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   Chapter 24 THE FOOT CAVALRY

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 26195

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Three armies had for their objective Strasburg in the Valley of Virginia, eighteen miles below Winchester. One came from the northwest, under Frémont, and counted ten thousand. One came from the southeast, Shields's Division from McDowell at Fredericksburg, and numbered fifteen thousand. These two were blue clad, moving under the stars and stripes. The third, grey, under the stars and bars, sixteen thousand muskets, led by a man on a sorrel nag, came from Harper's Ferry. Frémont, Indian fighter, moved fast; Shields, Irish born, veteran of the Mexican War, moved fast; but the man in grey, on the sorrel nag, moved infantry with the rapidity of cavalry. Around the three converging armies rested or advanced other bodies of blue troops, hovering, watchful of the chance to strike. Saxton at Harper's Ferry had seven thousand; Banks at Williamsport had seven thousand. Ord, commanding McDowell's second division, was at Manassas Gap with nine thousand. King, the third division, had ten thousand, near Catlett's Station. At Ashby's Gap was Geary with two thousand; at Thoroughfare, Bayard with two thousand.

Over a hundred miles away, southeast, tree-embowered upon her seven hills, lay Richmond, and at her eastern gates, on the marshy Chickahominy were gathered one hundred and forty thousand men, blue clad, led by McClellan. Bronzed, soldierly, chivalrous, an able if over-cautious general, he waited, irresolute, and at last postponed his battle. He would tarry for McDowell who, obeying orders from Washington, had turned aside to encounter and crush a sometime professor of natural philosophy with a gift for travelling like a meteor, for confusing like a Jack-o'-lantern, and for striking the bull's-eye of the moment like a silver bullet or a William Tell arrow. Between Richmond and the many and heavy blue lines, with their siege train, lay thinner lines of grey-sixty-five thousand men under the stars and bars. They, too, watched the turning aside of McDowell, watched Shields, Ord, King, and Frémont from the west, trappers hot on the path of the man with the old forage cap, and the sabre tucked under his arm! All Virginia watched, holding her breath.

Out of Virginia, before Corinth in Tennessee, and at Cumberland Gap, Armies of the Ohio, of the Mississippi, of the West-one hundred and ten thousand in blue, eighty thousand in grey, Halleck and Beauregard-listened for news from Virginia. "Has Richmond fallen?" "No. McClellan is cautious. Lee and Johnston are between him and the city. He will not attack until he is further strengthened by McDowell." "Where is McDowell?" "He was moving south from Fredericksburg. His outposts almost touched those of McClellan. But now he has been sent across the Blue Ridge to the Valley, there to put a period to the activities of Stonewall Jackson. That done, he will turn and join McClellan. The two will enfold Lee and Jackson-the Anaconda Scheme-and crush every bone in their bodies. Richmond will fall and the war end."

Tennessee watched and north Alabama. In Arkansas, on the White River were twelve thousand men in blue, and, arrayed against them, six thousand, white men and Indians, clad in grey. Far, far away, outer edges of the war, they, too, looked toward the east and wondered how it went in Virginia. Grey and blue, Missouri, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arizona-at lonely railway or telegraph stations, at river landings, wherever, in the intervals between skirmishes, papers might be received or messages read, soldiers in blue or soldiers in grey asked eagerly "What news from Richmond?"-"Stonewall Jackson? Valley of Virginia?"-"Valley of Virginia! I know!-saw it once. God's country."

At New Orleans, on the levees, in the hot streets, under old balconies and by walled gardens, six thousand men in blue under Butler watched, and a sad-eyed captive city watched. From the lower Mississippi, from the blue waters of the Gulf, from the long Atlantic swells, the ships looked to the land. All the blockading fleets, all the old line-of-battle ships, the screw-frigates, the corvettes, the old merchant steamers turned warrior, the strange new iron-clads and mortar boats, engaged in bottling up the Confederacy, they all looked for the fall of Richmond. There watched, too, the ram-fitted river boats, the double-enders, lurking beneath Spanish moss, rocking beside canebrakes, on the far, sluggish, southern rivers. And the other ships, the navy all too small, the scattered, shattered, despairing and courageous ships that flew the stars and bars, they listened, too, for a last great cry in the night. The blockade-runners listened, the Gladiators, the Ceciles, the Theodoras, the Ella Warleys faring at headlong peril to and fro between Nassau in the Bahamas and small and hidden harbours of the vast coast line, inlets of Georgia, Florida, Carolina. Danger flew with them always through the rushing brine, but with the fall of Richmond disaster might be trusted to swoop indeed. Then woe for all the wares below-the Enfield rifles, the cannon powder, the cartridges, the saltpetre, bar steel, nitric acid, leather, cloth, salt, medicines, surgical instruments! Their outlooks kept sharp watch for disaster, heaving in sight in the shape of a row of blue frigates released from patrol duty. Let Richmond fall, and the Confederacy, war and occupation, freedom, life, might be gone in a night, blown from existence by McClellan's siege guns!

Over seas the nations watched. Any day might bring a packet with news-Richmond fallen, fallen, fallen, the Confederacy vanquished, suing for peace-Richmond not fallen, some happy turn of affairs for the South, the Peace Party in the North prevailing, the Confederacy established, the olive planted between the two countries! Anyhow, anyhow! only end the war and set the cotton jennies spinning!

Most feverishly of all watched Washington on the Potomac. "The latest?" "It will surely fall to-day. The thing is absurd. It is a little city-" "From the Valley? Jackson has turned south from Harper's Ferry. Shields and Frémont will meet at Strasburg long before the rebels get there. Together they'll make Jackson pay-grind the stonewall small!"

The Army of the Valley had its orders from Strasburg the night of the thirtieth. The main body moved at once, back upon Winchester, where it gathered up stragglers, prisoners, and the train of captured stores. Winder with the Stonewall Brigade, left to make a final feint at Harper's Ferry, was not in motion southward till much later. Of the main army the 21st Virginia led the column, convoying prisoners and the prize of stores. There were twenty-three hundred prisoners, men in blue, tramping sullenly. Stonewall Jackson had made requisition of all wagons about Winchester. They were now in line, all manner of wagons, white-covered, uncovered, stout-bodied, ancient, rickety, in every condition but of fresh paint and new harness. Carts were brought, small vans of pedlars; there were stranded circus wagons with gold scrolls. Nor did there lack vehicles meant for human freight. Old family carriages, high-swung, capacious as the ark, were filled, not with women and children, belles and beaux, but with bags of powder and boxes of cartridges. Superannuated mail coaches carried blankets, oilcloths, sabres, shoes; light spring wagons held Enfield rifles; doctors' buggies medicine cases corded in with care. All these added themselves to the regular supply train of the army; great wagons marked C. S. A. in which, God knows! there was room for stores. The captures of the past days filled the vacancies; welcome enough were the thirty-five thousand pounds of bacon, the many barrels of flour, the hardtack, sugar, canned goods, coffee, the tea and strange delicacies kept for the sick. More welcome was the capture of the ammunition. The ordnance officers beamed lovingly upon it and upon the nine thousand excellent new small arms, and the prisoner Parrotts. There were two hundred beautiful wagons marked U. S. A.; the surgeons, too, congratulated themselves upon new ambulances. Horses and mules that had changed masters might be restless at first; but they soon knew the touch of experienced hands and turned contented up the Valley. A herd of cattle was driven bellowing into line.

Seven miles in length, train and convoying troops emerged from Winchester in the early light and began a rumbling, bellowing, singing, jesting, determined progress up the Valley pike. Ewell followed with his brigadiers-Taylor, Trimble, Elzey, Scott, and the Maryland Line. The old Army of the Valley came next in column-all save the Stonewall Brigade that was yet in the rear double-quicking it on the road from Harper's Ferry. As far in advance moved Stonewall Jackson's screen of cavalry, the Valley horsemen under Ashby, a supple, quick-travelling, keen-eyed, dare-devil horde, an effective cloud behind which to execute intricate man?uvres, a drawer-up of information like dew from every by-road, field, and wood, and an admirable mother of thunderbolts. Ashby and Ashby's men were alike smarting from a late rebuke, administered in General Orders. They felt it stingingly. The Confederate soldier enthroned on high his personal honour, and a slur there was a slur indeed. Now the memory of the reprimand was a strong spur to endeavour. The cavalry meant to distinguish itself, and pined for a sight of Frémont.

The day was showery with strong bursts of sunshine between the slanting summer rains. All along the great highway, in sun and shade, women, children, the coloured people, all the white men left by the drag-net of the war, were out in the ripening fields, by the roadside wall, before gates, in the village streets. They wept with pride and joy, they laughed, they embraced. They showered praises, blessings; they prophesied good fortune. The young women had made bouquets and garlands. Many a favourite officer rode with flowers at his saddle bow. Other women had ransacked their storerooms, and now offered delicate food on salvers-the lavish, brave, straightforward Valley women, with the men gone to the war, the horses gone to the war, the wagons taken for need, the crops like to be unreaped and the fields to be unplanted, with the clothes wearing out, with supplies hard to get, with the children, the old people, the servants, the sick, the wounded on their hands, in their hearts and minds! They brought food, blessings, flowers, "everything for the army! It has the work to do." The colours streamed in the wet breeze, glorious in shadow, splendid when the sun burst forth. The little old bands played

In Dixie Land whar I was born in

Early on one frosty mornin'!

Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land!

Long, steady, swinging tread, pace of the foot cavalry, the main column moved up the Valley pike, violet in the shadow, gold in the sun. The ten-minutes-out-of-an-hour halts were shortened to five minutes. During one of these rests Jackson came down the line. The men cheered him. "Thirty miles to-day. You must do thirty miles to-day, men." He went by, galloping forward to the immense and motley convoy. The men laughed, well pleased with themselves and with him. "Old Jack's got to see if his lemons are all right! If we don't get those lemon wagons through safe to Staunton there'll be hell to pay! Go 'way! we know he won't call it hell!"

"The butcher had a little dog,

And Bingo was his name.

B-i-n-g-o-go-! B-i-n-g-o-go!

And Bingo was his name!"

"Fall in! Oh, Lord, we just fell out!"

Advance, convoy, main column, camped that night around and in Strasburg, Strasburg jubilant, welcoming, restless through the summer night. Winder with the Stonewall Brigade bivouacked at Newtown, twelve miles north. He had made a wonderful march. The men, asleep the instant they touched the earth, lay like dead. The rest was not long; between one and two the bugles called and the regiments were again in motion. A courier had come from Jackson. "General Winder, you will press forward."

Silent, with long, steady, swinging tread, the Stonewall moved up the Valley. Before it, pale, undulating, mysterious beneath the stars, ran the turnpike, the wonderful Valley road, the highway that had grown familiar to the army as its hand. The Army of the Valley endowed the Valley pike with personality. They spoke of it as "her." They blamed her for mud and dust, for shadeless, waterless stretches, for a habit she was acquiring of furrows and worn places, for the aid which she occasionally gave to hostile armies, for the hills which she presented, for the difficulties of her bordering stone walls when troops must be deployed, for the weeds and nettles, thistles, and briars, with which she had a trick of decking her sides, for her length. "You kin march most to Kingdom Come on this here old road!" for the heat of the sun, the chill of the frost, the strength of the blast. In blander moods they caressed her name. "Wish I could see the old pike once more!"-"Ain't any road in the world like the Valley pike, and never was! She never behaved herself like

this damned out-of-corduroy-into-mud-hole, bayonet-narrow, drunken, zigzag, world's-end-and-no-to-morrow cow track!"

It was not only the road. All nature had new aspects for the Confederate soldier; day by day a deeper shade of personality. So much of him was farmer that he was no stranger to the encampment of the earth. He was weather-wise, knew the soil, named the trees, could orientate himself, had a fighting knowledge, too, of blight and drouth, hail, frost, high wind, flood, too little and too much of sun fire. Probably he had thought that he knew all that was to be told. When he volunteered it was not with the expectation of learning any other manual than that of arms. As is generally the case, he learned that what he expected was but a mask for what he did not expect. He learned other manuals, among them that of earth, air, fire, and water. His ideas of the four underwent modification. First of all he learned that they were combatants, active participants in the warfare which he had thought a matter only of armies clad in blue and armies clad in grey. Apparently nothing was passive, nothing neutral. Bewilderingly, also, nothing was of a steadfast faith. Sun, moon, darkness and light, heat and cold, snow, rain, mud, dust, mountain, forest, hill, dale, stream, bridge, road, wall, house, hay-rick, dew, mist, storm, everything!-they fought first on one side then on the other. Sometimes they did this in rapid succession, sometimes they seemed to fight on both sides at once; the only attitude they never took was one immaterial to the business in hand. Moreover they were vitally for or against the individual soldier; now his friend, now his foe, now flattering, caressing, bringing gifts, now snatching away, digging pitfalls, working wreck and ruin. They were stronger than he, strong and capricious beyond all reckoning. Sometimes he loved these powers; sometimes he cursed them. Indifference, only, was gone. He and they were alike sentient, active, conscious, inextricably mingled.

To-night the pike was cool and hard. There were clouds above, but not heavy; streams of stars ran between. To either side of the road lay fields of wheat, of clover, of corn, banded and broken by shadowy forest. Massanutton loomed ahead. There was a wind blowing. Together with the sound of marching feet, the jingle of accoutrements, the striking of the horses' hoofs against loose stones, the heavy noise of the guns in the rear, it filled the night like the roar of a distant cataract. The men marched along without speech; now and then a terse order, nothing more. The main army was before them at Strasburg; they must catch up. To the west, somewhat near at hand in the darkness, would be lying Frémont. Somewhere in the darkness to the east was Shields. Their junction was unmade, Stonewall Jackson and his army passing between the upper and the nether millstone which should have joined to crush.

The stars began to pale, the east to redden. Faintly, faintly the swell and roll of the earth gathered colour. A cock crew from some distant farmhouse. The Stonewall swung on, the 65th leading, its colonel, Richard Cleave, at its head. The regiment liked to see him there; it loved him well and obeyed him well, and he in his turn would have died for his men. Undoubtedly he was responsible for much of the regiment's tone and temper. It was good stuff in the beginning, but something of its firm modelling was due to the man now riding Dundee at its head. The 65th was acquiring a reputation, and that in a brigade whose deeds had been ringing, like a great bell, sonorously through the land. "The good conduct of the 65th-" "The 65th, reliable always-" "The 65th with its accustomed courage-" "The disciplined, intelligent, and courageous 65th-" "The gallantry of the 65th-"

The light strengthened; pickets were reached. They belonged to Taylor's Brigade, lying in the woods to either side of the pike. The Stonewall passed them, still figures, against the dawn. Ahead lay Strasburg, its church spires silver-slender in the morning air. Later, as the sun pushed a red rim above the hills, the brigade stacked arms in a fair green meadow. Between it and the town lay Taliaferro. Elzey and Campbell were in the fields to the east. General Jackson and his staff occupied a knoll just above the road.

The Stonewall fell to getting breakfast-big tin cups of scalding coffee! sugar! fresh meat! double allowance of meal! They broiled the meat on sharpened sticks, using the skillets for batter bread; they grinned at the sugar before they dropped it in, they purred over the coffee. Mingling with the entrancing odours was the consciousness of having marched well, fought well, deserved well. Down the pike, where Taylor kept the rear, burst a rattle of musketry. The Stonewall scrambled to its feet. "What's that? Darn it all! the Virginia Reel's beginning!" An officer hurried by. "Sit down, boys. It's just a minuet-reconnoissance of Frémont and Dick Taylor! It's all right. Those Louisianians are damned good dancers!" A courier quitting the knoll above the pike gave further information. "Skirmish back there, near the Capon road. Just a feeler of Frémont's-his army's three miles over there in the woods. Old Dick's with General Taylor. Don't need your help, boys-thank you all the same! Frémont won't attack in force. Old Jack says so-sitting up there on a hickory stump reading the Book of Kings!"

"All right," said the Stonewall. "We ain't the kind to go butting in without an invitation! We're as modest as we are brave. Listen! The blue coats are using minies."

Down the pike, during an hour of dewy morning, the Louisiana Brigade and Frémont's advance fired at each other. The woods hereabouts were dense. At intervals the blue showed; at intervals Ewell dispatched a regiment which drove them back to cover. "Old Dick" would have loved to follow, but he was under orders. He fidgeted to and fro on Rifle. "Old Jackson says I am not to go far from the pike! I want to go after those men. I want to chase them to the Rio Grande! I am sick of this fiddling about! Just listen to that, General Taylor! There's a lot of them in the woods! What's the good of being a major-general if you've got to stick close to the pike? If Old Jackson were here he would say Go! Why ain't he here? Bet you anything you like he's sucking a lemon and holding morning prayer meeting!-Oh, here are your men back with prisoners! Now, you men in blue, what command's that in the woods? Eh?-What?" "Von Bayern bin ich nach diesem Lande gekommen." "Am Rhein habe ich geh?rt dass viel bezahlt wird für ..." "Take 'em away! Semmes, you go and tell General Jackson all Europe's here.-Mean you to go? Of course I don't mean you to go, you thundering idiot! Always could pick C?sar out of the crowd. When I find him I obey him, I don't send him messages. --! -- --! They've developed sharpshooters. Send Wheat over there, General Taylor-tell him to shake the pig-nuts out of those trees!"

Toward midday the army marched. All the long afternoon it moved to the sound of musketry up the Valley pike. There was skirmishing in plenty-dashes by Frémont's cavalry, repulsed by the grey, a short stampede of Munford's troopers, driven up the pike and into the infantry of the rear guard, rapid recovery and a Roland for an Oliver. The Valley, shimmering in the June light, lay in anything but Sabbath calm. Farmhouse and village, mill, smithy, tavern, cross-roads store, held their breath-Stonewall Jackson coming up the pike, holding Frémont off with one hand while he passes Shields.

Sunset came, a splendid flare of colour behind the Great North Mountain. The army halted for the night. The Louisiana Brigade still formed the rear guard. Drawn upon high ground to either side of the pike, it lighted no fires and rested on its arms. Next it to the south lay Winder. The night was clear and dark, the pike a pale limestone gleam between the shadowy hills. Hour by hour there sounded a clattering of hoofs, squads of cavalry, reports, couriers, staff. There was, too, a sense of Stonewall Jackson somewhere on the pike, alert with grey-blue eyes piercing the dark. Toward one o'clock firing burst out on the north. It proved an affair of outposts. Later, shots rang out close at hand, Frémont having ordered a cavalry reconnoissance. The grey met it with clangour and pushed it back. Wheat's battalion was ordered northward and went swinging down the pike. The blue cavalry swarmed again, whereupon the Louisianians deployed, knelt first rank, fired rear rank, rose and went forward, knelt, fired and dispersed the swarm. From a ridge to the west opened a Federal gun. It had intent to rake the pike, but was trained too high. The shells hurtled overhead, exploding high in air. The cannonade ceased as suddenly as it had begun. Day began to break in violet and daffodil.

As the hours went on they became fiery hot and dry. The dust cloud was high again over advance with great wagon train, over main column and rear. Water was scarce, the men horribly weary; all suffered. Suffering or ease, pain or pleasure, there was no resting this day. Frémont, using parallel roads, hung upon the right; he must be pushed back to the mountains as they passed up the Valley pike. All morning blue cavalry menaced the Stonewall; to the north a dense southward moving cloud proclaimed a larger force. Mid-day found Winder deployed on both sides of the pike, with four guns in position. The Louisianians sent back to know if they could help. "No-we'll manage." A minute later Jackson appeared. Wherever matters drew suddenly to a point, there he was miraculously found. He looked at the guns and jerked his hand in the air. "General Winder, I do not wish an engagement here. Withdraw your brigade, sir, regiment by regiment. General Ashby is here. He will keep the rear."

Ashby came at the moment with a body of horse out of the wood to the east. He checked the black stallion, saluted and made his report. "I have burned the Conrad Store, White House and Columbia bridges, sir. If Shields wishes to cross he must swim the Shenandoah. It is much swollen. I have left Massanutton Gap strongly guarded."

"Good! good! General Winder, you will follow General Taylor. Tell the men that I wish them to press on. General Ashby, the march is now to proceed undisturbed."

The second of June burned onward to its close, through heat, dust, thirst, and relentlessly rapid marching. In the late afternoon occurred a monstrous piling up of thunder clouds, a whistling of wind, and a great downpour of rain. It beat down the wheat and pattered like elfin bullets on the forest leaves. Through this fusillade the army came down to the west fork of the Shenandoah. Pioneers laid a bridge of wagons, and, brigade by brigade, the army crossed. High on the bank in the loud wind and dashing rain, Jackson on Little Sorrel watched the transit. By dusk all were over and the bridge was taken up.

On the further shore Ashby now kept guard between Frémont and the host in grey. As for Shields, he was on the far side of the Massanuttons, before him a bridgeless, swollen torrent and a guarded mountain pass. Before becoming dangerous he must move south and round the Massanuttons. Far from achieving junction, space had widened between Shields and Frémont. The Army of the Valley had run the gauntlet, and in doing so had pushed the walls apart. The men, climbing from the Shenandoah, saluting their general, above them there in the wind and the rain, thought the voice with which he answered them unusually gentle. He almost always spoke to his troops gently, but to-night there was almost a fatherly tone. And though he jerked his hand into the air, it was meditatively done, a quiet salute to some observant commander up there.

Later, in the deep darkness, the army bivouacked near New Market. Headquarters was established in an old mill. Here a dripping courier unwrapped from a bit of cloth several leaves of the whitey-brown telegraph paper of the Confederacy and gave them into the general's hand.

Next morning, at roll call, each colonel spoke to his regiment. "Men! There has been a great battle before Richmond-at a place called Seven Pines. Day before yesterday General Johnston attacked General McClellan. The battle raged all day with varying fortune. At sunset General Johnston, in the thickest of the fight, was struck from his horse by a shell. He is desperately wounded; the country prays not mortally. General Lee is now in command of the Armies of Virginia. The battle was resumed yesterday morning and lasted until late in the day. Each side claims the victory. Our loss is perhaps five thousand; we hold that the enemy's was as great. General McClellan has returned to his camp upon the banks of the Chickahominy. Richmond is not taken.-The general commanding the Army of the Valley congratulates his men upon the part they have played in the operations before our capital. At seven in the morning the chaplains of the respective regiments will hold divine services."

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