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[65]

At 41 1/2 P. M., our surprised but otherwise over-matched army, apart from Lew. Wallace's division, had been crowded back into a semicircle/un> of three or four hundred acres immediately around, but rather to the left of the Landing. It could retreat no farther. A deep, rapid river in its rear could only be crossed with the loss of half its remaining men1 and every thing beside. Of its five divisions, two had been beaten back; the other three utterly routed. Our artillery was half lost or disabled ; our field-hospitals overflowing; our tents and camp-equipage mainly in the hands of the enemy; our losses in men enormous; and those who had not fallen were in good part disheartened; not less than 5,000 men in uniform, possibly twice that number — to say nothing of sutlers, commissaries, and the usual rabble of camp-followers — were huddled under the bank of the river, not all of them privates, but all repeating the stereotyped excuse, “Our regiment is all cut to pieces,” and resisting every entreaty of their more zealous officers to bring them again into line.

But the Rebels, whose losses had also been heavy, fearing a trap, hesitated for a few minutes to follow W. H. L. Wallace's division, as it recoiled from the position it had so long and so stoutly defended. Those moments were incalculably precious, and were thoroughly improved. Col. J. D. Webster, chief of staff to Gen. Grant, a believer in artillery, improved the opportunity to collect our remaining guns--22 only — and plant them on the bluff in a semicircle, commanding the roads whereby the Rebels must approach. Gunners proving scarce, Dr. Cornyn, surgeon of the 1st Missouri artillery, volunteered in that capacity, and proved himself a workman who needed not to be ashamed. There was rare virtue inherent in those 22 guns, and men around them who knew how to evoke it.

It was hardly 6 o'clock when the Rebel batteries, once more in position, opened, at a distance of a few hundred yards, on our last possible holding-ground. Our next recoil must be over the bank, into the hideous, helpless massacre of a grander Ball's Bluff. Promptly and most efficiently, Webster's guns make reply. Soon, the Rebel infantry was seen crowding up to their guns, opening fire at rather long range, to find our shattered battalious reformed and giving abundant answer. At this moment, the gunboats Tyler and Lexington, which had all day been chafing at their impotence, opened on our left, firing up a deep ravine that seemed to have been cut through the bluff on purpose. Seven-inch shell and 64-pound shot were hurled by them diagonally across the new Rebel front, decidedly interfering with the regularity of its formation, and preventing that final rush upon our guns and the supporting infantry whose success would have perfected their triumph. So, far into the evening of that busy, lurid Sabbath, our

1 Among the apocryphal anecdotes in circulation, one represents Gen. Buell as remonstrating, two or three days afterward, against the soldiership which placed Grants's army on the south rather than on the north bank of the Tennessee. “Where was your line of retreat?” asked Buell. “Oh, across the river,” responded Grant. “But you could not have ferried over more than 10,000 men,” persisted Buell. “Well, there would not have been more than that,” replied Grant. Temerity was then so rare among our Generals that it seemed a virtue.

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