The Scouts of Stonewall by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter III. Stonewall Jackson's March
Harry took some orders to brigadiers and colonels. He saw that concentration was going on rapidly and he shared the belief of his comrades that the army would march in the morning. He felt a new impulse of ambition and energy. It continually occurred to him that while he was doing much he might do more. He saw how his leader worked, with rapidity and precision, and without excitement, and he strove to imitate him.
The influence of Jackson was rapidly growing stronger upon the mind of the brilliant, sensitive boy, so susceptible to splendor of both thought and action. The general, not yet great to the world, but great already to those around him, dominated the mind of the boy. Harry was proud to serve him.
He saw that Jackson had taken no sleep, and he would take none either. Soon the question was forgotten, and he toiled all through the afternoon, glad to be at the heart of affairs so important.
Winchester was a sprightly little city, one of the best in the great valley, inhabited by cultivated people of old families, and Southern to the core. Harry and his young comrades had found a good welcome there. They had been in many houses and they had made many friends. The Virginians liked his bright face and manners. Now they could not fail to see that some great movement was afoot, and more than once his new friends asked him its nature, but he replied truthfully that he did not know. In the throb of great action Winchester disappeared from his thoughts. Every faculty was bent upon the plans of Jackson, whatever they might be.
The afternoon drew to a close and then the short winter twilight passed swiftly. The last night of the Old Year had come, and Harry was to enter at dawn upon one of the most vivid periods in the life of any boy that ever lived, a period paralleled perhaps only by that of the French lads who followed the young Bonaparte into the plains of Italy. Harry with all his dreams, arising from the enormous impression made upon him by Jackson, could not yet foresee what lay before him.
He was returning on foot from one of his shorter errands. He had ridden throughout the afternoon, but the time came when he thought the horse ought to rest, and with the coming of the twilight he had walked. He was not conscious of any weakness. His body, in a way, had become a mere mechanism. It worked, because the will acted upon it like a spring, but it was detached, separate from his mind. He took no more interest in it than he would in any other machine, which, when used up, could be cast aside, and be replaced with a new one.
He glanced at the camp, stretching through the darkness. Much fewer fires were burning than usual, and the men, warned to sleep while they could, had wrapped themselves already in their blankets. Then he entered the tent of Jackson with the reply to an order that he had taken to a brigadier.
The general stood by a wall of the tent, dictating to an aide who sat at the little table, and who wrote by the light of a small oil lamp. Harry saluted and gave him the reply. Jackson read it. As he read Harry staggered but recovered himself quickly. The overtaxed body was making a violent protest, and the vague feeling that he could throw away the old and used-up machine, and replace it with a new one was not true. He caught his breath sharply and his face was red with shame. He hoped that his general had not seen this lamentable weakness of his.
Jackson, after reading the reply, resumed his dictation. Harry was sure that the general had not seen. He had not noticed the weakness in an aide of his who should have no weakness at all! But Jackson had seen and in a few hours of contact he had read the brave, bright young soul of his aide. He finished the dictation and then turning to Harry, he said quietly:
"I can't think of anything more for you to do, Mr. Kenton, and I suppose you might as well rest. I shall do so myself in a half hour. You'll find blankets in the large tent just beyond mine. A half dozen of my aides sleep in it, but there are blankets enough for all and it's first come first served."
Harry gave the usual military salute and withdrew. Outside the tent, the body that he had used so cruelly protested not only a second time but many times. It was in very fact and truth detached from the will, because it no longer obeyed the will at all. His legs wobbled and bent like those of a paralytic, and his head fell forward through very weakness.
Luckily the tent was only a few yards away, and he managed to reach it and enter. It had a floor of planks and in the dark he saw three youths, a little older than himself, already sound asleep in their blankets. He promptly rolled himself in a pair, stretched his length against the cloth wall, and balmy sleep quickly came to make a complete reunion of the will and of the tired body which would be fresh again in the morning, because he was young and strong and recovered fast.
Harry slept hard all through the night and nature completed her task of restoring the worn fibers. He was roused shortly after dawn and the cooks were ready with breakfast for the army. He ate hungrily and when he would stop, one of his comrades who had slept with him in the tent told him to eat more.
"You need a lot to go on when you march with Jackson," he said. "Besides, you won't be certain where the next is coming from."
"I've learned that already," said Harry, as he took his advice.
A half hour later he was on his horse near Jackson, ready to receive his commands, and in the early hours of the New Year the army marched out of Winchester, the eager wishes of the whole population following it.
It was the brightest of winter mornings, almost like spring it seemed. The sky was a curving and solid sheet of sunlight, and the youths of the army were for the moment a great and happy family. They were marching to battle, wounds and death, but they were too young and too buoyant to think much about it.
Harry soon learned that they were going toward Bath and Hancock, two villages on the railway, both held by Northern troops. He surmised that Jackson would strike a sudden blow, surprise the garrisons, cut the railway, and then rush suddenly upon some greater force. A campaign in the middle of winter. It appealed to him as something brilliant and daring. The pulses which had beat hard so often lately began to beat hard again.
The army went swiftly across forest and fields. As the brigade had marched back the night before, so the whole army marched forward to-day. The fact that Jackson's men always marched faster than other men was forced again upon Harry's attention. He remembered from his reading an old comment of Napoleon's referring to war that there were only two or three men in Europe who knew the value of time. Now he saw that at least one man in America knew its value, and knew it as fully as Napoleon ever did.
The day passed hour by hour and the army sped on, making only a short halt at noon for rest and food. Harry joined the Invincibles for a few moments and was received with warmth by Colonel Leonidas Talbot, Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire and all his old friends.
"I am sorry to lose you, Harry," said Colonel Talbot, "but I am glad that you are on the immediate staff of General Jackson. It's an honor. I feel already that we're in the hands of a great general, and the feeling has gone through the whole army. There's an end, so far as this force is concerned, to doubt and hesitation."
"And we, the Southerners who are called the cavaliers, are led by a puritan," said Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire. "Because if there ever was a puritan, General Jackson is one."
Harry passed on, intending to speak with his comrades, Langdon and St. Clair. He heard the young troops talking freely everywhere, never forgetting the fact that they were born free citizens as good as anybody, and never hesitating to comment, often in an unflattering way, upon their officers. Harry saw a boy who had just taken off his shoes and who was tenderly rubbing his feet.
"I never marched so fast before," he said complainingly. "My feet are sore all over."
"Put on your shoes an' shut up," said another boy. "Stonewall Jackson don't care nothin' about your feet. You're here to fight."
Harry walked on, but the words sank deep in his mind. It was an uneducated boy, probably from the hills, who had given the rebuke, but he saw that the character of Stonewall Jackson was already understood by the whole army, even to the youngest private. He found Langdon and St. Clair sitting together on a log. They were not tired, as they were mounted officers, but they were full of curiosity.
"What's passing through Old Jack's head?" asked Langdon, the irreverent and the cheerful.
"I don't know, and I don't suppose anybody will ever know all that's passing there."
"I'll wager my year's pay against a last year's bird nest that he isn't leading us away from the enemy."
"He certainly isn't doing that. We're moving on two little towns, Bath and Hancock, but there must be bigger designs beyond."
"This is New Year's Day, as you know," said St. Clair in his pleasant South Carolina drawl, "and I feel that Tom there is going to earn the year's pay that he talks so glibly about wagering."
"At any rate, Arthur," said Langdon, "if we go into battle you'll be dressed properly for it, and if you fall you'll die in a gentleman's uniform."
St. Clair smiled, showing that he appreciated Langdon's flippant comment. Harry glanced at him. His uniform was spotless, and it was pressed as neatly as if it had just come from the hands of a tailor. The gray jacket of fine cloth, with its rows of polished brass buttons, was buttoned as closely as that of a West Point cadet. He seemed to be in dress and manner a younger brother of the gallant Virginia captain, Philip Sherburne, and Harry admired him. A soldier who dressed well amid such trying obstacles was likely to be a soldier through and through. Harry was learning to read character from extraneous things, things that sometimes looked like trifles to others.
"I merely came over here to pass the time of day," he said. "We start again in two or three minutes. Hark, there go the bugles, and I go with them!"
He ran back, sprang on his horse a few seconds before Jackson himself was in the saddle, and rode away again.
The general sent him on no missions for a while, and Harry rode in silence. Observant, as always, he noticed the long ridges of the mountains, showing blue in the distance, and the occasional glimmer of water in the valley. It was beautiful, this valley, and he did not wonder that the Virginians talked of it so much. He shared their wrath because the hostile Northern foot already pressed a portion, and he felt as much eagerness as they to drive away the invader.
He also saw pretty soon that the long lines of the mountains, so blue and beautiful against the shining sun, were losing their clear and vivid tints. The sky above them was turning to gray, and their crests were growing pale. Then a wind chill and sharp with the edge of winter began to blow down from the slopes. It had been merely playing at summer that morning and, before the first day of January 1862, closed, winter rushed down upon Virginia, bringing with it the fiercest and most sanguinary year the New World ever knew--save the one that followed it, and the one that followed that.
The temperature dropped many degrees in an hour. Just as the young troops of Grant, marching to Donelson, deceived by a warm morning had cast aside their heavy clothing to be chilled to the bone before the day was over, so the equally young troops of Jackson now suffered in the same way, and from the same lack of thought.
Most of their overcoats and cloaks were in the wagons, and there was no time to get them, because Jackson would not permit any delays. They shivered and grumbled under their breath. Nevertheless the army marched swiftly, while the dark clouds, laden with snow and cold, marched up with equal swiftness from the western horizon.
A winter campaign! It did not seem so glorious now to many of the boys who in the warmth and the sunshine had throbbed with the thought of it. They inquired once more about those wagons containing their overcoats and blankets, and they learned that they had followed easier roads, while the troops themselves were taking short cuts through the forests and across the fields. They might be reunited at night, and they might not. It was not considered a matter of the first importance by Jackson.
Harry had been wise enough to retain his military cloak strapped to his saddle, and he wrapped it about his body, drawing the collar as high as he could. One of his gauntleted hands held the reins, and the other swung easily by his side. He would have given his cloak to some one of the shivering youths who marched on foot near him, but he knew that Jackson would not permit any such open breach of discipline.
The boy watched the leader who rode almost by his side. Jackson had put on his own cavalry cloak, but it was fastened by a single button at the top and it had blown open. He did not seem to notice the fact. Apparently he was oblivious of heat and cold alike, and rode on, bent a little forward in the saddle, his face the usual impenetrable mask. But Harry knew that the brain behind that brow never ceased to work, always thinking and planning, trying this combination and that, ready to make any sacrifice to do the work that was to be done.
The long shadows came, and the short day that had turned so cold was over, giving way to the night that was colder than the day. They were on the hills now and even the vigorous Jackson felt that it was time to stop until morning. The night had turned very dark, a fierce wind was blowing, and now and then a fine sift of snow as sharp as hail was blown against their faces.
The wagons with the heavy clothing, blankets and food had not come up, and perhaps would not arrive until the next day. Gloom as dark as the night itself began to spread among the young troops, but Jackson gave them little time for bemoaning their fate. Fires were quickly built from fallen wood. The men found warmth and a certain mental relief in gathering the wood itself. The officers, many of them boys themselves, shared in the work. They roamed through the forest dragging in fallen timber, and now and then, an old rail fence was taken panel by panel to join the general heap.
The fires presently began to crackle in the darkness, running in long, irregular lines, and the young soldiers crowded in groups about them. At the same time they ate the scanty rations they carried in their knapsacks, and wondered what had become of the wagons. Jackson sent detachments to seek his supply trains, but Harry knew that he would not wait for it in the morning. The horses drawing the heavy loads over the slippery roads would need rest as badly as the men, and Jackson would go on. If food was not there--well then his troops must march on empty stomachs.
Youth changes swiftly and the high spirits with which the soldiers had departed in the morning were gone. The night had become extremely cold. Fierce winds whistled down from the crests of the mountains and pierced their clothing with myriads of little icy darts. They crept closer and closer to the fire. Their faces burned while their backs froze, and the menacing wind, while it chilled them to the marrow with its breath, seemed to laugh at them in sinister fashion. They thought with many a lament of their warm quarters in Winchester.
Harry shared the common depression to a certain extent. He had recalled that morning how the young Napoleon started on his great campaign of Italy, and there had been in his mind some idea that it would be repeated in the Virginia valleys, but he recalled at night that the soldiers of the youthful Bonaparte had marched and fought in warm days in a sunny country. It was a different thing to conduct a great campaign, when the clouds heavy with snow were hovering around the mountain tops, and the mercury was hunting zero. He shivered and looked apprehensively into the chilly night. His apprehension was not for a human foe, but for the unbroken spirits of darkness and mystery that can cow us all.
No tents were pitched. Jackson shared the common lot, sitting by a fire with some of the higher officers, while three or four other young aides were near. The sifts of snow turned after a while into a fine but steady snow, which continued half an hour. The backs of the soldiers were covered with white, while their faces burned. Then there was a shuffling sound at every fire, as the men turned their backs to the blaze and their faces to the forest.
Harry watched General Jackson closely. He was sitting on a fallen log, which the soldiers had drawn near to one of the largest fires, and he was staring intently into the coals. He did not speak, nor did he seem to take any notice of those about him. Harry knew, too, that he was not seeing the coals, but the armies of the enemy on the other side of the cold mountain.
Jackson after a while beckoned to the young aides and he gave to every one in turn the same command.
"Mount and make a complete circuit of the army. Report to me whether all the pickets are watchful, and whether any signs of the enemy can be seen."
Harry had tethered his horse in a little grove near by, where he might be sheltered as much as possible from the cold, and the faithful animal which had not tasted food that day, whimpered and rubbed his nose against his shoulder when he came.
"I'm sorry, old boy," whispered Harry, "I'd give you food if I could, but since I can't give you food I've got to give you more work."
He put on the bridle, leaped into the saddle, which had been left on the horse's back, and rode away on his mission. The password that night was "Manassas," and Harry exchanged it with the pickets who curved in a great circle through the lone, cold forest. They were always glad to see him. They were alone, save when two of them met at the common end of a beat, and these youths of the South were friendly, liking to talk and to hear the news of others.
Toward the Northern segment of the circle he came to a young giant from the hills who was walking back and forth with the utmost vigor and shaking himself as if he would throw off the cold. His brown face brightened with pleasure when he saw Harry and exchanged the password.
"Two or three other officers have been by here ridin' hosses," he said in the voice of an equal speaking to his equal, "an' they don't fill me plum' full o' envy a-tall, a-tall. I guess a feller tonight kin keep warmer walkin' on the ground than ridin' on a hoss. What might your name be, Mr. Officer?"
"Kenton. I'm a lieutenant, at present on the staff of General Jackson. What is yours?"
"Seth Moore, an' I'm always a private, but at present doin' sentinel duty, but wishin' I was at home in our double log house 'tween the blankets."
"Have you noticed anything, Seth?" asked Harry, not at all offended by the nature of his reply.
"I've seen some snow, an' now an' then the cold top of a mountain, an'--"
"An' what, Seth?"
"Do you see that grove straight toward the north four or five hundred yards away?"
"Yes, but I can make nothing of it but a black blur. It's too far away to tell the trunks of the trees apart."
"It's too fur fur me, too, an' my eyes are good, but ten or fifteen minutes ago, leftenant, I thought I saw a shadder at the edge of the grove. It 'peared to me that the shadder was like that of a horse with a man on it. After a while it went back among the trees an' o' course I lost it thar."
"You feel quite sure you saw the shadow, Seth?"
"Yes, leftenant. I'm shore I ain't mistook. I've hunted 'coons an' 'possums at night too much to be mistook about shadders. I reckon, if I may say so, shadders is my specialty, me bein' somethin' o' a night owl. As shore as I'm standin' here, leftenant, and as shore as you're settin' there on your hoss, a mounted man come to the edge of that wood an' stayed thar a while, watchin' us. I'd have follered him, but I couldn't leave my beat here, an' you're the first officer I've saw since. It may amount to nothin, an' then again it mayn't."
"I'm glad you told me. I'll go into the grove myself and see if anybody is there now."
"Leftenant, if I was you I'd be mighty keerful. If it's a spy it'll be easy enough for him under the cover of the trees to shoot you in the open comin' toward him."
Harry knew that Jackson planned a surprise of some kind and Seth Moore's words about the mounted man alarmed him. He did not doubt the accuracy of the young mountaineer's eyesight, or his coolness, and he resolved that he would not go back to headquarters until he knew more about that "shadow." But Moore's advice about caution was not to be unheeded.
"If you keep in the edge of our woods here," said Moore, "an' ride along a piece you'll come to a little valley. Then you kin go up that an' come into the grove over thar without being seed."
"Good advice. I'll take it."
Harry loosened one of the pistols in his belt and rode cautiously through the wood as Seth Moore had suggested. The ground sloped rapidly, and soon he reached the narrow but deep little valley with a dense growth of trees and underbrush on either side. The valley led upward, and he came into the grove just as Moore had predicted.
This forest was of much wider extent than he had supposed. It stretched northward further than he could see, and, although it was devoid of undergrowth, it was very dark among the trees. He rode his horse behind the trunk of a great oak, and, pausing there, examined all the forest within eyeshot.
He saw nothing but the long rows of tree trunks, white on the northern side with snow, and he heard nothing but the cold rustle of wind among boughs bare of branches. Yet he had full confidence in the words of Seth Moore. He could neither see him nor hear him, but he was sure that somebody besides himself was in the wood. Once more the soul and spirit of his great ancestor were poured into him, and for the moment he, too, was the wilderness rover, endowed with nerves preternaturally acute.
Hidden by the great tree trunks he listened attentively. His horse, oppressed by the cold and perhaps by the weariness of the day, was motionless and made no sound. He waited two or three minutes and then he was sure that he heard a slight noise, which he believed was made by the hoofs of a horse walking very slowly. Then he saw the shadow.
It was the dim figure of a man on horseback, moving very cautiously at some distance from Harry. He urged his own horse forward a little, and the shadow stopped instantly. Then he knew that he had been seen, and he sat motionless in the saddle for an instant or two, not knowing what to do.
After all, the man on horseback might be a friend. He might be some scout from a band of rangers, coming to join Jackson; and not yet sure that the army in the woods was his. Recovering from his indecision he rode forward a little and called:
"Who are you?"
The shadow made no reply, and horse and rider were motionless. They seemed for an instant to be phantoms, but then Harry knew that they were real. He was oppressed by a feeling of the weird and menacing. He would make the sinister figure move and his hand dropped toward his pistol belt.
"Stop, I can fire before you!" cried the figure sharply, and then Harry suddenly saw a pistol barrel gleaming across the stranger's saddle bow.
Harry checked his hand, but he did not consider himself beaten by any means. He merely waited, wary and ready to seize his opportunity.
"I don't want to shoot," said the man in a clear voice, "and I won't unless you make me. I'm no friend. I'm an enemy, that is, an official enemy, and I think it strange, Harry Kenton, almost the hand of fate, that you and I come face to face again under such circumstances."
Harry stared, and then the light broke. Now he remembered both the voice and the figure.
"Shepard!" he exclaimed.
"It's so. We're engaged upon the same duty. I've just been inspecting the army of General Jackson, calculating its numbers, its equipment, and what it may do. Keep your hand away from that pistol. I might not hit you, but the chances are that I would. But as I said, I don't want to shoot. It wouldn't help our cause or me any to maim or kill you. Suppose we call it peace between us for this evening."
"I agree to call it peace because I have to do it."
Shepard laughed, and his laugh was not at all sarcastic or unpleasant.
"Why a rage to kill?" he said. "You and I, Harry Kenton, will find before this war is over that we'll get quite enough of fighting in battles without seeking to make slaughter in between. Besides, having met you several times, I've a friendly feeling for you. Now turn and ride back to your own lines and I'll go the other way."
The blood sprang into Harry's face and his heart beat hard. There was something dominating and powerful in the voice. It now had the tone of a man who spoke to one over whom he ruled. Yet he could do nothing. He saw that Shepard was alert and watchful. He felt instinctively that his foe would fire if he were forced to do so and that he would not miss. Then despite himself, he felt admiration for the man's skill and power, and a pronounced intellectual quality that he discovered in him.
"Very well," he replied, "I'll turn and go back, but I want to tell you, Mr. Shepard, that while you have been estimating what General Jackson's army can do you must make that estimate high."
"I've already done so," called Shepard--Harry was riding away as he spoke. The boy at the edge of the wood looked back, but the shadow was already gone. He rode straight across the open and Seth Moore met him.
"Did you find anything?" the young mountaineer asked.
"Yes, there was a mounted man in a blue uniform, a spy, who has been watching, but he made off. You had good eyes, Seth, and I'm going to report this at once to General Jackson."
Harry knew that he was the bearer of an unpleasant message. General Jackson was relying upon surprise, and it would not please him to know that his movements were watched by an active and intelligent scout or spy. But the man had already shown his greatness by always insisting upon hearing the worst of everything.
He found the chief, still sitting before one of the fires and reported to him fully. Jackson listened without comment, but at the end he said to two of the brigadiers who were sitting with him:
"We march again at earliest dawn. We will not wait for the wagons."
Then he added to Harry:
"You've done good service. Join the sleepers, there."
He pointed to a group of young officers rolled in their blankets, and Harry obeyed quickly.