“  of flame before they take it.” It was a magnificent spectacle. You see, friends, how desperate was the hour. The roar of combat grew tremendous as the afternoon wore away. There was no time then nor afterwards to ascertain dispositions of particular organizations. They were thrown together wherever emergency demanded. White Oak bridge, the Quaker road, Charles City road, the banks of Turkey Creek, were enveloped in smoke and flame; iron and lead crashed through forests and men like a destroying pestilence. A masked battery which had opened from the swamp under Malvern Hill, begun to prove inconvenient to Porter. It ploughed and crashed through some of our wagons, and disturbed groups of officers in the splendid groves of Malvern mansion. The gunboat Galena, anchored on the opposite side of Turkey Island, and the Aroostook, cruising at the head of the island, opened their ports and plunged their awful metal into the rebel cover with Titanic force. Towards sunset the earth quivered with the terrific concussion of artillery, and huge explosions. The vast aerial auditorium seemed convulsed with the commotion of frightful sounds. Shells raced like dark meteors athwart the horizon, crossing each other at eccentric angles, exploding into deadly iron hail and fantastic puffs of smoke, until ether was displaced by a vast cloud of white fumes, through which even the fierce blaze of a setting summer's sun could but grimly penetrate. Softly puffing above the dark curtain of forest which masked the battlefield, there was another fleece which struggled through the dense foliage like heavy mist-clouds, and streaming upward in curious eddies with the ever-varying current of the winds, mingled with and absorbed the canopy of smoke which floated from the surface of the plains and river. The battle-stained sun, sinking majestically into the horizon behind Richmond, burnished the fringe of gossamer with lurid and golden glory; and as fantastic columns capriciously whiffed up from the woods, they were suddenly transformed into pillars of lambent flame, radiant with exquisite beauty, which would soon separate into a thousand picturesque forms and fade into dim opacity. But the convulsion beneath was not a spectacle for curious eyes. The forms of smoke-masked warriors, the gleam of muskets on the plains where soldiers were disengaged, the artistic order of battle on Malvern Hill, the wild career of wilder horsemen plunging to and from and across the field, formed a scene of exciting grandeur. In the forest where eyes did not penetrate there was nothing but the exhilarating and exhausting spasm of battle. Baleful fires blazed among the trees, and death struck many shining marks. Our haggard men stood there with grand courage, fighting more like creatures of loftier mould than men. Wearied and jaded, and hungry and thirsty, beset by almost countless foes, they cheered and fought and charged into the very jaws of death until veteran soldiers fairly wept at their devotion. It was wonderful how our noble fellows fought; wonderful how their hearts swelled with greatness; and, as the enemy, in very madness at the terrible bitterness with which they resisted, plunged fresh columns against them--one, two, three, four, five lines of battle, fresh men each time, and stronger than each predecessor, our glorious soldiers still fought and still repelled the revengeful foe. “History,” said a General, “never saw more splendid self-immolation. It was agonizing to see the men stand in the ranks and fight till exhausted nature could do no more.” At last deep darkness ended the fight. The enemy withdrew and sat himself down to watch his prey. We had beaten him back. But the morrow! Would the enemy strike our ragged columns again? Perhaps one of the noblest spectacles in martial history was improvised in Fitz-John Porter's camp, when his veteran volunteers were ordered to the battle-field. They had eaten nothing for thirty-six hours. Thursday some of them had fought. Friday they fought all day long and into night. That night they marched across the river. Next day they marched again. That night they kept watch in White Oak swamp. And Monday they marched again. The fiery sun had parched their feet, hunger and thirst and labor had enfeebled their bodies, but Monday afternoon, when orders came to move again to the field, the color-bearers stepped to the front with their proud standards; the drums beat a rallying rataplan, and those devoted followers of the “banner of beauty and glory” swung aloft their hats and shouted with soul-stirring enthusiasm. The eyes of their Generals flashed fire as their faces lighted up with sudden glory; and officers stepped together in clusters and swore solemnly that life should be sacrificed before that flag should fall. “My life,” said one, “is nothing, if I have no country.” And again the noble fellows shouted their war-notes. Weak as they were, I saw them move to the field at double-quick. When they fly, the army of the Potomac will be no more. Night seemed to bring a little more relief. The enemy could not press us then. But would he to-morrow? It was believed he was massing all his power to crush us in combined attack. Oh! that our soldiers could rest a day, even. Alas! they could not rest at night. Their salvation, it seemed, depended more upon their labor now than upon their guns. Into the trenches, ye braves, and work till morn summons you to battle. And so they labored, some dropping listlessly in the trenches, exhausted nature refusing to endure more. But there was another picture I had almost forgot. In such a march straggling was unavoidable. The sick made a long, sad procession, dragging along the road feebly and painfully at every step, until at last the goal of safety was attained. But besides these were hundreds who were as feeble from fatigue as the sick were from infirmity. But it was essential that they should fight that day. I saw a brigade of them organized and marched out. “Who of you will fight?” No answer, but perfect indifference. One steps out: “I may as well die fighting as die of exhaustion.”
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