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   Chapter 6 BY ASHBY'S GAP

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 27186

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The 65th Virginia Infantry, Colonel Valentine Brooke, was encamped to the north of Winchester in the Valley of Virginia, in a meadow through which ran a stream, and upon a hillside beneath a hundred chestnut trees, covered with white tassels of bloom. To its right lay the 2d, the 4th, the 5th, the 27th, and the 33d Virginia, forming with the 65th the First Brigade, General T. J. Jackson. The battery attached-the Rockbridge Artillery-occupied an adjacent apple orchard. To the left, in other July meadows and over other chestnut-shaded hills, were spread the brigades of Bee, Bartow, and Elzey. Somewhere in the distance, behind the screen of haze, were Stuart and his cavalry. Across the stream a brick farmhouse, ringed with mulberry trees, made the headquarters of Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the forces of the Confederacy-an experienced, able, and wary soldier, engaged just now, with eleven thousand men, in watching Patterson with fifteen thousand on the one hand, and McDowell with thirty-five thousand on the other, and in listening attentively for a voice from Beauregard with twenty thousand at Manassas. It was the middle of July, 1861.

First Brigade headquarters was a tree-an especially big tree-a little removed from the others. Beneath it stood a kitchen chair and a wooden table, requisitioned from the nearest cabin and scrupulously paid for. At one side was an extremely small tent, but Brigadier-General T. J. Jackson rarely occupied it. He sat beneath the tree, upon the kitchen chair, his feet, in enormous cavalry boots, planted precisely before him, his hands rigid at his sides. Here he transacted the business of each day, and here, when it was over, he sat facing the North. An awkward, inarticulate, and peculiar man, with strange notions about his health and other matters, there was about him no breath of grace, romance, or pomp of war. He was ungenial, ungainly, with large hands and feet, with poor eyesight and a stiff address. There did not lack spruce and handsome youths in his command who were vexed to the soul by the idea of being led to battle by such a figure. The facts that he had fought very bravely in Mexico, and that he had for the enemy a cold and formidable hatred were for him; most other things against him. He drilled his troops seven hours a day. His discipline was of the sternest, his censure a thing to make the boldest officer blench. A blunder, a slight negligence, any disobedience of orders-down came reprimand, suspension, arrest, with an iron certitude, a relentlessness quite like Nature's. Apparently he was without imagination. He had but little sense of humour, and no understanding of a joke. He drank water and sucked lemons for dyspepsia, and fancied that the use of pepper had caused a weakness in his left leg. He rode a raw-boned nag named Little Sorrel, he carried his sabre in the oddest fashion, and said "oblike" instead of "oblique." He found his greatest pleasure in going to the Presbyterian Church twice on Sundays and to prayer meetings through the week. Now and then there was a gleam in his eye that promised something, but the battles had not begun, and his soldiers hardly knew what it promised. One or two observers claimed that he was ambitious, but these were chiefly laughed at. To the brigade at large he seemed prosaic, tedious, and strict enough, performing all duties with the exactitude, monotony, and expression of a clock, keeping all plans with the secrecy of the sepulchre, rarely sleeping, rising at dawn, and requiring his staff to do likewise, praying at all seasons, and demanding an implicity of obedience which might have been in order with some great and glorious captain, some idolized Napoleon, but which seemed hardly the due of the late professor of natural philosophy and artillery tactics at the Virginia Military Institute. True it was that at Harper's Ferry, where, as Colonel T. J. Jackson, he had commanded until Johnston's arrival, he had begun to bring order out of chaos and to weave from a high-spirited rabble of Volunteers a web that the world was to acknowledge remarkable; true, too, that on the second of July, in the small affair with Patterson at Falling Waters, he had seemed to the critics in the ranks not altogether unimposing. He emerged from Falling Waters Brigadier-General T. J. Jackson, and his men, though with some mental reservations, began to call him "Old Jack." The epithet implied approval, but approval hugely qualified. They might have said-in fact, they did say-that every fool knew that a crazy man could fight!

The Army of the Shenandoah was a civilian army, a high-spirited, slightly organized, more or less undisciplined, totally inexperienced in war, impatient and youthful body of men, with the lesson yet to learn that the shortest distance between two points is sometimes a curve. In its eyes Patterson at Bunker Hill was exclusively the blot upon the escutcheon, and the whole game of war consisted in somehow doing away with that blot. There was great chafing at the inaction. It was hot, argumentative July weather; the encampment to the north of Winchester in the Valley of Virginia hummed with the comments of the strategists in the ranks. Patterson should have been attacked after Falling Waters. What if he was entrenched behind stone walls at Martinsburg? Patterson should have been attacked upon the fifteenth at Bunker Hill. What if he has fifteen thousand men?-what if he has twenty thousand?-What if McDowell is preparing to cross the Potomac? And now, on the seventeenth, Patterson is at Charlestown, creeping eastward, evidently going to surround the Army of the Shenandoah! Patterson is the burning reality and McDowell the dream-and yet Johnston won't move to the westward and attack! Good Lord! we didn't come from home just to watch these chestnuts get ripe! All the generals are crazy, anyhow.

It was nine, in the morning of Thursday the eighteenth,-a scorching day. The locusts were singing of the heat; the grass, wherever men, horses, and wagon wheels had not ground it into dust, was parched to a golden brown; the mint by the stream looked wilted. The morning drill was over, the 65th lounging beneath the trees. It was almost too hot to fuss about Patterson, almost too hot to pity the sentinels, almost too hot to wonder where Stuart's cavalry had gone that morning, and why "Old Joe" quartered behind the mulberries in the brick farmhouse, had sent a staff officer to "Old Jack," and why Bee's and Bartow's and Elzey's brigades had been similarly visited; almost too hot to play checkers, to whittle a set of chessmen, to finish that piece of Greek, to read "Ivanhoe" and resolve to fight like Brian de Bois Gilbert and Richard ? in one, to write home, to rout out knapsack and haversack, and look again at fifty precious trifles; too hot to smoke, to tease Company A's pet coon, to think about Thunder Run, to wonder how pap was gettin' on with that thar piece of corn, and what the girls were sayin'; too hot to borrow, too hot to swear, too hot to go down to the creek and wash a shirt, too hot-"What's that drum beginning for? The long roll! The Army of the Valley is going to move! Boys, boys, boys! We are going north to Charlestown! Boys, boys, boys! We are going to lick Patterson!"

At noon the Army of the Valley, the First Brigade leading, uncoiled itself, regiment by regiment, from the wide meadow and the chestnut wood, swept out upon the turnpike-and found its head turned toward the south! There was stupefaction, then tongues were loosed. "What's this-what's this, boys? Charlestown ain't in this direction. Old Joe's lost his bearings! Johnny Lemon, you go tell him so-go ask Old Jack if you can't. Whoa, there! The fool's going!! Come back here quick, Johnny, afore the captain sees you! O hell! we're going right back through Winchester!"

A wave of anger swept over the First Brigade. The 65th grew intractable, moved at a snail's pace. The company officers went to and fro. "Close up, men, close up! No, I don't know any more than you do-maybe it's some roundabout way. Close up-close up!" The colonel rode along the line. "What's the matter here? You aren't going to a funeral! Think it's a fox hunt, boys, and step out lively!" A courier arrived from the head of the column. "General Jackson's compliments to Colonel Brooke, and he says if this regiment isn't in step in three minutes he'll leave it with the sick in Winchester!"

The First Brigade, followed by Bee, Bartow, and Elzey, marched sullenly down the turnpike, into Winchester, and through its dusty streets. The people were all out, old men, boys, and women thronging the brick sidewalks. The army had seventeen hundred sick in the town. Pale faces looked out of upper windows; men just recovering from dysentery, from measles, from fever, stumbled out of shady front yards and fell into line; others, more helpless, started, then wavered back. "Boys, boys! you ain't never going to leave us here for the Yanks to take? Boys-boys-" The citizens, too, had their say. "Is Winchester to be left to Patterson? We've done our best by you-and you go marching away!" Several of the older women were weeping, the younger looked scornful. Close up, men, close up-close up!

The First Brigade was glad when it was through the town. Before it, leading southward through the Valley of Virginia, stretched the great pike, a hundred and twenty miles of road, traversing as fair, rich, and happy a region as war ever found a paradise and left a desolation. To the east towered the Blue Ridge, to west the Great North and Shenandoah Mountains, twenty miles to the south Massanutton rose like a Gibraltar from the rolling fields of wheat and corn, the orchard lands and pleasant pastures. The region was one of old mills, turning flashing wheels, of comfortable red brick houses and well-stored barns, of fair market towns, of a noble breed of horses, and of great, white-covered wagons, of clear waters and sweet gardens, of an honest, thrifty, brave, and intelligent people. It was a fair country, and many of the army were at home there, but the army had at the moment no taste for its beauties. It wanted to see Patterson's long, blue lines; it wanted to drive them out of Virginia, across the Potomac, back to where they came from.

The First Brigade was dispirited and critical, and as it had not yet learned to control its mood, it marched as a dispirited and critical person would be apt to march in the brazen middle of a July day. Every spring and rivulet, every blackberry bush and apple tree upon the road gathered recruits. The halts for no purpose were interminable, the perpetual Close up, close up, men! of the exasperated officers as unavailing as the droning in the heat of the burnished June-bugs. The brigade had no intention of not making known its reluctance to leave Patterson. It took an hour to make a mile from Winchester. General Jackson rode down the column on Little Sorrel and said something to the colonel of each regiment, which something the colonels passed on to the captains. The next mile was made in half an hour.

The July dust rose from the pike in clouds, hot, choking, thick as the rain of ash from a volcano. It lay heavy upon coat, cap, haversack, and knapsack, upon the muskets and upon the colours, drooping in the heat, drooping at the idea of turning back upon Patterson and going off, Heaven and Old Joe knew where! Tramp, tramp over the hot pike, sullenly southward, hot without and hot within! The knapsack was heavy, the haversack was heavy, the musket was heavy. Sweat ran down from under cap or felt hat, and made grimy trenches down cheek and chin. The men had too thick underwear. They carried overcoat and blanket-it was hot, hot, and every pound like ten! To keep-to throw away? To keep-to throw away? The beat of feet kept time to that pressing question, and to Just marching to be marching!-reckon Old Joe thinks it's fun, and to Where in hell are we going, anyway?

Through the enormous dust cloud that the army raised the trees of the valley appeared as brown smudges against an ochreish sky. The farther hills and the mountains were not seen at all. The stone fences on either side the road, the blackberry bushes, the elder, the occasional apple or cherry tree were all but dun lines and blotches. Oh, hot, hot! A man swung his arm and a rolled overcoat landed in the middle of a briar patch. A second followed suit-a third, a fourth. A great, raw-boned fellow from some mountain clearing jerked at the lacing of his shoes and in a moment was marching barefoot, the offending leather swinging from his arm. To right and left he found imitators. A corpulent man, a merchant used to a big chair set in the shady front of a village store, suffered greatly, pale about the lips, and with his breath coming in wheezing gasps. His overcoat went first, then his roll of blanket. Finally he gazed a moment, sorrowfully enough, at his knapsack, then dropped it, too, quietly, in a fence corner. Close up, men-close up!

A wind arose and blew the dust maddeningly to and fro. In the Colour Company of the 65th a boy began to cough, uncontrollably, with a hollow sound. Those near him looked askance. "You'd better run along home, sonny! Yo' ma had n't ought to let you come. Darn it all! if we march down this pike longer, we'll all land home!-If you listen right hard you can hear Thunder Run!-And that thar Yank hugging himself back thar at Charlestown!-dessay he's telegraphin' right this minute that we've run away-"

Richard Cleave passed along the line

. "Don't be so downhearted, men! It's not really any hotter than at a barbecue at home. Who was that coughing?"

"Andrew Kerr, sir."

"Andrew Kerr, you go to the doctor the first thing after roll-call to-night. Cheer up, men! No one's going to send you home without fighting."

From the rear came a rumble, shouted orders, a cracking of whips. The column swerved to one side of the broad road, and the Rockbridge Artillery passed-a vision of horses, guns, and men, wrapped in a dun whirlwind and disappearing in the blast. They were gone in thunder through the heat and haze. The 65th Virginia wondered to a man why it had not chosen the artillery.

Out of a narrow way stretching westward, came suddenly at a gallop a handful of troopers, black plumed and magnificently mounted, swinging into the pike and disappearing in a pillar of dust toward the head of the column. Back out of the cloud sounded the jingling of accoutrements, the neighing of horses, a shouted order.

The infantry groaned. "Ten of the Black Horse!-where are the rest of them, I wonder? Oh, ain't they lucky dogs?"

"Stuart's men have the sweetest time!-just galloping over the country, and making love, and listening to Sweeney's banjo-

If you want to have a good time-

If you want to have a good time,

Jine the cavalry!-

What's that road over there-the cool-looking one? The road to Ashby's Gap? Wish this pike was shady like that!"

A bugle blew; the command to halt ran down the column. The First Brigade came to a stand upon the dusty pike, in the heat and glare. The 65th was the third in column, the 4th and the 27th leading. Suddenly from the 4th there burst a cheer, a loud and high note of relief and exultation. A moment, and the infection had spread to the 27th; it, too, was cheering wildly. Apparently there were several couriers-No! staff officers, the 65th saw the gold lace-with some message or order from the commanding general, now well in advance with his guard of Black Horse. They were riding down the line-Old Jack was with them-the 4th and the 27th were cheering like mad. The colonel of the 65th rode forward. There was a minute's parley, then he turned, "Sixty-fifth! It isn't a fox hunt-it's a bear hunt! 'General Johnston to the 65th'-" He broke off and waved forward the aide-de-camp beside him. "Tell them, Captain Washington, tell them what a terror to corn-cribs we're going after!"

The aide, a young man, superbly mounted, laughed, raised his voice. "Sixty-fifth! The Army of the Valley is going through Ashby's Gap to Piedmont, and from Piedmont by rail to Manassas Junction. General Stuart is still at Winchester amusing General Patterson. At Manassas our gallant army under General Beauregard is attacked by McDowell with overwhelming numbers. The commanding general hopes that his troops will step out like men and make a forced march to save the country!"

He was gone-the other staff officers were gone-Old Jack was gone. They passed the shouting 65th, and presently from down the line came the cheers of the 2d, 21st, and 33d Virginia. Old Jack rode back alone the length of his brigade; and so overflowing was the enthusiasm of the men that they cheered him, cheered lustily! He touched his old forage cap, went stiffly by upon Little Sorrel. From the rear, far down the road, could be heard the voices of Bee, Bartow, and Elzey. Ardour, elasticity, strength returned to the Army of the Shenandoah. With a triumphant cry the First Brigade wheeled into the road that led eastward through the Blue Ridge by Ashby's Gap.

Two o'clock, three o'clock, four o'clock came and passed. Enthusiasm carried the men fast and far, but they were raw troops and they suffered. The sun, too, was enthusiastic, burning with all its might. The road proved neither cool nor shady. All the springs seemed suddenly to have dried up. Out of every hour there was a halt of ten minutes, and it was needed. The men dropped by the roadside, upon the parched grass, beneath the shadow of the sumach and the elder bushes, and lay without speaking. The small farmers, the mountaineers, the hunters, the ploughmen fared not so badly; but the planters of many acres, the lawyers, the doctors, the divines, the merchants, the millers, and the innkeepers, the undergraduates from the University, the youths from classical academies, county stores, village banks, lawyers' offices, all who led a horseback or sedentary existence, and the elderly men and the very young,-these suffered heavily. The mounted officers were not foot-weary, but they also had heat, thirst, and hunger, and, in addition, responsibility, inexperience, and the glance of their brigadier. The ten minutes were soon over. Fall in-fall in, men! The short rest made the going worse, the soldiers rose so stiff and sore.

The men had eaten before leaving the camp above Winchester-but that was days ago. Now, as they went through Clarke County, there appeared at cross-roads, at plantation gates, at stiles leading into green fields, ladies young and old, bearing baskets of good things hastily snatched from pantry and table. They had pitchers, too, of iced tea, of cold milk, even of raspberry acid and sangaree. How good it all was! and how impossible to go around! But, fed or hungry, refreshed or thirsty, the men blessed the donors, and that reverently, with a purity of thought, a chivalrousness of regard, a shade of feeling, youthful and sweet and yet virile enough, which went with the Confederate soldier into the service and abode to the end.

The long afternoon wore to a close. The heat decreased, but the dust remained and the weariness grew to gigantic proportions. The First Brigade was well ahead of Bee, Bartow, and Elzey. It had started in advance and it had increased the distance. If there was any marching in men, Jackson forced it out; they went a league for him where another would have procured but a mile, but even he, even enthusiasm and the necessity of relieving Beauregard got upon this march less than two miles an hour. Most happily, McDowell, advancing on Beauregard and Bull Run and fearing "masked batteries," marched much more slowly. At sunset the First Brigade reached the Shenandoah.

The mounted officers took up one and sometimes two men beside them, and the horses struggled bravely through the cold, rapid, breast-deep current. Behind them, company by company, the men stripped off coat and trousers, piled clothing and ammunition upon their heads, held high their muskets, and so crossed. The guns and wagons followed. Before the river was passed the night fell dark.

The heat was now gone by, the dust was washed away, the men had drunk their fill. From the haversacks they took the remnant of the food cooked that morning. The biscuit and the bacon tasted very good; not enough of either, it was true, but still something. The road above the river rose steeply, for here was the Blue Ridge, lofty and dark, rude with rock, and shaggy with untouched forests. This was the pass through the mountains, this was Ashby's Gap. The brigade climbed with the road, tired and silent and grim. The day had somehow been a foretaste of war; the men had a new idea of the draught and of the depth of the cup. They felt older, and the air, blowing down from the mountains, seemed the air of a far country toward which they had been travelling almost without knowing it. They saw now that it was a strange country, much unlike that in which they had hitherto lived. They climbed slowly between dark crag and tree, and wearily. All song and jest had died; they were tired soldiers, hungry now for sleep. Close up, men, close up!

They came to the height of the pass, marked by a giant poplar whose roots struck deep into four counties. Here again there was a ten minutes' halt; the men sank down upon the soft beds of leaf and mould. Their eyelids drooped; they were in a dream at once, and in a dream heard the Fall in-fall in, men! The column stumbled to its feet and began the descent of the mountain.

Clouds came up; at midnight when they reached the lower slope, it was raining. Later they came to the outskirts of the village of Paris, to a grove of mighty oaks, and here the brigade was halted for the night. The men fell upon the ground and slept. No food was taken, and no sentries were posted. An aide, very heavy-eyed, asked if guard should not be set. "No, sir," answered the general. "Let them sleep." "And you, sir?" "I don't feel like it. I'll see that there is no alarm." With his cloak about him, with his old cadet cap pulled down over his eyes, awkward and simple and plain, he paced out the night beneath the trees, or sat upon a broken rail fence, watching his sleeping soldiers and, the aide thought, praying.

The light rain ceased, the sky cleared, the pale dawn came up from the east. In the first pink light the bugles sounded. Up rose the First Brigade, cooked and ate its breakfast, swung out from the oak grove upon the highroad, and faced the rising sun. The morning was divinely cool, the men in high spirits, Piedmont and the railway were but six miles down the road. The First Brigade covered the distance by eight o'clock. There was the station, there was the old Manassas Gap railroad, there was the train of freight and cattle cars-ever so many freight and cattle cars! Company after company the men piled in; by ten o'clock every car was filled, and the platforms and roofs had their quota. The crazy old engine blew its whistle, the First Brigade was off for Manassas. Bee, Bartow, and Elzey, arriving at Piedmont in the course of the morning, were not so fortunate. The railroad had promised, barring unheard-of accident, to place the four brigades in Manassas by sunrise of the twentieth. The accident duly arrived. There was a collision, the track was obstructed, and only the 7th and 8th Georgia got through. The remainder of the infantry waited perforce at Piedmont, a portion of it for two mortal days, and that without rations. The artillery and the cavalry-the latter having now come up-marched by the wagon road and arrived in fair time.

From ten in the morning until sunset the First Brigade and the Manassas Gap train crept like a tortoise through the July weather, by rustling cornfields, by stream and wood, by farmhouse and village. It was hot in the freight and cattle cars, hot, cinderish, and noisy. With here and there an exception the men took off their coats, loosened the shoes from their feet, made themselves easy in any way that suggested itself. The subtle give, the slip out of convention and restraint back toward a less trammelled existence, the faint return of the more purely physical, the slight withdrawal of the more purely mental, the rapid breaking down of the sheer artificial-these and other marks of one of the many predicates of war began to show themselves in this journey. But at the village stations there came a change. Women and girls were gathered here, in muslin freshness, with food and drink for "our heroes." The apparel discarded between stations was assiduously reassumed whenever the whistle blew. "Our heroes" looked out of freight and cattle car, somewhat grimy, perhaps, but clothed and in their right mind, with a becoming bloom upon them of eagerness, deference, and patriotic willingness to die in Virginia's defence. The dispensers of nectar and ambrosia loved them all, sped them on to Manassas with many a prayer and God bless you!

At sunset the whistle shrieked its loudest. It was their destination. The train jolted and jerked to a halt. Regiment by regiment, out poured the First Brigade, fell into line, and was double-quicked four miles to Mitchell's Ford and a pine wood, where, hungry, thirsty, dirty, and exhausted, the ranks were broken.

This was the night of the nineteenth. At Piedmont the brigade had heard of yesterday's minor affair at this ford between Tyler's division and Longstreet, the honours of the engagement resting with the Confederate. In the pine wood there was a line of fresh graves; on the brown needles lay boughs that shell had cut from the trees; there were certain stains upon the ground. The First Brigade ate and slept-the last somewhat feverishly. The night passed without alarm. An attack in force was expected in the morning, but it did not come. McDowell, amazingly enough, still rested confident that Patterson had detained Johnston in the valley. Possessed by this belief he was now engaged in a "reconnoissance by stealth," his object being to discover a road whereby to cross Bull Run above the Stone Bridge and turn Beauregard's left. This proceeding and an afternoon rest in camp occupied him the whole of the twentieth. On this day Johnston himself reached Manassas, bringing with him Bee's 2d Mississippi and 4th Alabama, and Bartow's 7th and 8th Georgia. Stuart, having successfully amused Patterson, was also on hand. The remainder of the Army of the Shenandoah, detained by the break upon the Manassas Gap, was yet missing, and many an anxious glance the generals cast that way.

The First Brigade, undiscovered by the "reconnoissance by stealth," rested all day Saturday beneath the pines at Mitchell's Ford, and at night slept quietly, no longer minding the row of graves. At dawn of Sunday a cannon woke the men, loud and startling, McDowell's signal gun, fired from Centreville, and announcing to the Federal host that the interrupted march, the "On to Richmond" blazoned on banners and chalked on trunks, would now be resumed, willy nilly the "rebel horde" on the southern bank of Bull Run.

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