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   Chapter 29 THE NINE-MILE ROAD

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 27041

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


In the golden afternoon light of the twenty-third of June, the city of Richmond, forty thousand souls, lay, fevered enough, on her seven hills. Over her floated the stars and bars. In her streets rolled the drum. Here it beat quick and bright, marking the passage of some regiment from the defences east or south to the defences north. There it beat deep and slow, a muffled drum, a Dead March-some officer killed in a skirmish, or dying in a hospital, borne now to Hollywood. Elsewhere, quick and bright again, it meant Home Guards going to drill. From the outskirts of the town might be heard the cavalry bugles blowing,-from the Brook turnpike and the Deep Run turnpike, from Meadow Bridge road and Mechanicsville road, from Nine-Mile and Darbytown and Williamsburg stage roads and Osborne's old turnpike, and across the river from the road to Fort Darling. From the hilltops, from the portico or the roof of the Capitol, might be seen the camp-fires of Lee's fifty thousand men-the Confederate Army of the Potomac, the Army of the Rappahannock, the Army of Norfolk, the Army of the Peninsula-four armies waiting for the arrival of the Army of the Valley to coalesce and become the Army of Northern Virginia. The curls of smoke went up, straight, white, and feathery. With a glass might be seen at various points the crimson flag, with the blue St. Andrew's cross and the stars, eleven stars, a star for each great State of the Confederacy. By the size you knew the arm-four feet square for infantry, three feet square for artillery, two and a half by two and a half for cavalry.

The light lay warm on the Richmond houses-on mellow red brick, on pale grey stucco. It touched old ironwork balconies and ivy-topped walls, and it gilded the many sycamore trees, and lay in pools on the heavy leaves of the magnolias. Below the pillared Capitol, in the green up and down of the Capitol Square, in Main Street, in Grace Street by St. Paul's, before the Exchange, the Ballard House, the Spotswood, on Shockoe Hill by the President's House, through all the leafy streets there was vivid movement. In this time and place Life was so near to Death; the ocean of pain and ruin so evidently beat against its shores, that from very contrast and threatened doom Life took a higher light, a deeper splendour. All its notes resounded, nor did it easily relinquish the major key.

In the town were many hospitals. These were being cleaned, aired, and put in order against the impending battles. The wounded in them now, chiefly men from the field of Seven Pines, looked on and hoped for the best. Taking them by and large, the wounded were a cheerful set. Many could sit by the windows, in the perfumed air, and watch the women of the South, in their soft, full gowns, going about their country's business. Many of the gowns were black.

About the hotels, the President's House, the governor's mansion, and the Capitol, the movement was of the official world. Here were handsome men in broadcloth, grown somewhat thin, somewhat rusty, but carefully preserved and brushed. Some were of the old school and still affected stocks and ruffled shirts. As a rule they were slender and tall, and as a rule wore their hair a little long. Many were good Latinists, most were good speakers. One and all they served their states as best they knew how, overworked and anxious, facing privation here in Richmond with the knowledge that things were going badly at home, sitting long hours in Congress, in the Hall of Delegates, in courts or offices, struggling there with Herculean difficulties, rising to go out and listen to telegrams or to read bulletins. Sons, brothers, kinsmen, and friends were in the field.

This golden afternoon, certain of the latter had ridden in from the lines upon this or that business connected with their commands. They were not many, for all the world knew there would be a deadly fighting presently, deadly and prolonged. Men and officers must stay within drum-beat. Those who were for an hour in Richmond, in their worn grey uniforms, with the gold lace grown tarnished (impossible of replacement!), with their swords not tarnished, their netted silk sashes, their clear bright eyes and keen thin faces, found friends enough as they went to and fro-more eager questioners and eager listeners than they could well attend to. One, a general officer, a man of twenty-nine, in a hat with a long black plume, with the most charming blue eyes, and a long bronze, silky, rippling beard which he constantly stroked, could hardly move for the throng about him. Finally, in the Capitol Square, he backed his horse against the railing about the great equestrian Washington. The horse, a noble animal, arched his neck. There was around it a wreath of bright flowers. The rider spoke in an enchanting voice. "Now if I tell you in three words how it was and what we did, will you let me go? I've got to ride this afternoon to Yellow Tavern."

"Yes, yes! Tell us, General Stuart."

"My dear people, it was the simplest thing in the world! A man in the First has made a song about it, and Sweeney has set it to the banjo-if you'll come out to the camp after the battle you shall hear it! General Lee wanted to know certain things about the country behind McClellan. Now the only way to know a thing is to go and look at it. He ordered a reconnoissance in force. I took twelve hundred cavalrymen and two guns of the horse artillery and made the reconnoissance. Is there anything else that you want to know?"

"Be good, general, and tell us what you did."

"I am always good-just born so! I rode round McClellan's army-Don't cheer like that! The town'll think it's Jackson, come from the Valley!"

"Tell us, general, how you did it!"

"Gentlemen, I haven't time. If you like, I'll repeat the man in the First's verses, and then I'm going. You'll excuse the metre? A poor, rough, unlearned cavalryman did it.

"Fitz Lee, Roony Lee, Breathed and Stuart,

Martin to help, and Heros von Borcke,

First Virginia, Fourth, Ninth, two guns and a Legion-

From Hungary Run to Laurel Hill Fork,

"By Ashland, Winston, Hanover, Cash Corner,

Enon Church, Salem Church, Totopotomoy, Old Church,

"You observe that we are trotting.

"By Hamstead, Garlick, Tunstall Station, Talleyville,

Forge Mill, Chickahominy, Sycamore, White Birch.

"Here we change gait.

"By Hopewell and Christian, Wilcox and Westover,

Turkey Bridge, Malvern Hill, Deep Bottom and Balls

Four days, forty leagues, we rode round McClellan

As Jeremiah paced round Jericho's walls.-"

"It wasn't Jeremiah, general! It was Joshua."

"Is that so? I'll tell Sweeney. Anyhow, the walls fell.

"Halt! Advance! Firing! Engagement at Hanover.

Skirmish at Taliaferro's. Skirmish at Hawes.

Tragic was Totopotomoy, for there we lost Latané

Hampden-like, noble, dead for his Cause.

"At Old Church broke up meeting. Faith! 'twas a pity

But indigo azure was pulpit and pew!

Fitz Lee did the job. Sent his love to Fitz Porter.

Good Lord! Of Mac's Army the noble review!

"There isn't anything our horses can't do.

"Tunstall Station was all bubbly white with wagons.

We fired those trains, those stores, those sheltering sheds!

And then we burned three transports on Pamunkey

And shook the troops at White House from their beds!

"Loud roars across our path the swollen Chickahominy

'Plunge in, Confeds! you were not born to drown.'

We danced past White Oak swamp, we danced past Fighting Joseph Hooker!

We rode round McClellan from his sole to his crown!

"There are strange, strange folk who like the Infantry!

Men have been found to love Artillery.

McClellan's quoted thus 'In every family

There should exist a gunboat'-ah, but we,

Whom all arms else do heap with calumny,

Saying, 'Daily those damned centaurs put us up a tree!'

We insist upon the virtues of the Cavalry!

"Now, friends, I'm going! It was a beautiful raid! I always liked Little Mac. He's a gentleman, and he's got a fine army. Except for poor Latané we did not lose a man. But I left a general behind me."

"A general? General who-"

Stuart gave his golden laugh. "General Consternation."

The sun slipped lower. Two horsemen came in by the Deep Run road and passed rapidly eastward through the town. The afternoon was warm, but the foremost wore a great horseman's cloak. It made all outlines indefinite and hid any insignia of rank. There was a hat or cap, too, pulled low. It was dusty; he rode fast and in a cloud, and there came no recognition. Out of the town, on the Nine-Mile road, he showed the officer of the guard who stopped him a pass signed "R. E. Lee" and entered the Confederate lines. "General Lee's headquarters?" They were pointed out, an old house shaded by oaks. He rode hither, gave his horse to the courier with him, and spoke to the aide who appeared. "Tell General Lee, some one from the Valley."

The aide shot a quick glance, then opened a door to the left. "General Lee will be at leisure presently. Will you wait here, sir?"

He from the Valley entered. It was a large, simply furnished room, with steel engravings on the walls,-the 1619 House of Burgesses, Spotswood on the Crest of the Blue Ridge with his Golden Horseshoe Knights, Patrick Henry in Old St. John's, Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence, Washington receiving the Sword of Cornwallis. The windows were open to the afternoon breeze and the birds were singing in a rosebush outside. There were three men in the room. One having a large frame and a somewhat heavy face kept the chair beside the table with a kind of granite and stubborn air. He rested like a boulder on a mountain slope; marked with old scars, only waiting to be set in motion again to grind matters small. The second man, younger, slender, with a short red beard, leaned against the window, smelled the roses, and listened to the birds. The third, a man of forty, with a gentle manner and very honest and kindly eyes, studied the engravings. All three wore the stars of major-generals.

The man from the Valley, entering, dropped his cloak and showed the same insignia. D. H. Hill, leaving the engravings, came forward and took him by both hands. The two had married sisters; moreover each was possessed of fiery religious convictions; and Hill, though without the genius of the other, was a cool, intelligent, and determined fighter. The two had not met since Jackson's fame had come upon him.

It clothed him now like a mantle. The man sitting by the table got ponderously to his feet; the one by the window left the contemplation of the rosebush. "You know one another by name only, I believe, gentlemen?" said D. H. Hill. "General Jackson-General Longstreet, General Ambrose Powell Hill."

The four sat down, Jackson resting his sabre across his knees. He had upon him the dust of three counties; he was all one neutral hue like a faded leaf, save that his eyes showed through, grey-blue, intense enough, though quiet. He was worn to spareness.

Longstreet spoke in his heavy voice. "Well, general, Fate is making of your Valley the Flanders of this war."

"God made it a highway, sir. We must take it as we find it."

"Well," said A. P. Hill, smiling, "since we have a Marlborough for that Flanders-"

Jackson shifted the sabre a little. "Marlborough is not my beau ideal. He had circumstances too much with him."

An inner door opened. "The artillery near Cold Harbour-" said a voice, cadenced and manly. In a moment Lee entered. The four rose. He went straight to Stonewall Jackson, laid one hand on his shoulder, the other on his breast. The two had met, perhaps, in Mexico; not since. Now they looked each other in the eyes. Both were tall men, though Lee was the tallest; both in grey, both thin from the fatigue of the field. Here the resemblance ended. Lee was a model of manly beauty. His form, like his character, was justly proportioned; he had a great head, grandly based, a face of noble sweetness, a step light and dauntless. There breathed about him something knightly, something kingly, an antique glamour, sunny shreds of the Golden Age. "You are welcome, General Jackson," he said; "very welcome! You left Frederickshall-?"

"Last night, sir."

"The army is there?"

"It is there, sir."

"You have become a name to conjure with, general! I think that your Valley will never forget you." He took a chair beside the table. "Sit down, gentlemen. I have called this council, and now the sun is sinking and General Jackson has far to ride, and we must hasten. Here are the maps."

The major-generals drew about the table. Lee pinned down a map with the small objects upon the board, then leaned back in his chair. "This is our first council with General Jackson. We wait but for the Army of the Valley to precipitate certainly one great battle, perhaps many battles. I think that the fighting about Richmond will be heavier than all that has gone before." An aide entered noiselessly with a paper in his hand. "From the President, sir," he said. Lee rose and took the note to the window. The four at table spoke together in low tones.

"It is the most difficult ground in the world," said A. P. Hill. "You'll have another guess-time of it than in your Valley, general! No broad pike through the marshes of the Chickahominy!"

"Are there good maps?"

"No," said Longstreet; "damned bad."

Jackson stiffened. D. H. Hill came in hastily. "It's rather difficult

to draw them accurately with a hundred and ten thousand Yankees lying around loose. They should have been made last year."

Lee returned. "Yes, the next ten days will write a page in blood." He sighed. "I do not like war, gentlemen. Now, to begin again! We are agreed that to defend Richmond is imperative. When Richmond falls the Confederacy falls. It is our capital and seat of government. Here only have we railroad communications with the far South. Here are our arsenals and military manufactories, our depots of supply, our treasury, our hospitals, our refugee women and children. The place is our heart, and arm and brain must guard it. Leave Richmond and we must withdraw from Virginia. Abandon Virginia, and we can on our part no longer threaten the northern capital. Then General Jackson cannot create a panic every other day, nor will Stanton then withdraw on every fresh alarm a division from McClellan."

He leaned his head on his hand, while with the firm fingers of the other he measured the edge of the table. "No! It is the game of the two capitals, and the board is the stretch of country between. To the end they will attempt to reach Richmond. To the end we must prevent that mate. Let us see their possible roads. Last year McDowell tried it by Manassas, and he failed. It is a strategic point,-Manassas. There may well be fighting there again. The road by Fredericksburg ... they have not tried that yet, and yet it has a value. Now the road that McClellan has taken,-by sea to Fortress Monroe, and so here before us by the York, seeing that the Merrimac kept him from the James. It is the best way yet, though with a modification it would be better! There is a key position which I trust he'll not discover-"

"He won't," said D. H. Hill succinctly. "The fairies at his cradle didn't give him intuition, and they made him extremely cautious. He's a good fellow, though!"

Lee nodded. "I have very genuine respect for General McClellan. He is a gentleman, a gallant soldier, and a good general." He pushed the map before him away, and took another. "Of late Richmond's strongest defence has been General Jackson in the Valley. Well! McDowell and Frémont and Banks may be left awhile to guard that capital which is so very certain it is in danger. I propose now to bring General Jackson suddenly upon McClellan's right-"

Jackson, who had been holding himself with the rigidity of a warrior on a tomb, slightly shifted the sabre and drew his chair an inch nearer the commander-in-chief. "His right is on the north bank of the Chickahominy-"

"Yes. General Stuart brought me much information that I desired. Fitz John Porter commands there-the 5th Army Corps-twenty-five thousand men. I propose, general, that you bring your troops as rapidly as possible from Frederickshall to Ashland, that from Ashland you march by the Ashcake road and Merry Oaks Church to the Totopotomoy Creek road and that, moving by this to Beaver Dam Creek, you proceed to turn and dislodge Porter and his twenty-five thousand, crumpling them back upon McClellan's centre-here." He pointed with a quill which he took from the ink-well.

"Good! good! And the frontal attack?"

"General A. P. Hill and his division will make that. The batteries on the Chickahominy will cover his passage of the bridge. General Longstreet will support him. General Magruder with General Huger and the reserve artillery will be left before Richmond. They will so demonstrate as to distract General McClellan's attention from the city and from his right and General Porter. General Stuart will take position on your line of march from Ashland, and General D. H. Hill will support you."

"Good! good! This is the afternoon of the twenty-third."

"Yes. Frederickshall is forty miles from this point-" He touched the map again. "Now, general, when can you be here?"

"Thursday morning, the twenty-sixth, sir."

"That is very soon."

"Time is everything in war, sir."

"That is perfectly true. But the time is short and the man?uvre delicate. You and your troops are at the close of a campaign as arduous as it is amazing. The fatigue and the strain must be great. You and General Hill are far apart and the country between is rough and unmapped. Yet victory depends on the simultaneous blow."

Jackson sat rigid again, his hand stiffly placed upon the sabre. "It is not given to man to say with positiveness what he can do, sir. But it is necessary that this right be turned before McClellan is aware of his danger. Each day makes it more difficult to conceal the absence of my army from the Valley. Between the danger of forced marching and the obvious danger that lies in delay, I should choose the forced marching. Better lose one man in marching than five in a battle not of our selecting. A straw may bring failure as a straw may bring victory. I may fail, but the risk should be taken. Napoleon failed at Eylau, but his plan was correct."

"Very well," said Lee. "Then the morning of the twenty-sixth be it! Final orders shall await you at Ashland."

Jackson rose. "Good! good! By now my horses will have been changed. I will get back. The army was to advance this morning to Beaver Dam Station."

He rode hard through the country all night, it being the second he had spent in the saddle. Beaver Dam Station and the bivouacking Army of the Valley saw him on Tuesday morning the twenty-fourth. "Old Jack's back from wherever he's been!" went the rumour. Headquarters was established in a hut or two near the ruined railroad. Arriving here, he summoned his staff and sent for Ewell. While the former gathered he read a report, forwarded from Munford in the rear. "Scout Gold and Jarrow in from the Valley. Frémont still fortifying at Strasburg-thinks you may be at Front Royal. Shields at Luray considers that you may have gone to Richmond, but that Ewell remains in the Valley with forty thousand men. Banks at Winchester thinks you may have gone against Shields at Luray, or King at Catlett's, or Doubleday at Fredericksburg, or gone to Richmond-but that Ewell is moving west on Moorefield!"

"Good! good!" said Jackson. Staff arrived, and he proceeded to issue rapid and precise orders. All given, staff hurried off, and the general spoke to Jim. "Call me when General Ewell comes." He stretched himself on a bench in the hut. "I am suffering," he said, "from fever and a feeling of debility." He drew his cloak about him and closed his eyes. It was but half an hour, however, that he slept or did not sleep, for Ewell was fiery prompt.

The Army of the Valley entered upon a forced march through country both difficult and strange. It had been of late in the possession of the enemy, and the enemy had stretched felled trees across forest roads and burned the bridges spanning deep and sluggish creeks. Guides were at fault, cross-roads directions most uncertain. The wood grew intolerably thick, and the dust of the roads was atrocious; the air cut away by the tall green walls on either hand; the sun like a furnace seven times heated. Provisions had not come up in time at Beaver Dam Station and the troops marched upon half-rations. Gone were the mountains and the mountain air, present was the languorous breath of the low country. It had an upas quality, dulling the brain, retarding the step. The men were very tired, it was hot, and a low fever hung in the air.

They marched until late of a night without a moon, and the bugles waked them long ere dawn. A mist hung over all the levels, presaging heat. Column Forward! To-day was a repetition of yesterday, only accented. The sun girded himself with greater strength, the dust grew more stifling, the water was bad, gnats and mosquitoes made a painful cloud, the feet in the ragged shoes were more stiff, more swollen, more abraded. The moisture in the atmosphere weakened like a vapour bath. The entire army, "foot cavalry" and all, marched with a dreadful slowness. Press Forward-Press Forward-Press Forward-Press Forward! It grew to be like the humming insects on either hand, a mere noise to be expected. "Going to Richmond-Going to Richmond-Yes, of course we're going to Richmond-unless, indeed, we're going a roundabout way against McDowell at Fredericksburg! Richmond will keep. It has kept a long time-ever since William Byrd founded it. General Lee is there-and so it is all right-and we can't go any faster. War isn't all it's cracked up to be. Oh, hot, hot, hot! and skeetery! and General Humidity lives down this way. Press Forward-Press Forward-Press Forward. If that noise don't stop I'll up with my musket butt and beat somebody's brains out!"

Ashland was not reached until the late evening of this day. The men fell upon the earth. Even under the bronze there could be seen dark circles under their eyes, and their lips were without colour. Jackson rode along the lines and looked. There were circles beneath his own eyes, and his lips shut thin and grey. "Let them rest," he said imperturbably, "until dawn." There rode beside him an officer from Lee. He had now the latter's General Order, and he was almost a day behind.

Somewhat later, in the house which he occupied, his chief of staff, Ewell and the brigadiers gone, the old man, Jim, appeared before him. "Des you lis'en ter me er minute, gineral! Ob my sartain circumspection I knows you didn't go ter bed las' night-nurr de night befo'-nurr de night befo' dat-'n' I don' see no preperation for yo' gwine ter bed dish-yer night! Now, dat ain' right. W'at Miss Anna gwine say w'en she heah erbout hit? She gwine say you 'stress her too much. She gwine say you'll git dar quicker, 'n' fight de battle better, ef you lie down erwhile 'n' let Jim bring you somethin' ter eat-"

"I have eaten. I am going to walk in the garden for awhile."

He went, all in bronze, with a blue gleam in his eye. Jim looked after him with a troubled countenance. "Gwine talk wif de Lawd-talk all night long! Hit ain' healthy. Pray an' pray 'n' look up ter de sky 'twel he gits paralysis! De gineral better le' me tek his boots off, 'n' go ter bed 'n' dream ob Miss Anna!"

At three the bugles blew. Again there was incalculable delay. The sun was up ere the Army of the Valley left Ashland. It was marching now in double column, Jackson by the Ashcake road and Merry Oaks Church, Ewell striking across country, the rendezvous Pole Green Church, a little north and east of Mechanicsville and the Federal right. The distance that each must travel was something like sixteen miles.

The spell of yesterday persisted and became the spell of to-day. Sixteen miles would have been nothing in the Valley; in these green and glamoury lowlands they became like fifty. Stuart's cavalry began to appear, patrols here, patrols there, vedettes rising stark from the broom sedge, or looming double, horsemen and shadow, above and within some piece of water, dark, still, and clear. Time was when the Army of the Valley would have been curious and excited enough over Jeb Stuart's troopers, but now it regarded them indifferently with eyes glazed with fatigue. At nine the army crossed the ruined line of the Virginia Central, Hood's Texans leading. An hour later it turned southward, Stuart on the long column's left flank, screening it from observation, and skirmishing hotly through the hours that ensued. The army crossed Crump's Creek, passed Taliaferro's Mill, crossed other creeks, crept southward through hot, thick woods. Mid-day came and passed. The head of the column turned east, and came shortly to a cross-roads. Here, awaiting it, was Stuart himself, in his fighting jacket. Jackson drew up Little Sorrel beside him. "Good-morning, general."

"Good-morning, general-or rather, good-afternoon. I had hoped to see you many hours ago."

"My men are not superhuman, sir. There have occurred delays. But God is over us still."

He rode on. Stuart, looking after him, raised his brows. "In my opinion A. P. Hill is waiting for a man in a trance!"

The army turned southward again, marching now toward Totopotomoy Creek, the head of the column approaching it at three o'clock. Smoke before the men, thick, pungent, told a tale to which they were used. "Bridge on fire!" It was, and on the far side of the creek appeared a party in blue engaged in obstructing the road. Hood's Texans gave a faint cheer and dashed across, disappearing in flame, emerging from it and falling upon the blue working party. Reilly's battery was brought up; a shell or two fired. The blue left the field, and the grey pioneers somehow fought the flames and rebuilt the bridge. An hour was gone before the advance could cross on a trembling structure. Over at last, the troops went on, southward still, to Hundley Corner. Here Ewell's division joined them, and here to the vague surprise of an exhausted army came the order to halt. The Army of the Valley went into bivouac three miles north of that right which, hours before, it was to have turned. It was near sunset. As the troops stacked arms, to the south of them, on the other side of Beaver Dam Creek, burst out an appalling cannonade. Trimble, a veteran warrior, was near Jackson. "That has the sound of a general engagement, sir! Shall we advance?"

Jackson looked at him with a curious serenity. "It is the batteries on the Chickahominy covering General Hill's passage of the stream. He will bivouac over there, and to-morrow will see the battle-Have you ever given much attention, general, to the subject of growth in grace?"

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