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Chapter 12: between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville

  • Our mother and sisters arrive from the North
  • -- a horse's instinct of locality and direction -- our artillery battalion and its commander -- Commerce across the Rappahannock -- snow-ball battles -- a commission in engineer troops -- an appointment on Jackson's staff -- characteristic interview between General Jackson and my father -- the Army telegraph -- President Lincoln's letter -- Hooker's plan really great, but Lee's audacity and his Army equal to any crisis -- head of column, to the left or to the right.

In the four or five months between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, that is to say, between the middle of December, 1862, and the first of May, 1863, several things occurred of special interest to me personally, as well as several others of more general and public significance. It is not possible now to relate these events in their exact sequence, nor even to be confident that every incident referred to as belonging to this period actually happened between the dates mentioned; but neither of these considerations is important.

To my next younger brother, Randolph, and myself the one event of transcendent interest about this time was the long-deferred arrival in Richmond of our mother and sisters, whom we had left behind in New Haven in the spring of 1861. Neither of us had heretofore asked anything in the nature of a furlough, or leave of absence, feeling that our comrades who, by such leave, would be enabled to see father and mother, sisters and home, should be entitled to the preference; and now, when it became known that our dear people were in Richmond, everyone stood back for us and urged our claims. Not only did the captain approve our application, but the first lieutenant offered me his thoroughbred horse, “Rebel,” by the aid of whose fleet limbs it was [153] thought I might be able to get around to the necessary headquarters in a day, and also, perhaps, have a chance to say a word in behalf of my brother and myself, instead of waiting the slow process and the somewhat uncertain result of the papers working their own way through “the regular channels.” My recollection is that all this happened about Christmas time, so that the goodness of our comrades in standing back for us was the more praiseworthy.

I did succeed in making “the grand rounds” in a day, but might not have done so but for the combined intelligence and stubborness of little Rebel. It was almost dark when I left the last headquarters I had to visit, and started for camp, which was a long distance off, and the latter part of the way almost a labyrinth of undistinguishable army tracks. The road was yet, however, distinct, and my horse not at all fatigued and making good speed; but just as I was felicitating myself that all was working well, the road turned sharply to the left, to avoid an apparently impassable swamp, but the little horse absolutely refused to turn with it, insisting upon going directly forward into the swamp.

I fought him for ten or fifteen minutes to no purpose. He only balked and wheeled and reared and plunged, until finally, utterly worn out, I gave him his head and he took and kept his course, as the crow flies, into and through the swamp, over and past fence and ditch, on through brush and brake and briar and thicket, I making no effort to guide or control him; indeed, after a short time, utterly unable even to see where he was going and only attempting to lie as close as possible to his back and as far as possible to protect my face and eyes. I never took another such ride, before or since, and had no idea when or where it would end, until at last-yet in an incredibly short time — the little fellow pushed his determined front through the fringe of low pines that protected our battery horse shelters and-we were at home. I was bruised and scratched, tired and cold, wet and hungry, but I made the plucky little horse comfortable before doing anything for myself, and next morning satisfied myself that he had never before been over the tract of country we had traversed together, and that it was a clear case of unerring [154] instinct for locality and direction. I had all the required endorsements, and that very day “Randy” and I took the train for Richmond, the two happiest boys among all Marse Robert's ragged thousands.

When it is recalled that it had been nearly two years since we left our mother and sisters in the North; that during all this time we had only irregular, illegal, and very infrequent communication with them, and consequently had now all the vivid experiences of two such years to interchange, the intense interest and bliss of these furlough days in Richmond may be faintly imagined. My memory is not absolutely clear, but I am almost positive that Mrs. Beers and her little girls had come on with our mother and sisters and that Beers had also gotten a furlough to meet them and was in Richmond with us. If so, it was the last time I ever saw the noble fellow alive. It will be remembered he fell at Chancellorsville.

One matter of very great importance which took shape between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville was the organization of our (Cabell's) battalion of artillery. It was made up of four batteries-ours, the First Company, Richmond Howitzers, of Virginia; Manly's Battery, of North Carolina; the Troupe Artillery and Frazier's Battery, of Georgia; and it included, at different times, from sixteen to eighteen guns, mostly brass Napoleons. Its commanding officer was Col. H. C. Cabell, a member of the historic and illustrious Virginia family of that name and a man every way worthy of his lineage.

For eighteen months of the hottest part of the war I was the adjutant of Colonel Cabell, fighting by his side by day and sleeping by his side by night, eating and drinking often out of the same tin cup, lying upon the same oil cloth and covered with the same blanket-side by side, heart to heart, soul to soul. If ever I knew a man through and through, I knew him; and a cleaner, sweeter, more loyal soul I never knew. His essential characteristics were pure and unselfish nature, tender and affectionate heart, gentle and unfailing courtesy, single-hearted and devoted patriotism, quiet but indomitable courage. I never knew him to fail to be at the [155] point of peril along the front of his battalion, nor there nor anywhere to fail to measure up to the full standard of a battalion commander's duty and responsibility. I never knew him to shrink from any hardship or any duty or any sacrifice for the cause to which we had devoted our lives. I never knew him to fail to treat a private soldier with a consideration which was grateful to him, and yet never knew this courtesy to interfere with the maintenance of discipline. I never knew him to wound intentionally the feelings of a human being, or fail to repair the wrong if committed inadvertently. He was a man of intellect and culture, as well as character; as a friend ever faithful, as a companion always agreeable, as an officer enjoying the unqualified confidence and approval of his superiors, and the universal respect and affection of his subordinates.

I am well aware that all this should have resulted in even more, but he who never did injustice to others never did full justice to himself. He lacked self-assertion and aggression; to some extent, too, he lacked the manner and bearing of a soldier, and he never maneuvered for position for himself or his battalion.

He was not, however, lacking in proper soldierly ambition. He already enjoyed distinguished position; for the officer who attains and reputably maintains the rank of full colonel of artillery fills a position of great honor and responsibility. But he was much pleased to learn late in the war that certain of his friends, as they announced themselves, were planning to secure for him the exceptional rank of brigadier-general of artillery. He was interested and gratified until he accidentally discovered that it was involved in the plan that he should be retired to the permanent defenses of Richmond, and another officer should take his battalion in the field. When this feature was developed, for once he flamed into ungovernable rage. It was the only time I ever heard him swear. “Stiles,” said he, “what do these people take me for? Have I given men any reason to consider me a damned sneak and coward and fool?”

I cannot forbear a trifling incident, revealing in a flash the simplicity and beauty of his nature and of our relations and [156] intercourse. It occurred at the left base of the Bloody Angle at Spottsylvania in 1864, where one or two of his batteries had been ordered to take the place of some of our artillery which had been captured, and to stay the rout. The guns were in column back of the lines, awaiting our return, we having ridden into that gloomy pit of defeat and demoralization to determine exactly where they should be placed. As we came out, before riding back to bring up the guns, we dismounted in a place of comparative security, just to stretch our limbs and unbend a moment from the awful tension. Leaving his horse, Colonel Cabell walked up to me, color mounting his face and tears filling his eyes, and threw his arms about me, saying in a voice husky with feeling exactly these words: “Stiles, if you should dare to get killed, I'd never forgive you.”

Such was the commanding officer of our battalion. Either at the organization or soon after, Major S. P. Hamilton, of South Carolina, was assigned to duty with the command, and at a later period Major W. H. Gibbes, of the same State, was with us for a few weeks or months. I am not certain as to the date of my first service with the battalion as adjutant. Some of my comrades insist that it was from the inception; but I am sure this is not true, unless, as is possible, I may have been detailed by Colonel Cabell to aid temporarily in arranging matters and getting the new organization in working order. I could not have been regularly even “acting adjutant,” for I held no commission until after Chancellorsville, a battle in which we were fought as a battalion, though in two divisions, while I distinctly remember I fought as a private soldier, in the old battery, in my usual position at my own gun.

Soon after the battle of Gettysburg, whether on the Virginia or Maryland side of the river I do not now remember, Colonel Cabell met me and asked what I was doing, and learning that I was at the time a sort of free lance, with one of the artillery battalions of the Second Corps, urged me to get the informal permission of General Early, with whose headquarters I kept up some sort of connection, and go back with him to the First Corps and act as adjutant of his [157] battalion, which I did; he promising to get a regular order assigning me to this duty. Upon reflection, I think the first order of detail for duty at his headquarters, by Colonel Cabell himself, prior to Chancellorsville, as above suggested, is very probable, as I do not otherwise see how the Colonel would have known me or had reason to suppose I would be satisfactory to him in the position.

Among matters worthy of note occurring prior to Chancellorsville, it may not be out of place to mention the very active commerce or interchange of commodities, carried on by tiny sailing vessels, between the north and south banks of the Rappahannock River, at and below Fredericksburg, both before and after that battle. The communication was almost constant and the vessels many of them really beautiful little craft, with shapely hulls, nicely painted; elaborate rigging, trim sails, closed decks, and perfect working steering apparatus. The cargoes, besides the newspapers of the two sides, usually consisted on our side of tobacco and on the Federal side of coffee and sugar, yet the trade was by no means confined to these articles, and on a sunny, pleasant day the waters were fairly dotted with the fairy fleet. Many a weary hour of picket duty was thus relieved and lightened, and most of the officers seemed to wink at the infraction of military law, if such it was. A few rigidly interdicted it, but it never really ceased.

Another institutional amusement of the army in the winter of 1862-3, which tended greatly to relieve the almost unendurable tedium of camp life, was the snow-ball battle. These contests were unique in many respects. In the first place here was sport, or friendly combat, on the grandest scale, perhaps, known in modern times. Entire brigades lined up against each other for the fight. And not the masses of men only, but the organized military bodies-the line and field officers, the bands and the banners, the generals and their staffs, mounted as for genuine battle. There was the formal demand for the surrender of the camp, and the refusal, the charge, and the repulse; the front, the flank, the rear attack. And there was intense earnestness in the struggle-sometimes limbs were broken and eyes, at least [158] temporarily, put out, and the camp equipment of the vanquished was regarded as fair booty to the victors.

I recall a visit paid in company with my father, not long after the battle of Fredericksburg, to the camp of my uncle mentioned in a former chapter as having been in command of Lawton's brigade in that fight. He was still in command of it. My father asked the cause of several very heavy bruises on his face. I never saw my uncle more deeply embarrassed, as he related, blushing like a girl, what he called his “preposterous experience” in leading his brigade the day before in a snow battle with Hoke's, which lasted several hours-and as the really laughable picture was developed, its strong coloring heightened by my uncle's embarrassed blushes, I never saw my father more heartily amused. It seemed that my uncle at one point in the conflict had been dragged from his horse and captured by Hoke's men, but later had been recaptured by his own command, and on both occasions had been pretty roughly handled. One would have supposed these veteran troops had seen too much of the real thing to seek amusement in playing at battle.

I had now been in the army for nearly two years and was still a private soldier, yet quite content as such. My mental attitude in this regard was perhaps rather unusual. I had originally volunteered exclusively from sense of duty, regarding the war, so far as it affected me personally, as an interruption to my personal purposes and ambitions in connection with the law; but I was never one of those who considered the conflict to be a matter of sixty or ninety days or a year, and soon came to look upon it as of indefinite duration and likely to prove an absorbing business to me for a long time to come. Gradually I became interested in military life and began to contemplate it as perhaps my life work, and from this time my interest in it grew apace. Still I had thought little of promotion except in the aspect of making myself deserving of it. True, General Hill had, at quite an early period, said something of a commission, but none had come, and I had continued to look upon the position, even of a corporal, as requiring a certain amount of military aptitude, not to say talent and training, which I was not confident I had. [159]

But this morbid and unpractical view of things was giving way before the stubborn fact, established by observation and experience, that I every day saw men in position far above me, obviously my inferiors in every qualification and requisite for rank and command; nor could I be blind to the further fact that my commanding officers regarded me with rather special confidence and approval. Gradually I came to entertain the idea that I might some day be offered promotion and perhaps should not feel called upon to reject it, though I could never contemplate any effort on my part to secure it.

While I was in this state of mind, some little time before the opening of the Chancellorsville campaign, I received a communication from the Engineer Bureau in Richmond containing an appointment to a second lieutenancy in “Engineer troops,” a new corps about to be organized in the Army of Northern Virginia. There was no explanation accompanying the paper, and I did not recognize as familiar any name connected with it, and after due reflection concluded that the communication had been sent me by mistake and was intended for my cousin, Robert Mackay Stiles, who was an engineer, as I understood, then serving in the far South in some appropriate capacity. I supposed his services were desired in organizing the new corps, and I actually returned the paper, with the above suggestion, and therewith dismissed the matter from my mind. Meanwhile there occurred one of the most noteworthy experiences of my life.

The very day, I think it was, of what might be termed “our spring opening” of 1863, and probably before we made the first move looking toward Chancellorsville, I was busy about some duty in the battery, when I heard the captain's voice calling me sharply, and as I approached his quarters noticed a courier just leaving. The captain informed me that General Jackson had sent an order for me to report immediately at his headquarters. When my first surprise subsided I told Captain McCarthy, what I was then confident was the case, that the message was doubtless from my father, who loved to work in the Second Corps, and spent much time at the General's quarters; but the captain protested that [160] the order was from “Old Jack” himself, that he could not imagine what he wanted with me; he hoped not to have me shot for some violation of military law. “However,” said he, “you had better take one of the sergeant's horses and go and find out for yourself” --which I proceeded at once to do; but had not gotten beyond the confines of camp before I heard the captain calling again, the utterance of my name this time alternating with shouts and peals of laughter. On riding up I found him reading, for the second time, an autograph note from General Jackson, addressed to Captain Mc-Carthy, and to the following effect: that if we had not already received orders to move we would receive them in a few moments; that Robert Stiles must not report to him until further orders; that he didn't want any “untried man” about him when about to move.

The relations of our captain to the better soldiers in the battery were peculiar and enjoyable. On duty he was our commanding officer, off duty our intimate friend. I used to call him “the intelligent young Irishman,” and to tell the following story in explanation: Just before the Howitzers left Richmond, in the spring of 1861, General Magruder called upon Major Randolph to send him a suitable man for a courier, adding, “intelligent young Irishman preferred” and McCarthy was sent as “filling the bill.” The captain had long been “laying for me,” as the saying is, and now he had his revenge-“Old Jack” had conferred upon me orthodox Presbyterian baptism as “the untried man,” and so far as the captain was concerned, certainly the name “stuck.”

What would he and I have given, two or three days later, to recall the action of the next few moments. I distinctly remember the general appearance of General Jackson's note. It was written in pencil on a small half sheet of bluish paper, evidently torn from a letter, and I remember, too, how Captain McCarthy-laughing still-tore it up, when he had read it out three or four times, and how the fragments floated adown the air. I told Mrs. Jackson of the circumstance not long after the war, and she pronounced the contents of the note, and particularly the last clause, to be strongly illustrative of the directness and concentration which rendered [161] her husband oblivious of everything but the one idea at any one time having possession of him.

A few days later, but after Jackson's death, my father gave me what I may term the obverse, or face side, of this incident. He was at Jackson's headquarters when the General, as it were in a tone of inquiry, said:

Doctor, I understand you have a son in the army?

“Yes, General,” my father answered, “I have three of them.”

“One is like you, isn't he?”

“No, sir; I don't know that either of them is specially like me.”

Then, somewhat impatiently:

Well, your oldest son is named Robert, isn't he?

“Yes, Bob is my eldest son.”

“From what I have heard of him, I think I should like to have him with me.”

“Well, sir, I would be delighted to have him come.”

“But it isn't for you to say, Doctor; he ought to be allowed to decide for himself. Besides, both of you should consider that the probability of his being killed will be greatly increased. I am liable to make mistakes in my orders and to send a man into danger that might be avoided by going around some longer and less perilous route. But he must not stop to consider this. He must take his life in his hand and carry my orders as I send them.”

“Yes, sir; I think I understand, and I am sure Bob will carry your orders as you send them. His life is in God's hands. Longer or shorter, I would like to have him spend it with you, and I am sure that would be his choice, too.”

“But, Doctor, you have no right to decide for him. Tell him all I have told you, and let him decide for himself.”

“But, General, I do decide and have decided, for Bob and for myself. He will be delighted to come to you.”

“Very well, sir. In my opinion you have no right to make this decision, but if you insist upon taking the responsibility, I'll send for your son.”

And he did, with the result already given. [162]

He was not as sure of me as my dear father was; to Jackson, certainly, I was “the untried man.” I have often thought what might have been if I had gone to him that day. Of course my blood would have been up, and the chances are very great that I would have fallen that fateful night in the Chancellorsville Wilderness, when the wondrous captain did make one of those mistakes to which he said he was “liable,” and which then cost, not a little life like mine, but that great life of his, upon which destiny and history hung.

Among the pet names with which our constant lover, the Army of the Potomac, was wont to soften and sweeten its early spring wooings of us was “Damned sassafras-tea-drinking rebels.” If a trifle vigorous and not even a trifle euphonious, it was yet certainly appropriate and suggestive, for the first steady spring sunshine, that dried out the roads and caused the sassafras buds to swell, sent the first tremors of returning life darting through the coils of the great serpentine armies which had lain torpid in the winter's cold, until suddenly the one or the other monster glided, hissing from its den, and delivered its stroke. To our friends, the enemy, the only relation between the swelling of the sassafras buds and the spring-burst of battle was chronological; but with us the sassafras amounted almost to a sub-commissariat-we chewed it, we drank it, we smelled it, and it was ever at hand without the trouble or expense of transport.

All through the latter part of April, 1863, even more than the normal premonitory spring shudderings were noted throughout the great winter camps and quarters of the Federal army corps across the river, and very soon the marvelous army telegraph was in full operation. Every surviving veteran of either side will understand what I mean. It was really little less than miraculous the way in which information-often astonishingly correct — as to what had happened or was about to happen, was transmitted along the lines of the army. Partial explanations readily occur, but I have yet to meet the first intelligent and observant soldier of the Army of Northern Virginia who is not ready to admit that, in some instances, the rapid transmission of news and the detailed accuracy of forecast that sifted through the army were at the time, and remain to-day, inexplicable. [163]

Of course we knew of the resignation or removal of Burnside and the appointment of Hooker as his successor, late in January, and we had seen, too, the remarkable order of the latter, issued upon assuming command, in which he declared that: “In equipment, intelligence, and valor, the enemy is our inferior. Let us never hesitate to give him battle whenever we can find him.” From this order, as well as from his military history, with which we were familiar, we “knew our man.” We knew also the atmosphere that surrounded his appointment, but I for one never saw, until long after the war, the remarkable letter of Mr. Lincoln to his appointee, which not only revives and bears out my recollection of the spirit of the times, but fills me with amazement that a self-respectful officer could have accepted an appointment confirmed or accompanied by such a letter:

executive mansion, Washington, D. C., January 26, 1863.
Major-General Hooker:
General:--I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reasons. And yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skilful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm. But I think that during General Burnside's command of the army you have taken counsel of your ambition and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong both to the country and to a meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard in such a way as to believe it of your recently saying that both the army and the Government needed a dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes can set up as dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The Government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear the spirit you have aided to infuse into the army, of criticising their commander and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon [164] you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it. And now, beware of rashness! beware of rashness! but with energy and sleepless vigilance, go forward and give us victories.

Yours very truly, A. Lincoln.

One of the ablest discussions of Chancellorsville from the Confederate side is to be found in an address delivered by Gen. Fitzhugh Lee before the Virginia Division of the Army of Northern Virginia, on the 24th of October, 1879. In that address the author says of this battle that, “It brings before the military student as high a type of an offensive battle as ever adorned the pages of history.” Col. Walter Taylor says: “Of all the battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia, that of Chancellorsville stands first as illustrating the consummate audacity and military skill of commanders and the valor and determination of the men.” It is probable that the general consensus of opinion among the surviving officers and soldiers of the Confederacy concurs in these estimates. My own conception of the matter was at the time, and has ever since been, that the brilliant genius and audacious courage of Lee and Jackson shone so conspicuously throughout these operations, partly because the plan of their adversary was truly great-far superior to anything that had theretofore been projected against Lee and his staunch soldiers.

The battle is of such exceptional interest, and at the same time savors so much of the marvelous, that I ask pardon for making a lengthy quotation from Colonel Taylor's book, premising that it was twelve miles or more from Deep Run, below Fredericksburg, where Sedgwick and Early opposed each other, to Chancellorsville, the position selected by Hooker as the base of his main operations and where he had concentrated the bulk of his army. On pages 83-5 of his “Four years with General Lee,” Colonel Taylor says:

General Lee, with fifty-seven thousand troops of all arms, intrenched along the line of hills south of the Rappahannock, near Fredericksburg, was confronted by General Hooker, with the Army of the Potomac, one hundred and thirty-two thousand strong, occupying the bluffs on the opposite side of the river. [165]

On the 29th of April the Federal commander essayed to put into execution an admirably conceived plan of operations, from which he doubtless concluded that he could compel either the evacuation by General Lee of his strongly fortified position, or else his utter discomfiture, when unexpectedly and vigorously assailed upon his left flank and rear by the “finest army on the planet” --really more than twice the size of his own.

A formidable force, under General Sedgwick, was thrown across the river below Frederickburg, and made demonstrations of an intention to assail the Confederate front. Meanwhile, with great celerity and secrecy, General Hooker, with the bulk of his army, crossed at the upper fords, and in an able manner and wonderfully short time had concentrated four of his seven army corps, numbering fifty-six thousand men, at Chancellorsville, about ten miles west of Fredericksburg. His purpose was now fully developed to General Lee, who, instead of waiting its further prosecution, immediately determined on the movement the least expected by his opponent. He neither proceeded to make strong his left against attack from the direction of Chancellorsville, nor did he move southward so as to put his army between that of General Hooker and the Confederate capital; but leaving General Early with about nine thousand men to take care of General Sedgwick, he moved with the remainder of his army, numbering forty-eight thousand men, toward Chancellorsville. As soon as the advance of the enemy was encountered, it was attacked with vigor, and very soon the Federal army was on the defensive in its apparently impregnable position. It was not the part of wisdom to attempt to storm the stronghold; but Sedgwick would certainly soon be at work in the rear, and Early, with his inadequate force, could not do more than delay and hamper him. It was, therefore, imperatively necessary to strike — to strike boldly, effectively and at once. There could be no delay. Meanwhile two more army corps had joined General Hooker, who had now about Chancellorsville ninety-one thousand men-six corps, except one division of the second corps (Couch's) which had been left with Sedgwick at Fredericksburg. It was a critical position for the Confederate commander, but his confidence in his trusted lieutenant and brave men was such that he did not long hesitate. Encouraged by the counsel and confidence of General Jackson, he determined still further to divide his army; and while he, with the divisions of Anderson and McLaws, less than fourteen thousand men, should hold the enemy in his front, he would hurl Jackson upon his flank and rear and crush and crumble him as between the upper and nether millstone. The very boldness of the movement contributed much to insure its success.

This battle illustrates most admirably the peculiar talent and individual excellence of Lee and Jackson. For quickness of perception, boldness in planning and skill in directing, Lee had no superior; for celerity [166] in his movements, audacity in the execution of bold designs and impetuosity in attacking, Jackson had not his peer.

About the 28th of April dispatches by the army or grapevine telegraph began to come in very rapidly, and that, too, minutely and correctly revealing the situation. We were at the time in camp a little back of the main fortified line. That evening, I think it was, we received orders to be ready to move at a moment's notice. Very early next morning we heard firing in the direction of Fredericksburg. It was very foggy, and we could see nothing, but understood that a heavy force of the enemy was crossing to our side. They remained all day concealed under the river bank, but at night — I think the night of the 29th-deployed out into position in the great plain. Meanwhile our battery had been ordered to the same position it had occupied in the battle of Fredericksburg, and all during that day Hooker's plan of operations was becoming more and more clearly developed, and with Sedgwick in our front and Hooker in overwhelming force in the rear of our left flank, we deeply felt its power.

The discussion waxed hot as to what Marse Robert would do. Until he decided, none of us knew what was best, yet the counter plot was intensely absorbing, and when at last-I think it was tAe night of the 30th-orders came for us to limber up and move out by the little road by which we had come in, and which ran at right angles between the lines and the main road running parallel to the river, the interest was intense, and the dry betting ran high as to whether, when we struck the main road, it would be “head of column to the right” or to “the left.” If the latter, then we would know Marse Robert had concluded that it was the part of wisdom to put his army between Sedgwick and Richmond and to maneuver all the attacking columns of his enemies to his front. In that case we might exhale a deep, full breath; for a little while, at least, the extreme tension would be off. But if the horses' heads turned to the right, then we knew well that it was to be the closest and deadliest grapple we had ever experienced. I cannot remember which I thought the wiser alternative or what part I took in the discussion; [167] but I do distinctly recall that when the first gun struck the main road and the heads of the leaders swung around to the right, I drew in my breath and set my teeth, calling upon what was best and strongest in my entire being to brace me for the struggle.

I think it was a day or so before we finally left the Fredericksburg lines that there occurred one of the most remarkable minor incidents I witnessed from the beginning to the end of the war. We had lifted the ammunition chest out of the hole, back of and beneath the little work we had been occupying, and had replaced it upon the gun carriage and limbered up the piece. A group of about a dozen men, not all belonging to our battery, were standing upon the earth-work gazing across the river bottom to the Stafford side, when a little puff of white smoke indicated that the gentlemen on the other side had determined to try their longrange guns. The shell flew a little too high, but directly above us and too close to be comfortable. Before quite reaching us, however, it began to wobble and turn over, indicating that the projectile or propulsive force was well nigh exhausted. My recollection is that we could see the shell distinctly. An infantryman jumped from the work into the hole just vacated by the limber chest. The shell exploded just after it passed us, and the base came hurtling back and actually dashed out the brains of that man, the only man who had not stood his ground. Several other shots were fired, but not a man flinched and not another man was injured.

I was reminded of a story of the Emperor Napoleon, who in visiting his picket line with the corporal of the guard came to a position which commanded just the view he wanted of the enemy's lines, but was exposed to a galling and dangerous fire from their sharpshooters. The little corporal was standing, absorbed as was his wont when analyzing a battle-field, head sunk between his shoulders, hands behind his back and limbs far apart. He turned to speak to the corporal of the guard, and just as he did so a ball passed between the Emperor's legs and killed the corporal, crouching behind him for protection. Two soldiers stooped to pick up the body, but the Emperor hissed out, “Behold the just fate of the coward. Let the carrion rot.”

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