Upton Sinclair.

Manassas; a novel of the war online

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Upton Sinclair
































A Novel of the War


Author of "The Goose-Step" "The Brass Check,'
"The Jungle," etc.




Printed in the United States of America






tfce men of tljte lana map fenoto c^e heritage
10 come DOUJU to tljrm.



THE house stood upon a gentle slope, from which you
might look down a broad, sandy avenue into the forests
which lined the creek. Two-storied, with double porti-
cos upon three sides and great white pillars about which
a man's arms would scarcely go, it was hidden in a grove
of pecans and magnolias which had the depth and stillness
of cathedral archways. The ground beneath was soft
and glossy, and one wondered if the deep, rich green had
ever been trod by a foot.

It was March, and Southern springtime. The great
magnolias, some of them a hundred feet high, were in
the full tide of their splendor, their crisp, polished leaves
scarcely visible for the snow-white flowers which covered
them. Here and there about the lawn were rose trees
of twice a man's height, flashing like beacons with their
weight of cloth-of-gold roses a span across, crimson and
orange, and with petals soft and heavy as velvet. About
the lawn were scattered banana and fig trees, pomegran-
ates, china trees, and huge flaming scarlet lobelias. Tall
hedges of jasmine and sweetbrier ran around the house
and along the sides of the lawn, while beyond them on
one side stretched a grove of orange trees in full blossom,
a sea of flowers which loaded the breeze with sweetness
and brought a drunkenness to every sense. Upon the other
side was the flower garden, whose riot of color and per-
fume had gathered the bees and humming-birds from
miles around, filling the air with a sound as of distant

It was high noon, and the sultry air was heavy with
sunlight. In front of the mansion everything was still-



ness, save for the slowly moving old negro who was tend-
ing the trees, and for a deer which browsed upon the
lawn now and then nibbling at the rose trees and
bringing down showers of petals upon the grass.

Through the open doorway there came into view a
group of figures, an aged, white-haired gentleman, an
almost equally aged negro, and four young children ; they
descended the steps slowly and came across the lawn.
The first-named towered above the group, a striking
figure ; he moved with trembling step, foot by foot, and
leaning heavily upon the others, yet holding his spare
frame stiffly erect. His hair was snow-white and his
face withered with age, but still full of power with
high forehead, prominent nose, and alert expression of
countenance. He carried his head high, and seemed to
snuff the air as he went, learning thus of the springtide
about him for he was blind.

The old negro tottered beside him, carrying his shawl
and cane. The two oldest boys supported him with their
shoulders, taking step for step.

" Grandfather," said the child in advance, a little girl,
"let us go to the orange tree."

" I will try," he responded. " Are you tired, Allan ? "

" No," panted the younger of his two supporters, " I
don't mind. Let's go to the tree." He was only eight
years old, and his face was very red and his hands clenched
tightly in his pockets, but he made no sound.

A few rods farther on was a great gnarled orange tree,
with rustic seats about it. "I'll spread your shawl,
grandfather," said the little girl, running ahead.

They reached the seats, and he sank down with a sigh ;
the old negro sat near him, and the children gathered
about his knee.

" Now ! " the girl exclaimed, " and what are you going
to tell us?"

" Breath, dear ! " smiled the other. " Play awhile first.
How are the oranges, Plato ? "

" Mos' ready, Marse 'Dolph," said Plato, gazing up at
the golden fruit left from the year before to ripen, and


shining like jewels amid the blossoms. " Few mo' days
in de sun, Marse 'Dolph."

" Grandfather, the new governess is coming to-morrow,"
put in the boy called Allan. " Did they tell you ? She
wrote from New Orleans."

" Tell us about King's Mountain ! " broke in the girl.

" No, no, about Sir Leslie ! " said the boy.

" I say General Coffee ! " cried another.

There was a debate, above which the little girl kept
crying insistently, " King's Mountain ! "

" But, Ethel dear," said the old man, " I told you all
that only three days ago."

"It was a week ago, grandfather; and I've forgotten
all of it."

"It was Friday wasn't it Friday, Plato?"

"Thursday, Marse 'Dolph the day Marse Ben was

The grandfather hesitated. " Did you ever meet Sevier
before ? " asked Allan, suddenly.

"Not until the day before the battle, my son."

" Did he know you ? "

" No, indeed, Allan. How should he have heard of me ?
I was only a boy of eighteen. But I was on guard when
he and his men rode up to the camp."

" How did they look, grandfather ? "

" I thought they were Indians," answered the old man ;
" they wore belts of beads, and fringed hunting-shirts and
leggings, and tomahawks. Ah me, but they were fighters,
wild, gaunt men, with grim faces that promised a battle ! "

The children sat silent, being familiar with this method
of starting a story. " And Sevier ? " asked Allan.

" Sevier ? " said the grandfather. " He was the hand-
somest man I ever saw, you had only to hear him laugh
once and you would follow him forever. Think of a man
who fought thirty-five battles and never lost a victory, and
never got a wound ! "

Marse 'Dolph paused a moment ; all seemed to know
that he was safely started. " I think," he began suddenly,
"that was the blackest hour our country ever saw. God


grant it may never see another such ! It was blackest of
all in the South the British had conquered Georgia
and captured Charleston. When I left home, Cornwallis
had swept through all North Carolina with his Tories and
his bloodthirsty Indians ; he had overwhelmed General
Gates at Camden, and Tarleton had wiped out Sumter.
But over in the mountains in Tennessee were the Holston
settlements, where the backwoods fighters lived, and
the British sent them a threat that if they took part
in the war they would burn their homes. And ah, you
should hear men tell of the fury that message roused !
It was the brutal Ferguson who sent it, a man who had
been burning and hanging through three states. And
Sevier and Shelby passed the word, and the Holston men
flew to arms ; and two thousand of them, facing the cold
on the snow-covered mountains, without tents or baggage,
marched for a week over into North Carolina. There it
was that our party met them and told them where Fer-
guson had camped. They were almost exhausted, but
they picked nine hundred of their best, and we marched
all night. The next day we came upon the regulars and
Tories a thousand of them at King's Mountain."

Here, before the great event, the story-teller always
paused, and raising one knee upon the other, he would
say with slow preciseness : " Now here is the mountain,
and here is the North Carolina border, and here is the
way we approached. They outnumbered us, but we
meant to beat them, and surrounded the hill. Here, by
Allan, is where Sevier was, and here were Shelby's Ken-
tuckians. Colonel Cleavland's men were to get round the
mountain, but somehow the British discovered us too
soon, so they had to ride like fox-hunters, headlong through
the forests and the thickets, over rocks and ravines. But
they got there, I tell you ! "

All these things the children knew quite by heart ; but
they never failed to listen spellbound. Gradually the old
man's memory would kindle, as scene by scene the pano-
rama unrolled itself before his spirit's eye. The passion
of the battle would seize hold of him ; he would hear the


music and the storm, " the thunder of the captains and
the shouting." Once more he was shoulder to shoulder
with these heroic men, striding to their heroic deed ;
weakness and old age fled away and a new world leaped
into being, a world to which he belonged, and in which
he was not blind. So as with swift words he poured out
his eager tale, to the little group around him it was like
the waving of an enchanter's wand. They sat lost to all
things about them, tense and trembling, clutching each
other's arms when he made a gesture, crying aloud when
he gripped his hands.

For now the British have discovered the approach ; their
pickets are firing and dashing up the hill ; and Sevier,
lifting himself up in his stirrups, is shouting the word, and
the mountaineers are bounding up the slope, making the
forest echo with their war-whoops. Far ahead one can see
the redcoats forming their line, dragging out wagons to
make defences and hear above all the din the shrill silver
whistle which tells that the hated Ferguson is there. Now
and then one of the backwoodsmen stops, and, crouching
low, takes aim ; until, as the firing grows faster and the
fight hotter, the crashing volleys thunder from the British
lines, and the combat is swallowed in rolling clouds of

But still the men press on, firing as they can, hurling
their tomahawks before falling back to reload. When the
red-coated lines sweep forward, as again and again they do,
the frontiersmen turn and flee, for, being without bayonets,
they cannot meet a charge. Every time the British halt
they are after them again, however, hanging to their very
heels. " No troops in the world ever fought like that before,"
says Grandfather Montague; "but these are Americans,
and every man of them is there to win or die."

There was a story which the old man told of a boy who,
assailed by a redcoat, had shot him dead, just as the lat-
ter's bayonet had transfixed his hand and his thigh. " Do
you remember that, Plato ? " he would cry ; and Plato
would answer excitedly, "I 'members it, Marse 'Dolph


I does ! " And when the more matter-of-fact Ethel
would exclaim, " Why Plato, how you do talk ; you don't
remember it, for you weren't even born then ! " Plato
would protest, "It doan' make no diff'nce, Miss Ethel,
I 'members it jes' de same ! "

" There were terrible things happened in that battle," the
grandfather would continue ; "you would go groping up
the hill through the smoke, and suddenly it would break
away and bayonets leap at you out of it. But it was not
an hour before" their fire began to slacken, and our men
seemed to find it out all at once ; they yelled and went
over the summit and at them, teeth and claws, just tore
'em all up ! I saw Sevier, his horse had been shot,
and as a British officer rode by he sprang at him and
spitted him through, slammed him off his horse, and broke
his sword in him. I saw Ferguson, too, black and bloody,
and howling like mad; I shot at him, and half a dozen
more shot at him, and down he went, and his silver whistle,
too. They had raised a white flag then, but it was a long
time before we saw it, in all that smoke and din. When
we did see it at last and knew it was victory oh, chil-
dren, what a yell there was ! "

There were many other stories of battle which Grand-
father Montague could tell ; to go no farther back, there
was the first Sir Leslie Montague, who had defended his
king so bravely at Marston Moor, and had none the less
been captured by a plain Commonwealth soldier, who called
himself Captain Otis, but was nothing but a Shropshire
miller for all that. Quite wonderful it was to hear how
Sir Leslie had broken loose in the night-time, and, freeing
two of his companions, had seized the captain, flung him
on to a horse, and dashed out of camp with him; also
how the gay cavalier had let him go again, out of pure
devilment, or because, as he declared, he had so sturdily
refused to go back to his mill and call himself a captain
no more.

There was also a second Sir Leslie, who had come to
yirginia to better his fortune and had been a famous


Indian fighter and afterward a judge. His picture stood
in the main hall of the house, and made the children shiver
with its glare. The picture of the first Sir Leslie they had
never seen, but they hoped some day to see it, when they
visited the plantation which belonged to the sons of Grand-
father Montague's elder brother, and which he had left
forever as a boy when he shouldered his musket and strode
away to join Captain Campbell's patriot band. His heart
had been drawn after the Holston men and the wild, new
country. He had settled there when the war was over,
and he had earned wealth and reputation as a lawyer ; but
later he had moved to the far South, into lower Mississippi,
and had bought ten thousand acres of the swampy bottom-
lands of Wilkinson County, which were to be had for a
song in those days, but were now far beyond the range of
most men's voices. It was here that he had brought his
negroes and cleared his plantation Valley Hall; and
from here he had raised his company when war broke out
with England again and when the men of Wilkinson
County had to be drafted to stay at home.

And so to New Orleans ! This was a battle that Plato
did remember in fact, for Marse 'Dolph had bought
him only two months before (from a French barber in
Natchez, who beat him) and had made him his body-
servant for life. Plato Plato Anaximenes was his full
name could describe every incident of the conflict,
and had doubtless in the course of thirty years forgotten
that he had never seen a bit of it, having all the time
been lying flat on his belly behind the breastworks, quak-
ing with terror and crying out for mercy to the vari-
ous French saints whom the barber had taught him to

But Marse 'Dolph had not seen Plato, for he had
been striding up and down the lines, exhorting his men ;
so whenever their grandfather was not to be found, the
children would besiege Plato, and the old darkey would
thrill them with many details not in the histories of
"de gin'erl" galloping back and forth behind the lines
upon a horse ten feet high, and roaring in a voice which


the cannon could not equal; and of his wild leap over the
cotton bales, and his charge that had. thrown the redcoats
into confusion.

This was early in '46, and General Jackson had just
died at the Hermitage; the children would gaze at his
picture which stood in the dining room, sword in hand,
and imagine him swearing his furious "By the Eter-
nal ! " and locking up the judge who had resisted his
efforts to keep the city under martial law until the British
were quite gone home. When General Jackson was a
wild Irish emigrant boy, their grandfather told them,
the British had captured him and his brother, and beaten
them over the head, and starved them, and turned them
out to die of smallpox ; one of them did, but Andrew
didn't, and he kept the memory for thirty-five years.
And first he lay for them at Mobile, and pounded them to
pieces there ; and then he rode over to New Orleans like
a yellow skeleton with illness, having to be tied on his
horse and fed on boiled rice, but oh with what a fire in-
side of him! And when the British landed and marched
toward the city, he went out that very night and flung
his troops at them, hurled them back, and gave them such
a fright they took a week to get over it !

Sometimes, after long dwelling upon these things, the
deeps of the old man's soul would break open, and the
children would sit trembling. For his journey was almost
done ; he gazed into the face of death, and about him there
hung a touch of awe. When he told of these heroes
that he had known : " Some of them trod this very spot,"
he would say, " and laughed and sang here, in their pride.
And their lives were precious to them, they loved the
world; they had wives and children, and hopes unuttered;
and yet they marched out into battle and died for their
country to make her, arid to keep her, free. Some-
times at night I seem to see them, and to hear their voices
crying out to me that it must not all be for nothing!
When I am gone, too, the lives that they lived, and the
dreams that they dreamed, will be gone forever. And


yet it was all for you, that you might reap where they
had sowed and be happy where they lay dying. So I
wonder sometimes if I have told you enough, if I have
done all I can to make you love your country, to make
you realize how precious it is. My children, you may live
ever so nobly, you may die ever so bravely, but you will
do nothing too good for your country! All the hope and
all the meaning of the ages is in it, and if it fails there
will never be any success. Tens upon tens of thousands
have laid down their lives to win its freedom; and free-
dom is first of all things, and best. And so it is that you
may dream your noblest dream and hope your noblest
hope and your country will be greater than that ! You
may dare any peril, you may suffer any pain, but you
will not do too much for your country. There is nothing
that can ever take the place of it, not friendship, nor
love, nor anything else in life can be so precious."


THERE was another picture which stood in the dining
room of the Valley Hall mansion, a picture of a young
girl, beautiful in a bridal robe, but with a face infinitely
sad and tender. There was no story that Grandfather
Montague told which the children loved more than the
story of Lucy Otis.

Four sons had been born to the family. One had been
killed in a duel not long after New Orleans, and one had
given his life that Texas might be free. The other two
lived still at the old place : the elder, Henry Montague,
state senator from Wilkinson County, wilh his one child,
the boy Allan ; and Hamilton, the younger brother, with
his wife and their three children.

The senator was a lawyer, and, according to the custom
of the time, had gone North to study. Grandfather never
wearied of telling of the wonderful coincidence, how when
he had taken the boy to Harvard to start him upon his new
career, the first professor whom they met was named Otis ;
and how when he invited them to his home in Boston, the
first picture they saw in his parlor was one of the ancestor
of the family, that same Shropshire miller whom the elder
Sir Leslie had fought.

Seven years, altogether, the young man had spent North ;
ten years later he had returned again, and when he came
home that time he brought with him as his bride the young-
est daughter of the Otis family, the beautiful Lucy, as yet
still in her 'teens. That had been a decade ago, but the
darkies of Valley Hall still discussed the festivities which
took place on that home-coming. This was one story in
the telling of which Plato always bore off the palm ; then
it was that the afflatus descended upon him, and he justi-
fied his name. There was a certain turkey which occupied
in the memory of Plato the place which Colonel Sevier



occupied in his master's. " Chillun," he would say, his
eyes rolling, " dat turkey was born a emperor ; he'd walk
right out in de very front lawn, he would, an' nobody
bother him. De day he was picked dey was niggers from
de Hopper place walked ten mile to see him, you kin
ask Taylor Tibbs, an' he'll tell you." (Taylor Tibbs was
the family coachman, and, with his two hundred and ninety
pounds clad all in red, had stood behind Marse 'Dolph's
chair the day he carved that turkey.)

For just a year the beautiful Lucy had been the life of
Valley Hall ; ' and then one night she died in childbirth,
and it seemed many a long, long day before ever the sun
rose again upon the old plantation. There was only the
picture left, and the boy used to stand in front of it for
hours at a time, gazing into strange vistas and haunted
by fearful thoughts. " It was a curse," he had once heard
his father say ; " her mother died too, when she was born."
That seemed very wild to Allan ; on January nights when
the north winds blew, he would sit in the dark corner by
the fireplace, and, lost to the merriment of the other chil-
dren, would stare into the face as it gleamed in the fire-
light, groping for the soul behind its pleading eyes. What
was she like ? What would she have said to him what
was she trying to say to him now ? She had been very
loath to leave him did she know when he was thinking
of her ? Where was she gone that she never spoke to him
never even a word, when no one else was by ? There
was no end to the child's strange fancies, how could he
believe that he was never to learn any more ? He longed
so to know what her voice was like ; and sometimes when
there were guests in the Hall he would start at an unfamil-
iar tone, and turn and stare at the picture. Once when he
had been watching from the corner, his father had come
and put his arms about him, and their tears had mingled.
It is so that friendships are made.

Very soon Hamilton Montague had brought his wife to
Valley Hall to become the mother of the orphan and the
mistress of the household. Of their two children who had


then been born, Randolph, tall and imperious, was three
years older than Allan ; and Ralph, the younger, was just
his age. Little Ethel had been born after they came.

Besides these there was generally a numerous company,
always guests, and nearly always relatives. Also, of much
importance to the boys, there was " Uncle Ben " Handy, a
brother-in-law of Hamilton Montague a gentleman with-
out income or occupation, but none the less a welcome
member of the family. It was one of the characteristics
of the old Southern feudalism that numerous retainers
added to the prestige of the house.

Allan's father was a lawyer, riding the circuit, and
burdened with the cares of state besides ; Hamilton Mon-
tague was charged with the management of the planta-
tion, with two overseers and about six hundred negroes.
He was a grave and unbending man, and so it was that
Uncle Ben was the chief companion of the boys. It was
Uncle Ben who told all the stories and played all the
jokes ; if the merriment owed something now and then to
mint-juleps, the boys were none the wiser. It was Uncle
Ben to whom they turned whenever they sought amuse-
ment who could carve beautiful walking-sticks, and
make traps and willow whistles.

A wonderful place was Valley Hall for children, a uni-
verse in itself; infinitely alive, crowded with every kind
of creature which boys could pet, or tease, or hunt. There
were deer browsing, peacocks strutting about the lawn,
and flying squirrels and birds without end in the trees.
There were huge yards full of every kind of chicken, duck,
and turkey, pigs without count, cows and sheep, horses
and dogs. There were two great stables, one for the work
horses and mules, and one for the family stud; every
person in the family owned a horse, and some several, to
say nothing of the carriage horses and the children's
ponies and the four black mares which were hitched to
the family coach. The plantation was divided into two
farms, each worked separately, and one had to walk half a
mile to the villages of the field-hands; but the quarters of
the house servants, a row of a score of whitewashed cabins,


stood in the rear of the " Great House " and here was an
innumerable collection of playthings. Counting all ages
and sizes, from toddlers up to great, overgrown, wild boys
and girls in their teens, there were full threescore little

Online LibraryUpton SinclairManassas; a novel of the war → online text (page 1 of 32)