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[22]

Chapter 2: the capture.

  • A Southern bridge.
  • -- waiting for stragglers. -- Sharpshooters. -- Bombshell. -- the capture


The first chapter closed with our flight after we cut through the rebel's line near Lovejoy station. Twice during the afternoon they pressed our rear so closely that we were obliged to deploy a skirmish line and show fight, in order to gain time. But after dark, we rode on without hearing or seeing anything of our pursuers, and the hope that they had encamped for the night was struggling for a place in our minds; though, really, our knowledge of our pursuers (Wheeler's cavalry) gave us small room for hope. [23]

The night was warm; there was no wind, and a haze crept up, till the only stars visible were those near the zenith.

About midnight we came to a little river. We approached it, coming down a sloping hillside for perhaps two hundred yards, through a scrubby growth of oak, known as oak barrens, which is common in many parts of the South. The road had been changed about on this hillside till there were five or six parallel tracks and ditches running among the brush.

A bridge of Southern style spanned this river. Let me describe it: Three cribs, or pens of logs, 6x16 feet, and ten feet high: are placed about twenty feet apart in the river. These are connected with each other and with the shore by four round “sleepers” to each span. The bridge is then floored with split slabs, or puncheons. The banks of the river were about as high as the cribs.

After crossing this bridge the road runs across a bottom of about fifty or sixty yards, and then turns an oblique angle to the right, and keeps along the foot of the [24] hill for awhile. A field fills up the bottom land between the road and the river, reaching down to the bridge.

When we came to this bridge, my company (C) was ordered to remain behind and guard it for half an hour, in order to let our stragglers get across, and then to bum it.

These stragglers were men whose horses had failed in the run of the three days and nights since we started, till they couldn't keep up.

Our company flanked out, and as soon as the rest of the command filed past, we dismounted. Number fours took our horses up around the turn in the road, about a quarter of a mile, and held them.

This left us forty-six men to guard and burn the bridge. Tom B-was detailed to go to the top of the hill in the barrens, and stand picket. The rest of us pulled down ten or fifteen panels of railfence, and carried the rails onto the bridge for kindling, and built up a good fire on the ground to have plenty of brands to stick into it when the word should be given. [25]

The memory of that night forms a clear, distinct picture. As our fire burned in the road, lighting up the bridge and shining against the trees, and throwing dark shadows on the muddy waters in the river, forty-five men stood and looked each other in the face. Not a solitary straggler had come to the bridge since we stopped. What did it mean? To the old soldier it meant that the sleepless foe was near. It might be a good time to think of home and friends, or we might-

“Who goes there?”

“Who the — are you?”

Bang! Bang!

It was Tom's challenge, and the answer left no doubt as to who was challenged. One bullet went singing to the north, the other buried itself in the bridge at our feet. Tom came down the hill doublequick. He did not know whether he hit his man or not.

We stuck our fire among the rails and retreated to the bend in the road. Just around the turn the road was washed out into a kind of ditch, and by lying down [26] in it, we had a full sweep of the bridge through the bottom crack of the railfence. Here we halted to watch our fire till it would get beyond the possibility of being put out.

For a few minutes all was still. Our fire was beginning to take hold of the bridge, and we were thinking of running for our horses, when suddenly a sheet of flame flashed out of the brush for a quarter of a mile up the river, followed by a tremendous crash.

They had crept up and formed in silence, and were pouring a deadly fire into the thicket that lined the south bank. After a few rounds and no reply, we heard the command:

Onto the bridge and throw off that fire. Quick!

About a hundred men came out of the brush and crowded onto the bridge.

We lay in that ditch, and thrust the muzzles of our guns through the lowest, crack in the fence. They were in a strong light. We waited until the bridge was [27] full, and the foremost man had reached the fire and began to throw off the rails. Then we let them have it. The range was about seventy-five yards. Some fell on the bridge, some went over it's sides into the river, and some retreated. We cleared the bridge; nobody could stand our welldirected fire. We drew their fire toward us. A shower of balls battered against the fence, and as many passed over us, but we were not hit. We never attempted to answer their fire; but whenever a man showed himself about the bridge, we plugged him.

The fire got under good headway, and we slipped up that ditch and ran to our horses, mounted, and made our best speed to overtake our conmand. We caught up just as morning began to dawn. As soon as it was light we halted to feed; but before our horses were half done eating, the rebels were upon us again. Knowing the country better than we did, they had crossed the river at another place, and dashed on to cut us off from Chattahoochee.

We tried to make a stand, but they outnumbered [28] us, and flanked us, and we were forced to save ourselves by flight.

We came into the neighborhood of Newman, and found that eight thousand infantry were there prepared to receive us. With these fresh troops before us and Wheeler's cavalry behind us, we found ourselves in a fix. But worn out as we and our horses were, we charged, and fought our way to the right, and would have reached the Chattahoochee if we could have found a road.

By this time we were demoralized. We had all lost confidence in McCook. I don't believe there was a man in the brigade that would have paid any attention to him after we passed Newman. But curses, bitter and deep, were heaped on him on all sides.

We broke up into squads, following our own regimental or company commanders, or, still worse, two or three old comrades swearing to live or die together, and going on their own hook.

A good many of us stuck to Lieut.-Col. Kelley, and rode through the woods till we [29] got into a piece of swampy ground near the river, where our horses mired. We dismounted. There I parted from Bombshell; a better mare never grew upon Kentucky bluegrass. We had fared together for a thousand miles, had drank and bathed in a hundred rivers. She had never known any other master, and I was more partner than master. I hope she died in that swamp, and that no Johnnie ever had her to show as a trophy of that chase, or rode her against that flag she had followed so long. Alas! poor Bombshell! She did not fully understand all the questions involved in the war, but she was a true soldier.

Leaving our horses, we tried to get to the river on foot, intending to swim it and escape, if possible. But as we came out of the jungle, we fronted a battalion of cavalry. Their guns were aimed.

“Halt!”

We threw up our hands, and they rode down on us to receive our arms.

We had in Company A of our regiment a man who deserted the rebels at the battle of Perryville, and enlisted with us. As [30] the rebs came down, he recognized his old comrades, and knowing he would be shot anyway, he resolved to sell his life for all it would bring. So, as they came up, he shot the Major through the heart, killing him at once. The next instant he fell among us riddled with balls, and his rash deed came near causing the death of every one of us.

“Kill every---- --!” cried a rebel officer in excitement.

Just then we saw Wheeler and staff, and called to him. The Johnnies pointed to their dead officer and claimed treachery. But the General ordered them to guard us as prisoners, and not to shoot any one who surrendered.

They took charge of us.

“Give me that gun.” I handed it up, “Give me your cartridge-box.” “Here it is.” “Give me that poncho-give me that blanket.”

I think the troop that captured us was a battalion of the Third Texas Cavalry.

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