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How S-- captured a Federal Colonel's hat

Another adventure of S— , the scout, will be here narrated. He related it to me in my tent near Orange more than a year ago; but the incidents come back, as do many things in memoryliving, breathing, real, as it were, in the sunshine of to-day; not as mere shapes and recollections of the past.

In the summer of the good year 1863, S— went with two or three companions on a little scout toward Warrenton.

Do you know the pretty town of Warrenton, good reader? 'Tis a delightful little place, full of elegant mansions, charming people, and situated in a lovely country. Nowhere are the eyes of youthful maidens bluer-au revoir bien-t6t, sweet stars of my memory!--nowhere are truer hearts, or more open hands. Here Farley, the famous partisan-one of the friends I loved-used to scout at will, and when chased by his foes, rein up his horse on the suburbs, and humorously fire in their faces as they darted in pursuit of him; laughing quietly with that low musical laugh of his, as his good horse ( “Yankee property” once) bore him away. Here a friend of mine afterwards-but whither am I wandering? See the force of habit, and the inveterate propensity to rove even on paper; the result of life in the cavalry! I forget that another branch of the service now claims my thoughtsthat the blanket wrapped in its “Yankee oil-cloth” is rarely strapped behind my saddle as in the good old days when, following [493] one illustrious for ever, I knew not whither I was going, where I would stop, or what greenwood tree would shelter me. Look! the red battle-flag is floating in the wind; the column moves; will we sleep in Virginia, Maryland, or Pennsylvania? We knew not, for the cavalry are your true rovers of the greenwood; so I, who once was a cavalry-man, rove still, even on paper.

I perceive I am growing dull. To return to S- and his little scout near Warrenton in 1863. I cannot fail to interest then, you see, my dear reader; for there is a certain species of human interest in the adventures of those who deal in

bloody noses, and crack'd crowns,
And pass them current too,

which everybody experiences; and the relation of these sanguinary adventures demands very little “style.” You tell your plain story as plainly as possible; and behold! you secure the luxury of luxuries, a satisfied reader.

S— had, as I have said, two or three companions with him; and having slept in the woods near Warrenton, the party proceeded toward Catlett's in search of adventures. There were plenty of Federal camps there, and in the neighbourhood; and our scout promised himself much amusement. Behold them then, full of the spirit of fun, and intent on celebrating the day by an exciting hunt which should result in the running down, and killing or capturing of some of the blue people.

They reached the vicinity of the railroad without adventures, and then proceeded carefully to reconnoitre for the camps known to be in that vicinity. This search was soon rewarded. Reaching the summit of a hill, where some trees concealed them, but the view was unobscured, they perceived in the valley beneath two extensive camps, one on the right, the other on the left; the Federal soldiers lounging about in careless security.

Here was S—‘s game plain before him, and waiting as it were to be trapped. Stragglers from Federal camps-adventurous explorers of the surrounding country in search of butter, eggs, or fowls-these were the favourite victims of the scout; for [494] from such he often obtained valuable information, excellent horses and equipments, and the finest patterns of revolvers; all “articles in his line.” To lie in wait for stragglers or others was thus a very safe game; but on this occasion S- had loftier views. He had two or three men with him, tried and trusty comrades; and with an army of this size, he felt himself able to operate in the open field; making up by dash and audacity what he lacked in numbers.

Having thus arrived at the conclusion that he could effect something important, the scout waited for his opportunity, and this opportunity soon came.

All at once a cortege of cavalry was seen advancing along the road in the valley from one camp in the direction of the other; apparently the escort of some officer of distinction. The party numbered at least twenty, and the ground was unfavourable for a surprise; but S- was unable to resist the temptation to attack them, and at least throw them and their camps into confusion-your true scout and hunter of bluebirds never experiencing greater pleasure than when he can alone, or with two or three companions, frighten and startle “to arms” a whole brigade or regiment of his enemies. S— accordingly stole down the hill, as much under cover as possible, until he reached the side of the road over which the officer and his escort were approaching-then in a few words he explained his design to the others, and awaited.

The Federal officer came on in profound security, no doubt considering himself as safe as though at home in his own country; when suddenly, with a yell that rang through the hills, S and his party darted from their place of concealment, and charged full tilt upon the frightened escort, firing on them as they charged.

The escort did not await the shock. Believing themselves waylaid by “Rebel cavalry,” and doomed to certain destruction if they remained, they turned their horses' heads and broke in disorder, flying back to the camp from which they came, pursued by S—‘s men. [495]

Their commander, a Colonel, acted with more courage. Shad shot him through the arm, inflicting a dangerous wound; but he attempted to draw his pistol and resist, calling all the time to his cowardly escort to stand. S— immediately closed in with him and attempted to kill him, but in this he failed. The Colonel's horse set off at full speed in the direction of the camp, toward which his rider had been going, and, turning his own horse, S— followed, yelling and firing his pistol as he went.

The chase was exciting; the situation altogether singular. The camp of a whole brigade was directly in front, not four hundred yards distant, and S— was on the heels of the Colonel, who was already on the outskirts of the encampment. The men ran from their tents in astonishment and dismay at the firing, persuaded that a whole regiment of Confederate cavalry was charging; and still the Colonel, like John Gilpin of old, ran his racenot for “a thousand pounds,” but for a more valuable stake, his life.

S— did not relax his gait or cease pursuit. Now they were in the very camp; the Colonel still dashes on, and the scout still follows on his track, firing as he goes. The Colonel gesticulates violently, and shouts to the men:

Shoot the d——d rascal! shoot him! There's only one of them!

S— laughs and bangs away still with his revolver.

The Colonel is in a frenzy of rage; his frightened horse shies; the Colonel's hat drops, but the owner cannot stop to regain it.

S— throws himself from the saddle, picks up the hat, and again mounts, laughing.

But by this time the game was growing too dangerous. The men had recovered from their astonishment and were running to their guns. S— had no desire to receive a volley of musketry; and, waving the captured hat with one hand, fired his last barrel with the other at the Colonel, and then retreated at a gallop, followed by a number of musket-balls, at which, however, he only laughed.

He soon rejoined his men, who had pursued the escort into [496] the other camp; and then, as the whole place was buzzing like a nest of hornets, they quietly disappeared and were soon lost in the extensive woods, where pursuit was impossible.

What S- did with his hat I am unable to say; but, doubtless, the heart of some “high Confederate” was charmed by the offering, for mighty is the market price of all that comes through the blockade.

If not thus disposed of, the trophy lies somewhere hidden among the opima spolia of S— , to be shown some day as a memorial of that gay adventure in the summer forests of Fauquier.

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John Gilpin (1)
William Downs Farley (1)
Catlett (1)
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