THE YOUNG LIEUTENANT
The Adventures of an Army Officer
A Story of the Great Rebellion
Author of "The Soldier Boy," "The Sailor Boy," "Brave Old Salt," "The Yankee Middy," "Fighting Joe," etc.
A. L. Burt Company Publishers :: :: New York
TO William A. Moulton, Esq.
THIS BOOK IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED
BY HIS FRIEND WILLIAM T. ADAMS
THE YOUNG LIEUTENANT OR THE ADVENTURES OF AN ARMY OFFICER
CAPTAIN DE BANYAN AND OTHERS
"I beg your pardon, sir; but I see, by the number on your cap, that we belong to the same regiment," said an officer with two bars on his shoulder-straps, as he halted in the aisle of the railroad-car, near where Lieutenant Thomas Somers was seated. "May I be permitted to inquire whom I have the honor of addressing?"
"Lieutenant Somers, of the ——th Massachusetts," replied the young gentleman addressed, as he politely touched his cap in return for the salutation of the other.
"Ah! is it possible? I am rejoiced to meet you. I have heard of you before. Allow me to add in the most delicate manner, that you are a good fellow, a first-rate soldier, and as brave an officer as ever sported a pair of shoulder-straps. Permit me to offer you my hand; and allow me to add, that it is a hand which was never sullied by a dishonorable act."
"I am happy to make your acquaintance," replied Lieutenant Somers, as he accepted the offered hand. "Won't you take a seat, Captain——"
"Captain de Banyan, at your service," continued the officer, as he seated himself by the side of the young lieutenant, who was completely bewildered by the elegant and courtly speech of his new-found friend.
If Lieutenant Somers needs any further introduction to the reader, we may briefly add, that he was a native of Pinchbrook, a town near Boston, in the State of Massachusetts. He was now entering his eighteenth year, and had enlisted in the great army of the Union as a private, with an earnest and patriotic desire to serve his imperiled country in her death-grapple with treason and traitors. He had won his warrant as a sergeant by bravery and address, and had subsequently been commissioned as a second lieutenant for good conduct on the bloody field of Williamsburg, where he had been wounded. The injury he had received, and the exhaustion consequent upon hard marching and the excitement of a terrible battle, had procured for him a furlough of thirty days. He had spent this brief period at home; and now, invigorated by rest and the care of loving friends, he was returning to the army to participate in that stupendous campaign which culminated in the seven-days' battles before Richmond.
Inspired by the hope of honorable distinction, still more by the patriotic desire to serve the noblest cause for which the soldier ever drew a sword, he was hastening to the post of danger and duty. As the train hurried him by smiling fields, and through cities and villages whose prosperity was mysteriously interlinked with the hallowed mission which called him from the bosom of home and friends, his thoughts were those which would naturally animate the soul of a young patriot, as he journeyed to the battle-fields of a nation's ruin or salvation. He thought of the bloody scenes before him, of the blessed home behind him.
Only the day before, he had made his parting visit to Lilian Ashford, who knit his "fighting socks," as he had called them since the eventful day when he had found her letter and her picture in them. Of course, he could not help thinking of her; and, as he had a thin stratum of sentiment in his composition, it is more than probable that the beautiful young lady monopolized more than her fair share of his thoughts; but I am sure it was not at all to the detriment of the affection he owed his mother and the other dear ones, who were shrined in the sanctuary of his heart.
Lieutenant Somers was an exceedingly good-looking young man, which, as it was no fault of his own, we do not object to mention. He was clothed in his new uniform, which was very creditable to the taste and skill of his tailor. On his upper lip, an incipient mustache had developed itself; and, though it presented nothing remarkable, it gave brilliant promise of soon becoming all that its ambitious owner could possibly desire, especially as he was a reasonable person, and had no taste for monstrosities. He had paid proper attention to this ornamental appendage, which is so indispensable to the making-up of a soldier; and the result, if not entirely satisfactory, was at least hopeful.
The subject of our remarks wore his sash and belt, and carried his sword in his hand, for the reason that he had no other convenient way of transporting them. Our natural pride, as his biographer, leads us to repeat that he was a fine-looking young man; and we will venture to say, that the young lady who occupied the seat on the opposite side of the car was of the same opinion. Of course, she did not stare at him; but she had two or three times cast a furtive glance at the young officer; though the operation had been so well managed, that he was entirely unconscious of the fact.
Inasmuch as this same young lady was herself quite pretty, it is not supposable that she had entirely escaped the observation of our gallant young son of Mars. We are compelled to say he had glanced in that direction two or three times, to keep within the limits of a modest calculation; but it is our duty to add that he was not captivated, and that there is not the least danger of our story degenerating into a love-tale. Lieutenant Somers thought she was nearly as pretty as Lilian Ashford; and this, we solemnly declare, was the entire length and breadth of the sentiment he expended upon the young lady, who was certainly worthy of a deeper homage.
She was in charge of an elderly, dignified gentleman, who had occupied the seat by her side until half an hour before the appearance of Captain de Banyan; but, being unfortunately addicted to the small vice of smoking, he had gone forward to the proper car to indulge his propensity. Lieutenant Somers had studied the faces of all the passengers near him, and had arrived at the conclusion that the lady's protector was a gentleman of consequence. He might be her father or her uncle; but he was a member of Congress, the governor of a State, or some high official, perhaps a major-general in "mufti." At any rate, our hero was interested in the pair, and had carried his speculations concerning them as far as theory can go without a few facts to substantiate it, when his reflections were disturbed by Captain de Banyan.
"Lieutenant Somers, I'm proud to know you, as I had occasion to remark before. I have heard of you. You distinguished yourself in the battle of Williamsburg," said Captain de Banyan.
"You speak very handsomely of me—much better than I deserve, sir."
"Not a particle, my boy. If there is a man in the army that can appreciate valor, that man is Captain de Banyan. You are modest, Lieutenant Somers—of course you are modest; all brave men are modest—and I forgive your blushes. I've seen service, my boy. Though not yet thirty-five, I served in the Crimea, in the Forty-seventh Royal Infantry; and was at the battles of Solferino, Magenta, Palestro, and others too numerous to mention."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Lieutenant Somers, filled with admiration by the magnificent record of the captain. "Then you are not an American?"
"Oh, yes, I am! I happened to be in England when the Russian war commenced. So, being fond of a stirring life, I entered as a private in the Forty-seventh. If the war had continued six months longer, I should have come out a brigadier-general, though. Promotion is not so rapid in the British army as in our own. I was at the storming of the Redan; I was one of the first to mount the breach. Just as I had raised my musket——"
"I thought you were an officer—a colonel at least," interposed Lieutenant Somers.
"My sword, I should have said. Just as I had raised my sword to cut down a Russian who threatened to bayonet me, a cannon-ball struck the butt of my gun——"
"The handle of my sword, I should have said, and snapped it off like a pipe-stem."
"But didn't it snap your hand off too?" asked the lieutenant, rather bewildered by the captain's statements.
"Not at all; that is the most wonderful part of the story. It didn't even graze my skin."
"That was very remarkable," added Lieutenant Somers, who could not see, for the life of him, how a cannon-ball could hit the handle of the sword without injuring the hand which grasped it.
"It was very remarkable, indeed; but I was reminded of the circumstance by the remembrance that you were hit in the head by a bullet, which did not kill you. I shouldn't have mentioned the affair if I hadn't called to mind my own experience; for life yourself, Somers, I am a modest man; in fact, every brave man is necessarily a modest man."
"Were you ever wounded, Captain de Banyan?"
"Bless you, half a dozen times. At Magenta, the same bullet passed twice through my body."
"The same bullet?"
"Yes, sir—the same bullet. I'll tell you how it happened. I was in the heavy artillery there. The bullet of the Russian—"
"The Russian! Why, I thought the battle of Magenta was fought between the Austrians and the French."
"You are right, my boy. The bullet of the Austrian, I should have said, passed through my left lung, struck the cannon behind me, bounded back, and hitting me again, passed through my right lung. When it came out, it hit my musket, and dropped upon the ground. I picked it up, and have it at home now."
"Whew!" added Lieutenant Somers in a low whisper. "It's quite warm to-day," he continued, trying to turn off the remark.
"Very warm, indeed."
"But didn't you fall after the ball had passed through both your lungs?"
"Not at all. I walked five miles to the hospital. On my way, I met the Emperor Napoleon, who got off his horse, and thanked me for the valor I had displayed, and conferred on me the medal of the Legion of Honor. I keep the medal in the same bag with the bullet."
"Then you have actually shaken hands with the Emperor of France?" cried the amazed lieutenant.
"Yes; and King Victor Emmanuel called to see me in the hospital, where I was confined for five weeks. At Solferino, both their majesties shook hands with me, and thanked me again for my services. Being a modest man, I shouldn't want to say out loud that I saved the day for the French and Sardinians at Solferino. At any rate, their majesties did the handsome thing by me on that day."
"I thought you were in the hospital five weeks after Magenta."
"So I was; and well do I remember the little delicacies sent me by the King of Italy while I lay there on my back. Ah! that Victor Emmanuel is a noble fellow. At Solferino, he——"
"But how could you have been at Solferino, if you were in the hospital five weeks?"
"I did not die of my wounds, it is scarcely necessary for me to remark. I got well."
"But the battle of Solferino was fought on the 20th of June, and that of Magenta on the 4th of June. There were only twenty days between the battles."
"You are right, Somers. I have made some mistake in the dates. I never was good at remembering them. When I was in college, the professors used to laugh at me for forgetting the date of the Christian Era. By the way, do you smoke, Somers? Let's go into the smoking-car, and have a cigar."
"I thank you; I never smoke."
"Ah! you are worse than a hot potato. But I am dying for a smoke; and, if you will excuse me, I will go forward. I will see you again before we get to New York."
Captain de Banyan, apparently entirely satisfied with himself, rose from his seat, and sauntered gracefully forward to the door of the car, through which he disappeared, leaving Lieutenant Somers busy in a vain endeavor to crowd five weeks in between the 4th and the 20th of June. The captain was certainly a pleasant and voluble person, and Somers had enjoyed the interview; though he could not repress a rising curiosity to see the bullet which had passed twice through the body of the valiant soldier, and the medal of the Legion of Honor conferred upon him by his imperial majesty the Emperor of France.
Some painful doubts in regard to the truth of Captain de Banyan's remarkable experience were beginning to intrude themselves into his mind; and it is quite probable that he would have been hurled into an unhappy state of skepticism, if the train in which he was riding had not been suddenly hurled down an embankment some twenty feet in height, where the cars were piled up in shapeless wrecks, and human beings, full of life and hope a moment before, were suddenly ushered into eternity, or maimed and mangled for life.
THE SENATOR'S DAUGHTER
A scene terribly beyond the power of description was presented to the gaze of Lieutenant Somers when he recovered his scattered senses. The car had been literally wrenched to pieces, and the passengers were partially buried beneath the fragments. Our traveler was stunned by the shock, and made giddy by the wild vaulting of the car as it leaped down the embankment to destruction. He was bruised and lacerated; but he was not seriously injured. He did not make the mistake which many persons do under such trying circumstances, of believing that they are killed; or, if their senses belie this impression, that they shall die within a brief period.
Lieutenant Somers was endowed with a remarkable degree of self-possession, and never gave up anything as long as there was any chance of holding on. He saw a great many stars not authenticated in any respectable catalogue of celestial luminaries. His thoughts, and even his vitality, seemed to be suspended for an instant; but the thoughts came back, and the stream of life still flowed on, notwithstanding the rude assault which had been made upon his corporal frame.
Finding that he was not killed, he struggled out from beneath the wreck which had overwhelmed him. His first consideration, after he had assured himself that he was comparatively uninjured, was for those who were his fellow-passengers on this race to ruin and death; and perhaps it is not strange that the fair young lady who had occupied the opposite seat in the car came to his mind. Men and women were disengaging themselves from the shapeless rubbish. Some wept, some groaned, and some were motionless and silent.
He did not see the fair stranger among those who were struggling back to consciousness. A portion of the top of the car lay near him, which he raised up. It rested heavily upon the form of a maiden, which he at once recognized by the dress to be that of the gentle stranger. The sight roused all his energies; and he felt that strength which had fired his muscles when he trod the field of battle. With desperate eagerness, he raised the heavy fragment which was crowding out the young life of the tender form, and bore it away, so that she was released from its cruel pressure.
She, poor girl! felt it not; for her eyes were closed, and her marble cheek was stained with blood. The young officer, tenderly interested in her fate, bent over her, and raised the inanimate form. He bore it in his arms to a green spot, away from the scattered fragments of the train, and laid it gently down upon the bosom of mother earth. By all the means within his power, he endeavored to convince himself that death had not yet invaded the lovely temple of her being. But still she was silent and motionless. There was not a sign by which he could determine the momentous question.
He was unwilling to believe that the beautiful stranger was dead. It seemed too hard and cruel that one so young and fair should be thus rudely hurried out of existence, without a mother or even a father near to receive her last gaze on earth, and listen to the soft sigh with which she breathed forth her last throb of existence. He had a telescopic drinking-cup in his pocket, with which he hastened to a brook that flowed through the valley. Filling it with water, he returned to his charge. He sprinkled her face, and rubbed her temples, and exerted himself to the best of his knowledge and ability to awaken some signs of life.
The task seemed hopeless; and he was about to abandon it in despair, to render assistance to those who needed it more than the fair, silent form before him, when an almost imperceptible sigh gladdened his heart, and caused him to renew his exertions. Procuring another cup of water, he persistently sprinkled the fair face and chafed the temples of his charge. With his handkerchief he washed away the blood-stains, and ascertained that she was only slightly cut just above the ear.
Cheered by the success which had rewarded his efforts, he continued to bathe and chafe till the gentle stranger opened her eyes. In a few moments more she recovered her consciousness, and cast a bewildered glance around her.
"Where is my father?" said she; and, as she spoke, the fearful nature of the catastrophe dawned upon her mind, and she partially rose from her recumbent posture.
Lieutenant Somers could not tell where her father was, and his first thought was that he must be beneath the wreck of the shattered cars. For the first time, he looked about him to measure with his eye the extent of the calamity. At that moment he discovered the engine, with the forward part of the train, backing down the railroad. Only the two rear cars had been precipitated over the embankment; the accident having been caused by the breaking of an axle on the last car but one. The shackle connecting this with the next one had given way, and the broken car had darted off the bank, carrying the rear one with it, while the rest of the train dashed on to its destination.
Of course the calamity was immediately discovered; but a considerable time elapsed—as time was measured by those who were suffering and dying beneath the debris of the train—before the engine could be stopped, and backed to the scene of the accident. Lieutenant Somers had seen the lady's father go forward, and had heard him say he was going to the smoking-car; he was therefore satisfied that he was safe.
"He will be here presently," he replied to the anxious question of the fair stranger.
"Perhaps he was—oh, dear! Perhaps he was——"
"Oh, no! he wasn't. The smoking-car was not thrown off the track," interposed the young officer, promptly removing from her mind the terrible fear which took possession of her first conscious moments. "Are you much hurt?"
"I don't know; I don't think I am; but one of my arms feels very numb."
"Let me examine it," continued our traveler, tenderly raising the injured member.
He was not deeply skilled in surgery; but he knew enough of the mysteries of anatomy to discover that the arm was broken between the elbow and the shoulder.
"I am afraid your arm is broken," said he cautiously, as though he feared the announcement would cause her to faint again.
"I am glad it is no worse," said she with a languid smile, and without exhibiting the least indication of feminine weakness.
"It might have been worse, certainly. Can I do anything more for you?" added Lieutenant Somers, glancing at the wreck of the cars, with a feeling that his duty then was a less pleasing one than that of attending to the wants of the beautiful stranger; for there were still men and women lying helpless and unserved in the midst of the ruins.
The train stopped upon the road; and the passengers, though appalled by the sight, rushed down the bank to render willing assistance to the sufferers. Among them was the father of the young lady, who leaped frantically down the steep, and passed from one to another of the forms which the survivors had taken from the wreck.
"There is your father," said Lieutenant Somers as he recognized him among the excited passengers. "I will go and tell him where you are."
"Do, if you please," replied the lady faintly.
He ran to the distracted parent, and seized him by the arm as he dashed from one place to another in search of the gentle maiden whose life was part of his own.
"Your daughter is out here, sir," said Lieutenant Somers, pointing to the spot where he had borne her.
"My daughter!" gasped the agonized father. "Where—where?"
"In this direction, sir."
"Is she—O Heaven, spare me!" groaned he.
"She is hurt, but I think not very badly. Her left arm is broken, and her head is slightly cut."
"O God, I thank Thee!" gasped the father, as he walked with the lieutenant to the place where the young lady was sitting on the grass.
"I think you need not be alarmed about her," added our officer, anxious to console the suffering parent.
"My poor Emmie!" exclaimed the anxious father when they reached the spot, while he knelt down upon the grass by her side, the tears coursing in torrents down his pale cheeks.
"Don't be alarmed, father," replied she, putting her uninjured arm around his neck and kissing him, while their tears mingled. "I am not much hurt, father."
Lieutenant Somers had a heart as well as a strong and willing arm, and he could not restrain his own tears as he witnessed the touching scene. The meeting seemed to be so sacred to him, that he could not stand an idle gazer upon the expression of that hallowed affection as it flowed from the warm hearts of the father and daughter.
"As I can be of no further service here, I will go and do what I can for those who need my help. If you want any assistance, I shall be close at hand," said he, as he walked away to the busy scene of woe which surrounded the wreck.
The wounded, the maimed, and the dead were rapidly taken from the pile of ruins, and placed in the cars on the road; and there was no longer anything for the young officer to do. He returned to the grassy couch of her whom he could not but regard as peculiarly his patient. The father had recovered his self-possession, and satisfied himself that Emmie was not more seriously injured than her deliverer had declared.
"My young friend, while I thank God that my daughter is still alive, I am very grateful to you for the care you have bestowed upon her," said the father, as he grasped the young officer's hand.
"You may well thank him, Mr. Guilford," said one of the two gentlemen who had followed the young officer to the spot; "for the first thing I saw, when I came out from under the ruins, was this young man lifting half the top of the car off your daughter."
"I beg your pardon, sir, but I think we should convey the young lady up to the cars; for I see they are about ready to start," said Lieutenant Somers, blushing up to the eyes.
"I thank you, young man," added Mr. Guilford with deep feeling. "I must see you again, and know more about you. Emmie has told me how kind you have been to her; and you may be sure I shall never forget it while I live. How do you feel now, Emmie?"
"My arm begins to pain me a little," she answered languidly.
"We must put you into the car, and in a short time we shall be able to do something for you."
"I will carry her up to the train, sir," said the young officer.
"I thank you, sir," said Emmie with a smile; "but I think I can walk."
"Well," said the gentleman who had spoken before, "I saw him carry you from the wreck to this place; and I am bound to say, I never saw a mother handle her baby more tenderly."
"I am very grateful to him for what he has done for me," added Emmie with a slight blush; "and if I needed his services, I certainly should accept his kind offer."
She took the arm of her father, and walked very well till she came to the steep bank, whose ascent required more strength than she then possessed. Her father and Lieutenant Somers then made a "hand-chair," and bore her up to the car, in which she was as comfortably disposed as the circumstances would permit. The train started with its melancholy freight of wounded, dead and dying.
"I see, sir, you are an officer in the army," said Mr. Guilford as the train moved off; "but I have not yet learned your name."
"Thomas Somers, sir," replied our young officer.
"I must trouble you to write it down for me, with your residence when at home, and your regiment in the field."
Lieutenant Somers complied with this request, and in return the gentleman gave him his address.
"I shall never forget you, Lieutenant Somers," said Mr. Guilford when he had carefully deposited the paper in his memorandum-book. "I have it in my power to be of service to you; and if you ever want a friend, I shall consider it a favor if you will come to me, or write to me."
"Thank you, sir; I am very much obliged to you. But I hope you won't consider yourself under any obligations to me for what I have done. I couldn't have helped doing it if I had tried."
"Lieutenant Somers, you are in luck," said the gentleman who had accompanied him before. "That is Senator Guilford, of ——, and he will make a brigadier-general of you before you are a year older."
A FRIEND AT COURT
Lieutenant Somers sat down in one corner of the car, near the seats occupied by Miss Guilford and her father. He was just beginning to be conscious of the fact that he had done a "big thing;" not because he had helped one of God's suffering creatures, but because she happened to be a Senator's daughter. But he still had the happy reflection, that what he had done had been prompted by motives of humanity, not by the love of applause, or for the purpose of winning the favor of a great man who could dispense the "loaves and fishes" when he should need them.
He was rather sensitive. He was a young man of eighteen, and he had not yet become familiar with the grossness and selfishness of this calculating world. He was rather offended at the patronage which the Senator had proposed to bestow upon him, and he even regretted that he had so readily given him his address.
Lieutenant Somers regarded himself as emphatically a fighting officer; and the idea of working his way up to distinction by the favor of a member of Congress was repulsive to him. He really wished the Hon. Mr. Guilford had only thanked him for what he had done, and not said a word about having it in his power to be of service to him.
While he was meditating upon the events which had transpired, and the Senator's patronizing offer, he saw Captain de Banyan enter the forward door of the car through which the gentleman who had taken so much pains to compliment the young officer had disappeared a short time before. The distinguished captain walked through the car directly to the seat of the lieutenant, who had not even yet ceased to blush under the praises which had been bestowed upon him.
"Somers, your hand," said he, extending his own. "I have heard all about it, and am proud that our regiment has furnished so brave and devoted a man. Oh, don't blush, my dear fellow! You are a modest man. I sympathize with you; for I am a modest man myself. I didn't get over blushing for three weeks after his imperial majesty, the Emperor of France, complimented me for some little thing I did at the battle of Palestro."
"I thought that was at Magenta," added Somers.
"So it was. The fact is, I have been in a great many battles, and I get them mixed up a little sometimes. But you are in luck, Somers," continued the captain in a lower tone, as he seated himself by the side of his fellow-officer.
"They say she is the daughter of a Senator."
"What of that?"
"What of that! Why, my dear fellow, you are as innocent as a school girl. Don't you see he can get you on some general's staff, and have you promoted every time there is a skirmish?"
"I don't want to be promoted unless I earn it."
"Of course you don't; but every officer that earns it won't get it. By the way, Somers, can't you introduce me to the old gentleman?"
"I never saw him before in my life."
"No matter for that. I'll warrant you, he'll be glad to make all your friends his friends."
"But I don't feel enough acquainted with him to introduce a gentleman whom I never saw in my life till two hours ago."
"You are right, my dear fellow; excuse me," replied Captain de Banyan, looking very much disappointed. "I dare say, if I should show him the autograph of the Emperor of France, he would be very glad to know me."
"No doubt of it. At any rate, I recommend you to make the trial."
"Yes; but the mischief of it is, I have left all those papers at home."
"That's unfortunate," added Lieutenant Somers, who had some serious doubts in regard to the existence of those papers.
"So it is. If I had been lucky enough to have made the acquaintance of that young lady, as you have, I would not let my aspirations stop short of the stars of a major-general."
"You need not as it is, if you do your duty."
"Ah! my dear fellow, you are as sentimental as a girl of sixteen. I am a modest man; but, in my estimation, there are ten thousand men in the army as good as I am. They can't all be major-generals, can they?"
"Then, if you live a few months longer, you will find out how good a thing it is to have a friend at court. You are a modest young man; but I suppose you think there isn't another man in the army who is quite your equal, and that your merit and your bravery will make a brigadier of you in less than a year. It's a good thing to think so; but——"
"I don't think so. That would be modesty with a vengeance."
"I was a sentimental boy like you once, and I was just as certain that I should be made a field-marshal, and have the command of the French army in the Crimea——"
"I thought you were in the English army in the Crimea," interposed the young lieutenant, eager to change the subject.
"Certainly, in the English army; that's what I said," continued the gallant captain, entirely unmoved by the interruption. "I was just as sure of having the command of the British army in the Crimea as you are of becoming a brigadier by the time we get into Richmond. But I have no friends at court as you have now."
"I never thought of such a thing as being a brigadier," protested Somers. "I never even expected to become a second lieutenant."
"It isn't much to be a brigadier. I served with 'Old Rosey' in West Virginia for a time. We had a captain there who didn't know any more about military than a swine does about Lord Chesterfield's table etiquette. He went into action with a cane in his hand, hawbucking his company about just as a farmer does a yoke of cattle. That fellow is a brigadier-general now; and there's hope for you and me, if we can only have a friend at court."
"I am higher now than I ever expected to be, and I wouldn't give a straw for fifty friends at court."
"That's because you are sentimental; but you'll get over that."
"Lieutenant Somers," said Senator Guilford, who had risen from his seat, and approached that occupied by the two officers, "I shall leave the train at the next stopping-place, in order to procure proper medical attendance for my daughter. I desire again to express my thanks to you for the signal service you have rendered to my daughter."
Our hero blushed again, and stammered out some deprecatory remark.
"When you are in Washington, you must call and see me. You must promise this for Emmie's sake, if not for mine," added the Senator.
"I should be very happy to call," replied the young officer.
"My friend Lieutenant Somers is as bashful as a maiden of sweet sixteen," interposed Captain de Banyan. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Guilford; though your name and fame are familiar to me, I have not the honor of your personal acquaintance; but, under the circumstances, I shall make it part of my duty to see that my friend does not neglect your reasonable request."
"Thank you, sir," replied the Senator.
"Captain de Banyan, at your service," added the modest officer who had served in Italy and the Crimea.
"Thank you, Captain de Banyan. I see you are in the same regiment with Lieutenant Somers."
"Yes, sir, I have that honor; and I assure you there is not a nobler and braver young officer in the Army of the Potomac. He reminds me very much of a splendid fellow I served with in the Crimea."
"Ah! you were in the Crimea?"
"I was, sir; and he looks very much like Captain de Waite, whom I saw made a major on the field of Magenta, for the most daring bravery, by the Emperor of France."
"You have seen service, captain," added the Senator.
"A little, sir."
"You must speak with my daughter, lieutenant, before we part," continued Mr. Guilford. "Her gratitude has no limit."
Lieutenant Somers was astounded by the effrontery of his military companion, who had claimed to be his friend, and forced himself upon the acquaintance of the powerful man on the strength of that intimacy; had even brought to his notice the fact—if it was a fact—that he had been at Magenta and in the Crimea. The simple-minded young man had seen no such diplomacy in Pinchbrook, or in the course of his travels in Maryland and Virginia; and he was fearful that the audacious fellow would dare to address the daughter as he had the father.
"Be seated," said the Senator, as he pointed to the seat in front of Miss Emmie.
She was pale, and appeared to be suffering from the pain of her broken arm; but she bestowed a sweet smile upon him as he took the proffered seat.
"Lieutenant Somers, after what I have heard from Mr. Holman"—that was the gentleman who had spoken so handsomely of him—"I feel sure that I owe my life to you."
"I think not, Miss Guilford," replied the lieutenant, very much embarrassed. "I only pulled you out from the ruins; I couldn't have helped doing it if I had tried; and I hope you won't feel under any obligations to me."
"But I do feel under very great obligations to you, and I assure you I am happy to owe my life to so brave and gallant a soldier."
Somers felt just as though he was reading an exciting chapter in a sensational novel; though he could not help thinking of Lilian Ashford, and thus spoiling all the romance of the affair. He made no reply to Miss Emmie's pretty speech; it was utterly impossible for him to do so; and therein he differed from all the heroes of the novels.
"I want to hear from you some time, and even to see you again. You must promise to call and see me when we get to Washington."
"I may not be able to leave my regiment at that time."
"Oh! my father will get you a furlough any time you want one."
Lieutenant Somers thought he would like to see himself asking a furlough to enable him to visit a young lady in Washington, even if she was a Senator's daughter; but he promised to call at Mr. Guilford's whenever he happened to be at the capital, which was entirely satisfactory to the young lady. Though Emmie was by this time suffering severely, she managed to say several pleasant things; and among them she hinted that her father could make a brigadier as easily as a tinker could make a tin kettle.
The train arrived at the stopping-place; and Mr. Guilford, with the assistance of Lieutenant Somers, placed his daughter in a carriage. Captain de Banyan was very anxious to assist in the operation; but the sufferer declined. They parted with a renewed promise on the part of the young officer to visit her in Washington, whenever his duty called him to that city. The cars arrived in New York two hours behind time—too late to connect with the train for Philadelphia. Captain de Banyan proposed, as they were obliged to remain in the city over night, that they should stop at the "Fifth Avenue," declaring that it was the best hotel in New York. Somers objected; hoping that he should thus escape the society of the captain, who appeared to be altogether too "fast" for his time.
De Banyan was accommodating; and, when the lieutenant mentioned a small hotel downtown, he readily agreed to the proposition, and Somers found it useless to attempt to get rid of him. The captain, for some reason or other, appeared to have taken a decided liking to our officer. Perhaps he hoped to share with him the powerful patronage of Senator Guilford.
After supper, Captain de Banyan proposed that they should go out and see the "elephant;" but Somers, having no taste for the study of this description of natural history, positively declined to see the metaphorical monster.
"We must go somewhere," persisted the captain, taking up a newspaper. "Here's a 'Lecture on the Battle of Bull Run, by Lieutenant-Colonel Staggerback, who participated in that memorable action,'" he continued, reading from the paper.
"I was in that battle myself; I don't object to that," replied Somers.
"Good! Then we'll go."
They walked up Broadway till they came to one of those gaudy saloons where rum and ruin are tricked out in the gayest of colors.
"We are early for the lecture, Somers. Let's go in here, and see what there is to be seen."
"No, I thank you; I don't care about going into any of these dens of vice and sin."
"'Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, As, to be hated, needs but to be seen,'"
repeated the captain with dramatic force.
"'But seen too oft——'
You needn't see it but once. Don't you want to see the lions of the metropolis?"
"Don't object to the lions; but, in my opinion, you will find only the donkeys in there."
"Let us see, at any rate."
"I will go in for a moment," replied Somers, who did not like to seem over-squeamish.
They entered this outer gate to ruin. There was a bar at the end next to the street, while at the other end a band of music was playing the national airs. It looked like a very pleasant place to the young lieutenant, who had never entered one of these saloons before.
THE FIRE OF TEMPTATION
Captain de Banyan sauntered gracefully up the saloon, with Somers at his side. He appeared to be perfectly at home, and to have all the ease and finish of a thorough man of the world. His movements were calculated to make a sensation; and, as he passed along, old topers and gay young bloods paused to glance at him. If the captain had been in command of the Army of the Potomac, his elevated position would hardly have justified a more extensive flourish than he made.
Lieutenant Somers was duly impressed by the magnificence of his companion, though the surroundings of the place created some painful misgivings in his mind. The captain sat down at one of the little tables where the frequenters of the saloon who were disposed to prolong the enjoyment of their drams discussed "juleps," "cobblers," and other villainous compounds.
Somers could not do less than seat himself at the other side of the table. He was ill at ease, even while he was endeavoring to seem indifferent and at home. I am sorry to say he was haunted by that abominable bugbear which often takes possession of the minds of young men when they find themselves in the presence of those who are adepts in the arts of vice—a fear of being thought "green," "verdant," or being measured by some other adjective used in fast circles to caricature the innocence of a soul unsullied by contact with the vices and follies of the city. He half expected that some of the dissolute young wretches who were drinking, swearing, and pouring the filth of a poisoned mind from their lips, would ask him if "his mother knew he was out." He tried to maintain his self-possession, and to seem at home where ruin was rioting in the souls of young men. If he did not entirely succeed, it was all the more to his credit.
"What will you take?" demanded Captain de Banyan, after they had sat at the table long enough to examine the prominent features of the saloon.
"Take a walk," replied Lieutenant Somers.
"No, no! What will you drink?"
"Nothing, thank you. I've just been to supper, and don't want anything."
"Yes; but people who come in here, and listen to the music, are expected to patronize the establishment. I'm going to have a brandy smash: shall I order one for you?"
"No, I thank you."
"But I can't drink alone."
"I never drink."
"Nonsense! A lieutenant in our regiment, and not drink! I see! You haven't learned yet; but it won't take you long. Your case is exactly my own. I was about your age when I went to the Crimea, and didn't know wine from brandy. After the battle of Balaclava, where I did some little thing which excited the admiration of the nobs in command, Lord Raglan sent for me, and invited me to take a glass of wine with him. Of course, I could not refuse his lordship, especially as he was in the very act of complimenting me for what he was pleased to call my gallant conduct. I drank my first glass of wine then. It was Sicily Madeira, and light, sweet wine; and, my dear fellow, you shall begin with the same, and we will drink the health of Senator Guilford and his fair daughter. Waiter, one brandy smash and one Sicily Madeira."
"Really, Captain de Banyan, you must excuse me," stammered Somers, completely bewildered by the eloquent and insinuating manners of his brilliant companion, who had spoken loud enough to attract the attention of a dozen idlers greedy for excitement of any kind, and to whom the latter part of his remarks seemed to be addressed, rather than to the timid young man in front of him.
Captain de Banyan appeared to have a point to carry; which was nothing less than to overcome the conscientious scruples of the young officer. He had spoken loud enough to attract the attention of these miserable tipplers, that Somers might be over-awed by their presence, and intimidated by their sneers, and thus compelled to taste the intoxicating cup. The squad of fast men who had taken positions near the table were interested in the scene, and impatient to see the pure soul tumbled from its lofty eminence.
"Here's the nectar!" almost shouted the captain as the waiter placed the drinks upon the table. "Wine for you; brandy for me. You will be promoted to brandy one of these days, my boy, when your head is stronger and your nerves stiffer. Lieutenant Somers, here's to the health of the patriot statesman, Senator Guilford, and his lovely daughter;" and the captain pushed aside the straw in the vile compound, and raised the glass to his lips.
Somers was embarrassed at his position, and bewildered by the dashing speeches of his companion. A dozen pair of leering eyes were fixed upon him; a dozen mouths were wrinkled into sottish smiles, called up by his sufferings at that critical moment. He reached forth his hand, and grasped the slender stem of the wine-glass; but his arm trembled more than that of the most hardened toper in the group before him. He had been trembling in the presence of that squad of tyrants—those leer-eyed grinning debauchees, who seemed to be opening the gate of hell, and bidding him enter.
"Tom Somers," said the still small voice which had spoken to him a thousand times before in the perils and temptations through which he had passed, "you have behaved yourself very well thus far. You have been promoted for bravery on the battlefield; and now will you cower in the presence of this brilliant brawler, and these weak-minded, cowardly tipplers? What would your mother say if she could see you now, with your shaking hand fastened to the wine-cup? What would Lilian Ashford say? Dare you drink the health of Emmie Guilford in such a place as this? You should have smote the lips that mentioned her name in such a presence!"
He drew back his hand from the glass. His muscles tightened up, as they had on the bloody field of Williamsburg. Tom Somers was himself again.
"Come, Somers, you don't drink," added the captain sarcastically.
"No, I thank you; I never drink," he answered resolutely, as he cast a steady glance of pity and contempt at the bloated crew who had been reveling in his embarrassment.
"You won't refuse now?"
"Lieutenant Somers, I took you for a young man of pluck. I'm disappointed. You will pardon me, my dear fellow; but I can't help regarding your conduct as rather shabby."
"I never drink, as I have said before, and I do not intend to begin now. If I have been shabby, I hope you will excuse me."
"Certainly I will excuse you, when you atone for your folly, and drink with me."
The spectators laughed, and evidently thought the captain had made a point.
"Then I can never atone for my folly, as you call it," replied Somers, his courage increasing as the trial demanded it.
"What would Lord Raglan have said if I had refused to drink his Sicily Madeira?"
"Very likely he would have said just what you said; but there would have been no more sense in it then than now."
"Bully for young 'un!" said a seedy dandy, whose love of fancy drinks had made a compromise with his love of dress.
"I will leave it to these gentlemen to decide whether I have not spoken reason and good sense."
"I will leave you and these gentlemen to settle that question to suit yourselves, and I will bid you good-evening," said Somers, rising from his chair.
The unpleasant emphasis which he placed upon the word "gentlemen" created a decided sensation among the group of idlers; and, as he stepped from behind the table, he was confronted by a young man with bloodshot eyes and bloated cheeks, but dressed in the extreme of fashion.
"Sir, you wear the colors of the United States Army," said the juvenile tippler; "but you can't be permitted to insult a gentleman with impunity."
Lieutenant Somers wanted to laugh in the face of this specimen of bar-room chivalry, for he forcibly reminded him of a belligerent little bantam-rooster that paraded the barnyard of his mother's cottage at Pinchbrook; but he was prudent enough not to give any further cause of offense. Bestowing one glance at this champion of the tippler's coterie, he turned aside, and attempted to move towards the door.
"Stop, sir," continued the young man, who plainly wanted to make a little capital out of a fight, in defense of the dignity of his friends. "You can't go without an apology, or—or a fight," added the bully, shaking his head significantly, as he placed himself in front of the young lieutenant.
"What am I to apologize for?" asked Somers.
"You insulted the whole party of us. You intimated that we were no gentlemen."
"I haven't spoken to any of you since I came in," protested Somers. "I never had anything to do with you, and I don't know whether you are gentlemen or not."
"You hear that, gentlemen!" added the bully.
"I think I have said all that is necessary to say; with your leave I will go," said Somers.
"Stop, sir!" snarled the young ruffian, putting his hand on the lieutenant's collar.
"Take your hand off!" said he sternly.
The fellow complied.
"This thing has gone far enough, sir," said Captain de Banyan, stepping between Somers and his assailant. "Lieutenant Somers is my friend; and, if you put the weight of your little finger upon him, I'll annihilate you quicker than I did a certain Austrian field-marshal at the battle of Solferino. Gentlemen, permit me to apologize for my inexperienced friend if he has uttered any indiscreet word."
"He must apologize!" blustered the young ruffian. "He says we are no gentlemen. Let him prove it."
"You have proved it yourself, you little ape," replied the captain, as he stepped up to the bar, and paid his reckoning, bestowing no more attention upon the ruffled little bully than if he had been a very small puppy; which perhaps he was not, by a strict construction of terms.
"I demand satisfaction!" roared the flashy little toper. "Apologize, or fight!"
"Neither, my gay and festive lark," said the captain with abundant good humor, as he took Somers's arm, and sauntered leisurely towards the door. "Now, my dear fellow, we will go and hear what Lieutenant-Colonel Staggerback has to say about the battle of Bull Run. I was in that action, and rallied the Fire Zouaves when Colonel Ellsworth was killed."
"Colonel Ellsworth! He wasn't killed at Bull Run!" exclaimed Somers, astonished beyond measure at the singular character which his companion was developing.
"You are right; he was killed at Ball's Bluff."
"I think not; but were you at Bull Run?"
"Certainly I was. I was on General Fremont's staff."
"Were you, indeed? Whew!"
"What may be the precise meaning of that whistle? Do you think I was not there?"
"Well, I don't remember to have seen you there?"
"Very likely you did not; but you will call to mind the fact, that things were rather mixed up in that action. But never mind that: we will talk those things over when we get down upon the Peninsula, and have nothing else to think about. Do you really mean to say, my dear fellow, that you never drink at all?"
"I do not."
"Well, I have heard of a man climbing up to the moon on a greased rainbow; but I never heard of an officer before that didn't drink."
"I'm afraid you haven't been very careful in the choice of your companions. I know a great many that never taste liquor under any circumstances."
"It may be so; and I am willing to confess that I have found one. I wouldn't have believed it before if I had read it in the Constitution of the United States. I owe you an apology, then, for letting on in that saloon. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, my dear fellow; but I thought you were joking."
"I hope you will not repeat the experiment, then; though I shall consider myself fair game if I ever enter another rum-shop," replied Somers.
They proceeded to the place designated for the lecture; and Captain de Banyan betrayed his interest in that memorable battle, where he had served on the staff of General Fremont, by going to sleep before the eloquent "participant" had got half-way through the exordium. Lieutenant Somers listened attentively until he was satisfied that Colonel Staggerback either was not in the battle, or that he had escorted "Bull Run Russell" off the field.
When the lecture was finished, Somers awakened his edified companion, and they returned to the hotel; though the captain hinted several times on the way that the "elephant" could be seen to better advantage in New York than in any other city in the Union. The young lieutenant had an utter disgust for the elephant, and took no hints. Before he retired that night, he thanked God, more earnestly and devoutly than usual, that he had been enabled to pass unscathed through the fires of temptation. He was still in condition to look his mother in the face.
ON THE SKIRMISH LINE
In the morning our travelers resumed their journey, more refreshed and in better condition for service than if they had spent the evening in chasing the "elephant" from one to another of the gilded dens of dissipation with which the metropolis abounds. In spite of his errors and sins, Somers could not help liking his dashing companion. He was a dangerous person; but his enthusiasm was so captivating, that he could not close his heart against him. But, while he liked the captain, he hated his vices.
They stopped in Philadelphia only long enough to dine, and in Baltimore only long enough for supper; arriving at Washington in the evening. Captain de Banyan again proposed to "go round;" which, rendered into unmistakable English, meant to visit the drinking-houses and gambling-saloons of the city, to say nothing of worse places. Lieutenant Somers had grown wise by experience; and no amount of persuasion could induce him to leave the hotel. It was horrible to him to think of spending even his leisure time in the haunts of dissipation, when his country was bleeding from a thousand wounds; when his gallant comrades in the Army of the Potomac were enduring peril and hardship in front of the enemy. He had no taste for carousing at any time, and every fiber of his moral nature was firmly set against the vices which lured on his reckless companion.
Lieutenant Somers stayed at the hotel that evening, listening to the conversation of the officers who had been at the front within a few days. The great battle of Fair Oaks had been fought during his absence, and there was every prospect that the most tremendous operations of the war would soon commence. He listened with the deepest interest to the accounts from the army, and needed none of the stimulus of the bar-room or the gambling-saloon to furnish him with excitement. He was soon to be an actor in the momentous events of the campaign; and the thought was full of inspiration, and lifted him up from the gross and vulgar tastes of his companion.
Before noon the next day, somewhat against the inclination of Captain de Banyan, the two officers were on board a steamer bound down the river. After some delays, they arrived at White House, on the Pamunkey River; and then proceeded by railroad nearly to the camp of the regiment, at Poplar Hill, in the very depths of White Oak Swamp.
"My blessed boy!" shouted Sergeant Hapgood when Lieutenant Somers appeared in the camp.
The veteran rushed upon him, and, not content to shake his hand he proceeded to hug him in the most extraordinary manner.
"I am glad to see you, Hapgood! How have you been since I left?" said Somers.
"First-rate! Bless my withered old carcass, Tom, but I thought I never should see you again. Why, Tom, how handsome you've grown! Well, you'll be a brigadier one of these days, and there won't be a better-looking officer on the field. Dear me, Tom—— Beg pardon; I forgot that you are an officer; and I mustn't call you Tom any more."
"Never mind that, uncle," added Somers, laughing. "It would hardly be good discipline for a sergeant to call an officer by a nickname; but we will compromise, and you shall call me Tom when we are not on duty, and there is no one within hearing."
"Compromise! Don't never use that word to me. After we fit the battle of Bull Run, I gouged that word out of my dictionary. No, sir! You are a leftenant now; and I shall allus call you Leftenant Somers, even if there ain't nobody within ten mile of us."
"Just as you please, uncle; but, whatever you call me, we shall be just as good friends as we ever were."
"That's so, Leftenant Somers."
"Precisely, Sergeant Hapgood."
"Now, what's the news in Pinchbrook?" asked the veteran.
But, before Somers had a chance to tell the news from home, he was welcomed to the camp, and cheered, by officers and men; and his account of what had transpired in Pinchbrook during his thirty days' furlough was eagerly listened to by a large and attentive audience. He received in return a full history of the regiment during his absence. Though the narrative of sundry exciting events, such as forays upon pig-sties, poultry-yards, and kitchen-gardens, was highly amusing, there was a tale of sadness to tell—of deaths by disease and on the battlefield.
Many cheerful hearts that were beating with life and hope a few weeks before, were now silent in the grave—the soldier's mausoleum in a strange land. But soldiers have no time to weep over a dead past; they must live in the hope of a glorious future; and when they had dropped a tear to the memory of the noble and the true who had fallen on the field or died in the hospital, victims of the pestilential airs of the swamp, they laughed as merrily as ever, careless of Death's poised arrows which were always aimed at them.
Captain de Banyan took his place in the regiment, where Somers found that he was prodigiously popular, even after a few hours' acquaintance with his new command; but who he was, where he came from, and how he had procured his commission, was a mystery to officers and men. He told tremendous stories about the Crimea and the Italian war; and now for the first time intimated that he was the only survivor of the company which led the advance at the storming of Chapultepec, in the Mexican war. However much the officers enjoyed his stories, it is not probable that all of them believed what they heard.
Lieutenant Somers was perfectly familiar with the company and battalion drill; and, having quick perception and abundant self-possession, he was competent at once to perform his duties as an officer. He had no vices to be criticized by the men, who respected him not only for his bravery on the battlefield, but for his good moral character; for even the vicious respect the virtues which they practically contemn. Being neither arbitrary nor tyrannical, he was cheerfully obeyed; and his company never appeared better than when, by the temporary absence of his superior, it was under his command.
He was, however, allowed but a short time to become acquainted with the routine of the new duty before he was summoned to participate in those tremendous events which have passed into history as at once the most brilliant and disastrous operations of the war; brilliant in that our gallant army was almost invariably victorious, disastrous in that they were the forerunners of the ultimate failure of a hopeful campaign. The victory at Fair Oaks had raised the hopes of that brave, thinking army.
The picket-lines were within a few miles of Richmond, and the soldiers were burning with enthusiasm to be led against the enemy in front of them. They were ready to lay down their lives on the altar of their bleeding country, if the survivors could grasp the boon of peace within the buttressed walls of the rebel capital—peace that would hurl to the ground the defiant traitors, and insure the safety and perpetuity of free institutions. The notes of victory, those thinking soldiers believed, would reverberate through the coming ages, and point an epoch from which America would date her grandest and most sublime triumphs.
But not then was the great rebellion to be overthrown; for not yet had the leaven of Liberty leavened the whole lump; not yet had the purposes of a mysterious Providence been accomplished; and the brave men who sighed for victory and peace in the swamps of the Chickahominy were doomed to years of blood and toil, of victory and defeat, as they marched on, alike through both, to the consummation of a nation's glorious triumph, not over paltry armies of arrogant traitors, but over the incarnation of Evil, over Heaven-defying institutions, whose downfall established forever principles as eternal as God Himself.
Lieutenant Somers was filled with the spirit of the army. He felt that the salvation of his country depended upon the valor of that army; and, impressed with the magnitude of the interests at stake, he was resolved to do his whole duty. With cheerful alacrity he obeyed the summons which brought Grover's brigade into line of battle on the morning of the eventful 25th of June. What was to be accomplished was not for him to know; but forward moved the line through the swamp, through the woods, through the pools of stagnant waters up to the hips of the soldiers.
Impressed by the responsibility of his position, Lieutenant Somers encouraged the weak as they struggled through the mire on their trying march, and with fit words stimulated the enthusiasm of all. After a march of about a mile, a heavy skirmish line was thrown out, which soon confronted that of the rebels.
"Now, Somers, my dear fellow, the concert is about to open," said Captain de Banyan. "By the way, my boy, this reminds me of Magenta, where——"
"Oh, confound Magenta!" exclaimed Somers.
"Why, my dear fellow, you are as petulant as a belle that has lost her beau."
"You don't propose to tell us a story about Magenta at such a time as this, do you?"
"Well, I confess I have a weakness in that direction. Magenta was a great battle. But I'm afraid you are a little nervous," laughed the captain.
"Nervous? Do you think I'm a coward?" demanded Somers.
"I know you are not; but you might be a little nervous for all that."
At that instant, the sharp crack of a single rifle was heard, and Somers observed a slight jerk in the brim of the captain's felt hat.
"Bravo!" exclaimed Captain de Banyan as he took off his hat, and pointed to a hole through which the rifle-ball had sped its way. "I'll bet a month's pay that fellow couldn't do that again without making a hole through my head. But that's a singular coincidence. That's precisely the place where the first bullet went through my hat at Solferino. At Magenta—ah! I see him," added the captain, as he took a musket from the hands of one of his men. "I'll bet another month's pay that reb has fired his last shot."
As he spoke, he raised the gun to his shoulder, and fired up into one of the trees. A crashing of boughs, a rattling of leaves followed; and a heavy body was heard to strike the ground.
"You owe me a month's pay, Somers," continued Captain de Banyan, as he handed the musket back to the soldier.
"I think not," replied the lieutenant, trying to be as cool as his companion. "I never bet."
"Just so. I forgot that you were an exceedingly proper young man."
The skirmish-line, which had paused a moment for an observation to be taken, now moved forward again. The rebel skirmishers were discovered, and the order was given to fire at will. The enemy's sharpshooters were posted in the trees, and they began to pour in a galling fire upon a portion of the line.
"Steady, my men!" said Somers, when the firing commenced. "Gunpowder's expensive; don't waste it."
"Not a single grain of it, Leftenant Somers," added Sergeant Hapgood.
"There, uncle!—up in that tree!" said Somers, pointing to a grayback, who was loading his rifle, about twenty feet from the ground.
"I see him!" replied the sergeant as he leveled his piece, and fired.
The rebel was wounded, but he did not come down; and the captain of the company ordered his men to move forward. From the thunder of the artillery and the rattle of musketry, it was evident that heavy work was in progress on the right and left.
"Forward, men!" said Somers, repeating the order of Captain Benson.
The men were scattered along an irregular line, and firing into the bushes, which partially concealed the rebel skirmishers. Somers's platoon advanced a little more rapidly than the rest of the line, being favored with a few rods of dry ground. He had urged them forward for the purpose of dislodging three sharpshooters perched in a large tree.
"Come down, rebs!" shouted Somers, as he reached the foot of the tree, and told half a dozen of his men to point their guns towards them.
"What d'ye say, Yank?" demanded one of them.
"Will you come down head first, or feet first? Take your choice quick!" replied the lieutenant.
"As you seem to be in arnest, we'll come down the nateral way."
They did come down without a more pressing invitation, and were disarmed, ready to be sent to the rear.
THE REBEL SHARPSHOOTERS
"Lieutenant Somers, I don't think I can stand it much longer," said Phineas Deane, a private, who had joined the regiment a few days before the battle, as he saluted his officer.
"Can't stand what?"
"The fact on't is, lieutenant, I'm sick. I haven't felt well for two or three days. I come out here to fight for my country, and I want to do some good. I might help take them prisoners back, if you say so."
"Sick, are you? What's the matter?"
"I've got a bad pain in the bowels," replied Phineas, as he placed himself on the right side of a tree, and glanced uneasily in the direction of the rebel skirmish line. "I'm subject to sich turns, but allus git over 'em if I have a chance to lay down for a few hours."
"Oh, well, you can lie down here!" added Somers, who understood the case pretty well.
"What! down here in the mud and water? Wal, that would be rather steep for a sick man," said Phineas, with a ghastly smile, as he glanced again towards the enemy.
"I will get some medicine for you. Here, uncle, let me have one of your powders," continued the lieutenant, addressing old Hapgood.
"Sartin; they've done me heaps of good, and I'm sure they're just the thing for that man."
Somers took one of the powders, and opened the paper.
"Now, my man, open your mouth, and let me give you this medicine," he added.
"What kind of medicine is it?"
"It'll make you kinder sick to the stomach; but it'll cure you in less'n half an hour."
"Well, lieutenant, I don't know as I want to take any medicine," answered poor Phineas, who was not prepared for this active treatment; though he would have taken it quick enough if he could be sent to the rear. "I guess I don't keer about takin' on it."
"You needn't, if you don't want to get well."
"I only want to go back to camp, and lay down for a spell."
"We can't spare you just yet, Phineas; but, if you don't stir yourself, you will lie down here somewhere, and never get up again," added Somers, as a shower of bullets passed over their heads. "Forward, boys!"
The captain detailed a couple of men to conduct the prisoners to the rear, and the company pressed forward. The rebel sharpshooters were dislodged from the trees; a few prisoners were captured; but the heavy fighting and the heavy losses fell upon other portions of the line. The rebels had been forced back, and the movement seemed to be a success. Half the regiment moved out of the woods, while the rest remained under the trees; when a halt was ordered. Somers found himself near an old house, behind which a number of rebel sharpshooters had concealed themselves for the purpose of picking off the Union soldiers.
The firing in the immediate vicinity had diminished, though the din of battle resounded on both sides. The boys were rather nervous, as men are when standing idle under fire; but it was the nervousness of restrained enthusiasm, not of fear, unless it was in the case of invalid Phineas, and a very few others whose physical health had not been completely established.
"Well, Somers, my dear boy, how do you get on?" asked Captain de Banyan, as he sauntered leisurely up to the lieutenant, whose command stood next to his own.
"First-rate; only I should like to have something a little more active than standing here."
"It takes considerable experience to enable a man to stand still under fire. When I was at the battle of Alma, I learned that lesson to a charm. We stood up for forty-two hours under a fierce fire of grape and canister, to say nothing of musketry."
"Forty-two hours!" exclaimed Somers. "I should think you would all have been killed off before that time."
"In our regiment, only one man was killed; and he got asleep, and walked in his dreams over towards the enemy's line."
"Captain, you can tell a bigger story than any other man in the army," said Somers, laughing.
"That's because I have seen more of the world. When you have been about as much as I have, you will know more about it."
"No doubt of it."
"I should be very happy to be more actively employed just now; but I am very well contented where I am."
The position they occupied enabled the two officers to see some sharp fighting along the line. Through an opening at the right, they saw a rebel regiment, wearing white jackets, or else stripped to their shirts, march at double-quick, in splendid order, with arms at "right shoulder shift," to the scene of action. It was probably some volunteer body from Richmond, whom the ladies of the rebel capital had just dismissed, with sweet benedictions, to sweep the "foul Yankees" from the face of the earth. They were certainly a splendid body of men; and the ladies might well be proud of them. They went into the field in good style, with the blessings of the fair still lingering fondly in their ears. But one volley from the veterans of the Army of the Potomac was enough for them, and they gave way, running off the field in wild disorder, threading their way in terror through the bushes, every man for himself. It is not likely that they were welcomed back from the gory field by the frothy feminine rebels of Richmond.
"That's just the way the Russians ran at Palestro!" exclaimed Captain de Banyan, as he watched the exciting scene.
"The Russians at Palestro!" added Somers, "I think you have got things a little mixed, captain."
Before this difficult question could be settled, Captain de Banyan was ordered to take a sufficient force, and drive out the rebels who were skulking behind the old house.
"Somers, you shall go with me," said he, when he had received his orders from the colonel. "We'll do a big thing, if there is any chance."
"I am ready for anything, big or little, captain," replied Somers heartily. "What shall I do?"
"March your men over by that little knoll, and come round on the other side of the house; I will move up in another direction, and we will bag the whole squad. But mind you, Somers, the enemy are round that way; don't let them gobble you up or lay you out."
"I will do the best I can, captain."
"Angels could do no more."
The lieutenant advanced, with the men detailed for the purpose, towards the hillock. By taking a circuitous route, he avoided the observation of the rebels behind the house, and reached the other side of the knoll, where, behind the friendly shelter of a clump of bushes, he was enabled to survey the ground. Not more than a quarter of a mile distant he discovered the rebel breastworks. It was about the same distance to the house.
Between the knoll and the house there was a small patch of wheat, which, by some chance, had escaped the havoc of foraging parties. Though the grain was not full-grown, it would afford concealment to his men. In order to reach it, he must expose his men to a volley from the rifle-pits, or from any body of rebels which might be posted in the vicinity. He could not afford to lose a single man, and he was perplexed to determine how he should overcome the distance between the wheat-field and the knoll.
It seemed to him very singular that he had not already been fired upon; and he concluded that it was because his party had been mistaken for rebels, or because some of their troops were between him and the Union lines. Whether the enemy had been deceived or not, he was fully determined to afford them no further information in regard to his politics, if any of them had seen him. He therefore ordered his men to take off their coats, which some of them had done before they started on the expedition. The blue trousers could not be so easily disposed of; but as some of the boys had straw hats, some felt, and some caps, it would have been hard to determine what they were at the distance of a quarter of a mile, especially as some of the Confederates wore the plundered clothing of the Union army.
After instructing his force in regard to their future conduct, he marched them boldly into the open space. To assist the deception, he directed one of his men to halt occasionally, and point his musket in the direction of the Union pickets. Not a shot was fired at them; and when the young lieutenant reached the wheat-field he fancied that he was clever enough for any brigadier in the rebel army.
It was desirable that the rebel sharpshooters at the house should not be alarmed; and, when his men reached the grain, Somers ordered them to get down upon their hands and knees, and creep cautiously towards the point to be assailed. The lieutenant, like a good officer, led the way himself, and had advanced about half the distance to be accomplished, when he heard a rustling noise in the grain before him. It was an ominous sound, and he paused to take an observation. He could not see anything without standing up; and, as he was within twenty rods of the house, it was necessary to avoid exposing himself.
From whatever source the sounds proceeded, it was just as safe to advance as it was to retreat; and he decided to go forward. With the utmost caution, he continued to creep along through the wheat; but he was careful to assure himself that his men's muskets and his own revolver were in condition for instant use. After he had gone a few rods farther, the sounds were more apparent; and, with no little consternation, he heard voices, rich with an unmistakable Southern accent.
"I tell you, more of our fellers is coming through the grain. You mought hear 'em, ef you weren't deafer'n a dead nigger."
"I heerd 'em. You kin bet yer life they're some of our pickets. Howsomever, I'm gwine to see."
"Hush, my men! don't speak a word!" whispered the young lieutenant. "Lie flat on the ground."
The rebels were nearer than he had supposed; for, as he turned from his men, he discovered a wiry grayback, with the chevrons of a sergeant on his arms, trying to stare him out of countenance. The fellow did not look wholesome; and Somers was in doubt whether to blow his brains out, or let things take their natural course.
"Who mought you be?" demanded the grayback, exhibiting more curiosity than of fear in his dirty face.
"One of the people," replied Somers, disposed to avoid a direct issue. "Who are you?"
"I'm one of the people too," grinned the rebel.
"I see you are; and I suppose you belong to the army, don't you?"
"Bet your life I do."
"Of course you won't object to telling me which army you belong to, as there may be some difference of opinion between us."
"'Tain't no use to ask a officer dressed in blue, and lookin' as spruce as you be, whar he kim from. I say, Yank, what are you uns doin' in hyar?"
"Only taking a look."
"You're as civil as a Mobile dancin'-master; and I axes yer, very perlite, to surrender."
"How many men have you got, reb?" demanded the lieutenant, as he put his hand on his revolver.
"See hyar, Yank; play fair. You uns allers cheat playin' poker. Don't tech yer shooter yet," replied the grayback coolly, as he thrust the muzzle of his gun in the lieutenant's face. "Two kin play at that game, and your wife or mine will be a lone widder quicker'n a coon kin wink at the moon. I've got seven men," he added.
"I have twenty-three," said Somers.
"Then yer kin whip us if yer be Yanks; for three of you uns can just lick one of we uns."
"That's good logic. Will you surrender, or fight?" demanded Somers.
"Let me count your men. I surrender," he continued, after he had stood up, and counted the Union soldiers. "Here's my shooter; fair play, even with Yanks."
Leaving a guard of eight men with his prisoners when they were disarmed, Somers hastened forward to complete his mission.
AN EXPEDITION IN FRONT
The affair in the wheat-field had been conducted very quietly, and apparently had not attracted the attention of any of the rebels in the vicinity. During the brief parley, the thunder of the battle had sounded on the right and left of the parties. The enemy were in force in their works, and it was believed that there were squads of pickets in every place of concealment which the ground afforded.
Somers was very much surprised to find that he was not molested, and made all possible haste to carry out the programme with which he had been intrusted by Captain de Banyan. Followed by the balance of his men, he crept carefully towards the house till he had reached the end of the grain-field. He could see about a dozen rebels skulking behind the building, all of them so intent upon getting a shot at the Union soldiers, that they paid no attention to the events transpiring in the rear of them; probably deeming it impossible for an enemy to approach in that direction.
The lieutenant had but fifteen men left to execute his part of the scheme, and there seemed to be double that number of graybacks lurking in and about the house. Everything depended upon his effecting the requisite junction with the force of the captain. As his superior had but a short distance to march, it was probable that he was already in position to support him; and he decided to make the attack without permitting any delay to rob him of the chances of success.
"Now, double-quick, forward!" shouted Somers, as he rose from the ground, and led the way to a position where he could intercept the retreat of the rebels.
Agreeably to the instructions previously given, his men stretched out into an extended line, and commenced firing at will upon the luckless graybacks who were in sight. It did not take them long to find out that they were assailed by a fire in the rear.
"Surrender!" shouted Captain de Banyan, who at this moment appeared at the head of his men.
The rebels were not disposed to accept this polite invitation, but began to fall back from the house in good order. They discharged their pieces at the force in front, and then started at a run to effect their escape in the opposite direction. They forgot for the moment that they had been fired upon from the rear, or else thought that the fire had been directed by some of their own people at the Yankees who had so suddenly attacked in front.
"Surrender!" shouted Lieutenant Somers, as the retreating rebels approached his line.
They halted at this unexpected summons. The officer in command of them took a hasty survey of the situation, and then ordered his troops to cut their way through the thin line between them and the rebel field-works. The commander of the rebel pickets was a gallant fellow; and, drawing his sword, he rushed towards the spot where the lieutenant was stationed. Discharging his pistol with the left hand at Somers, he dashed forward like a festive horse.
Both parties had discharged their guns, and there was no time to reload them. Some of the rebels had bayonets, and some had not; and, with the fury of their brave leader, they attempted to break their way through the line. A sharp but very irregular conflict ensued, the rebels clubbing their muskets or grappling with the Union soldiers, each according to his individual taste. As they were two to one of the Federals, they would certainly have won the field if Captain de Banyan had not promptly come to the rescue.
The excited rebel officer manifested a most persistent desire to revenge his misfortunes upon Lieutenant Somers. After he had fired his pistol twice, and one of the balls had passed through his opponent's cap, the latter, by a sudden dash, knocked the weapon from his hand with his sword. He then attempted to use his own sword, and, if Somers had not been a "master of fence," would probably have run him through the body. Some hard blows were struck with these weapons, and the age of chivalry, when men fought hand to hand with trusty blades, seemed to be revived. But the sword of the rebel officer was not so trusty as it ought to have been. It was not a regulation sword; and, while its owner was flourishing it most valiantly, the blade flew away from the handle.
"Now, surrender!" said Somers, out of breath with the violence of his exertions, as he drew from his belt the pistol which, being so hard pressed, he had not been able to use before.
"Never, sir! I don't surrender! I was sent here to fight, and not to surrender!" replied the officer, as proudly as though he had been in command of a beleaguered fortress, instead of a squad of two or three dozen men.
Somers had him at his mercy, and it seemed but little better than murder to shoot him in his defenseless state.
That was a bad mistake on his part; for the rebel officer at once proceeded to prove that he was no effeminate character, who depended upon a sword, pistol, or other weapon, to fight his battles with, but could, if occasion required, defend himself with his naked arm. He sprang upon Somers with the ferocity of a tiger. The latter fired; but the sudden movement of the former impaired his aim, and the ball whistled harmlessly over the head of the rebel. The desperate officer attempted to gain possession of the pistol; but Somers, now thoroughly aroused to a sense of his own danger, sprang at the throat of his antagonist, and, by the fierceness of the dash, bore him to the earth. His victim struggled to escape; and, being a stronger man than the other, would certainly have succeeded, if Somers had not picked up his pistol, which lay on the spot where they fell, and struck a blow with the butt of it on the temple of the rebel. This effectually quieted him; but the lieutenant's little force were falling back before the furious assaults of the graybacks.
He had only time to get up before the rebels were upon him. At this interesting and critical moment, Captain de Banyan came up with his large force; and the enemy, finding themselves pressed in front and rear, gave up in despair. They were disarmed; and, those from the wheat-field being brought forward, the whole squad were marched in the direction of the Union line.
About one-half of Somers's men were wounded, though some but slightly. These were sent back. The rebel officer lay insensible upon the ground; but Somers, satisfied that he was only stunned, desired to carry him off, not only as a trophy of his prowess, but because such a desperate fellow would be less dangerous in a prison-camp than in the lines of the rebels. He directed two of his men to bear the insensible form to the house, whither they were followed by the remainder of the force.
"Somers, my dear fellow, give me your hand," said Captain de Banyan, as soon as the pressing business of the moment had been disposed of. "You have covered yourself with glory."
"Pooh!" replied Somers, trying to look indifferent. "I have only done my duty, and obeyed my orders."
"That's very true; but, if you had been weak in the knees, you couldn't very well have obeyed orders. Somers, you have done a big thing; and, in my judgment, you ought to be promoted."
"Promoted for that?"
"In the battle of Magenta——"
"Oh, confound the battle of Magenta!" exclaimed Somers, interrupting him. "I will give you a handsome present if you will never say Magenta to me again."
"Don't be petulant, my dear boy! You have got a sweet temper naturally, and I hope you won't spoil it."
"I am afraid you will spoil it for me."
"I was only saying pleasant things to you, and you fly off and roll yourself up in your dignity like a little hedgehog. By the way, Somers, don't you suppose that Senator Guilford will hear of this affair?"
"I hope not."
"Nor that little lady we left all used up with a broken arm?"
"I don't care whether she does or not."
"Or that other little lady who knits socks for soldiers that don't run away in battle?"
Somers blushed like a maiden, and his experienced companion saw that he had touched the tender spot in his heart. Very likely the captain would have said something more on this interesting subject, if the conversation had not been interrupted by their arrival at the old house. Here they were met by a messenger from the colonel, ordering the detachment to hasten back; for orders had come for the brigade to retire to their old position.
The wounded and the prisoners were conducted safely back to the line in the woods, where our party were warmly congratulated upon their decided success. The brigade fell back, but were immediately ordered forward again, and held the advanced position which had been so gallantly won. It was not a very comfortable place; for the soldiers stood over shoes in the water. Late in the evening, our regiment was relieved by another, and ordered back to the breastworks in the rear. It had lost but few men, though torrents of loyal blood had flowed on that eventful day.
The action of that day was the initial conflict of the seven-days' battles. General McClellan actually commenced his long-deferred operations against the city of Richmond. But the favorable moment had passed by, and even then the battalions of the rebels were gathering in readiness to be hurled upon our devoted army. While the regiment, whose fortunes have been more intimately connected with our story, was retiring from the pestiferous swamp, the commanding general received information of the approach of Stonewall Jackson. These proved to be sad tidings; for the anticipated triumphal march into the rebel capital was changed into a bloody but glorious retreat. The battles which were to be fought for a victorious advance were made to cover a disastrous defeat—disastrous to the campaign, though not to the army.
Fatigued, hungry and chilled by the night damps of the swamp, the regiment threaded its way through the intricacies of the woods towards the breastworks in the rear. It was a dark and gloomy hour, though the prestige of victory dwelt in the souls of the gallant soldiers. The officers were not familiar with the ground; and with difficulty they found their way back to the old line.
"Well, Somers, how do you feel?" asked Captain de Banyan when the regiment was dismissed.
"I'm all worn out. I haven't got toughened to this kind of work yet," replied Somers.
"Don't give it up yet, my boy. We shall be in Richmond in less than a week, and then we will take rooms at the Spottswood House, and have a good time."
"Do you believe we shall ever get into Richmond, captain?"
"Certainly I do. Everything is working to my entire satisfaction. You feel a little blue, my boy; but it is only because you are tired. You will feel better in the morning."
"I am tired, but I am not blue. I am ready to do my duty, in victory or defeat. There has been an awful roar of guns all day, and no one can tell what the result of a battle will be."
"An awful roar of guns! 'Pon my word, I like that," laughed the captain. "Why, at Magenta——"
"Magenta again!" sneered Somers, who was heartily sick of that word.
"Yes, at Magenta! If you could only have heard the guns there! Why, there were seven thousand two hundred and forty-six pieces rattling away like mad on our side alone; and I believe the Russians——"
"Russians at Magenta again! I don't believe you were at the battle of Magenta any more than I was!" exclaimed Somers desperately.
"Do you mean to tell me that I lie?" asked the captain gravely.
"Go on with your story," said the lieutenant, fearing that he had said too much.
"Answer my question, if you please. You gave me the lie; did you not?"
"No; I didn't use that word."
"You said you didn't believe I was at the battle of Magenta."
"To be perfectly candid with you, I don't believe it; but I am tired, and want my supper," answered Somers, wishing to escape the issue which he had provoked.