The Scouts of Stonewall by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter XII. The Closing Circle
"George," said Harry, "we must chance it now and get back to the horses. We've got to reach General Jackson before the Northern army is through the pass."
"You lead," said Dalton. "I don't think we'll have any danger except when we are in that strip of grass between these bushes and the woods."
Harry started, and when he reached the grass threw himself almost flat on his face again, crawling forward with extreme caution. Dalton, close behind him, imitated his comrade. The high grass merely rippled as they passed and the anxious Northern officers walking back and forth were not well enough versed in woodcraft to read from any sign that an enemy was near.
Once Dalton struck his knee against a small bush and caused its leaves to rustle. A wary and experienced scout would have noticed the slight, though new noise, and Harry and Dalton, stopping, lay perfectly still. But the officers walked to and fro, undisturbed, and the two boys resumed their creeping flight.
When they reached the forest, they rose gladly from their knees, and ran up the slope, still bearing in mind that time was now the most pressing of all things. They whistled softly as they neared the little plateau, and Billy's low answering whistle came back. They hurried up the last reach of the slope, and there he was, the eyes shining in his eager face, the three bridles clutched tightly in his small right hand.
"Did you get what you wanted?" he asked in a whisper.
"We did, Billy," answered Harry.
"I saw 'em sendin' up shootin' stars an' other shootin' stars way off to the east answerin', an' I didn't know what it meant."
"It was their vanguard in the Gap, talking to their army several miles to the eastward. But we lay in the bushes, Billy, and we heard what their officers said. All that you heard was true. Ten thousand Yankees will be through the pass in the morning, and Stonewall Jackson will have great cause to be grateful to William Pomeroy, aged twelve."
The boy's eyes fairly glowed, but he was a man of action.
"Then I guess that we've got to jump on our horses and ride lickety split down the valley to give warnin' to General Jackson," he said.
Harry knew what was passing in the boy's mind, that he would go with them all the way to Jackson, and he did not have the heart to say anything to the contrary just then. But Dalton replied:
"Right you are, Billy. We ride now as if the woods were burning behind us."
Billy was first in the saddle and led the way. The horses had gained a good rest, while Harry and Dalton were stalking the troopers in the valley, and, after they had made the descent of the slope, they swung into a long easy gallop across the level.
The little lad still kept his place in front. Neither of the others would have deprived him of this honor which he deserved so well. He sat erect, swinging with his horse, and he showed no sign of weariness. They took no precautions now to evade a possible meeting with the enemy. What they needed was haste, haste, always haste. They must risk everything to carry the news to Jackson. A mere half hour might mean the difference between salvation and destruction.
Harry felt the great tension of the moment. The words of the Northern officers had made him understand what he already suspected. The whole fate of the Confederacy would waver in the balance on the morrow. If Jackson were surrounded and overpowered, the South would lose its right arm. Then the armies that engulfed him would join McClellan and pour forward in an overwhelming host on Richmond.
Their hoofbeats rang in a steady beat on the road, as they went forward on that long easy gallop which made the miles drop swiftly behind them. The skies brightened, and the great stars danced in a solid sheet of blue. They were in the gently rolling country, and occasionally they passed a farmhouse. Now and then, a watchful dog barked at them, but they soon left him and his bark behind.
Harry noticed that Billy's figure was beginning to waver slightly, and he knew that weariness and the lack of sleep were at last gaining the mastery over his daring young spirit. It gave him relief, as it solved a problem that had been worrying him. He rode up by the side of Billy, but he said nothing. The boy's eyelids were heavy and the youthful figure was wavering, but it was in no danger of falling. Billy could have ridden his horse sound asleep.
Harry presently saw the roof of Mrs. Pomeroy's house showing among the trees.
"It's less than half a mile to your house, Billy," he said.
"But I'm not going to stop there. I'm goin' on with you to General Jackson, an' I'm goin' to help him fight the Yankees."
Harry was silent, but when they galloped up to the Pomeroy house, Billy was nearly asleep.
The door sprang open as they approached, and the figure of the stalwart woman appeared. Harry knew that she had been watching there every minute since they left. He was touched by the dramatic spirit of the moment, and he said:
"Mrs. Pomeroy, we bring back to you the most gallant soldier in Stonewall Jackson's army of the Valley of Virginia. He led us straight to the Gap where we were able to learn the enemy's movements, a knowledge which may save the Confederacy from speedy destruction. We bring him back to you, safe and unharmed, and sleeping soundly in his saddle."
He lifted Billy from the saddle and put him in his mother's arms.
"Billy's a hero, Cousin Eliza," said Dalton. "Few full-grown men have done as important deeds in their whole lives as he has done to-night. When he awakens he'll be angry because he didn't go with us, but you tell him we'll see that he's a duly enrolled member of General Jackson's army. Stonewall Jackson never forgets such deeds as his."
"It's a proud woman I am to-night," said Mrs. Pomeroy. "Good-bye, Cousin George, and you, too, Mr. Kenton. I can see that you're in a hurry to be off, and you ought to be. I want to see both of you in my house again in better days."
She went inside, carrying the exhausted and sleeping boy in her arms, and Harry and Dalton galloped away side by side.
"How's your horse, Harry?" asked Dalton.
"Fine. Smooth as silk! How's yours?"
"The machinery moves without a jar. I may be stiff and sore myself, but I'm so anxious to get to General Jackson that I haven't time to think about it."
"Same here. Suppose we speed 'em up a little more."
They came into the turnpike, and now the horses lengthened out their stride as they fled northward. It was yet some time until dawn, but the two young riders took the cold food from their knapsacks and ate as they galloped on. It was well that they had good horses, staunch and true, as they were pushing them hard now.
Harry looked toward the west, where the dark slope of Little North Mountain closed in the valley from that side, and he felt a shiver which he knew did not come from the night air. He knew that a powerful Northern force was off there somewhere, and he wondered what it was doing. But he and Dalton had done their duty. They had uncovered one hostile force, and doubtless other men who rode in the night for Jackson would attend to the rest.
Both Harry and Dalton had been continuously in the saddle for many hours now, but they did not notice their weariness. They were still upborne by a great anxiety and a great exaltation, too. Feeling to the full the imminence and immensity of the crisis, they were bending themselves heart and soul to prevent it, and no thought of weariness could enter their minds. Each was another Billy, only on a larger and older scale.
Later on, the moon and all the stars slipped away, and it became very dark. Harry felt that it was merely a preliminary to the dawn, and he asked Dalton if he did not think so, too.
"It's too dark for me to see the face of my watch," said Dalton, "but I know you're right, Harry. I can just feel the coming of the dawn. It's some quality in the air. I think it grows a little colder than it has been in the other hours of the night."
"I can feel the wind freshening on my face. It nips a bit for a May morning."
They slackened speed a little, wishing to save their horses for a final burst, and stopped once or twice for a second or two to listen for the sound of other hoofbeats than their own. But they heard none.
"If the Yankee armies are already on the turnpike they're not near us. That's sure," said Dalton.
"Do you know how many men they have?"
"Some of the spies brought in what the general believed to be pretty straight reports. The rumors said that Shields was advancing to Manassas Gap with ten thousand men, and from what we heard we know that is true. A second detachment, also ten thousand strong, from McDowell's army is coming toward Front Royal, and McDowell has twenty thousand men east of the Blue Ridge. What the forces to the west are I don't know but the enemy in face of the general himself on the Potomac must now number at least ten thousand."
"And at the best we can't muster more than fifteen thousand fit to carry arms!" he exclaimed.
Dalton leaned over in the dark, and touched his comrade on the shoulder.
"Harry," he said, "don't forget Old Jack. Where Little Sorrel leads there is always an army of forty thousand men. I'm not setting myself up to be very religious, but it's safe to say that he was praying to-night, and when Old Jack prays, look out."
"Yes, if anybody can lead us out of this trap it will be Old Jack," said Harry. "Look, there's the dawn coming over the Blue Ridge, George."
A faint tint of gray was appearing on the loftiest crests of the Blue Ridge. It could scarcely be called light yet, but it was a sign to the two that the darkness there would soon melt away. Gradually the gray shredded off and then the ridges were tipped with silver which soon turned to gold. Dawn rushed down over the valley and the pleasant forests and fields sprang into light.
Then they heard hoofbeats behind them coming fast. The experienced ears of both told them that it was only a single horseman who came, and, drawing their pistols, they turned their horses across the road. When the rider saw the two threatening figures he stopped, but in a moment he rode on again. They were in gray and so was he.
"Why, it's Chris Aubrey of the general's own staff!" exclaimed Dalton. "Don't you know him, Harry?"
"Of course I do. Aubrey, we're friends. It's Dalton and Kenton."
Aubrey dashed his hands across his eyes, as if he were clearing a mist from them. He was worn and weary, and his look bore a singular resemblance to that of despair.
"What is it, Chris?" asked Dalton with sympathy.
"I was sent down the Luray Valley to learn what I could and I discovered that Ord was advancing with ten thousand men on Front Royal, where General Jackson left only a small garrison. I'm going as fast as my horse can take me to tell him."
"We're on the same kind of a mission, Chris," said Harry. "We've seen the vanguard of Shields, ten thousand strong coming through Manassas Gap, and we also are going as fast as our horses can take us to tell General Jackson."
"My God! Does it mean that we are about to be surrounded?"
"It looks like it," said Harry, "but sometimes you catch things that you can't hold. George and I never give up faith in Old Jack."
"Nor do I," said Aubrey. "Come on! We'll ride together! I'm glad I met you boys. You give me courage."
The three now rode abreast and again they galloped. One or two early farmers going phlegmatically to their fields saw them, but they passed on in silence. They had grown too used to soldiers to pay much attention to them. Moreover, these were their own.
The whole valley was now flooded with light. To east and to west loomed the great walls of the mountains, heavy with foliage, cut here and there by invisible gaps through which Harry knew that the Union troops were pouring.
They caught sight of moving heads on a narrow road coming from the west which would soon merge into theirs. They slackened speed for a moment or two, uncertain what to do, and then Aubrey exclaimed:
"It's a detachment of our own cavalry. See their gray uniforms, and that's Sherburne leading them!"
"So it is!" exclaimed Harry, and he rode forward joyfully. Sherburne gave all three of them a warm welcome, but he was far from cheerful. He led a dozen troopers and they, like himself, were covered with dust and were drooping with weariness. It was evident to Harry that they had ridden far and hard, and that they did not bring good news.
"Well, Harry," said Sherburne, still attempting the gay air, "chance has brought us together again, and I should judge from your appearance that you've come a long way, bringing nothing particularly good."
"It's so. George and I have been riding all night. We were in Manassas Gap and we learned definitely that Shields is coming through the pass with ten thousand men."
"Fine," said Sherburne with a dusty smile. "Ten thousand is a good round number."
"And if we'll give him time enough," continued Harry, "McDowell will come with twice as many more."
"Look's likely," said Sherburne.
"We've been riding back toward Jackson as fast as we could," continued Harry, "and a little while ago Aubrey riding the same way overtook us."
"And what have you seen, Aubrey?" asked Sherburne.
"I? Oh, I've seen a lot. I've been down by Front Royal in the night, and I've seen Ord with ten thousand men coming full tilt down the Luray Valley."
"What another ten thousand! It's funny how the Yankees run to even tens of thousands, or multiples of that number."
"I've heard," said Harry, "that the force under Banks and Saxton in front of Jackson was ten thousand also."
"I'm sorry, boys, to break up this continuity," said Sherburne with a troubled laugh, "but it's fifteen thousand that I've got to report. Fremont is coming from the west with that number. We've seen 'em. I've no doubt that at this moment there are nearly fifty thousand Yankees in the valley, with more coming, and all but ten thousand of them are in General Jackson's rear."
It seemed that Sherburne, daring cavalryman, had lost his courage for the moment, but the faith of the stern Presbyterian youth, Dalton, never faltered.
"As I told Harry a little while ago, we have at least fifty thousand men," he said.
"What do you mean?" asked Sherburne.
"I count Stonewall Jackson as forty thousand, and the rest will bring the number well over fifty thousand."
Sherburne struck his gauntleted hand smartly on his thigh.
"You talk sense, Dalton!" he exclaimed. "I was foolish to despair! I forgot how much there was under Stonewall Jackson's hat! They haven't caught the old fox yet!"
They galloped on anew, and now they were riding on the road, over which they had pursued so hotly the defeated army of Banks. They would soon be in Jackson's camp, and as they approached their hearts grew lighter. They would cast off their responsibilities and trust all to the leader who appeared so great to them.
"I see pickets now," said Aubrey. "Only five more minutes, boys, but as soon as I give my news I'll have to drop. The excitement has kept me up, but I can't last any longer."
"Nor I," said Harry, who realized suddenly that he was on the verge of collapse. "Whether our arrival is to be followed by a battle or a retreat I'm afraid I won't be fit for either."
They gave the password, and the pickets pointed to the tent of Jackson. They rode straight to him, and dismounted as he came forth from the tent. They were so stiff and sore from long riding that Dalton and Aubrey fell to their knees when they touched the ground, but they quickly recovered, and although they stood somewhat awkwardly they saluted with the deepest respect. Jackson's glance did not escape their mishap, and he knew the cause, but he merely said:
"I have to report, sir," said Sherburne, speaking first as the senior officer, "that General Fremont is coming from the west with fifteen thousand men, ready to fall upon your right flank."
"Very good, and what have you seen, Captain Aubrey?"
"Ord with ten thousand men is in our rear and is approaching Front Royal."
"Very good. You have done faithful work, Captain Aubrey. What have you seen, Lieutenant Kenton and Lieutenant Dalton?"
"General Shields, sir, is in Manassas Gap this morning with ten thousand men, and he and General Ord can certainly meet to-day if they wish. We learned also that General McDowell can come up in a few days with twenty thousand more."
The face of Stonewall Jackson never flinched. It looked worn and weary but not more so than it did before this news.
"I thank all of you, young gentlemen," he said in his quiet level tones. "You have done good service. It may be that you're a little weary. You'd better sleep now. I shall call you when I want you."
The four saluted and General Jackson went back into the tent. Aubrey made a grimace.
"We may be a little tired!" he said. "Why, I haven't been out of the saddle for twenty-four hours, and I felt so anxious that every one of those hours was a day long."
"But it's a lot to get from the general an admission that you may be even a little tired," said Dalton. "Remember the man for whom you ride."
"That's so," said Aubrey, "and I oughtn't to have said what I did. We've got to live up to new standards."
Sherburne, Aubrey and Dalton picked out soft spots on the grass and almost instantly were sound asleep, but Harry lingered a minute or two longer. He saw across the river the glitter of bayonets and the dark muzzles of cannon. He also saw many troops moving on the hills and he knew that he was looking upon the remains of Banks' army reinforced by fresh men, ready to dispute the passage or fight Jackson if he marched northward in any other way, while the great masses of their comrades gathered behind him.
Harry felt again for a moment that terrible sinking of the heart which is such close kin to despair. Enemies to the north of them, enemies to the south of them, and to the east and to the west, enemies everywhere. The ring was closing in. Worse than that, it had closed in already and Stonewall Jackson was only mortal. Neither he nor any one else could lead them through the overwhelming ranks of such a force.
But the feeling passed quickly. It could not linger, because the band of the Acadians was playing, and the dark men of the Gulf were singing. Even with the foe in sight, and a long train of battles and marches behind them, with others yet worse to come, they began to dance, clasped in one another's arms.
Many of the Acadians had already gone to a far land and they would never again on this earth see Antoinette or Celeste or Marie, but the sun of the south was in the others and they sang and danced in the brief rest allowed to them.
Harry liked to look at them. He sat on the grass and leaned his back against a tree. The music raised up the heart and it was wonderfully lulling, too. Why worry? Stonewall Jackson would tell them what to do.
The rhythmic forms grew fainter, and he slept. He was awakened the next instant by Dalton. Harry opened his eyes heavily and looked reproachfully at his friend.
"I've slept less than a minute," he said.
"So it seemed to me, too, when I was awakened," he said, "but you've slept a full two hours just as I did. What do you expect when you're working for Stonewall Jackson. You'll be lucky later on whenever you get a single hour."
Harry brushed the traces of sleep from his eyes and stood up straight.
"What's wanted?" he asked.
"You and I and some others are going to take a little railroad trip, escorted by Stonewall Jackson. That's all I know and that's all anybody knows except the general. Come along and look your little best."
Harry brushed out his wrinkled uniform, straightened his cap, and in a minute he and Dalton were with the group of staff officers about Jackson. There was still a section of railway in the valley held by the South, and Jackson and his aides were soon aboard a small train on their way back to Winchester. Harry, glancing from the window, saw the troops gathering up their ammunition and the teamsters hitching up their horses.
"It's going to be a retreat up the valley," he whispered to Dalton. "But masses more than three to one are gathering about us."
"I tell you again, you just trust Old Jack."
Harry looked toward the far end of the coach where Jackson sat with the older members of his staff. His figure swayed with the train, but he showed no sign of weariness or that his dauntless soul dwelt in a physical body. He was looking out at the window, but it was obvious that he did not see the green landscape flashing past. Harry knew that he was making the most complex calculations, but like Dalton he ceased to wonder about them. He put his faith in Old Jack, and let it go at that.
There was very little talking in the train. Despite every effort, Harry's eyes grew heavy and he began to doze a little. He would waken entirely at times and straighten up with a jerk. Then he would see the fields and forests still rushing past, now and then a flash as they crossed a stream, and always the sober figure of the general, staring, unseeing, through the window.
He suddenly became wide-awake, when he heard sharp comment in the coach. All the older officers were gazing through the windows with the greatest interest. Harry saw a man in Confederate uniform galloping across the fields and waving his hands repeatedly to the train which was already checking speed.
"A staff officer with news," said Dalton.
"Yes," said Harry, "and I'm thinking it will seem bad news to you and me."
The train stopped in a field, and the officer, panting and covered with dust and perspiration, rode alongside. Jackson walked out on the steps, followed by his eager officers.
"What is it?" asked Jackson.
"The Northern army has retaken Front Royal. The Georgia regiment you left in garrison there has been driven out and without support is marching northward. I have here, sir, a dispatch from Colonel Connor, the commander of the Georgians."
He handed the folded paper to the general, who received it but did not open it for a moment. There was something halfway between a sigh and a groan from the officers, but Jackson said nothing. He smiled, but, as Harry saw it, it was a strange and threatening smile. Then he opened the dispatch, read it carefully, tore it into tiny bits and threw them away. Harry saw the fragments picked up by the wind and whirled across the field. Jackson nearly always destroyed his dispatches in this manner.
"Very good," he said to the officer, "you can rejoin Colonel Connor."
He went back to his seat. The train puffed, heaved and started again. Jackson leaned against the back of the seat and closed his eyes. He seemed to be asleep. But the desire for sleep was driven from Harry. The news of the retaking of Front Royal had stirred the whole train. Officers talked of it in low tones, but with excitement. The Northern generals were acting with more than their customary promptness. Already they had struck a blow and Ord with his ten thousand men had undoubtedly passed from the Luray Valley into the main Valley of Virginia to form a junction with Shields and his ten thousand.
What would Jackson do? Older men in the train than Harry and Dalton were asking that question, but he remained silent. He kept his eyes closed for some time, and Harry thought that he must be fast asleep, although it seemed incredible that a man with such responsibilities could sleep at such a time. But he opened his eyes presently and began to talk with a warm personal friend who occupied the other half of the seat.
Harry did not know the tenor of this conversation then, but he heard of it later from the general's friend. Jackson had remarked to the man that he seemed to be surrounded, and the other asked what he would do if the Northern armies cut him off entirely. Jackson replied that he would go back toward the north, invade Maryland and march straight on Baltimore and Washington. Few more daring plans have ever been conceived, but, knowing Jackson as he learned to know him, Harry always believed that he would have tried it.
But the Southern leaders within that mighty and closing ring in the valley were not the only men who had anxious minds. At the Union capital they did not know what had become of Jackson. They knew that he was somewhere within the ring, but where? He might pounce upon a division, deal another terrible blow and then away! In a week he had drawn the eyes of the world upon him, and his enemies no longer considered anything impossible to him. Many a patriot who was ready to die rather than see the union of the states destroyed murmured: "If he were only on our side!" There was already talk of recalling McClellan's great army to defend Washington.
The object of all this immense anxiety and care was riding peacefully in a train to Winchester, talking with a friend but conscious fully of his great danger. It seemed that the Northern generals with their separate armies were acting in unison at last, and must close down on their prey.
They came again into Winchester, the town torn so often by battle and its anxieties, and saw the Presbyterian minister, his face gray with care, greet Jackson. Then the two walked toward the manse, followed at a respectful distance by the officers of the staff.
Harry soon saw that the whole of Winchester was in gloom. They knew there of the masses in blue converging on Jackson, and few had hope. While Jackson remained at the manse he sat upon the portico within call. There was little sound in Winchester. The town seemed to have passed into an absolute silence. Most of the doors and shutters were closed.
And yet the valley had never seemed more beautiful to Harry. Far off were the dim blue mountains that enclosed it on either side, and the bright skies never bent in a more brilliant curve.
He felt again that overpowering desire to sleep, and he may have dozed a little when he sat there in the sun, but he was wide awake when Jackson called him.
"I want you to go at once to Harper's Ferry with this note," he said, "and give it to the officer in command. He will bring back the troops to Winchester, and you are to come with him. You can go most of the way on the train and then you must take to your horse. The troops will march back by the valley turnpike."
Harry saluted and was off. He soon found that other officers were going to the various commands with orders similar to his, and he no longer had any doubt that the whole force would be consolidated and would withdraw up the valley. He was right. Jackson had abandoned the plan of entering Maryland and marching on Baltimore and Washington, and was now about to try another, fully as daring, but calling for the most sudden and complicated movements. He had arranged it all, as he rode in the train, most of it as he leaned against the back of the seat with his eyes shut.
Harry was soon back in Harper's Ferry, and the troops there immediately began their retreat. Most all of them knew of the great danger that menaced their army, but Harry, a staff officer, understood better than the regimental commanders what was occurring. The Invincibles were in their division and he rode with the two colonels, St. Clair and Happy Tom Langdon. They went at a swift pace and behind them came the steady beat of the marching troops on the turnpike.
"You have been with General Jackson in Winchester, Harry," said Colonel Leonidas Talbot in his precise manner, "and I judge that you must have formed some idea of his intentions. This indicates a general retreat southward, does it not?"
"I think so, sir. General Jackson has said nothing, but I know that orders have been sent to all our detachments to draw in. He must have some plan of cutting his way through toward the south. What do you think, Colonel St. Hilaire?"
"It must be so," replied Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire, "but how he will do it is beyond me. When I look around at all these blue mountains, Leonidas, it seems to me that we're enclosed by living battlements."
"Or that Jackson is like the tiger in the bush, surrounded by the beaters."
"Yes, and sometimes it's woe to the beaters when they come too near."
Harry dropped back with his younger friends who were by no means of sad demeanor. St. Clair had restored his uniform to its usual immaculate neatness or in some manner he had obtained a new one. Tom Langdon was Happy Tom again.
"We've eaten well, and we've slept well," said Langdon, "and Arthur and I are restored completely. He's the finest dandy in the army again, and I'm ready for another week's run with Jackson. I know I won't get another chance to rest in a long time, but Old Stonewall needn't think I can't march as long as he can."
"You'll get your fill of it," said Harry, "and of fighting, too. Take a look all around you. No, not a half circle, but a complete circle."
"Well, I've twisted my neck until my head nearly falls off. What signifies the performance?"
"There was no time when you were turning around the circle that your eyes didn't look toward Yankees. Nearly fifty thousand of 'em are in the valley. We're in a ring of steel, Happy."
"Well, Old Jack will just take his sword and slash that steel ring apart. And if he should fail I'm here. Lead me to 'em, Harry."
Langdon's spirits were infectious. Even the marching men who heard Happy Tom laugh, laughed with him and were more cheerful. They marched faster, too, and from other points men were coming quickly to Jackson at Winchester. They were even coming into contact with the ring of steel which was closing in on them. Fremont, advancing with his fifteen thousand from the mountains, met a heavy fire from a line of ambushed riflemen. Not knowing where Jackson was or what he was doing, and fearing that the great Confederate commander might be before him with his whole army, he stopped at Cedar Creek and made a camp of defense.
Shields, in the south, moving forward, found a swarm of skirmishers in his front, and presently the Acadians, sent in that direction by Jackson, opened up with a heavy fire on his vanguard. Shields drew back. He, too, feared that Jackson with his entire army was before him and rumor magnified the Southern force. Meanwhile the flying cavalry of Ashby harassed the Northern advance at many points.
All the time the main army of Jackson was retreating toward Winchester, carrying with it the prisoners and a vast convoy of wagons filled with captured ammunition and stores. Jackson had foreseen everything. He had directed the men who were leading these forces to pass around Winchester in case he was compelled to abandon it, circle through the mountains and join him wherever he might be.
But Harry when he returned to Winchester breathed a little more freely. He felt in some manner that the steel ring did not compress so tightly. Jackson, acting on the inside of the circle, had spread consternation. The Northern generals could not communicate with one another because either mountains or Southern troops came between. Prisoners whom the Southern cavalry brought in told strange stories. Rumor in their ranks had magnified Jackson's numbers double or triple. Many believed that a great force was coming from Richmond to help him. Jackson was surrounded, but the beaters were very wary about pressing in on him.
Yet the Union masses in the valley had increased. McDowell himself had now come, and he sent forward cavalry details which, losing the way, were compelled to return. Fremont on the west at last finding the line of riflemen before him withdrawn, pushed forward, and saw the long columns of the Southern army with their wagons moving steadily toward the south. His cavalry attacking were driven off and the Southern division went on.
Harry with the retreating division wondered at these movements and admired their skill. Jackson's army, encumbered as it was with prisoners and stores, was passing directly between the armies of Fremont and Shields, covering its flanks with clouds of skirmishers and cavalry that beat off every attack of the hostile vanguards, and that kept the two Northern armies from getting into touch.
Jackson had not stopped at Winchester. He had left that town once more to the enemy and was still drawing back toward the wider division of the valley west of the Massanuttons. The great mind was working very fast now. The men themselves saw that warlike genius incarnate rode on the back of Little Sorrel. Jackson was slipping through the ring, carrying with him every prisoner and captured wagon.
His lightning strokes to right and to left kept Shields and Fremont dazed and bewildered, and McDowell neither knew what was passing nor could he get his forces together. Harry saw once more and with amazement the dark bulk of the Massanuttons rising on his left and he knew that these great isolated mountains would again divide the Union force, while Jackson passed on in the larger valley.
He felt a thrill, powerful and indescribable. Jackson in very truth had slashed across with his sword that great ring of steel and was passing through the break, leaving behind not a single prisoner, nor a single wagon. Sixty-two thousand men had not only failed to hold sixteen thousand, but their scattered forces had suffered numerous severe defeats from the far smaller army. It was not that the Northern men were inferior to the Southern in courage and tenacity, but the Southern army was led by a genius of the first rank, unmatched as a military leader in modern times, save by Napoleon and Lee.
It was the last day of May and the twilight was at hand. The dark masses of Little North Mountain to the west and of the Massanuttons to the east were growing dim. Harry rode by the side of Dalton a few paces in the rear of Jackson, and he watched the somber, silent man, riding silently on Little Sorrel. There was nothing bright or spectacular about him. The battered gray uniform was more battered than ever. In place of the worn cap an old slouched hat now shaded his forehead and eyes. But Harry knew that their extraordinary achievements had not been due to luck or chance, but were the result of the mighty calculations that had been made in the head under the old slouched hat.
Harry heard behind him the long roll and murmur of the marching army, the wheels of cannon and wagons grating on the turnpike, the occasional neigh of a horse, the rattle of arms and the voices of men talking low. Most of these men had been a year and a half ago citizens untrained for war. They were not mere creatures of drill, but they were intelligent, and they thought for themselves. They knew as well as the officers what Jackson had done and henceforth they looked upon him as something almost superhuman. Confident in his genius they were ready to follow wherever Jackson led, no matter what the odds.
These were exactly the feelings of both Harry and Dalton. They would never question or doubt again. Both of them, with the hero worship of youth felt a mighty swell of pride, that they should ride with so great a leader, and be so near to him.
The army marched on in the darkening hours, leaving behind it sixty thousand men who closed up the ring only to find their game gone.
Harry heard from the older staff officers that they would go on up the valley until they came to the Gaps of the Blue Ridge. There in an impregnable position they could turn and fight pursuit or take the railway to Richmond and join in the defense against McClellan. It all depended on what Jackson thought, and his thoughts were uniformly disclosed by action.
Meanwhile the news was spreading through the North that Jackson had escaped, carrying with him his prisoners and captured stores. Odds had counted for nothing. All the great efforts directed from Washington had been unavailing. All the courage and energy of brave men had been in vain. But the North did not cease her exertions for an instant. Lincoln, a man of much the same character as Jackson, but continually thwarted by mediocre generals, urged the attack anew. Dispatches were sent to all the commanders ordering them to push the pursuit of Jackson and to bring him to battle.
Cut to the quick by their great failure, Fremont, Shields, Ord, Banks, McDowell and all the rest, pushed forward on either side of the Massanuttons, those on the west intending to cross at the gap, join their brethren, and make another concerted attempt at Jackson's destruction.
But Harry ceased to think of armies and battles as he rode on in the dark. He was growing sleepy again and he dozed in his saddle. Half consciously he thought of his father and wondered where he was. He had received only one letter from him after Shiloh, but he believed that he was still with the Confederate army in the west, taking an active part. Much as he loved his father it was the first time that he had been in his thoughts in the last two weeks. How could any one think of anything but the affair of the moment at such a time, when the seconds were ticked off by cannon-shots!
In this vague and pleasant dream he also remembered Dick Mason, his cousin, who was now somewhere there in the west fighting on the other side. He thought of Dick with affection and he liked him none the less because he wore the blue. Then, curiously enough, the last thing that he remembered was his Tacitus, lying in his locked desk in the Pendleton Academy. He would get out that old fellow again some day and finish him. Then he fell sound asleep in his saddle, and the horse went steadily on, safely carrying his sleeping master.
He did not awake until midnight, when Dalton's hand on his shoulder caused him to open his eyes.
"I've been asleep, too, Harry," said Dalton, "but I woke up first. We're going into camp here for the rest of the night."
"I'm glad to stop," said Harry, "but I wonder what the dawn will bring."
"I wonder," said Dalton.