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   Chapter 9 WINCHESTER

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 25655

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The December afternoon was drawing to a quiet close. The season had proved extraordinarily mild-it seemed Indian summer still rather than only a fortnight from Christmas. Farming folk prophesied a cold January, while the neighbourhood negroes held that the unusual warmth proceeded from the comet which blazed this year in the skies. An old woman whom the children called a witch sat in the sun on her doorstep, and shook her head at every passer-by. "A green Christmas makes a fat graveyard.-Down, pussy, down, down!-A green Christmas makes a fat graveyard. Did ye hear the firing yesterday?"

An amethyst haze filled the valley town of Winchester. Ordinarily, in weather such as this, the wide streets had a dream quality and the gardens where the chrysanthemums yet lingered and the brick sidewalks all strewn with russet leaves, and the faint smell of wood smoke, and the old gilt of the sunshine, all carried back as to some vanished song or story, sweet while it lasted. But if this was true once of Winchester, and might be true again, it was hardly true of to-day, of Winchester in December 1861; of Winchester with Major-General T. J. Jackson, commanding the Department of the Valley, quartered in the town, and the Stonewall Brigade, commanded by Garnett, encamped upon its edge, and the Valley Troopers commanded by Ashby, flashing by on their way to reconnoitre the Federal General Banks; of Winchester, with bands playing "Dixie," with great white-topped wagons going endlessly through the streets, with soldiers passing and repassing, or drilling, drilling, drilling in the fields without, or thronging the Taylor House, or coming to supper in the hospitable brick mansions where the pretty girls could never, never, never look aught but kindly on any man who wore the grey-of Winchester, in short, in war time.

The sun slipped low in the heavens. Out of the purple haze to the south, a wagon from Staunton way, drawn by oxen and piled high with forage, came up a side street. The ancient negro who drove was singing,-

"I saw de beam in my sistah's eye,

Cyarn see de beam in mine!

Yo'd better lef' yo' sistah's doah,

An' keep yo' own doah fine!-

An' I had er mighty battle lak Jacob an' de angel-"

The wagon passed on. A picket squad swung up the middle of the street, turned, and went marching toward the sunset. The corner house was a warehouse fitted for a hospital. Faces showed at the windows; when, for a moment, a sash was lifted, a racking cough made itself heard. Just now no wounded lodged in the warehouse, but all the diseases were there with which raw troops are scourged. There were measles and mumps, there were fevers, typhoid and malarial, there were intestinal troubles, there were pleurisy and pneumonia. Some of the illnesses were slight, and some of the men would be discharged by Death. The glow of the sun made the window glass red. It was well, for the place needed every touch of cheer.

The door opened, and two ladies came out, the younger with an empty basket. The oppression of the place they were leaving stayed with them for some distance down the wider street, but at last, in the rosy light, with a bugle sounding from the camp without the town, the spirits of the younger, at least, revived. She drew a long breath. "Well! As long as Will is in a more comfortable place, and is getting better, and Richard is well and strong, and they all say he is a born soldier and his men adore him, and there isn't a battle, and if there were, we'd win, and this weather lasts, and a colonel and a captain and two privates are coming to supper, and one of them draws and the other has a voice like an angel, and my silk dress is almost as good as new, I can't be terribly unhappy, mother!"

Margaret Cleave laughed. "I don't want you to be! I am not 'terribly' unhappy myself-despite those poor, poor boys in the warehouse! I am thankful about Will and I am thankful about Richard, and war is war, and we must all stand it. We must stand it with just as high and exquisite a courage as we can muster. If we can add a gaiety that isn't thoughtless, so much the better! We've got to do it for Virginia and for the South-yes, and for every soul who is dear to us, and for ourselves! I'll lace your silk dress, and I'll play Mr. Fairfax's accompaniments with much pleasure-and to-morrow we'll come back to the warehouse with a full basket! I wish the coffee was not getting so low."

A soldier, a staff officer equipped for the road, came rapidly up the brick sidewalk, overtook the two, and spoke their names, holding out his hand. "I was sure 'twas you! Nowadays one meets one's world in no matter how unlikely a place! Not that Winchester is an unlikely place-dear and hospitable little town! Nor, perhaps, should I be surprised. I knew that Captain Cleave was in the Stonewall Brigade." He took the basket from Miriam and walked beside them.

"My youngest son has been ill," said Margaret. "He is in the 2d. Kind friends took him home and cared for him, but Miriam and I were unhappy at Three Oaks. So we closed the house and came."

"Will always was a baby," volunteered Miriam. "When the fever made him delirious and they thought he was going to die, he kept calling for mother, and sometimes he called for me. Now he's better, and the sister of a man in his mess is reading 'Kenilworth' aloud to him, and he's spoiled to death! Richard always did spoil him-"

Her mother smiled. "I don't think he's really spoiled; not, that is, by Richard.-When did you come to town, Major Stafford?"

"Last night," answered Stafford. "From General Loring, near Monterey. I am the advance of the Army of the Northwest. We are ordered to join General Jackson, and ten days or so should see the troops in Winchester. What is going to happen then? Dear madam, I do not know!"

Miriam chose to remain petulant. "General Jackson is the most dreadful martinet! He drills and drills and drills the poor men until they're too tired to stand. He makes people get up at dawn in December, and he won't let officers leave camp without a pass, and he has prayer meetings all the time! Ever so many people think he's crazy!"

"Miriam!"

"But they do, mother! Of course, not Richard. Richard knows how to be a soldier. And Will-Will would be loyal to a piece of cement out of the Virginia Military Institute! And of course the Stonewall Brigade doesn't say it, nor the Rockbridge Artillery, nor any of Ashby's men-they're soldiers, too! But I've heard the militia say it-"

Maury Stafford laughed. "Then I won't! I'll only confide to you that the Army of the Northwest thinks that General Jackson is-is-well, is General Jackson!-To burn our stores of subsistence, to leave unguarded the passes along a hundred miles of mountain, to abandon quarters just established, to get our sick somehow to the rear, and to come up here upon some wild winter campaign or other-all on the representation of the rather singular Commander of the Army of the Valley!" He took off his gold-braided cap, and lifted his handsome head to the breeze from the west. "But what can you do with professors of military institutes and generals with one battle to their credit? Nothing-when they have managed to convert to their way of thinking both the commanding general and the government at Richmond!-You look grave, Mrs. Cleave! I should not have said that, I know. Pray forget it-and don't believe that I am given to such indiscretions!" He laughed. "There were representations which I was to make to General Jackson. Well, I made them! In point of fact, I made them but an hour ago. Hence this unbecoming temper. They were received quite in the manner of a stone wall-without comment and without removal from the ground occupied! Well! Why not expect the thing to show its nature?-Is this pleasant old house your goal?"

They had come to a white, old mansion, with steps running up to a narrow yard and a small porch. "Yes, we are staying here. Will you not come in?"

"Thank you, no. I ride as far as Woodstock to-night. I have not seen Captain Cleave. Indeed, I have not seen him since last spring."

"He is acting just now as aide to General Jackson. You have been all this while with General Magruder on the Peninsula?"

"Yes, until lately. We missed Manassas." He stood beside the garden wall, his gauntleted hand on the gatepost. A creeper bearing yet a few leaves hung from a tree above, and one of the crimson points touched his grey cap. "I am now on General Loring's staff. Where he goes at present I go. And where General Jackson goes, apparently we all go! Heigho! How do you like war, Miss Miriam?"

Miriam regarded him with her air of a brown and gold gilliflower. She thought him very handsome, and oh, she liked the gold-braided cap and the fine white gauntlet! "There is something to be said on both sides," she stated sedately. "I should like it very much did not you all run into danger."

Stafford looked at her, amused. "But some of us run out again-Ah!"

Cleave came from the house and down the path to the gate, moving in a red sunset glow, beneath trees on which yet hung a few russet leaves. He greeted his mother and sister, then turned with courtesy to Stafford. "Sandy Pendleton told me you were in town. From General Loring, are you not? You low-countrymen are gathering all our mountain laurels! Gauley River and Greenbriar and to-day, news of the Allegheny engagement-"

"You seem to be bent," said Stafford, "on drawing us from the Monterey line before we can gather any more! We will be here next week."

"You do not like the idea?"

The other shrugged. "I? Why should I care? It is war to go where you are sent. But this weather is much too good to last, and I fail to see what can be done to the northward when winter is once let loose! And we leave the passes open. There is nothing to prevent Rosecrans from pushing a force through to Staunton!"

"That is the best thing that could happen. Draw them into the middle valley and they are ours."

Stafford made a gesture. "Ducdame, ducdame, ducdame! Mrs. Cleave, there is no help for it! We are bewitched-and all by a stone wall in an old cadet cap!"

Cleave laughed. "No, no! but it is, I think, apparent-You will not go in? I will walk with you, then, as far as the hotel."

Margaret Cleave held out her hand. "Good-bye, Major Stafford. We think day and night of all you soldiers. God bless you all, wherever you may be!"

In the sunset light the two men turned their faces toward the Taylor House. "It is a good thing to have a mother," said Stafford. "Mine died when I was a little boy.-Well, what do you think of affairs in general?"

"I think that last summer we won a Pyrrhic victory."

"I share your opinion. It was disastrous. How confident we are with our 'One to Four,' our 'Quality, not Quantity,' our contempt for 'Brute Mass'! To listen to the newspapers one would suppose that the fighting animal was never bred north of the Potomac-Maryland, alone, an honourable exception! France and England, too! They'll be our active allies not a minute later than April Fool's Day!"

"You are bitter."

"It is the case, is it not?"

"Yes," said Cleave gravely. "And the blockade is daily growing more effective, and yet before we are closed in a ring of fire we do not get our cotton out nor our muskets in! Send the cotton to Europe and sell it and so fill the treasury with honest gold!-not with this delusion of wealth, these sheafs of Promises to Pay the Government is issuing. Five million bales of cotton idle in the South! With every nerve strained, with daring commensurate to the prize, we could get them out-even now! To-morrow it will be too late. The blockade will be complete, and we shall rest as isolated as the other side of the moon. Well! Few countries or men are wise till after the event."

"You are not bitter."

Cleave shook his head. "I do not believe in bitterness. And if the government is not altogether wise, so are few others. The people are heroic. We will see what we will see. I had a letter from the Peninsula the other day. Fauquier Cary is there with his legion. He says that McClellan will organize and organize and organize again until springtime. It's what he does best. Then, if only he can be set going, he will bring into the field an army that is an army. And if he's not thwarted by his own government he'll try to reach Richmond from the correct direction-and that's by sea to Old Point and up both banks of the James. All of which means heavy fighting on the Peninsula. So Cary thinks, and I dare say he knows his man. They were classmates and served together in Mexico."

They approached the old colonnaded hotel. Stafford's horse stood at the rack. A few soldiers were about the place and down the street, in the warm

dusk a band was playing. "You ride up the valley to-night?" said Cleave. "When you return to Winchester you must let me serve you in any way I can."

"You are very good. How red the sunsets are! Look at that bough across the sky!"

"Were you," asked Cleave, "were you in Albemarle this autumn?"

"Yes. For one day in October. The country looked its loveliest. The old ride through the woods, by the mill-"

"I remember," said Cleave. "My cousins were well?"

"Quite well. Enchanted princesses guarded by the sable Julius. The old place was all one drift of red and yellow leaves."

They reached the hotel. Cleave spoke abruptly. "I am to report presently at headquarters, so I will say good-bye here." The two touched hands. "A pleasant gallop! You'll have a moon and the road is good. If you see Randolph of Taliaferro's, tell him to bring that book of mine he has."

He walked away, stalwart in the afterglow. Stafford watched him from the porch. "Under other circumstances," he thought, "I might have liked you well enough. Now I do not care if you lead your mad general's next mad charge."

The night fell, mild as milk, with a great white moon above the treetops. It made like mother-of-pearl the small grey house with pointed windows occupied, this December, by Stonewall Jackson. A clock in the hall was striking nine as Cleave lifted the knocker. An old negro came to the door. "Good-evening, Jim. Will you tell the general-"

Some one spoke from down the hall. "Is that Captain Cleave? Come here, sir."

Passing an open door through which could be seen a clerk writing and an aide with his hands behind him studying an engraving of Washington crossing the Delaware, Cleave went on to the room whence the voice had issued. "Come in, and close the door," it said again.

The room was small, furnished with a Spartan simplicity, but with two good lamps and with a log of hickory burning on the hearth. A table held a number of outspread maps and three books-the Bible, a dictionary, and Napoleon's "Maxims." General Jackson was seated on a small, rush-bottomed chair beside the table. By the window stood a soldier in nondescript grey attire, much the worse for mud and brambles. "Captain Cleave," said the general, "were you ever on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal?"

"No, sir."

"Do you know the stretch of the Potomac north of us?"

"I have ridden over the country between Harper's Ferry and Bath."

"Do you know where is Dam No. 5?"

"Yes, sir."

"Come nearer, Gold," said the general. "Go on with your report."

"I counted thirty boats going up, general," said Allan. "All empty. There's a pretty constant stream of them just now. They'll get the coal at Cumberland and turn back toward Washington in about ten days. It is estimated that a thousand tons a day will go down the canal-some of it for private use in Washington, but the greater part for the warships and the factories. The flatboats carry a large amount of forage. The Yankees are using them, too, to transport troops. There is no attempt to rebuild the section of the Baltimore and Ohio that we destroyed. They seem willing to depend upon the canal. But if Dam No. 5 were cut it would dry that canal like a bone for miles. The river men say that if any considerable breach were made it could not be mended this winter. As for the troops on the other side of the river-" He drew out a slip of paper and read from it: "'Yankees upon the Maryland side of the Potomac from Point of Rocks to Hancock-say thirty-five hundred men. Two thirds of this force above Dam No. 4. At Williamsport Colonel Leonard with three regiments and several guns. At Four Locks a troop. At Dam No. 5 several companies of infantry encamped. At Hancock a considerable force-perhaps two regiments. A detachment at Clear Spring. Cavalry over against Sleepy Creek, Cherry Run, and Sir John's Run. Concentration easy at any point up and down the river. A system of signals both for the other side and for any of their scouts who may have crossed to this. Troops reported below Point of Rocks and at the mouth of the Monocacy. The remainder of General Banks's division-perhaps fifteen thousand men-in winter quarters at Frederick City.'-That is all I have to report, general."

"Very good," said Jackson. "Give me your memorandum. Captain Cleave-"

"Yes, sir."

Stonewall Jackson rose from the rush-bottomed chair and walked with his slow stiff stride to the mantelpiece. From behind a china vase he took a saucer holding a lemon which had been cut in two, then, standing very rigidly before the fire, he slowly and meditatively sucked the lemon. Cleave, beside the table, had a whimsical thought. The general, about to open slightly the door of reticence and impart information, was stimulating himself to the effort. He put the lemon down and returned to the table. "Captain Cleave, while I am waiting for General Loring, I propose to break this dam-Dam No. 5."

"Yes, sir."

"I shall go almost immediately to Martinsburg, taking with me General Garnett's brigade and two of the Rockbridge guns. It will be necessary to cover the operation. The work may take several days. By the time the dam is broken General Loring will be up."

His eyes moved toward the mantel. Allan Gold stepped noiselessly across the room and brought back the saucer with the lemon, setting it on the table. "Thank you," said Jackson gently, and sucked the acid treasure. "With this reinforcement I am going against Kelly at Romney. If God gives us the victory there, I shall strike past Kelly at Rosecrans."

"I hope that He will give it, sir. That part of Virginia is worth making an effort for."

"That is my opinion, sir. While I march toward Romney the government at Washington may thrust General Banks across the Potomac. I do not want him in my rear, nor between me and General Johnston." He again sucked the lemon. "The Secretary of War writes that our spies report a clamour at Washington for some movement before spring. It is thought at Richmond that General Banks has been ordered to cross the Potomac as soon as practicable, effecting if possible a junction with Kelly and descending upon Winchester; General McClellan at the same time to advance against General Johnston at Manassas. Maybe it is so, maybe not. Of one thing I am sure-General McClellan will not move until General Banks is on this side of the river. Yesterday Colonel Ashby captured a courier of Kelly's bearing a letter to Banks. The letter, which demands an answer, asks to know explicitly what are Banks's instructions from Washington."

He put the lemon down. "Captain Cleave, I very particularly wish to know what are General Banks's instructions from Washington. Were Jarrow here he would find out for me, but I have sent Jarrow on other business. I want to know within four days."

There was a moment's stillness in the room; then, "Very well, sir," said Cleave.

"I remember," said Jackson, "that you sent me the scout here. He does good service. He is at your disposal for the next few days." Drawing ink and paper toward him, he wrote a few lines. "Go to the adjutant for anything you may need. Captain Cleave on Special Service. Here, too, is the name and address of a Catholic priest in Frederick City. He may be depended upon for some readiness of mind, and for good-will. That is all, I think. Good-night, captain. In four days, if you please. You will find me somewhere between Martinsburg and the river."

"You spoke, sir," said Cleave, "of a captured dispatch from General Kelly. May I see it?"

Jackson took it from a box upon the table. "There it is."

"Do you object, sir, to its reaching General Banks?"

The other retook the paper, glanced over it, and gave it back. "No, not if it goes by a proper courier."

"Has the former courier been sent to Richmond?"

"Not yet." He wrote another line. "This, if you wish to see the courier."

"That is all, sir?"

"That is all, captain. Within four days, near Martinsburg. Good-night."

The two soldiers saluted and left the room, going softly through the hall, past the door where the aide was now studying the Capture of André and out into the moonlight. They walked down the long board path to the gate, unlatched this, and turned their faces toward the camp. For some distance they were as silent as the street before them; then, "If ever you had taught school," said Allan, "you would know how headings out of reading books and sentences that you set for the children to copy have a way of starting up before you at every corner. The Post of Honour is the Post of Danger. I can see that in round hand. But what I can't see is how you are going to do it."

"I want," said the other, "one half-hour quite to myself. Then I think I'll know. Here's the picket. The word's Bethel."

The Stonewall Brigade was encamped in the fields just without the town. It was early in the war and there were yet tents-long line of canvas "A's" stretching in the moonlight far over the rolling ground. Where the tents failed there had been erected tiny cabins, very rude, with abundant ventilation and the strangest chimneys. A few field officers were quartered in the town and Jackson had with him there his permanent staff. But captains and lieutenants stayed with the men. The general of them all ruled with a rod of iron. For the most part it swayed lightly, with a certain moral effect only over the head of the rank and file, but it grew to a crushing beam for the officer who did not with alacrity habitually attend to his every duty, great or small. The do-nothing, the popinjay, the intractable, the self-important, the remonstrant, the I thought, sir-the It is due to my dignity, sir-none of these flourished in the Army of the Valley. The tendencies had been there, of course; they came up like the flowers of spring, but each poor bloom as it appeared met an icy blast. The root beneath learned to send up to the sky a sturdier growth.

Company A, 65th Virginia, numbered in its ranks men who knew all about log cabins. It was well lodged, and the captain's hut did it credit. Richard Cleave and Allan, entering, found a fire, and Tullius nodding beside it. At their step he roused himself, rose, and put on another log. He was a negro of sixty years, tall and hale, a dignified master of foraging, a being simple and taciturn and strong, with a love for every clod of earth at Three Oaks where he had been born.

Cleave spoke. "Where is Lieutenant Breckinridge, Tullius?"

Tullius straightened himself. "Lieutenant Breckinridge is at the colonel's, sah. An' Lieutenant Coffin, he's at the Debatin' Society in Company C."

Cleave sat down before the pine table. "Give Allan Gold something to eat, and don't either of you speak to me for twenty minutes." He propped his head on his hands and stared at the boards. Allan seated himself on a box beside the fire. Tullius took from a flat, heated stone a battered tin coffee-pot, poured into an earthenware cup some smoking mixture, and brought it to the scout. "Hit ain't moh'n half chicory, sah," From an impromptu cupboard he brought a plate of small round cakes. "Mis' Miriam, she done mek 'em fer us."

Cleave spoke from the table. His voice was dreamy, his eyes fixed upon the surface before him as though he were studying ocean depths. "Tullius, give me a dozen coffee berries."

"Er cup of coffee, you mean, Marse Dick?"

"No, coffee berries. Haven't you any there?"

Tullius brought a small tin box, tilted it, and poured on the table something like the required number. "Thar's all thar is." He returned to his corner of the fire, and it purred and flamed upon the crazy hearth between him and the scout. The latter, his rifle across his knees, now watched the flames, now the man at the table. Cleave had strung the coffee berries along a crack between the boards. Now he advanced one small brown object, now retired another, now crossed them from one side to the other. Following these man?uvres, he sat with his chin upon his hand for five minutes, then began to make a circle with the berries. He worked slowly, dropping point after point in place. The two ends met. He rose from the table. "That's all right. I am going to brigade headquarters for a little, Allan. Suppose you come along. There are some things I want to know-those signals, for instance." He took up his hat and sword. "Tullius, you'll have Dundee saddled at four o'clock. I'll see Lieutenant Breckinridge and the colonel. I won't be back until after taps. Cover the fire, but wait up for me."

He and Allan went out together. Tullius restored the coffee berries to the tin box, and the box to the cupboard, sat down by the fire, and fell again into a nodding dream of Three Oaks, of the garden, and of his grandchildren in the quarter.

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