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[124]

Once in a while authentic information, from official sources, of the enemy's proceedings reached General Pemberton in a way they did not suspect. Just prior to the siege the alphabet of the Federal Signal Corps was communicated to Captain Maxwell T. Davidson, the very valuable officer in command of the Signal Corps of M. L. Smith's Division, from the Bureau at Richmond, and was required to be committed to memory by his men. It may be said, apropos, that we always had the Federal alphabet during the war; and I suppose they had ours. The Confederate signal station on the Devil's Backbone, a high hill running along the river to the north of the city, commanded a Federal signal station on the isthmus, and every motion of its flags and lamps was readily seen by the officer in charge of the former — an alert and intelligent Creole named Mathew H. Asbury. Asbury made the watching of the Federal flags the business of his life, and hardly every missed a communication of those exchanged between General Grant and Admiral Porter. By this means the first intelligence of Banks' attack upon and repulse from the works of Port Hudson was received and communicated to headquarters. A more noticeable feat remained to be achieved by the gallant Louisianian. After Pemberton's last proposition was submitted to Grant, there elapsed an interval during which its fate was uncertain. The bombardment was still suspended. This was the night of July 3d, and an ominous and awful quiet reigned over all the scene-less welcome, no doubt, to the hearts of many than the utmost fury of the bombardment. Suddenly the lamps flashed, and then began swinging, and their message was traced letter by letter and word by word — not only by the eyes for which it was designed, but by others, if possible, more keen and eager. It said, in effect, to Admiral Porter (being sent by the general in command), that a council of the generals was, in the main, opposed to the paroling of the surrendered garrison, and thought it would be better to send the whole party North; but that he, General Grant, had ruled otherwise, on the principle that the garrison was probably demoralized enough to spread the same feeling wherever they went in the South; and that he could not spare sufficient guards and transports to send them to Northern prisons, because their absence would interfere with his proposed advance into the country. (I do not pretend to give the words.) Asbury mounted a horse and dashed into town, and found a grave council of generals in silent session at Pemberton's headquarters, awaiting the verdict. With intense feeling he laid before them the intercepted dispatch which fulfilled their hopes or their fears. With never a word more the council of war broke upthe

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