The women turned out to wave their fathers, husbands, brothers and lovers
on to victory. The old men gathered to give parting counsel and
encouragement to their sons and kindred. The Sixty-fourth rode away to
what hope told them would be a glorious victory.
At noon we are still straggling along without much attempt at soldierly
order, over the rough, frozen hill-sides. It is yet bitterly cold, and
men and horses draw themselves together, as if to expose as little
surface as possible to the unkind elements. Not a word had been spoken
by any one for hours.
The head of the column has just reached the top of the hill, and the rest
of us are strung along for a quarter of a mile or so back.
Suddenly a few shots ring out upon the frosty air from the carbines of
the advance. The general apathy is instantly, replaced by keen
attention, and the boys instinctively range themselves into fours–the
cavalry unit of action. The Major, who is riding about the middle of the
first Company–I–dashes to the front. A glance seems to satisfy him,
for he turns in his saddle and his voice rings out:
“Company I! FOURS LEFT INTO LINE!–MARCH!!”
The Company swings around on the hill-top like a great, jointed toy
snake. As the fours come into line on a trot, we see every man draw his
saber and revolver. The Company raises a mighty cheer and dashes
Company K presses forward to the ground Company I has just left, the
fours sweep around into line, the sabers and revolvers come out
spontaneously, the men cheer and the Company flings itself forward.
All this time we of Company L can see nothing except what the companies
ahead of us are doing. We are wrought up to the highest pitch. As
Company K clears its ground, we press forward eagerly. Now we go into
line just as we raise the hill, and as my four comes around, I catch a
hurried glimpse through a rift in the smoke of a line of butternut and
gray clad men a hundred yards or so away. Their guns are at their faces,
and I see the smoke and fire spurt from the muzzles. At the same instant
our sabers and revolvers are drawn. We shout in a frenzy of excitement,
and the horses spring forward as if shot from a bow.
I see nothing more until I reach the place where the Rebel line stood.
Then I find it is gone. Looking beyond toward the bottom of the hill, I
see the woods filled with Rebels, flying in disorder and our men yelling
in pursuit. This is the portion of the line which Companies I and K
struck. Here and there are men in butternut clothing, prone on the
frozen ground, wounded and dying. I have just time to notice closely one
middle-aged man lying almost under my horse’s feet. He has received a
carbine bullet through his head and his blood colors a great space around
One brave man, riding a roan horse, attempts to rally his companions.
He halts on a little knoll, wheels his horse to face us, and waves his
hat to draw his companions to him. A tall, lank fellow in the next four
to me–who goes by the nickname of “‘Leven Yards”–aims his carbine at
him, and, without checking his horse’s pace, fires. The heavy Sharpe’s
bullet tears a gaping hole through the Rebel’s heart. He drops from his
saddle, his life-blood runs down in little rills on either side of the
knoll, and his riderless horse dashes away in a panic.
At this instant comes an order for the Company to break up into fours and
press on through the forest in pursuit. My four trots off to the road at
the right. A Rebel bugler, who hag been cut off, leaps his horse into
the road in front of us. We all fire at him on the impulse of the
moment. He falls from his horse with a bullet through his back. Company
M, which has remained in column as a reserve, is now thundering up close
behind at a gallop. Its seventy-five powerful horses are spurning the
solid earth with steel-clad hoofs. The man will be ground into a
shapeless mass if left where he has fallen. We spring from our horses
and drag him into a fence corner; then remount and join in the pursuit.
This happened on the summit of Chestnut Ridge, fifteen miles from
Late in the afternoon the anxious watchers at Jonesville saw a single
fugitive urging his well-nigh spent horse down the slope of the hill
toward town. In an agony of anxiety they hurried forward to meet him and
learn his news.
The first messenger who rushed into Job’s presence to announce the
beginning of the series of misfortunes which were to afflict the upright
man of Uz is a type of all the cowards who, before or since then, have
been the first to speed away from the field of battle to spread the news
of disaster. He said:
“And the Sabeans fell upon them, and took them away; yea, they have
slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped
alone to tell thee.”
So this fleeing Virginian shouted to his expectant friends:
“The boys are all cut to pieces; I’m the only one that got away.”
The terrible extent of his words was belied a little later, by the
appearance on the distant summit of the hill of a considerable mob of
fugitives, flying at the utmost speed of their nearly exhausted horses.
As they came on down the hill as almost equally disorganized crowd of
pursuers appeared on the summit, yelling in voices hoarse with continued
shouting, and pouring an incessant fire of carbine and revolver bullets
upon the hapless men of the Sixty-fourth Virginia.
The two masses of men swept on through the town. Beyond it, the road
branched in several directions, the pursued scattered on each of these,
and the worn-out pursuers gave up the chase.
Returning to Jonesville, we took an account of stock, and found that we
were “ahead” one hundred and fifteen prisoners, nearly that many horses,
and a considerable quantity of small arms. How many of the enemy had
been killed and wounded could not be told, as they were scattered over
the whole fifteen miles between where the fight occurred and the pursuit
ended. Our loss was trifling.
Comparing notes around the camp-fires in the evening, we found that our
success had been owing to the Major’s instinct, his grasp of the
situation, and the soldierly way in which he took advantage of it. When
he reached the summit of the hill he found the Rebel line nearly formed
and ready for action. A moment’s hesitation might have been fatal to us.
At his command Company I went into line with the thought-like celerity of
trained cavalry, and instantly dashed through the right of the Rebel
line. Company K followed and plunged through the Rebel center, and when
we of Company L arrived on the ground, and charged the left, the last
vestige of resistance was swept away. The whole affair did not probably
occupy more than fifteen minutes.
This was the way Powell’s Valley was opened to our foragers.
LIVING OFF THE ENEMY–REVELING IN THE FATNESS OF THE COUNTRY–SOLDIERLY
PURVEYING AND CAMP COOKERY–SUSCEPTIBLE TEAMSTERS AND THEIR TENDENCY TO
FLIGHTINESS–MAKING SOLDIER’S BED.
For weeks we rode up and down–hither and thither–along the length of
the narrow, granite-walled Valley; between mountains so lofty that the
sun labored slowly over them in the morning, occupying half the forenoon
in getting to where his rays would reach the stream that ran through the
Valley’s center. Perpetual shadow reigned on the northern and western
faces of these towering Nights–not enough warmth and sunshine reaching
them in the cold months to check the growth of the ever-lengthening
icicles hanging from the jutting cliffs, or melt the arabesque frost-
forms with which the many dashing cascades decorated the adjacent rocks
and shrubbery. Occasionally we would see where some little stream ran
down over the face of the bare, black rocks for many hundred feet, and
then its course would be a long band of sheeny white, like a great rich,
spotless scarf of satin, festooning the war-grimed walls of some old
Our duty now was to break up any nuclei of concentration that the Rebels
might attempt to form, and to guard our foragers–that is, the teamsters
and employee of the Quartermaster’s Department–who were loading grain
into wagons and hauling it away.
This last was an arduous task. There is no man in the world that needs
as much protection as an Army teamster. He is worse in this respect than
a New England manufacturer, or an old maid on her travels. He is given
to sudden fears and causeless panics. Very innocent cedars have a
fashion of assuming in his eyes the appearance of desperate Rebels armed
with murderous guns, and there is no telling what moment a rock may take
such a form as to freeze his young blood, and make each particular hair
stand on end like quills upon the fretful porcupine. One has to be
particular about snapping caps in his neighborhood, and give to him
careful warning before discharging a carbine to clean it. His first
impulse, when anything occurs to jar upon his delicate nerves, is to cut
his wheel-mule loose and retire with the precipitation of a man having an
appointment to keep and being behind time. There is no man who can get
as much speed out of a mule as a teamster falling back from the
neighborhood of heavy firing.
This nervous tremor was not peculiar to the engineers of our
transportation department. It was noticeable in the gentry who carted
the scanty provisions of the Rebels. One of Wheeler’s cavalrymen told me
that the brigade to which he belonged was one evening ordered to move at
daybreak. The night was rainy, and it was thought best to discharge the
guns and reload before starting. Unfortunately, it was neglected to
inform the teamsters of this, and at the first discharge they varnished
from the scene with such energy that it was over a week before the
brigade succeeded in getting them back again.
Why association with the mule should thus demoralize a man, has always
been a puzzle to me, for while the mule, as Col. Ingersoll has remarked,
is an animal without pride of ancestry or hope of posterity, he is still
not a coward by any means. It is beyond dispute that a full-grown and
active lioness once attacked a mule in the grounds of the Cincinnati
Zoological Garden, and was ignominiously beaten, receiving injuries from
which she died shortly afterward.
The apparition of a badly-scared teamster urging one of his wheel mules
at break-neck speed over the rough ground, yelling for protection against
“them Johnnies,” who had appeared on some hilltop in sight of where he
was gathering corn, was an almost hourly occurrence. Of course the squad
dispatched to his assistance found nobody.
Still, there were plenty of Rebels in the country, and they hung around
our front, exchanging shots with us at long taw, and occasionally
treating us to a volley at close range, from some favorable point.
But we had the decided advantage of them at this game. Our Sharpe’s
carbines were much superior in every way to their Enfields. They would
shoot much farther, and a great deal more rapidly, so that the Virginians
were not long in discovering that they were losing more than they gained
in this useless warfare.
Once they played a sharp practical joke upon us. Copper River is a deep,
exceedingly rapid mountain stream, with a very slippery rocky bottom.
The Rebels blockaded a ford in such a way that it was almost impossible
for a horse to keep his feet. Then they tolled us off in pursuit of a
small party to this ford. When we came to it there was a light line of
skirmishers on the opposite bank, who popped away at us industriously.
Our boys formed in line, gave the customary, cheer, and dashed in to
carry the ford at a charge. As they did so at least one-half of the
horses went down as if they were shot, and rolled over their riders in
the swift running, ice-cold waters. The Rebels yelled a triumphant
laugh, as they galloped away, and the laugh was re-echoed by our fellows,
who were as quick to see the joke as the other side. We tried to get
even with them by a sharp chase, but we gave it up after a few miles,
without having taken any prisoners.
But, after all, there was much to make our sojourn in the Valley
endurable. Though we did not wear fine linen, we fared sumptuously–for
soldiers–every day. The cavalryman is always charged by the infantry
and artillery with having a finer and surer scent for the good things in
the country than any other man in the service. He is believed to have an
instinct that will unfailingly lead him, in the dankest night, to the
roosting place of the most desirable poultry, and after he has camped in
a neighborhood for awhile it would require a close chemical analysis to
find a trace of ham.
We did our best to sustain the reputation of our arm of the service.
We found the most delicious hams packed away in the ash-houses.
They were small, and had that; exquisite nutty flavor, peculiar to mast-
fed bacon. Then there was an abundance of the delightful little apple
known as “romanites.” There were turnips, pumpkins, cabbages, potatoes,
and the usual products of the field in plenty, even profusion. The corn
in the fields furnished an ample supply of breadstuff. We carried it to
and ground it in the quaintest, rudest little mills that can be imagined
outside of the primitive affairs by which the women of Arabia coarsely
powder the grain for the family meal. Sometimes the mill would consist
only of four stout posts thrust into the ground at the edge of some
stream. A line of boulders reaching diagonally across the stream
answered for a dam, by diverting a portion of the volume of water to a
channel at the side, where it moved a clumsily constructed wheel, that
turned two small stones, not larger than good-sized grindstones. Over
this would be a shed made by resting poles in forked posts stuck into the
ground, and covering these with clapboards held in place by large flat
stones. They resembled the mills of the gods–in grinding slowly.
It used to seem that a healthy man could eat the meal faster than they
But what savory meals we used to concoct around the campfires, out of the
rich materials collected during the day’s ride! Such stews, such soups,
such broils, such wonderful commixtures of things diverse in nature and
antagonistic in properties such daring culinary experiments in combining
materials never before attempted to be combined. The French say of
untasteful arrangement of hues in dress “that the colors swear at each
other.” I have often thought the same thing of the heterogeneities that
go to make up a soldier’s pot-a feu.
But for all that they never failed to taste deliciously after a long
day’s ride. They were washed down by a tincupful of coffee strong enough
to tan leather, then came a brier-wood pipeful of fragrant kinnikinnic,
and a seat by the ruddy, sparkling fire of aromatic cedar logs, that
diffused at once warmth, and spicy, pleasing incense. A chat over the
events of the day, and the prospect of the morrow, the wonderful merits
of each man’s horse, and the disgusting irregularities of the mails from
home, lasted until the silver-voiced bugle rang out the sweet, mournful
tattoo of the Regulations, to the flowing cadences of which the boys had
arranged the absurdly incongruous words:
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