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   Chapter 2 No.2

A Little Union Scout By Joel Chandler Harris Characters: 9357

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


No pursuit was made at the time, and the Federals, finding that they were not harried, proceeded in a leisurely way toward the river. We followed slowly and at night went into camp, the men and horses getting a good rest. Scouts were coming in to make reports at all hours of the night, so that it was practically true, as one of the old campaigners remarked, that a horse couldn't whicker in the enemy's camp "but what the General 'd hear it sooner or later."

Early the next morning we were on the road, and I had time for reflecting that, after all, war was not a matter of flags and music. The General was very considerate, however-a fact that was due to a letter that General Maury had intrusted to Harry Herndon's care. We were permitted to ride as temporary additions to General Forrest's escort, and he seemed to single us out from among the rest with various little courtesies, which I imagined was something unusual.

He was somewhat inquisitive about Whistling Jim, Harry's body-servant, who he thought was a little too free and easy with white men. But he seemed satisfied when Harry told him that the negro's forebears for many generations back had belonged to the Herndons. We halted for a light dinner, and when we had finished General Forrest made a careful inspection of his men as they filed into the road.

We had gone but a few miles when we came to a point where the roads forked. On one he sent a regiment, with Freeman's battery, with instructions to reach the river ahead of the Federals and hold the ford at all hazards until the main body could come up. This done, we swung into the road that had been taken by the Federals and went forward at a somewhat brisker pace.

"I'm going to give your nigger the chance of his life," remarked General Forrest somewhat grimly, "and he'll either fling up his hands and go to the Yankees, or he'll take to the woods."

"He may do one or the other," replied Harry; "but if he does either I'll be very much surprised." General Forrest laughed; he was evidently very sure that a negro would never stand up before gun-fire. A scout came up to report that the Federals were moving much more rapidly than they had moved in the morning.

"I reckon he's got wind of the column on the other road," the General commented. "I allowed he'd hear of it. He's a mighty smart man, and he's got as good men as can be found-Western fellows. If he had known the number of my men in the woods back yander he'd 'a' whipped me out of my boots." And then his eye fell again on Whistling Jim, who was laughing and joking with some of the troopers. He called to the negro in stern tones, and ordered him to ride close to his young master. "We are going to have a little scrimmage purty soon, and a nigger that's any account ought to be right where he can help his master if he gets hurt."

Whistling Jim's face, which had grown very serious when he heard his name called by the stern commander, suddenly cleared up and became illuminated by a broad grin. "You hear dat, Marse Harry!" he exclaimed. "I'm gwine in right behime you!" He reflected a moment, and then uttered an exclamation of "Well, suh!"

About four o'clock in the afternoon the troopers under General Forrest came in contact with Federals. This was in the nature of a surprise to the Union commander, for there were persistent reports that Forrest had passed on the other road, with the evident intention of harrying the Federals at a point where they had no intention of crossing. So well assured was he that these reports were trustworthy that he was seriously considering the advisability of detaching a force sufficiently large to capture the Confederate. He therefore paid small attention to the attacks on his rear-guard. But presently the pressure became so serious that he sent a member of his staff to investigate it.

Before the officer could perform this duty the rear-guard was compelled to retreat on the main body in the most precipitate manner. Then the attack ceased as suddenly as it began, and the Federal commander concluded that, under all the circumstances, it would be best to cross the river and get in touch with his base of supplies.

He went forward as rapidly as his troops could march, and he had a feeling of relief when he came in sight of the river. It was higher than it had been when he crossed it three or four days before, but still fordable; but as his advance guard began to cross, Freeman's battery, operated by young Morton, opened on them from the ambuscade in which it had been concealed. The thing to do, of course, was to charge the battery and either capture it or silence it, and the Federal commander gave o

rders to that effect. But Forrest, looking at the matter from a diametrically opposite point of view, knew that the thing to do was to prevent the capture of the battery, and so he increased the pressure upon the Federal rear to such an extent that his opponent had no time to attend to the Confederate battery.

The Union commander was a very able man and had established a reputation as a good fighter. So now, with perfect coolness, he managed to present a very strong front where the rear had been, and he made desperate efforts to protect his flank. But he was too late. Forrest said afterward that it was as pretty a move as he had ever seen, and that if it had been made five minutes sooner it would probably have saved the day.

Just as the movement was about to be completed it was rendered useless by the charge of Forrest's escort, a picked body of men, led by the General in person. In the circumstances such charges were always irresistible. Before the Federals could recover, the Confederate general, by means of a movement so sudden that no commander could have foreseen it, joined his force with that which was supporting Freeman's battery and charged all along the line, bringing the eight and twelve-pounders right to the front. No men, however brave, could stand before a battery at close range, and the inevitable result ensued-they got out of the way, and stood not on the order of their going. They floundered across the river as best they could, and if they had not been American troops they would have been demoralized and rendered useless for fighting purposes; but, being what they were, they showed their courage on many a hard-fought field as the war went on.

When night fell we retired a mile or two from the river and went into camp. Forrest was in high good-humor. He had accomplished all that he had set out to accomplish, and more. He had emphasized the fact that it was dangerous work for the Federals to raid Northern Alabama while he was in striking distance, and he had captured army stores and secured horses that were comparatively fresh. The most welcome capture was the arms, for many of his men were armed with flintlock muskets.

He was very talkative. "That nigger of yours done about as well as any of the balance of us," he said to Harry Herndon.

"I didn't see him at all during the fighting," replied Harry, "but I told him you'd have him shot if he ran."

"Well, he went right in," remarked the General, "and I expected him to go over to the Yankees. Maybe he'd 'a' gone if it hadn't been for the water."

At that moment we heard Whistling Jim calling, "Marse Harry! Marse Cally Shannon!" I answered him so that he could find us, and he came up puffing and blowing. A red handkerchief was tied under his chin and over his head.

"Marse Harry!" he exclaimed, "kin I see you an' Marse Cally Shannon by yo'se'f? I done done sump'n dat you'll sho kill me 'bout."

"Well, don't make any secret of it," said I. "Out with it!" exclaimed Harry.

"Marse Harry, I done gone an' shot Marse Jack Bledsoe."

"Good Lord!" cried Harry.

"Yasser, I done shot 'im, an' he's bad hurt, too. You know dat las' time we went at um? Well, suh, I wuz shootin' at a man right at me, an' he knock my han' down des ez I pull de trigger, an' de ball cotch him right 'twix de hip an' de knee. He call me by my name, an' den it come over me dat we done got mix' up in de shuffle an' dat I wuz shootin' at you. But 'twuz Marse Jack Bledsoe; I know'd 'im time I look at 'im good."

"Good heavens! Is he dead?" inquired Harry, his voice shaking a little in spite of himself.

"He ain't dead yit, suh," replied Whistling Jim. "I got down off'n my hoss an' pick 'im up an' take 'im out er de paff er de rucus, an' den when you-all done des ez much shootin' an' killin' ez you wanter, I went back an' put 'im on my hoss an' tuck 'im ter dat little house by de river. Dey's a white lady dar, an' she say she'll take keer un' 'im twel somebody come. Does you reckon any er his side gwineter come back atter 'im, Marse Harry? Kaze ef dey don't, I dunner what de name er goodness he gwineter do. Dar he is, an' dar he'll lay. I'm done sick er war ef you call dis war-you hear me!"

Harry said nothing, but I knew he was thinking of the fair Katherine, Jack's sister, and wondering if he would ever be to her what she was to him. He had his face in his hands, and appeared ready to give way to grief. General Forrest turned to an orderly: "Go fetch Grissom here; tell him to come right away." The surgeon soon came, General Forrest told Whistling Jim to lead the way, and we were soon riding through the night in the direction of the river.

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