The Scouts of Stonewall by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter X. Winchester
Ashby's troopers put the armed guard of the wagons to flight in an instant, and then they seized the rich pillage in these wagons. They were not yet used to the stern discipline of regular armies and Ashby strove in vain to bring most of them back to the pursuit of the flying enemy. Harry also sought to help, but they laughed at him, and he had not yet come to the point where he could cut down a disobedient soldier. Nor had the soldiers reached the point where they would suffer such treatment from an officer. Had Harry tried such a thing it is more than likely that he would have been cut down in his turn.
But the delay and similar delays elsewhere helped the retreating Northern army. Banks, feeling that the pursuit was not now so fierce, sent back a strong force with artillery under a capable officer, Gordon, to help the rear. The scattered and flying detachments also gathered around Gordon and threw themselves across the turnpike.
Harry felt the resistance harden and he saw the pursuit of the Southern army slow up. The day, too, was waning. Shadows were already appearing in the east and if Jackson would destroy Banks' army utterly he must strike quick and hard. Harry at that moment caught sight of the general on the turnpike, on Little Sorrel, the reins lying loose on the horse's neck, his master sitting erect, and gazing at the darkening battlefield which was spread out before him.
Harry galloped up and saluted.
"I could not come back at once, sir," he said, "because the enemy was crowded in between Ashby and yourself."
"But you've come at last. I was afraid you had fallen."
Harry's face flushed gratefully. He knew now that Stonewall Jackson would have missed him.
"If the night were only a little further away," continued Jackson, "we could get them all! But the twilight is fighting for them! And they fight for themselves also! Look, how those men retreat! They do well for troops who were surprised and routed not so long ago!"
He spoke in a general way to his staff, but his tone expressed decided admiration. Harry felt again that the core of the Northern resistance was growing harder and harder. The hostile cannon blazed down the road, and the men as they slowly retired sent sheets of rifle bullets at their pursuers. Detachments of their flying cavalry were stopped, reformed on the flanks, and had the temerity to charge the victors more than once.
Harry did not notice now that the twilight was gone and the sun had sunk behind the western mountains. The road between pursuer and pursued was lighted up by the constant flashes of cannon and rifles, and at times he fancied that he could see the vengeful and threatening faces of those whom he followed, but it was only fancy, fancy bred by battle and its excitement.
The pursued crossed a broad marshy creek, the Opequon, and suddenly formed in line of battle behind it with the cavalry on their flanks. The infantry poured in heavier volleys than before and their horsemen, charging suddenly upon a Virginia regiment that was trying to cross, sent it back in rapid retreat.
After the great volleys it was dark for a moment or two and then Harry saw that General Jackson and his staff were sitting alone on their horses on the turnpike. The Northern rifles flashed again on the edge of the creek, and from a long stone fence, behind which they had also taken refuge for a last stand.
Harry and his comrades urged Jackson off the turnpike, where he was a fair target for the rifles whenever there was light, and into the bushes beside it. They were just in time, as the night was illuminated an instant later by cannon flashes and then a shower of bullets swept the road where Jackson and his staff had been.
Harry thought that they would stop now, but he did not yet know fully his Stonewall Jackson. He ordered up another Virginia regiment, which, reckless of death, charged straight in front, crossed the creek and drove the men in blue out of their position.
Yet the Northern troops, men from Massachusetts, refused to be routed. They fell back in good order, carrying their guns with them, and stopping at intervals to fire with cannon and rifles at their pursuers. Jackson and his staff spurred through the Opequon. Water and mud flew in Harry's face, but he did not notice them. He was eager to be up with the first, because Jackson was still urging on the pursuit, even far into the night. Banks with his main force had escaped him for the time, but he did not mean that the Northern commander should make his retreat at leisure.
Harry had never passed through such a night. It contained nothing but continuous hours of pursuit and battle. The famous foot cavalry had marched nearly twenty miles that day, they had fought a hard combat that afternoon, and they were still fighting. But Jackson allowed not a moment's delay. He was continually sending messengers to regiments and companies to hurry up, always to hurry up, faster, and faster and yet faster.
Harry carried many such messages. In the darkness and the confusion his clothing was half torn off him by briars and bushes. His horse fell twice, stumbling into gulleys, but fortunately neither he nor his rider was injured. Often he was compelled to rein up suddenly lest he ride over the Southern lads themselves. All around him he heard the panting of men pushed to the last ounce of their strength, and often there was swearing, too. Once in the darkness he heard the voice of a boy cry out:
"Oh, Lord, have mercy on me and let me go to Hades! The Devil will have mercy on me, but Stonewall Jackson never will!"
Harry did not laugh, nor did he hear anyone else laugh. He had expressed the opinion that many of them held at that moment. Stonewall Jackson was driving them on in the darkness and the light that he furnished them was a flaming sword. It was worse to shirk and face him, than it was to go on and face the cannon and rifles of the enemy.
They called upon their reserves of strength for yet another ounce, and it came. The pursuit thundered on, through the woods and bushes and across the hills and valleys, but the men in blue, in spite of everything, retained their ranks on the turnpike, retreated in order, and facing at intervals, sent volley after volley against the foe. It was impossible for the Southern army to ride them down or destroy them with cannon and rifle.
Harry came back about midnight from one of his messages, to Jackson, who was again riding on the turnpike. Most of his staff were gone on like errands, but General Taylor who led the Acadians was now with him. Off in front the rifles were flashing, and again and again, bullets whistled near them. Harry said nothing but fell in behind Jackson and close to him to await some new commission.
They heard the thunder of a horse's hoofs behind them, and a man galloped up, he as well as his horse breathing hard.
He was the chief quartermaster of the army, and Jackson recognized him at once, despite the dark.
"Where are the wagon trains?" exclaimed Jackson, shouting forth his words.
"They're far behind. They were held up by a bad road in the Luray valley. We did our best, sir," replied the officer, his voice trembling with weariness and nervousness.
"And the ammunition wagons, where are they?"
The voice was stern, even accusing, but the officer met Jackson's gaze firmly.
"They are all right, sir," he replied. "I sacrificed the other wagons for them, though. They're at hand."
"You have done well, sir," said Jackson, and Harry thought he saw him smile. No food for his veterans, but plenty of powder. It was exactly what would appeal to Stonewall Jackson.
"Supply more powder and bullets to the men," said Jackson presently. "Keep on pushing the enemy! Never stop for a moment."
Harry mechanically put his hand in his pocket, why he did not know, but he felt a piece of bread and meat that he had put there in the morning. He fingered the foreign substance a moment, and it occurred to him that it was good to eat. It occurred to him next that he had not eaten anything since morning, and this body of his, which for the time being seemed to be dissevered from mind, might be hungry.
He took out the food and looked at it. It was certainly good to the eyes, and the body was not so completely dissevered after all, as it began to signal the mind that it was, in very truth, hungry. He was about to raise the food to his lips and then he remembered.
Spurring forward a little he held out the bread and meat to Jackson.
"It's cold and hard, sir," he said, "but you'll find it good."
"It's thoughtful of you," said Jackson. "I'll take half and see that you eat the rest. Give none of it to this hungry horde around me. They're able to forage for themselves."
Jackson ate his half and Harry his. That reminded most of the officers that they had food also, and producing it they divided it and fell to with an appetite. As they ate, a shell from one of the retreating Northern batteries burst almost over their heads and fragments of hot metal struck upon the hard road. They ate on complacently. When Jackson had finished his portion he took out one of his mysterious lemons and began to suck the end of it.
Midnight was now far behind and the pursuit never halted. One of the officers remarked jokingly that he had accepted an invitation to take breakfast on the Yankee stores in Winchester the next morning. Jackson made no comment. Harry a few minutes later uttered a little cry.
"What is it?" asked Jackson.
"We're coming upon our old battlefield of Kernstown. I know those hills even in the dark."
"So we are. You have good eyes, boy. It's been a long march, but here we are almost back in Winchester."
"The enemy are massing in front, sir," said Dalton. "It looks as if they meant to make another stand."
The Massachusetts troops, their hearts bitter at the need to retreat, were forming again on a ridge behind Kernstown, and the Pennsylvanians and others were joining them. Their batteries opened heavily on their pursuers, and the night was lighted again with the flame of many cannon and rifles.
But their efforts were vain against the resistless advance of Jackson. The peal of the Southern trumpets was heard above cannon and rifles, always calling upon the men to advance, and, summoning their strength anew, they hurled themselves upon the Northern position.
Fighting hard, but unable to turn the charge, the men in blue were driven on again, leaving more prisoners and more spoil in the hands of their pursuers. The battle at three o'clock in the morning lasted but a short time.
The sound of the retreating column, the footsteps, the hoof-beats and the roll of the cannon, died away down the turnpike. But the sound of the army marching in pursuit died, also. Jackson's men could call up no further ounce of strength. The last ounce had gone long ago. Many of them, though still marching and at times firing, were in a mere daze. The roads swam past them in a dark blur and more than one babbled of things at home.
It would soon be day and there was Winchester, where the kin of so many of them lived, that Winchester they had left once, but to which they were now coming back as conquerors, conquerors whose like had not been seen since the young Napoleon led his republican troops to the conquest of Italy. No, those French men were not as good as they. They could not march so long and over such roads. They could not march all day and all night, too, fighting and driving armies of brave men before them as they fought. Yes, the Yankees were brave men! They were liars who said they wouldn't fight! If you didn't believe it, all you had to do was to follow Stonewall Jackson and see!
Such thoughts ran in many a young head in that army and Harry's, too, was not free from them, although it was no new thing to him to admit that the Yankees could and would fight just as well as the men of his South. The difference in the last few days lay in the fact that the Southern army was led by a man while the Northern army was led by mere men.
The command to halt suddenly ran along the lines of Jackson's troops, and, before it ceased to be repeated, thousands were lying prostrate in the woods or on the grass. They flung themselves down just as they were, reckless of horses or wagons or anything else. Why should they care? They were Jackson's men. They had come a hundred miles, whipping armies as they came, and they were going to whip more. But now they meant to rest and sleep a little while, and they would resume the whipping after sunrise.
It was but a little while until dawn and they lay still. Harry, who had kept his eyes open, felt sorry for them as they lay motionless in the chill of the dawn, like so many dead men.
Jackson himself took neither sleep nor rest. Without even a cloak to keep off the cold of dawn, he walked up and down, looking at the silent ranks stretched upon the ground, or going forward a little to gaze in the direction of Winchester. Nothing escaped his eye, and he heard everything. Dalton, too, had refused to lie down and he stood with Harry. The two gazed at the sober figure walking slowly to and fro.
"He begins to frighten me," whispered Dalton. "He now seems to me at times, Harry, not to be human, or rather more than human. It has been more than a day and night now since he has taken a second of rest, and he appears to need none."
"He is human like the rest of us, but the flame in him burns stronger. He gets cold and hungry and tired just as we do, but his will carries him on all the same."
"I'm thankful that I fight with him and not against him," said Dalton earnestly.
"Yes, and you're going to march again with him in five minutes. See the gray blur in the east, George. It's the dawn and Jackson never waits on the morning."
Jackson was already giving the order for the men to awake and march forth to battle. It seemed to most of them that they had closed their eyes but a minute before. They rose, half awake, without food, cold, and stiff from the frightful exertions of the day and night before, and advanced mechanically in line.
The sun again was yellow and bright in a clear blue sky, and soon the day would be warm. As they heard the sound of the trumpets they shook sleep wholly from their eyes, and, as they moved, much of the soreness went from their bones. Not far before them was Winchester.
Banks was in Winchester with his army. The fierce pursuit of the night before had filled him with dismay, but with the morning he recalled his courage and resolved to make a victorious stand with the valiant troops that he led. Many of his officers told him how these men had fought Jackson all through the night, and he found abundant cause for courage.
Harry and Dalton sprang into the saddle again, and, as they rode with Jackson, they saw that the whole Southern army was at hand. Ewell was there and the cavalry and the Acadians, their band saluting the morning with a brave battle march. It sent the blood dancing through Harry's veins. He forgot his immense exertions, dangers and hardships and that he had had no sleep in twenty-four hours.
Before him lay the enemy. It was no longer Jackson who retreated before overwhelming numbers. He had the larger force now, at least where the battle was fought, and although the Northern troops in the valley exceeded him three or four to one, he was with his single army destroying their detached forces in detail.
General Jackson, General Taylor and several other high officers were just in front of the first Southern line, and Harry and Dalton sat on their horses a few yards in the rear. The two generals were examining the Northern position minutely through their glasses, and the chief, turning presently to Harry, said:
"You have young and strong eyes. Tell me what you can see."
Harry raised the splendid pair of glasses that he had captured in one of the engagements and took a long, careful look.
"I can see west of the turnpike," he said, "at least four or five regiments and a battery of eight big guns. I think, too, that there is a force of cavalry behind them. On the right, sir, I see stone fences and the windings of the creeks with large masses of infantry posted behind them."
He spoke modestly, but with confidence.
"Your eyesight agrees with mine," said Jackson. "We outnumber them, but they have the advantage of the defense. But it shall not avail them."
He spoke to himself rather than to the others, but Harry heard every word he said, and he already felt the glow of the victory that Jackson had promised. He now considered it impossible for Jackson to promise in vain.
The sun was rising on another brilliant morning, and the two armies that had been fighting all through the dark now stood face to face in full force in the light. Behind the Northern army was Winchester in all the throes of anxiety or sanguine hope.
The people had heard two or three days before that Jackson was fighting his way back toward the north, winning wherever he fought. They had heard in the night the thunder of his guns coming, always nearer, and the torrents of fugitives in the dark had told them that the Northern army was pushed hard. Now in the morning they were looking eagerly southward, hoping to see Jackson's gray legions driving the enemy before him. But it was yet scarcely full dawn, and for a while they heard nothing.
Jackson waited a little and scanned the field again. The morning had now come in the west as well as in the east, and he saw the strong Northern artillery posted on both sides of the turnpike, threatening the Southern advance.
"We must open with the cannon," he said, and he dispatched Harry and Dalton to order up the guns.
The Southern batteries were pushed forward, and opened with a terrific crash on their enemy, telling the waiting people in Winchester that the battle had begun. The infantry and cavalry on either side, eager despite their immense exertions and loss of rest and lack of food, were held back by their officers, while the artillery combat went on.
Jackson, anxious to see the result, rode a little further forward, and the group of staff officers, of course, went with him. Some keen-eyed Northern gunner picked them out, and a shell fell near. Then came another yet nearer, and when it burst it threw dirt all over them.
"A life worth so much as General Jackson's should not be risked this way," whispered Dalton to Harry, "but I don't dare say anything to him."
"Nor do I, and if we did dare he'd pay no attention to us. Our gunners don't seem to be driving their gunners away. Do you notice that, George?"
"Yes, I do and so does General Jackson. I can see him frowning."
The Northern batteries, nearly always of high quality, were doing valiant service that morning. The three batteries on the left of the turnpike and another of eight heavy rifled guns on the right, swept the whole of Jackson's front with solid shot, grape and shell. The Southern guns, although more numerous, were unable to crush them. The batteries of the South were suffering the more. One of them was driven back with the loss of half its men and horses. At another every officer was killed.
"They outshoot us," said Dalton to Harry, "and they make a splendid stand for men who have been kept on the run for two days and nights."
"So they do," said Harry, "but sooner or later they'll have to give way. I heard General Jackson say that we would win a victory."
Dalton glanced at him.
"So you feel that way, too," he said very seriously. "I got the belief some time ago. If he says we'll win we'll win. His prediction settles it in my mind."
"There's a fog rising from the creek," said Harry, "and it's growing heavier. I think Ewell was to march that way with his infantry and it will hold him back. Chance is against us."
"His guns have been out of action, but there they come again! I can't see them, but I can hear them through the mist."
"And here goes the main force on our left. Stonewall is about to strike."
Harry had discovered the movement the moment it was begun. The whole Stonewall brigade, the Acadians and other regiments making a formidable force, moved to the left and charged. Gordon, Banks' able assistant, threw in fresh troops to meet the Southern rush, and they fired almost point blank in the faces of the men in gray. Harry, riding forward with the eager Jackson, saw many fall, but the Southern charge was not checked for a moment. The men, firing their rifles, leaped the stone fences and charged home with the bayonet. The Northern regiments were driven back in disorder and their cavalry sweeping down to protect them, were met by such a sleet of bullets that they, too, were driven back.
Now all the Southern regiments came up. Infantry, cavalry and artillery crossed the creek and the ridges and formed in a solid line which nothing could resist. The enemy, carrying away what cannon he could, was driven swiftly before them. The rebel yell, wild and triumphant, swelled from ten thousand throats as Jackson's army rushed forward, pursuing the enemy into Winchester.
Harry was shouting with the rest. He couldn't help it. The sober Dalton had snatched off his cap, and he, too, was shouting. Then Harry saw Jackson himself giving way to exultation, for the first time. He was back at Winchester which he loved so well, he had defeated the enemy before it, and now he was about to chase him through its streets. He spurred his horse at full speed down a rocky hill, snatched off his cap, whirled it around his head and cried at the top of his voice again and again:
"Chase them to the Potomac! Chase them to the Potomac!"
Harry and Dalton, hearing the cry, took it up and shouted it, too. Before them was a vast bank of smoke and dust, shot with fire, and the battle thundered as it rolled swiftly into Winchester. The Northern officers, still strove to prevent a rout. They performed prodigies of valor. Many of them fell, but the others, undaunted, still cried to the men to turn and beat off the foe.
Winchester suddenly shot up from the dust and smoke. The battle went on in the town more fiercely than ever. Torrents of shell and bullets swept the narrow streets, but many of the women did not hesitate to appear at the windows and shout amid all the turmoil and roar of battle cheers and praise for those whom they considered their deliverers. Over all rose the roar and flame of a vast conflagration where Banks had set his storehouses on fire, but the women cheered all the more when they saw it.
Harry did his best to keep up with his general, but Jackson still seemed to be aflame with excitement. He was in the very front of the attack and he cried to his men incessantly to push on. It was not enough to take Winchester. They must follow the beaten army to the Potomac.
Harry had a vision of flame-swept streets, of the whizzing of bullets and shell, of men crowded thick between the houses, and of the faces of women at windows, handkerchiefs and veils in their hands. Before him was a red mist sown with sparks, but every minute or two the mist was rent open by the blast of a cannon, and then the fragments of shell whistled again about his ears. He kept his eyes on Jackson, endeavoring to follow him as closely as possible.
He heard suddenly a cry behind him. He saw Dalton's horse falling, and then Dalton and the horse disappeared. He felt a catch at the heart, but it was not a time to remember long. The Southern troops were still pouring forward driving hard on the Northern resistance.
He heard a moment or two later a voice by his side and there was Dalton again mounted.
"I thought you were gone!" Harry shouted.
"I was gone for a minute but it was only my horse that stayed. He was shot through the heart but I caught another--plenty of riderless ones are galloping about--and here I am."
The houses and the narrow streets offered some support to the defense of Banks, but he was gradually driven through the town and out into the fields beyond. Then the women, careless of bullets, came out of the houses and weeping and cheering urged on the pursuit. It always seemed to Harry that the women of this section hated the North more than the men did, and now it was in very fact and deed the fierce women of the South cheering on their men.
He came in the fields into contact with the Invincibles. St. Clair was on foot, his horse killed, but Langdon was still riding, although there was a faint trickle of blood from his shoulder. Some grim demon seized him as he saw Harry.
"We said we were coming back to Winchester," he shouted in his comrade's ear, "and we have come, but we don't stay. Harry, how long does Old Jack expect us to march and fight without stopping?"
"Until you get through."
Then the Invincibles, curving a little to the right, were lost in the flame and smoke, and the pursuit, Jackson continually urging it, swept on. He seemed to Harry to be all fire. He shouted again and again. "We must follow them to the Potomac! To the Potomac! To the Potomac!" He sent his staff flying to every regimental commander with orders. He had the horses cut from the artillery and men mounted on them to continue the pursuit. He inquired continually for the cavalry. Harry, after returning from his second errand with orders, was sent on a third to Ashby. There was no time to write any letter. He was to tell him to come up with cavalry and attack the Federal rear with all his might.
Harry found Ashby far away on the right, and with but fifty men. The rest had been scattered. He galloped back to his general and reported. He saw Jackson bite his lip in annoyance, but he said nothing. Harry remained by his side and the chase went on through the fields. Winchester was left out of sight behind, but the crashing of the rifles and the shouts of the troopers did not cease.
The Northern army had not yet dissolved. Although many commands were shattered and others destroyed, the core of it remained, and, as it retreated, it never ceased to strike back. Harry saw why Jackson was so anxious to bring up his cavalry. A strong charge by them and the fighting half of the Northern force would be split asunder. Then nothing would be left but to sweep up the fragments.
But Jackson's men had reached the limit of human endurance. They were not made of steel as their leader was, and the tremendous exultation of spirit that had kept them up through battle and pursuit began to die. Their strength, once its departure started, ebbed fast. Their knees crumpled under them and the weakest fell unwounded in the fields. The gaps between them and the Northern rear-guard widened, and gradually the flying army of Banks disappeared among the hills and woods.
Banks, deeming himself lucky to have saved a part of his troops, did not stop until he reached Martinsburg, twenty-two miles north of Winchester. There he rested a while and resumed his flight, other flying detachments joining him as he went. He reached the Potomac at midnight with less than half of his army, and boats carried the wearied troops over the broad river behind which they found refuge.
Most of the victors meanwhile lay asleep in the fields north of Winchester, but others had gone back to the town and were making an equitable division of the Northern stores among the different regiments. Harry and Dalton were sent with those who went to the town. On their way Harry saw St. Clair and Langdon lying under an apple tree, still and white. He thought at first they were dead, but stopping a moment he saw their chests rising and falling with regular motion, and he knew that they were only sleeping. The whiteness of their faces was due to exhaustion.
Feeling great relief he rode on and entered the exultant town. He marked many of the places that he had known before, the manse where the good minister lived, the churches and the colonnaded houses, in more than one of which he had passed a pleasant hour.
Here Harry saw people that he knew. They could not do enough for him. They wanted to overwhelm him with food, with clothes, with anything he wanted. They wanted him to tell over and over again of that wonderful march of theirs, how they had issued suddenly from the mountains in the wake of the flying Milroy, how they had marched down the valley winning battle after battle, marching and fighting without ceasing, both by day and by night.
He was compelled to decline all offers of hospitality save food, which he held in his hands and ate as he went about his work. When he finished he went back to his general, and being told that he was wanted no more for the night, wrapped himself in his cloak and lay down under an apple tree.
He felt then that mother-earth was truly receiving him into her kindly lap. He had not closed his eyes for nearly two days--it seemed a month--and looking back at all through which he had passed it seemed incredible. Human beings could not endure so much. They marched through fire, where Stonewall Jackson led, and they never ceased to march. He saw just beyond the apple tree a dusky figure walking up and down. It was Jackson. Would he never rest? Was he not something rather more than normal after all? Harry was very young and he rode with his hero, seeing him do his mighty deeds.
But nature had given all that it had to yield, and soon he slept, lying motionless and white like St. Clair and Langdon. But all through the night the news of Jackson's great blow was traveling over the wires. He had struck other fierce blows, but this was the most terrible of them all. Alarm spread through the whole North. Lincoln and his Cabinet saw a great army of rebels marching on Washington. A New York newspaper which had appeared in the morning with the headline, "Fall of Richmond," appeared at night with the headline "Defeat of General Banks." McDowell's army, which, marching by land, was to co-operate with McClellan in the taking of Richmond, was recalled to meet Jackson. The governors of the loyal states issued urgent appeals for more troops.
Harry learned afterward how terribly effective had been the blow. The whole Northern campaign had been upset by the meteoric appearance of Jackson and the speed with which he marched and fought. McDowell's army of 40,000 men and a hundred guns had been scattered, and it would take him much time to get it all together again. McClellan, advancing on Richmond, was without the support on his right which McDowell was to furnish and was compelled to hesitate.
But Jackson's foot cavalry were soon to find that they were not to rest on their brilliant exploits. As eager as ever, their general was making them ready for another great advance further into the North.