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   Chapter 16 RUDE'S HILL

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 20098

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Stonewall Jackson and his army in slow retreat up the valley came, the second day after Kernstown, to the gorge of Cedar Creek. A bridge had once been here; there remained the blackened cross-timbers and a portion of the flooring. The water below was cold, deep, and rapid. Rather than breast it, the army made shift to cross on the charred wood. An infantry command, stepping gingerly, heard behind it shots and shouts-a Federal cavalry charge upon the rear guard. Several of the men, listening too absorbedly, or not content with the present snail-like motion, suddenly left the timbers and entered the rough and swollen creek that poured beneath. Their exclamations in this berth were piteous, and their comrades fished them out with bayonets and laughter.

Upon the night of the 26th Banks's troopers occupied the northern shore of Tom's Brook. Ashby held the southern side, and held it fast. Behind that safe and vigilant and valiant screen the Army of the Valley moved quietly and in good spirits to the points its general had in mind. The army never knew what were these points until it found itself actually upon the ground. It is morally certain that had he lived, a recalcitrant, in former days, no amount of peine forte et dure would have opened the lips of Stonewall Jackson had he willed to keep them closed. During their earlier acquaintance officers and men alike had made many an ingenious endeavour to learn the plans they thought they ought to know. They set quaint traps, they made innocent-seeming remarks, they guided right, they guided left, they blazed beautiful trails straight, they thought, to the moment of revelation. It never came. He walked past and around and over their traps. Inquisitive officers found themselves not only without a straw of information, but under displeasure. Brilliant leading remarks shone a moment by their own brilliancy, then went out. The troops conjectured one road-they went by another; natives described the beauties of the village before which they were sure to break ranks-at eve they experienced the hospitalities of quite another town. Generals in the ranks demonstrated that they were going to turn on Shields, or that they were going east by the old Manassas Gap and whip Geary, or northeast and whip Abercrombie. They did none of the three. They marched on up the valley to Rude's Hill near Mount Jackson. About this time, or a little later, men and officers gave it up, began to admire, and to follow blindly. A sergeant, one evening, put it to his mess. "If we don't know, then Banks and Shields and Frémont and Milroy and McClellan and Lincoln and Stanton don't know, either!" The mess grew thoughtful; presently it took the pipe from its mouth to answer, "Dog-gone it, Martin, that's true! Never saw it just that way before."

Rude's Hill formed a strong natural position. There was water, there were woods, there was an excellent space for a drill-ground. Jackson's directions as to drill-grounds were always characteristically explicit. "Major: You will see that a camp is chosen where there are wood, water, and a drill-ground-" emphasis on the drill-ground. At Rude's Hill they drilled and drilled and drilled. Every morning rang out adjutant's call, every morning there were infantry evolutions, artillery evolutions. The artillery had some respite, for, turn by turn, the sections went forward ten miles to do picket duty for Ashby, Chew's Horse Artillery being continually engaged with the Federal outposts. But the infantry drilled on, drilled and wondered at Banks. One week-two weeks!-and the general in blue with nineteen thousand men still on the farther side of Tom's Brook!

Despite the drilling the Army of the Valley had a good time at Rude's Hill. Below brawled the Shenandoah, just to the east sprang the Massanuttens. There was much rain, but, day by day, through the silver veil or the shattered golden light, lovelier and more lovely grew the spring. The army liked to see her coming. In its heart it felt a springtime, too; a gush of hope and ardour. The men hardly counted Kernstown a defeat. It was known that Old Jack had said to one of the aides, "I may say that I am satisfied, sir." And Congress had thanked the Army of the Valley. And all the newspapers sang its praises. The battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, the shelling of Newbern in North Carolina, the exploits of the Merrimac in Hampton Roads, the battle of Kernstown in the Valley-so at the moment ran the newspapers. And day by day recruits were coming in; comrades as well who had been in hospital or home on furlough. In that fortnight the Army of the Valley grew to number nearly six thousand men.

At Rude's Hill there was an election of company officers. The proceedings-amazing enough to the professional soldier-put into camp life three days of excitement and salt. Given a people of strong political proclivities suddenly turned soldier; given human grudges and likings, admirations and contempts; given the ballot in military as in civil life; given a chance to inject champagne into the ennui of camp existence, and in lieu of gun practice to send off sky-rockets and catherine wheels; given a warm personal interest in each private's bosom as to whom, for the next twelfth month (if the war lasted that long), he was going to obey-and there resulted a shattering of monotony comparable to a pitched battle.

The elections were held in beautiful, vernal groves. That there would be changes it was believed; change was in the air! For days beforehand the character for conduct, courage, and general agreeableness of every man who wore three bars on his collar, or two, or one, or who carried chevrons of silk or chevrons of worsted, had been strictly in the zone of fire. Certain officers nearing certain camp-fires felt caucuses dissolving at their approach into an innocence of debating societies engaged with Fabius Maximus or Scipio Africanus. Certain sergeants and corporals dreamed bars instead of chevrons, and certain high privates, conscious of merit, saw worsted chevrons, silk chevrons, and gold bars all in one blissful night.

But when election day dawned bright and clear, with a fine chorus of birds and an especial performance by the regimental bands, when roll call was over, and camp duties were over, and morning drill was over (no relaxation here! There was only one day in the week on which Old Jack let up on drill, and that wasn't election day!) and the pickets had reluctantly marched away, leaving their votes behind them, and a section of artillery had gone off, swearing, to relieve Chew, and the men could at last get down to work, to happy babbling, happy speechifying, happy minding the polls, and when in the cool of the afternoon the returns were announced, there were fewer changes than had been predicted. After all, most of the officers were satisfactory; why let them down with a jolt? And the privates were satisfactory, too. Why take a capital comrade, a good cook and forager and story-teller, and make him uncomfortable by turning him into an officer? He was nice enough as he was. Not that there were no alterations. Several companies had new captains, some lieutenants stepped down, and there was a shifting of non-commissioned officers. In Company A of the 65th Lieutenant Mathew Coffin lost out. The men wished to put up Allan Gold for the lieutenancy, but Allan declined. He had rather, he said, be scout than lieutenant-and what was the use in changing, anyhow? Lieutenant Coffin was all right. Hadn't he been as brave as a lion at Kernstown-and any man is liable to lose his temper at times-and wouldn't we hate him to have to write back to that young lady at home-? The last plea almost settled it, for the Confederate heart might be trusted to melt at the mention of any young lady at home. But all the Thunder Run men were against Coffin, and Thunder Run turned the scale. In the main, however, throughout the army, company officers were retained, and retained because they were efficient. The election was first-rate fun, and the men cheered the returns, then listened to the orders of the evening from the same old bars and chevrons. The sun went down on a veritable love feast-special rations, special music, special fires, and, between supper and tattoo, an entertainment in each regiment.

The 65th had a beautiful programme, its debating and literary societies, its glee clubs, chess and checker circles, old sledge associations, Thespians and Greek Letter men all joining forces. The stage was a piece of earth, purple brown with pine needles. Two huge fires, one at either side, made a strong, copper-red illumination. The soldier audience sat in a deep semicircle, and sat at ease, being accustomed by now to the posture of tailor or Turk. Only recruits sought logs or stones upon which to sit. Tobacco smoke rose like incense.

The chief musician "sounded on the bugle horn." The Glee Club of Company C filed on the stage with three banjos and two guitars, bowed elegantly, and sang the "Bonny Blue Flag." The applause was thunderous. A large bearded man in the front row lifted a voice that boomed like one of Ashby's cannon. "Encore! Encore!" Company C sang "Listen to the Mocking Bird." The audience gently sighed, took the pipe from its lips, and joined in-

"Listen to the mocking bird-Listen to the mocking bird....

The mocking bird still singing o'er her grave.

Listen to the mocking bird-Listen to the mocking bird....

Still singing where the weeping willows wave."

The pine trees took it up, and the hazel copses and the hurrying Shenandoah.

"Twas in the mild September-September-September,

And the mocking bird was singing far and wide."

"Far and wide.... That's grand, but it sure is gloomy. Next!" The chief musician, having a carrying voice, made announcements. "No. 2. Debate. Which will first recognize the Confederacy, England or France? With the historic reasons for both doing so. England, Sergeant Smith. France, Sergeant Duval.-The audience is not expected to part

icipate in the debate otherwise than judicially, at the close."

The close saw it decided by a rising vote that England would come first-Sergeant Smith, indeed, who chanced to be a professor of belles-lettres at a great school, having declared, with the gesture of Saint John on Patmos, that he saw approaching our shores a white winged ship bearing her declaration of amity. "No. 3," intoned the first musician. "Recitation by Private Edwin Horsemanden."

Private Edwin Horsemanden gave the title of his selection, a poetic selection. Some of his fellow privates looked puzzled. "'Oz Etaliahn?'-What does 'Oz Etaliahn' mean? Cherokee or Choctaw, which? Explain it to us, Eddy. Is it something to eat-or to drink? ''T is true, 'tis pity, 'tis pity 'tis 'tis true'-but most of us never went to college!... Oh, an opera house!-In Paris, do you say? Go on, Eddy, go on!"

"At Paris it was, at the opera there,-

And she looked like a queen in a book that night-"

"Never saw one out of a book, did you?... Yes, I saw a gypsy queen once.... And the queen of the circus.... There's a man in Company D once saw the queen of England, saw her just as plain! She was wearing a scoop bonnet with pink roses around her face.... Sh! Shh!"

"Of all the operas that Verdi wrote."

"Who's Verdi?"

"The best, to my taste, is the 'Trovatore.'"

"'Trovatore?' Eddy, isn't that the serenading fellow who goes on singing till they hang him? Oh, Lord, yes! And the anvil chorus! The anvil chorus comes in there. Go on, Eddy. We feel perfectly at home."

"And Mario"

"Hm! stumped again."

"can sooth with a tenor note

The souls in Purgatory."

The large bearded man was up once more. "I rise to object. There isn't any such place. The com-commanding general'll put him in irons for misrepresenting the sidereal system. There's only heaven, hell, and the enemy.-Yaaaaih, Yaai.... Yaaai, yaaaah, yaaaaih! Certainly, sergeant. The pleasure is mine, sir. Don't mention it, I beg. Mum's the word!"

"The moon on the tower slept soft as snow"-

"Gee-whiz! what a snowball! Didn't the tower break down? No! You amaze me. Go on, Eddy, go on. We know the natural feelings of a sophomore."

"And who was not thrilled in the strangest way

As we heard him sing, while the gas burned low,

'Non ti scordar di me?'"

"What's that? Wait a minute, Eddy! Let's get the words. I always did want a chance at German.-Now you say them slowly and we'll repeat.... Why, man alive, you ought to be proud of your linguistic accomplishments!... Well, I'll begin, and we'll fire by platoons.

"Non ti scordar di me?-"

"Attention! Company A!"

"Non ti scordar di me?-

Non ti scordar di me?"

"Very good! We'll get the meaning after we learn the words. Company B!"

"Non ti scordar di me?"

"Well roared, Bottom! Company C!"

"Non ti scordar di me?"

"Look out, or General Banks'll be sending over Tom's Brook to know what's the matter! Company D!"

"Non ti scordar di me?"

"Company D goes to the head of the class! Company E!"

"Non ti scordar di me?"

"'Ware pine cones! Company E's shaking them down.... This class's getting too big. Let's all learn the words together, so's Private Horsemanden can go on with his piece! Attention, 65th! Make ready! Take aim! Fire!"

"Non ti scordar di me?"

"Now Eddy.... Oh, yes, you go on! You aren't going to cheat us that way. We want to know what happened when they stopped talking German! Hasn't anything happened yet."

"Non ti-"

"Sh! Go on, Eddy boy, and tell us exactly what occurred."

Private Edwin Horsemanden had pluck as well as sentiment, and he went on. Moreover he had his revenge, for at bottom the 65th was itself tender-hearted, not to say sentimental. It believed in lost loves and lost blossoms, muslin dresses, and golden chains, cypress shades and jasmine flowers,

"And the one bird singing alone to his nest,

And the one star over the tower."

The 65th sighed and propped its chin on its hand. Presently the 65th grew misty-eyed.

"Then I smelt the smell of that jasmine flower

She used to wear in her breast

It smelt so faint and it smelt so sweet.-"

The pipe dropped from the 65th's hand. It sat sorry and pleased. Private Edwin Horsemanden went on without interruption and finished with éclat. The chief musician cleared his throat. "The Glee Club of Company H will now-"

The Glee Club of Company H was a large and popular organization. It took the stage amid applause. The leader bowed. "Gentlemen, we thank you. Gentlemen, you have just listened to a beautiful novelty-a pretty little foreign song bird brought by the trade-wind, an English nightingale singing in Virginian forests.-Gentlemen, the Glee Club of Company H will give you what by now is devil a bit of a novelty-what promises to be as old as the hills before we have done with it-what our grandchildren's grandchildren may sing with pride-what to the end of time will carry with it a breath of our armies. Gentlemen, the Glee Club of Company H gives you the Marseillaise of the South. Attention!"

"Way down South in the land of cotton,

'Simmon seed and sandy bottom-"

The 65th rose to its feet. Its neighbour to the right was the 2d Virginia, encamped in a great open field; to the left the 5th, occupying a grove of oaks. These regiments were busied with their own genial hour, but when the loudly sung air streamed across from the 65th they suspended their work in hand. They also sung "Dixie." Thence it was taken up by the 4th and the 33d, and then it spread to Burk and Fulkerson. The batteries held the top of Rude's Hill, up among the night wind and the stars. The artillerymen took the air from the infantry. Headquarters was situated on the green bank of the Shenandoah. Staff and couriers and orderlies hummed or sang. Stonewall Jackson came to the door of his tent and stood, looking out. All Rude's Hill throbbed to "Dixie."

On went the programme. "Marco Bozzaris" was well spoken. A blacksmith and a mule driver wrestled for a prize. "Marmion Quitting the Douglas's Hall" was followed by "Lula, Lula, Lula is Gone," and "Lula" by "Lorena," and "Lorena" by a fencing match. The Thespians played capitally an act from "The Rivals," and a man who had seen Macready gave Hamlet's Soliloquy. Then they sang a song lately written by James Randall and already very popular,-

"I hear the distant thunder hum,


The Old Line bugle, fife and drum-"

An orderly from headquarters found Richard Cleave. "General Jackson wishes to see you, sir."

The general's tent was not large. There were a table and two stools, on one of which sat Jackson in his characteristic position, large feet accurately paralleled. On the table, beside the candle, lay three books-the Bible, a dictionary, and "Napoleon's Maxims." Jackson was writing, his hand travelling slowly across a sheet of dim blue, lined, official paper. The door flap of the tent was fastened back. Cleave, standing in the opening, saluted.

"Take a seat, sir," said the general, and went on to the end of his page. Having here signed his name, he dropped the quill and slightly turned so as to face the waiting officer. From under his high bronzed forehead his blue eyes looked quietly upon Cleave.

The younger man returned the gaze as quietly. This was the first time he had been thus summoned since that unlucky winter evening at Bloomery Gap. He remembered that evening, and he did not suppose that his general had forgotten it. He did not suppose that Jackson forgot anything. But apparently it was no longer to be counted against him. Jackson's face wore the quiet, friendly, somewhat sweet expression usual to it when all was calm within. As for Cleave himself, his nature owned a certain primal flow and bigness. There were few fixed and rigid barriers. Injured pride and resentment did not lift themselves into reefs against which the mind must break in torment. Rather, his being swept fluid, making no great account of obstacles, accepting all turns of affairs, drawing them into its main current, and moving onward toward some goal, hardly self-conjectured, but simple, humane, and universal. The anger he might have felt at Bloomery Gap had long passed away. He sat now attentive, collected, broad-browed, and quiet.

"Major Cleave," said Jackson, "you will take an orderly with you and ride across the mountains. General Ewell is at Gordonsville with a somewhat larger force than my own. You will take this letter to him," he folded it as he spoke, "and you will talk to him as one intelligent man to another."

"Do you mean, sir, that I am to answer his questions?"

"Yes, sir. To the best of your ability. There is impending a junction between General Ewell and myself. He wishes to know many things, and seems to think it natural that I should tell him them. I am not a great letter writer. You will give him all the information that is common to the army."

Cleave smiled. "That, sir, is not a great deal."

"Perhaps it is not, sir. You are at liberty to give to General Ewell your own observations and expectations. You will, however, represent them as your own."

"May I ask, sir, when this junction is to occur?"

"I have not decided, sir."

"Does General Ewell know when it will occur?"

"Not precisely. He will be told in good time."

"Whether, when you move, you move north or west or south or east, is, I suppose, sir, purely a matter of conjecture?"

"Purely, sir."

"But the morale of the army, its efficiency and spirit, may be freely praised and imparted?"

"Yes, sir, freely. Upon your return I shall want from you your impression of General Ewell and the troops he commands." He drew toward him a map which lay on the table. "You will ride through Massanutton Gap by Conrad's Store and Swift Run Gap. Thence you will make a détour to Charlottesville. There are stores there that I wish reported upon and sent on to Major Harman at Staunton. You will spend one day upon that business, then go on to Ewell."

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