get tough. I speak right now for that yellow-haired one in the middle."
"You can't swallow me," said Pennington, good naturedly. "I'll just turn myself crossways and stick in your throat."
"What are you fellows after around here, anyway?" continued the Mississippian. "The weather's hot an' we all want to go in swimmin' to-morrow, bein' as we have two rivers handy. Shore as you live if you get to botherin' us we'll hurt you."
"You won't hurt us," said Dick, "because to-morrow we're going to surround you and drive you into a coop."
"Drive us in a coop. See here, Yank, you're gettin' excited. Do you know how many men we have here waitin' for you? Of course you don't. Why, it's four hundred thousand, ain't it, Bill?"
"No, it's just two hundred thousand. I don't believe in lyin' fur effect, Jim."
"I ain't lyin'. There's two hundred thousand men. Then there's Bobby Lee. That's a hundred thousand more, which makes three hundred thousand. Then there's Stonewall Jackson, who's another hundred thousand, which brings the figures up to exactly what I said, four hundred thousand. Now, ain't I right, Bill?"
"You shorely are, Jim. I was a fool for countin' the way I did. Will you overlook it this time?"
"Wa'al, I will this time, but be shore you don't do it ag'in. Now, see here, you Yanks: we like you well enough. You're friends of Bill, who is a friend of me. Just you take my advice an' go home. Start to-night while the weather is warm, an' the roads are good. If you're afraid of our chasin' you we'll give you a runnin' start of a hunderd miles."
"Wa'al now, that's right kind of you," said Whitley. "I for one might take your advice, but I was froze up so much in them wild mountains an' plains of the northwest that I like to go south when the winter's comin' on. It's hot now, all right, but in two months the chilly blasts will be seekin' my marrow."
"I was speakin' for your own good," said the Mississippian gravely. "Anyway, you won't be troubled by the cold weather 'cause if you don't go back into the no'th where you belong, we'll be takin' you a prisoner way down south, where you don't belong. But you could have a good time there. We won't treat you bad. There's fine huntin' for b'ars in the canebrake an' the rivers an' bayous are full of fish. Your captivity won't be downright painful on you."
"Glad to get your welcome, Mr. Henderson," said Whitley, "'cause we've heard a lot 'bout the hospitality of Mississippi, an' we're shorely goin' to stretch it. I'm comin', an' I'm bringin' a couple of hundred thousand fellers 'bout my size with me. Funny thing, we'll all wear blue coats just alike. Think you'd find room for us?"
"Plenty of it. What was it the feller said--we welcome you with bloody hands to hospitable graves--but we ain't feelin' that way to-night. Got a plug of terbacker?"
The sergeant took out a square of tobacco, cut it in exact halves with his pocket knife, and tossed one-half across the Antietam, where it was deftly caught by the Mississippian.
"Thanks mightily," said Henderson. "Mr. Commissary Banks used to supply us with good things, then it was Mr. Commissary Pope, and now I reckon it'll be Mr. Commissary McClellan. Say, how many fellers have you got over thar, anyway?"
"When I counted 'em last night," replied the sergeant calmly, "there was five hundred and twelve thousand two hundred and fifty-three infantry, sixty-four thousand two hundred and nineteen cavalry an' three thousand one hundred and seventy-five cannon, but I reckon we'll receive reinforcements of three hundred thousand before mornin'."
"Then we'll have more prisoners than I thought. Are you shore them three hundred thousand reinforcements will get up in time?"
"Quite shore. I've sent 'em word to hurry."
"Then we'll have to take them, too."
"Time you fellers quit your talkin'," said Brayton, "a major or a colonel may come strollin' 'long here any minute, an' they don't like for us fellers to be too friendly. Dan, I'm powerful glad to see you ag'in, an' I hope you won't get killed. I've a feelin' that you an' me will be ridin' over the plains once more some day, an' we won't be fightin' each other. We'll be fightin' Sioux an' Cheyennes an' all that red lot, just as we did in the old days. Here's a good-bye."
He thrust out the muzzle of his gun, an' Whitley thrust out his. Then they shook them at each other in friendly salute, and the little group moved away from the river bank.
"I'm glad I've seen Bill again," said the sergeant. "Fine feller an' that Mississippian with him was quaint like. Mighty big bragger."
"You did some bragging yourself, sergeant," said Dick.
"So I did, but it was in answer to Henderson. I'm glad we had that little talk across the river. It was a friendly thing to do, before we fall to slaughterin' one another."
They rejoined Colonel Winchester, and Dick worked through a part of the night carrying orders and other messages. A great movement was going on. Fresh troops were continually coming up, but there was little noise beyond the Antietam, although he saw the light of many fires.
He slept after midnight and awoke at dawn, expecting to go at once into battle. Some of the troops were moved about and Colonel Winchester began to rage again.
"Good God! can it be possible!" he exclaimed, "that another day will be lost? Is General McClellan instead of General Lee waiting for Jackson to come? With the enemy safely within the trap, we refuse to shut it down upon him!"
He said these things only within the hearing of Dick, who he knew would never repeat them. But he was not the only one to complain. Men higher in rank than he, generals, spoke their discontent openly. Why would not McClellan attack? He had claimed that the rebels had two hundred thousand men at the Seven Days, when it was well known that half that figure or less was their true number. Why should he persist in seeing the enemy double, and even if Lee did have fifty thousand men on the other side of the Antietam, instead of the twenty thousand the scouts assigned to him, the Army of the Potomac could defeat him before Jackson came up.
But McClellan was overcome by caution. In spite of everything he doubled or tripled the numbers of the enemy. Personally brave beyond dispute, he feared for his army. The position of the enemy on the peninsula seemed to have changed somewhat through the night. He believed that the batteries had been moved about, and he telegraphed to Washington that he must find out exactly the disposition of Lee's forces and where the fords were.
Meanwhile the long, hot hours dragged on. The dust trodden up by so many marching feet was terrible. It hung in clouds and added a sting to the burning heat. Dick was wild with impatience, but he knew that it was not worth while to say anything. He, Warner and Pennington, for the lack of something else to do, lay on the dry grass, whispering and watching as well as they could what was going on in Sharpsburg.
Meanwhile Sharpsburg itself seemed a monument to peace. It was deep in dust and the sun blazed on the roofs. Staff officers rode up, and when they dismounted they lazily led their horses to the best shade that could he found. Within a residence Lee sat in close conference with his lieutenants, Stonewall Jackson and Longstreet. Now and then, they looked at the reports of brigade commanders and sometimes they studied the maps of Maryland and Virginia. Lee was calm and confident. The odds against him--and he knew what they were--apparently mattered nothing.
He knew the strength and spirit of his army and to what a pitch it was keyed by victory. Moreover, he knew McClellan, whom he had met at the Seven Days, and he believed, in truth he felt positive that McClellan would delay long enough for the remainder of Jackson's troops to come up. Upon this belief he staked the future of the Confederacy in the battle to be fought there between the Potomac and the Antietam. His troops were worn by battles and tremendous marches. Jackson's men in three days had marched sixty miles, and had fought a battle at Harper's Ferry within that time, also, taking more than thirteen thousand prisoners. Never before had the foot cavalry marched so hard.
The men in gray, ragged and many of them barefooted, slept in the woods about Sharpsburg all through the hot hours of the day. Their officers had told them that the drums and bugles would call them when needed, and they sank quietly into the deepest of slumbers. From where they lay Red Hill, a spur of a mountain, separated them from the Union army. It was only those like Dick and his comrades who mounted elevations and who had powerful field glasses who could see into Sharpsburg. The main Union force saw only the top of a church spire or two in the village. But each felt fully the presence of the other and knew that the battle could not be delayed long.
Dick, in his anxiety and excitement, fell asleep. The heat and the waiting seemed to overpower him. He did not know how long he had slept, but he was awakened by the sharp call of a trumpet, and when he sprang to his feet Warner told him it was about four o'clock.
"What's up?" he cried, as he wiped the haze of heat and dust from his eyes.
"We're about to march," replied Warner, "but as it's so late in the day I don't think it can be a general attack. Still, I know that our division is going to cross the Antietam. Up here the stream is narrower than it is down below, and the banks are not so high. Look, the colonel is beckoning to us! Here we go!"
They sprang upon their horses, and a great corps advanced toward the Antietam, far above the town of Sharpsburg. The sun had declined in the West, and a breeze, bringing a little coolness, had begun to blow. They did not see much preparation for defense beyond the river, but as they advanced some cannon in the woods opened there. The Union cannon replied, and then the brigades in blue moved forward swiftly.
The officers and the cavalry galloped their horses into the little river and Dick felt a fierce joy as the water was dashed into his face. This was action, movement, the attack that had been delayed so long but which was not yet too late. He thought nothing of the shells hissing and shrieking over his head, and he shouted with the others in exultation as they passed the fords of the Antietam and set foot on the peninsula. The cannon dashed after them through the stream and up the bank.
A heavy rifle fire from the woods met them, but the triumphant division pressed on. They were held back at the edge of the woods by cannon aiding the rifles, and for some time a battle swayed back and forth, but the Confederate resistance ceased suddenly. Infantry and batteries disappeared in woods or beyond a ridge, and then Dick noticed that night was coming. The sun was already hidden by the lofty slopes of the western mountains, and there would be no battle that day. In another half hour full darkness would be upon them.
But Dick felt that something had been achieved. A powerful Union force was now beyond the Antietam, with its feet rooted firmly in the soil of the peninsula. It looked directly south at the Confederate army and there was no barrier between. Lee would have to face at once, Hooker on the north and McClellan on the east across the Antietam. The Union army had been numerous enough to outflank him.
Dick was quite sure of success now. They had lost two of the most precious of all days instead of one, but they had closed the gap on the north, through which Lee's army might march in an attempt to escape. It was likely, too, that the last of Jackson's men would come that way and the Union force would cut them off from Lee. Two entire army corps were now beyond the Antietam, and they should be able to do anything.
The Winchester regiment lay in deep woods, and the great division although it had rested nearly all the day was quiet in the night. But some ardent souls could not rest. A group of officers, including Colonel Winchester and the three young members of his staff, walked forward through the woods, taking the chance of stray shots from sentinels or skirmishers. But they knew that this risk was not great.
They passed near a mill, its wheels and saws silent now, and presently as the moon rose they saw the square white walls of a building shining in its light.
"The Dunkard church," said one of the officers. "I think we'd better not go any closer. The Johnnies must be lying thick close at hand."
"The dim light off to the right must be made by their fires," said Colonel Winchester. "I wish I knew what troops they are. Jackson's perhaps. It's a rough country, and all these forests and ridges and hills will help the defense. I understand that the farms in here are surrounded by stone fences and that, too, will help the Johnnies."
"But we'll get 'em," said another confidently. "The battle can't be put off any longer, and we're bound to smash 'em in the morning."
They remained in the darkness for a while, trying to see what was passing toward the Southern lines, but they could see little. There was some rifle firing after a while, and the occasional deep note of a cannon, mostly at random and the little group walked back.
"I'm going to sleep, Dick," said Warner. "I've just remembered that I'm an invalid and that if I overtask myself it will be a bad thing for McClellan to-morrow. The colonel doesn't want us any longer, and so here goes."
"I follow," said Pennington. "The dry earth is good enough for me. May I stay on top of it for the next half century."
Warner and Pennington slept quickly, but Dick lay awake a long time, listening to the stray rifle shots and the distant boom of a cannon at far intervals. After a while, he looked at his watch and saw that it was midnight. It was more than an hour later when slumber overtook him, and while he and his comrades lay there the last of Jackson's men were coming with the help that Lee needed so sorely.
Two divisions which had been left at Harper's Ferry started at midnight just as Dick was looking at his watch and at dawn they were almost to the Potomac. On their flank was a cavalry brigade and A. P. Hill was hurrying with another of infantry. Messenger after messenger from them came to Lee that on the fateful day they with their fourteen thousand bayonets would be in line when they were needed most.
Few of those who fought for the Lost Cause ever cherished anything more vividly than those hours between midnight and the next noon when they marched at the double quick across hill and valley and forest to the relief of their great commander. There was little need for the officers to urge them on, and at sunrise the rolling of the cannon was calling to them to come faster, always faster.