Shot and Shell
IT was as the general had feared. Ewell had left Bellaire at five o'clock in the afternoon, and was well on his way to Henrysburg when the messenger overtook him and turned him back toward Gettysburg.
It would have been difficult for the Charltons to believe, two days before, that they would have seen their enemy depart with any feeling akin to regret. Yet Colonel Morris and his staff had shown them such uniform courtesy and consideration that, almost against their will, a feeling of friendliness for them had sprung up in the hearts of the Charlton household. Dr Charlton himself, sturdy patriot though he was, took the colonel's hand with real feeling at parting, though he could not resist a Parthian shaft.
"You have been the most courteous of foes, Colonel Morris," he said; "and I could wish for you a better lot than to be fighting against your country, and a better fate than a rebel's grave. But be assured of this if the tables are ever turned and I can show you some of the kindness you have shown my family, it will be my greatest pleasure to do so."
"I am sure of that, doctor," returned the colonel, with his invariable courtesy, for he liked the doctor none the less for his fearless admonitions. "But you must not consider your obligation as too heavy. To be allowed to spend two days as members of your family circle has more than repaid us for any consideration we may have shown you. It has been a boon to my officers and myself that you can hardly estimate."
They were all out on the veranda to say good-by to him,-Mrs. Charlton, Eunice, Lucy, and Millie. The boys were excitedly watching the formation of the marching lines on the campus, and with keenly critical eyes were taking in every detail of the methods of getting a great army under way. The colonel diffidently made his good-bys to the three ladies, who were all cordial to him in their characteristic ways: Eunice calmly, Lucy shyly, and Mrs. Charlton impulsively. Little Millie was silently weeping; for down on the campus, in the ranks drawn up near the gate in the hedge, stood her "Butternuts" waving his hand to her, and she knew she would never see him again.
No; she would never see him again. "Butternuts"' and his colonel both lay on the slopes of Seminary Ridge when that first day's fighting at Gettysburg was over, but a stone's throw from where the gallant Reynolds had fallen. They did not learn the fate of "Butternuts" until long years afterward, but the papers told of the fall of Colonel Morris, acting brigadier-general; and while in his Georgia home there were tears and lamentations for him, and a mother refusing to be comforted for her only son, there were tender and mournful regrets for him also in, a Northern household.
But the days of excitement were not ended for Bellaire when the last file of Ewell's corps marched out on the Henrysburg turnpike. Monday night and Tuesday were quiet enough in the old town,-so quiet that it seemed dull and forlorn to the younger members of the household, who had been living on excitement for the last week, and who could almost have wished the Southern troops back again.
Early Tuesday evening there was a little flurry of excitement when a body of cavalry, no one knew whose, though it was rumored they were some of Stuart's men, dashed into the west end of the town, rode into the campus and fed their horses, and, each man with his bridle over his arm, lay down on the grass for a much-needed sleep. At midnight, when the quiet town was buried in slumber, without sound of bugle or trumpet they stole away so silently that although they were at the very doors of the Charltons, no one heard them go, and the boys, rising early to have one more good look at the famous Stuart's cavalry, rubbed their eyes at sight of the deserted campus, emptied as if by magic.
They were disappointed, but the day was to bring forth such startling events as entirely threw in the shade all that had gone before.
It was the morning of the first of July, and at Gettysburg, only twenty miles away, Hill's barefooted men, in search of shoes, were running into Buford's cavalry, and the rattle of muskets and carbines was the opening note of that great three days' battle that decided the fate of a continent: whether it should bear between its mighty boundary seas two republics or one. The heads of the column of the two great armies-the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac-had met in that little Pennsylvania town, and neither of them knew it. They took each the other to be mere skirmishing parties, and the fusillade of bullets but a little diversion in the great game of war.
In Bellaire, twenty miles away, there was no sound of rattling musketry; nor even when, a little later, the great dogs of war began to belch forth smoke and shell and solid shot, did any echo of it reach Bellaire. South Mountain lay between, and the thunder of cannon and all the awful roar of a mighty battle rolled back and forth among its spurs and ridges until they lost themselves and died away in its wooded glens.
But though the Charltons knew nothing of the great battle going on so near them, and in which the very men camped at their door only two days before were playing a giant's part, they had enough to keep hearts and hands fully occupied. The Union troops were coming back! They would be once more within the Union lines, and though they had been shut out of them for only five days, it seemed a long and weary time.
By five o'clock the troops began to come in, and at the first news of their arrival the town flocked to the Square to give them welcome, bringing with them every dainty that their long-unreplenished larders could scrape together.
These were no seasoned veterans; they were the State reserves, and the long march from Henrysburg had tested their mettle. The townspeople were wild with delight at seeing the boys in blue, and very beautiful they looked in their new uniforms and shining accoutrements, after the rags and homespun of the Southerners. At least so thought Lucy, though Eunice could not but feel that these were only playing at war-those others had known all its horrors.
But though the soldiers were militia who had never seen a battle, their officers were most of them veterans, and as at the command, "Stack arms! Break ranks!" the soldiers threw themselves on the ground to rest, an officer sprang from his horse, gave the bridle to an orderly, and hurried over to where Eunice was standing alone, separated from Lucy and Millie by the crowding of the closely packed mass of people come down to welcome the soldiers. The pushing had forced her to the front, and so hers was the first face on which the young captain's glance rested.
"Eunice!" he called as he reached her side. She looked up, greatly startled, for she had not seen him coming and for a moment she did not recognize him; bearded and bronzed by nine months of hard service, he looked little enough like the John Rogers she had known.
"Come away," he said, when her joyful greeting assured him that he was not forgotten. "We have given the men one hour to lie on the ground and rest while the commissaries are arranging for their quarters for the night. I have nothing to do with that, and I can spend my hour with you."
He forced a passage for her through the crowd, and hurried her along Main Street toward the college.
"I want to see the old campus once more, Eunice," he said; " it may be my last chance. I was detailed to help bring the reserves up from Henrysburg, but I am to go on to-morrow to join my own regiment at Gettysburg, and I have much to hear and tell in this hour.
To Eunice the meeting gave only pure joy, but to him the pain and joy were nearly equal. She was lovelier than he had remembered her, but almost her first words reassured him of what he had always known-that she was not for him. She was bubbling over with the happiness of having heard from Rex once more, and in John she was sure of a sympathetic listener.
But she was not selfishly interested in her own affairs; she was very deeply and intensely interested also in his experiences of camp and battle. They had walked down Lovers' Lane and then far beyond the campus out toward Mile Hill, famous for its views of sunsets, where they had often walked in the old days, and John was in the midst of a thrilling recountal of the horrors of Chancellorsville when over their heads flew a screeching, and screaming shell, and burst just beyond them.
It was a familiar sound to John, and he knew instantly what it meant. Eunice, who had never heard it before, stood aghast at what she thought was some new and hideous kind of rocket celebrating the approaching Fourth. It was no time for ceremony. John seized her hand and with a laconic "The rebels! We must run for it!" began to hurry her toward home, running as long as Eunice's breath held out, and walking with long strides or half carrying her when it failed.
It was not only to get Eunice safely under cover that he was so impatient, but it fretted him greatly to be absent from his post when he knew not what emergency had arisen, and was aware how greatly he must be needed with raw and undisciplined troops under fire for the first time.
It seemed to him they would never reach the little gate in the hedge, as shell and shot came faster and, the gunners getting their aim, no longer flew far over the town, but fell constantly nearer. They had just reached the gate and John had passed through first to hold it open for Eunice, when a shell burst directly over their heads.
"Fall!" John shouted, and fell flat himself that the flying fragments might have less chance of striking. Eunice did not hear his command; she only heard the awful explosion, saw John fall, and did not doubt for a moment that he was killed. She never knew how she mounted the veranda steps, walked through the hall, and went down the stairway to the basement, where the terrified family had gathered for refuge from the flying shells. At the foot of the stairs, Mrs. Charlton, waiting for her, saw her white face and that John was half supporting her. Eunice's eyes were wide with horror.
"Mr. Rogers is killed!" she gasped, and sank fainting into Mrs. Charlton's outstretched arms.
"Take care of her, Mrs. Charlton, please," said John, deeply moved: "she is not hurt-only terribly frightened. I dare not stay. I must hasten back to my command." And without stopping for greeting or good-by, he hurried away.
Five thousand troops had marched into Bellaire and stacked their guns under the green trees of the Square, and fully five thousand citizens were massed around the edges of the Square to see them come. The men were lying at ease on the soft grass, devouring with the relish of hungry men the tarts and pies and cakes and fruit and sandwiches the people had lavished upon them, joking with each other over the incidents of their first long march, or, when they were near enough, laughing and chatting with the citizens-when swinging into the east end of Main Street thundered a body of cavalry singing lustily as they rode Stuart's famous song, "Jine the Cavalry."
The frightened pickets, many of them young boys, and all of them seeing the enemy for the first time, fired their guns and fled. At such a reception, Fitzhugh Lee, leading the advance brigade of Stuart's cavalry, expecting to find his own friends in the town, and supplies of all kinds that his men greatly needed, stopped short, thoroughly nonplussed. No one had told him that Lee's army had turned south again. His instructions had been to get in touch as soon as possible with Ewell's corps, and he had expected to find Ewell in Bellaire. Where, then, was Lee's army! Where was Ewell? Fitzhugh Lee did not know, but he intended to find out. He withdrew a little from the town, planted his field-guns on a slight elevation commanding it, and sent that first shell screaming over its streets.
In the Square, at that first rattle of musketry, the men had sprung to their arms, almost without waiting for the command. The flying pickets brought terror with them.
"Stuart's cavalry!" they shouted, for Stuart's song was too well known to leave them in any doubt. Stuart was a name to drive dismay to the hearts of seasoned veterans; they were brave young militia, indeed, who dared to form in line against him.
The rattle of musketry meant very little to the densely packed citizens. They had heard it often of late, for picket-firing and skirmishing had come to be every-day affairs. "Picket-firing," they said to themselves, and stood still. But when they saw the soldiers springing to arms, saw the flying pickets, and heard the wild cries from all sides, "The rebels! The rebels!" panic seized them.
In that mad flight for home, children were ruthlessly hustled aside, and little Millie was torn from Lucy and carried up a narrow back street by a rushing stream of humanity that swept her along with them, with no volition of her own. She had no idea why they were fleeing, for she had not understood the cry of "The rebels! The rebels!" but she must run with the others or be trampled by them.
At her own gate she found herself free from the crowd, and looking down to the Iron Gate corner, saw her mother and Miss Caroline Perkins and ran quickly down to them. They were standing there, very calmly, watching the flying crowds, and wondering what it all meant, but without excitement. There had been so many startling things of late that they were growing hardened, and it would have to be something very startling, indeed, that would shake Miss Caroline, model of deportment to young ladies, from her elegant equipoise.
But it came! Over their heads flew the screeching and screaming shell. The two ladies and Millie looked up.
"A rocket," said Miss Caroline, mildly wondering.
"A shell!" cried Mrs. Charlton, wildly. "Oh, Miss Caroline, how will you get home? I can't go with you. My children are scattered all over town. I must get them together."
A mother's terror was in her voice and face.
"Do not fear for me, my dear," said Miss Caroline, trembling but brave. "Go find your children, and I will seek Phœbe!"
And fast as her old limbs could carry her, tottering now with fear more than with age, and with anxiety for her sister more than both, she hurried away. Mrs. Charlton waited only to see that her old friend was moving off at a pace that would soon bring her to the shelter of home, and then, with Millie clinging to her hand, uttering no cry, but with winged feet pulling her mother faster and faster, Mrs. Charlton ran as she had not run in years.
The shells were flying fast by the time they reached home, and, as Mrs. Charlton had said, not a child was there, not even Dr. Charlton. But they came flying in from all directions in a moment, George Edgar carrying Baby Ned, and Lucy and Henry Sidney, who had been hunting for the lost Millie, not far behind. "Me 'n' Charlie," as the two inseparable little boys were called by the family in gentle ridicule of Theodore Howard's constant phrase, came from no one knew where, and no one asked, so happy were they to be all together again. Last of all came the, doctor, who had been rounding up his little family, and they gathered together in mother's room, wondering what the night was to bring to them. Millie and the little boys huddled together on a couch, their arms around one another. Each little heart was brave with the heroism of childhood. This was a battle, and before morning they would all be dead-they did not for a moment doubt it; but silently they sat there, close clasped in each other's arms, trembling but uttering no sound. they were all greatly distressed at Eunice's absence; but Lucy, too far away to get near them, had seen the officer that she had recognized sooner than Eunice to be Mr. Rogers, and it was some comfort to know that he was with her and taking care of her.
But the shot and shell, that had at first flown far over the town, had gradually been coming nearer, and now they were falling and bursting all about the campus and the president's house. Dr. Charlton had begun to think they must move down-stairs to safer quarters, when one struck the house, tearing out great stones from the wall and completely wrecking the room and its furniture where it struck. It was the room next to the one where they were all gathered, and Baby Ned, too young to know much about self-control, broke into terrified wailing and would be comforted only in his father's arms.
Hurriedly Dr. Charlton marshaled them all downstairs into the basement, where the thick foundation walls, offered better chance of protection. There was no sign of fear in his voice or his manner, and Mrs. Charlton, now that her children were all about her, was calm, cheerful, and resourceful; but on no child's heart did terror lie so heavy as on theirs. It was fear for her children and her husband that held its cold clutch of her heart; it was fear for his adored wife and their little ones that came near at moments to unmanning as brave a heart as ever beat.
Hardly had they reached the basement when another shell seemed to strike the house, so near were its horrible detonations. But it was the fine old linden that was struck just above the heads of Eunice and Captain Rogers, and it was only a moment later that the trembling family in the basement heard hurried steps in the hall above and knew it must be Eunice. They saw her coming down the steps with wide, unseeing eyes and colorless face, Captain Rogers by her side, heard her words, and knew that she had been as one dead from the moment Captain Rogers had fallen.
This death-like swoon was a new terror to them; the horrors of the night seemed to be folding them about as with a pall. By the time Eunice had recovered consciousness and had been made to understand that Captain Rogers was absolutely unhurt, the gas went out all over the house. Either by some accidental shot or wilfully, the Confederates had set the gasworks afire and the whole eastern sky was ablaze. Fortunately, there were candles at hand, but they made a dim and gruesome light compared with the cheery gaslight.
The firing had been growing more furious; it was now one continued and deafening roar, though not so many shells fell on the campus, as the guns seemed to be trained finally on the soldiers in the Square.
Suddenly there was a lull, and in a few moments, greatly to the delight and comfort of them all, Captain Rogers appeared at the basement door. He had come on sad business, but he had solicited the errand that he might see how his friends were getting on. He was greatly relieved to find that the shells had done no more serious damage, and that Eunice had entirely recovered.
"They have sent in a flag of truce," he said, "and now our general and Fitzhugh Lee are conferring. Fitzhugh demands a surrender, but I don't think there is any danger of 'Baldy' surrendering as long as his ammunition holds out and his men keep their courage; they are behaving like veterans."
Then turning to Dr. Charlton:
"I am sent, sir, to ask your permission to use one of the college buildings as a hospital. They have been raking the streets with grape and canister, and they are ugly things. We want to get the wounded up in the west end here, as far from the firing as possible, and put a red light over the building. I think they will understand and respect it, and train their guns elsewhere."
It was wonderful how the thought of doing something to help put life and spirit into every one. All the terror of the children fled away, and Lucy and Eunice were full of fire and patriotism. Dr. Charlton went at once with Captain Rogers to see about getting the keys of West College and opening the rooms. Mrs. Charlton hurried up-stairs to look among her store of linen and blankets and pillows, to see what could be spared for the wounded. Lucy and Eunice helped her to put them up in packages, and, with the two older boys, carried them over to West College. Millie and the two younger boys, proud and happy to be employed on errands of such importance, were sent around the neighborhood, from house to house, to beg supplies of all kinds to be sent over to the hospital. For an hour there was no firing and every one was at work and happy.
Eunice, indeed, had found her vocation. As the wounded began to be brought in she was for a moment overcome with faintness at the sight of suffering and wounds; but the strength of will that had enabled her to withstand Rex's pleading came to her support now. She begged the surgeons to be allowed to stay and help them, and when they would have demurred she said steadily:
"Only try me; if I prove unfit you can send me away."
Dr. Charlton, too, tried to dissuade her; he feared it would be more than she could endure; but when he looked into her face and saw the exaltation of soul glowing in her serene eyes, he dared say no more.
Captain Rogers alone had only words of encouragement for her. He had been superintending all the arrangements, and now he was going back to his post. The firing had begun again, faster and more furious. The rest of Stuart's cavalry had come up and new guns had been unlimbered. Like the others, these must get the range, and, like the others, their shot seemed at first to fall around the college buildings.
But the heavy boom of solid shot and the rending and tearing of bursting shell had no longer any terrors for Eunice. In these short hours that she had been under fire, she seemed to have been lifted out of herself. She was knowing now a little of the horrors of war, of which Rex knew so much, and glorying in the knowledge. She was ardently longing to do something heroic that could prove her worthy of his heroism. For his sake she could nerve herself to go through scenes from which the whole tender woman within her shrank, passionately feeling that every gaping wound was his, that it was his groans and his suffering she was soothing with her cool and tender touch.
Yet when Captain Rogers was ready to go and came to tell her good-by, her heart failed her for a moment. She had not realized how much she had leaned upon his strong and cheery presence in these terrible surroundings.
"Come out with me for a breath of air," he said, seeing her sudden pallor. "It will do you good, and you will come back stronger for your work."
They stood under the quiet stars for a moment without speaking, the cool night air refreshing and reviving them both. The guns had got their range again; only an occasional shot plowed up the green turf of the campus or an occasional shell shattered some of its beautiful trees. Eunice shuddered at every shot, but no longer feared them. John did not even hear them.
"Eunice," he said wistfully, "there is certain to be a great and awful battle in the next few days. The two armies are rapidly coming together, and somewhere near here, I think, it will be fought. Do you know what I have been thinking as I saw you moving about among those wounded men and bringing comfort and smiles in place of distress and groans? I was praying that, should it be my lot to be wounded in the impending battle, it would not be so far away that you could not come and be the angel of mercy and comfort to me that you have been to them."
"Oh, I hope you are wrong!" Eunice answered quickly. "I hope there will be no more awful battles-I could not bear it!"
She was thinking of Rex and that he had escaped so far, but she could not hope that he would be invulnerable. Then a sudden compunction seized her. She should be thinking also of this friend who had been so steadfastly kind to her, and she said very sweetly and solemnly:
"I pray with all my heart that there may be no more great battles and with all my heart that you may never be wounded; but if you are, I will try to come to you, wherever you are."
He could not answer her, but he seized her hands and held them for a moment in a grip under which she winced and could have cried out for pain, but would not. Then he said under his breath:
"Go back quickly, Eunice, while I am watching you. Good-by! God be with you!"
For two hours longer the firing kept up, and then there was another cessation. Once more Captain Rogers rode up to Dr. Charlton's to bring instructions. Fitzhugh Lee had sent word that every woman and child must leave town; he would utterly destroy the town, and by ten o'clock next morning not one? stone should be left upon another. Captain Rogers strongly urged on Dr. Charlton that he should take his family and Eunice and go out to some farm-house in the country, where he could find a temporary refuge. Fitzhugh Lee was evidently infuriated by the stubborn and unexpected resistance he had met, and meant what he said. He had set fire to every part of the town he could reach; the gas-works were burning, the barracks were ablaze, and a third great fire had just started up.
Messengers had been sent all over town with Fitzhugh Lee's message, and already hundreds, women weeping and children crying, were hurrying by the campus and fleeing to the open country. But the doctor, looking at the sad lines of refugees, shook his head.
"No; our walls are thick; we will stay here. I would rather trust to the fortunes of battle than subject my tender family to the certain hardships of exposure to the night, with no surety of any shelter being found."
Fitzhugh Lee had given the people an hour to get out of town, when, he said, the bombardment would be renewed with redoubled fury. But the truce was longer than an hour, and when firing began again, it seemed to Dr. Charlton that, far from being redoubled, it was less furious than it had been. Before long there was no doubt about it. It began to be more and more desultory, and at length there was only an occasional shot at longer and longer intervals.
There were faint signs of dawn in the east. Dr. Charlton went over to the hospital and called Eunice.
"Come, Eunice," he said authoritatively; "the day is breaking, and I believe the enemy is fleeing. You must come home and get some rest, or we will be sending you to the hospital."
Eunice knew he was right. Trembling flesh could stand no more, for the strain of the last few hours had been very great. Her patients were quiet, and there were no new ones coming in. She was glad to go home with him through the fresh and dewy campus, the morning rapidly brightening around them, the birds stirring in their nests, the firing almost or entirely ceased.
They welcomed her home as if she had been gone on a long and dangerous journey, and up-stairs in her own, quiet room, full five minutes since the last gun had been fired, the birds caroling delirious "Te Deums" that the wild night was over, her head upon her pillow, with a sense of perfect peace and security she sank almost at once into deep, refreshing sleep.
Little did she or Dr. Charlton dream that it was to Rex the town owed its deliverance. On the afternoon of that first day's fight at Gettysburg, the general was standing on the ridge near the Seminary, watching Ewell's yelling veterans drive the Federal troops down the slopes and across the town.
"Rex," he said suddenly, "I must have Stuart. To-day's fight will be as nothing compared with tomorrow's. I must have every available man and gun. Do you think you can find him for me?"
"I think so, sir," said Rex; but if his words were modest, his air was confident. He was looking very dapper for a Confederate soldier. Rex's love of dress would be one of his last traits to perish. Were he to die in the much-vaunted last ditch, he would die as well dressed as it was possible to be. He had, with his own unskilled fingers, embroidered on his collar the star that indicated his new rank, unraveling a bit of torn lace to get the necessary gold thread. He had also added to his uniform an extra touch of gold lace, ripped from a discarded one, and he wore a plume in his hat in exact imitation of Stuart's famous plume. If Eunice had beheld him, I am not sure that she would have been more pleased to see him so becomingly arrayed or more displeased at the evidence of his perennial vanity.
But Rex's vanity in dress interfered not at all with his duties as an aide. He had been standing beside his general, but at his words he sprang upon his horse, saluted, and was off. Long and weary hours he rode before he found even a trace of Stuart; then, near York, he heard that he had gone in the direction of Bellaire. It was a magic word! Here, perhaps, was his chance! If he found himself in Bellaire again, he would not again miss seeing Eunice; and he thought, with a little throb of elation, that there would be no one to call him away on the very eve of seeing her. For the time being he would be his own master, and though he was due back in Gettysburg at the earliest possible moment, five minutes he would take to look on Eunice's face once more.
But alas for all such plans of mortals! Long before he reached Bellaire he heard sounds of firing and saw the sky aflame. His heart stood still. What did it mean? What was Stuart about? Was Eunice in danger?
He spurred on his lagging horse and reached Stuart and Fitzhugh Lee just after the message had been sent to the women and children of Bellaire. He delivered his own message, "Report at Gettysburg immediately," and told them of the general's anxiety at their long absence. Then he painted in glowing colors the glorious battle of the day and the victory on Seminary Ridge.
Lee and Stuart were both eager to be off at once, but it required some little scheming to keep the troops in Bellaire in ignorance of their departure. It was finally arranged to leave a single battery of three guns, which should at first keep up a rapid fire, and then one by one, they too should steal away.
Rex was for having them all go at once. He could not bear to think of another shot fired in Eunice's direction, but of course he had no voice in the matter. His own horse was so spent that he must rest it awhile, and it was arranged that he should remain with the battery left to keep up the ruse, while the others started for South Mountain Pass as quickly as they could get their horses hitched to guns and caissons. There was nothing for Rex to do while his horse was resting, and he thought he knew these fields and roads well enough to find his way in the dark. He skirted the south side of the town and came up in the west end, where were neither soldiers nor fighting.
The first streaks of dawn were in the east as he entered the campus and walked over toward Lovers' Lane. The firing was growing very desultory; that was a signal that he could not tarry. He walked rapidly, intending, if the way was clear, to stand a moment under Eunice's window.
Half-way across the campus he suddenly stopped. There were lights in West College and figures in uniform moving about. The dawn was spreading a little; he could see quite clearly. Two figures, a man and a woman, had just come out of West College and were walking across to the president's house. It was Dr. Charlton and Eunice. He stood and gazed with straining eyes, longing to cry out to them and not daring because of the blue uniforms in West College. He watched them until they passed through the little gate in the hedge, saw them mount the veranda steps, and heard the hall door close behind them.
With a great cry, as if his heart had broken, he turned and ran down to the Iron Gate, clanged it recklessly behind him, and, hardly caring whether he ran into an enemy or not, took the shortest route to his horse. He found the last gun just moving off, and silently mounting, he rode back through the glorious dawn of that awful day of carnage to the dreadful battle-field waiting to receive him.