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The Sword of Antietam: A Story of the Nation's Crisis

The Sword of Antietam: A Story of the Nation's Crisis

Author:Jr. Horatio Alger


The first youth rode to the crest of the hill, and, still sitting on his horse, examined the country in the south with minute care through a pair of powerful glasses. The other two...
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  The first youth rode to the crest of the hill, and, still sitting on hishorse, examined the country in the south with minute care through a pairof powerful glasses. The other two dismounted and waited patiently. Allthree were thin and their faces were darkened by sun and wind. But theywere strong alike of body and soul. Beneath the faded blue uniformsbrave hearts beat and powerful muscles responded at once to everycommand of the will.

  “What do you see, Dick?” asked Warner, who leaned easily against hishorse, with one arm over the pommel of his saddle.

  “Hills, valleys, mountains, the August heat shimmering over all, but nohuman being.”

  “A fine country,” said young Pennington, “and I like to look at it, butjust now my Nebraska prairie would be better for us. We could at leastsee the advance of Stonewall Jackson before he was right on top of us.”

  Dick took another long look, searching every point in the half circleof the south with his glasses. Although burned by summer the countrywas beautiful, and neither heat nor cold could take away itspicturesqueness. He saw valleys in which the grass grew thick andstrong, clusters of hills dotted with trees, and then the blue loom ofmountains clothed heavily with foliage. Over everything bent a dazzlingsky of blue and gold.

  The light was so intense that with his glasses he could pick outindividual trees and rocks on the far slopes. He saw an occasional roof,but nowhere did he see man. He knew the reason, but he had become soused to his trade that at the moment, he felt no sadness. All thisregion had been swept by great armies. Here the tide of battle inthe mightiest of all wars had rolled back and forth, and here it wasdestined to surge again in a volume increasing always.

  “I don't find anything,” repeated Dick, “but three pairs of eyes arebetter than none. George, you take the glasses and see what you can seeand Frank will follow.”

  He dismounted and stood holding the reins of his horse while the youngVermonter looked. He noticed that the mathematical turn of Warner'smind showed in every emergency. He swept the glasses back and forth ina regular curve, not looking here and now there, but taking his time andmissing nothing. It occurred to Dick that he was a type of his region,slow but thorough, and sure to win after defeat.

  “What's the result of your examination?” asked Dick as Warner passed theglasses in turn to Pennington.

  “Let x equal what I saw, which is nothing. Let y equal the result Idraw, which is nothing. Hence we have x + y which still equals nothing.”

  Pennington was swifter in his examination. The blood in his veins floweda little faster than Warner's.

  “I find nothing but land and water,” he said without waiting to beasked, “and I'm disappointed. I had a hope, Dick, that I'd see StonewallJackson himself riding along a slope.”

  “Even if you saw him, how would you know it was Stonewall?”

  “I hadn't thought of that. We've heard so much of him that it justseemed to me I'd know him anywhere.”

  “Same here,” said Warner. “Remember all the tales we've heard about hiswhiskers, his old slouch hat and his sorrel horse.”

  “I'd like to see him myself,” confessed Dick. “From all we hear he'sthe man who kept McClellan from taking Richmond. He certainly playedhob with the plans of our generals. You know, I've got a cousin, HarryKenton, with him. I had a letter from him a week ago--passing throughthe lines, and coming in a round-about way. Writes as if he thoughtStonewall Jackson was a demigod. Says we'd better quit and go home, aswe haven't any earthly chance to win this war.”

  “He fights best who wins last,” said Warner. “I'm thinking I won't seethe green hills of Vermont for a long time yet, because I mean to paya visit to Richmond first. Have you got your cousin's letter with you,Dick?”

  “No, I destroyed it. I didn't want it bobbing up some time or other tocause either of us trouble. A man I know at home says he's kept out of alot of trouble by 'never writin' nothin' to nobody.' And if you do writea letter the next best thing is to burn it as quick as you can.”

  “If my eyes tell the truth, and they do,” said Pennington, “here comesa short, thick man riding a long, thick horse and he--the man, not thehorse--bears a startling resemblance to our friend, ally, guide andsometime mentor, Sergeant Daniel Whitley.”

  “Yes, it's the sergeant,” said Dick, looking down into the valley, “andI'm glad he's joining us. Do you know, boys, I often think these veteransergeants know more than some of our generals.”

  “It's not an opinion. It's a fact,” said Warner. “Hi, there, sergeant!Here are your friends! Come up and make the same empty report that we'vegot ready for the colonel.”

  Sergeant Daniel Whitley looked at the three lads, and his facebrightened. He had a good intellect under his thatch of hair, and a warmheart within his strong body. The boys, although lieutenants, and heonly a sergeant in the ranks, treated him usually as an equal and oftenas a superior.

  Colonel Winchester's regiment and the remains of Colonel Newcomb'sPennsylvanians had been sent east after the defeat of the Union army atthe Seven Days, and were now with Pope's Army of Virginia, which was tohold the valley and also protect Washington. Grant's success atShiloh had been offset by McClellan's failure before Richmond, and thePresident and his Cabinet at Washington were filled with justifiablealarm. Pope was a western man, a Kentuckian, and he had insisted uponhaving some of the western troops with him.

  The sergeant rode his horse slowly up the slope, and joined the ladsover whom he watched like a father.

  “And what have the hundred eyes of Argus beheld?” asked Warner.

  “Argus?” said the sergeant. “I don't know any such man. Name soundsqueer, too.”

  “He belongs to a distant and mythical past, sergeant, but he'd be mightyuseful if we had him here. If even a single one of his hundred eyes wereto light on Stonewall Jackson, it would be a great service.”

  The sergeant shook his head and looked reprovingly at Warner.

  “It ain't no time for jokin',” he said.

  “I was never further from it. It seems to me that we need a lot ofArguses more than anything else. This is the enemy's country, and wehear that Stonewall Jackson is advancing. Advancing where, from what andwhen? There is no Argus to tell. The country supports a fairly numerouspopulation, but it hasn't a single kind or informing word for us. IsStonewall Jackson going to drop from the sky, which rumor says is hisfavorite method of approach?”

  “He's usin' the solid ground this time, anyway,” said Sergeant DanielWhitley. “I've been eight miles farther south, an' if I didn't seecavalry comin' along the skirt of a ridge, then my eyes ain't anyfriends of mine. Then I came through a little place of not more'n fivehouses. No men there, just women an' children, but when I looked back Isaw them women an' children, too, grinnin' at me. That means somethin',as shore as we're livin' an' breathin'. I'm bettin' that we new fellowsfrom the west will get acquainted with Stonewall Jackson inside oftwenty-four hours.”

  “You don't mean that? It's not possible!” exclaimed Dick, startled.“Why, when we last heard of Jackson he was so far south we can't expecthim in a week!”

  “You've heard that they call his men the foot cavalry,” said thesergeant gravely, “an' I reckon from all I've learned since I come eastthat they've won the name fair an' true. See them woods off to the souththere. See the black line they make ag'inst the sky. I know, the sameas if I had seen him, that Stonewall Jackson is down in them forests,comin' an' comin' fast.”

  The sergeant's tone was ominous, and Dick felt a tingling at the rootsof his hair. The western troops were eager to meet this new Southernphenomenon who had suddenly shot like a burning star across the sky, butfor the first time there was apprehension in his soul. He had seen butlittle of the new general, Pope, but he had read his proclamations andhe had thought them bombastic. He talked lightly of the enemy and of thegrand deeds that he was going to do. Who was Pope to sweep away such menas Lee and Jackson with mere words!

  Dick longed for Grant, the stern, unyielding, unbeatable Grant whom hehad known at Shiloh. In the west the Union troops had felt the stronghand over them, and confidence had flowed into them, but here they werein doubt. They felt that the powerful and directing mind was absent.

  Silence fell upon them all for a little space, while the four gazedintently into the south, strange fears assailing everyone. Dick neverdoubted that the Union would win. He never doubted it then and he neverdoubted it afterward, through all the vast hecatomb when the flag of theUnion fell more than once in terrible defeat.

  But their ignorance was mystifying and oppressive. They saw before themthe beautiful country, the hills and valleys, the forest and the blueloom of the mountains, so much that appealed to the eye, and yet thehorizon, looking so peaceful in the distance, was barbed with spears.Jackson was there! The sergeant's theory had become conviction withthem. Distance had been nothing to him. He was at hand with a greatforce, and Lee with another army might fall at any time upon theirflank, while McClellan was isolated and left useless, far away.

  Dick's heart missed a beat or two, as he saw the sinister picture thathe had created in his own mind. Highly imaginative, he had leaped to theconclusion that Lee and Jackson meant to trap the Union army, the hammerbeating it out on the anvil. He raised the glasses to his eyes, surveyedthe forests in the South once more, and then his heart missed anotherbeat.

  He had caught the flash of steel, the sun's rays falling across abayonet or a polished rifle barrel. And then as he looked he saw theflash again and again. He handed the glasses to Warner and said quietly:

  “George, I see troops on the edge of that far hill to the south and theeast. Can't you see them, too?”

  “Yes, I can make them out clearly now, as they pass across a bit of openland. They're Confederate cavalry, two hundred at least, I should say.”

  Dick learned long afterward that it was the troop of Sherburne, but, forthe present, the name of Sherburne was unknown to him. He merely feltthat this was the vanguard of Jackson riding forward to set the trap.The men were now so near that they could be seen with the naked eye, andthe sergeant said tersely:

  “At last we've seen what we were afraid we would see.”

  “And look to the left also,” said Warner, who still held the glasses.“There's a troop of horse coming up another road, too. By George,they're advancing at a trot! We'd better clear out or we may be enclosedbetween the two horns of their cavalry.”

  “We'll go back to our force at Cedar Run,” said Harry, “and report whatwe've seen. As you say, George, there's no time to waste.”

  The four mounted and rode fast, the dust of the road flying in a cloudbehind their horses' heels. Dick felt that they had fulfilled theirerrand, but he had his doubts how their news would be received. TheNorthern generals in the east did not seem to him to equal those of thewest in keenness and resolution, while the case was reversed so far asthe Southern generals were concerned.

  But fast as they went the Southern cavalry was coming with equal speed.They continually saw the flash of arms in both east and west. The forcein the west was the nearer of the two. Not only was Sherburne there, butHarry Kenton was with him, and besides their own natural zeal they hadall the eagerness and daring infused into them by the great spirit andbrilliant successes of Jackson.

  “They won't be able to enclose us between the two horns of theirhorsemen,” said Sergeant Whitley, whose face was very grave, “and thebattle won't be to-morrow or the next day.”

  “Why not? I thought Jackson was swift,” said Warner.

  “Cause it will be fought to-day. I thought Jackson was swift, too, buthe's swifter than I thought. Them feet cavalry of his don't have tochange their name. Look into the road comin' up that narrow valley.”

  The eyes of the three boys followed his pointing finger, and they nowsaw masses of infantry, men in gray pressing forward at full speed. Theysaw also batteries of cannon, and Dick almost fancied he could hear therumble of their wheels.

  “Looks as if the sergeant was right,” said Pennington. “StonewallJackson is here.”

  They increased their speed to a gallop, making directly for Cedar Run, acold, clear little stream coming out of the hills. It was now about themiddle of the morning and the day was burning hot and breathless.Their hearts began to pound with excitement, and their breath was drawnpainfully through throats lined with dust.

  A long ridge covered with forest rose on one side of them and now theysaw the flash of many bayonets and rifle barrels along its lowest slope.Another heavy column of infantry was advancing, and presently they heardthe far note of trumpets calling to one another.

  “Their whole army is in touch,” said the sergeant. “The trumpets showit. Often on the plains, when we had to divide our little force intodetachments, they'd have bugle talk with one another. We must go fasterif we can.”

  They got another ounce of strength out of their horses, and now theysaw Union cavalry in front. In a minute or two they were among the bluehorsemen, giving the hasty news of Jackson's advance. Other scouts andstaff officers arrived a little later with like messages, and not longafterward they heard shots behind them telling them that the hostilepickets were in touch.

  They watered their horses in Cedar Run, crossed it and rejoined theirown regiment under Colonel Arthur Winchester. The colonel was thin,bronzed and strong, and he, too, like the other new men from the West,was eager for battle with the redoubtable Jackson.

  “What have you seen, Dick?” he exclaimed. “Is it a mere scouting forceof cavalry, or is Jackson really at hand?”

  “I think it's Jackson himself. We saw heavy columns coming up. They werepressing forward, too, as if they meant to brush aside whatever got intheir way.”

  “Then we'll show them!” exclaimed Colonel Winchester. “We've only seventhousand men here on Cedar Run, but Banks, who is in immediate command,has been stung deeply by his defeats at the hands of Jackson, and hemeans a fight to the last ditch. So does everybody else.”

  Dick, at that moment, the thrill of the gallop gone, was not sosanguine. The great weight of Jackson's name hung over him like asinister menace, and the Union troops on Cedar Run were but seventhousand. The famous Confederate leader must have at least three timesthat number. Were the Union forces, separated into several armies, tobe beaten again in detail? Pope himself should be present with at leastfifty thousand men.

  Their horses had been given to an orderly and Dick threw himself uponthe turf to rest a little. All along the creek the Union army, includinghis own regiment, was forming in line of battle but his colonel hadnot yet called upon him for any duty. Warner and Pennington were alsoresting from their long and exciting ride, but the sergeant, who seemednever to know fatigue, was already at work with his men.

  “Listen to those skirmishers,” said Dick. “It sounds like the popping ofcorn at home on winter evenings, when I was a little boy.”

  “But a lot more deadly,” said Pennington. “I wouldn't like to be askirmisher. I don't mind firing into the smoke and the crowd, but I'dhate to sit down behind a stump or in the grass and pick out the spot ona man that I meant for my bullet to hit.”

  “You won't have to do any such work, Frank,” said Warner. “Hark to it!The sergeant was right. We're going to have a battle to-day and a bigone. The popping of your corn, Dick, has become an unbroken sound.”

  Dick, from the crest of the hillock on which they lay, gazed overthe heads of the men in blue. The skirmishers were showing a hideousactivity. A continuous line of light ran along the front of both armies,and behind the flash of the Southern firing he saw heavy masses ofinfantry emerging from the woods. A deep thrill ran through him.Jackson, the famous, the redoubtable, the unbeatable, was at hand withhis army. Would he remain unbeaten? Dick said to himself, in unspokenwords, over and over again, “No! No! No! No!” He and his comrades hadbeen victors in the west. They must not fail here.

  Colonel Winchester now called to them, and mounting their horses theygathered around him to await his orders. These officers, though mereboys, learned fast. Dick knew enough already of war to see that theywere in a strong position. Before them flowed the creek. On their flankand partly in their front was a great field of Indian corn. A quarterof a mile away was a lofty ridge on which were posted Union guns withgunners who knew so well how to use them. To right and left ran the longfiles of infantry, their faces white but resolute.

  “I think,” said Dick to Warner, “that if Jackson passes over this placehe will at least know that we've been here.”

  “Yes, he'll know it, and besides he'll make quite a halt before passing.At least, that's my way of thinking.”

  There was a sudden dying of the rifle fire. The Union skirmisherswere driven in, and they fell back on the main body which was silent,awaiting the attack. Dick was no longer compelled to use the glasses.He saw with unaided eye the great Southern columns marching forward withthe utmost confidence, heavy batteries advancing between the regiments,ready at command to sweep the Northern ranks with shot and shell.

  Dick shivered a little. He could not help it. They were face to facewith Jackson, and he was all that the heralds of fame had promised.He had eye enough to see that the Southern force was much greater thantheir own, and, led by such a man, how could they fail to win anothertriumph? He looked around upon the army in blue, but he did not seeany sign of fear. Both the beaten and the unbeaten were ready for a newbattle.

  There was a mighty crash from the hill and the Northern batteries poureda stream of metal into the advancing ranks of their foe.

  The Confederate advance staggered, but, recovering itself, came onagain. A tremendous cheer burst from the ranks of the lads in blue.Stonewall Jackson with all his skill and fame was before them, but theymeant to stop him. Numbers were against them, and Banks, their leader,had been defeated already by Jackson, but they meant to stop him,nevertheless.

  The Southern guns replied. Posted along the slopes of SlaughterMountain, sinister of name, they sent a sheet of death upon the Unionranks. But the regiments, the new and the old, stood firm. Those thathad been beaten before by Jackson were resolved not to be beaten againby him, and the new regiments from the west, one or two of which hadbeen at Shiloh, were resolved never to be beaten at all.

  “The lads are steady,” said Colonel Winchester. “It's a fine sign. I'venews, too, that two thousand men have come up. We shall now have ninethousand with which to withstand the attack, and I don't believe theycan drive us away. Oh, why isn't Pope himself here with his whole army?Then we could wipe Jackson off the face of the earth!”

  But Pope was not there. The commander of a huge force, the man ofboastful words who was to do such great things, the man who sent suchgrandiloquent dispatches from “Headquarters in the Saddle,” to theanxious Lincoln at Washington, had strung his numerous forces along indetachments, just as the others had done before him, and the boomingof Jackson's cannon attacking the Northern vanguard with his whole armycould not reach ears so far away.

  The fire now became heavy along the whole Union front. All the batterieson both sides were coming into action, and the earth trembled with therolling crash. The smoke rose and hung in clouds over the hills, thevalley and the cornfield. The hot air, surcharged with dust, smoke andburned gunpowder, was painful and rasping to the throat. The frightfulscreaming of the shells filled the air, and then came the hissing of thebullets like a storm of sleet.

  Colonel Winchester and his staff dismounted, giving their horses to anorderly who led them to the rear. Horses would not be needed for thepresent, at least, and they had learned to avoid needless risk.

  The attack was coming closer, and the bullets as they swept throughtheir ranks found many victims. Colonel Winchester ordered his regimentto kneel and open fire, being held hitherto in reserve. Dick snatched upa rifle from a soldier who had fallen almost beside him, and he saw thatWarner and Pennington had equipped themselves in like fashion.

  A strong gust of wind lifted the smoke before them a little. Dick sawmany splashes of water on the surface of the creek where bullets struck,and there were many tiny spurts of dust in the road, where other bulletsfell. Then he saw beyond the dark masses of the Southern infantry. Itseemed to him that they were strangely close. He believed that he couldsee their tanned faces, one by one, and their vengeful eyes, but it wasonly fancy.

  The next instant the signal was given, and the regiment fired as one.There was a long flash of fire, a tremendous roaring in Dick's ears,then for an instant or two a vast cloud of smoke hid the advancing graymass. When it was lifted a moment later the men in gray were advancingno longer. Their ranks were shattered and broken, the ground was coveredwith the fallen and the others were reeling back.

  “We win! We win!” shouted Pennington, wild with enthusiasm.

  “For the present, at least,” said Warner, a deep flush blazing in eithercheek.

  There was no return fire just then from that point, and the smoke lifteda little more. Above the crash of the battle which raged fiercely oneither flank, they heard the notes of a trumpet rising, loud, clear, anddistinct from all other sounds. Dick knew that it was a rallying call,and then he heard Pennington utter a wild shout.

  “I see him! I see him!” he cried. “It's old Stonewall himself! There onthe hillock, on the little horse!”

  The vision was but for an instant. Dick gazed with all his eyes, and hesaw several hundred yards away a thickset man on a sorrel horse. He wasbearded and he stooped a little, seeming to bend an intense gaze uponthe Northern lines.

  There was no time for anyone to fire, because in a few seconds thesmoke came back, a huge, impenetrable curtain, and hid the man and thehillock. But Dick had not the slightest doubt that it was the greatSouthern leader, and he was right. It was Stonewall Jackson on thehillock, rallying his men, and Dick's own cousin, Harry Kenton, rode byhis side.

  They reloaded, but a staff officer galloped up and delivered a writtenorder to Colonel Winchester. The whole regiment left the line, anotherless seasoned taking its place, and they marched off to one flank, wherea field of wheat lately cut, and a wood on the extreme end, lay beforethem. Behind them they heard the battle swelling anew, but Dick knewthat a new force of the foe was coming here, and he felt proud that hisown regiment had been moved to meet an attack which would certainly bemade with the greatest violence.

  “Who are those men down in the wheat-field?” asked Pennington.

  “Our own skirmishers,” replied Warner. “See them running forward, hidingbehind the shocks of straw and firing!”

  The riflemen were busy. They fired from the shelter of every straw stackin the field, and they stung the new Southern advance, which was alreadyshowing its front. Southern guns now began to search the wheat field.A shell struck squarely in the center of one of the shocks behind whichthree Northern skirmishers were kneeling. Dick saw the straw fly intothe air as if picked up by a whirlwind. When it settled back it layin scattered masses and three dark figures lay with it, motionless andsilent. He shuddered and looked away.

  The edge of the wood was now lined with Southern infantry, and on theirright flank was a numerous body of cavalry. Officers were waving theirswords aloft, leading the men in person to the charge.

  “The attack will be heavy here,” said Colonel Winchester. “Ah, there areour guns firing over our heads. We need 'em.”

  The Southern cannon were more numerous, but the Northern guns, postedwell on the hill, refused to be silenced. Some of them were dismountedand the gunners about them were killed, but the others, served withspeed and valor, sprayed the whole Southern front with a deadly showerof steel.

  It was this welcome metal that Dick and his comrades heard over theirheads, and then the trumpets rang a shrill note of defiance along thewhole line. Banks, remembering his bitter defeats and resolved uponvictory now, was not awaiting the attack. He would make it himself.

  The whole wing lifted itself up and rushed through the wheat field,firing as they charged. The cannon were pushed forward and poured involleys as fast as the gunners could load and discharge them. Dickfelt the ground reeling beneath his feet, but he knew that they wereadvancing and that the enemy was giving way again. Stonewall Jackson andhis generals felt a certain hardening of the Northern resistance thatday. The recruits in blue were becoming trained now. They did not breakin a panic, although their lines were raked through and through by theSouthern shells. New men stepped in the place of the fallen, and thelines, filled up, came on again.

  The Northern wing charging through the wheat field continued to bearback the enemy. Jackson was not yet able to stop the fierce masses inblue. A formidable body of men issuing from the Northern side of thewood charged with the bayonet, pushing the charge home with a courageand a recklessness of death that the war had not yet seen surpassed. TheSouthern rifles and cannon raked them, but they never stopped, burstinglike a tornado upon their foe.

  One of Jackson's Virginia regiments gave way and then another. The menin blue from the wood and Colonel Winchester's regiment joined, theirshouts rising above the smoke while they steadily pushed the enemybefore them.

  Dick as he shouted with the rest felt a wild exultation. They wereshowing Jackson what they could do! They were proving to him that hecould not win always. His joy was warranted. No such confusion had everbefore existed in Jackson's army. The Northern charge was driven like awedge of steel into its ranks.

  Jackson had able generals, valiant lieutenants, with him, Ewell andEarly, and A. P. Hill and Winder, and they strove together to stopthe retreat. The valiant Winder was mortally wounded and died upon thefield, and Jackson, with his wonderful ability to see what was happeningand his equal power of decision, swiftly withdrew that wing of his army,also carrying with it every gun.

  A great shout of triumph rose from the men in blue as they saw theSouthern retreat.

  “We win! We win!” cried Pennington again.

  “Yes, we win!” shouted Warner, usually so cool.

  And it did seem even to older men that the triumph was complete. Theblue and the gray were face to face in the smoke, but the gray weredriven back by the fierce and irresistible charge, and, as their flightbecame swifter, the shells and grape from the Northern batteries plungedand tore through their ranks. Nothing stopped the blue wave. It rolledon and on, sweeping a mass of fugitives before it, and engulfing others.

  Dick had no ordered knowledge of the charge. He was a part of it, and hesaw only straight in front of him, but he was conscious that all aroundhim there was a fiery red mist, and a confused and terrible noise ofshouting and firing. But they were winning! They were beating StonewallJackson himself. His pulses throbbed so hard that he thought hisarteries would burst, and his lips were dry and blackened from smoke,burned gunpowder and his own hot breath issuing like steam between them.

  Then came a halt so sudden and terrible that it shook Dick as if byphysical contact. He looked around in wonder. The charge was spent, notfrom its lack of strength but because they had struck an obstacle. Theyhad reckoned ill, because they had not reckoned upon all the resourcesof Stonewall Jackson's mind. He had stemmed the rout in person and nowhe was pushing forward the Stonewall Brigade, five regiments, whichalways had but two alternatives, to conquer or to die. Hill and Ewellwith fresh troops were coming up also on his flanks, and now the blueand the gray, face to face again, closed in mortal combat.

  “We've stopped! We've stopped! Do you hear it, we've stopped!” exclaimedPennington, his face a ghastly reek of dust and perspiration, his eyesshowing amazement and wonder how the halt could have happened. Dickshared in the terrible surprise. The fire in front of him deepenedsuddenly. Men were struck down all about him. Heavy masses of troops ingray showed through the smoke. The Stonewall Brigade was charging, andregiments were charging with it on either side.

  The column in blue was struck in front and on either flank. It not onlyceased its victorious advance, but it began to give ground. The mencould not help it, despite their most desperate efforts. It seemed toDick that the earth slipped under their feet. A tremendous excitementseized him at the thought of victory lost just when it seemed won. Heran up and down the lines, shouting to the men to stand firm. He sawthat the senior officers were doing the same, but there was littleorder or method in his own movements. It was the excitement and bitterhumiliation that drove him on.

  He stumbled in the smoke against Sergeant Whitley. The sergeant'sforehead had been creased by a bullet, but so much dust and burnedgunpowder had gathered upon it that it was as black as the face of ablack man.

  “Are we to lose after all?” exclaimed Dick.

  It seemed strange to him, even at that moment, that he should hearhis own voice amid such a roar of cannon and rifles. But it was anundernote, and he heard with equal ease the sergeant's reply:

  “It ain't decided yet, Mr. Mason, but we've got to fight as we neverfought before.”

  The Union men, both those who had faced Jackson before and those whowere now meeting him for the first time, fought with unsurpassed valor,but, unequal in numbers, they saw the victory wrenched from their grasp.Jackson now had his forces in the hollow of his hand. He saw everythingthat was passing, and with the mind of a master he read the meaning ofit. He strengthened his own weak points and increased the attack uponthose of the North.

  Dick remained beside the sergeant. He had lost sight of ColonelWinchester, Warner and Pennington in the smoke and the dreadfulconfusion, but he saw well enough that his fears were coming true.

  The attack in front increased in violence, and the Northern army wasalso attacked with fiery energy on both flanks. The men had the actualphysical feeling that they were enclosed in the jaws of a vise, and,forced to abandon all hope of victory, they fought now to escape. Twosmall squadrons of cavalry, scarce two hundred in number, sent forwardfrom a wood, charged the whole Southern army under a storm of cannon andrifle fire. They equalled the ride of the Six Hundred at Balaklava, butwith no poet to celebrate it, it remained like so many other charges inthis war, an obscure and forgotten incident.

  Dick saw the charge of the horsemen, and the return of the few. Thenhe lost hope. Above the roar of the battle the rebel yell continuallyswelled afresh. The setting sun, no longer golden but red, cast asinister light over the trampled wheat field, the slopes and the woodstorn by cannon balls. The dead and the wounded lay in thousands, andBanks, brave and tenacious, but with bitter despair in his heart, wasseeking to drag the remains of his army from that merciless vise whichcontinued to close down harder and harder.

  Dick's excitement and tension seemed to abate. He had been keyed to sohigh a pitch that his pulses grew gentler through very lack of force,and with the relaxation came a clearer view. He saw the sinking redsun through the banks of smoke, and in fancy he already felt the cooldarkness upon his face after the hot and terrible August day. He knewthat night might save them, and he prayed deeply and fervently for itsswift coming.

  He and the sergeant came suddenly to Colonel Winchester, whose hat hadbeen shot from his head, but who was otherwise unharmed. Warner andPennington were near, Warner slightly wounded but apparently unaware ofthe fact. The colonel, by shout and by gesture, was gathering around himthe remains of his regiment. Other regiments on either side were tryingto do the same, and eventually they formed a compact mass which, drivingwith all its force back toward its old position, reached the hills andthe woods just as the jaws of Stonewall Jackson's vise shut down, butnot upon the main body.

  Victory, won for a little while, had been lost. Night protected theirretreat, and they fought with a valor that made Jackson and all hisgenerals cautious. But this knowledge was little compensation to theNorthern troops. They knew that behind them was a great army, that Popemight have been present with fifty thousand men, sufficient to overwhelmJackson. Instead of the odds being more than two to one in their favor,they had been two to one against them.

  It was a sullen army that lay in the woods in the first hour or two ofthe night, gasping for breath. These men had boasted that they werea match for those of Jackson, and they were, if they could only havetraded generals. Dick and his comrades from the west began to share inthe awe that the name of Stonewall Jackson inspired.

  “He comes up to his advertisements. There ain't no doubt of it,” saidSergeant Whitley. “I never saw anybody fight better than our men did,an' that charge of the little troop of cavalry was never beat anywherein the world. But here we are licked, and thirty or forty thousand menof ours not many miles away!”

  He spoke the last words with a bitterness that Dick had never heard inhis voice before.

  “It's simple,” said Warner, who was binding up his little wound with hisown hand. “It's just a question in mathematics. I see now how StonewallJackson won so many triumphs in the Valley of Virginia. Give Jackson,say, fifteen thousand men. We have fifty thousand, but we divide theminto five armies of ten thousand apiece. Jackson fights them in detail,which is five battles, of course. His fifteen thousand defeat the tenthousand every time. Hence Jackson with fifteen thousand men has beatenour side. It's simple but painful. In time our leaders will learn.”

  “After we're all killed,” said Pennington sadly.

  “And the country is ripped apart so that it will take half a century toput the pieces back together again and put 'em back right,” said Dick,with equal sadness.

  “Never mind,” said Sergeant Whitley with returning cheerfulness. “Othercountries have survived great wars and so will ours.”

  Some food was obtained for the exhausted men and they ate it nervously,paying little attention to the crackling fire of the skirmishers whichwas still going on in the darkness along their front. Dick saw the pinkflashes along the edges of the woods and the wheat field, but his mind,deadened for the time, took no further impressions. Skirmishers wereunpleasant people, anyway. Let them fight down there. It did not matterwhat they might do to one another. A minute or two later he was ashamedof such thoughts.

  Colonel Winchester, who had been to see General Banks, returnedpresently and told them that they would march again in half an hour.

  “General Banks,” he said with bitter irony, “is afraid that a powerfulforce of the rebels will gain his rear and that we shall be surrounded.He ought to know. He has had enough dealings with Jackson. Outmaneuveredand outflanked again! Why can't we learn something?”

  But he said this to the young officers only. He forced a cheerfulnessof tone when he spoke to the men, and they dragged themselves wearilyto their feet in order to begin the retreat. But though the muscleswere tired the spirit was not unwilling. All the omens were sinister,pointing to the need of withdrawal. The vicious skirmishers were stillbusy and a crackling fire came from many points in the woods. Theoccasional rolling thunder of a cannon deepened the somberness of thescene.

  All the officers of the regiment had lost their horses and they walkednow with the men. A full moon threw a silvery light over the marchingtroops, who strode on in silence, the wounded suppressing their groans.A full moon cast a silvery light over the pallid faces.

  “Do you know where we are going?” Dick asked of the Vermonter.

  “I heard that we're bound for a place called Culpeper Court House,six or seven miles away. I suppose we'll get there in the morning, ifStonewall Jackson doesn't insist on another interview with us.”

  “There's enough time in the day for fighting,” said Pennington, “withoutborrowing of the night. Hear that big gun over there on our right! Whydo they want to be firing cannon balls at such a time?”

  They trudged gloomily on, following other regiments ghostly in themoonlight, and followed by others as ghostly. But the sinister omens,the flash of rifle firing and the far boom of a cannon, were always ontheir flanks. The impression of Jackson's skill and power which Dick hadgained so quickly was deepening already. He did not have the slightestdoubt now that the Southern leader was pressing forward through thewoods to cut them off. As the sergeant had said truly, he came up tohis advertisements and more. Dick shivered and it was a shiver ofapprehension for the army, and not for himself.

  In accordance with human nature he and the boy officers who were hisgood comrades talked together, but their sentences were short andbroken.

  “Marching toward a court house,” said Pennington. “What'll we do when weget there? Lawyers won't help us.”

  “Not so much marching toward a court house as marching away fromJackson,” said the Vermonter.

  “We'll march back again,” said Dick hopefully.

  “But when?” said Pennington. “Look through the trees there on our right.Aren't those rebel troops?”

  Dick's startled gaze beheld a long line of horsemen in gray on theirflank and only a few hundred yards away.