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To me there is no scene of individual soldiership to which I so frequently recur as to Colonel Stevens at the head of his regiment, leading it into fire at the battle of Chancellorsville. . . . .

Those who were present at that time and place will never forget how suddenly, within half an hour, on the afternoon of May 2d, the whole aspect of our affairs was changed from bright to dark by a swift, unlooked — for disaster. When the attack, like a thunderbolt out of the clear sky for unexpectedness, struck the right wing useless at a blow, our corps was lying in reserve. We were instantly ordered into the breach, and being under arms, in ten minutes had turned the corner at the Chancellor House, and were hurrying out on the plank-road toward the quarter where the storm had burst. A third of a mile farther on we met the rout. It is always a trying thing for troops to stem a tide of confusion and retreat, while going into action, and that was the worst situation of the kind I ever witnessed. Thicker and faster poured back the panic-stricken rabble, nearer and nearer swept down the successful onslaught of the enemy. Plainly, no time was to be lost. Though we were still marching in column, the order to load without halting was given, and the men marched, and loaded, and cursed the fugitives, all at the same time. Then came the order to form in line of battle, and go into position. Being a non-combatant, I drew up beside the road, upon a little knoll, where several batteries of the Seventeenth Corps artillery were planted, to watch the process. It was while sitting there upon my horse, that I saw Colonel Stevens pass by, leading his command; and, as I have said, his appearance then comes first to my memory, when I call up the examples of individual soldiership that have fallen under my observation. I can neither forget nor describe it. His natural, habitual bearing was military. That I had noticed the first time I saw him, in the spring of 1861, when he was fresh from the court-room and his law, it was in such marked contrast with that of the generality of volunteers; but on this occasion all the soldier in him roused to its highest pitch: it was splendid. If a face ever reflected the gaudium certaminis, his did then. It was a noble, handsome face, always alive with expression, and now it shone with a light of eagerness and daring that made one forget the surroundings for a minute, to look at it. Truly it was a goodly sight to see that calm, undaunted front, amid the terror that was manifest on every hand. It relieved the depression of calamity, and seemed to afford reason for believing that the waning fortunes of the day would yet be restored.

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I. I. Stevens (2)
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1861 AD (1)
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