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The scouts

On the borders of Scotland, in the good old times, there was a “Debatable land” --bone of contention between Pict and Anglo-Saxon. In Virginia, lately, there was a similar region, the subject of dispute between Federal and Southron. In Scotland, the menat-arms and barons fought along the banks of the Tweed; in Virginia, “Mosby's men” and their blue opponents contended on the banks of the Rappahannock. Our “Debatable land” was, in fact, all that fine and beautiful country lying between the Potomac and the last-named river, over which the opposing armies of the North and the South alternately advanced and retired.

This land was the home of the scout; the chosen field of the ranger and the partisan. Mosby was king there: and his liegemen lived as jovial lives as did the followers of Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest, in the old days of Merry England.

But the romantic lives of Mosby and his men will not be touched on here. The subject would become enthralling were it to be more than alluded to — the pen would drag the hand into a sketch, and not a short one, of that splendid ranger-life amid the Fauquier forests, the heart of “Mosby's Confederacy.” Not to-day can I delineate the lithe, keen partisan, with his roving glance, his thin curling lip, his loose swaying belt containing the brace of pistols ready loaded and capped. Some abler hand must [468] draw the chief of rangers, and relate his exploits — the design of the present writer is to record some adventures of “scout life,” which differs in many points from that of the regular partisan, though not wholly.

The scout proper is “commanding in the field,” with no one near to give him orders. He goes and comes at will, having that about him which all pickets obey. He is “on detached service;” and having procured certain information, reports to the officer who has sent him, without intermediate ceremony. Operating within the enemy's lines at all times, he depends for success and safety on the quickness of his eye and hand-and his reliance on these is great. He is silent in his movements, low-toned in his speech, abstemious in his habits, and as untiring on the track of the enemy as the Cuban blood-hound on the trail of the fugitive. He sleeps rarely in houses, preferring the woods; and always slumbers “with one eye open,” on the look out for his enemy.

The scout has a thorough knowledge of the country, and is even acquainted with “every hog path.” He travels in the woods; and often in crossing a sandy highway dismounts, and backs his horse across the road, to mislead the enemy, on the watch for “guerillas,” as to the direction of his march. He thus “flanks” their pickets, penetrates to their camps, reconnoitres their number and position, and strives to pick up some straggler whom he can pump for information. Thus lurking and prowling around the enemy's camps, by night and day, the scout never relaxes his exertions until he discovers what he wishes. That discovery once made — of the strength, situation, and probable designs of the enemy — the stealthy emissary “snakes” back as he came; mounts his trusty steed in the depth of the wood; and first listening attentively, sets out on his return with his supply of valuable information.

If he cannot “flank” the enemy's pickets, he charges them. If he cannot glide through, he fights through. If he meets a straggling enemy or enemies not in too great number, he puts his pistol to his or their heads, and brings him or them alongpleasantly chatting with them as he goes along, but keeping his eye and his pistol muzzle upon them. [469]

When he relates his adventures, he does so with a laughnoting the humorous side of things. Indeed his life seems chiefly attractive to him from that very humorous phase, and he jests about his perils with a gay light spirit which is one of the greatest charms of his society. He has extricated himself from deadly peril safely, “fooled” his foe, and is chatting after the occurrence with his friends by the camp fire. Could anything be more satisfactory? So the scout plays over the comedy for your entertainment; relates every incident in a spirit of dry humour; rolls up in his blanket by the fire when he is tired; and, before daylight, has disappeared on another expedition.

Thus toiling, watching, and fighting, enduring hardship, risking liberty and life hourly, the scout passes his life. He is not a paid spy — not a spy at all, for he goes uniformed and armed, and the work is his reward. The trump of fame will never sound for him. If he falls, it will be in the depths of some forest, where his bones will moulder away undiscovered; if he survives, he will return to obscurity as a rain-drop sinks into the ocean and is seen no more.

That will be his fate; but while he is alive, he lives. He loves his vocation, and gives to the cause what he possesses — a piercing eye, a ready hand, and a daring soul. For his services, often invaluable, and his risk of life night and day, he receives-when he can get it-eleven dollars a month; and with this, or with nothing, he is perfectly content. What he asks is simply the liberty to rove; to hunt the enemy after the fashion most agreeable to him; to have himself killed, if the killing must take place, in single combat, with the pistol, rather than in line of battle with the musket.

It results from this that the life of the scout is apt to be crowded with adventure, contrast, and all that is picturesque. Here to-day, away to-morrow; closeted with the commanding general, while an orderly keeps off all intruders, and then disappearing like a shadow on some secret mission; passing the most obdurate pickets with a single word; silently appearing in the houses of friends far behind the enemy's lines; reconnoitring their camps, picking up stragglers, attacking them alone or in [470] company with others, upon all occasions-such are some of the phases which the scout exhibits, such some of the occupations of his stirring existence.

A few of these adventurous incidents are here recorded just as I heard them from an accomplished scout of General Stuart. They will be found sufficiently “romantic,” but I believe them to be exactly true.

As such, they possess a value which no mere fiction could.

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