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   Chapter 44 BY THE OPEQUON

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 28414

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The battle of Sharpsburg was a triumph neither for blue nor grey, for North nor South. With the sinking of the sun ceased the bloody, prolonged, and indecisive struggle. Blue and grey, one hundred and thirty thousand men fought that battle. When the pale moon came up she looked on twenty-one thousand dead and wounded.

The living ranks sank down and slept beside the dead. Lee on Traveller waited by the highroad until late night. Man by man his generals came to him and made their report-their ghastly report. "Very good, general. What is your opinion?"-"I think, sir, that we should cross the Potomac to-night."-"Very well, general. What is your opinion?"-"General Lee, we should cross the Potomac to-night."-"Yes, general, it has been our heaviest field. What is your advice?"-"General Lee, I am here to do what you tell me to do."

Horse and rider, Traveller and Robert Edward Lee, stood in the pale light above the Antietam. "Gentlemen, we will not cross the Potomac to-night. If General McClellan wants to fight in the morning I will give him battle again.-And now we are all very tired. Good-night. Good-night!"

The sun came up, dim behind the mist. The mist rose, the morning advanced. The September sunshine lay like vital warmth upon the height and vale, upon the Dunkard church and the wood about it, upon the cornfields, and Burnside's bridge and the Bloody Lane, and upon all the dead men in the cornfields, in the woods, upon the heights, beside the stream, in the lane. The sunshine lay upon the dead, as the prophet upon the Shunamite's child, but it could not reanimate. Grey and blue, the living armies gazed at each other across the Antietam. Both were exhausted, both shattered, the blue yet double in numbers. The grey waited for McClellan's attack. It did not come. The ranks, lying down, began to talk. "He ain't going to attack! He's cautious."-"He's had enough."-"So've I. O God!"-"Never saw such a fight. Wish those buzzards would go away from that wood over there! They're so dismal."-"No, McClellan ain't going to attack!"-"Then why don't we attack?"-"Go away, Johnny! We're mighty few and powerfully tired."-"Well, I think so, too. We might just as well attack. Great big counter stroke! Crumple up Meade and Doubleday and Ricketts over there! Turn their right!"-"'T ain't impossible! Marse Robert and Old Jack could manage it."-"No, they couldn't!"-"Yes, they could!"-"You're a fool! Look at that position, stronger 'n Thunder Run Mountain, and Hooker's got troops he didn't have in yesterday! 'N those things like beehives in a row are Parrotts 'n Whitworths' 'n Blakeley's. 'N then look at us. Oh, yes! we've got spirit, but spirit's got to have a body to rush those guns."-"Thar ain't anything Old Jack couldn't do if he tried!"-"Yes, there is!" "Thar ain't! How dast you say that?"-"There is! He couldn't be a fool if he tried-and he ain't a-going to try!"

The artillerist, Stephen D. Lee, came to headquarters on the knoll by Sharpsburg. "General Lee sent for me. Tell him, please, I am here." Lee appeared. "Good-morning, Colonel Lee. You are to go at once to General Jackson. Tell him that I sent you to report to him." The officer found Stonewall Jackson at the Dunkard church. "General, General Lee sent me to report to you."

"Good, good! Colonel, I wish you to take a ride with me. We will go to the top of the hill yonder."

They went up to the top of the hill, past dead men and horses, and much wreckage of caissons and gun wheels. "There are probably sharpshooters in that wood across the stream," said Jackson. "Do not expose yourself unnecessarily, colonel." Arrived at the level atop they took post in a little copse, wildly torn and blackened, a wood in Artillery Hell. "Take your glasses, colonel, and examine the enemy's line of battle."

The other lifted the field-glass and with it swept the Antietam, and the fields and ridges beyond it. He looked at the Federal left, and he looked at the Federal centre, and he looked along the Federal right, which was opposite, then he lowered the glasses. "General, they have a very strong position, and they are in great force."

"Good! I wish you to take fifty pieces of artillery and crush that force."

Stephen D. Lee was a brave man. He said nothing now, but he stood a moment in silence, and then he took his field-glass and looked again. He looked now at the many and formidable Federal batteries clustered like dark fruit above the Antietam, and now at the masses of blue infantry, and now at the positions, under artillery and musketry fire, which the Confederate batteries must take. He put the glass down again. "Yes, general. Where shall I get the fifty guns?"

"How many have you?"

"I had thirty. Some were lost, a number disabled. I have twelve."

"Just so. Well, colonel, I could give you a few, and General Lee tells me he can furnish some."

The other fingered a button on his coat for a moment, then, "Yes, general. Shall I go for the guns?"

"No, not yet." Stonewall Jackson laid his large hands in their worn old brown gauntlets, one over the other, upon his saddle bow. He, too, looked at the Federal right and the guns on the heights like dark fruit. His eyes made just a glint of blue light below the forage cap. "Colonel Lee, can you crush the Federal right with fifty guns?"

The artillerist drew a quick breath, let the button alone, and raised his head higher. "I can try, general. I can do it if any one can."

"That is not what I asked you, sir. If I give you fifty guns can you crush the Federal right?"

The other hesitated. "General, I don't know what you want of me. Is it my technical opinion as an artillery officer? or do you want to know if I will make the attempt? If you give me the order of course I will make it!"

"Yes, colonel. But I want your positive opinion, yes or no. Can you crush the Federal right with fifty guns?"

The artillerist looked again, steadying arm and glass against a charred bough. "General, it cannot be done with fifty guns and the troops you have here."

Hilltop and withered wood hung a moment silent in the air, sunny but yet with a taste of all the powder that had been burned. Then said Jackson, "Good! Let us ride back, colonel."

They turned their horses, but Stephen Lee with some emotion began to put the case. "You forced me, general, to say what I did say. If you send the guns, I beg of you not to give them to another! I will fight them to the last extremity-" He looked to the other anxiously. To say to Stonewall Jackson that you must despair and die where he sent you in to conquer!

But Jackson had no grimness of aspect. He looked quietly thoughtful. It was even with a smile of sweetness that he cut short the other's pleading. "It's all right, colonel, it's all right! Everyone knows that you are a brave officer and would fight the guns well." At the foot of the hill he checked Little Sorrel. "We'll part here, colonel. You go at once to General Lee. Tell him all that has happened since he sent you to me. Tell him that you examined the Federal position. Tell him that I forced you to give the technical opinion of an artillery officer, and tell him what that opinion is. That is all, colonel."

The September day wore on. Grey and blue armies rested inactive save that they worked at burying the dead. Then, in the afternoon, information came to grey headquarters. Humphrey's division, pouring through the gaps of South Mountain, would in a few hours be at McClellan's service. Couch's division was at hand-there were troops assembling on the Pennsylvania border. At dark Lee issued his orders. During the night of the eighteenth the Army of Northern Virginia left the banks of the Antietam, wound silently down to the Potomac, and crossed to the Virginia shore.

All night there fell a cold, fine, chilling rain. Through it the wagon trains crossed, the artillery with a sombre noise, the wounded who must be carried, the long column of infantry, the advance, the main, the rear. The corps of Stonewall Jackson was the last to ford the river. He sat on Little Sorrel, midway of the stream, and watched his troops go onward in the steady, chilling rain. Daybreak found him there, motionless as a figure in bronze, needing not to care for wind or sun or rain.

The Army of Northern Virginia encamped on the road to Martinsburg. Thirty guns on the heights above Boteler's Ford guarded its rear, and Jeb Stuart and his cavalry watched from the northern bank at Williamsport. McClellan pushed out from Sharpsburg a heavy reconnoissance, and on his side of the river planted guns. Fitz John Porter, in command, crossed during the night a considerable body of troops. These advanced against Pendelton's guns, took four of them, and drove the others back on the Martinsburg road. Pendleton reported to General Lee; Lee sent an order to Stonewall Jackson. The courier found him upon the bank of the Potomac, gazing at the northern shore. "Good!" he said. "I have ordered up the Light Division." Seventy guns thundered from across the water. A. P. Hill in his red battle shirt advancing in that iron rain, took, front and flank, the Federal infantry. He drove them down from the bluff, he pushed them into the river; they showed black on the current. Those who got across, under the shelter of the guns, did not try again that passage. McClellan looked toward Virginia, but made no further effort, this September, to invade her. The Army of Northern Virginia waited another day above Boteler's Ford, then withdrew a few miles to the banks of the Opequon.

The Opequon, a clear and pleasing stream, meandered through the lower reaches of the great Valley, through a fertile, lovely country, as yet not greatly scored and blackened by war's torch and harrow. An easy ride to the westward and you arrived in Winchester, beloved of Lieutenant-General T. J. Jackson and the 2d Army Corps. As the autumn advanced, the banks of the Opequon, the yet thick forests that stretched toward the Potomac, the great maples, and oaks and gums and hickories that rose, singly or in clusters, from the rolling farm lands, put on a most gorgeous colouring. The air was mellow and sunny. From the camp-fires, far and near, there came always a faint pungent smell of wood smoke. Curls of blue vapour rose from every glade. The land seemed bathed in Indian summer.

Through it in the mellow sunlight, beneath the crimson of the gums, the lighter red of the maples, the yellow of the hickories, the 2d Army Corps found itself for weeks back on the drill ground. The old Army of the Valley crowed and clapped on the back the Light Division and D. H. Hill's troops. "Old times come again! Jest like we used to do at Winchester! Chirk up, you fellows! Your drill's improving every day. Old Jack'll let up on you after a while. Lord! it used to be seven hours a day!"

Not only did the 2d Corps drill, it refitted. Mysteriously there came from Winchester a really fair amount of shoes and clothing. Only the fewest were now actually barefoot. In every regiment there went on, too, a careful cobbling. If by any means a shoe could be made to do, it was put in that position. Uniforms were patched and cleaned, and every day was washing day. All the hillsides were spread with soldiers' shirts. The red leaves drifting down on them looked like blood-stains, but the leaves could be brushed away. The men, standing in the Opequon, whistled as they rubbed and wrung. Every day the recovered from hospitals, and the footsore stragglers, and the men detached or furloughed, came home to camp. There came in recruits, too-men who last year were too old, boys who last year were not old enough. "Look here, boys! Thar goes Father Time!-No, it's Rip Van Winkle!"-"No, it's Santa Claus!-Anyhow, he's going to fight!" "Look here, boys! here comes another cradle. Good Lord, he's just a toddler! He don't see a razor in his dreams yet! Quartermaster's out of nursing-bottles!" "Shet up! the way those children fight's a caution!"

October drifted on, smooth as the Opequon. Red and yellow leaves drifted down, wood smoke arose, sound was wrapped as in fine wool, dulled everywhere to sweetness. Whirring insects, rippling water, the wood-chopper's axe, the whistling soldiers, the drum-beat, the bugle-call, all were swept into a smooth current, steady, almost droning, somewhat dream-like. The 2d Corps would have said that it was a long time on the Opequon, but that on the whole it found the place a pleasing land of drowsy-head.

Visitors came to the Opequon; parties from Winchester, officers from the 1st Corps commanded by Longstreet and encamped a few miles to the eastward, officers from the headquarters of the commander-in-chief. General Lee came himself on Traveller, and with Stonewall Jackson rode along the Opequon, under the scarlet maples. One day there appeared a cluster of Englishmen, Colonel the Honourable Garnet Wolseley; the Special Correspondent of the Times, the Honourable Francis Lawley, and the Special Correspondent of the Illustrated London News, Mr. Frank Vizetelly. General Lee had sent them over under the convoy of an officer, with a note to Stonewall Jackson.

My dear General,-These gentlemen very especially wish to make your acquaintance. Yours,

R. E. LEE.

They made it, beneath a beautiful, tall, crimson gum tree, where on a floor of fallen leaves Lieutenant-General T. J. Jackson's tent was pitched. A camp-stool, a wooden chair, and two boxes were placed. There was a respectful silence while the Opequon murmured by, then Garnet Wolseley spoke of the great interest which England-Virginia's mother country-was taking in this struggle.

"Yes, sir," said Jackson. "It would be natural for a mother to take an even greater interest."

"And the admiration, general, with which we have watched your career-the career of genius, if I may say so! By Jove-"

"Yes, sir. It is not my career. God has the matter in hand."

"Well, He knows how to pick his lieutenants!-You have the most ideal place for a camp, general! But, I suppose, before these coloured leaves all fall you will be moving?"

"It is an open secret, I suppose, sir," said the corresponden

t of the Times, "that when McClellan does see fit to cross you will meet him east of the Blue Ridge?"

"May I ask, sir," said the correspondent of the Illustrated News, "what you think of this latest move on the political chess-board-I mean Mr. Lincoln's Proclamation of Emancipation?"

"The leaves are," said Jackson, "a beautiful colour. I was in England one autumn, Colonel Wolseley, but I did not observe our autumn colours in your foliage. Climate, doubtless. But what was my admiration were your cathedrals."

"Yes, general; wonderful, are they not? Music in stone. Should McClellan cross, would the Fredericksburg route-"

"Good! good! Music in stone! Which of your great church structures do you prefer, sir?"

"Why, sir, I might prefer Westminster Abbey. Would-"

"Good! Westminster Abbey. A soldier's answer. I remember that I especially liked Durham. I liked the Galilee chapel and the tomb of the Venerable Bede. St. Cuthbert is buried there, too, is he not?"

"I really don't remember, sir. Is he, Mr. Lawley?"

"I believe so."

"Yes, he is. You haven't got any cathedrals here, General Jackson, but you've got about the most interesting army on the globe. Will McClellan-"

"I like the solidity of the early Norman. The foundations were laid in 1093, I believe?"

"Very probably, general. Has General Lee-"

"It has a commanding situation-an advantage which all of your cathedrals do not possess. I liked the windows best at York. What do you think, colonel?"

"I think that you are right, general. When your wars are over, I hope that you will visit England again. I suppose that you cannot say how soon that will be, sir?"

"No, sir. Only God can say that. I should like to see Ely and Canterbury." He rose. "Gentlemen, it has been pleasant to meet you. I hear the adjutant's call. If you would like to find out how my men drill, Colonel Johnson may take you to the parade-ground."

Later, there arrived beneath the crimson gum four of Jeb Stuart's officers, gallantly mounted and equipped, young and fine. To-day their usual careless dash was tempered by something of important gravity; if their eyes danced, it was beneath half-closed lids; they did not smile outright, but their lips twitched. Behind them an orderly bore a long pasteboard box. The foremost officer was Major Heros von Borcke, of General Stuart's staff. All dismounted. Jackson came out of his tent. The air was golden warm; the earth was level before the tent, and on the carpet of small bright leaves was yet the table, the chair, the camp-stool, and the boxes. It made a fine, out-of-door room of audience. The cavalry saluted. Jackson touched the forage cap, and sat down. The staff officer, simple, big, and genuine, stood forward. "Major Von Borcke, is it not? Well, major, what is General Stuart about just now?"

"General, he is watching his old schoolmate, General McClellan. My general, I come on a graceful errand, a little gift from General Stuart bearing. He has so great an esteem and friendship for you, general; he asks that you accept so slight a token of that esteem and friendship and he would say affection, and he does say reverence. He says that from Richmond he has for this sent-"

Major Heros von Borcke made a signal. The orderly advanced and placed upon the pine table the box. The other cavalry officers stepped a little nearer; two or three of Stonewall Jackson's military family came also respectfully closer; the red gum leaves made a rustling underfoot.

"General Stuart is extremely kind," said Jackson. "I have a high esteem for Jeb Stuart. You will tell him so, major."

Slowly, slowly, came off the lid. Slowly, slowly came away a layer of silver paper. Where on earth they got-in Richmond in 1862-the gay box, the silver paper, passes comprehension. The staff thought it looked Parisian, and nursed the idea that it had once held a ball gown. Slowly, slowly, out came the gift.

A startled sound, immediately suppressed, was uttered by the military family. Lieutenant-General T. J. Jackson merely looked a stone wall. The old servant Jim was now also upon the scene. "Fo' de Lawd!" said Jim. "Er new nuniform!"

Fine grey cadet cloth, gold lace, silken facings, beautiful bright buttons, sash, belt, gauntlets-the leaves rustled loudly, but a chuckle from Jim in the background and a murmured "Dat are sumpin' like!" was the only audible utterance. With empressement each article was lifted from the box by Major Heros von Borcke and laid upon the pine boards beneath Stonewall Jackson's eyes. The box emptied, Von Borcke, big, simple, manly, gravely beaming, stepped back from the table. "For General Jackson, with General Stuart's esteem and admiration!"

Stonewall Jackson, big, too, and to appearance simple, looked under the forage cap, smiled, and with one lean brown finger touched almost timidly the beautiful, spotless cadet cloth. "Major von Borcke, you will give General Stuart my best thanks. He is, indeed, good. All this," he gravely indicated the loaded table, "is much too fine for the hard work I'd have to give it, and I shall have it put away for the present. But you tell General Stuart, major, that I will take the best care of his beautiful present, and that I will always prize it highly as a souvenir. It is, I think, about one o'clock. You will stay to dinner with me, I hope, major."

But the banks of the Opequon uttered a protest. "Oh, general!"-"My general, you will hurt his feelings."-"General, just try it on, at least!" "Let us have our way, sir, just this once! We have been right good, haven't we? and we do so want to see you in it!"-"General Stuart will certainly want to know how it fits-" "Please, sir,"-"Gineral, Miss Anna sholy would like ter see you in hit!"

Ten minutes elapsed while the Opequon rippled by and the crimson gum leaves drifted down, then somewhat bashfully from the tent came forth Stonewall Jackson metamorphosed. Triumph perched upon the helms of the staff and the visiting cavalry. "Oh!-Oh!-" "General Stuart will be so happy!" "General, the review this afternoon! General, won't you review us that way?"

He did. At first the men did not know him, then there mounted a wild excitement. Suppressed with difficulty during the actual evolutions, it burst into flower when the ranks were broken. The sun was setting in a flood of gold; there hung a fairy light over the green fields and the Opequon and the vivid woods. The place rang to the frolic shouting. It had the most delighted sound. "Stonewall! Stonewall Jackson! Stonewall! Stonewall! Old Jack! Old Jack! Old Jack!"

Old Jack touched his beautiful hat of a lieutenant-general. Little Sorrel beneath him moved with a jerk of the head and a distended nostril. The men noticed that, too. "He don't know him either! Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! Ain't life worth while? Ain't it grand?-Stonewall! Stonewall!"

On went the gold October, passing at last in a rain and drift of leaves into a russet November. The curls of wood smoke showed plainer down the glades, the crows were cawing, the migratory birds going south, but the days were yet mild and still, wrapped in a balm of pale sunshine, a faint, purplish, Indian summer haze. The 2d Corps was hale and soberly happy.

It was the chaplain's season. There occurred in the Army of Northern Virginia a religious revival, a far-spread and lasting deepening of feeling. For many nights in many forest glades there were "meetings" with prayer and singing. "Old Hundred" floated through the air. From tents and huts of boughs came the soldiers. They sat upon the earth, thick carpeted now with the faded leaves, or upon gnarled, out-cropping roots of oak and beech. Above shone the moon; there was a touch of frost in the air. The chaplain had some improvised pulpit; a great fire, or perhaps a torch fastened to a bough, gave light whereby to read the Book. The sound of the voice, the sound of the singing, blended with the voice of the Opequon rushing-all rushing toward the great Sea.

"Come, humble sinner, in whose breast

A thousand thoughts revolve-"

It made a low thunder, so many soldiers' voices. Always, on these nights, in some glade or meadow, with some regiment or other, there was found the commander of the 2d Corps. Beneath the cathedral roof of the forest, or beneath the stars in the open, sat Stonewall Jackson, worshipping the God of Battles. Undoubtedly he was really and deeply happy. His place is on the Judean hills, with Joab and David and Abner. Late in this November there came to him another joy. In North Carolina, where his wife had gone, a child was born to him, his only child, a daughter.

In the first half of October had occurred Jeb Stuart's brilliant Monocacy raid, two days and a half within McClellan's lines. On the twenty-sixth McClellan began the passage of the Potomac. He crossed near Berlin, and Lee, assured now that the theatre of war would be east of the Blue Ridge, dispatched Longstreet with the 1st Corps to Culpeper. On the seventh of November McClellan was removed from the command of the Army of the Potomac. It was given over to Burnside, and he took the Fredericksburg route to Richmond.

The Army of the Potomac numbered one hundred and twenty-five thousand men and officers and three hundred and twenty guns. At Washington were in addition eighty thousand men, and up and down the Potomac twenty thousand more. The Army of Northern Virginia in all, 1st and 2d Corps, had seventy-two thousand men and officers and two hundred and seventy-five guns. Lee called Stonewall Jackson to join Longstreet at Fredericksburg.

On the twenty-second the 1st Corps quitted, amid smiles and tears, many a "God keep you!" and much cheering, Winchester the beloved. Out swung the long column upon the Valley pike. Advance and main and rear, horse and foot and guns, Stonewall Jackson and his twenty-five thousand took the old road. The men were happy. "Old road, old road, old road, howdy do! How's your health, old lady? Haven't you missed us? Haven't you missed us? We've missed you!"

It was Indian summer, violet, dream-like. By now there had been burning and harrowing in the Valley; war had laid his mailed hand upon the region. It was not yet the straining clutch of later days, but it was bad enough. The Indian summer wrapped with a soft touch of mourning purple much of desolation, much of untilled earth, and charred roof-tree, and broken walls. The air was soft and gentle, lying balmy and warm on the road and ragged fields, and the haze so hid the distances that the column thought not so much of how the land was scarred as of the memories that thronged on either side of the Valley pike. "Kernstown! The field of Kernstown. There's Fulkerson's wall. About five hundred years ago!"

Stonewall Jackson, riding in the van, may be supposed to have had his memories, too. He did not express them. He was using expedition, and he sent back orders. "Press forward, men! Press forward." He rode quietly, forage cap pulled low; or, standing with Little Sorrel on some wayside knoll, he watched for a while his thousands passing. Stuart's gay present had taken the air but once. Here was the old familiar, weather-worn array, leaf brown from sun and wind and dust and rain, patched here and patched there, dull of buttons, and with the lace worn off. Here were the old boots, the sabre, the forage cap; here were the blue glint of the eye and the short "Good! good!" as the men passed. The marching men shouted for him. He nodded, and having noted whatever it was he had paused to note, shook Little Sorrel's bridle and stiffly galloped to the van again.

Past Newtown, past Middletown, on to Strasburg-the Massanuttons loomed ahead, all softly coloured yet with reds and golds. "Massanutton! Massanutton!" said the troops. "We've seen you before, and you've seen us before! Front Royal's at your head and Port Republic's at your feet."

"In Virginia there's a Valley,

Valley, Valley!

Where all day the war drums beat,

Beat, Beat!

And the soldiers love the Valley

Valley, Valley!

And the Valley loves the soldiers,

Soldiers, soldiers!"

Past Strasburg, past Tom's Brook, past Rude's Hill-through the still November days, in the Indian summer weather, the old Army of the Valley, the old Ewell's Division, the Light Division, D. H. Hill's Division, moved up the Valley Pike. All were now the 2d Corps, Stonewall Jackson riding at its head. The people-the people were mostly women and children-flocked to the great highroad to bring the army things, to wave it onward, to say "God bless you!"-"God keep you!"-"God make you to conquer!"

The 2d Corps passed Woodstock, and Edenburg, and Mt. Jackson, and came to New Market, and here it turned eastward. "Going to leave you," chanted the troops. "Going to leave you, old road, old road! Take care of yourself till we come again!"

Up and up and over Massanutton wound the 2d Corps. The air was still, not cold. The gold leaves drifted on the troops, and the red. From the top of the pass the view was magnificent. Down and down wound the column to the cold, swift Shenandoah. The men forded the stream. "Oh, Shenandoah! Oh, Shenandoah! when will we ford you again?"

Up and up the steeps of the Blue Ridge to Fisher's Gap! All the air was dreamy, the sun sloping to the west, the crows cawing in the mountain clearings. The column was leaving the Valley, and a silence fell upon it. Stonewall Jackson rode ahead, on the mountain path, in the last gold light. At the summit of the pass there was a short halt. It went by in a strange quietness. The men turned and gazed. "The Valley of Virginia! The Valley of Virginia! Which of us will not see you again?"

The Alleghenies lay faint, faint, beneath the flooding light. The sun sent out great rays of purple and rose. Between the mountain ranges the vast landscape lay in shadow, though here and there a high hilltop, a mountain spur had a coronet of gold. The 2d Corps, twenty-five thousand men, high on the Blue Ridge, looked and looked. "Some of us will not see you again. Some of us will not see you again, O loved Valley of Virginia!" Column Forward! Column Forward!

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