THE LAST DAYS OF LEE AND HIS PALADINS.
STAFF OFFICER SERVING IN VIRGINIA.
FROM THE MSS. OF
COLONEL SURRY, OF EAGLE'S NEST.
JOHN ESTEN COOKE
AUTHOR OF "SURRY OF EAGLE'S NEST."
Nec aspera terrent.
On the wall over the mantel-piece, here in my quiet study at Eagle's-Nest, are two crossed swords. One is a battered old sabre worn at Gettysburg, and Appomattox; the other, a Federal officer's dress sword captured in 1863.
It was a mere fancy to place them there, as it was a whim to hang upon that nail yonder, the uniform coat with its stars and braid, which Stuart wore on his famous ride around McClellan in 1862. Under the swords hang portraits of Lee, Jackson, and Stuart. Jackson wears his old coat, and his brow is raised as though he were looking out from beneath his yellow old cadet cap. Stuart is seated, grasping his sabre, with his plumed hat resting on his knee. His huge beard flows on his breast, his eyes are clear and penetrating, and beneath the picture I have placed a slip cut from one of his letters to me, and containing the words, "Yours to count on, J.E.B. Stuart." Lastly, the gray commander-in-chief looks with a grave smile over his shoulder, the eyes fixed upon that excellent engraving of the "Good Old Rebel," a private of the Army of Northern Virginia, seated on a log, after the war, and reflecting with knit brows on the past and the present.
From this sketch of my surroundings, worthy reader, you will perceive, that I amuse myself by recalling the old times when the Grays and Blues were opposed to each other. Those two swords crossed—those pictures of Lee, Jackson, Stuart, and the "Old Rebel"—you are certain to think that the possessor of them is unreconstructed (terrible word!) and still a rebel!
But is it wrong to remember the past? I think of it without bitterness. God decreed it—God the all-wise, the all-merciful—for his own purpose. I do not indulge any repinings, or reflect with rancor upon the issue of the struggle. I prefer recalling the stirring adventure, the brave voices, the gallant faces: even in that tremendous drama of 1864-5, I can find something besides blood and tears: even here and there some sunshine!
In this last series of my memoirs I shall deal chiefly with that immense campaign. In the first series which, I trust the reader of these pages will have perused, I followed Jackson through his hard battles to the fatal field of Chancellorsville. In this volume I shall beg the reader first to go with Stuart from the great review of his cavalry, in June, 1863, to the dark morning of May 11, 1864, at Yellow Tavern. Then the last days will follow.
I open the drama with that fine cavalry review in June, 1863, on the Plains of Culpeper.
It is a pleasure to return to it—for Gettysburg blackened the sunshine soon. The column thundered by; the gay bugles rang; the great banner floated. Where is that pageant to-day? Where the old moons of Villon? Alas! the strong hours work their will. June, 1863, is long dead. The cavalry horses, if they came back from the wars, are ploughing. The rusty sabres stick fast in the battered old scabbards. The old saddles are shabby—and our friends take them away from us. The old buttons are tarnished, and an order forbids our wearing them. The brass bands clash no more; and the bugles are silent. Where are the drums and the bugles? Do they beat the long roll at the approach of phantom foes, or sound the cavalry charge in another world? They are silent to-day, and have long disappeared; but I think I hear them still in my dreams!
It is in June, 1863, therefore, worthy reader, that I open my volume. Up to that time I had gone with Jackson's "foot cavalry," marching slowly and steadily to battle. Now, I was to follow the gay and adventurous career of the Virginia Rupert—Stuart, the Knight of the Black Plume! If you are willing to accompany me, I promise to show you some animated scenes. You will hear Stuart laugh as he leads the charge, or jest with his staff, or sing his gay cavalry songs. But, alas! we shall not go far with him; and when he leaves us a sort of shadow will fall upon the landscape. From that May, 1864, laughter will seldom be heard. The light which shines on the great picture will be red and baleful. Blood will gush on desperate fields—men will fall like dry leaves in the winds of autumn.
The crimson torrent will sweep away a whole generation almost—and the Red Cross flag will go down in blood.
The current of events will drag us to Petersburg, and those last months which witnessed the final wrestle in this war of the giants.
Let us bask in the sunshine, before breasting the storm. The pages of blood and mourning will soon be opened—meanwhile we will laugh.
In this June, 1863, faces smile still, and cheers resound. Bugles are ringing, swords clashing, cannon thundering.
Lee's old army is full of ardor, and seventy thousand men shout! "Pennsylvania! Pennsylvania!"
THE LAST DAYS OF LEE AND HIS PALADINS.
THE CAVALRY REVIEW.
On a beautiful day of June, 1863, the plains of Culpeper, in Virginia, were the scene of an imposing pageant.
Stuart's cavalry was passing in review before Lee, who was about to commence his march toward Gettysburg.
Those of my readers who were fortunate enough to be present, will not forget that scene. They will remember the martial form of Stuart at the head of his sabreurs; how the columns of horsemen thundered by the great flag; how the multitude cheered, brightest eyes shone, the merry bands clashed, the gay bugles rang; how the horse artillery roared as it was charged in mimic battle—while Lee, the gray old soldier, with serene carriage, sat his horse and looked on.
Never had the fields of Culpeper witnessed a spectacle more magnificent. The sunshine darted in lightnings from the long line of sabres, lit up beautiful faces, and flashed from scarfs, and waving handkerchiefs, rosy cheeks, and glossy ringlets. All was life, and joy, and splendor. For once war seemed turned to carnival; and flowers wreathed the keen edge of the sword.
Among the illustrious figures gazed at by the crowd, two were the observed of all the observers—those of Lee and Stuart.
Lee sat his powerful horse, with its plain soldierly equipments, beneath the large flag. He was clad in a gray uniform, almost without mark of rank. Cavalry boots reached nearly to his knees; as usual he wore no sword; over his broad brow drooped a plain brown felt hat, without tassel or decoration. Beneath, you saw a pair of frank and benignant, but penetrating eyes, ruddy cheeks, and an iron gray mustache and beard, both cut close. In the poise of the stately head, as in the whole carriage of his person, there was something calm, august and imposing. This man, it was plain, was not only great, but good;—the true type of the race of gentlemen of other times.
Stuart, the chief of cavalry of the army, was altogether different in appearance. Young, ardent, full of life and abandon, he was the true reproduction of Rupert, said to be his ancestor. The dark cavalry feather; the lofty forehead, and dazzling blue eyes; his little "fighting jacket," as he called it, bright with braid and buttons, made a picture. His boots reached to the knee; a yellow silk sash was about his waist; his spurs, of solid gold, were the present of some ladies of Maryland; and with saber at tierce point, extended over his horse's head, he led the charge with his staff, in front of the column, and laughing, as though the notes of the bugle drove him forward.
In every movement of that stalwart figure, as in the glance of the blue eyes, and the laughter curling the huge mustache, could be read youth and joy, and a courage which nothing could bend. He was called a "boy" by some, as Coriolanus was before him. But his Federal adversaries did not laugh at him; they had felt his blows too often. Nor did the soldiers of the army. He had breasted bullets in front of infantry, as well as the sabre in front of cavalry. The civilians might laugh at him—the old soldiers found no fault in him for humming his songs in battle. They knew the man, and felt that he was a good soldier, as well as a great general. He would have made an excellent private, and did not feel "above" being one. Never was human being braver, if he did laugh and sing. Was he not brave? Answer, old sabreurs, whom he led in a hundred charges! old followers of Jackson, with whom he went over the breastworks at Chancellorsville!
Some readers may regard this picture of Stuart as overdrawn; but it is the simple truth of that brave soul. He had his faults; he loved praise, even flattery, and was sometimes irascible—but I have never known a human being more pure, generous and brave.
At sunset the review was over. The long columns of cavalry moved slowly back to their camps. The horse artillery followed; the infantry who had witnessed the ceremony sought their bivouacs in the woods; and the crowd, on foot, on horseback, or in carriages, returned toward the Court-House, whose spires were visible across the fields.
Stuart had approached the flag-staff and, doffing his plumed hat, had saluted Lee, who saluted in return, and complimented the review. After a few moments' conversation, they had then saluted a second time. Lee, followed by his staff, rode toward his quarters; and Stuart set out to return to his own.
We had ridden about half a mile, when Stuart turned his head and called me. I rode to his side.
"I wish you would ride down toward Beverly's Ford, Surry," he said, "and tell Mordaunt to keep a bright lookout to-night. They must have heard our artillery on the other side of the river, and may want to find out what it means."
I saluted, and turned my horse. Stuart cantered on singing.
In a few minutes he was out of sight, and I was riding toward the Rappahannock.
HOW I BECAME A MEMBER OF GENERAL STUART'S STAFF.
If the reader has done me the honor to peruse the first volume of my memoirs, I indulge the vanity of supposing that he will like to be informed how I became a member of General Stuart's staff.
When oaks crash down they are apt to prostrate the saplings growing around them. Jackson was a very tall oak, and I a very humble sapling. When the great trunk fell, the mere twig disappeared. I had served with Jackson from the beginning of the war; that king of battle dead at Chancellorsville, I had found myself without a commander, and without a home. I was not only called upon in that May of 1863, to mourn the illustrious soldier, who had done me the honor to call me his friend; I had also to look around me for some other general; some other position in the army.
I was revolving this important subject in my mind, when I received a note from General J.E.B. Stuart, Jackson's friend and brother in arms. "Come and see me," said this note. Forty-eight hours afterward I was at Stuart's head-quarters, near Culpeper Court-House.
When I entered his tent, or rather breadth of canvas, stretched beneath a great oak, Stuart rose from the red blanket upon which he was lying, and held out his hand. As he gazed at me in silence I could see his face flush.
"You remind me of Jackson," he said, retaining my hand and gazing fixedly at me.
I bowed my head, making no other reply; for the sight of Stuart brought back to me also many memories; the scouting of the Valley, the hard combats of the Lowland, Cold Harbor, Manassas, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, and that last greeting between Jackson and the great commander of the cavalry, on the weird moonlight night at Chancellorsville.
Stuart continued to gaze at me, and I could see his eyes slowly fill with tears.
"It is a national calamity!" he murmured. "Jackson's loss is irreparable!"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
He remained for a moment gazing into my face, then passing his hand over his forehead, he banished by a great effort these depressing memories. His bold features resumed their habitual cheerfulness.
Our dialogue was brief, and came rapidly to the point.
"Have you been assigned to duty yet, my dear Surry?"
"I have not, general."
"Would you like to come with me?"
"More than with any general in the army, since Jackson's death. You know I am sincere in saying that."
"Thanks—then the matter can be very soon arranged, I think. I want another inspector-general, and want you."
With these words Stuart seated himself at his desk, wrote a note, which, he dispatched by a courier to army head-quarters; and then throwing aside business, he began laughing and talking.
For once the supply of red tape in Richmond seemed temporarily exhausted. Stuart was Lee's right hand, and when he made a request, the War Office deigned to listen. Four days afterward, I was seated under the canvas of a staff tent, when Stuart hastened up with boyish ardor, holding a paper.
"Here you are, old Surry,"—when he used the prefix "old" to any one's name, he was always excellently well disposed toward them,—"the Richmond people are prompt this time. Here is your assignment—send for Sweeney and his banjo! He shall play 'Jine the Cavalry!' in honor of the occasion, Surry!"
You see now, my dear reader, how it happened that in June, 1863, Stuart beckoned to me, and gave me an order to transmit to General Mordaunt.
BLUE AND GRAY PHANTOMS.
As I rode toward the Rappahannock to deliver Stuart's order to General Mordaunt, the wide landscape was suddenly lit up by a crimson glare. I looked over my shoulder. The sun was poised upon the western woods, and resembled a huge bloodshot eye. Above it extended a long black cloud, like an eyebrow—and from the cloud issued low thunder.
When a storm is coming, the civilian seeks shelter; but the soldier carrying an order, wraps his cape around him, and rides on. I went on past Brandy and Fleetwood Hill, descended toward the river, entered a great belt of woods—then night and storm descended simultaneously. An artillery duel seemed going on in the clouds; the flickering lightnings amid the branches resembled serpents of fire: the wind rolled through the black wood, tearing off boughs in its passage.
I pushed my horse to full speed to emerge from this scene of crashing limbs and tottering trunks. I had just passed a little stream, when from a by-road on my left came the trample of hoofs. It is good to be on the watch in the cavalry, and I wheeled to the right, listening—when all at once a brilliant flash of lightning showed me, within fifty paces, a column of blue cavalry.
"Halt!" rang out from the column, and a pistol-shot followed.
I did not halt. Capture was becoming a hideous affair in June, 1863. I passed across the head of the column at full speed, followed by bullets; struck into a bridle-path on the right, and pushed ahead, hotly pursued.
They had followed me nearly half a mile, firing on me, and ordering me to halt, when suddenly a sonorous "Halt!" resounded fifty yards in front of me; and a moment afterward, a carbine ball passed through my riding cape.
I drove on at full speed, convinced that these in front were friends; and the chest of my horse struck violently against that of another in the darkness.
"Halt, or you are dead!" came in the same commanding voice.
Another flash of lightning showed me a squadron of gray cavalry: at their head rode a cavalier, well mounted; it was his horse against which I had struck, and he held a cocked pistol to my breast.
The lightning left nothing in doubt. Gray and blue quickly recognized each other. The blue cavalry had drawn rein, and, at that moment, the leader of the grays shouted—"Charge!" A rush of hoofs, and then a quick clash of sabres followed. The adversaries had hurled together. The wood suddenly became the scene of a violent combat.
It was a rough affair. For ten minutes the result was doubtful. The Federal cavalry were apparently commanded by an officer of excellent nerve, and he fought his men obstinately. For nearly a quarter of an hour the wood was full of sabre-strokes, carbine-shots, and yells, which mingled with the roll of the storm. Then the fight ended.
My friend of the cocked pistol threw himself, sabre in hand, upon the Federal front, and it shook, and gave back, and retreated. The weight of the onset seemed to sweep it, inch by inch, away. The blue squadron finally broke, and scattered in every direction. The grays pressed on with loud cheers, firing as they did so:—five minutes afterward, the storm-lashed wood had swallowed pursuers and pursued.
The whole had disappeared like phantom horsemen in the direction of the Rappahannock.
MOHUN AND HIS PRISONER.
Half an hour afterward, the storm had spent its fury, and I was standing by a bivouac fire on the banks of the Rappahannock, conversing with the officer against whom I had driven my horse in the darkness.
Mounted upon a powerful gray, he had led the attack with a sort of fury, and I now looked at him with some curiosity.
He was a man of about thirty, of gaunt face and figure, wearing a hat with a black feather, and the uniform of a colonel of cavalry. The features were regular and might have been called handsome; the eyes, hair, mustache, and imperial—he wore no beard—coal black; the complexion so pale that the effect was startling. More curious than all else, however, was the officer's expression. In the lips and eyes could be read something bitterly cynical, mingled with a profound and apparently ineradicable melancholy. After looking at my new acquaintance for an instant, I said to myself: "This man has either suffered some great grief, or committed some great crime."
His bearing was cold, but courteous.
"I recognized you as soon as I saw you, colonel," he said, in response to my salute. "You probably do not know me, however, as I have just been transferred from the Army of the West. Colonel Mohun, at your service."
I exchanged a pressure of the hand with Colonel Mohun, or, speaking more correctly, I grasped his. It did not return the pressure. I then thanked him for his timely appearance, and he bowed coldly.
"It was lucky that my scout led me in this direction," he said, "that party is whipped back over the river, and will give us no more trouble to-night—the woods are full of their dead and wounded."
As he spoke he took a cigar case from his pocket, and presented it.
"Will you smoke, sir?" he said.
I bowed and selected a cigar. Colonel Mohun imitated me, and was about to commence smoking, when two or three cavalry men were seen approaching through the gloom, apparently escorting some one.
As they drew nearer the figures became plainer in the firelight. The cavalry men had in charge a female prisoner.
She was a woman of petite figure, clad in a handsome gray riding-habit, and mounted upon a superb horse, with rich equipments, apparently belonging to a Federal officer of high rank. From the horse, I glanced at the prisoner's face. It was a strange countenance. She was about twenty-five—her complexion was dead white, except the lips which were as red as carnations; her eyes were large and brilliant, her hair dark and worn plain under a small riding-hat. In one delicately gauntleted hand she held the rein of her horse—with the other, which was ungloved, she raised a lace handkerchief to her lips. On the finger sparkled a diamond.
There was something strange in the expression of this woman. She looked "dangerous" in spite of her calmness.
She sat gazing at some one behind me, with the handkerchief still raised to her lips. Then she took it away, and I could see a smile upon them.
What was the origin of that smile, and at whom was she looking? I turned, and found myself face to face with Colonel Mohun. His appearance almost frightened me. His countenance wore the hue of a corpse, his whole frame shook with quick shudders, and his eyes were distended until the black pupils shone in the centres of two white circles.
Suddenly his teeth clinched audibly; he passed his hand over his forehead streaming with cold sweat; and said in a low voice:
"Then you are not dead, madam?"
"No, sir," the prisoner replied tranquilly.
Mohun gazed at her with a long, fixed look. As he did so his features gradually resumed the cold and cynical expression which I had first observed in them.
"This meeting is singular," he said.
A satirical smile passed over the lips of the prisoner.
"Our last interview was very different, was it not, sir?" she said. "The Nottoway was higher than the Rappahannock is to-night, and you did not expect to meet me again—so soon!"
Mohun continued to gaze at her with the same fixed look.
"No, madam," he said.
"You recall that agreeable evening, do you not, sir?"
Mohun coolly inclined his head.
"And you have not seen me since?"
"You are mistaken!"
"Is it possible that I could have forgotten so pleasing a circumstance, madam?"
"Where and when have I seen you since that time?"
"Everywhere, and at all times!—awake and asleep, day and night!"
"True," he said, with a bitter smile.
"You remember, then! I am not wrong!" exclaimed the prisoner, gazing intently at him.
Mohun raised his head, and I could see the old cynical expression upon his lips.
"Certainly I remember, madam," he said. "Do you think it possible for any one to forget your charming ladyship? And could any thing be more delightful than this interview between two old friends? But let us reserve these sweet confidences, these gushing emotions! One thing only is wanting, to perfect the happiness of this moment; the presence this evening of your dear brother!—but he is doubtless detained elsewhere!"
Mohun's expression was singular as he uttered these words. The prisoner looked at him as he was speaking with an indescribable smile. I can only compare it to that of the swordsman about to deliver a mortal lunge.
"My brother," she said, in accents as soft as a flute; "detained elsewhere, do you say, sir? You are mistaken in supposing so. He commanded the cavalry with which you were fighting to-night!"
At these words, uttered in a strange, mocking voice, I saw Mohun start as if a rattlesnake had bitten his heel. With all his self-possession he could not restrain this exhibition of emotion.
"Impossible! You are deceiving me—"
The prisoner interrupted him with a gay laugh.
"So you do not believe me," she said; "you think, my dear sir, that everybody is dead but yourself! Dismiss that idea from your mind! I am not dead, since we have the pleasure of again meeting in the flesh. He is not dead! No! it was Colonel Mortimer Darke whom you fought to-night. This is his horse which I borrowed to take a short ride. I have been captured, but he is neither dead nor captured, and you will doubtless receive some friendly message from him soon."
Under the mocking accents and the satirical glance, it was easy to read profound hatred. The speaker could not hide that. At that moment she resembled a tigress about to spring.
Mohun had listened with absorbing attention as his companion spoke; but, as on the first occasion, he speedily suppressed his agitation. His face was now as cold and unmoved as though moulded of bronze.
"So be it, madam," he said; "I will respond as I best can to such message as he may send me. For yourself, you know me well, and, I am glad to see, indulge no apprehensions. The past is dead; let it sleep. You think this interview is painful to me. You deceive yourself, madam; I would not exchange it for all the wealth of two hemispheres."
And calling an officer, he said:—
"You will conduct this lady to General Stuart, reporting the circumstances attending her capture."
Mohun made a ceremonious bow to the prisoner as he spoke, saluted me in the same manner, and mounting his horse, rode back at the head of his column.
The prisoner, escorted by the young officer, and still riding her fine horse, had already disappeared in the darkness.
An hour afterward, I had delivered my message to Mordaunt, and was returning by the road over Fleetwood Hill, thinking of the singular dialogue between Mohun and the gray woman.
What had these worthies meant by their mysterious allusions? How had Mohun found himself face to face on this stormy night, with two human beings whom he thought dead?
These questions puzzled me for half an hour; then I gave up the mystery, laughing. An hour afterward I had passed through Culpeper Court-House, crossed the fields, and had reached General Stuart's headquarters.
Stuart's tent, or rather the strip of canvas which he called one, was pitched beneath a great oak on a wooded knoll about a mile south of the little village. Above it drooped the masses of fresh June foliage; around, were grouped the white canvas "flies" of the staff; in a glade close by gleamed the tents d'abri of the couriers. Horses, tethered to the trees, champed their corn in the shadow; in the calm, summer night, the battle-flag drooped and clung to its staff. Before the tent of Stuart, a man on guard, with drawn sabre, paced to and fro with measured steps.
A glance told me that Mohun's singular prisoner had arrived. A courier was holding her fine animal near the general's tent, and as I dismounted, three figures' appeared in the illuminated doorway. These were the figures of Stuart, the "gray woman," and a young aid-de-camp.
"Farewell, madam," said Stuart, bowing and laughing; "I am sorry to have made your acquaintance under circumstances so disagreeable to you; but I trust you will appreciate the situation, and not blame me."
"Blame you? Not in the least, general. You are a very gallant man."
And the gay words were accompanied by a musical laugh.
"You will have an opportunity of seeing the Confederate capital," said Stuart, smiling.
The lady made a humorous grimace.
"And of abusing me upon the way thither; and afterward on the route to Port Monroe and Washington, as you will not be detained, I am sure."
"I shall not abuse you, sir. You are the noblest gentleman I have ever known."
[Footnote 1: The real words of Stuart's prisoner]
And with mutual salutes they parted—the young aid-de-camp accompanying the lady to her horse, and aiding her to mount. They then set forward toward the Court-House. Stuart had ordered the prisoner to be conducted thither, and detained at the village tavern, under guard, until morning, when she would be sent to Richmond.
As they disappeared, I entered the general's tent, and found him laughing. Leaning one hand upon his desk, covered with papers, upon which rested his feather-decorated hat, he carelessly played with the tassel of his yellow sash with the other hand. His blue eyes sparkled, and his mustache curled with humor.
"That is really a beauty, Surry?" he said, "and I have laughed heartily."
He threw himself on his red blanket as he spoke, and began playing with his two setter pups, whose names were "Nip" and "Tuck." He had brought them out of the lines on his saddle.
"Well, you are really a magician," I said. "You charm the evil spirit, and make prisoners laugh."
Stuart laughed in reply.
"That is a curious person that Mohun sent me," he said; "at first she was disdainful enough; but I paid her a few compliments, and now she is in an excellent humor, as you saw."
"But what about the fight?"
I made my report of the events of the evening.
"Well, Mohun is a trump," said Stuart. "A new man, but seems made of the right stuff—real steel. What does Mordaunt say of the attack?"
"Only a scout."
"Right, and this lady is our spoil! She is handsome, is she not? But a more curious face I have never seen. White cheeks and red lips—a sort of devil and angel mixed! Who is she, I wonder, and what was her errand. Something is under it. She gave her name as 'Mrs. Darke,'—and her horse made me break the tenth commandment, Surry! Lady and courser are splendid."
"She is certainly a beauty."
"And what eyes!"
Stuart remained silent for some moments, and then I heard him sigh.
"Do you know, my dear Surry," he said, "that if people heard us talk in this way, they would call us libertines—immoral—any thing? There are two things that people will not disbelieve about me—that I am impure, and a drunkard! Do you know what a good man was heard to say of me the other day? 'Stuart would be one of the greatest soldiers in the army, if he did not drink so hard!' And others add: 'if he were not a libertine.' Well, need I defend myself to you, from these charges? I promised my mother in my childhood, never to touch ardent spirits, and a drop has never passed my lips, except the wine of the communion. I know I need not tell you that I am equally guiltless of the other imputation. That person does not live who can say that I ever did any thing improper of that description. And yet I am a drunkard—a libertine—I, who never touched drink, and love but one person in this world!"
[Footnote 1: This was actually said of Stuart.]
[Footnote 2: His words]
Stuart's head sank, and he uttered a weary sigh.
"They will not let me alone," he muttered, "and yet I am here fighting for my country. But I defy them to take my good name away from me, Surry!"
And he rose to his feet.
"General Lee knows me! Jackson knew me! I have the regard of the one, and I had the love of the other. What do I care? If my children only will not hear these ignoble charges! One can never hear them, Surry— my beloved little Flora! She died while I was fighting near Middleburg in the fall of '62—that nearly broke me down—"
And Stuart paused and covered his eyes with his hand. Between the fingers I saw a tear.
For a moment his breast heaved—something like a sob issued from the brave lip, whereon the heavy mustache trembled.
"I think of her often—I shall never get over her death, Surry!" he murmured. "They think me hard and cold, and bad perhaps—it is nothing. Since she died I care less for men's opinion, and only try to do my duty, till the ball comes that will end me."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
And dashing a tear from his eyes, Stuart walked to the door of his tent, from which he gazed forth upon the stars.
Five minutes passed thus, and I did not speak. Then all at once I heard Stuart call out: "Orderly!"
"Yes, sir," came from the man on post near the tent.
"Tell Sweeney to come and bring his banjo!"
And walking fifty steps, Stuart caressed the glossy neck of his mare "Lady Margaret," who was tethered to a bough, and looked around affectionately at her master.
When he returned he was humming "The dew lay on the blossom," and following him was Sweeney—the same old Sweeney!—ever mild, courteous, almost sad, doffing his cap, saluting with simple grace, and tuning his banjo.
In a moment the tent, the wooded knoll, the whole vicinity was ringing with the uproarious notes of the mirth-inspiring banjo; and Sweeney was chanting, as only that great master could chant, the mighty epic of the sabreurs of Stuart:—
"If you want to have a good time Jine the cavalry, Bully Boys, hey!"
The staff and couriers quickly assembled, the servants were grouped in the starlight, the horses beneath the boughs turned their intelligent heads—and leading in the uproarious chorus might have been heard the sonorous and laughing voice of Stuart.
The festivities were kept up until nearly midnight.
Then Stuart yawned; said with a laugh, "Good morning, gentle-men" as was his habit when he wished to work; and the tent was soon deserted.
I retired to rest, but at three in the morning felt a hand upon my shoulder.
"The general is going to move, colonel, and wishes to see you," said the orderly.
I rose, made my brief toilet, and went toward Stuart's tent where a light was shining. He was writing busily at his desk, as fresh and gay as on the preceding evening. His enormous constitution defied fatigue.
All at once I saw that there was another personage in the tent. He was a young man of about twenty, of slight figure, beardless face, and an expression so shy and retiring that he seemed ready to blush if you spoke to him. He wore, nevertheless, the uniform of a captain of artillery; and I remember wondering how this girlish and shrinking personage, with the large, sad eyes, had come to hold a commission.
"Captain Davenant, of my horse artillery, Colonel Surry," said Stuart.
The youth colored, and then with an air of painful embarrassment took a step forward and pressed my hand. The grasp of the slender fingers was like the grip of a steel vice.
"Davenant has been on a scout across the Rappahannock, to keep his hand in," said Stuart, busily writing. "My horse artillery boys do a little of every thing—and Davenant is a wild-cat, Surry, with a touch of the bull dog, in spite of his looks!"
The young officer drew back blushing more than ever at these words. His confusion seemed to deprive him of the power of utterance.
"I'll bet he's blushing now!" said Stuart, laughing and continuing to write with his back turned, as he spoke. "He is blushing or sighing—for the poor Yankees he has killed, doubtless!"
"You are laughing at me, general," said the young man timidly. "Well, my laughter won't hurt you, Davenant. I never joke with people I don't like. But to business. The enemy are going to attack me, Surry. Get ready, I am going to move."
The voice came like an echo. Then at the door appeared the gigantic, black-bearded Lieutenant Hagan, chief of the general's escort. Have you forgotten him, my dear reader?—his huge figure, his mighty beard, the deep thunder of his tones? I showed you the brave soldier in 1861 and '62. In 1863 his beard was heavier, his voice more like thunder—when the giant walked along he seemed to shake the ground.
"I am going to move in half an hour, Hagan," said Stuart, still writing busily. "Head-quarters will be established on Fleetwood Hill, beyond Brandy; my horse!"
Hagan saluted and vanished without uttering a word. In five minutes the camp was buzzing, and "Lady Margaret" was led up.
"Come on, Surry! Come on, Davenant! I will beat you to the Court-House!"
And Stuart buckled on his sword, drew on his gauntlets, and mounted his horse. I was beside him. Not to be ready when Stuart was—was to be left behind. He waited for nobody. His staff soon learned that.
As Davenant's horse was awaiting him, he was as prompt as Stuart desired. In a minute we were all three riding at full speed toward the village. Stuart was playing with his glove, which he had taken off and dangled to and fro. His brows were knit, and he was reflecting. We did not interrupt him, and in ten minutes we were all clattering over the main street of the hamlet.
Stuart pushed on by the tavern, without pausing, in the direction of Fleetwood, when just as he reached the eastern suburbs of the town a small one-horse wagon, leaving the place, attracted his attention. There was just sufficient light to make out the figures in the wagon. There were two. One was a portly and plainly clad old countryman, with a prominent nose, a double chin, and fat hands decorated with pinchbeck rings. Beside him sat an old woman, as fat as himself, wearing a faded calico gown, a "coal-scuttle" bonnet, and a huge ruffled cap beneath.
Stuart looked keenly at the wagon, called to the driver to halt, and demanded whither he was going, and on what business. The old countryman smiled. The question seemed to strike him as absurd, and his explanation was simple and calculated to remove all suspicion. He stated that his name was Brown—that he lived near the village; had brought in a load of vegetables to sell, on the preceding evening—some friends had persuaded him and "his old woman" to spend the night, and they were now going home.
Stuart peered under the coal-scuttle bonnet.
"And this is your 'old woman' my friend," he said with a laugh.
"Jest so, sir," was the wheezy reply of the fat old countryman, smiling sweetly. "You see she would come along, sir. Womankind is mighty contrary!"
"A profound sentiment!" laughed Stuart, and riding on without further words, he left the countryman free to proceed on his way.
We crossed a little stream, rode on toward Fleetwood, and had nearly reached Brandy when Stuart suddenly reined in his horse.
"Do you know what I think," he said, "that I have done a foolish thing?"
"To let that old fellow go on. I don't like his looks."
"The old countryman?"
"Yes; I wish I had arrested him—him and his wife."
"I have an instinct about rascals, Surry; and something tells me that I have been guilty of an imprudence."
"Was not his explanation satisfactory?"
"What could be wrong?"
"And his 'old woman,'" I said, laughing; "think of that highly respectable dame."
"I like her least of all!"
"If you choose."
"I think your instinct misleads you this time, general."
"I think not."
"Well, we will see."
And we did see.
In two hours the head-quarters tents were pitched upon Fleetwood Hill beyond Brandy, and Stuart sent his provost marshal to Culpeper Court-House, with orders to conduct the prisoner taken by Mohun on the preceding night, to General Lee, for examination.
An hour afterward the worthy provost returned in hot haste with the astounding information that the fair lady was nowhere to be found. She had disappeared from her chamber, none knew how, before daylight, and as a notoriously suspected individual who had lately been hanging round the tavern had disappeared too, it was probable that they had gone off together. Upon this point, a note left by the lady directed to "General Stuart" would probably give information. This had been found upon her table. And the provost wound up by handing the note to Stuart.
He read it with an air of decided ill-humor. Then throwing it upon his desk, burst into a laugh.
"Well, Surry," he said, "who is right and who is wrong, now? Read that!"
And he pointed to the note, which I opened and read. It was in a delicate female hand, and ran as follows:—
"General Stuart will pardon the attempt his captive is about to make, to effect her escape. He made himself quite charming in their brief interview, but liberty is sweet. Finding a friend unexpectedly in this quarter of the world, I have made every arrangement with him; he is a great master of disguises, and, though the travelling costume which I shall adopt will make me look hideous, I hope it will enable me, before sunrise, to pass a private ford, known to my friend alone, and reach the opposite bank of the Rappahannock.
"Farewell, my dear general. If all the rebels were like yourself, I might change my politics. I have but one other friend in your army—Colonel Mohun, of the cavalry. Present my regards to him, and say that we will meet again."
That was all. I raised my eyes from the paper, and looked at the general with stupefaction.
"Then that 'old woman' was the lady?"
"And we are fooled?"
"Completely. They are by this time on the other side of the Rappahannock."
With these words, Stuart dismissed the whole subject, turned to his desk, and in a moment was busy at his official writing.
THE BALL BEFORE THE BATTLE.
On the same evening I was riding with Stuart toward Culpeper Court-House.
"Do you know where we are going, Surry?" he said, with a laugh.
"I can guess, I think."
"To the ball given by the young officers to the Charlottesville belles tonight."
"You are wrong, old fellow. I don't dare to go there."
"Well, that is the word," he replied; "I am not afraid of the Yankees, but I am of gossips—above all, of the valorous correspondents of the newspapers."
"I begin to understand now."
"They are dangerous."
Stuart cantered on, playing with his glove as usual. "Think of Messieurs the bomb-proof critics!" he laughed. "They already say I reviewed the cavalry with a wreath of flowers around my horse's neck."
"Is it possible?"
"They say so everywhere; and I will tell you the foundation for the charge. In passing through the Court-House on the morning of the review, a young lady friend of mine ran out from her house and threw a wreath over the neck of my horse. Well, I think it is something to be courteous in this world. I did not throw it off. I thanked her, rode on, and only removed it when I got out of sight. Meeting General Lee, I told him of it, laughing, and he said, with a smile: 'Why did you not wear it?' I might as well have done so, Surry, for you see I have the credit of it. Why try to be temperate, and pure, and soldierly? I am a drunkard, a libertine, and a popinjay! But I care nothing. I intend to do my duty, old fellow, and the next few days will probably show if I can fight."
[Footnote 1: Fact.]
With which words Stuart broke into a song, cantered on more rapidly, and passing without drawing rein through the Court-House, soon reached General Lee's head-quarters on an eminence beyond.
Here he remained for an hour, in private interview with the commander-in-chief. Finally, they came out together. General Lee in his plain uniform, with that sedate dignity of bearing which made the gray old cavalier so superb. I had the honor to receive his salute, and to press his hand, and then I set out with General Stuart for Fleetwood.
In passing through the Court-House we observed the windows of a large building all ablaze with lights, and heard the merry notes of music. Stuart drew rein.
"I think I will drop in for a few minutes, in spite of every thing!" he said. "See the end of all my excellent resolutions, Surry!"
And rapidly dismounting, Stuart entered the ball-room. I followed.
If the review was imposing, the ball was charming. Youths and maidens had assembled promptly at the sound of music, and, if I were a poet or a penny-a-liner, my dear reader, I would compose a fine description of the merry spectacle. But alas! I am neither; and feel unequal to the "ornate" style of writing. I am only a battered old militaire, with a number of great events to speak of. Look in the newspapers of that period for an account of the assembly.
Let me say, however, in passing, that there was something sad as well as joyful, gloomy as well as brilliant, in all that echoing laughter, and the movements of these gay figures, on the eve of the bloody battle of Fleetwood. Girls were smiling upon youths who in twelve hours would be dead. Lips were shaping gallant compliments—soon they were going to utter the death-groan. All went merry as a marriage-bell, and they danced to the joyous music. Soon the cannon would begin to roll, and the youths would charge to that stormy music as they danced to this.
I was gazing at the lively assemblage—at the undulating forms moving to and fro, the gay uniforms, the fluttering scarfs, the snowy arms, the rosy cheeks, when my attention was attracted by a figure which made me lose sight of all else.
It was that of a young girl about twenty, tall, stately, and beautiful. Her dark hair was carried back in glossy waves, and ended in profuse curls. Her cheeks resembled blush roses; the eyes were large, brilliant, and full of laughing hauteur; the lips red, and wreathed into a dazzling smile, which was the perfection of satirical mirth.
I grow extravagant; but this young girl was superb. There was something queen like and imposing in her movements and whole appearance. She seemed to look down on the crowd with satirical disdain, and the gay youths who surrounded her were every instant struck by the bright shafts of a wit which spared nothing.
Who was this dangerous beauty, who received the attentions of the young officers with so much careless disdain? I asked that question of a friend and he replied:
"Miss Georgia Conway, a daughter of Judge William Conway."
"Ah," I said, "the statesman?—the successor of Randolph in bitter oratory?"
"Yes, and yonder he is."
I looked in the direction indicated, and saw an elderly gentleman of small stature, with long gray hair, and lips full of benignant smiles. He wore a suit of black, and there was something courtly and attractive in every movement of the slender figure. His low bow and sweet smile were the perfection of old-time courtesy.
I was still looking at this gentleman, whose fame had extended throughout Virginia and the whole South, when a familiar voice near me, attracted my attention. It was that of Captain Davenant, the young officer of the horse artillery, and glancing in the direction of the voice I saw him bending over a young lady who was seated and conversing with him. She was a girl of seventeen, with blue eyes, auburn hair, and a complexion as fair as a lily. As Davenant addressed her in low tones, she gazed up into his face with an expression of confiding affection. In the eyes of the young officer I could read a profound and ardent love.
Turning to my friend I inquired the name of the young lady, in turn.
"Miss Virginia Conway," he replied, "the only sister of Miss Georgia."
He had scarcely uttered the words, when Davenant's interview with the young lady terminated in a very singular manner. Suddenly Judge Conway passed through the crowd, reached the spot where the young people were conversing, and darting a glance of positive fury at the youth—a glance which made his eyes resemble coals of fire—offered his arm to his daughter, and abruptly bore her away.
Davenant's face flushed crimson, and his eyes darted flame. He took a step as though about to follow—but all at once he stopped.
Then from red his face became pale. The old expression of sadness returned to his lips. With head bent down, and a faint color stealing over his cheeks, he went toward the door, and passed though it, and disappeared.
Before I had time to reflect upon this singular incident, I heard the voice of Stuart.
"Come, Surry! to horse! unless you wish to remain!" he said.
"Ready, general!" I replied.
And in five minutes we were galloping toward Fleetwood.
"A gay ball," said Stuart, as we rode along; "but do you remember my instinct, Surry?"
"Perfectly, general. Has it told you something on the present occasion?"
"You have heard of the famous ball at Brussells, broken up by the guns of Waterloo?"
"Well, I think that this one will prove similar—that cannon are going to thunder before the music stops."
Stuart had scarcely spoken when rapid hoof-strokes were heard in front, and a horseman shot by.
"Have you seen General Stuart?" said a voice in the darkness.
"Here I am—what news, Stringfellow?"
The horseman drew rein so suddenly that his horse was thrown upon his haunches. "You will be attacked at daylight, general."
"The whole Yankee cavalry, with infantry and artillery supports."
"All right; ride back with me, and tell me every thing, Stringfellow."
In half an hour we were at head-quarters. Stuart dismounted and entered his tent.
"You see I was right, Surry," he said turning toward me, "and there is something in my instinct after all!"
At daylight a long thunder came up from the woods of the Rappahannock. The greatest cavalry combat of the war had begun.
At that sound Stuart leaped to the saddle, and rode rapidly toward the front. Fifteen minutes afterward his head-quarters had vanished. On the green slope of Fleetwood not a tent was visible.
Is the reader familiar with the country along the Upper Rappahannock? If so, he will remember that the river is crossed in Culpeper by numerous fords. The principal—beginning on the left, that is to say, up the river—are Welford's, Beverly's, the Railroad bridge, and Kelly's fords.
Stuart's left, under William H.F. Lee, was opposite Welford's; his centre, under Jones, opposite Beverly's; his right, under Hampton, toward Kelly's; and a force under Robertson was posted in the direction of Stevensburg, to guard the right flank. The whole amounted to about seven or eight thousand cavalry.
The Federal column which now advanced to attack it, is said to have embraced all the cavalry of General Hooker's army; and must have numbered more than twelve thousand sabres.
Stuart rode on rapidly down Fleetwood Hill, and was soon opposite Beverly's Ford where the enemy had crossed in force. General Jones was heavily engaged, and the Napoleons of the horse artillery were roaring steadily. Every moment the round shot crashed, or the shell tore through the woods about three hundred yards in front of the pieces where the dismounted cavalry of the enemy had effected a lodgment. They kept up a hot fire at the cannoneers, and the steady rattle of carbines further up the river told that Lee was also engaged.
In face of the bursting shell, the blue tirailleurs could not advance; and Stuart sent an order to Hampton to move in and attack on the right.
The troopers of the Gulf States advanced at the word; their dense column was seen slowly moving, with drawn sabre, across the plain; the moment of decisive struggle seemed rapidly approaching, when suddenly a heavy blow was struck at Stuart's rear.
I had been directed by him to ascertain if "every thing had been sent off from Fleetwood," and to see that no papers had been dropped there in the hurry of departure. Going back at a gallop I soon reached the hill, and rode over the ground recently occupied by the head-quarters. The spot seemed swept. Not a paper was visible. All that I could see was a withered bouquet dropped by some young officer of the staff—a relic, no doubt, of the last night's ball at the village.
I had already turned to ride back to Stuart, when my attention was attracted by a column of cavalry advancing straight on Brandy—that is, upon Stuart's rear. What force was that? Could it be the enemy? It was coming from the direction of Stevensburg; but how could it have passed our force there?
"Look!" I said to an officer of the horse artillery, one battery of which was left in reserve on the hill, "look! what column is that?"
"It must be Wickham's," was his reply.
"I am sure they are Yankees!"
"Impossible!" he exclaimed.
But our doubts were soon terminated. From the rapidly advancing column two guns shot out and unlimbered. Then two white puffs of smoke spouted from their muzzles, and the enemy's shell burst directly in our faces.
The horse artillery returned the fire, and I hastened back with the intelligence to Stuart.
"It is only a squadron, I suppose," he replied with great coolness. "Go back and get all the cavalry you can, and charge the guns and bag them!"
[Footnote: His words]
It is impossible to imagine any thing calmer than the speaker's voice. I knew, however, that the attack was more critical than he supposed; hastened back; came up with two regiments; and they ascended the hill at full gallop, leaping the ravines, and darting toward the crest.
Suddenly it blazed with staggering volleys. The Federal cavalry had rushed straight across the fields toward the hill—ascended its western slope as we ascended the eastern, and met us—coming on, in squadron front, they struck the Confederates advancing in column of fours, and in confusion from the rough ground—they recoiled—were thrown into disorder; and with loud cheers the enemy swarmed all over Fleetwood Hill.
The battle seemed lost. Stuart was cut off, and hemmed in between two powerful bodies of Federal cavalry, supported by infantry and artillery.
All that saved us at that moment, was the "do or die" fighting of the cavalry and horse artillery.
On the crest of Fleetwood took place a bitter and obstinate struggle. It was one of those fights of the giants, which once witnessed is never forgotten. The cannoneers of the horse artillery fought as savagely, hand to hand, as the regular cavalry; and the crest became the scene of a mad wrestle, rather of wild beasts than men.
All at once the form of Davenant appeared amid the smoke. He had come rapidly from the front, and now threw himself into the combat like the bloodhound to which Stuart had compared him. His sad smile had disappeared; his cheeks were flushed; his eyes fiery;—leaping from his horse, he seized the sponge-staff of a gun, from which all the cannoneers had been driven, and ramming home a charge of canister, directed the gun upon a column of the enemy.
Before he could fire, a Federal cavalryman rode at him, and cut furiously at his bare head, with the full weight of his sabre.
Davenant did not try to draw his sword—the attempt would have been useless. In his hand he had a weapon; and with a swing of the rammer he swept the cavalryman from the saddle. He fell headlong, covered with blood; and Davenant aimed and fired the charge of canister—leaped upon his horse—and drawing his sword, plunged into the melee, his head bare, his eyes flaming, his voice rising loud and inspiring, above the combat.
[Footnote 1: Fact.]
It was a stubborn, a superb struggle. Three times the enemy's guns were charged and captured; three times the Confederates were furiously charged in turn, and the pieces recaptured by the enemy. A final charge of the gray cavalry carried all before it. The Federal artillery was seized upon, and their cavalry driven back—but at that moment a heavier force still was seen advancing upon Stuart from the direction of Kelly's ford.
[Footnote 1: Fact.]
It was a splendid spectacle. They came on in solid column, and rapidly formed line of battle on the slope of Fleetwood, with drawn sabres, and flags floating. As they moved they seemed to shake the very ground. I had never before seen so great a force of cavalry drawn up—and the critical moment of the battle had plainly come.
At that instant the great field presented a remarkable appearance. Cavalry were charging in every direction, and it was hard to tell friend from foe. Stuart was fighting, so to say, from the centre outwards. The enemy were in his front, in his rear, and on both his flanks. If they closed in, apparently, he would be crushed as in a vice. The iron hand would strangle him.
That moment tested the nerves. Stuart's "heart of oak" bore the strain. He was aroused, stung, his cheeks burned, his eyes flamed—but the man was sufficient for the work. I looked closely at him. "Do or die" was plain on his face. From that instant I never had any doubts about Stuart.
He rushed two pieces of artillery to a knoll in front of the line of Federal horsemen. A moment afterward two reports were heard, and two shell burst precisely in the middle of the line, making a wide gap in it, and checking the charge which had begun.
[Footnote 1: Fact.]
All at once I saw a column of cavalry coming up from the river, and turning to Stuart, said:—
"General, what cavalry is that?"
"Hampton's!" Stuart exclaimed. "Bring it up like lightning!"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
I set out at full gallop, and soon reached the column. At the head of it rode Young, the beau sabreur of Georgia, erect, gallant, with his brave eye and smile.
I pointed out the enemy and gave the order.
"All right!" exclaimed Young, and, turning to his men, he whirled his sabre around his head and shouted,
The column thundered on, and as it passed I recognized Mohun, his flashing eye and burnished sabre gleaming from the dust-cloud.
In five minutes they were in front of the enemy—the men wheeled and faced the Federal line.
"Charge!" rose from a hundred lips. Spurs were buried in the hot flanks; the mass was hurled at the enemy; and clashing like thunder, sword against sword, swept every thing before it. Not a single shot was fired—the sabre only was used. The enemy were broken to pieces—what I saw was a wild melee of whirling swords, flying horses, men cloven to the chin, while others were seen throwing themselves from the saddle, and raising their hands to escape the keen swordsmen slashing at them.
[Footnote 1: Fact.]
The great force of the enemy sweeping down on Stuart's flank was thus routed. The spectacle which followed was ludicrous as well as exciting. The enemy fled in disorder. Never before had I seen the nails in the hind shoes of hundreds of horses—myriads of horses' tails streaming like meteors as they ran!
The force disappeared in the woods, hotly pursued by their foes. The dust followed them in a great cloud—from that cloud arose yells and cheers—cannon thundered; carbines rattled;—but that sound receded more and more rapidly toward the river.
On our left the brave William H.F. Lee had been as successful. He had charged and repulsed the enemy, falling wounded at the head of his men. They had not again advanced upon him. Near the Barbour House he presented an unbroken front to them.
Stuart held with his cavalry, indeed, the whole Fleetwood range. The long thunder of his artillery said to the enemy,
They did not come. They went back. Their cavalry had crossed the river to ascertain the meaning of the great review. They had discovered nothing, after heavy loss. The ground was strewed with their dead and dying—they retired, shattered and bleeding.
Stuart's loss was also great—even his staff was not spared. One of my brother staff officers was killed, another wounded, a third captured.
But Stuart had won the greatest cavalry fight of the war.
MOHUN FAINTS AT THE RIGHT MOMENT.
In a room of the "Barbour House" on Fleetwood Hill, Stuart was writing a dispatch to General Lee.
It was nearly sunset, and the red light was streaming through the windows. On the floor lay a number of wounded men, groaning piteously. Busily attending to their wants were two young girls—the daughters of Judge Conway, whom I had seen on the night of the ball.
The young ladies, I afterward discovered, had been on a visit to the family occupying the Barbour House; had courageously remained during the whole of the battle—and they were now busily attending to the wants of the wounded.
I was gazing at the eldest—the superb beauty with the disdainful eyes, who had held that wit-combat with her circle of admirers—when Stuart finished his dispatches, and turned around.
"Any reports?" he said briefly to a member of his staff.
"None, general—except that Colonel Mohun is reported killed."
"Mohun! It is impossible! He drove the enemy, and was unhurt. I would not swap him for a hundred, nor a thousand of the enemy!"
"Thank you, general!" said a sonorous voice behind us.
And Mohun entered, making the military salute as he did so.
In his bearing I could discern the same cool pride, mingled with satire. There was only one change in him. He was paler than ever, and I could see that his right shoulder was bloody.
As he entered, Miss Georgia Conway, who was bending over a wounded soldier, raised her head and looked at him. Mohun's eye met her own, and he bowed ceremoniously, taking no further notice of her.
At this exhibition of careless indifference I could see Miss Conway's face flush. An expression of freezing hauteur came to the beautiful lips; and the disdainful glance indicated that her amour propre was deeply wounded.
She turned her back upon him abruptly—but as Mohun had already turned his, the movement failed in its object. The officer was looking at Stuart, who had grasped his hand. He winced as the general pressed it, and turned paler, but said nothing.
"Then you are not dead, Mohun!" exclaimed Stuart, laughing.
"Not in the least, general, I am happy to inform you," replied Mohun.
"I am truly glad to hear it! What news?"
"Our party is all over. We followed them up until they recrossed the river—and I owed them this little piece of politeness for I recognized an old acquaintance in the commander of the squadron."
"A certain Colonel Darke—a charming person, general." And Mohun laughed.
"I recognized him yonder when we charged on the hill, and, at first, he followed his men when they broke. As I got close to him, however, in the woods, he recognized me in turn, and we crossed swords. He is brave—no man braver; and he did his utmost to put an end to me. I had somewhat similar views myself in reference to my friend, the colonel, but his men interposed and prevented my carrying them out. They were all around me, slashing away. I was nearly cut out of the saddle—I was carried away from my friend in the melee—and the unkindest cut of all was his parting compliment as he retreated through the river."
"What was that, Mohun?"
"A bullet from his pistol, which grazed my shoulder. A mere scratch, but provoking. I saw him grin as he fired."
"An old friend on the Yankee side? Well, that happens," said Stuart—
"Frequently, general," said Mohun; "and this one was very dear, indeed—most tenderly attached to me, I assure you. My affection for him is of the same endearing nature: and we only crossed sabres in jest—a mere fencing bout for amusement. We would not hurt each other for worlds!"
And Mohun's mustache curled with laughter. There was something restless and sinister in it.
Suddenly his face grew paler, and his eyes were half closed.
"Well, Mohun," said Stuart, who was not looking at him; "I am going to send you across the river on a reconnaissance to-night."
"All right, general."
And the officer made the military salute. As he did so, he staggered, and Stuart raised his eyes.
"You are wounded!" he exclaimed.
"A trifle," laughed Mohun.
But as he spoke, his frame tottered; his face assumed the hue of a corpse; and he would have fallen, had not Miss Georgia Conway started up unconsciously from the wounded man whom she was attending to, and supported the officer in her arms.
Mohun opened his eyes, and a grim smile came to his pale face.
"A pretty tableau!" I heard him murmur; "it would do to put in a romance. A cup of tea—or a pistol—that would finish—"
As he uttered these singular words, the blood gushed from his wounded shoulder, his eyes closed, and, his head falling on the bosom of the young girl, he fainted.
THE SLIM ANIMAL.
Fleetwood was the first gun of the great campaign which culminated on the heights of Gettysburg. A week afterward, Lee's columns were in motion toward Pennsylvania.
Was that invasion the dictate of his own judgment? History will answer. What is certain is, that the country, like the army, shouted "Forward!" The people were ablaze with wild enthusiasm; the soldiers flushed with the pride of their great victories of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. The authorities at Richmond shared the excitement, and the commissary-general, with unwonted humor, or in sober earnest, indorsed, it is said, upon a requisition for supplies: "If General Lee wishes rations, let him seek them in Pennsylvania."
I doubt if the great commander shared the general agitation. I think he aimed to draw Hooker out of Virginia, leaving the rest to Providence. So he moved toward the Potomac.
The world had called Lee cautious. After this invasion, that charge was not repeated. From first to last audacity seemed the sentiment inspiring him.
With Hooker on the Rappahannock, threatening Richmond, Lee thrust his advance force under Ewell through the Blue Ridge toward Maryland; pushed Longstreet up to Culpeper to support him, and kept only A.P. Hill at Fredericksburg to bar the road to the Confederate capital.
Hooker wished to advance upon it, but President Lincoln forbade him. The dispatch was a queer official document.
"In case you find Lee coming to the north of the Rappahannock," Lincoln wrote, "I would by no means cross to the south of it. I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, like an ox jumped half over a fence, and liable to be torn by dogs, front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick the other."
Ludicrous perhaps, but to the point; the "Rail-Splitter" was not always dignified, but often judicious. Chancellorsville had been defeat—Lee's assault, foreboded thus by Lincoln, would be death.
Hooker fell back, therefore, in the direction of Washington. Lee had foreseen that fact, and had given himself small anxiety. His three corps were already in full motion toward the Potomac; and suddenly the thunder of artillery came on the winds of the mountains.
Ewell, the head of the Southern spear, was driving at Milroy, holding Winchester. The struggle was brief. General Milroy had put the iron heel on the poor valley; had oppressed the unfortunate people beyond the power of words—and suddenly the hand of Fate clutched and shook him to death. Ewell stormed his "Star Fort" near Winchester, with the bayonet; drove him to headlong flight; got in rear of him, capturing nearly all his command; and poor Milroy scarce managed to escape, with a small body-guard, beyond the Potomac.
"In my opinion Milroy's men will fight better under a soldier!"
It was his commanding officer, Hooker, who wrote those words a few days afterward. From the hands of his own general came that unkindest cut!
Exit Milroy, thus amid hisses and laughter—the hornet's nest at Winchester was swept away—and Ewell headed straight for Pennsylvania.
Longstreet came up rapidly to fill the gap in the line—Hill followed Longstreet—and then the world beheld the singular spectacle of an army extended in a long skirmish line over a hundred miles, with another army massed not daring to assail it.
Hooker did not see his "opening;" but Lincoln did. One of his dispatches has been quoted—here is another as amusing and as judicious.
"If the head of Lee's army is at Martinsburg," Lincoln wrote Hooker, "and the tail of it on the Plank road, between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the animal must be very slim somewhere—could you not break him?"
But Hooker could not. He did not even try. Lee's movements seemed to paralyze him—his chief of staff wrote:—
"We cannot go boggling round, until we know what we are going after."
"Boggling round" exactly described the movements of Hooker. He was still in a grand fog, and knew nothing of his adversary's intent, when a terrific cry arose among the well-to-do farmers of Pennsylvania. The wolf had appeared in the fold. Ewell was rapidly advancing upon Harrisburg.
Behind came the veteran corps of Hill and Longstreet. The gorges of the Blue Ridge were alive with bristling bayonets. Then the waters of the Potomac splashed around the waists of the infantry and the wheels of the artillery carriages. Soon the fields of Maryland and Pennsylvania were alive with "rebels," come, doubtless, to avenge the outrages of Pope and Milroy. Throughout those commonwealths—through Philadelphia, New York, and Boston—rang the cry, "Lee is coming!"
To return to the cavalry. The horsemen of Stuart were going to move in an eccentric orbit. These are my memoirs, reader, not a history of the war; I describe only what I saw, and am going to ask you now, to "follow the feather" of Stuart.
Stuart was promptly in the saddle, and when Lee began to move, advanced north of the Rappahannock, drawing a cordon of cavalry across the roads above Middleburg, to guard the approaches to the mountain.
The result was that the infantry defiled through the Blue Ridge without Hooker's knowledge. He knew that something was going on, but there his information terminated. The troopers of Stuart kept watch over fifteen miles of front, and through this wall of sabres the Federal eye could not pierce.
Stuart is regarded by many as only a brave "raider." It was on occasions like this, however, that he performed his greatest services. Everywhere he confronted the enemy in stubborn battle; and the work was hard. It was fighting, fighting, fighting—now, as in 1862, when he covered Lee's retreat after Sharpsburg. Day and night the cavalry had no rest. The crack of carbines, the clash of sabres, and the roar of cannon were incessant. It was a war of giants which Fauquier and Loudoun saw in those days—and not until the rear of Lee's column had nearly reached the Potomac, did General Hooker by a desperate effort succeed in driving Stuart back.
In these pages I must leave that obstinate struggle undescribed. It was full of romantic scenes, and illustrated by daring courage: but all is lost to view in the lurid smoke of Gettysburg.
With one scene in the hurrying drama I shall pass to greater events.
But first, I beg to introduce to the reader a very singular personage, who is destined to play an important part in the history I am writing.
It was the night of the 20th of June, 1863. Stuart's head-quarters had been established in a house on the roadside above Middleburg.
We had been fighting all day; had returned only at nightfall: and I was exchanging a few words with Stuart, before following the staff to rest, when all at once a third personage, who seemed to have arisen from the floor, stood before us.
His presence was so sudden and unexpected that I started. Then I looked at him, curiously.
He was a man of about forty, thin, wiry, and with a nose resembling the beak of a bird of prey. His eyes, half buried under bushy eyebrows, twinkled like two stars. His mouth was large and smiling; his expression exceedingly benignant. From the face I passed to the costume. The worthy was clad in severe black, with a clerical white cravat: wore a black beaver hat of the "stove-pipe" order; and presented the appearance of a pious and peaceable civilian—almost that of a clergyman, smiling benignantly upon all around him.
Stuart uttered an exclamation of satisfaction.
"Ah! Nighthawk, here you are!" he said.
And turning to me he introduced the new comer as "Mr. Nighthawk, one of my 'private friends,' and true as steel."
Mr. Nighthawk bowed with an air of smiling respect—of benignant sweetness.
"I am glad to know you, colonel, and hope I may have an opportunity of being of service to you some day," he said.
The voice was low, soft, and accorded with the mild expression of the countenance.
"Well, what news, Nighthawk?" asked Stuart; "experience tells me that you have something of importance to communicate?"
"Yes. You pass in the cavalry by the name of the 'man before the battle,' for you always turn up then."
Mr. Nighthawk smiled.
"I try to give you information, general; and perhaps I have some news. But first of my visits to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, where I saw many of our friends."
And in his low, quiet voice Mr. Nighthawk, who had taken a seat and smoothed down his white cravat, proceeded to speak of his travels and what he had seen.
The narrative astounded me. He spoke without reserve, for General Stuart had informed him that he might do so before me; and I was startled to find the number of private friends the South had in the North. Mr. Nighthawk was evidently au fait at his trade. He had a perfect understanding plainly with persons of the highest political position; and Stuart listened with the greatest interest to the speaker, whose low voice never rose above the half-whisper by which I had been impressed on his first opening his lips.
"So the summing up of all this," said Stuart, "that our friends are not too hopeful?"
"They are not, general."
"They say Lee must win a great victory on the soil of Pennsylvania?"
"Yes, general. Without it there is no hope of peace, they declare."
"Well, I think they are right; and that we shall gain the victory."
Mr. Nighthawk made no reply; and Stuart reflected for some moments without speaking. Then rousing himself:—
"I forgot," he said. "You have not given me your special information, Nighthawk."
The worthy smiled.
"You know I am the 'man before the battle,' general?"
"Yes, go on, Nighthawk."
"I have just left General Hooker's head-quarters."
"Where are they?"
"You saw him?"
"I conversed with him."
"An hour, general, as the Rev. Mr. Ward, from Massachusett, of the 'Grand Union Sanitary Commission'."
And Mr. Nighthawk smiled.
"Of course I urged active movements, and General Hooker became quite animated."
"He agreed with your views then?" said Stuart, laughing.
"And he intends—"
"There is the important thing. While we were conversing, General Hooker was called for a moment out of his tent, and by accident, my eyes fell upon an order which lay upon his desk."
"For two divisions of cavalry, one of infantry, and a full complement of artillery, to advance and drive you back to the mountain."
"Ah! you saw that order?"
"I did, general; it was just ready to be sent."
"What day did it fix?"
"Ah, indeed! Two divisions of infantry and one of cavalry?"
Mr. Nighthawk inclined in assent.
"When did you leave Hooker's head-quarters?"
"And you came through the lines to-night?"
"Yes, general, in the usual way, by passing through the pickets. I was on foot and nothing was easier."
Stuart knit his brows and reflected. Then he called to the orderly.
"Wake the adjutant-general, and have three couriers ready at once!"
Mr. Nighthawk arose.
"By-the-by, general," he said, "I saw Swartz, whom I have mentioned to you."
"Yes; the best spy, you say, in the Federal army."
"I think he is, general. He is a wonderful man. He recently played a trick upon you."
"At least he bore off a prisoner from you. It was a lady, captured by Colonel Mohun, one night on the Rappahannock."
"Ah! Is it possible! So Swartz was the old countryman, driving the wagon that morning."
"So he informed me, general."
"You are friends, then?"
And Mr. Nighthawk smiled.
"We have an agreement—but that would not interest you, general. That was really Swartz, and the old woman was the prisoner."
"Well," said Stuart, "that was a bold stroke, but the lady was handsome enough to make friends. There is something between herself and Colonel Mohun, is there not?"
Mr. Nighthawk glanced quickly at the face of the general. His eyes resembled steel points, but the piercing glance at once sank.
"Something between them, general? What could have made you think that? But here is Major McClellan. I will not detain you, general; I will come back at daylight to receive your orders."
With these words, Mr. Nighthawk distributed a benignant smile, bowed in a friendly manner, and disappeared, it was difficult to say how, from the apartment. I had turned my eyes from him but an instant; when I again looked he was gone.
"And now to work!" exclaimed Stuart. "We are going to fight tomorrow, Surry, since the 'man before the battle' has made his appearance!"
HOW STUART FELL BACK.
At daybreak, Stuart was going at full gallop to the front.
A rapid fire of skirmishers, mingled with the dull roar of cannon, indicated that Nighthawk had not been deceived.
All at once the sharp-shooters were seen falling back from the woods.
"Bring me a piece of artillery!" exclaimed Stuart, darting to the front.
But the attack of the enemy swept all before it. Stuart was driven back, and was returning doggedly, when the gun for which he had sent, galloped up, and unlimbered in the road.
It was too late. Suddenly a solid shot screamed above us; the gun was hurled from its carriage, and rolled shattered and useless in the wood; the horses were seen rearing wild with terror, and trying to kick out of the harness.
Suddenly one of them leaped into the air and fell, torn in two by a second round shot.
"Quick work!" said Stuart, grimly.
And turning round to me, he said, pointing to a hill in rear—
"Post three pieces on that hill to rake all the roads."
The order, like the former, came too late, however. The enemy advanced in overpowering force—drove Stuart back beyond his head-quarters, where they captured the military satchel of the present writer—and still rushing forward, like a hurricane, compelled the Confederate cavalry to retire behind Goose Creek. On the high ground there, Stuart posted his artillery; opened a rapid fire; and before this storm of shell the Federal forces paused.
The spectacle at that moment was picturesque and imposing. The enemy's force was evidently large. Long columns of cavalry, heavy masses of infantry and artillery at every opening, right, left, and centre, showed that the task of driving back Stuart was not regarded as very easy. The sunshine darted from bayonet and sabre all along the great line of battle—and from the heavy smoke, tinged with flame, came the Federal shell. With their infantry, cavalry, and artillery, they seemed determined to put an end to us. Stuart galloped to his guns, pouring a steady fire from the lofty hill. Captain Davenant directed it in person, and he was evidently in his right element. All his sadness had disappeared. A cool and resolute smile lit up his features.
"All right, Davenant! Hold your ground!" exclaimed Stuart.
"I will do so, general."
"Can you keep them from crossing?"
"I can try, general."
A whirlwind of shell screamed around the two speakers. For the hundredth time I witnessed that entire indifference to danger which was a trait of Stuart. The fire at this moment was so terrible that I heard an officer say:—
"General Stuart seems trying to get himself and everybody killed."
Nothing more inspiring, however, can be imagined than his appearance at that moment. His horse, wild with terror, reared, darted, and attempted to unseat his rider. Stuart paid no attention to him. He had no eyes or thought for any thing but the enemy. His cheeks were flushed, his eyes flamed—he resembled a veritable king of battle.
From Stuart my glances passed to Davenant. His coolness impressed me deeply. While giving an order, a shell burst right in his face, enveloping horse and rider in a cloud of smoke—but when the smoke drifted away, he was sitting his horse unmoved, and giving the order as quietly as before.
I have not invented this picture, reader, or fancied this character. I had the honor to enjoy the friendship of the brave boy I describe. He was remarkable, in an epoch crowded with remarkable characters.
Stuart held his ground for an hour on the high hills of Goose Creek, but it then became plain that he was going to be driven back. The enemy had felt him, and discovered that the game was in their own hands. Now they rushed on his right, left and centre, at the same moment—cavalry, infantry, and artillery rolling on like a torrent—crossed the stream, charged the hill—in a moment a bitter and savage combat commenced for the possession of the crest.
Stuart rushed toward the guns. As he reached them a cannon ball carried off the head of a cannoneer, and his horse reared with fright, nearly trampling on the headless trunk which spouted blood. Davenant had coolly drawn his sabre, but had given no order to retire.
"Move back the guns!" exclaimed Stuart.
"Is it necessary, general?" asked Davenant.
"Yes, they will be captured in five minutes!"
"It is a pity we can not remain, general. This is an excellent position."
And he gave the order to limber up. The operation was performed amid a hurricane of bullets, striking down the cannoneers.
Suddenly a column of Federal cavalry charged straight at the guns. Davenant met them with his mounted men, armed with sabres, and a stubborn combat followed. It was a hilt to hilt affair, and Davenant was in the midst of it shouting:—
"You are fighting for your guns, boys! You promised to die by your guns!"
The men answered with fierce shouts, and met the enemy with savage resolution. Meanwhile, the guns had rushed at a gallop down the western slope; a regiment came to Davenant's assistance; the fight grew desperate, but was of no avail.
In fifteen minutes we were driven.
Driven! Do you know what that means, reader? Ask old soldiers if it is pleasant. They will growl in reply!
We were forced back, step by step, with the enemy at our very heels. At our backs came on the huge column, yelling and firing, mad with triumph. Stuart the valiant, the obstinate, the unshrinking was driven!
We were forced back to Upperville, and there things looked stormy. On the other roads, Stuart's right and left were rapidly retiring. His centre at Upperville seemed devoted to destruction.
The enemy came on like a whirlwind, with a roaring shout. As far as the eye could see, the great fields were dark with them. Their horse artillery advanced at a gallop, unlimbered, and tore the retreating columns with shot and shell.
I was ten yards from Stuart, just at the edge of the town, when a picked body of Federal horsemen darted straight upon him.
They had evidently recognized him by his major-general's uniform and splendid feather. Bullets hissed around him; blows were struck at him; and for an instant I saw him in the midst of a wild huddle of enemies, defending himself with his revolver only.
In an instant he would have been killed or captured, with his staff and body-guard, when a resounding shout was heard.
I glanced over my shoulder, and saw the cavaliers of Hampton coming on with drawn sabre.
Then a splendid spectacle was presented—that of Wade Hampton in one of his great moments. This stalwart cavalier was leading his men, and in an instant they had struck the enemy with a noise like thunder.
Suddenly a cavalier on a black horse rushed by like the wild huntsman, and I recognized Mohun; who, spurring his animal to headlong speed, drove straight at the leader of the Federal cavalry, almost in contact with us.
Through a rift in the smoke I caught a glimpse of Mohun's opponent. He was a man of low stature, but broad, heavy, and powerful. He came to meet his adversary with the bridle of his horse resting on the animal's neck, while both hands clutched a heavy broad-sword, raised over his right shoulder.
I could only see that the two opponents hurled together like knights tilting; their swords gleamed; they closed in, body to body; then the smoke wrapped them. It was impossible to see more.
MOSBY COMES TO STUART'S ASSISTANCE.
Sore and restive at the reverse which had come to balance his victory of Fleetwood, Stuart bivouacked near Paris, that night, and made every preparation to attack at dawn.
At daylight he was in the saddle, and spurred to the high ground commanding Upperville.
All at once he checked his horse. The enemy had disappeared.
Stuart's blue eye flashed, and half an hour afterward he was advancing at the head of his cavalry. Not a foe was visible. Pressing on through Upperville, and over the trampled fields beyond, he continued to advance upon Middleburg, and near that place came up with the rear of the enemy. They showed little fight, however, and were driven beyond the place. The gray troopers pursued them with shouts and cheers—with which were mingled cries of rejoicing from the people of Middleburg.
An hour afterward the lines were re-established in triumph.
Stuart returned to his former head-quarters amid a drenching rain; and this recalls an incident very honorable to the brave soldier. As night descended, dark and stormy, Stuart gazed gloomily at the torrents of rain falling.
"My poor fellows!" he said, with a sigh, "they will have a hard time to-night."
Then suddenly turning to his servant, he added:—
"Spread my oil-cloth and blankets under that apple tree yonder. I will keep them dry enough when I once get into them."
[Footnote 1: His words.]
"You are not going to sleep out on such a night, general!" exclaimed a staff officer.
"Certainly I am," was his reply, "I don't intend to fare better than my men!"
[Footnote 1: His words.]
And an hour afterward Stuart was asleep under the apple tree, with a torrent pouring on him.
That was the act of a good officer and soldier, was it not, reader?
Before sunrise Stuart was up, and walking uneasily to and fro. As the day wore on, he exhibited more and more impatience. All at once, at the appearance of an officer, approaching rapidly from the front, he uttered an exclamation of pleasure.
"Here is Mosby at last!" he said.
And he went to meet the new-comer. It was the famous chief of partisans whose name by this time had become a terror to the enemy. He wore a plain gray uniform, a brace of revolvers in a swaying belt, rode a spirited gray mare, and I recognized at once the roving glance, and satirical smile which had struck me on that night when he rescued Farley and myself in Fauquier.
Stuart rapidly drew him into a private apartment; remained in consultation with him for half an hour; and then came forth, with a smile of evident satisfaction.
Mosby's intelligence must have pleased him. It at least dispelled his gloom.
An hour afterward his head-quarters had disappeared—every thing was sent toward the mountains. Stuart set out apparently to follow them—but that was only a ruse to blind busybodies.
A quarter of a mile from head-quarters he leaped a fence, and doubled back, going in the direction now of Manassas.
At daylight on the next morning he had forced his way through the Bull Run mountain.
Two hours afterward he had made a sudden attack on the enemy's infantry. It was the rear of Hancock's corps, which was the rear of Hooker's army, then retiring toward the Potomac.
THE SUPPER NEAR BUCKLANDS.
Stuart's fight near Haymarket, here alluded to, was a gay affair; but I pass over it, to a scene still gayer and decidedly more pleasant.
The fighting continued throughout the day, and at dusk a heavy rain came on. We were all tired and hungry—the general no less so than his staff—and when an invitation was sent to us by a gentleman near Bucklands, to come and sup with him, we accepted it with fervor, and hastened toward the friendly mansion.
A delightful reception awaited us. The house was full of young ladies, passionately devoted to "rebels," and we were greeted with an enthusiasm which passed all bounds. Delicate hands pressed our own; bright eyes beamed upon us; rosy lips smiled; musical voices said "welcome!"—and soon a savory odor, pervading the mansion, indicated that the wants of the inner man were not forgotten.
An excellent supper was plainly in preparation for the bold Stuart and his military family; and that gay and gallant cavalier, General Fitz Lee having also been invited, the joy of the occasion was complete! The house rang with clashing heels, rattling sabres, and clanking spurs. A more charming sound still, however, was that made by jingling keys and rattling china, and knives and forks. All was joy and uproar: jests, compliments and laughter. Young ladies went and came; the odors grew more inviting. In ten minutes the door of a large apartment opposite the drawing-room was thrown open, and a magnificent, an enthralling spectacle was revealed to every eye. Not to be carried away, however, by enthusiasm, I will simply say that we saw before us a long mahogany table covered with the most appetizing viands—broils, roasts, stews, bread of every variety, and real coffee and tea in real silver! That magical spectacle still dwells in my memory, reader, though the fact may lower me in your good opinion. But alas! we are all "weak creatures." The most poetical grow hungry. We remember our heroic performances in the great civil war—but ask old soldiers if these recollections are not the most vivid!
An incident connected with the repast made it especially memorable. The servants of the house had deserted to their friends in blue; and as there was thus a deficiency of attendants, the young ladies took their places. Behind every chair stood a maiden—their faces wreathed with smiles. We were shown to our seats, amid joyous laughter. The comedy evidently afforded all engaged in it immense enjoyment—and the cavaliers humoring the angelic maid-servants, gravely advanced toward the table.
Stuart threw his plumed hat upon a chair, and drew near the foot of the table. The light fell full on the ruddy face, the heavy beard and mustache, and brilliant fighting jacket. He looked round with a gay smile. "Was any one absent," asked the kind lady of the house, as she saw the glance. Stuart made a low bow, and said:—