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[100]

What could this mean? Too many wagons for a foraging party. What was Sheridan doing? A retreating force never left the Valley pike—the great highway and a magnificent road-so no one thought of a retreat. We could not grasp it; it was too bad to think. Falling back along all roads and burning as he comes did not suggest itself to one of our little party, till at last, as we sat on our horses there on that lone peak, motionless and horror struck for our country, we saw the awful work come on towards us.

Slowly and relentlessly it ate its way. All the way here before us, from Edom northward to Broadway, and from ridge to mountain, lay as fair a land as ever met the eye of man. Awful tragedy! Barn after barn, at first in the distance as by some invisible hand, takes fire. Then horsemen become visible, threading the fields as the tide rolled nearer, far and wide. On the destroyer comes—spot after spot, belching vast clouds of smoke and flame like Tophet, out there in the valley beneath us. Some count barns ablaze. I could not count. Some point out the fire-fiends darting now here, now there; now riding furiously fast cross-fields to a neighboring barn about to escape by neglect. See! He disappears behind it! There! He dashes off again! Oh! we all know what we are expecting next. We are almost breathless. It is but a moment; a little curling smoke, rising upward as if coming from some harmless chimney top when fire is kindled for a meal—a moment more dense clouds, and now all the roofs ablaze!

Our eyes are riveted on the infernal scene! Our hearts—how they pound and hurt us. Oh! is there no help? * * * Time wears on. Now the whole vale is red with fire mile on mile, and enveloped in smoke high over-head, twisting, writhing, dissolving. See! Yonder goes right at Broadway, John J. Bowman's mill, and Sam Cline's great stone barn! A sense of our powerlessness oppresses us. Stupidity lays hold on the mind, succeeding consternation.

Is the world being set on fire?

Look, men! A barn is being fired near us, at our very feet. Furies! ‘Quick! Let us fall on these burners and throw them in the burning barn,’ bursts from several throats at once. March! A start is actually made. Plunging down the hill we go. But confused cries and sounds reach our ears from another quarter. The tramp of cavalry. ‘We are hemmed in, men!’ It dawns on us we shall be swept along in front of this awful storm. How shall we slip between, the enemy filling every road and visiting every farmstead and seeking stock over all the fields.


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