They forgot their long experience of victory; they seemed, temporarily, to discard the confidence which they had hitherto unreservedly given their general; they could think only of the safety and repose which were just beyond the river, but separated from them by difficulties they saw no means of overcoming.
At the first streak of dawn, five hundred men, detailed for that service, advanced to carry an earthwork thrown up at the entrance to the ford, and which on the previous night had been occupied by three hundred Federal infantry, and had mounted two heavy guns.
They found the work abandoned, and the guns rolled over the bluff.
But as this detachment moved on down the Pomeroy
road, which it was instructed to guard while the main body was fording, a sharp rattle of musketry suddenly announced that it had encountered an enemy.
This turned out to be Judah
's advance guard, and sustained a smart loss in killed and wounded, beside a piece of artillery and some fifty men captured.
One of Judah
's staff was wounded, and his adjutant general made prisoner.
Our triumph, however, was short-lived.
The Federal infantry, eight or ten thousand strong, instantly deployed and advanced, flanked by three regiments of cavalry.
Two pieces of our battery were taken at the first onset.
They were no great less, inasmuch as but three cartridges remained to the guns, and the bores were so clogged with dust and dirt that they could scarcely be loaded.
Our effective strength was now little more than eighteen hundred.
The men were almost without ammunition; it had either been shot away in the frequent skirmishes, or worn out in the cartridge-boxes.
Nevertheless, they formed with alacrity, and prepared for a resistance which should secure a safe retreat.
And it would have been successfully done had not Hobson
arrived just at this crisis with three thousand men and attacked our right flank.
If the reader will picture in his mind a long valley, which may be roughly described as in the shape of an enormous V, one side of which is a wooded, ridgy hill, and the other the river; if he will imagine this angle crowded with Confederates, while Judah
pressed into the opening, Hobson
aligned his command upon the ridge, and three gunboats steamed up the river and took position at short range on the left, he will have formed a tolerably accurate idea of the situation.
The only means of egress from the valley left open to us was at the apex or northern end — the river runs here nearly due north and south.
Upon the level and unsheltered surface of this river bottom we were exposed to a tremendous direct and cross-fire from twelve or thirteen thousand small-arms, and fifteen pieces