Chapter 2: the overture.
's general plan involved an alternative: to cut Lee
's communications or turn the right flank of his entrenched line, and in case of the success of either, to take Petersburg
by direct front attack.
To carry out this plan he appointed Sheridan
with the cavalry of the Army of the Shenandoah, two divisions, under General Merritt
, and the cavalry division now commanded by General Crook
, formerly belonging to the Army of the Potomac.
He was to have the Fifth Corps as infantry support, to be followed, if necessary, by the Second Corps. General Meade
, commanding the Army of the Potomac, was to accompany the movement.
The former places of these corps on the left of our entrenchments before Petersburg
, were to be taken by troops of the Army of the James.
On the right of these, our Sixth and Ninth Corps were to hold their old positions in front of Petersburg
, ready to break through the enemy's works if they should be stripped somewhat of troops by the necessity of meeting our assault on their right.
The scope of Grant
's intentions may be understood from an extract from his orders to Sheridan
, March 28, 1865:
The Fifth Army Corps will move by the Vaughan Road at three A. M. to-morrow morning.
The Second moves at about nine A. M. . . . Move your cavalry at as early an hour as you can, . . . and passing to or through Dinwiddie, reach the right and rear of the enemy as soon as you can. It is not the intention to attack the enemy in his entrenched position, but to force him out, if possible.
Should he come out and attack us, or get himself where he can be attacked, move in with your entire force in your own way, and with full reliance that the army will engage or follow the enemy as circumstances will dictate.
I shall be on the field, and will probably be able to communicate with you. Should I not do so, and you find that the enemy keeps within his main entrenched line, you may cut loose and push for the Danville Road.
If you find it practicable, I would like you to cross the Southside Road between Petersburg and Burkesville, and destroy it to some extent. . . . After having accomplished the destruction of the two railroads, which are now the only avenues of supply to Lee's army, you may return to this army or go on into North Carolina and join General Sherman. . ..
evidently intended to rely more on tactics than strategy in this opening.
In his personal letter to General Sherman
, of March 22d, giving the details of his plans for Sheridan
's movement, he adds: “I shall start out with no distinct view, further than holding Lee
's forces from following Sheridan
But I shall be along myself, and will take advantage of anything that turns up.”
The general plan was that Sherman
his way up to Burkesville
, and thus cut off Lee
's communications, and force him to come out of his entrenchments and fight on equal terms.
says he and General Grant
expected that one of them would have to fight one more bloody battle.
He also makes the characteristic remark that his army at Goldsboro
was strong enough to fight Lee
's army and Johnston
's combined, if Grant
would come up within a day or two.1
It will be observed that we had abundance of commanders independent among each other,--Sheridan
, and Ord
commanding the Army of the James, subordinate only to Grant
who was present in the field.
The result of this the sequel will show.
We were all good friends,--those who were to constitute the turning column.
Warren of our Fifth Corps had once commanded the Second; Humphreys
of the Second had formerly commanded a division in the Fifth; Miles, division commander in the Second, had won his spurs in the Fifth; Meade
, commanding the army, had been corps commander of the Fifth.
's cavalry division of our army, now about to go to Sheridan
, had been our pet and pride; Sheridan
was an object of admiration and awe.
Of the Fifth Corps, the division commanders of the First and Second were Griffin
of the regular artillery, and veterans of the Mexican War
, who had served with their batteries in the Fifth Corps early in its career; and Crawford
of the Third, who was with Anderson
at Fort Sumter
, was identified with the Pennsylvania Reserves, whose whole history was closely connected with this Corps.
As for the First Division, the morning report for March 29, 1865, showed 6547 men present for duty.
This number being on various duty elsewhere or sick in hospital was 4000 short of its full ranks.
The remnants of the old First Division had been consolidated into the Third Brigade, formerly my own, consisting of about 3000 men, commanded by the able General Joseph J. Bartlett
of the Sixth Corps.
The Second Brigade, about 1750, commanded by the experienced and conscientious Colonel Edgar M. Gregory
, of the gist Pennsylvania Volunteers, Brevet Brigadier-General
of Volunteers, consisted of three new regiments from New York, the 187th, the 188th, and 189th, new regiments but mostly old soldiers.
My own brigade, the First, consisting of like new regiments, had about 450 short of its normal numbers, mustering 1750 men for duty.
These regiments were the 198th Pennsylvania, composed of fourteen full companies, being a special command for a veteran and brave officer, Colonel Horatio G. Sickel
, Brevet Brigadier-General
, and the 185th New York, a noble body of men of high capability and character,
and a well-disciplined regiment now commanded by Colonel Gustave Sniper
, an able man and thorough soldier.
had both ranked me formerly as Colonels
, but accepted the new relations with sincerity and utmost courtesy.
The ground about to be traversed by us is flat and swampy, and cut up by sluggish streams which, after every rain, become nearly impassable.
The soil is a mixture of clay and sand, quite apt in wet weather to take the character of sticky mire or of quicksands.
The principal roads for heavy travel have to be corduroyed or overlaid with plank.
The streams for the most part find their way southeasterly into the tributaries of the Chowan River
Some, however, flow northeasterly into the waters of the Appomattox
Our available route was along the divide of these waters.
The principal road leading out westerly from Petersburg
is the Boydton Plank Road
, for the first ten miles nearly parallel with the Appomattox
, and distant from it from three to six miles. The Southside Railroad is between the Boydton Road
and the river.
South of the Boydton
is the Vaughan Road
; the first section lying in rear of our main entrenchments, but from our extreme left at Hatcher's Run
inclining towards the Boydton Road
, being only two miles distant from it at Dinwiddie Court House. Five miles east of this place the Quaker Road
, called by persons of another mood, the “Military Road,” crosses the Vaughan
and leads northerly into the Boydton
Road midway between Hatcher's Run
and Gravelly Run
, which at this junction became Rowanty Creek
A mile above the intersection of the Quaker Road
with the Boydton
is the White Oak Road
, leading off from the Boydton
at right angles westerly, following the ridges between the small streams and branches forming the headwaters of Hatcher's
and Gravelly Runs
, through and beyond the “Five Forks
This is a meeting-place of roads, the principal of which, called the Ford Road
, crosses the White Oak
at a right angle, leading from a station on the Southside Railroad, three miles north, to Dinwiddie Court House, six miles south.
The enemy's main line of entrenchments west from Petersburg
covered the important Boydton Plank Road, but only so far as Hatcher's Run
, where at Burgess' Mill their entrenchments leave this and follow the White Oak Road
for some two miles, and then cross it, turning to the north and following the Claiborne Road
, which leads to Sutherland's Station on the Southside Railroad ten miles distant from Petersburg
, covering this road till it strikes Hatcher's Run
about a mile higher up. This “return” northerly forms the extreme right of the enemy's entrenched line.
When the instructions for this campaign reached us, all were animated with confidence of quick success.
's lines before Petersburg
were held in place, it would be easy work to cut his communications, turn his right, and roll him back upon
; if, on the other hand, his main lines were stripped to resist our attack, our comrades in the old lines would make short work of Lee
's entrenchments and his army.
At daylight on the twenty-ninth of March the Fifth Corps moved out toward the enemy's right.
As the movement was intended to mask its destination by a considerable detour to the rear, our column first moved southward to Arthur's Swamp, crossing the Rowanty at Monk's Bridge, and thence by way of the Old Stage Road
into and down the Vaughan
My brigade, being the advance of the First Division, reached the Chapple House
, about two miles from Dinwiddie
, early in the forenoon, encountering only a few cavalry pickets.
with the cavalry, moving by a still exterior route, was pushing on towards Dinwiddie Court House.
At about noon General Griffin
directed me to return upon the Vaughan Road
to the junction of the Quaker Road
, and push up this road to develop the enemy's position in that quarter.
This direction we knew led towards the very strong salient of the enemy's works near Burgess' Mill on Hatcher's Run
: but we did not know where, nor with what force, Lee
might see fit to push out a counter movement to thwart ours.
We soon found this road better entitled to its military than its Quaker
A spirited advanced line of the enemy had destroyed the bridge over Gravelly Run
and were posted behind some defenses on the north bank intending to give serious check to our advance.
Evidently there was something nearby
which they deemed it important to cover; and which accordingly we felt an interest to uncover.
I formed a plan which I communicated to General Griffin
, who approved it and directed General Gregory
to support me on the left as I should instruct him, and also directed General Bartlett
to be ready to take part as circumstances should require.
Things being thus arranged, I placed General Sickel
with eight companies on the right below the ruined bridge, with instructions to pour a hot fire upon the enemy opposite when with the rest of the brigade I would ford the stream waist-deep above the bridge and strike the enemy's right flank obliquely.
This led to a hand-to-hand encounter.
The attack was impetuous; the musketry hot. Major Glenn
with his six companies in skirmishing order dashed through the stream and struck the enemy's breastworks front and flank.
In a moment everything started loose.
The entire brigade forded the stream and rolled forward, closing upon Glenn
right and left, and the whole command swept onward like a wave, carrying all before it a mile or more up the road, to the buildings of the Lewis Farm
The enemy now re-enforced made a decided stand, and the fight became sharp.
But our enveloping line pressed them so severely that they fell back after each struggle to the edge of a thick wood, where a large body had gathered behind a substantial breastwork of logs and earth.
A withering volley breaks our line into groups.
Courage and resolution are great, but some other
sentiment mightier for the moment controls our men; a backward movement begins, but the men retire slowly, bearing their wounded with them, and even some of their dead.
The enemy, seeing this recoil, pour out of their shelter and make a dash upon our broken groups, but only to be dashed back in turn hand to hand in eddying whirls.
And seized by our desperate fellows, so many are dragged along as prisoners in the receding tide that it is not easy to tell which side is the winning one.
Much of the enemy's aim is unsteady, for the flame and murk of their thickening fire in the heavy moist air are blown back into their eyes by the freshening south wind.
But reinforcements are coming in, deepening and broadening their line beyond both our flanks.
Now roar and tumult of motion for a fierce pulse of time, then again a quivering halt.
At length one vigorous dash drives the assailants into the woods again with heavy loss.
We had cleared the field, and thought it best to be content with that for the present.
We reform our lines each side the buildings of the Lewis Farm
, and take account of the situation.
We had about a hundred prisoners from Wise
's and Wallace
's Brigades, who said nearly all Anderson
's Division were with them, and that more were coming, and they were bound to hold this outpost covering the junction of two roads which are main arteries of their vital hold,--the White Oak
and the Boydton Plank
We found General Griffin
there, and were relieved to see that he did not find fault with us,
although we had not done all that we expected-perhaps not all that was expected of us. We had been repulsed, no doubt.
But there was more to be done.
I wondered why Gregory
had not attacked on the enemy's right flank when they were driving us back, but found he had difficulty with the streams, which were almost impassable.
But our work was still before us. I saw that General Griffin
was anxious to carry the enemy's position, and I as anxiously formed a new line for the assault.
So we were in for it again and almost in cavalry fashion.
Giving the right of the line to General Sickel
and the left to Colonel Sniper
on each side the road, I took Major Glenn
with his six companies for a straight dash up the Quaker Road
, our objective point being a heap of sawdust where a portable mill had stood, now the center of the enemy's strong advanced line.
We received a hot fire which we did not halt to return as that would expose us to heavy loss, but advanced at the double quick to go over the enemy's works with the bayonet.
At close quarters the sharpshooters in the tree-tops cut us up badly, but we still pressed on, only now and then, here and there, delivering fire ourselves.
In the full crescendo of this, now close to the sawdust pile, my horse, wild for the front, all his pulses aglow, was exceeding the possible pace of the men following and I gave him a vigorous check on the curb.
Resenting this, he touched his fore feet to earth only to rebound headhigh to the level of my face.
Just at that instant a heavy blow struck me on the left breast just below
I fell forward on my horse's neck and lost all consciousness.
The bullet at close range had been aimed at my breast, but the horse had lifted his head just in time to catch it, so that, passing through the big muscle of his neck (and also I may say through a leather case of field orders and a brass-mounted hand-mirror in my breast-pocket-we didn't carry towels in this campaign), demolished the pistol in the belt of my aide Lieutenant Vogel
, and knocked him out of the saddle.
This, of course, I only knew afterwards.
The shock had stopped my horse, and I must have been for some little time unconscious.
The first thing I knew an arm was around my waist and words murmured in my ear, “My dear General, you are gone,” the kindly voice of General Griffin
who had ridden up beside me. At that moment also a very different strain struck my ear on the other hand,a wild rebel yell.
As I lifted my head a glance showed me the right of our line broken and flying before the enemy like leaves before the wind.
This explains my answer to Griffin
, “Yes, General, I am,” --that is, “gone” in another sense.
The bullet had riddled my sleeve to the elbow and bruised and battered my bridle arm so that it was useless, and the obstructions it met had slightly deflected it so that, instead of striking the point of my heart, it had followed around two ribs so as to come out at the back seam of my coat.
The horse was bleeding profusely and my falling on his neck brought a blood relationship of which I was not ashamed.
Everybody around thought I was
“gone” indeed, and that is why a telegram went to the New York morning papers reporting me as killed.
In the shock my cap had fallen to the ground, and I must have been a queer spectacle as I rose in the saddle tattered and battered, bareheaded and blood-smeared.
I swung the rein against my horse's wounded neck and lightly touching his flank with my heel, we made a dash for the rally of our right.
Pushing in among our broken ranks or our Ig8th Pennsylvania
, the men might well have thought me a messenger from the other world.
That rally was sharp work-and costly.
Down at the extreme right, in the maddened whirl, I found the brave Sickel
, his face aflame, rallying his men with an appeal none could resist.
In a moment after he fell by my side with a shattered arm. With him was that heroic boy Major McEuen
who high above all thought of self was dashing into the seething crest of battle and was shot from his saddle within touch of my unavailing hand; so passed a noble spirit, a sweet soul, only son of his proud father and last of his race on earth.
By such appeal and offering this gallant regiment, forced back by overpowering onset, straightened up into line again, and with a thrilling, almost appalling cheer, turned the tide of battle, and rolled it fairly back inside the enemy's works.
Aware of some confusion near the sawdust pile I thought it fitting to return to my place at the center.
I was astonished at the greeting of cheers which marked my course.
Strangest of all was that when I emerged to the sight of the enemy,
they also took up the cheering.
I hardly knew what world I was in.
By the time I got back to the center the loss of blood had exhausted the strength of my horse, and his nose came to earth.
I had to send him back and become a foot soldier.
It was a critical time there, with much confusion.
was having a hard time at the sawdust pile, and I worked myself forward in the crowd to get at the state of things in front.
By a sudden backset I found myself surrounded by Confederates, who courteously lowered their muskets and locked their bayonets around me to indicate a reception not easily to be declined, and probably to last some time.
The old coat was dingy almost to gray; I was bareheaded, and rather a doubtful character anyway.
I thought it warrantable to assume an extremely friendly relation.
To their exhortation I replied: “Surrender?
What's the matter with you?
What do you take me for?
Don't you see these Yanks
right onto us?
Come along with me and let us break 'em.”
I still had my right arm and my light sword, and I gave a slight flourish indicating my wish and their direction.
They did follow me like brave fellows,--most of them too far; for they were a long time getting back.
There was a little lull shortly afterwards, but quite a curious crowd around the sawdust pile.
of my old 20th Maine, who charged himself with a certain care for me, came up now and with a mysterious and impressive look, as if about to present a brevet commission, drew from
his breast-pocket an implement or utensil somewhat resembling a flask, which he confidentially assured me contained some very choice wine, of which he invited me to take a swallow.
Now that word is a very indeterminate and flighty term.
As I took the instrument in hand, I perceived it to be a Jamaica-ginger bottle frugally indented on all sides.
I elevated it at the proper angle of incidence without, perhaps, sufficiently observing that of reflection; but I thought masonic courtesy would be observed if I stopped when the bubble indicated “spirit-level.”
I returned the equitable remainder to him with commendation and grateful thanks.
But the melancholy, martyr-like look on his face as he held it up to the light, revealed his inward thought that in appropriating his courtesy I had availed myself to the extreme of my privilege.
My friend in later years seeks to get even with me by recalling this story on festive occasions for the entertainment of friends.
I do not like to admit the charge against myself, but have no hesitation in entering the plea on behalf of my accessory, the bottle, of extremely extenuating circumstances.
I was glad the Colonel
was not on my staff then, and I did not have to meet him at evening.
We were soon parted.
A hoarse yell rose through the tumult on the left, where the impetuous Sniper
had tried to carry the breastworks in the woods, and now, badly cut up, his regiment was slowly falling back, closely followed by the enemy pouring out from their works.
They were soon pressed back to a line perpendicular to their proper
front, and the flight was fierce.
Meantime, I scarcely know how, nor by whom helped, I found myself mounted on the back of a strange, dulllooking white horse, that had been bespattered by the trodden earth, and as I rode down among my fine New Yorkers, I must have looked more than ever like a figure from the Apocalypse.
There I found the calm, cold-steel face of Sniper
, who had snatched his regimental colors from the dead hands of the third color-bearer that had gone down under them in the last half-hour, and was still holding his shattered ranks facing the storm; himself tossing on the crest of every wave, rolling and rocking like a ship laying to in the teeth of a gale.
I dispatched a staff-officer for Gregory
to attack where I supposed him to be, in position to enfilade the enemy's newly gained alignment.
In response up rode Griffin
, anxious and pale, his voice ringing with a strange tone, as of mingled command and entreaty: “If you can hold on there ten minutes, I will give you a battery.”
That was a great tonic: Griffin
's confidence and his guns.
There was quite an eminence a little to our rear, behind which I was intending to re-form my line should it be driven from the field.
I changed my plan.
Pushing through to Sniper
, I shouted in his ear in a voice the men should hear: “Once more!
Try the steel!
Hell for ten minutes and we are out of it!”
I had no idea we could carry the woods, or hold them if we did. My real objective was that knoll in the rear.
I wanted to keep the enemy from pressing
over it before we could get our guns up. A desperate resort was necessary.
While a spirit as it were superhuman took possession of minds and bodies; energies of will, contradicting all laws of dynamics, reversed the direction of the surging wave, and dashed it back upon the woods and breastworks within them.
Having the enemy now on the defensive, I took occasion to let Sniper
know my purpose and plan, and to instruct his men accordingly: to demoralize the enemy by a smashing artillery fire, and then charge the woods by similar bolt-like blast of men. They took this in with calm intelligence, and braced assent.
I knew they would do all possible to man. All the while I was straining eyes and prayers for a sight of the guns.
And now they come-B of the 4th Regulars, Mitchell
leading with headlong speed, horses smoking, battery thundering with jolt and rattle, wheeling into action front, on the hillock I had been saving for them, while the earth flew beneath the wheels,--magnificent, the shining, terrible Napoleons.
I rode out to meet them, pointing out the ground.
's answering look had a mixed expression, suggestive of a smile.
I did not see anything in the situation to smile at, but he evidently did. I should have remembered my remarkable personal appearance.
He did not smile long.
The colloquy was short: “Mitchell
, do you think you can put solid shot or percussion into those woods close over the rebels' heads, without hurting my men?” --“Yes, Sir!
If they will keep where they are.” --“Well then, give it to them the
best you know.
But stop quick at my signal, and fire clear of my men when they charge.”
It was splendid and terrible: the swift-served, bellowing, leaping big guns; the thrashing of the solid shot into the woods; the flying splinters and branches and tree-tops coming down upon the astonished heads; shouts changing into shrieks at the savage work of these unaccustomed missiles; then answering back the burst of fire oblique upon the left front of the battery, where there was a desperate attempt to carry it by flank attack; repulsed by Sniper
drawing to the left, and thus also leaving clear range for closer cutting projectiles, when now case shot and shell, now a blast of canister, poured into the swarming, swirling foe.
My right wing was holding itself in the line of woods they had carried, reversing the breastworks there.
The strain was on the left now. I was at the guns, where danger of disaster centered, so closely were they pressed upon at times.
, bravely handling his imperilled battery,--I had just seen him mounting a gun-carriage as it recoiled, to observe the effect of its shot,--went down grievously wounded.
It was thunder and lightning and earthquake; but it was necessary to hold things steady.
Now, thank Heaven!
comes up Griffin
, anxious and troubled.
I dare say I too looked something the worse for wear, for Griffin
's first word was: “General, you must not leave us. We cannot spare you now.”
“I had no thought of it, General,” was all I had to say. He brought up Colonel Doolittle
(not named by a
prophet, surely) with the 189th New York, from Gregory
's Brigade, and Colonel Partridge
(a trace of the bird of Jove on his wing), with the 1st and 16th Michigan, to my support.
These I placed on Sniper
's right; when up came that handsome Zouave regiment, the 155th Pennsylvania, the gallant Pearson
at their head, regimental colors in hand, expecting some forward work, sweeping so finely into line that I was proud to give them the center, joining on the heroic Glenn
, holding there alone.
It is soon over.
Woods and works are cleared, and the enemy sent flying up the road towards their main entrenchments.
The 185th New York is drawn back and placed in support of the battery, right and left.
The Ig8th Pennsylvania
is gathered on the right, in front of the farm buildings.
takes the advanced line, and soon Bartlett
comes up and presses up the road to near the junction of the Boydton
and White Oak
, reminded of the enemy's neighborhood by a few cannon shots from their entrenchments near Burgess' Mill bridgehead.
At about this time word comes that the Second Corps is on our right, not far away.
By our action a lodgment had been effected which became the pivot of the series of undulations on the left, which after three days resulted in turning the right flank of Lee
We had been fighting Gracie
's, and Wise
's Brigades, of Johnson
's Division, under command of General R. H. Anderson
, numbering, as by their last morning reports, 6277 officers and men “effective” for the field.
My own brigade in this engagement numbered less than 1700 officers and men. Mitchell
's battery and Gregory
's and Bartlett
's regiments assisting in the final advance added to this number probably 1000 more.
Their total loss in this engagement was slight in numbers.
The loss in my brigade was a quarter of those in line.
My fight was over, but not my responsibilities.
The day and the field are ours; but what a day, and what a field!
As for the day, behind the heavy brooding mists the shrouded sun was drawing down the veil which shrined it in the mausoleum of vanished but unforgotten years.
And for the field: strown all over it were a hundred and fifty bodies of the enemy's dead, and many of the hundred and sixty-seven of my own men killed and wounded.
Both my personal aides had been severely wounded, and every officer of my staff unhorsed.
The casualties among officers were especially beyond the ratio in other battles.
, commanding the battery, was lying behind it severely wounded.
It may be proper to add that as he was serving away from his immediate superiors, I saw to it that his gallant and most effective service was faithfully reported, and fairly recognized by the Government
There was a sequel to this in the widowhood of after years.
Sometimes we can do for others what we cannot do for ourselves.
And this is the law of richest increase.
With the declining day I slowly rode over the stricken field.
Around the breastworks lay a
hundred and fifty of the enemy's dead and desperately wounded.
We had taken also in the countercharges and eddies of the strife nearly two hundred prisoners-happier than they knew.
These we sent away for safe-keeping.
But we had with us, to keep and to care for, more than five hundred bruised bodies of men,--men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God?
And where is the reckoning for such things?
And who is answerable?
One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air words of order-do we call it?-fraught with such ruin.
Was it God's command we heard, or His forgiveness we must forever implore?
For myself, though hardly able to move erect for soreness and weakness, I was thankful to have come out holding together as well as I did. For one little circumstance, which, I suppose, has interest only for myself, I felt very grateful for the kindness, and possibly the favor, of General Griffin
in so ordering my reinforcements as not to deprive me of the command of the field till my fight was over.
In the exigency of the situation, instead of sending me four regiments from the other two brigades of the division, he might very properly have put in Bartlett
, with his fine brigade, and that gallant officer would doubtless have carried all before him. But that noble sense of fairness, that delicate recognition of honorable sensibilities, in thoughtfully permitting, and even helping, a subordinate to fight his fight through, if he could,
and receive whatever credit might belong to it, shows not only the generous traits of General Griffin
's character, but shows also how strange a bond it is to hold a body of soldiers together, each and each to all, when men can feel what they have wrought with the best that is in them is safe in the hands of their commander, whose power over the “ways of putting things” has so much effect to make or mar their reputation.
Some commanders more than others have commanded love.
That too has reason.
Justice is said to be an attribute of the divine: in our imperfect world, missing that, we count one thing noblest,--and that is soul.
One other thing I may mention.
, our Corps commander, came up to me with pleasant words.
“General,” he says, “you have done splendid work.
I am telegraphing the President
You will hear from it.”
Not long afterwards I received from the Government
a brevet commission of Major-General
, given, as it stated, “for conspicuous gallantry in action on the Quaker Road
, March 29, 1865.”
I had previously received this brevet of the date of March 13th, purporting to be for meritorious services during that Virginia
I begged permission to decline this and to accept the later one.
First looking after the comfort of my wounded horse in one of the farmsheds, I walked out alone over the field to see how it was faring for the “unreturning brave.”
It was sunset beyond the clouds; with us the murky battle-smoke and thickening mists wrapped the earth, darklier shaded in many
a spot no light should look on more.
Burials were even now begun; searchings, questionings, reliefs, recognitions, greetings, and farewells; last messages tenderly taken from manly lips for breaking hearts; insuppressible human moan; flickerings of heart-held song; vanishing prayer heavenward.
But what could mortal do for mortal or human skill or sympathy avail for such deep need?
I leaned over one and spoke to another as I passed, feeling how little now I could command.
At length I kneeled above the sweet body of McEuen
, where God's thought had folded its wing; and near by, where wrecks were thickly strewn, I came upon brave old Sickel
lying calm and cheerful, with a shattered limb, and weakened by loss of blood while “fighting it through,” but refusing to have more attention than came in his turn.
Still pictured on my mind his splendid action where I had left him rallying his men, I sat down by him to give him such cheer as I could.
He seemed to think I needed the comforting.
The heroic flush was still on his face.
“General,” he whispers, smiling up, “you have the soul of the lion and the heart of the woman.”
“Take the benediction to yourself,” was the reply; “you could not have thought that, if you had not been it.”
And that was our thought at parting for other trial, and through after years.
For so it is: might and love, --they are the all;--fatherhood and motherhood of God himself, and of every godlike man.
Still we are gathering up our wounded; first filling the bleak old Quaker
those requiring instant attention and tenderest care, then giving our best for the many more, sheltering them as we could, or out under the brooding rain, where nature was sighing her own requiem, but even this grateful to some parched lip or throbbing wound.
Still, after the descending night had wrapped the world in its softening shroud the burials were going on (for we had other things for the morrow),--strange figures on some far edge, weirdly illumined by the lurid lanterns holding their light so close, yet magnifying every form and motion of the scene, all shadow-veiled and hooded like the procession of the “misericordia.”
Seeking also the wounded of the enemy, led mostly by moans and supplications,--souls left so lonely, forlorn, and far away from all the caring; caring for these too, and partly for that very reason; gathering them out of the cold and rain when possible,for “blood is thicker than water,” --we treated them as our own. “How far that little candle throws its beams!”
Indeed, in the hour of sorrow and disaster do we not all belong to each other?
At last, having done all possible, our much-enduring men lay down under the rain and darkness descending so close, so stifling, so benumbing,--to sleep, to dream.
For my own part, I was fain to seek a corner of the sorrow-laden Lewis house, sinking down drenched and torn in that dark, unwholesome, scarcely vital air, fitting companion of the weakest there.
But first of all, drawing near a rude kitchen box, by the smouldering light of a sodden candle,
steadying my nerves to compose a letter to dear, high-souled Doctor McEuen
, remembering his last words commending to my care his only son, with the beseeching, almost consecrating hands laid on my shoulder,--to tell him how, in the forefront of battle and in act of heroic devotion, his noble boy had been lifted to his like, and his own cherished hope merged with immortal things.
Never to be forgotten,--that night of March twenty-ninth, on the Quaker Road
All night the dismal rain swept down the darkness, deep answering deep, soaking the fields and roads, and drenching the men stretched on the ground, sore with overstrain and wounds,--living, dead, and dying all shrouded in ghastly gloom.
Before morning the roads were impassable for artillery and army-wagons, and nearly so for the ambulances, of our Corps and the Second, that crept up ghostlike through the shuddering mist.
Under the spectral light of hovering lanterns hundreds of helpless patient sufferers were loaded in; to be taken from this scene of their manly valor, now so barren of all but human kindness, in long procession for the nearest hospital or railroad station,--and for what other station and what other greeting, what could they, or we, foreknow?