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[389] both here and in other divisions, ran disgracefully. Yet they were not wholly without excuse. They were raw troops, just from the usual idleness of our “camps of instruction;” hundreds of them had never heard a gun fired in anger; their officers, for the most part, were equally inexperienced; they had been reposing in fancied security, and were awaked, perhaps from sweet dreams of home and wives and children, by the stunning roar of cannon in their very midst, and the bursting of bomb-shells among their tents — to see only the serried columns of the magnificent rebel advance, and through the blinding, stifling smoke, the hasty retreat of comrades and supports, right and left. Certainly, it is sad enough, but hardly surprising that under such circumstances, some should run. Half as much caused the wild panic at Bull Run, for which the nation, as one man, became a loudmouthed apologist.

But they ran — here as in Prentiss's division, of which last more in a moment — and the enemy did not fail to profit by the wild disorder. As Hildebrand's brigade fell back, McClernand threw forward his left to support it. Meanwhile Sherman was doing his best to rally his troops. Dashing along the lines, encouraging them everywhere by his presence, and exposing his own life with the same freedom with which he demanded their offer of theirs, he did much to save the division from utter destruction. Buckland and McDowell held their ground fiercely for a time. At last they were compelled to retire their brigades from their camps across the little ravine behind; but here again they made a gallant defence, while what was left of Hildebrand's was falling back in such order as it might, and leaving McClernand's left to take their place, and check the wave of rebel advance.

Prentis's division.

Prentiss was faring scarcely so well. Most of his troops stood their ground, to be formed into line, but strangely enough, the line was drawn up in an open space, leaving to the enemy the cover of the dense scrub-oak in front, from which they could pour in their volleys in comparative safety.

The men held their position with an obstinacy that adds new laurels to the character of the American soldiers, but it was too late. Down on either flank came the overwhelming enemy. Fiercely pushed in front, with a wall of bayonets closing in on either side, like the contracting iron chamber of the Inquisition, what could they do but what they did? Speedily their resistance became less obstinate, more and more rapidly they fell back, less and less frequent became their returning volleys.

The enemy pushed their advantage. They were already within our lines; they had driven one division from all its camps, and nearly opened, as they supposed, the way to the river. Just here — between nine and ten o'clock--McArthur's brigade of W. H. L. Wallace's division came up to give some assistance to Stuart's brigade of Sherman's division, on the extreme left, now in imminent danger of being cut off by Prentiss's defection. McArthur mistook the way, marched too far to the right, and so, instead of reaching Stuart, came in on the other side of the rebels, now closely pushing Prentiss. His men at once opened vigorously on the enemy, and for a time they seemed likely still to save our imperilled division. But coming unawares, as they seem to have done, upon the enemy, their positions were not well chosen, and all had to fall back together.

Gen. Prentiss seems here to have become separated from a large portion of his command. The division fell into confusion; fragments of brigades and regiments continued the fight, but there was no longer concert of action or continuity of lines of defence. Most of the troops drifted back behind the new lines that were being formed; many, as they continued an isolated struggle, were surrounded and taken prisoners.

Practically, by ten o'clock the division was gone. Gen. Prentiss and the few troops that surrounded him maintained a detached position some hours longer, till they were completely cut off and surrounded; and the rebels signalized their success by marching three regiments, with a division general, as prisoners, to their rear.

By ten o'clock, however, this entire division was virtually hors du combat. A deep gap in our front line was made, the rebels had nearly pierced through, and were only held back by McArthur's brigade, and the rest of W. H. L. Wallace's division, which hurried over to its assistance.

For the present let us leave them there. They held the line from this time until four.

Sherman's division — McClernand's.

We left Sherman's brigades maintaining a confused fight, Hildebrand's about gone, Buckland's and McDowell's holding their ground more tenaciously. The firing aroused McClernand's division. At first they supposed it to be a mere skirmish; perhaps even only the irregular discharge of muskets by guards and pickets, to clean out their guns — a practice which, to the disgrace of our discipline be it said, was well nigh universal — and rendered it almost impossible at any time to know whether firing meant anything at all, beyond ordinary disorder of our own soldiers. But the continued rattle of musketry soon undeceived them, and almost as soon the advance of the rebels, pouring after Hildebrand, was upon them.

The division, it will be remembered, lay a short distance in the rear, and with one brigade stretching out to the left of Sherman's line. Properly speaking, merely from the location of the camp, McClernand did not belong to the front line at all. Two thirds of his division were entirely behind Sherman. But as the latter fell back, McClernand had to bear the shock of battle.

His division was composed as follows: First brigade, Col. Hare commanding, Eighth and Eighteenth Illinois, Eleventh and Thirteenth

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W. T. Sherman (6)
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