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   Chapter 23 No.23

Westways By S. Weir Mitchell Characters: 25570

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The winter of 1862-63 went by with Sherman's defeat at Vicksburg and Rosecrans's inconclusive battle of Stone River. The unpopular Conscription Act in February, 1863, and last of all the discreditable defeat of Hooker in May at Chancellorsville, disheartened the most hopeful.

Meanwhile, Penhallow wrote to his wife with no word of the war, and poured out his annoyance to Leila with less restraint.

"DEAR LEILA: I get brief notes from John, who is with the one General (Grant) who has any luck. The list of discredited commanders good and bad increases. I am weary beyond measure of the kind of life I lead. I learn to-day, May 18th, of the progress of the investment of Vicksburg, and of John as busy at last with his proper work of bridges, corduroy roads and the siege approaches.

"The drift homeward of our crippled men, you tell of, is indeed sad. I am glad that Grace's boy is well; and so Rivers has gone to the army again. Pole's lad, with the lost arm, must have some work at the mills. Say I ask it. Good-bye.

"Yours, JAMES PENHALLOW."

On the 16th of June the Secretary said to Penhallow, "You know that Lee has crossed the Potomac. General Hunt has asked to have you put in charge of the reserve artillery of the Potomac army. I shall relieve you here and give the order, but I want you for a week longer to clear up matters."

Penhallow worked hard up to the time set by Stanton, and meanwhile made his arrangements to leave for the field. "Now that you are going away," said Stanton, "I wish to express my warm thanks for admirable service. I may say to you that Hooker has been removed and Meade put in command."

"That is good news, indeed, sir. Now the Potomac army will be handled by a soldier."

The Secretary had risen to say his parting words, and Penhallow as he held his hand saw how reluctant he was to let him go. They had long been friends, and now the Colonel observing his worn face felt for him the utmost anxiety. A stern, grave man, passionately devoted to his country, he was the impatient slave of duty. Sometimes hasty, unjust, or even ungenerous, he was indifferent to the enemies he too needlessly created, and was hated by many and not loved even by those who respected his devotion and competence. He spared neither his subordinates nor, least of all, Edwin Stanton, and spendthrift of vital force and energy went his way, one of the great war ministers like Carnot and Pitt. Now, as they stood about to part, he showed feeling with which few would have given him credit, and for which Penhallow was unprepared.

"Well," he said, "you are going. I shall miss your help in a life sometimes lonely, and overcrowded with work. You have been far more useful here than you could have been in the field. Living and working as you have done, you have made enemies. The more enemies an honest gentleman collects the richer he is. You are glad to go-well, don't think this town a mere great gambling place. It is a focal point-all that is bad in war seems to be represented here-spies, cheating contractors, political generals, generals as meek as missionaries. You have seen the worst of it-the worst. But my dear Penhallow, there is one comfort, Richmond is just as foul with thieving contractors, extravagance, intrigue, and spies who report to us with almost the regularity of the post; and, as with us, there is also honour, honesty, religion, belief in their cause." The Secretary had spoken at unusual length and in an unusual mood. When once, before the war, he had spent a few happy days at Grey Pine, Mrs. Crocker characterized him as "a yes-and-no kind of man." Now as he walked with his friend to the door, he said, "Does Mrs. Penhallow know of your change of duty? I am aware of her feeling about this unhappy strife."

"No. There will be a battle-time enough-soon enough to write afterwards, if there should be any earthly afterwards."

"You are quite right," said the Secretary. "Good-bye. I envy you your active share in this game."

Penhallow, as for the last time he went down the outer steps, looked back at the old brick war-office on Seventeenth Street. He felt the satisfaction of disagreeable duty well done. Then he recalled with some sense of it as being rather ridiculous his adventure with Henry Grey. In a far distant day he would tell Ann. As he halted at the foot of the steps, he thought of his only interview with Lincoln. The tall figure with the sombre face left in his memory that haunting sense of the unusual of which others had spoken and which was apt to disappear upon more familiar acquaintance.

On the morning of June 28 in this year 1863, Leila riding from the mills paused a minute to take note of the hillside burial-ground, dotted here and there with pitiful little linen flags, sole memorials of son or father-the victims of war. "One never can get away from it," she murmured, and rode on into Westways. Sitting in the saddle she waited patiently at the door of the post-office. Mrs. Crocker was distributing letters and newspapers. An old Quaker farmer was reading aloud on the pavement the latest news.

"There ain't no list of killed and wounded," he said. Forgetful of the creed of his sect, his son was with the army. He read, "The Rebels have got York-that's sure-and Carlisle too. They are near Harrisburg."

"Oh, but we have burned the bridge over the Susquehanna," said some one.

Another and younger man with his arm in a sling asked, "Are they only cavalry?"

"No, General Ewell is in command. There are infantry."

"Where is Lee?"

"I don't make that out." They went away one by one, sharing the uneasiness felt in the great cities.

Leila called out, "Any letters, Mrs. Crocker? This is bad news."

"Here's one for you-it came in a letter to me. I was to give it to you alone."

Leila tore it open and read it. "Any bad news, Leila?"

"Yes, Uncle James is with the army. I should not have told you. General Meade is in command. Aunt Ann is not to know. There will be a battle-after that he will write-after it. Please not to mention where Uncle Jim is. When is your nephew to be buried-at the mills?"

"At eleven to-morrow."

"I shall be there. Aunt Ann will send flowers. Poor boy! he has lingered long."

"And he did so want to go back to the army. You see, he was that weak he cried. He was in the colour-guard and asked to have the flag hung on the wall. Any news of our John? I dreamed about him last night, only he had long curly locks-like he used to have."

"No, not a word."

"Has Mr. Rivers got back?"

"No, he is still with the army. You know, aunt sends him with money for the Sanitary."

"Yes, the Sanitary Commission-we all know."

Leila turned homeward seeing the curly locks. "Oh, to be a man now!" she murmured. She was bearing the woman's burden.

Mrs. Crocker called after her, "You forgot the papers."

"Burn them," said Leila. "I have heard enough-and more than enough, and

Aunt Ann never reads them."

Penhallow had found time to visit his home twice in the winter, but found there little to please him. His wife was obviously feeling the varied strain of war, and Leila showed plainly that she too was suffering. He returned to his work unhappy, a discontented and resolutely dutiful man, hard driven by a relentless superior. Now, at last, the relief of action had come.

No one who has not lived through those years of war can imagine the variety of suffering which darkened countless homes throughout the land. At Grey Pine, Ann Penhallow living in a neighbourhood which was hostile to her own political creed was deeply distressed by the fact that on both sides were men dear to her. It must have been a too common addition to the misery of war and was not in some cases without passionate resentment. There were Northern men in the service of the Confederacy, and of the Southern graduates from West Point nearly fifty per cent, had remained loyal to the flag, as they elected to understand loyalty. The student of human motives may well be puzzled, for example, to explain why two of the most eminent soldiers of the war, both being men of the highest character and both Virginians should have decided to take different sides.

Some such reflection occupied Leila Grey's mind as she rode away. Many of the officers now in one of the two armies had dined or stayed a few pleasant days at Grey Pine. For one of them, Robert Lee, Penhallow had a warm regard. She remembered too General Scott, a Virginian, and her aunt's Southern friend Drayton, the man whom a poet has since described when with Farragut as "courtly, gallant and wise." "Ah, me!" she murmured, "duty must be at times a costly luxury.-A costly necessity," she concluded, was better-that left no privilege of choice. She smiled, dismissing the mental problem, and rode on full of anxiety for those she loved and her unfortunate country. Our most profound emotions are for the greater souls dumb and have no language if it be not that of prayer, or the tearful overflow which means so much and is so mysteriously helpful. She found both forms of expression when she knelt that night.

In the afternoon the refreshing upland coolness of evening followed on the humid heat of a hot June day. Towards sunset Ann Penhallow, to her niece's surprise, drew on her shawl and said she would like to walk down to the little river. Any proposal to break the routine of a life unwholesome in its monotony was agreeable to Leila. No talk of the war was possible. When Ann Penhallow now more and more rarely and with effort went on her too frequently needed errands of relief or consolation, the village people understood her silence about the war, and accepting her bounty somewhat resented an attitude of mind which forbade the pleasant old familiarity of approach.

The life was unhealthy for Leila, and McGregor watched its influence with affection and some professional apprehension. Glad of any change, Leila walked with her aunt through the garden among the roses in which now her aunt took no interest. They heard the catbirds carolling in the hedges, and Ann thought of the day a year ago when she listened to them with James Penhallow at her side. They reached in silence an open space above the broad quiet backwater. Beyond a low beach the river flowed by, wide and smooth, a swift stream. From the western side the sunset light fell in widening shafts of scarlet across the water.

"Let us sit here," said the elder woman. "I am too weak to walk further"-for her a strange confession. As they sat down on the mossy carpet, Leila caught the passive hand of her aunt.

"I suppose you still swim here, every morning, Leila? I used to like it-I have now no heart for anything."

Leila could only say, "Why not, aunt?"

"How can you ask me! I think-I dream of nothing but this unnatural war."

"Is that wise, aunt? or as Dr. McGregor would say, 'wholesome'?"

"It is not; but I cannot help it-it darkens my whole life. Billy was up at the house this morning talking in his wild way. I did not even try to understand, but"-and she hesitated-"I suppose I had better know."

This was strange to Leila, who too hesitated, and then concluding to be frank returned, "It might have been better, aunt, if you had known all along what was going on-"

"What would have been the use?" said her aunt in a tone of languid indifference. "It can end in but one way."

A sensation of anger rose dominant in the mind of the girl. It was hard to bear. She broke out into words of passionate resentment-the first revolt. "You think only of your dear South-of your friends-your brother-"

"Leila!"

She was past self-control or other control. "Well, then, be glad Lee is in Pennsylvania-General Ewell has taken York and Hagerstown-there will be a great battle. May God help the right-my country!"

"General Lee," cried Ann; "Lee in Pennsylvania! Then that will end the war. I am glad James is safe in Washington." Leila already self-reproachful, was silent.

To tell her he was with the army of the North would be cruel and was what

James Penhallow had forbidden.

"He is in Washington?" asked Ann anxiously.

"When last I heard, he was in Washington, aunt, and as you know, John is before Vicksburg with General Grant."

"They will never take it-never."

"Perhaps not, Aunt Ann," said Leila, penitent. The younger woman was disinclined to talk and sat quiet, one of the millions who were wondering what the next few days would bring.

The light to westward was slowly fading as she remained with hands clasped about her knees and put aside the useless longing to know what none could know. Her anger was gone as she caught with a side glance the frail look of Ann Penhallow. She felt too the soothing bened

iction of the day's most sacred hour.

Of a sudden Ann Penhallow bounded to her feet. A thunderous roar broke on the evening stillness. The smooth backwater shivered and the cat-tails and reeds swayed, as the sound struck echoes from the hills and died away. Leila caught and stayed the swaying figure. "It is only the first of the great new siege guns they are trying on the lower meadows. Sit down, dear, for a moment. Do be careful-you are getting"-she hesitated-"hysterical. There will be another presently. Do sit down, dear aunt. Don't be nervous." She was alarmed by her aunt's silent statuesque position. She could have applied no wiser remedy than her warning advice. No woman likes to be told she is nervous or hysterical and now it acted with the certainty of a charm.

"I am not nervous-it was so sudden. I was startled." She turned away with a quick movement of annoyance, releasing herself from Leila's arm. "Let's go home. Oh, my God!" she cried, as once again the cannon-roar shook the leaves on the upward slope before them. "It is the voice of war. Can I never get away from it-never-never?"

"You will not be troubled again to-day," said the girl, "and the smaller guns on the further meadow we hardly notice at the house."

Ann's steps quickened. She had been scared at her own realization of her want of self-government and was once more in command of her emotions. "Do not talk to me, Leila. I was quite upset-I am all right now."

The great guns were sent away next day on their errands of destruction. Then the two lonely women waited as the whole country waited for news which whatever it might be would carry grief to countless homes.

On the second day of July, 1863, under a heavy cloud of dust which hung high in air over the approach of the Baltimore Pike to Gettysburg, the long column of the reserve artillery of the Potomac army rumbled along the road, and more and more clearly the weary men heard the sound of cannon. About ten in the morning the advance guard was checked and the line came to a halt. James Penhallow, who since dawn had been urging on his command, rode in haste along the side of the cumbered road to where a hurrying brigade of infantry crossing his way explained why his guns were thus brought to a standstill. He saw that he must wait for the foot soldiers to go by. The cannoneers dismounted from the horses or dropped off the caissons, and glad of a rest lit their pipes and lay down or wandered about in search of water.

The Colonel, pleased to be on time, was in gay good-humour as he talked to the men or listened to the musketry fire far to the left. He said to a group of men, "We are all as grey as the Rebs, boys, but it is good Pennsylvania dust." As he spoke a roar of laughter was heard from the neighbourhood of the village cemetery on his right. He rode near it and saw the men gathered before an old notice board. He read: "Any person found using fire arms in this vicinity will be prosecuted according to law." Penhallow shook with laughter. "Guess we'll have to be right careful, Colonel," said a sergeant.

"You will, indeed."

"It's an awful warning, boys," said a private. "Shouldn't wonder if Bob

Lee set it up to scare us."

"I'd like to take it home." They chaffed the passing infantry, and were answered in kind. Penhallow impatient saw that the road would soon be clear. As he issued quick orders and men mounted in haste, a young aide rode up, saluted, and said, "I have orders, Colonel, from General Hunt to guide you to where he desires your guns to be parked."

"One moment," said Penhallow; "the road is a tangle of wagons:" and to a captain, "Ride on and side-track those wagons; be quick too." Then he said to the aide, "We have a few minutes-how are things going? I heard of General Reynold's death, and little more."

"Yes, we were outnumbered yesterday and-well licked. Why they did not rush us, the Lord knows!"

"Give me some idea of our position."

"Well, sir, here to our right is Cemetery Hill, strongly held; to your left the line turns east and then south in a loop to wooded hills-one Culp's, they call it. That is our right. There is a row on there as you can hear. Before us as we stand our position runs south along a low ridge and ends on two pretty high-wooded hills they call Round Tops. That's our left. From our front the ground slopes down some forty feet or so, and about a mile away the Rebs hold the town seminary and a long low rise facing us."

"Thank you, that seems pretty clear. There is firing over beyond the cemetery?"

"Yes, the skirmishers get cross now and then. The road seems clear, sir."

Orders rang out and the guns rattled up the pike like some monstrous articulated insect, all encumbering wagons being swept aside to make way for the privileged guns.

"You are to park here, sir, on the open between this and the Taneytown road. There is a brook-a creek."

"Thanks, that is clear."

The ground thus chosen lay some hundred yards behind the low crest held midway of our line by the Second Corps, whence the ground fell away in a gentle slope. The space back of our line was in what to a layman's eye would have seemed the wildest confusion of wagons, ambulances, ammunition mules, cattle, and wandering men. It was slowly assuming some order as the Provost Guard, dusty, despotic and cross, ranged the wagons, drove back stragglers, and left wide lanes for the artillery to move at need to the front.

The colonel spent some hours in getting his guns placed and in seeing that no least detail was lacking. With orders about instant readiness, with a word of praise here, of sharp criticism there, he turned away a well-contented man and walked up the slope in search of the headquarters. As he approached the front, he saw the bushy ridge in which, or back of which, the men lay at rest. Behind them were surgeons selecting partially protected places for immediate aid, stretcher-bearers, ambulances and all the mechanism of help for the wounded. Officers were making sure that men had at hand one hundred rounds of ammunition.

Some three hundred yards behind the mid-centre of the Second Corps, on the Taneytown road, Penhallow was directed to a small, rather shabby one-storey farm-house. "By George," he murmured, "here is one general who means to be near the front." He was met at the door by the tall handsome figure of General Hancock, a blue-eyed man with a slight moustache over a square expressively firm jaw.

"Glad to see you, Penhallow. Meade was anxious-I knew you would be on time. Come in."

Penhallow saw before him a mean little room, on one side a wide bed with a gaudy coverlet, on a pine table in the centre a bucket of water, a tin cup, and a candle-stick. Five rickety rush-covered chairs completed the furnishings.

Meade rose from study of the map an engineer officer was explaining. He was unknown to Penhallow, who observed him with interest-a tall spare man with grey-sprinkled dark hair a large Roman nose and spectacles over wide blue eyes; a gentleman of the best, modest, unassuming, and now carelessly clad.

"Colonel Penhallow," said Hancock.

"Glad to see you." He turned to receive with evident pleasure a report of the morning's fight on the right wing, glanced without obvious interest at the captured flag of the Stonewall Brigade, and greeted the colonel warmly. "I can only offer you water," he said. "Sit down. You may like to look over this map."

While the Commander wrote orders and despatched aide after aide, Penhallow bent over the map. "You see," said Hancock, "we have unusual luck for us in a short interior line. I judge from the moving guidons that Lee is extending his front-it may be six miles long."

"And ours?"

"Well, from wing to wing across the loop to right, not half of that."

"I see," said Penhallow, and accepting a drink of tepid water he went out to find and report to the chief of artillery, General Hunt.

He met him with General John Gibbon and two aides a few yards from the door, and making his brief report learned as he moved away that there was some trouble on the left wing. Meade coming out with Hancock, they mounted and rode away in haste, too late to correct General Sickles' unfortunate decision to improve General Meade's battle-line. It was not Penhallow's business, nor did he then fully understand that costly blunder. Returning to his guns, he sent, as Hunt had ordered, two of his reserve batteries up to the back of the line of the Second Corps, and finding General Gibbon temporarily in command walked with him to what is now called the "Crest" and stood among Cushing's guns. Alertly interested, Penhallow saw to the left, half hidden by bushes and a clump of trees, a long line of infantry lying at ease, their muskets in glittering stacks behind them. To the right the ground was more open. A broken stone fence lay in front of the Second Corps. It was patched with fence rails and added stone, and where the clump of trees projected in advance of the line made a right angle and extended thence in front of the batteries on the Crest about thirty yards. Then it met a like right angle of stone fencing and followed the line far to the right. Behind these rude walls lay the Pennsylvania and New York men, three small regiments. Further back on a little higher ground was the silent array of cannon, thus able at need to fire over the heads of the guarding infantry, now idly lying at rest in the baking heat of a July morning. The men about the cannon lounged at ease on the ground in the forty foot interspaces between the batteries, some eighteen pieces in all.

Suddenly an aide rode up, and saying, "See you again, Penhallow," Gibbon rode away in haste. Penhallow, who was carefully gathering in all that could then be seen from the locality, moved over to where a young battery captain was leaning against a cannon wheel wiping the sweat from his face or gazing over the vale below him, apparently lost in thought. "Captain Cushing, I believe," said the colonel. "I am Colonel Penhallow, in command of the reserve artillery."

"Indeed!" said the young officer. "These are some of your guns-"

"Not mine-I was out of it long ago. They still carry the brand of my old iron-mills."

"We shall see, sir, that they do honour to your name."

"I am sure of that," returned the colonel, looking at the face of the officer, who as he spoke patted the gun beside him in an affectionate way.

"It seems very peaceful," he said.

"Yes, yes," returned Penhallow, "very."

They looked for a moment of silence down the vale before them, where a mile away the ground rose to a low ridge, beyond which in woody shelters lay the hostile lines.

"What road is that?" asked Penhallow. "It leaves our right and crosses to enter Lee's right."

"The Emmitsburg Pike, sir."

The Colonel's glass searched the space before him. "I see some fine farm-houses-deserted, of course, and wheat fields no man will reap this year." He spoke thoughtfully, and as Woodruff of the nearer battery joined them, the roar of cannon broke the stillness.

"Far on our left," said Woodruff. At the sound, the men sprang to their feet and took their stations. Smoke rose and clouded their view of the distant field where on our left a fury of battle raged, while the rattle of infantry volleys became continuous. No more words were spoken. Through the long afternoon the unseen fight went on in front of the Round Tops. As it came nearer and the grey lines were visible, the guns on the Crest opened a lively fire and kept up their destructive business until the approach of the enemy ceased to extend towards our centre and fell away in death or disorderly flight. About sunset this varied noise subsided and the remote sound of cheering was heard.

"We must have won," said General Webb, the brigade commander. "It was a flanking movement. How little any one man knows of a battle!"

"By George! I am glad of a let up," said the young Captain. "I am vilely dirty." He wiped the grime and sweat from his face and threw himself on the ground as Generals Hunt and Gibbon rode up.

"No great damage here, I see, Webb. They got awfully licked, but it was near to something else."

Questioned by Penhallow, they heard the news of our needless loss and final triumphant repulse of the enemy. Hunt said emphatic things about political generals and their ways. "He lost a leg," said Gibbon, "and I think to have lost his life would have been, fortunate. They are at it still on the right, but the Twelfth Corps has gone back to Culp's Hill and Ewell will get his share of pounding-if it be his corps."

"Then we may get some sleep," said Penhallow, as he moved away. "I have had very little for two nights."

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