MoboReader > Literature > The Long Roll

   Chapter 47 THE WILDERNESS

The Long Roll By Mary Johnston Characters: 33584

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Fifteen by twenty miles stretched the Wilderness. Out of a thin soil grew pine trees and pine trees, scrub oak and scrub oak. The growth was of the densest, mile after mile of dense growth. A few slight farms and clearings appeared like islands; all around them was the sea, the sea of tree and bush. It stretched here, it stretched there, it touched all horizons, vanishing beyond them in an amethyst haze.

Several forest tracks traversed it, but they were narrow and worn, and it was hard to guess their presence, or to find it when guessed. There were, however, two fair roads-the old Turnpike and the Plank Road. These also were sunken in the thick, thick growth. A traveller upon them saw little save the fact that he had entered the Wilderness. Near the turnpike stood a small white church, the Tabernacle church. A little south of the heart of the place lay an old, old, abandoned iron furnace-Catherine Furnace. As much to the north rose a large old house-Chancellorsville. To the westward was Dowdall's Tavern. Around all swept the pine and the scrub oak, just varied by other trees and blossoming shrubs. The ground was level, or only slightly rolling. Look where one might there was tree and bush, tree and bush, a sense of illimitable woodland, of far horizons, of a not unhappy sameness, of stillness, of beauty far removed from picturesqueness, of vague, diffused charm, of silence, of sadness not too sad, of mystery not too baffling, of sunshine very still and golden. A man knew he was in the Wilderness.

Mayday here was softly bright enough, pure sunshine and pine odours, sky without clouds, gentle warmth, the wild azalea in bloom, here and there white stars of the dogwood showing, red birds singing, pine martens busy, too, with their courtship, pale butterflies flitting, the bee haunting the honeysuckle, the snake awakening. Beauty was everywhere, and in portions of the great forest, great as a principality, quiet. In these regions, indeed, the stillness might seem doubled, reinforced, for from other stretches of the Wilderness, specifically from those which had for neighbour the roads, quiet had fled.

To right and left of the Tabernacle church were breastworks, Anderson holding them against Hooker's advance. In the early morning, through the dewy Wilderness, came from Fredericksburg way Stonewall Jackson and the 2d Corps, in addition Lafayette McLaws with his able Roman air and troops in hand. At the church they rested until eleven o'clock, then, gathering up Anderson, they plunged more deeply yet into the Wilderness. They moved in two columns, McLaws leading by the turnpike, Anderson in advance on the Plank Road, Jackson himself with the main body following by the latter road.

Oh, bright-eyed, oh, bronzed and gaunt and ragged, oh, full of quips and cranks, of jest and song and courage, oh, endowed with all quaint humour, invested with all pathos, ennobled by vast struggle with vast adversity, oh, sufferers of all things, hero-fibred, grim fighters, oh, Army of Northern Virginia-all men and all women who have battled salute you, going into the Wilderness this May day with the red birds singing!

On swing the two columns, long, easy, bayonets gleaming, accoutrements jingling, colours deep glowing in the sunshine. To either hand swept the Wilderness, great as a desert, green and jewelled. In the desert to-day were other bands, great and hostile blue-clad bands. Grey and blue,-there came presently a clash that shook the forest and sent Quiet, a fugitive, to those deeper, distant haunts. Three bands of blue, three grey attacks-the air rocked and swung, the pure sunlight changed to murk, the birds and the beasts scampered far, the Wilderness filled with shouting. The blue gave back-gave back somewhat too easily. The grey followed-would have followed at height of speed, keen and shouting, but there rode to the front a leader on a sorrel nag. "General Anderson, halt your men. Throw out skirmishers and flanking parties and advance with caution."

McLaws on the turnpike had like orders. Through the Wilderness, through the gold afternoon, all went quietly. Sound of marching feet, beat of hoof, creak of leather, rumble of wheel, low-pitched orders were there, but no singing, laughing, talking. Skirmishers and flanking parties were alert, but the men in the main column moved dreamily, the spell of the place upon them. With flowering thorn and dogwood and the purple smear of the Judas tree, with the faint gilt of the sunshine, and with wandering gracious odours, with its tangled endlessness and feel as of old time, its taste of sadness, its hint of patience, it was such a seven-leagues of woodland as might have environed the hundred-years-asleep court, palace, and princess. The great dome of the sky sprung cloudless; there was no wind; all things seemed halted, as if they had been thus forever. The men almost nodded as they marched.

Back, steadily, though slowly, gave the blue skirmishers before the grey skirmishers. So thickly grew the Wilderness that it was somewhat like Indian fighting, and no man saw a hundred yards in front of him. Stonewall Jackson's eyes glinted under the forage cap; perhaps he saw more than a hundred yards ahead of him, but if so he saw with the eyes of the mind. He was moving very slowly, more like a tortoise than a thunderbolt. The men said that Old Jack had spring fever.

Grey columns, grey artillery, grey flanking cavalry, all came under slant sunrays to within a mile or two of that old house called Chancellorsville set north of the pike, upon a low ridge in the Wilderness. "Open ground in front-open ground in front-open ground in front! Let Old Jack by-Let Old Jack by! Going to see-Going to see-" Halt!

The beat of feet ceased. The column waited, sunken in the green and gold and misty Wilderness where the shadows were lengthening and the birds were at evensong. In a moment the evensong was hushed and the birds flew away. The same instant brought explanation of that "Don't-care. -On-the-whole-quite-ready-to-retreat.-Merely-following-instructions" attitude for the past two hours of the blue skirmish line. From Chancellorsville, from Hooker's great entrenchments on the high roll of ground, along the road, and on the plateau of Hazel Grove, burst a raking artillery fire. The shells shrieked across the open, plunged into the wood, and exploded before every road-head. Hooker had guns a-many; they commanded the Wilderness rolling on three sides of the formidable position he had seized; they commanded in iron force the clearing along his front. He had breastworks; he had abattis. He had the 12th Corps, the 2d, the 3d, the 5th, the 7th, the 11th; he had in the Wilderness seventy thousand men. His left almost touched the Rappahannock, his right stretched two miles toward Germanna Ford. He was in great strength.

Jeb Stuart with his cavalry, waiting impatiently near Catherine Furnace, found beside him General Jackson on Little Sorrel. "General Stuart, I wish you to ride with me to some point from which those guns can be enfiladed. Order Major Beckham forward with a battery."

This was the heart of the Wilderness. Thick, thick grew the trees and the all-entangling underbrush. Stuart and Stonewall Jackson, staff behind them, pursued a span-wide bridle path, overarched by dogwood and Judas tree. It led at last to a rise of ground, covered by matted growth, towered above by a few pines. Four guns of the Horse Artillery strove, too, to reach the place. They made it at last, over and through the wild tangle, but so narrow was the clearing, made hurriedly to either side of the path, that but one gun at a time could be brought into position. Beckham, commanding now where Pelham had commanded, sent a shell singing against the not distant line of smoke and flame. The muzzle had hardly blazed when two masked batteries opened upon the rise of ground, the four guns, the artillerymen and artillery horses, and upon Stonewall Jackson, Stuart, and the staff.

The great blue guns were firing at short range. A howling storm of shot and shell broke and continued. Through it came a curt order. "Major Beckham, get your guns back. General Stuart, gentlemen of the staff, push out of range through the underwood."

The guns with their maddened horses strove to turn, but the place was narrow. Ere the movement could be made there was bitter loss. Horses reared and fell, dreadfully hurt; men were mown down, falling beside their pieces. It was a moment requiring action decisive, desperately gallant, heroically intelligent. The Horse Artillery drew off their guns, even got their wounded out of the intolerable zone of fire. Stonewall Jackson, with Stuart, watched them do it. He nodded, "Good! good!"

Out of the raking fire, back in the scrub and pine, there came to a halt near him a gun, a Howitzer. He sat Little Sorrel in the last golden light, a light that bathed also the piece and its gunners. The Federal batteries were lessening fire. There was a sense of pause. The two foes had seen each other; now-Army of Northern Virginia, Army of the Potomac-they must draw breath a little before they struck, before they clenched. The sun was setting; the cannonade ceased.

Jackson sat very still in the gold patch where, between two pines, the west showed clear. The aureate light, streaming on, beat full upon the howitzer and on the living and unwounded of its men. Stonewall Jackson spoke to an aide. "Tell the captain of the battery that I should like to speak to him."

The captain came. "Captain, what is the name of the gunner there? The one by the limber with his head turned away."

The captain looked. "Deaderick, sir. Philip Deaderick."

"Philip Deaderick. When did he volunteer?"

The other considered. "I think, general, it was just before Sharpsburg.-It was just after the battle of Groveton, sir."

"Sharpsburg!-I remember now. So he rejoined at Manassas."

"He hadn't been in earlier, sir. He had an accident, he said. He's a fine soldier, but he's a silent kind of a man. He keeps to himself. He won't take promotion."

"Tell him to come here."

Deaderick came. The gold in this open place, before the clear west, was very light and fine. It illuminated. Also the place was a little withdrawn, no one very near, and by comparison with the tornado which had raged, the stillness seemed complete. The gunner stood before the general, quiet, steady-eyed, broad-browed. Stonewall Jackson, his gauntleted hands folded over the saddle bow, gazed upon him fully and long. The gold light held, and the hush of the place; in the distance, in the Wilderness, the birds began again their singing. At last Jackson spoke. "The army will rest to-night. Headquarters will be yonder, by the road. Report to me there at ten o'clock. I will listen to what you have to say. That is all now."

Night stole over the Wilderness, a night of large, mild stars, of vagrant airs, of balm and sweetness. Earth lay in a tender dream, all about her her wild flowers and her fresh-clad trees. The grey and the blue soldiers slept, too, and one dreamed of this and one dreamed of that. Alike they dreamed of home and country and cause, of loved women and loved children and of their comrades. Grey and blue, these two armies fought each for an idea, and they fought well, as people fight who fight for an idea. And that it was not a material thing for which they fought, but a concept, lifted from them something of the grossness of physical struggle, carried away as with a strong wind much of the pettiness of war, brought their strife upon the plane of heroes. There is a beauty and a strength in the thought of them, grey and blue, sleeping in the Wilderness, under the gleam of far-away worlds.

The generals did not sleep. In the Chancellor house, north of the pike, Fighting Joe Hooker held council with his commanders of corps, with Meade and Sickles and Slocum and Howard and Couch. Out in the Wilderness, near the Plank Road, with the light from a camp-fire turning to bronze and wine-red the young oak leaves about them, there held council Robert Edward Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Near them a war horse neighed; there came the tramp of the sentry, then quiet stole upon the scene. The staff was near at hand, but to-night staff and couriers held themselves stiller than still. There was something in the air of the Wilderness; they knew not what it was, but it was there.

Lee and Jackson sat opposite each other, the one on a box, the other on a great fallen tree. On the earth between them lay an unrolled map, and now one took it up and pondered it, and now the other, and now they spoke together in quiet, low voices, their eyes on the map at their feet in the red light. Lee spoke. "I went myself and looked upon their left. It is very strong. An assault upon their centre? Well-nigh impossible! I sent Major Talcott and Captain Boswell again to reconnoitre. They report the front fairly impregnable, and I agree with them that it is so. The right-Here is General Stuart, now, to tell us something of that!"

In fighting jacket and plume Jeb Stuart came into the light. He saluted. "General Lee, their right rests on the Brock road, and the Brock road is as clean of defences as if gunpowder had never been invented, nor breastworks thought of!" He knelt and took up the map. "Here, sir, is Hunting Creek, and here Dowdall's Tavern and the Wilderness church, and here, through the deep woods, runs the old Furnace road, intersecting with the Brock road-"

Lee and his great lieutenant looked and nodded, listening to his further report. "Thank you, General Stuart," said at last the commander-in-chief. "You bring news upon which I think we may act. A flanking movement by the Furnace and Brock roads. It must be made with secrecy and in great strength and with rapidity. General Jackson, will you do it?"

"Yes, sir. Turn his right and gain his rear. I shall have my entire command?"

"Yes, general. Generals McLaws and Anderson will remain with me, demonstrate against these people and divert their attention. When can you start?"

"I will start at four, sir."

Lee rose. "Very good! Then we had better try to get a little sleep. I see Tom spreading my blanket now.-The Wilderness! General, do you remember, in Mexico, the Noche Triste trees and their great scarlet flowers? They grew all about the Church of our Lady of Remedies.-I don't know why I think of them to-night.-Good-night! good-night!"

A round of barren ground, towered over by pines, hedged in by the all-prevailing oak scrub, made the headquarters of the commander of the 2d Corps. Jim had built a fire, for the night wind was strengthening, blowing cool. He had not spared the pine boughs. The flames leaped and made the place ruddy as a jewel. Jackson entered, an aide behind him. "Find out if a soldier named Deaderick is here."

The soldier named Deaderick appeared. Jackson nodded to the aide who withdrew, then crossing to the fire, he seated himself upon a log. It was late; far and wide the troops lay sleeping. A pale moon looked down; somewhere off in the distance an owl hooted. The Wilderness lay still as the men, then roused itself and whispered a little, then sank again into deathlike quiet.

The two men, general and disgraced soldier, held themselves for a moment quiet as the Wilderness. Cleave knew most aspects of the man sitting on the log, in the gleam of the fire. He saw that to-night there was not the steel-like mood, cold, convinced, and stubborn, the wintry harshness, the granite hardness which Stonewall Jackson chiefly used toward offenders. He did not know what it was, but he thought that his general had softened.

With the perception there came a change in himself. He had entered this ring in the Wilderness with a constriction of the heart, a quick farewell to whatever in life he yet held dear, a farewell certainly to the soldier's life, to the army, to the guns, to the service of the country, an iron bracing of every nerve to meet an iron thrust. And now the thrust had not yet come, and the general looked at him quietly, as one well-meaning man looks at another who also means well. He had suffered much and long. Something rose into his throat, the muscles of his face worked slightly, he turned his head aside. Jackson waited another moment,-then, the other having recovered himself, spoke with quietness.

"You did, at White Oak Swamp, take it upon yourself to act, although there existed in your mind a doubt as to whether your orders-the orders you say you received-would bear that construction?"

"Yes, general."

"And your action proved a wrong action?"

"It proved a mistaken action, sir."

"It is the same thing. It entailed great loss with peri

l of greater."

"Yes, general."

"Had the brigade followed there might have ensued a general and disastrous engagement. The enemy were in force there-as I knew. Your action brought almost the destruction of your regiment. It brought the death of many brave men, and to a certain extent endangered the whole. That is so."

"Yes, general. It is so."

"Good! There was an order delivered to you. The man from whose lips you took it is dead. His reputation was that of a valiant, intelligent, and trustworthy man-hardly one to misrepeat an important order. That is so?"

"It is entirely so, sir."

"Good! You say that he brought to you such and such an order, the order, in effect, which, even so, you improperly construed and improperly acted upon, an order, however, which was never sent by me. A soldier who was by testifies that it was that order. Well?"

"That soldier, sir, was a known liar, with a known hatred to his officers."

"Yes. He repeated the order, word for word, as I sent it. How did that happen?"

"Sir, I do not know."

"The officer to whom I gave the order, and who, wrongly enough, transferred it to another messenger, swears that he gave it thus and so."

"Yes, general. He swears it."

A silence reigned in the fire-lit ring. The red light showed form and feature clearly. Jackson sitting on the log, his large hands resting on the sabre across his knees, was full within the glow. It beat even more strongly upon Cleave where he stood. "You believe," said Jackson, "that he swore falsely?"

"Yes, general."

"It is a question between your veracity and his?"

"Yes, general."

"There was enmity between you?"

"Yes, general."

"Where is he now?"

"He is somewhere in prison. He was taken at Sharpsburg."

There fell another silence. The sentry's tread was heard, the crackle of the fire seizing upon pine cone and bough, a low, sighing wind in the wilderness. Jackson spoke briefly. "After this campaign, if matters so arrange themselves, if the officer returns, if you think you can provide new evidence or re-present the old, I will forward, approved, your appeal for a court of inquiry."

"I thank you, sir, with all my heart."

Stonewall Jackson slightly changed his position on the log. Jim tiptoed into the ring and fed again the fire. There was a whinnying of some near-by battery horses, the sound of changing guard, then silence again in the Wilderness. Cleave stood, straight and still, beneath the other's pondering, long, and steady gaze. An aide appeared at an opening in the scrub. "General Fitzhugh Lee, sir." Jackson rose. "You will return to your battery, Deaderick.-Bring General Lee here, captain."

The night passed, the dawn came, red bird and wren and robin began a cheeping in the Wilderness. A light mist was over the face of the earth; within it began a vast shadowy movement of shadowy troops. Silence was so strictly ordered that something approaching it was obtained. There was a certain eeriness in the hush in which the column was formed-the grey column in the grey dawn, in the Wilderness where the birds were cheeping, and the mist hung faint and cold. By the roadside, on a little knoll set round with flowering dogwood, sat General Lee on grey Traveller. A swirl of mist below the two detached them from the wide earth and marching troops, made them like a piece of sculpture seen against the morning sky. Below them moved the column, noiseless as might be, enwound with mist. In the van were Fitzhugh Lee and the First Virginia Cavalry. They saluted; the commander-in-chief lifted his hat; they vanished by the Furnace road into the heart of the Wilderness. Rodes's Division came next, Alabama troops. Rodes, a tall and handsome man, saluted; Alabama saluted. Regiment by regiment they passed into the flowering woods. Now came the Light Division beneath skies with a coral tinge. Ambrose Powell Hill saluted, and all his brigades, Virginia and South Carolina. The guns began to pass, quiet as was constitutionally possible. The very battery horses looked as though they understood that people who were going to turn the flank of a gigantic army in a strong position proceed upon the business without noise. Up rose the sun while the iron fighting men were yet going by. The level rays gilded all metal, gilded Traveller's bit and bridle clasps, gilded the spur of Lee and his sword hilt and the stars upon his collar. The sun began to drink up the mist and all the birds sang loudly. The sky was cloudless, the low thick woodland divinely cool and sweet. Violet and bloodroot, dogwood and purple Judas tree were all bespangled, bespangled with dew.

While the guns were yet quietly rumbling by Stonewall Jackson appeared upon the rising ground. He saluted. Lee put out his hand and clasped the other's. "General, I feel every confidence! I am sure that you are going forth to victory."

"Yes, sir. I think that I am.-I will send a courier back every half hour."

"Yes, that is wise.-As soon as your wagons are by I will make disposition of the twelve thousand left with me. I propose a certain display of artillery and a line of battle so formed as to deceive-and deceive greatly-as to its strength. If necessary we will skirmish hotly throughout the day. I will create the impression that we are about to assault. It is imperative that they do not come between us and cut the army in two."

"I will march as rapidly as may be, sir. The Furnace road, the Brock road, then turn eastward on the Plank road and strike their flank. Good!" He jerked his hand into the air. "I will go now, general."

Lee bent across again. The two clasped hands. "God be with you, General Jackson!"

"And with you, General Lee."

Little Sorrel left the hillock. The staff came up. Stonewall Jackson turned in his saddle, and, the staff following his action, raised his hand in salute to the figure on grey Traveller, above them in the sunlight. Lee lifted his hat, held it so. The others filed by, turned sharply southward, and were lost in the jewelled Wilderness.

The sun cleared the tallest pines; there set in a splendid day. The long, long column, cavalry, Rodes's Division, the Light Division, the artillery, ordnance wagons and ambulances, twenty-five thousand grey soldiers with Stonewall Jackson at their head-the long, long column wound through the Wilderness by narrow, hidden roads. Close came the scrub and pine and all the flowering trees of May. The horsemen put aside vine and bough, the pink honeysuckle brushed the gun wheels; long stretches of the road were grass-grown. Through the woods to the right, by paths nearer yet to the far-flung Federal front, paced ten guardian squadrons. All went silently, all went swiftly. In the Confederate service there were no automata. These thousands of lithe, bronzed, bright-eyed, tattered men knew that something, something, something was being done! Something important that they must all help Old Jack with. Forbidden to talk, they speculated inwardly. "South by west. 'T isn't a Thoroughfare Gap march. They're all here in the Wilderness. We're leaving their centre-their right's somewhere over there in the brush. Shouldn't wonder-Allan Gold, what's the Latin for 'to flank'?-Lieutenant, we were just whispering! Yes, sir.-All right, sir. We won't make no more noise than so many wet cartridges!"

On they swung through the fairy forest, grey, steady, rapidly moving, the steel above their shoulders gleaming bright, the worn, shot-riddled colours like flowers amid the tender, all-enfolding green. The head of the column came to a dip in the Wilderness through which flowed a little creek. It was about nine o'clock in the morning. All the men looked to the right, for they could see the plateau of Hazel Grove and the great Federal intrenchments. "If those fellows look right hard they can see us, too! Can't help it-march fast and get past.-Oh, that's what the officers think, too! Double quick!"

The column crossed the tiny vale. Beyond it the narrow road of bends and turns plunged due south. Now, General Birney, stationed on the high level of Hazel Grove, observed, though somewhat faintly, that movement. He sent a courier to Hooker at Chancellorsville. "Rebel column seen to pass across my front. All arms and wagon train. It has turned to the southward."

"To the south!" said Hooker. "Turned southward. Now what does that mean? It might mean that Sedgwick at Fredericksburg has seized and is holding the road to Richmond. It might mean that Lee contemplated an unobstructed retreat through this Wilderness section southward to Gordonsville, which is not far away. From Gordonsville, he would fall back on Richmond. Say that is what he planned. Then, finding me in strength across his path, he would naturally make some demonstration, and behind it inaugurate a forced march, southward out of this wild place. A retreat to Gordonsville. It's the most probable move. I will send General Sickles toward Catherine Furnace to find out exactly."

Birney from Hazel Grove, Sickles from Chancellorsville, advanced. At Catherine Furnace they found the 23d Georgia, and on both sides of the Plank road discovered Anderson's division. Now began hot fighting in the Wilderness. The brigades of Anderson did gloriously. The 23d Georgia, surrounded at the Furnace, saw fall, in that square of the Wilderness, three hundred officers and men; but those Georgians who yet stood did well, did well! Full in the front of Chancellorsville, McLaws, with his able, Roman air, his high colour, short black beard and crisp speech, handled his troops like a rightly trusted captain of C?sar's. He kept the enemy's attention strained in his direction. Standing yet upon the little hillock, in the midst of the flowering dogwood, a greater than McLaws overlooked and directed all the grey pieces upon the board before Chancellorsville, played, all day, like a master, a skilfully complicated game.

Far in the Wilderness, miles now to the westward, the rolling musketry came to the ears of Stonewall Jackson. He was riding with Rodes at the head of the column. "Good! good!" he said. "That musketry is at the Furnace. General Hooker will attempt to drive between me and General Lee."

An aide of A. P. Hill's approached at a gallop. He saluted, gained breath and spoke. "They're cutting the 23d Georgia to pieces, sir! General Anderson is coming into action-"

A deeper thunder rolling now through the Wilderness corroborated his words. "Good! good!" said Jackson imperturbably. "My compliments to General Hill, and he will detach Archer's and Thomas's brigades and a battalion of artillery. They are to co?perate with General Anderson and protect our rear. The remainder of the Light Division will continue the march."

On past the noon point swung light and shadow. On through the languorous May warmth travelled westward the long column. It went with marked rapidity, emphatic even for the "foot cavalry," went without swerving, without straggling, went like a long, gleaming thunderbolt firmly held and swung. Behind it, sank in the distance the noise of battle. The Army of Northern Virginia knew itself divided, cut in two. Far back in the flowering woods before Chancellorsville, the man on the grey horse, directing here, directing there his twelve thousand men, played his master game with equanimity, trusting in Stonewall Jackson rushing toward the Federal right. Westward in the Wilderness, swiftly nearing the Brock road, the man on the sorrel nag travelled with no backward look. In his right hand was the thunderbolt, and near at hand the place from which to hurl it. He rode like incarnate Intention. The officer beside him said something as to that enormous peril in the rear, driving like a wedge between this hurrying column and the grey twelve thousand before Chancellorsville. "Yes, sir, yes!" said Jackson. "But I trust first in God, and then in General Lee."

The infantry swung into the Brock road. It ran northward; it lay bare, sunny, sleepy, walled in by emerald leaves and white and purple bloom. The grey thunderbolt travelled fast, fast, and at three o'clock its head reached the Plank road. Far to the east, in the Wilderness, the noise of the battle yet rolled, but it came fainter, with a diminishing sound. Anderson, Thomas, and Archer had driven back Sickles. There was a pause by Chancellorsville and Catherine Furnace. Through it and all the while the man on grey Traveller kept with a skill so exquisite that it shaded into a grave simplicity those thousands and thousands and thousands of hostile eyes turned quite from their real danger, centred only on a finely painted mask of danger.

At the intersection of the Brock and the Plank roads, Stonewall Jackson found massed the 1st Virginia cavalry. Upon the road and to either side in the flowering woods, roan and bay and black tossed their heads and moved their limbs amid silver dogwood and rose azalea. The horses chafed, the horsemen looked at once anxious and exultant. Fitzhugh Lee met the general in command. The latter spoke. "Three o'clock. Proceed at once, general, down the Plank road."

"I beg, sir," said the other, "that you will ride with me to the top of this roll of ground in front of us. I can show you the strangest thing!"

The two went, attended only by a courier. The slight eminence, all clad with scrub-oak, all carpeted with wild flowers, was reached. The horsemen turned and looked eastward, the breast-high scrub, the few tender-foliaged young trees sheltering them from view. They looked eastward, and in the distance they saw Dowdall's Tavern. But it was not Dowdall's Tavern that was the strangest thing. The strangest thing was nearer than Dowdall's; it was at no great distance at all. It was a long abattis, and behind the abattis long, well-builded breastworks. Behind the breastworks, overlooked by the little hill, and occupying an old clearing in the Wilderness, was a large encampment-the encampment, in short, of the 11th Army Corps, Howard commanding, twenty regiments, and six batteries. From the little hill where the violets purpled the ground, Stonewall Jackson and the cavalry leader looked and looked in silence. The blue soldiers lay at ease on the tender sward. It was dolce far niente in the Wilderness. The arms were stacked, the arms were stacked. There were cannon planted by the roadside, but where were the cannoneers? Not very near the guns, but asleep on the grass, or propped against trees smoking excellent tobacco, or in the square on the greensward playing cards with laughter! Battery horses were grazing where they would. Far and wide were scattered the infantry, squandered like plums on the grass. They lay or strolled about in the slant sunshine, in the balmy air, in the magic Wilderness-they never even glanced toward the stacked arms.

On the flowery slope across the road, Stonewall Jackson sat Little Sorrel and gazed upon the pleasant, drowsy scene. His eyes had a glow, his cheek a warm colour beneath the bronze. Staff, and indeed the entire 2d Corps, had remarked from time to time this spring upon Old Jack's evident good health. "Getting younger all the time! This war climate suits him. Time the peace articles are signed he'll be just a boy again! Arrived at-what do you call it? perennial youth." Now he and Little Sorrel stood upon the flowering hilltop, and his lips moved. "Old Jack's praying-Old Jack's praying!" thought the courier.

Fitz Lee said something, but the general did not attend. In another moment, however, he spoke curt, decisive, final. He spoke to the courier. "Tell General Rodes to move across the Plank road. He is to halt at the turnpike. I will join him there. Move quietly."

The courier turned and went. Stonewall Jackson regarded again the scene before him-abattis and breastworks and rifle-pits untenanted, guns lonely in the slanting sunlight, lines of stacked arms, tents, fluttering flags, the horses straying at their will, cropping the tender grass, in a corner of a field men butchering beeves-regarded the German regiments, Schimmelpfennig and Krzyzancerski, regarded New York and Wisconsin, camped about the Wilderness church. Up from the clearing, across to the thick forest, floated an indescribable humming sound, a confused droning as from a giant race of bees. The shadows of the trees were growing long, the sun hung just above the pines of the Wilderness. "Good! good!" said Stonewall Jackson. His eyes, beneath the old, old forage cap, had a sapphire depth and gleam. A colour was in his cheek. "Good! good!" he said, and jerked his hand into the air. Suddenly turning Little Sorrel, he left the hill-riding fast, elbows out, and big feet, down into the woods, his sabre leaping as he rode.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top