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   Chapter 7 THE DOGS OF WAR

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 24459

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


In the east was a great flare of pink with small golden clouds floating across, all seen uncertainly between branches of pine. A mist lay above Bull Run-on the high, opposite bank the woods rose huddled, indistinct, and dream-like. The air was still, cool, and pure, a Sunday morning waiting for church bells. There were no bells; the silence was shattered by all the drums of the brigade beating the long roll. Men rose from the pine needles, shook themselves, caught up musket and ammunition belt. The echoes from McDowell's signal cannon had hardly died when, upon the wooded banks of Bull Run, the First Brigade stood in arms.

Minutes passed. Mitchell's Ford marked the Confederate centre. Here, and at Blackburn's Ford, were Bonham, Bee, Bartow, Longstreet, and Jackson. Down the stream, at MacLean's Ford and Union Mills, Early and Ewell and D. R. Jones held the right. To the left, up Bull Run, beyond Bee and beyond Stuart, at the Island, Ball and Lewis fords, were Cocke's Brigade and Hampton's Legion, and farther yet, at the Stone Bridge, Evans with a small brigade. Upon the northern bank of the Run, in the thick woods opposite Mitchell's and Blackburn's fords, was believed to be the mass of the invaders. There had been a certitude that the battle would join about these fords. Beauregard's plan was to cross at MacLean's and fall upon the Federal left. Johnston had acceded, and with the first light orders had gone to the brigadiers. "Hold yourselves in readiness to cross and to attack."

Now suddenly from the extreme left, away in the direction of the Stone Bridge, burst an unexpected sound both of musketry and artillery. It was distant, it waxed and waned and waxed again. The First Brigade, nervous, impatient, chilled by the dawn, peered across its own reach of misty stream, and saw naught but the dream-like woods. Tyler's division was over there, it knew. When would firing begin along this line? When would the brigade have orders to move, when would it cross, when would things begin to happen?

An hour passed. Ranks were broken and the men allowed to cook and eat a hasty breakfast. How good, in the mist-drenched wood, tasted the scalding coffee, how good the cornbread and the bacon! The last crumb swallowed, they waited again, lying on the brown earth beneath the pines. The mounted officers, advanced upon the bank of the stream and seen through the mist, loomed larger, man and horse, than life. Jackson sat very quiet upon Little Sorrel, his lips moving. Far up the stream the firing continued. The 2d, 4th, 5th, 27th, 33d, and 65th Virginia fidgeted, groaned, swore with impatience.

Suddenly the nearer echoes awoke. A Federal battery, posted on the hills beyond the fringe of thick wood on the northern bank, opened a slow and ineffective fire against the hills and woods across the stream. The Confederates kept their position masked, made no reply. The shells fell short, and did harm only to the forest and its creatures. Nearly all fell short, but one, a shell from a thirty-pounder Parrott, entered the pine wood by Mitchell's Ford, fell among the wagons of the 65th, and exploded.

A driver was killed, a mule mangled so that it must be shot, and an ambulance split into kindling wood. Few in the First Brigade had seen such a thing before. The men brushed the pine needles and the earth from their coats, and looked at the furrowed ground and at the headless body of the driver with a startled curiosity. There was a sense of a sudden and vivid flash from behind the veil, and they as suddenly perceived that the veil was both cold and dark. This, then, was one of the ways in which death came, shrieking like this, ugly and resistless! The July morning was warm and bright, but more than one of the volunteers in that wood shivered as though it were winter. Jackson rode along the front. "They don't attack in force at the Stone Bridge. A feint, I think." He stopped before the colour company of the 65th. "Captain Cleave."

"Yes, sir."

"You have hunters from the mountains. After the battle send me the man you think would make the best scout-an intelligent man."

"Very well, sir."

The other turned Little Sorrel's head toward the stream and stood listening. The sound of the distant cannonade increased. The pine wood ran back from the water, grew thinner, and gave place to mere copse and a field of broomsedge. From this edge of the forest came now a noise of mounted men. "Black Horse, I reckon!" said the 65th. "Wish they'd go ask Old Joe what he and Beauregard have got against us!-No, 'taint Black Horse-I see them through the trees-gray slouch hats and no feathers in them! Infantry, too-more infantry than horse. Hampton, maybe-No, they look like home folk-" A horseman appeared in the wood, guiding a powerful black stallion with a light hand between the pines, and checking him with a touch beside the bank upon which Little Sorrel was planted. "General Jackson?" inquired a dry, agreeable voice.

"Yes, sir, I am General Jackson. What troops have you over there?"

"The Virginia Legion."

Jackson put out a large hand. "Then you are Colonel Fauquier Cary? I am glad to see you, sir. We never met in Mexico, but I heard of you-I heard of you!"

The other gave his smile, quick and magnetic. "And I of you, general. Magruder chanted your praises day and night-our good old Fuss and Feathers, too! Oh, Mexico!"

Jackson's countenance, so rigid, plain, restrained, altered as through some effect of soft and sunny light. The blue of the eye deepened, the iris enlarged, a smile came to his lips. His stiffly held, awkwardly erect figure relaxed, though very slightly. "I loved it in Mexico. I have never forgotten it. Dear land of the daughters of Spain!" The light went indoors again. "That demonstration upstream is increasing. Colonel Evans will need support."

"Yes, we must have orders shortly." Turning in his saddle, Cary gazed across the stream. "Andrew Porter and Burnside are somewhere over there. I wonder if Burnside remembers the last time he was in Virginia!" He laughed. "Dabney Maury's wedding in '52 at Cleveland, and Burnside happy as a king singing 'Old Virginia never tire!' stealing kisses from the bridesmaids, hunting with the hardest, dancing till cockcrow, and asking, twenty times a day, 'Why don't we do like this in Indiana?' I wonder-I wonder!" He laughed again. "Good old Burnside! It's an odd world we live in, general!"

"The world, sir, is as God made it and as Satan darkened it."

Cary regarded him somewhat whimsically. "Well, we'll agree on God now, and perhaps before this struggle's over, we'll agree on Satan. That firing's growing louder, I think. There's a cousin of mine in the 65th-yonder by the colours! May I speak to him?"

"Certainly, sir. I have noticed Captain Cleave. His men obey him with readiness." He beckoned, and when Cleave came up, turned away with Little Sorrel to the edge of the stream. The kinsmen clasped hands.

"How are you, Richard?"

"Very well, Fauquier. And you?"

"Very well, too, I suppose. I haven't asked. You've got a fine, tall company!"

Cleave, turning, regarded his men with almost a love-light in his eyes. "By God, Fauquier, we'll win if stock can do it! It's going to make a legend-this army!"

"I believe that you are right. When you were a boy you used to dream artillery."

"I dream it still. Sooner or later, by hook or by crook, I'll get into that arm. It wasn't feasible this spring."

His cousin looked at him with the affection, half humorous and wholly tender, with which he regarded most of his belongings in life. "I always liked you, Richard. Now don't you go get killed in this unnatural war! The South's going to need every good man she's got-and more beside! Where is Will?"

"In the 2d. I wanted him nearer me, but 'twould have broken his heart to leave his company. Edward is with the Rifles?"

"Yes, adding lustre to the ranks. I came upon him yesterday cutting wood for his mess. 'Why don't you make Jeames cut the wood?' I asked. 'Why,' said he, 'you see it hurts his pride-and, beside, some one must cook. Jeames cooks.'" Cary laughed. "I left him getting up his load and hurrying off to roll call. Ph?bus Apollo swincking for Mars!-I was at Greenwood the other day. They all sent you their love."

A colour came into Cleave's dark cheek. "Thank them for me when you write. Only the ladies are there?"

"Yes. I told them it had the air of a Spanish nunnery. Maury Stafford is with Magruder on the Peninsula."

"Yes."

"Judith had a letter from him. He was in the affair at Bethel.-What's this? Orders for us all to move, I hope!"

A courier had galloped into the wood. "General Jackson? Where is General Jackson?" A hundred hands having pointed out Little Sorrel and his rider, he arrived breathless, saluted, and extended a gauntleted hand with a folded bit of paper. Jackson took and opened the missive with his usual deliberation, glanced over the contents, and pushed Little Sorrel nearer to Fauquier Cary. "General," he read aloud, though in a low voice, "the signal officer reports a turning column of the enemy approaching Sudley Ford two miles above the Stone Bridge. You will advance with all speed to the support of the endangered left. Bee and Barlow, the Hampton Legion and the Virginia Legion will receive like orders. J. E. Johnston, General Commanding."

The commander of the Virginia Legion gathered up his reins. "Thank you, general! Au revoir-and laurels to us all!" With a wave of his hand to Cleave, he was gone, crashing through the thinning pines to the broomsedge field and his waiting men.

It was nine o'clock, hot and clear, the Stone Bridge three miles away. The First Brigade went at a double quick, guided by the sound of musketry, growing in volume. The pines were left behind; oak copse succeeded, then the up and down of grassy fields. Wooden fences stretched across the way, streamlets presented themselves, here and there gaped a ravine, ragged and deep. On and on and over all! Bee and Bartow were ahead, and Hampton and the Virginia Legion. The sound of the guns grew louder. "Evans hasn't got but six regiments. Get on, men, get on!"

The fields were very rough, all things uneven and retarding. Only the sun had no obstacles: he rose high, and there set in a scorching day. The men climbed a bank of red earth, and struck across a great cornfield. They stumbled over the furrows, they broke down the stalks, they tore aside the intertwining small, blue morning-glories. Wet with the dew of the field, they left it and dipped again into woods. The shade did not hold; now they were traversing an immense and wasted stretch where the dewberry caught at their ankles and the sun had an unchecked sway. Ahead the firing grew louder. Get on, men, get on!

Allan Gold, hurrying with his hurrying world, found in life this July morning something he had not found before. Apparently there were cracks in the firmament through which streamed a dazzling light, an invigorating air. After all, there was something wide, it seemed, in war, something sweet. It was bright and hot-they were going, clean and childlike, to help their fellows at the bridge. When, near at hand, a bugle blew, high as a lark above the stress, he followed the sound with a clear delight. He felt no fatigue, and he had never seen the sky so blue, the woods so green. Chance brought him for a moment in line with his captain. "Well, Allan?"

"I seem to have waked up," said Allan, then, very soberly. "I am going to like this thing."

Cleave laughed. "You haven't the air of a Norse sea king for nothing!" They dipped into a bare, red gully, scrambled up the opposite bank, and fought again with the dewberry vines. "When the battle's over you're to report to General Jackson. Say that I sent you-that you're the man he asked for this morning."

The entangling vines abruptly gave up the fight. A soft hillside of pasturage succeeded, down which the men ran like schoolboys. A gray zigzag of rail fence, a little plashy stream, another hillside, and at the top, planted against a horizon of haze and sound, a courier, hatless, upon a reeking horse. "General Jackson?"

"Yes, sir."

"McDowell has crossed at Sudley Ford. The attack on the Stone Bridge is a feint. Colonel Evans has left four companies there, and with the 4th South Carolina and the Louisiana Tigers is getting into position across Young's Branch, upon the Mathews Hill. Colonel Evans's compliments, and he says for God's sake to come on!"

"Very good, sir. General Jackson's compliments, and I am coming."

The courier turned, spurred his horse, and was gone. Jackson rode down the column. "You're doing well, men, but you've got to do better. Colonel Evans says for God's sake to come on!"

That hilltop crossed at a run, they plunged again into the trough of those low waves. The First Brigade had proved its mettle, but here it began to lose. Men gasped, wavered, fell out of line and were left behind. In Virginia the July sunshine is no bagatelle. It beat hard to-day, and to many in these ranks there was in this July Sunday an awful strangeness. At home-ah, at home!-crushed ice and cooling fans, a pleasant and shady ride to a pleasant, shady church, a little dozing through a comfortable sermon, then friends and crops and politics in the twilight dells of an old churchyard, then home, and dinner, and wide porches-Ah, that was the way, that was the way. Close up, there! Don't straggle, men, don't straggle!

They were out now upon another high field, carpeted with yellowing sedge, dotted over with young pines. The 65th headed the column. Lieutenant Coffin of Company A was a busy officer, active as a jumping-jack, half liked and half distasted by the men. The need of some breathing time, however slight, was now so imperative that at a stake and rider fence, overgrown with creepers, a five minutes' halt was ordered. The fence ran at right angles, and all along the column the men dropped upon the ground, in the shadow of the vines. Coffin threw himself down by the Thunder Run men. "Billy Maydew!"

"Yaas, sir."

"What have you got that stick tied to your gun for? Throw it away! I should think you'd find that old flintlock heavy enough without shouldering a sapling besides!"

Billy regarded with large blue eyes his staff for a young Hercules. "'Tain't a mite in my way, lieutenant. I air a-goin' to make a notch on it for every Yank I kill. When we get back to Thunder Run I air a-goin' to hang it over the fireplace. I reckon it air a-goin' to look right interestin'. Pap, he has a saplin' marked for b'ar an' wolves, an' gran'pap he has one his pap marked for Indians-"

"Throw it away!" said Coffin sharply. "It isn't regular. Do as I tell you."

Billy stared. "But I don't want to. It air my stick, an' I air a-goin' to hang it over the fireplace-"

The heat, the sound in front, all things, made Coffin fretful. He rose from the fence corner. "Throw that stick away, or I'll put you in the guardhouse! This ain't Thunder Run-and you men have got to learn a thing or two! Come now!"

"I won't," said Billy. "An' if 't were Thunder Run, you wouldn't dar'-"

Allan Gold drew himself over the grass and touched the boy's arm. "Look here, Billy! We're going into battle in a minute, and you want to be there, don't you? The lieutenant's right-that oak tree surely will get in your way! Let's see how far you can throw it. There's plenty more saplings in the woods!"

"Let him alone, Gold," said the lieutenant sharply. "Do as I order you, Billy Maydew!"

Billy rose, eighteen years old, and six feet tall. "If it's jest the same to you, lieutenant," he said politely, "I'll break it into bits first. Thar are time when I jest hone to feel my hands on somethin' brittle!" He put the thick sapling across his knee like a sword, broke it in twain, broke in their turn the two halves, and tossed the four pieces over the fence. "Thar, now! It's did." Moving back to Allan's side, he threw himself down upon the grass. "When's this hell-fired fightin' goin' to begin? I don't ask anything better, jest at this minute, than to encounter a rattler!"

The sound ahead swelled suddenly into loud and continuous firing. Apparently Evans had met the turning column. Fall in, men, fall in!

The First Brigade rose to its feet, left the friendly fence, and found itself upon a stretch of road, in a dust cloud that neatly capped all previous ills. At some distance rose the low hill, covered, upon this side, by a second growth of pines. "That's the Henry Hill," said the guide with the 65th. "The house just this side is the Lewis house-'Portici,' they call it. The top of the hill is a kind of plateau, with deep gulleys across it. Nearly in the middle is the Widow Henry's house, and beyond it the house of the free negro Robinson. Chinn's house is on the other side, near Chinn's Branch. It's called the Henry Hill, and Mrs. Henry is old and bedridden. I don't know what she'll do, anyway! The hill's most level on top, as I said, but beyond the Henry House it falls right down, quite steep, to the Warrenton turnpike. Across that there's marshy ground, and Young's Branch, with the Stone House upon it, and beyond the branch there's Mathews Hill, just around the branch. Yes, sir, this back side's wooded, but you see the cleared ground when you get on top."

A bowshot from the wood, the head of the column was met by a second courier, a boy from the Alabama River, riding like Jehu, pale with excitement. "When you get to the top of the hill you'll see! They're thicker than bees from a sweet gum-they're thicker than bolls in a cotton-field! They've got three thousand Regulars, and fifteen thousand of the other kind, and they're cutting Evans to pieces!" He pulled himself together and saluted. "General Bee's compliments to General Jackson, and he is going into action."

"General Jackson's compliments, and I will support him."

The 65th entered the wood. The trees were small-bundles of hard, bright green needles aloft on slender trunks, out of which, in the strong sunshine, resin was oozing. They were set well apart, the grass beneath dry and slippery, strewn with cones. The sky was intensely blue, the air hot and without moisture, the scent of the pines strong in the nostril. Another step and the 65th came upon the wounded of Evans's brigade. An invisible line joined with suddenness the early morning picture, the torn and dying mule, the headless driver, to this. Breathless, heated, excited, the 65th swept on, yet it felt the cold air from the cavern. It had, of course, seen accidents, men injured in various ways, but never had it viewed so many, nor so much blood, and never before had it rushed past the helpless and the agonizing. There were surgeons and ambulances-there seemed to be a table of planks on which the worst cases were laid-the sufferers had help, of course, a little help. A Creole from Bayou Têche lay writhing, shot through the stomach, beneath a pine. He was raving. "Mélanie, Mélanie, donnez-moi de l'eau! Mélanie, Mélanie! donnez-moi de l'eau!"

Stragglers were coming over the hilltop-froth and spume thrown from a great wave somewhere beyond that cover-men limping, men supported by their comrades, men gasping and covered with sweat, men livid with nausea, men without arms, men carrying it off with bluster, and men too honestly frightened for any pretence. A number were legitimately there, wounded, ill, exhausted, useless on the field of battle; others were malingerers, and some were cowards-cowards for all time, or cowards for this time only. A minority was voluble. "You all think yo' going to a Sunday-school picnic, don't you? Well, you ain't. Just you all wait until you get to the top of the hill! What are you going to see? You're going to see hell's mouth, and the devil wearing blue! We've been there-we've been in hell since daybreak-damned if we haven't! Evans all cut to pieces! Bee and Bartow have gone in now. They'll find it hell, jest like we did. Twenty thousand of them dressed in blue." A man began to weep. "All cut to pieces. Major Wheat's lying there in a little piney wood. He was bleeding and bleeding-I saw him-but I reckon the blood has stopped. And we were all so hungry. I didn't get no breakfast. There's a plateau and the Henry House, and then there's a dip and Young's Branch, and then there's a hill called the Mathews Hill. We were there-on the Mathews Hill-we ain't on it now." Two officers appeared, one on foot, the other mounted, both pale with rage. "You'll be on it again, if you have to be dragged by the heels! Get back there, you damned, roustabout cowards!" The mounted man laid about him with his sabre; the lieutenant, afoot, wrenched from a strapping fellow his Belgian musket and applied the stock to the recreant's shoulders. The 65th left the clamour, swept onward between the pines, and presently, in the narrow road, met a braver sort, men falling back, but without panic. "Hot as hell, sir, on the other side of the hill! No, we're not running. I'll get the men back. It's just that Sykes was in front of us with his damned Regulars. Beg your pardon, general-? General Jackson. I'll get the men back-damned-blessed-if I don't, sir! Form right here, men! The present's the best time, and here's the best place."

At the crest of the hill the 65th came upon Imboden's battery-the Staunton Artillery-four smoothbore, brass six-pounders, guns, and caissons drawn by half the proper number of horses-the rest being killed-and conducted by wounded, exhausted, powder-grimed and swearing artillerymen. Imboden, in front, was setting the pitch. "-- --! -- --! -- -- --!" Jackson checked Little Sorrel and withered the battery and its captain. "What are you doing here, sir, blaspheming and retreating? Outfacing your God with your back to the enemy! What-"

Imboden, an entirely gallant man, hastened to explain. "Beg pardon, general! Bad habit, I acknowledge, but the occasion excuses-My battery has spent the morning, sir, on the Henry Hill, and damn me, if it hasn't been as lonely there as the Ancient Mariner! No support-not a damned infantryman in sight for the last half hour! Alone down there by the Robinson House, and Ricketts and Griffin-Regulars by the Lord!-and the devil knows how many batteries beside playing on us with Parrotts and twelve-pounder howitzers like all the fountains at Versailles! The ground looks as though it had been rooted by hogs! No support, and no orders, and on the turnpike a bank of blue massing to rush my guns! And my ammunition out, and half my horses down-and if General Bee sent me orders to move I never got them!" He stamped upon the ground, wiping the blood from a wound in his head. "I couldn't hold the Henry Hill! I couldn't fight McDowell with one battery-no, by God, not even if 't was the Staunton Artillery! We had to move out."

Jackson eyed him, unmollified. "I have never seen the occasion, Captain Imboden, that justified profanity. As for support-I will support your battery. Unlimber right here."

Imboden unlimbered, placing his guns below the pine wood upon the summit. The First Brigade wheeled into line to the left. Here it was met by an aide. "General Jackson, hold your troops in reserve until Bee and Bartow need support-then give it to them!" The First Brigade deployed in the wood. About the men was still the pine thicket, blazed upon by the sun, shrilled in by winged legions; before them was the field of Bull Run. A tableland, cut by gullies, furred with knots of pine and oak, held in the middle a flower garden, a few locust trees, and a small house-the Henry House-in which, too old and ill to be borne away to safety, lay a withered woman, awaiting death. Beyond the house the ground fell sharply. At the foot of the hill ran the road, and beyond the road were the marshy banks of a little stream, and on the other side of the stream rose the Mathews Hill. Ranged upon this height Ricketts and Griffin and Arnold and many another Federal battery were sending shrieking shells against the Henry Hill. North and east and west of the batteries ran long radii of blue, pointed with bright banners, and out of the hollow between the hills came a smoke and noise as of the nethermost pit. There, beneath that sulphurous cloud, the North and the South were locked in an embrace that was not of love.

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