escape the scrutiny of the keenest-eyed searcher. Nothing, indeed, could be more striking than the contrast presented by the two commanders, as they stooped in consultation on that bare hill, with their faces turned Richmond-ward. The small form with the slight stoop in the shoulders, sunken gray eyes; still, reserved demeanor, impassive face, and chin as of a bull-dog or close-set steel-trap — that is Grant; the tall figure, with the nervous, emphatic articulation and action, and face as of antique parchment — that is Meade — and the antipodes could not bring together a greater contrast. Whether it was that General Grant himself was in doubt as to the path which should be pursued, or that he felt the need of seeing for himself the actual situation — for from our point of vision everything was hid by a veil of woods — I know not, but he suddenly mounted his horse and rode rapidly down (an occasional shot or shell passing over his head and falling around us at headquarters), to the headquarters of General Hancock, and afterward to those of General Wright; and when he came back it was plain there would be no renewal of the battle, for we all rode leisurely back to the old camp occupied the night before. This was noon, and though the white heat of battle had died out, there were still spirits of fight along the line, and vigorous interchange of fire from the hostile batteries. Such rencounters were inevitable from the unparalleled closeness of the opposing lines. This was particularly the case on the left, where there were points at which the rebels and our own men were divided but by a narrow neutral interval of fifty yards. As the possibility of our troops occupying a line in such proximity to the enemy's works may not be clear, I will offer a word of explanation. The rebel intrenchments. in front of Barlow's and Gibbon's divisions had, with a fault of engineering of which the rebels are not often guilty, been drawn on the rear-ward slope of the crest and thrown too far back, so that after the repulse of our men, the moment after they had fallen back over the ridge, they were partially under cover, and here the sharp-shooters were able to keep the rebel heads down long enough to allow portions of our lines to protect themselves with improvised parapets, which they held all day. This explanation is the more needed, because I am about to narrate an incident which will make a draft on the faith of the reader even greater than did the assertion that portions of our lines held their position within fifty yards of the rebel works — and that is, that one portion of our line retained all day a position within fifteen yards of the rebel works. This heroic band was the brigade of Colonel McKean, a brigade of Gibbon's division of Hancock's corps, and numbering about eight hundred men. The conduct of these eight hundred is as splendid a stroke of heroism as ever lit up the story of “the glory we call Greece and the grandeur we call Rome.” Through the live-long day these men held their line, within fifteen yards of the enemy, and all his force could not dislodge them. Repeatedly during the day the rebels formed double columns of attack, to come over the works and assail them, and the officers could be heard encouraging their troops by telling them “there are only four or five hundred of them — come on.” But the moment the rebels showed themselves above their parapet, a line of fire flashed out from behind the earthen mound where those eight hundred heroes stood in a new Thermopylae, and many a rebel threw up his arms and fell prone under their swift avenging bullets. The sequel of this bit of history is curious as the deed itself; for while the rebels dared not venture out to assail McKean's men, neither could he nor his command recede from the perilous position. He could not get back to us; we could not go forward to him. In this dilemma the ingenious device was hit upon of running a “sap,” or zig-zag trench, up from our line to his. In this way a working party were able to dig their way up to where they lay, begrimed with powder and worn down with fatigue, and a few hours ago they were brought safely away. “All that were left of them, left of eight hundred I” But McKean, their gallant leader, he came not away alive. Since eleven in the morning he had lain behind the bulwark his valor defended — a corpse. While standing up preparing to resist a rebel assault, he fell, pierced by the bullet of a sharp-shooter, and after living for an hour or two in an agonizing death-in-life, begging his staff officers to put an end to his misery, his heroic soul forsook the turmoil of this weary, warring world. There were other scenes along those lines, drawn so close up to the enemy, not so grave, and others of a grim kind of jollity. For example, a man would sing out from behind our breastworks the signal of attack, “Forward, guide centre,” whereupon the rebels, plainly hearing all that we said, would start up from behind their parapet, and our men, just peering above their pits and “drawing a bead” on the uprising rebels, would bring many a one down with a bloody gift, despatched with unerring aim. Or again, one of the rebels calling a parley, would cry out: “Yanks, aint it about your time to cook coffee?” “Yes,” replies Yank. “Then,” rejoins Mr. Rebel, “if you won't shoot while I make my johnny-cake, I won't shoot while you make your coffee.” Where-upon the culinary truce was observed with scrupulous fidelity. It is in such ways that grim-visaged war, of a time, smooths his wrinkled face. The hours of afternoon passed away with no more of action than is indicated in the previous recital; five o'clock, the favorite rebel hour of attack, had gone by, and it seemed that the war-work of the day was over. Toward sunset the writer rode up to Hancock's front,
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Table of Contents:
Doc . 16 . operations in Tennessee .
Doc . 19 . the siege of Suffolk, Virginia .
Doc . 36 . General Rousseau 's expedition.
Doc . 59 . battles of Spottsylvania , Va: battle of Sunday , May 8 , 1864 .
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