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   Chapter 34 THE RAILROAD GUN

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 39533

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The troops, moving at dawn to the Chickahominy, over a road and through woods which testified in many ways of the blue retreat, found the Grapevine Bridge a wreck, the sleepers hacked apart, framework and middle structure cast into the water. Fitz John Porter and the 5th Army Corps were across, somewhere between the river and Savage Station, leaving only, in the thick wood above the stream, a party of sharpshooters and a battery. When the grey pioneers advanced to their work, these opened fire. The bridge must be rebuilt, and the grey worked on, but with delays and difficulties. D. H. Hill, leading Jackson's advance, brought up two batteries and shelled the opposite side. The blue guns and riflemen moved to another position and continued, at short intervals, to fire on the pioneers. It was Sunday the twenty-ninth; fearfully hot by the McGehee house, and on Turkey Hill, and in the dense midsummer woods, and in the mosquito-breeding bogs and swamps through which meandered the Chickahominy. The river spread out as many arms as Briareus; short, stubby creeks, slow waters prone to overflow and creep, between high knotted roots of live-oak and cypress, into thickets of bog myrtle. The soil hereabouts was black and wet, further back light and sandy. The Valley troops drew the most uncomplimentary comparisons. To a man they preferred mountains, firm rolling champaign, clean rivers with rocky bottoms, sound roads, and a different vegetation. They were not in a good humour, anyhow.

Ewell was at Dispatch Station, seven miles below, guarding Bottom's Bridge and tearing up the York River Railroad. Stuart was before him, sweeping down on the White House, burning McClellan's stations and stores, making that line of retreat difficult enough for an encumbered army. But McClellan had definitely abandoned any idea of return upon Yorktown. The head of his column was set for the James, for Harrison's Landing and the gunboats. There were twenty-five difficult miles to go. He had something like a hundred thousand men. He had five thousand wagons, heavy artillery trains, enormous stores, a rabble of camp followers, a vast, melancholy freight of sick and wounded. He left his camps and burned his depots, and plunged into the heavy, still, and torrid forest. This Sunday morning, the twenty-ninth, the entrenchments before Richmond, skilful, elaborate pieces of engineering, were found by Magruder's and Huger's scouts deserted by all but the dead and a few score of sick and wounded, too far gone to be moved. Later, columns of smoke, rising from various quarters of the forest, betrayed other burning camps or depots. This was followed by tidings which served to make his destination certain. He was striking down toward White Oak Swamp. There the defeated right, coming from the Chickahominy, would join him, and the entire great force move toward the James. Lee issued his orders. Magruder with Huger pursued by the Williamsburg road. A. P. Hill and Longstreet, leaving the battlefield of the twenty-seventh, crossed the Chickahominy by the New Bridge, passed behind Magruder, and took the Darbytown road. A courier, dispatched to Ewell, ordered him to rejoin Jackson. The latter was directed to cross the Chickahominy with all his force by the Grapevine Bridge, and to pursue with eagerness. He had the directest, shortest road; immediately before him the corps which had been defeated at Gaines's Mill. With D. H. Hill, with Whiting and Lawton, he had now fourteen brigades-say twenty thousand men.

The hours passed in languid sunshine on the north bank of the Chickahominy. The troops were under arms, but the bridge was not finished. The smoke and sound of the rival batteries, the crack of the hidden rifles on the southern side, concerned only those immediately at issue and the doggedly working pioneers. Mere casual cannonading, amusement of sharpshooters, no longer possessed the slightest tang of novelty. Where the operation was petty, and a man in no extreme personal danger, he could not be expected to be much interested. The troops yawned; some of the men slept; others fretted. "Why can't we swim the damned old trough? They'll get away! Thank the Lord, I wasn't born in Tidewater Virginia! Oh, I'd like to see the Shenandoah!"

The 65th Virginia occupied a rise of sandy ground covered with hazel bushes. Company A had the brink of it, looking out toward the enormously tall trees towering erect from the river's margin of swamp. The hazel bushes gave little shade and kept off the air, the blue above was intense, the buzzards sailing. Muskets were stacked, the men sprawling at ease. A private, who at home was a Sunday School superintendent, read his Bible; another, a lawyer, tickled a hop toad with a spear of grass; another, a blacksmith, rebound the injured ankle of a schoolboy. Some slept, snoring in the scanty shade; some compared diaries or related, scrappily enough, battle experiences. "Yes, and Robinson was scouting, and he was close to Garland's line, and, gosh! he said it was short enough! And Garland rode along it, and he said, said he, 'Boys, you are not many, but you are a noble few.'" Some listened to the booming of the sparring batteries; two or three who had lost close friends or kinsmen moped aside. The frank sympathy of all for these made itself apparent. The shadiest hazel bushes unobtrusively came into their possession; there was an evident intention of seeing that they got the best fare when dinner was called; a collection of tobacco had been taken and quietly pushed their way. Some examined knapsack and haversacks, good oilcloths, belts, rolled blankets, canteens, cartridge-boxes and cartridges, picked up upon the road. Others seriously did incline to search for certain intruders along the seams of shirt and trousers; others merely lay on their backs and looked up into Heaven. Billy Maydew was one of these, and Steve Dagg overturned the contents of a knapsack.

It was well filled, but with things Steve did not want. "O Gawd! picters and pincushions and Testaments with United States flags in them-I never did have any luck, anyhow!-in this here war nor on Thunder Run neither!"

Dave Maydew rolled over. "Steve says Thunder Run didn't like him-Gosh! what's a-going to happen ef Steve takes to telling the truth?"

Sergeant Coffin turned from contemplation of a bursting shell above the Grapevine crossing. "If anybody finds any letter-paper and doesn't want it-"

A chorus arose. "Sorry we haven't got any!"-"I have got some-lovely! But I've got a girl, too."-"Sorry, sergeant, but it isn't pale blue, scented with forget-me-nots."-"Just think her a letter-think it out loud! Wait, I'll show you how. Darling Chloe-Don't get angry! He's most gotten over getting angry and it becomes him beautifully-Darling Chloe-What're you coming into it for, Billy Maydew? 'Don't tease him!'-My son, he loves to be teased. All lovers love to be teased. Darling Chloe. It is Sunday morning. The swans are warbling your name and so are half a dozen pesky Yankee Parrotts. The gentle zephyrs speak of thee, and so does the hot simoom that blows from Chickahominy, bringing an inordinate number of mosquitoes. I behold thy sinuous grace in the curls of smoke from Reilly's battery, and also in the slide and swoop of black buzzards over a multitude of dead horses in the woods. Darling Chloe, we are stranded on an ant heap which down here they call a hill, and why in hell we don't swim the river is more than at the moment I can tell you. It's rumoured that Old Jack's attending church in the neighbourhood, but we are left outside to praise God from whom all blessings flow. Darling Chloe, this company is not so unpopular with me as once it was. War is teaching it a damned lot, good temper and pretty ways and what not-It is teaching it! Who says it is not?-Darling Chloe, if you could see how long and lean and brown we are and how ragged we are and how lousy-Of course, of course, sergeant, you're not! Only the high private in the rear rank is, and even he says he's not-Darling Chloe, if I could rise like one of those damned crows down there and sail over these damned flats and drop at your feet in God's country beyond the mountains, you wouldn't walk to church to-day with me. You'd turn up your pretty little nose, and accept the arm of some damned bombproof-Look out! What's the matter here? 'The last straw! shan't slander her!'-I'm not slandering her. I don't believe either she'd do it. Needn't all of you look so glum! I'll take it back. We know, God bless every last woman of them, that they don't do it! They haven't got any more use for a bombproof than we have!-I can't retract handsomer than that!-Darling Chloe, the Company's grown amiable, but it don't think much so far of its part in this campaign. Heretofore in tableaux and amateur theatricals it has had a star r?le, and in this damned Richmond play it's nothing but a walking shadow! Darling Chloe, we want somebody to whoop things up. We demand the centre of the stage-"

It was so hot on the little sandy hill that there was much straggling down through the woods to some one of the mesh of water-courses. The men nearest Steve were all turned toward the discourser to Chloe, who sat on a lift of sand, cross-legged like an Eastern scribe. Mathew Coffin, near him, looked half pleased, half sulky at the teasing. Since Port Republic he was a better-liked non-commissioned officer. Billy Maydew, again flat on his back, stared at the blue sky. Steve stole a tin cup and slipped quietly off through the hazel bushes.

He found a muddy runlet straying off from the river and quenched his thirst, then, turning, surveyed through the trees the hump of earth he had left and the company upon it. Beyond it were other companies, the regiment, the brigade. Out there it was hot and glaring, in here there was black, cool, miry loam, shade and water. Steve was a Sybarite born, and he lingered here. He didn't mean to straggle, for he was afraid of this country and afraid now of his colonel; he merely lingered and roamed about a little, beneath the immensely tall trees and in the thick undergrowth. In doing this he presently came, over quaking soil and between the knees of cypresses, flush with the Chickahominy itself. He sat down, took his own knees in his arms and looked at it. It was not so wide, but it looked stiller than the sky, and bottomless. The banks were so low that the least rain lifted it over. It strayed now, here and there, between tree roots. There was no such word as "sinister" in Steve's vocabulary. He only said, "Gawd! I wouldn't live here for choice!" The country across the stream engaged his attention. Seen from this bank it appeared all forest clad, but where his own existence from moment to moment was in question Steve could read the signboards as well as another. Certain distant, southward moving, yellowish streaks he pronounced dust clouds. There were roads beneath, and moving troops and wagon trains. He counted four columns of smoke of varying thickness. The heavier meant a cluster of buildings, holding stores probably, the thinner some farmhouse or barn or mill. From other signs he divined that there were clearings over there, and that the blue troops were burning hayricks and fences as well as buildings. Sound, too-it seemed deathly still here on the brim of this dead water, and yet there was sound-the batteries, of course, down the stream where they built the bridge, but also a dull, low, dreary murmur from across,-from the thick forest and the lost roads, and the swamps through which guns were dragged; from the clearings, the corn and wheat fields, the burning depots and encampments and houses of the people-the sound of a hostile army rising from the country where two months before it had settled. All was blended; there came simply a whirring murmur out of the forest beyond the Chickahominy.

Steve rose, yawned, and began again to prowl. Every rood of this region had been in possession of that humming army over there. All manner of desirable articles were being picked up. Orders were strict. Weapons, even injured weapons, ammunition, even half-spoiled ammunition, gun-barrels, ramrods, bayonets, cartridge-boxes, belts-all these must be turned in to the field ordnance officer. The South gleaned her battlefields of every ounce of lead or iron, every weapon or part of a weapon, every manufactured article of war. This done, the men might appropriate or themselves distribute apparel, food, or other matters. Steve, wandering now, his eyes on earth, saw nothing. The black wet soil, the gnarled roots, the gloomy meanders of the stream, looked terribly lonely. "Gawd! even the water-rats don't come here!" thought Steve, and on his way back to the hill entered a thicket of low bushes with shiny green leaves. Here he all but stumbled over a dead soldier in a blue uniform. He lay on his face, arms out, hands clutching at some reed-like grass. His rifle was beside him, haversack-all undisturbed. "Picket," said Steve. "O Gawd, ain't war glorious?"

Not at all without imagination, he had no fondness for touching dead men, but there were several things about this one that he wanted. He saw that the shoes wouldn't fit, and so he left them alone. His own rifle was back there, stacked with the others on the hot hillside, and he had no intention of bothering with this one. If the ordnance officer wanted it, let him come himself and get it! He exchanged cartridge-boxes, and took the other's rolled oilcloth, and then he looked into the haversack.

Rising to his feet, he glanced about him with quick, furtive, squirrel-like motions of his head. Cool shade, stillness, a creepy loneliness. Taking the haversack, he left the thicket and went back to the brink of Chickahominy. Here he sat down between the cypress knees and drew out of the haversack the prize of prizes. It fixed a grin upon his lean, narrow face, the sight and smell of it, the black, squat bottle. He held it up to the light; it was three quarters full. The cork came out easily; he put it to his lips and drank. "Gawd! it ain't so damned lonely, after all!"

The sun climbed to the meridian. The pioneers wrought as best they might on the Grapevine Bridge. The blue battery and the blue sharpshooters persisted in their hindering, and the grey battery continued to interfere with the blue. In the woods and over the low hills back of the Chickahominy the grey brigades of Stonewall Jackson rested, impatiently wondering, staring at the river, staring at the smoke of conflagrations on the other side and the dust streaks moving southward. Down on the swampy bank, squat between the cypress knees, Steve drank again, and then again,-in fact, emptied the squat, black bottle. The stuff filled him with a tremendous courage, and conferred upon him great fluency of thought. He waxed eloquent to the cypress roots upon the conduct of the war. "Gawd! if they'd listen ter me I'd te-tell them how!-I'd bui-build a bridge for the whole rotten army to cross on! Ef it broke I'd bui-build another. Yah! They don't 'pre-'preciate a man when they see him. Gawd! they're damn slow, and ain't a man over here got anything to drink! It's all over there." He wept a little. "O Gawd, make them hurry up, so's I kin git across." He put the bottle to his lips and jerked his head far back, but there was not a drop left to trickle forth. He flung it savagely far out into the water. "Ef I thought there was another like you over there-" His courage continued to mount as he went further from himself. He stood up and felt a giant; stretched out his arm and admired the muscle, kicked a clod of black earth into the stream and rejoiced in the swing of his leg. Then he smiled, a satyr-like grin wrinkling the cheek to the ear; then he took off his grey jacket, letting it drop upon the cypress roots; then he waded into the Chickahominy and began to swim to the further shore. The stream was deep but not swift; he was lank and lean but strong, and there was on the other side a pied piper piping of bestial sweetnesses. Several times arms and legs refused to co?perate and there was some likelihood of a death by drowning, but each time instinct asserted herself, righted matters, and on he went. She pulled him out at last, on the southern bank, and he lay gasping among the tree roots, somewhat sobered by the drenching, but still on the whole a courageous giant. He triumphed. "Yah! I got across! Goo'-goo-'bye, ye darned fools squattin' on the hillside!"

He left the Chickahominy and moved through the woods. He went quite at random and with a peculiar gait, his eyes on the ground, looking for another haversack. But just hereabouts there showed nothing of the kind; it was a solemn wood of pines and cedars, not overtrampled as yet by war. Steve shivered, found a small opening where the sun streamed in, planted himself in the middle of the warmth, and presently toppled over on the pine needles and went to sleep. He slept an hour or more, when he was waked by a party of officers riding through the wood. They stopped. Steve sat up and blinked. The foremost, a florid, side-whiskered, magnificently soldierly personage, wearing a very fine grey uniform and the stars of a major-general, addressed him. "What are you doing here, thir? Thraggling?-Anther me!"

Steve saluted. "I ain't the straggling kind, sir. Any man that says I straggle is a liar-exceptin' the colonel, and he's mistaken. I'm one of Stonewall's men."

"Thtonewall! Ith Jackthon acwoss?"

"They're building a bridge. I don't know if they air across yet. I swum."

"What did you thwim for? Where'th your jacket? What's your wegiment?-'65th Virginia?'-Well, 65th Virginia, you appear to me a detherter-"

Steve began to whine. "Gawd, general, I ain't no deserter. If you'll jest have patience and listen, I kin explain-"

"Time'th lacking, thir. You get up behind one of my couriers, and if Jackthon's crothed I'll return you to your colonel. Take him up, O'Brien."

"General Magruder, sor, can't I make him trot before me face like any other water-spaniel? He's wet and dhirty, sor."

"All wight, all wight, O'Brien. Come on, Gwiffith. Nine-Mile road and Thavage Thation!"

The officers rode on. The courier regarded with disfavour the unlucky Steve. "Forward march, dhirty, desartin', weak-kneed crayture that ye be! Thrott!"

Beyond the pine wood the two came into an area which had been overtrampled. Indescribably dreary under the hot sun looked the smouldering heaps and mounds of foodstuffs, the wrecked wagons, the abandoned picks and spades and shovels, the smashed camp equipage, broken kettles, pots and pans, the blankets, bedding, overcoats, torn and trampled in the mire, or piled together and a dull red fire slow creeping through the mass. Medicine-chests had been split by a blow of the axe, the vials shivered, and a black mire made by the liquids. Ruined weapons glinted in the sun between the furrows of a ruined cornfield; bags of powder, boxes of cartridges, great chests of shot and shell showed, half submerged in a tortuous creek. At the edge of the field, there was a cannon spiked and overturned. Here, too, were dead horses, and here, too, were the black, ill-omened birds. There was a trench as well, a long trench just filled, with two or three little head boards bearing some legend. "Holy Virgin!" said the courier, "if I was a horse, a child, or a woman, I'd hate war with a holy hathred!"

Steve whined at his stirrup. "Look a-here, sir, I can't keep up! My foot's awful sore. Gawd don't look my way, if it ain't! I ain't desertin'. Who'd I desert to? They've all gone. I wanted a bath an' I swum the river. The regiment'll be over direct

ly an' I'll rejoin. Take my oath, I will!"

"You trot along out of this plundering mess," ordered the courier. "I'm thinking I'll drop you soon, but it won't be just here! Step lively now!"

The two went on through the blazing afternoon sunshine, and in a straggling wood came upon a deserted field hospital. It was a ghastly place. The courier whistled reflectively, while the imaginative Steve felt a sudden sinking at the pit of the stomach, together with a cold dizziness and perspiration on the backs of his hands. The mind of the courier, striking out vigorously for some kind of a stimulant, laid hold of anger as the nearest efficient. "Bedad," he cried, "ye desartin', dhirty hound! it's right here I'll be afther lavin' ye, with the naked dead and the piles of arms and legs! Let go of my bridle or I'll strike you with my pistol butt! Ughrrrrr!-Get out of this, Peggy!"

They left, mare and man, in a cloud of pine needles and parched earth. Steve uttered something like a howl and went too, running without regard to an in truth not mythical sore foot. He ran after the disappearing courier, and when presently he reached a vast patch of whitened raspberry bushes giving on a not wide and very dusty road and halted panting, it was settled forever that he couldn't go back to the plundering possibilities or to his original station by the Chickahominy, since to do so would be to pass again the abandoned field hospital. He kept his face turned from the river and somewhat to the east, and straggled on. A signpost told him that the dusty ribbon was the Nine-Mile road. Presently, among the berry bushes, he came upon a grey artilleryman sitting winding a strip of cloth around a wound in his leg. The artilleryman gave him further information. "Magruder's moving this way. I was ahead with my battery,-Griffith's brigade,-and some stinking sharpshooters sitting with the buzzards in the trees let fly at us! Result, I've got to hobble in at the end of the parade!-What's the matter with you?"

"Captain," said Steve, "asked for a volunteer to swim the river (we're on the other side) and find out 'bout the currents. I swam it, and Gawd! jest then a Yankee battery opened and I couldn't get back! Regiment'll be over after awhile I reckon."

The two sat down among the berry bushes. The road was visible, and upon it a great approaching pillar of dust. "Head of our column," said the artilleryman. "Four roads and four pursuing forces, and if we can only all strike Mac at once there'll be a battle that'll lay over Friday's, and if he gets to his gunboats at all it will be in a damaged condition. Magruder's bearing toward Savage Station, and if Jackson's across the Chickahominy we might do for Fitz John Porter-eh?"

"We might," agreed Steve. "I'll lie a little flatter, because the sun and the wetting has made my head ache. They're fine troops."

The grey regiments went by, long swinging tread and jingling accoutrements. A major-general, riding at the head of the column, had the air of a Roman consul, round, strong, bullet head, which he had bared to the breeze that was springing up, close-cropped black hair, short black beard, high nose, bold eyes, a red in his cheeks. "That's General Lafayette McLaws," volunteered the artilleryman. "That's General Kershaw with him. It's Kershaw's brigade. See the palmetto on the flags."

Kershaw's went by. Behind came another high and thick dust cloud. "Cobb and Toombs and Barksdale and Kemper and Semmes," said the artilleryman. "Suppose we canter on? I'll break a staff from those little heaven trees there. We might get to see the show, after all. York River Railroad's just over there."

They went on, first to the ailanthus bushes, then, leaving the road to the troops, they struck across a ruined cornfield. Stalk and blade and tassel, and the intertwining small, pale-blue morning-glory, all were down. Gun-wheels, horses' hoofs, feet of men had made of naught the sower's pains. The rail fence all around was burning. In a furrow the two found a knapsack, and in it biscuit and jerked beef. "My Aunt Eliza! I was hungry!" said the artilleryman. "Know how the Israelites felt when they gathered manna off the ground!" Out of the cornfield they passed into a shaggy finger of forest. Suddenly firing broke out ahead. Steve started like a squirrel. "That's close to us!"

"There's the railroad!" said the other. "There's Fair Oaks Station. They had entrenchments there, but the scouts say they evacuated them this morning. If they make a stand, reckon it'll be at Savage Station. That musketry popping's down the line! Come on! I can go pretty fast!"

He plied his staff. They came into another ragged field, narrow and sloping to a stretch of railroad track and the smoking ruins of a wooden station. Around were numerous earthworks, all abandoned. Beyond the station, on either side the road, grey troops were massing. The firing ahead was as yet desultory. "Just skirmishers passing the time of day!" said the artilleryman. "Hello! What're they doing on the railroad track? Well, I should think so!"

Across the track, immediately below them, had been thrown by the retreating army a very considerable barricade. Broken wagons, felled trees, logs and a great mass of earth spanned it like a landslide. Over and about it worked a grey company detailed to clear the way. From the edge of a wood, not many yards up the track, came an impatient chorus. "Hurry up, boys! hurry up! hurry up! We want to get by-want to get by-"

"A railroad gun on a flat car placed-"

The artilleryman began to crow. "It's Lieutenant Barry and the railroad gun! Siege piece run on a car. Iron penthouse over it, muzzle sticking out-engine behind-"

"The Yankees skedaddle as though in haste

But this thirty-two pounder howitzer imp

It makes them halt and it makes them limp,

This railroad gun on a flat car placed."

"Hurry up there! Hurry up! Hurry! Steam's up! Coal's precious! Can't stay here burning diamonds like this all day!"

"Come on!" said the artilleryman. "I can sit down and dig. We've got to clear that thing away in a hurry." A shell from a hidden blue battery burst over the working party. Steve held back. "Gawd, man, we can't do no good! We're both lame men. If we got back a little into the wood we could see fine. That's better than fighting-when you're all used up like us-"

The artilleryman regarded him. "No, it isn't better than fighting. I've been suspicioning you for some time, and I've stopped liking the company I'm in. All the same, I'm not going to drop it. Now you trot along in front. Being artillery I haven't a gun any more than you have, but I've a stick, and there isn't anything in the world the matter with my arm. It's used to handling a sponge staff. Forward! trot!"

On the other side the ruined station, on the edge of an old field, Magruder, with him McLaws, waited for the return of a staff officer whom he had sent to the Grapevine Bridge three miles away. The shell which had burst over the party clearing the railroad track was but the first of many. Concealed by the heavy woods, the guns of the Federal rearguard opened on the grey brigades. Kershaw and Griffith, to the right of the road, suffered most. Stephen D. Lee sent forward Carlton's battery, and Kemper's guns came to its aid. They took position in front of the centre and began to answer the blue guns. A courier arrived from the skirmishers thrown out toward the dense wood. "Enemy in force and advancing, sir. Sumner and Franklin's corps, say the scouts."

"All wight!" said Magruder. "Now if Jackthon's over, we'll cwush them like a filbert."

The staff officer returned. "Well, thir, well, thir? Ith General Jackthon acroth? Will he take them in the rear while I thrike here?-Bryan, you look intolerably thober! What ith it?"

"The bridge will not be finished for two hours, sir. Two or three infantry companies have crossed by hook or crook, but I should say it would be morning before the whole force is over."

"Damn! Well-"

"I left my horse and got across myself, sir, and saw General Jackson-"

"Well, well, well-"

"He says, sir! 'Tell General Magruder that I have other important duties to perform'"-

There was a dead silence. Then McLaws spoke with Roman directness. "In my opinion there are two Jacksons. The one that came down here left the other one in the Valley."

A great shell came with a shriek and exploded, a fragment mortally wounding General Griffith at the head of the Mississippi brigade. The Mississippians uttered a loud cry of anger. Carleton's battery thundered defiantly. Magruder drew a long breath. "Well, gentlemen; philothophy to the rethcue! If we can't bag the whole rearguard, we'll bag what we can. General advanthe and drive them!"

Back on the railroad, in the long shadows of the late afternoon, the working party cleared away the last layer of earth and log and stood back happy. "Come on, you old railroad gun, and stop your blaspheming! Should think the engine'd blush for you!"

The railroad gun puffed up, cannoneers picturesquely draped where there was hold for foot or hand. There was a momentary pause, filled with an interchange of affectionate oaths and criticism. The lame artilleryman laid hold of the flat car. "Take me along, won't you, and shuck me at my battery! Kemper's, you know. Can't I go, lieutenant?"

"Yes, yes, climb on!"

"And can't my friend here go, too? He's infantry, but he means well. He volunteered to swim the Chickahominy, and now he wants to get back so's he can report to Stonewall Jackson. Sh! don't deny it now. You're too modest. Can't he go, too, lieutenant?"

"Yes, yes. Climb on! All right, Brown! Let her go!"

Kershaw, Griffith, and Semmes' brigades, advancing in line through light and shadow, wood and clearing, came presently into touch with the enemy. There followed a running fight, the Federals slowly retreating. Everywhere, through wood and clearing, appeared McClellan's earthworks. Behind these the blue made stand, but at last from line to line the grey pressed them back. A deep cut appeared, over which ran a railroad bridge; then woods, fields, a second ruined railroad station, beside which were burning cars filled with quartermaster's stores; beyond these a farmhouse, a peach orchard, and a field crossed by long rows of hospital tents. Before the farmhouse appeared a strong Federal line of battle, and from every little eminence the blue cannon blazed. Kershaw charged furiously; the two lines clashed and clanged. Semmes' brigade came into action on the right, Kemper's battery supporting. Griffith's, now Barksdale's-joined battle with a yell, the Mississippians bent on avenging Griffith. The air filled with smoke, the roar of guns and the rattle of musketry. There occurred, in the late afternoon, a bloody fight between forces not large, and fairly matched.

The engine pushing the railroad gun alternately puffed and shrieked through dark woodland and sunset-flooded clearing. A courier appeared, signalling with his hat. "General Magruder's there by the bridge over the cut! Says, 'Come on!' Says, 'Cross the bridge and get into battery in the field beyond,' Says, 'Hurry up!'"

The siege-piece and the engine hurried. With a wild rattle and roar, the crew all yelling, black smoke everywhere, and the whistle screaming like a new kind of shell, the whole came out of the wood upon the railroad bridge. Instantly there burst from the blue batteries a tremendous, raking fire. Shot and shell struck the engine, the iron penthouse roof over the siege-piece, the flat car, the bridge itself. From the car and the bridge slivers were torn and hurled through the air. A man was killed, two others wounded, but engine and gun roared across. They passed Magruder standing on the bank. "Here we are, general, here we are! Yaaih! Yaaaih!"

"Th' you are. Don't thop here! Move down the track a little. Other Richmond howitthers coming."

The other howitzers, four pieces, six horses to each, all in a gallop, captain ahead, men following in a mad run, whips crackling, drivers shouting, came all in thunder on the bridge and across. The blue shells flew like harpies, screaming, swooping, scattering ruin. A red gleam from the declining sun bathed the wild train. In a roar of sound the whole cleared the bridge and plunged from the track to the level field. Forward into battery, left oblique, march!

McLaws on the right, hard pressed, sent to Magruder for reinforcements. The 13th and 21st Mississippi answered. Kershaw, supported by Semmes and Kemper, advancing under an iron hail by deserted camp and earthwork, ordered the 2d, 3d and 7th South Carolina to charge. They did so, with a high, ringing cry, through the sunset wood into the fields, by the farm and the peach orchard, where they and the blue lines stubbornly engaged. On both sides, the artillery came furiously into action.

The long twilight faded, the stars began to show. The firing slackened, died to occasional sullen outbursts, then to silence. On both sides the loss was heavy; the action remained indecisive. The grey rested on the field; the blue presently took up again their line of retreat toward White Oak Swamp. They left in the hands of the grey their dead, several hundred prisoners, and twenty-five hundred men in hospital. In the hot and sultry night, dark, with presage of a storm, through a ruined country, by the light of their own burning stores, the blue column wound slowly on by the single road toward White Oak Swamp and its single bridge. The grey brigades lit their small camp-fires, gathered up the wounded, grey and blue, dug trenches for the dead, found food where they might and went hungry where there was none, answered to roll call and listened to the silence after many names, then lay down in field and wood beneath the gathering clouds.

Some time between sunset and the first star Steve Dagg found himself, he hardly knew how, crouching in a line of pawpaw bushes bordering a shallow ravine. The clay upon his shirt and trousers made it seem probable that he had rolled down the embankment from the railroad gun to the level below. That he was out of breath, panting in hard painful gasps, might indicate that he had run like a hare across the field. He could not remember; anyhow here he was, a little out of hell, just fringing it as it were. Lying close to earth, between the smooth pawpaw stems, the large leaves making a night-time for him, Steve felt deadly sick. "O Gawd! why'd I volunteer in, seein' I can't volunteer out?" Behind him he heard the roaring of the guns, the singing of the minies. A chance shell went over his head, dug itself into the soil at the bottom of the ravine, and exploded. The earth came pattering upon the pawpaw leaves. Steve curled up like a hedgehog. "O Gawd! I ain't got a friend in the world. Why didn't I stay on Thunder Run and marry Lucinda Heard?"

At dark the guns ceased. In the silence his nausea lessened and the chill sweat dried upon him. He lay quiet for awhile, and then he parted the pawpaw bushes and crept out. He looked over his shoulder at the field of battle. "I ain't going that-a-way and meet that gunner again-damn him to everlasting hell!" He looked across the ravine toward the west, but a vision came to him of the hospital in the wood, and of how the naked dead men and the severed legs and arms might stir at night. He shivered and grew sick again. Southward? There was a glare upon all that horizon and a sound of distant explosions. The Yankees were sweeping through the woods that way, and they might kill him on sight without waiting for him to explain. A grey army was also over there,-Lee and Longstreet and A. P. Hill. He was as afraid of the grey as of the blue; after the railroad gun he was afraid of a shadow. Finally, he turned northward toward the Chickahominy again.

The night, so dark and hot, presently became darker by reason of masses of clouds rising swiftly from the horizon and blotting out the stars. They hung low, they pressed heavily, beneath them a sulphur-tainted and breathless air. Lightnings began to flash, thunder to mutter. "Yah!" whimpered Steve. "I'm going to get wet again! It's true. Everything's agin me."

He came again upon the swampy margin of the Chickahominy. It was wide, threaded by motionless waters, barred and banded with low-growing swamp shrubs, set with enormously tall and solemn trees. Steve, creeping between protruding roots, heard a screech owl in the distance. It cried and cried, but then the thunder rolled more loudly and drowned its hooting. He came flush with the dark stretch of the river. "Gawd, do I want to get across, or do I want to stay here? I wish I was dead-no, I don't!" He faced the lightning. "Gawd, that was jes' a mistake-don't take any notice of it, please.-Yaaah!" He had set his foot on a log, which gave beneath it and sank into deep water. With a screech like the owl's he drew back and squeezed himself, trembling, between the roots of a live-oak. He concluded that he would stay here until the dawn.

The storm drew nearer, with long lightnings and thunder that crashed and rolled through the swamp. A vivid flash, holding a second or more, showed the stretch of the river, and several hundred yards above Steve's nook a part of a high railroad bridge. The gaunt trestle ran out past midstream, then stopped, all the portion toward the northern shore burned away. It stood against the intensely lit sky and stream like the skeleton of some antediluvian monster, then vanished into Stygian darkness. The thunder crashed at once, an ear-splitting clap followed by long reverberations. As these died, in the span of silence before should come the next flash and crash, Steve became conscious of another sound, dull and distant at first, then nearer and rushingly loud. "Train on the track down there! What in hell-It can't cross!" He stood up, held by a sapling, and craned his neck to look up the river. A great flash showed the bridge again. "Must be Yankees still about here-last of the rearguard we've been fighting. What they doing with the train? They must have burned the bridge themselves! Gawd!"

A wildly vivid orange flash lit water, wood and sky, and the gaunt half of a bridge, stopping dead short in the middle of the Chickahominy. The thunder crashed and rolled, then out of that sound grew another-the noise of a rushing train. Something huge and dark roared from the wooded banks out upon the bridge. It belched black smoke mingled with sparks; behind it were cars, and these were burning. The whole came full upon the broken bridge. It swayed beneath the weight; but before it could fall, and before the roaring engine reached the gap, the flames of the kindled cars touched the huge stores of ammunition sent thus to destruction by the retreating column. In the night, over the Chickahominy, occurred a rending and awful explosion.... Steve, coming to himself, rose to his knees in the black mire. The lightning flashed, and he stared with a contorted face. The bridge, too, was gone. There was only the churned water, filled with scantlings and torn branches of trees. The rain was falling, a great hissing sweep of rain, and the wind howled beneath the thunder. Steve turned blindly; he did not know where he was going, but he had a conviction that the river was rising and would come after him. A hundred yards from the water, in the midnight wood, as he hurried over earth that the rain was fast turning into morass, he stumbled over some obstacle and fell. Putting out his hands, they came flat against a dead man's face. He rose and fled with a screech, southwardly now, in the direction of White Oak Swamp.

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