Among the numerous scouts employed by General Stuart
, none was braver or more intelligent than a young man named Frank S-. Innumerable were his adventures, almost incredible his hair-breadth escapes and his reckless, dare-devil exploits.
The annals of fiction contain nothing more curious and moving than some of his experiences; and in this and the succeeding sketch I propose to indicate the species of daily life which S — lived during the late war.
A few words, first, of the scout himself.
He certainly was a ranger born.
Passionately devoted to his dangerous calling, and following it from predilection, not from any hope of reward, or spurred on by ambition of distinction, he was never so happy as when beating up the quarters of the enemy, and throwing them into confusion by some sudden attack.
He was not an officer, and never moved a finger to secure a commission; all he asked was permission to mount his horse, wander off and seek the neighbourhood of the enemy's camps, in search of incident and adventure.
On such occasions he preferred to be alone, to follow his appointed work without assistance, depending only upon his own strong arm and trusty weapons.
He cared little for society, though no one seemed more amiable; I never saw a brighter or more friendly smile than his. That smile did not deceive; there was no deceit of any sort in S . He loved his
friends, but he loved his calling better still.
It might have been said of him that man delighted him not, nor woman either.
His “chief delight” was to penetrate the dense woods of Fauquier
, assail the enemy wherever he found an opening, and inflict upon them all the injury in his power.
In the eyes of the scout those enemies were wolves, and he hunted them.
This sketch will demonstrate the fact that now and then they returned the compliment.
In person S — was suited to his calling; stout but active; a good hand with pistol and sabre; quick of eye; and with nerves which no peril could shake.
Soldiers generally prefer broad daylight and an open country to operate; S-liked a forest where no moon shone; whose soft earth gave back no sound when the hoofs of his horse fell upon it; and where even in the gloomy silence of midnight he could approach a vidette undiscovered.
When he found it necessary to penetrate the hostile lines, and could not elude the watchful guardians of the night, his habit was to brace himself in his stirrups, draw his pistol, and to the quick, “Halt!
Who goes there?”
shout, “Form fours!
to an imaginary squadron behind him, and pass on with loud yells, firing his pistol as he advanced.
The result was, generally, that the picket fired wildly at him, and then fled before the tremendous onslaught of “rebel cavalry,” whereupon the adventurous scout passed through at a thundering gallop, drove the picket before him, and adroitly slipping, at the opportune moment, into some by-path of the woods, was “within the lines.”
When the enemy made a stand at the next rising ground to receive the expected charge, none came.
When they returned to look for S--, he had disappeared.
But to come to the incident I design narrating.
It was in November, 1863, when the Federal
army lay around Culpeper Court-House and Mitchell's Station
, that S — was sent on a scout to ascertain the number, position, and movements of the Federal
Taking with him two companions, he crossed the upper Rapidan
, passed the Confederate cavalry pickets, and carefully worked his way toward Mitchell's Station
. General Meade
had pushed forward his lines to this point a
few days before-or rather established large camps there-and this fact, visible from Clark
's mountain, made it desirable to ascertain, if possible, his designs.
This was S—‘s mission.
In due time the small party reached the vicinity of the station, and it now became necessary to prosecute the remainder of the journey on foot.
They accordingly dismounted, and leaving their horses in a thick copse, “snaked” in the direction of a large Federal camp near at hand, taking advantage of every cover.
In this manner they came close upon the camp, and were rewarded with a sight of acres of canvas.
Lazy-looking infantry were strolling about, quarter-guards walking their posts, and officers in gay uniforms went to and fro, saluted by the sentinels with a “present” as they passed.
The size of the encampments enabled S — to form a tolerably accurate estimate of the amount of force which General Meade
had concentrated at this point; and having passed the whole day thus moving cautiously around the spot, thereby discovering all which a mere reconnoissance could reveal, the scout began to look for stragglers, from whom, as his prisoners, he might derive more accurate information still.
The love of rambling is inherent in soldiers of every nation; and the prospect of butter and eggs, resulting from a foraging expedition to the neighbouring farms, was well known to be irresistible with the Federal
To pick up these wandering foragers, if they were not in too great numbers, was the object of S— . His method on such occasions was to come upon the individual or the party unawares, silently present the muzzle of his pistol, and “take them in charge.”
Once his prisoners, all was friendly and peaceful, and all the information possible was extracted.
After a fatiguing day, S— and his party lay down in the woods near the Federal
camp, to snatch an hour's sleep before proceeding to their nocturnal work.
But on this occasion, Fate had determined to play them a sorry trick.
The “stragglers” whom they designed hunting and entrapping during the hours of darkness were to “turn up” in a fashion and at a moment neither expected nor desired.
The woful adventures which befell the scout and his companions I now proceed to relate.
S— had selected for his bivouac a retired spot where the encircling woods gave excellent promise of concealment, and the covert was so dense as to set him completely at his ease.
Through the thick brushwood no glimmer of firelight could be seen; and the scouts ventured to kindle a fire, which the chill November night rendered far from unacceptable.
By the carefully shaded blaze they warmed their benumbed fingers, ate their supplies of hard bread and bacon, and spread their blankets for a brief sleep.
S — took off his shoes; laid his hat at his head; and having picked up somewhere a certain “Life of Stonewall Jackson
,” recently published in Richmond
, now drew it from his haversack, and read a few passages by the firelight.
Although he did not inform me of the fact, this volume must have produced a soothing effect upon his feelings, for in a short time his eyelids drooped, the volume fell from his hands, and he sank to slumber.
His companions were already snoring by his side.
They slept longer than they designed doing — in fact throughout the entire night.
The weather, which had been lowering at nightfall, became gradually more threatening; and soon an imperceptible drizzle began, just sufficient to wet the blankets of the sleepers, but not to chill and awake them.
They slept on serenely; and now as day drew near, the hostile Fate approached.
It came in the shape of a squad of infantry soldiers, armed with muskets, from the adjoining camp; and this party, on their way to forage for butter, eggs, poultry, and other desirable components of a military breakfast, had stumbled on the slumbering scouts.
The first intimation which S — had of the danger which menaced him was, he declared, an instinctive feeling that some dangerous foe was near; and this even before he woke.
He was not long, however, to remain in doubt, or be compelled to question his instincts.
He opened his eyes to find the blanket suddenly drawn away from his face, and to hear a harsh and sarcastic voice exclaim: “How are you, Johnny Reb
Come, get up, and we will give you more comfortable accommodations than out here in the rain!”
S— was wide-awake in an instant, and through his halfclosed
lids reconnoitred, counting his opponents.
They were six in number, all armed and ready.
The situation looked ugly.
With his companions wide-awake and on the alert there might have been some ground for hope; but they were slumbering like the Seven Sleepers, and in utter unconsciousness of danger.
As to S — himself, he was in their very grasp, and practically disarmed; for it was obvious that at the first movement which he made to draw his pistol from the holster around his waist, the six muskets, cocked and pointing at his breast, would be discharged as one piece, and his body riddled with bullets.
The situation was depressing.
S — and his companions were in a veritable trap.
The least movement which he made would at once put an end to him, if six balls through the body could do so; and it was obviously necessary to surrender at once or betake himself to strategy.
The first was out of the question, for S-had made up his mind never to surrender, had indeed sworn a solemn oath not to do so under any circumstances; the second alternative remained.
had already suggested itself to his quick and daring mind; and this he now proceeded instantly to carry out. To the sneering address of his opponent bidding him get up, he made no immediate reply, but again closed his eyes, pulled the blanket up again over his shoulders, and turning his back, muttered in a sleepy voice: “Oh!
Go away, and let me sleep, will you!”
This reply highly tickled his adversaries; and so much did they relish the evident impression of the “Johnny Reb
” that he was among his own comrades in the Confederate
camp, that they shook all over in the excess of their mirth.
S-was a dangerous man, however, to jest with; and no doubt believed in the proverb which declares that “they laugh best who laugh last.”
While his opponents were thus indulging their merriment, and highly enjoying the surprise and mortification he would feel when awake to the real nature of his situation, S — was busy executing the plan which he had determined upon.
Pulling his blanket still further over his head, he drew a long labouring breath, turned as men do languidly in slumber, and cautiously moved his hand beneath the blanket toward the pistol in his belt.
slowly stole downwards under the cover, approached the weapon, and then he had grasped the handle.
A second careless movement extracted the pistol from the holster; his finger was on the hammer-without noise the weapon was cocked.
The scout was just in time.
The squad had finished their laugh, enjoyed their little comedy sufficiently, and now designed bringing the affair to an end. The leader accordingly stooped down and dragged away the blanket-when a shot followed, with the muzzle of the pistol upon his breast, and he fell forward dead, covering S — with his blood.
The scene which followed was brief.
The rest of the squad levelled their muskets at the scout, and fired with the muzzles nearly touching him, but he was wounded by none.
The body of their companion lying across him received the larger portion of the balls; and S— rose to his feet, armed with his deadly revolver, which still contained four charges.
These he fired in succession rapidly, but with good aim, and two of the five remaining men were wounded.
The three others, finding their guns discharged, dropped them, and hastily ran toward the Federal
S—‘s companions had been aroused by the firing, but were of no assistance to him. One disgracefully fled into the woods without firing a shot, and the other had committed the fatal fault of allowing his arms to become wetted by the rain.
When he attempted to fire his pistol the cap snapped, and none of the barrels could be discharged.
This proved, however, of no great importance.
S— had repulsed the whole party for the moment, and did not need assistance.
What remained for them now was a rapid retreat from the dangerous locality.
The sudden firing, and the men running in, had alarmed the Federal
camp, and a large party were seen approaching rapidly to take vengeance for the blood of their comrades.
S — accordingly hastened to retire, and disappeared with his companion just as the enemy rushed upon the area near the bivouac fire.
In this sudden “change of base,” stores of some value to him were necessarily abandoned.
In fact he was compelled to leave his horse, hat, shoes, blanket, and “Life of Jackson
” --to fly bareheaded and in his stocking feet.
lightened of all superfluous weight, it was doubtful if he could escape; for the shouts which now resounded as he ran showed that the enemy were pursuing him hotly, with the evident determination of running him “to earth” and destroying him.
In a few moments it became plain to S- that he was to be “hunted down.”
In fact, the encounter at the bivouac-resulting so disastrously to the assailants-had profoundly enraged their friends, and a large detachment speedily scattered, blocking up every avenue by which the scout could escape.
In the distance cavalry could be seen preparing to cut him off from the mountain, and before S-had gone half a mile he awoke to the unpleasant consciousness that he was surrounded.
Stealing along, a solitary figure — for his companion had gone another way-he peered warily from his covert, seeking a loop-hole of escape; but wherever he turned the paths were picketed, and the chances of escape seemed hopeless indeed.
Under circumstances so discouraging, an ordinary man would have lost “heart of hope.”
But S- was not an ordinary man. His perilous situation only developed the strong manhood of his character.
He surveyed his position at a glance, and estimated the chances.
It seemed that nothing but his own quick eye and knowledge of woodcraft could save him; if he was caught, there appeared to be small likelihood of his escaping death.
He had penetrated the Federal
lines, reconnoitred their encampments, slain their foraging parties; and although this was done in full Confederate uniform, with arms at his side, as a legitimate partisan operation, S — had little doubts of the light in which his enemies would insist upon regarding him. He felt that he would probably be treated as a “guerilla,” if not as a spy, and shot without benefit of clergy.
For this reason he did not intend to surrender.
He proposed to escape if he could; if he could not, he would sell his life as dearly as possible.
One conviction is apt to result very powerfully from scout life — that few situations are so greatly hopeless that skill and nerve will not extricate their possessor.
S-had these qualities in great perfection, and now brought all his courage and
to bear upon the contest for life and death.
His enemies were on every side following the trail of their game, and with videttes posted at every point around, were beating the covert for the prey.
S- had, however, been hunted before, and his brave heart did not recoil from the struggle.
Running silently with bare head and shoeless feet through the woods, he paused from time to time to listen to the shouts of his pursuers, and it soon became obvious that they were rapidly approaching upon every side.
However fleet of foot he might be, and whatever might be his accomplishments in woodcraft, the probabilities of escape grew more and more doubtful.
As he doubled, and turned, and circled, like a hunted wolf, the enemy every instant drew nearer, and soon their detached parties were nearly upon him. It was evident that they knew the country perfectly; and such was their success in intercepting his retreat, that he very soon found himself completely hemmed in, and his enemies in every direction cutting off his escape.
The parties gradually closed in upon him on every side, and in a few minutes more, unless he could discover some place of concealment, he must inevitably fall into their hands, when a bullet or a cord would terminate the hunt and his career on earth at the same time.
This conviction induced S— , whose nerve had never faltered, to seek on every side for some hiding-place.
But the result was discouraging.
The woods were open-without undergrowth --and every moment was now precious.
S— redoubled his speed, and darting through the wood, suddenly found himself in a small open field, in the middle of which rose a clump of pines, one of which had recently fallen.
In the bushy top of this fallen tree he now concealed himself, panting from his long run, and listening to the sound of his approaching foes closing in on every side.
To fight and die seemed his only resource; and reloading his pistol, he grimly waited for the moment which should find him at bay, in the presence of his enemies.
He did not wait long.
A few minutes only had elapsed when a party of three or four Federals entered the little area, and approached the clump of pines.
They passed close to the scout,
looking everywhere for traces of him; but he crouched down, held his breath, and they seemed about to prosecute their search in some other direction.
S- was indeed congratulating himself upon his safety, when, raising his head, he caught the eye of one of the enemy, who had lingered behind the rest, fixed steadily upon him. He was discovered; and starting to his feet, was greeted with the shout, “Here he is!”
which was instantly echoed by a hundred voices.
S- now saw that his life hung upon a thread.
Unless he could force his way through the cordon hemming him in, he was lost.
He was unwilling to waste the loads in his pistols before the final struggle took place — the last desperate struggle which was to terminate all. But that conflict now seemed about to take place.
For a single instant the scout and his foes stood looking at each other, and neither made any movement to fire.
In presence of this desperate man, the enemy seemed averse to the encounter, and waited for their comrades to come up. This short pause gave the scout the opportunity to decide upon his course.
If he could only secure a short “start,” --if he were only mounted!
His feet were bruised and sore, his strength greatly diminished by the close, hot chase.
Oh! for a horse to charge them and break through, as he felt he could though they were forty deep!
As the thought flashed through his mind, his eyes fell on a mule which was grazing in the field not far from him. To dart to the animal and throw himself upon its back was the work of an instant; and in the midst of furious outcries and hastily fired shots he dug his heels into the sides of the frightened animal, and commenced his race for life.
Behold S- now, mounted on his mule, with bare head and shoeless feet, grasping the mane of the animal with one hand, holding his pistol in the other, and driving onward like some grotesque figure of the German ballads!
Such was the speed to which he forced the animal, that he would probably have distanced his pursuers had not the perversity of the brute defeated all his calculations.
The mule had no sooner recovered from his first fright at finding himself so unceremoniously
mounted, than he made violent attempts by “roaching” his back, and kicking up, to unseat his rider.
S-- was an excellent horseman, and might have defied the kicking — up portion of the performance, despite the fact that he was riding without saddle or bridle; but no horsemanship could counteract the detestable roaching of the animal's spine.
At the fifth or sixth kick-up, accompanied by a movement which made the mule resemble an angry cat in outline, the scout was landed on terra firma
, amid the shouts of his enemies, who rushed toward him, firing as they came.
They reached the spot, uttering outcries and curses; but their obstinate foe had once more eluded them.
The scout had risen quickly, darted into the woods, and the chase again commenced with more ardour than at first.
S— now put forth all his remaining strength to distance the enemy, following more hotly than ever on his track.
Panting and worn out almost, half resolving a hundred times to turn and fight and die, he still kept on, the shouts of his enemies in his very ears.
He was growing desperate, and had become nearly exhausted.
A burning thirst raged in his throat; and although the enemy were on his very heels, he could not resist the temptation, as he reached a little meadow through which ran a limpid stream, to pause and quench his thirst.
Throwing himself upon his knees on the margin of the brook, he stooped and swallowed one refreshing draught of the cool water, and then rising up, found from the shouts of his pursuers that they were at last upon him-all further hope from flight of no avail.
A last desperate expedient suggested itself-concealment in the undergrowth which skirted the stream; and throwing himself at full length amid the bushes, not far from the spot where he had knelt down, he hastily drew the undergrowth around him and awaited the struggle.
He had scarcely disappeared from view when his enemies reached the spot.
He heard their footsteps; their cries resounded; and suddenly the voice of one of them exclaimed:
Here's the scoundrel's knee-print in the sand where he drank just now!
He ain't far off!
This cry was the signal for all the detached parties to converge toward the spot; and very soon the field was full of them.
The scout heard them deploying in every direction to guard all the outlets, preparatory to a rigid search of every species of covert in which a fugitive could conceal himself.
The green meadow was dotted with clumps of bushes, which grew in thicker luxuriance along the little watercourse; and in some of these hidingplaces it was obvious to the enemy that their victim lay hidden.
The prey was at last hunted down; had taken to earth; and it was now only necessary to beat the undergrowth with efficient diligence in order to flush the dangerous game.
The hunters proceeded to their task with energy and excellent method.
No portion of the ground was neglected, and their attention was especially directed to the bushes along the stream.
Lying on his back in the dense jungle, with a cocked pistol in each hand, his finger on the trigger, the scout listened with ears rendered preternaturally acute to the cries and exclamations of his enemies, who moved up and down the watercourse, and on every hand searching every foot of ground for their prey.
S- had not wasted a moment in deciding upon his plan of action if discovered.
He was exhausted, and could no longer fly; and to be taken prisoner was not an alternative.
He would fight as long as he could stand; give his enemies the full benefit of the ten barrels of his revolvers at close range; grapple with them breast to breast; and if he could not fight his way out-die.
Such was his plan; and he listened to the footsteps around him with that firm nerve which the brave man summons to his aid when face to face with death.
The moment had now come which was to decide his fate.
The pursuers had searched every portion of the field without success, and now returned to the point from which they had set forth, subjecting the covert to a second and more rigid inspection.
Their feet were heard trampling amid the undergrowth; they stopped to put aside the bushes, and peer into every nook.
S— heard their very breathing, and cast an eye upon his pistols to see that he had neglected nothing; that every tube was capped, every barrel loaded, and both weapons cocked.
All was right, and he experienced the fierce joy of the man who feels that at least he need not die without dragging down more than one enemy in his fall.
The steps were at his side; oaths and exclamations echoed in his very ears.
One of the hostile party determined to leave no inch of the ground unexplored, and bent down, plunging his glances into the very bushes over the scout's head.
S- grasped his pistols with a firmer clutch, strung his nerves for instant contest, and prepared to rise suddenly to his feet, lay the curious individual before him dead with a pistol bullet through the heart, and throw himself like a tiger at bay into the midst of his enemies.
The bushes were thrust aside; an oath resounded within three feet of him; he had covered the heart of his enemy with the muzzle of his right-hand pistol crossed over his breast-when the autumn foliage swayed back to its place, an exclamation of disappointment followed, and the footsteps retreated from his hiding-place.
The scout drew a long breath.
He was saved.
All day long he lay hidden, hearing more than one sound which proved that his enemies were still hovering near; but they had given up the search in despair.
At night he quietly rose, and found that the coast was clear.
Proceeding cautiously to reconnoitre, he discovered that the ground around his hiding-place was only partially guarded, and had little difficulty in escaping.
Eluding such parties as were still prowling around, he flanked the Federal
pickets, travelled all night, and before daylight was safe within the Southern
Such was the narrative of S— , related to me in my tent on the Rapidan
To suspect exaggeration or inaccuracy in the narrator would be to do a brave and truthful soldier great injustice; and I have recorded this true incident as a veritable illustration of the curious “scout-life” of the war.