« PreviousContinue »
their attacking columns. Tyler had already spoken to McDowell, and the two forces were drawing nearer and nearer together. Victory appeared so certain that nothing but a junction of the two columns was wanting to a glorious result, and this now seemed inevitable.
The clamor of the artillery was checked for a little time on both sides. Red-handed death cannot rush panting on "the track forever. Black-mouthed guns will get too foul for belching fire, and the swarthy men who feed them must have breathing time. As the fight flagged, and the men paused to draw breath, their terrible suffering was apparent in the parched lips that had tasted water but once through all that hot day, and the bloodshot eyes with which each man seemed to beseech his comrade for drink which no one had to give. Still, with drylips and throats full of dust, they talked over a thousand details of valor performed on the field. They spoke sadly of the loss of brave Cameron, the wounding.of Hunter, the fall of Haggerty and Slocum, the doubtful fate of noble young Wilcox. They discussed the impetuous dash and resolute stand of the Irishmen, the murderous shock sustained by the Rhode Island regiments, how the Highlanders had done justice to their own warlike traditions, and the Connecticut Third had crowned its State with honors. They told how Heintzelman had stooped down from his war-horse to have his wounded wrist bound up, refusing to dismount—of the intrepid Burnside, and of Sprague, the patriotic young Governor, who led on the forces his generosity had raised, to one victorious charge after another, till with his own hands he spiked the Rhode Island guns when compelled to leave them to the enemy.
So tranquil was the field during this short period of rest, that the soldiers who had foreborne to throw their rations away in the march, unslung their haversacks and sat down upon the grass to share the contents with their less prudent companions; those who had been fortunate enough to pick up the enemy's haversacks, cast off in retreat, added their contents to the scanty store.
While a few thus snatched a mouthful of food, others climbed up the tall trees and took a triumphant view of the vast battle-field their valor had conquered. The scene of carnage which it presented was awful. Dead and dying men heaped together on the red earth, crippled horses struggling desperately in- their death-throes, wounded men lying helplessly on the grass to which they had been dragged from under the hoofs of the war-chargers—all this grouped where the angry waves of battle had rolled down the beautiful valley, with its back-ground of mountains, looking immovable and grandly tranquil against the sky, was a picture which no man who saw it will ever forget.
The army, far advanced within the enemy's defensive lines, believLag itself victorious, was thus falling into quiet. The great struggle of the contending forces, each to outflank the other, had ceased. The prestige of success belonged to the Union, whose stars and stripes shone out triumphantly as the smoke which had engulfed the combatants rolled away.
All at once those in the tree-tops saw a commotion in the far distance. Columns of troops were moving toward them with flashing bayonets, and Southern banners, imfurling the stars and bars to the sun. On they came—rank after rank, column after column, one continuous stream of armed men, pouring down upon the battle-field with bursts of music and wild shouts of enthusiasm.
It was Johnston's reinforcements, marching up from the railroad. On they rushed, fresh, vigorous, and burning with ardor, through masses of wounded soldiers that lay by the road. The infa itry broke from the double-quick to a swift nm—the cavalry rode in >n a sharp gallop—the artillery wagons were encircled with men eager to get their ordnance in place against the thrice-exhausted Union troops. In a continuous stream these columns swarmed into the woods, the greater force centering around the hill about which the storm of battle had raged fiercest.
In an instant the whole battle commenced again. The officers sprang to their guns, anxious but not appalled. The men fell into rank ready for a new onset, tired as they were.
Then it was that Griffin's battery changed position, and the Fire Zouaves coming up under a terrible fire, broke and scattered down the hll-side, but rallied again in broken masses to rescue Rickett's battery, dragging the guns off with their own hands from amid the pile of dying horses that lay around them. Then it was that the Sixty-ninth and Seventy-ninth New York swept through the meadows from the north across the road, and charged up the hill with such daring courage, resisting the shock of battle fifteen minutes, and breaking only when mortal valor could withstand the storm of bullets no longer.
Then the bold Connecticut regiments charged up the hill. Thousands of the impetuous enemy fell upon them, but, in spite of all they planted the star-spangled banner and sent its folds sweeping out from the crest of the hill. Not till this was done, and a long last shout? sent ringing after the banner, were these heroic regiments driven from their position. But beaten back at last, they retired step by step, fighting as they went.
Then the Zouaves broke into the fight once more, scattered on the ground, some prostrate on their faces, others with limbs huddled together as if dead—while many stood with their eyes to the sun, waiting the onset of the Black Horse cavalry that came galloping upon them from the woods. A few of these eccentric warriors were making a feint of defending themselves while the cavalry stood hesitating on the margin of the wood, but the rest seemed to have been cut down. by the sweep of some deadly cannonade, and lay in the grass like a flock of partridge shot down in full flight.
Out from the woody cover the Black Hawks thundered on, thenarms flashing and the jetty necks of their horses flinging off the sunshine. The handful of Zouaves now flocked together in front of their prostrate comrades, seeming doubtful whether to fight or flee. On the black chargers came, champing the bit and tossing their heads angrily, the riders ready to trample the scattered Zouaves under hoof, as too easy a conquest for their flashing swords. A sudden, sharp ringing yell, and the dead Zouaves sprang to life, confronting the horsemen in a wall of bristling steel. A sharp volley—the horses reared, plunged, and ran back upon each other, some falling dead with quivering limbs as the fatal bullets rent their vitals, and gushes of blood crimsoned their coal-black chests; others staggering from a dozen wounds, rushed madly through the broken ranks of the terrified cavalry.
Before the chargers could again be brought into line, the Zouaves flung away their rifles, and sprang like tigers upon them. Seizing them by the bit, they wound themselves up over their arched necks—a flash of bowie-knives gleamed like chain-lightning across the ranks, and many a wild black horse plunged on riderless with burning eyes, streaming mane, and ringing empty stirrups, headlong through the already half-disorganized ranks, and scouring over the battle-field, scattering dismay as they went.
A last struggle now ensued, with desperate men and broken forces— then a retreat, so wild, so impetuous and reckless, that all organization was given up. Regiments lost their officers, broke, mingled into others, and rushed across the field a headlong torrent, which no human power could arrest. On they went, plunging through the sea of carnage that surrounded the hill—the surging, angry broken waves of a brave army hurrying tumultuously from what had been a victorious field but an , hour before. ,
Down from the hills, broken into frightened masses, pallid, reeling with exhaustion, they swept onward like a whirlwind, bearing the protesting officers with them, or trampling them under foot; for human life was nothing to them in that hot, mad race. The contagion of retreat spread like a prairie fire, from one point of the battle-field to another, scattering the army in wild confusion.
Still it was not quite a panic; two regiments, the Seventy-first New York and Second Rhode Island, kept their ranks in all this confusion, and were led in order from the field, over the road they had passed in the morning. Other regiments were led off in a wild, scattered way, but most of the great army was broken up, battalions and regiments surging together, and dashing through each other, till they became one mighty scene of confusion.
THE D'ESIV LARGELY REINFORCED—DESPERATE F1GIITING OF THE UNION TROOPS
The enemy pursued them in a broken, hesitating way, like men astonished at their own success; wanting confidence, they did not venture in force to follow the retreating army, but captured many of the scattered bands dispersed over the wide field of conflict. One detachment of cavalry charged on a helpless crowd of wounded, who were gathered near a hospital building; when a handful of unorganized men, mostly civilians, seized upon the first weapons at nand, and repelled r£ bravely.
Up to this time Schenck's brigade had kept its position at Stone Bridge, Captain Alexander, with his sappers and miners, had just cut through the abatis by the side of the mined bridge, that Schenck might lead his forces after those of Sherman and Keyes, when the torrent of retreat rolled toward him; his protecting battery was taken, and a force of cavalry and infantry came pouring into the road at the very spot where the battle of the morning commenced.
The first battery attacked that day had been silenced, but not taken; and there, in the woods which protected it, four hundred South Carolinians had been concealed during the entire battle, to swarm out now and fall upon the Union infantry in this most critical moment. A sudden swoop of cavalry completed that unhappy day's work. The Union infantry broke ranks, and plunging into the woods fled up the hill. A crowd of ambulances and army wagons had concentrated close to this spot, and civilians, led to the field by curiosity, blocked up the ground. The panic which had swept the battle-field seized on them. Kellogg of Michigan, Washburne of Illinois, and it is said, Lovejoy of Illinois, flung themselves in the midst of the fugitives, and entreated them to make a stand. Ely, of New York, was taken prisoner in a rash eflbrt to restore confidence to the panic stricken masses of men. But the maddened crowd plunged on. The teamsters urged their frightened horses into a headlong rush for the road; everything and everybody, brave or craven, were swept forward by the'irresistible human torrent. It was a stampede which no power could check or resist. From the branch road the trains attached to Hunter's division had caught the contagion, and rushed into the staggering masses, creating fresh dismay and wilder confusion.
It was a frightful scene, more terrible by far than the horrors of the battle-field. Broken regiments, without leaders, filled the road, the open fields, and skirted the fences, in one wild panic. Army wagons, sutler's teams and artillery caissons rushed together, running each other down, and leaving the wrecks upon the road. Hacks were crushed between heavy wagon wheels and their occupants flung to the ground. Horses, wild with fright and maddened with wounds, galloped fiercely through the crowd, rearing and plunging when the worn-out fugitives attempted to seize them and save themselves from the destruction that was threatened at every step. ,
Wounded men, who had found strength to stagger off the battle-field, fell by the wayside, begging piteously to be taken up. Now and then a kind fellow would mount a wounded soldier behind him, arra give tho horse he had caught a double load; most of the poor fellows were brought forward in this way. Sometimes a wounded man would be picked up by two passing companions, and carried tenderly forward— for the sweet impulses of humanity were not all lost in that wild retreat.
Then came the artillery—for much was saved—thundering through the panic-stricken crowd, crushing everything as it went, dragged recklessly along by horses wild as the men that urged them on. Rifles, bayonets, pistols, blankets, haversacks and knapsacks were flung singly or in heaps along the way. Devoured by intense thirst, black with powder, famished and halting, these stricken men plunged into the fields, searching for water. If a muddy pool presented itself, they st ag