Never was there an angrier man than that Second Lieutenant; he brandished
his saber and swore; he seemed to feel that all his soldierly reputation
was gone, but the boys stuck to their shelter for all that, informing him
that when the Rebels would stand out in the open field and take their
fire, they would d likewise.
Despite all our efforts, the Rebel line crawled up closer an closer to
us; we were driven back from knoll to knoll, and from one fence after
another. We had maintained the unequal struggle for eight hours; over
one-fourth of our number were stretched upon the snow, killed or badly
wounded. Our cartridges were nearly all gone; the cannon had fired its
last shot long ago, and having a blank cartridge left, had shot the
rammer at a gathering party of the enemy.
Just as the Winter sun was going down upon a day of gloom the bugle
called us all up on the hillside. Then the Rebels saw for the first time
how few there were, and began an almost simultaneous charge all along the
line. The Major raised piece of a shelter tent upon a pole. The line
halted. An officer rode out from it, followed by two privates.
Approaching the Major, he said, “Who is in command this force?”
The Major replied: “I am.”
“Then, Sir, I demand your sword.”
“What is your rank, Sir!”
“I am Adjutant of the Sixty-fourth Virginia.”
The punctillious soul of the old “Regular”–for such the Major was
swelled up instantly, and he answered:
“By —, sir, I will never surrender to my inferior in rank!”
The Adjutant reined his horse back. His two followers leveled their
pieces at the Major and waited orders to fire. They were covered by a
dozen carbines in the hands of our men. The Adjutant ordered his men to
“recover arms,” and rode away with them. He presently returned with a
Colonel, and to him the Major handed his saber.
As the men realized what was being done, the first thought of many of
them was to snatch out the cylinder’s of their revolvers, and the slides
of their carbines, and throw them away, so as to make the arms useless.
We were overcome with rage and humiliation at being compelled to yield to
an enemy whom we had hated so bitterly. As we stood there on the bleak
mountain-side, the biting wind soughing through the leafless branches,
the shadows of a gloomy winter night closing around us, the groans and
shrieks of our wounded mingling with the triumphant yells of the Rebels
plundering our tents, it seemed as if Fate could press to man’s lips no
cup with bitterer dregs in it than this.
THE REACTION–DEPRESSION–BITTING COLD–SHARP HUNGER AND SAD REFLEXION.
“Of being taken by the Insolent foe.”–Othello.
The night that followed was inexpressibly dreary: The high-wrought
nervous tension, which had been protracted through the long hours that
the fight lasted, was succeeded by a proportionate mental depression,
such as naturally follows any strain upon the mind. This was intensified
in our cases by the sharp sting of defeat, the humiliation of having to
yield ourselves, our horses and our arms into the possession of the
enemy, the uncertainty as to the future, and the sorrow we felt at the
loss of so many of our comrades.
Company L had suffered very severely, but our chief regret was for the
gallant Osgood, our Second Lieutenant. He, above all others, was our
trusted leader. The Captain and First Lieutenant were brave men, and
good enough soldiers, but Osgood was the one “whose adoption tried, we
grappled to our souls with hooks of steel.” There was never any
difficulty in getting all the volunteers he wanted for a scouting party.
A quiet, pleasant spoken gentleman, past middle age, he looked much
better fitted for the office of Justice of the Peace, to which his
fellow-citizens of Urbana, Illinois, had elected and reelected him, than
to command a troop of rough riders in a great civil war. But none more
gallant than he ever vaulted into saddle to do battle for the right.
He went into the Army solely as a matter of principle, and did his duty
with the unflagging zeal of an olden Puritan fighting for liberty and his
soul’s salvation. He was a superb horseman–as all the older Illinoisans
are and, for all his two-score years and ten, he recognized few superiors
for strength and activity in the Battalion. A radical, uncompromising
Abolitionist, he had frequently asserted that he would rather die than
yield to a Rebel, and he kept his word in this as in everything else.
As for him, it was probably the way he desired to die. No one believed
more ardently than he that
Whether on the scaffold high,
Or in the battle’s van;
The fittest place for man to die,
Is where he dies for man.
Among the many who had lost chums and friends was Ned Johnson, of Company
K. Ned was a young Englishman, with much of the suggestiveness of the
bull-dog common to the lower class of that nation. His fist was readier
than his tongue. His chum, Walter Savage was of the same surly type.
The two had come from England twelve years before, and had been together
ever since. Savage was killed in the struggle for the fence described in
the preceding chapter. Ned could not realize for a while that his friend
was dead. It was only when the body rapidly stiffened on its icy bed,
and the eyes which had been gleaming deadly hate when he was stricken
down were glazed over with the dull film of death, that he believed he
was gone from him forever. Then his rage was terrible. For the rest of
the day he was at the head of every assault upon the enemy. His voice
could ever be heard above the firing, cursing the Rebels bitterly, and
urging the boys to “Stand up to ’em! Stand right up to ’em! Don’t give
a inch! Let them have the best you got in the shop! Shoot low, and
don’t waste a cartridge!”
When we surrendered, Ned seemed to yield sullenly to the inevitable.
He threw his belt and apparently his revolver with it upon the snow.
A guard was formed around us, and we gathered about the fires that were
started. Ned sat apart, his arms folded, his head upon his breast,
brooding bitterly upon Walter’s death. A horseman, evidently a Colonel
or General, clattered up to give some directions concerning us. At the
sound of his voice Ned raised his head and gave him a swift glance; the
gold stars upon the Rebel’s collar led him to believe that he was the
commander of the enemy. Ned sprang to his feet, made a long stride
forward, snatched from the breast of his overcoat the revolver he had
been hiding there, cocked it and leveled it at the Rebel’s breast.
Before he could pull the trigger Orderly Sergeant Charles Bentley, of his
Company, who was watching him, leaped forward, caught his wrist and threw
the revolver up. Others joined in, took the weapon away, and handed it
over to the officer, who then ordered us all to be searched for arms,
and rode away.
All our dejection could not make us forget that we were intensely hungry.
We had eaten nothing all day. The fight began before we had time to get
any breakfast, and of course there was no interval for refreshments
during the engagement. The Rebels were no better off than we, having
been marched rapidly all night in order to come upon us by daylight.
Late in the evening a few sacks of meal were given us, and we took the
first lesson in an art that long and painful practice afterward was to
make very familiar to us. We had nothing to mix the meal in, and it
looked as if we would have to eat it dry, until a happy thought struck
some one that our caps would do for kneading troughs. At once every cap
was devoted to this. Getting water from an adjacent spring, each man
made a little wad of dough–unsalted–and spreading it upon a flat stone
or a chip, set it up in front of the fire to bake. As soon as it was
browned on one side, it was pulled off the stone, and the other side
turned to the fire. It was a very primitive way of cooking and I became
thoroughly disgusted with it. It was fortunate for me that I little
dreamed that this was the way I should have to get my meals for the next
After somewhat of the edge had been taken off our hunger by this food,
we crouched around the fires, talked over the events of the day,
speculated as to what was to be done with us, and snatched such sleep as
the biting cold would permit.
“ON TO RICHMOND!”–MARCHING ON FOOT OVER THE MOUNTAINS–MY HORSE HAS A
NEW RIDER–UNSOPHISTICATED MOUNTAIN GIRLS–DISCUSSING THE ISSUES OF THE
WAR–PARTING WITH “HIATOGA.”
At dawn we were gathered together, more meal issued to us, which we
cooked in the same way, and then were started under heavy guard to march
on foot over the mountains to Bristol, a station at the point where the
Virginia and Tennessee Railroad crosses the line between Virginia and
As we were preparing to set out a Sergeant of the First Virginia cavalry
came galloping up to us on my horse! The sight of my faithful “Hiatoga”
bestrid by a Rebel, wrung my heart. During the action I had forgotten
him, but when it ceased I began to worry about his fate. As he and his
rider came near I called out to him; he stopped and gave a whinny of
recognition, which seemed also a plaintive appeal for an explanation of
the changed condition of affairs.
The Sergeant was a pleasant, gentlemanly boy of about my own age.
He rode up to me and inquired if it was my horse, to which I replied in
the affirmative, and asked permission to take from the saddle pockets
some letters, pictures and other trinkets. He granted this, and we
became friends from thence on until we separated. He rode by my side as
we plodded over the steep, slippery hills, and we beguiled the way by
chatting of the thousand things that soldiers find to talk about, and
exchanged reminiscences of the service on both sides. But the subject he
was fondest of was that which I relished least: my–now his–horse. Into
the open ulcer of my heart he poured the acid of all manner of questions
concerning my lost steed’s qualities and capabilities: would he swim?
how was he in fording? did he jump well! how did he stand fire?
I smothered my irritation, and answered as pleasantly as I could.
In the afternoon of the third day after the capture, we came up to where
a party of rustic belles were collected at “quilting.” The “Yankees”
were instantly objects of greater interest than the parade of a menagerie
would have been. The Sergeant told the girls we were going to camp for
the night a mile or so ahead, and if they would be at a certain house,
he would have a Yankee for them for close inspection. After halting,
the Sergeant obtained leave to take me out with a guard, and I was
presently ushered into a room in which the damsels were massed in force,
–a carnation-checked, staring, open-mouthed, linsey-clad crowd, as
ignorant of corsets and gloves as of Hebrew, and with a propensity to
giggle that was chronic and irrepressible. When we entered the room
there was a general giggle, and then a shower of comments upon my
appearance,–each sentence punctuated with the chorus of feminine
cachination. A remark was made about my hair and eyes, and their
risibles gave way; judgment was passed on my nose, and then came a ripple
of laughter. I got very red in the face, and uncomfortable generally.
Attention was called to the size of my feet and hands, and the usual
chorus followed. Those useful members of my body seemed to swell up as
they do to a young man at his first party.
Then I saw that in the minds of these bucolic maidens I was scarcely,
if at all, human; they did not understand that I belonged to the race;
I was a “Yankee”–a something of the non-human class, as the gorilla or
the chimpanzee. They felt as free to discuss my points before my face as
they would to talk of a horse or a wild animal in a show. My equanimity
was partially restored by this reflection, but I was still too young to
escape embarrassment and irritation at being thus dissected and giggled
at by a party of girls, even if they were ignorant Virginia mountaineers.
I turned around to speak to the Sergeant, and in so doing showed my back
to the ladies. The hum of comment deepened into surprise, that half
stopped and then intensified the giggle.
I was puzzled for a minute, and then the direction of their glances, and
their remarks explained it all. At the rear of the lower part of the
cavalry jacket, about where the upper ornamental buttons are on the tail
of a frock coat, are two funny tabs, about the size of small pin-
cushions. They are fastened by the edge, and stick out straight behind.
Their use is to support the heavy belt in the rear, as the buttons do in
front. When the belt is off it would puzzle the Seven Wise Men to guess
what they are for. The unsophisticated young ladies, with that swift
intuition which is one of lovely woman’s salient mental traits,
immediately jumped at the conclusion that the projections covered some
peculiar conformation of the Yankee anatomy–some incipient, dromedary-
like humps, or perchance the horns of which they had heard so much.
This anatomical phenomena was discussed intently for a few minutes,
during which I heard one of the girls inquire whether “it would hurt him
to cut ’em off?” and another hazarded the opinion that “it would probably
bleed him to death.”
Then a new idea seized them, and they said to the Sergeant “Make him
sing! Make him sing!”
This was too much for the Sergeant, who had been intensely amused at the
girls’ wonderment. He turned to me, very red in the face, with:
“Sergeant: the girls want to hear you sing.”
I replied that I could not sing a note. Said he:
“Oh, come now. I know better than that; I never seed or heerd of a
Yankee that couldn’t sing.”
I nevertheless assured him that there really were some Yankees that did
not have any musical accomplishments, and that I was one of that
unfortunate number. I asked him to get the ladies to sing for me,
and to this they acceded quite readily. One girl, with a fair soprano,
who seemed to be the leader of the crowd, sang “The Homespun Dress,” a
song very popular in the South, and having the same tune as the “Bonnie
Blue Flag.” It began,
I envy not the Northern girl
Their silks and jewels fine,
and proceeded to compare the homespun habiliments of the Southern women
to the finery and frippery of the ladies on the other side of Mason and
Dixon’s line in a manner very disadvantageous to the latter.
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