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the people and trampling its foot on a desecrated Constitution."
He lauded Vallandigham, who was sent South for disloyalty, as "the
noble martyr of free speech." He declared the war to be fruitless,
and exclaimed: "You will take care of yourselves. With or without
arms, with or without leaders, we will at least, in the effort to
defend our rights, as a free people, build up a great mausoleum of
hearts, to which men who yearn for liberty will, in after years,
with bowed heads reverently resort as Christian pilgrims to the
shrines of the Holy Land."

Such were the shrines with which this man would have filled New
England. There is a better chance now, that a new and loyal Virginia
will some day build a monument to John Brown.

Governor Seymour's speech was similar in tenor, but more guarded.
In words of bitter irony toward the struggling government, whose
hands the peace faction were striving to paralyze, he began: "When
I accepted the invitation to speak with others, at this meeting,
we were promised the downfall of Vicksburg, the opening of the
Mississippi, the probable capture of the Confederate capital, and
the exhaustion of the rebellion. By common consent, all parties
had fixed upon this day when the results of the campaign should be
known. But, in the moment of expected victory, there came a midnight
cry for help from Pennsylvania, to save its despoiled fields from
the invading foe; and, almost within sight of this metropolis, the
ships of your merchants were burned to the water's edge. Parties
are exasperated and stand in almost defiant attitude toward each
other."

"At the very hour," writes the historian Lossing, "when this ungenerous
taunt was uttered, Vicksburg and its dependences and vast spoils,
with more than thirty thousand Confederate captives, were in the
possession of General Grant; and the discomfited army of Lee, who,
when that sentence was written, was expected to lead his troops
victoriously to the Delaware, and perhaps to the Hudson, was flying
from Meade's troops, to find shelter from utter destruction beyond
the Potomac."

Rarely has history reached a more dramatic climax, and seldom have
the great scenes of men's actions been more swiftly shifted.

Merwyn attended this great mass-meeting, and was silent when the
thousands applauded. In coming out he saw, while unobserved himself,
Mr. Vosburgh, and was struck by the proud, contemptuous expression
of his face. The government officer had listened with a cipher
telegram in his pocket informing him of Lee's repulse.

For the last twenty-four hours Merwyn had watched almost sleeplessly
for the outburst to take place. That strong, confident face indicated
no fears that it would ever take place.

A few hours later, he, and all, heard from the army of the Potomac.

When at last it became known that the Confederate army was in full
retreat, and, as the North then believed, would be either captured
or broken into flying fragments before reaching Virginia, Merwyn
faced what he believed to be his fate.

"The country is saved," he said. "There will be no revolution at the
North. Thank God for the sake of others, but I've lost my chance."






CHAPTER XXXII.

BLAUVELT.





In June, especially during the latter part of the month, Strahan
and Blauvelt's letters to Marian had been brief and infrequent. The
duties of the young officers were heavy, and their fatigues great.
They could give her little information forecasting the future.
Indeed, General Hooker himself could not have done this, for all
was in uncertainty. Lee must be found and fought, and all that any
one knew was that the two great armies would eventually meet in
the decisive battle of the war.

The patient, heroic army of the Potomac, often defeated, but never
conquered, was between two dangers that can be scarcely overestimated,
the vast, confident hosts of Lee in Pennsylvania, and Halleck in
Washington. General Hooker was hampered, interfered with, deprived
of reinforcements that were kept in idleness elsewhere, and at
last relieved of command on the eve of battle, because he asked
that 11,000 men, useless at Harper's Ferry, might be placed under
his orders. That this was a mere pretext for his removal, and an
expression of Halleck's ill-will, is proved by the fact that General
Meade, his successor, immediately ordered the evacuation of Harper's
Ferry and was unrestrained and unrebuked. Meade, however, did not
unite these 11,000 men to his army, where they might have added
materially to his success, but left them far in his rear, a useless,
half-way measure possibly adopted to avoid displeasing Halleck.

It would seem that Providence itself assumed the guidance of this
longsuffering Union army, that had been so often led by incompetence
in the field and paralyzed by interference at Washington. Even the
philosophical historian, the Comte de Paris, admits this truth in
remarkable language.

Neither Lee nor Meade knew where they should meet, and had under
consideration various plans of action, but, writes the French
historian, "The fortune of war cut short all these discussions by
bringing the two combatants into a field which neither had chosen."
Again, after describing the region of Gettysburg, he concludes:
"Such is the ground upon which unforeseen circumstances were about
to bring the two armies in hostile contact. Neither Meade nor Lee
had any personal knowledge of it."

Once more, after a vivid description of the first day's battle, in
which Buford with his cavalry division, Doubleday with the First
Corps, and Howard with the Eleventh, checked the rebel advance, but
at last, after heroic fighting, were overwhelmed and driven back
in a disorder which in some brigades resembled a rout, the Comte
de Paris recognizes, in the choice of position on which the Union
troops were rallied, something beyond the will and wisdom of man.

"A resistless impulse seems to spur it (the rebel army) on to battle.
It believes itself invincible. There is scorn of its adversary;
nearly all the Confederate generals have undergone the contagion.
Lee himself, the grave, impassive man, will some day acknowledge that
he has allowed himself to be influenced by these common illusions.
It seems that the God of Armies had designated for the Confederates
the lists where the supreme conflict must take place: they cheerfully
accept the alternative, without seeking for any other."

All the world knows now that the position in the "lists" thus
"designated" to the Union army was almost an equivalent for the
thousands of men kept idle and useless elsewhere. To a certain
extent the conditions of Fredericksburg are reversed, and the
Confederates, in turn, must storm lofty ridges lined with artillery.

Of those days of awful suspense, the 3d, 4th, and 5th of July, the
French historian gives but a faint idea in the following words: "In
the mean while, the North was anxiously awaiting for the results
of the great conflict. Uneasiness and excitement were perceptible
everywhere; terror prevailed in all those places believed to be
within reach of the invaders. Rumors and fear exaggerated their
number, and the remembrance of their success caused them to be
deemed invincible."

When, therefore, the tidings came, "The rebel army totally defeated,"
with other statements of the victory too highly colored, a burden
was lifted from loyal hearts which the young of this generation
cannot gauge; but with the abounding joy and gratitude there were
also, in the breasts of hundreds of thousands, sickening fear and
suspense which must remain until the fate of loved ones was known.

In too vivid fancy, wives and mothers saw a bloody field strewn with
still forms, and each one asked herself, "Could I go among these,
might I not recognize HIS features?"

But sorrow and fear shrink from public observation, while joy and
exultation seek open expression. Before the true magnitude of the
victory at Gettysburg could be realized, came the knowledge that
the nation's greatest soldier, General Grant, had taken Vicksburg
and opened the Mississippi.

Marian saw the deep gladness in her father's eyes and heard it in
his tones, and, while she shared in his gratitude and relief, her
heart was oppressed with solicitude for her friends. To her, who
had no near kindred in the war, these young men had become almost
as dear as brothers. She was conscious of their deep affection,
and she felt that there could be no rejoicing for her until she was
assured of their safety. All spoke of the battle of Gettysburg as
one of the most terrific combats of the world. Two of her friends
must have been in the thick of it. She read the blood-stained
accounts with paling cheeks, and at last saw the words, "Captain
Blauvelt, wounded; Major Strahan, wounded and missing."

This was all. There was room for hope; there was much cause to
fear the worst. From Lane there were no tidings whatever. She was
oppressed with the feeling that perhaps the frank, true eyes of
these loyal friends might never again look into her own. With a
chill of unspeakable dread she asked herself what her life would
be without these friends. Who could ever take their place or fill
the silence made by their hushed voices?

Since reading the details of the recent battle her irritation against
Merwyn had passed away, and she now felt for him only pity. Her
own brave spirit had been awed and overwhelmed by the accounts of
the terrific cannonade and the murderous hand-to-hand struggles.
At night she would start up from vivid dreams wherein she saw the
field with thousands of ghastly faces turned towards the white
moonlight. In her belief Merwyn was incapable of looking upon
such scenes. Therefore why should she think of him with scorn and
bitterness? She herself had never before realized how terrible
they were. Now that the dread emergency, with its imperative demand
for manhood and action, had passed, her heart became softened
and chastened with thoughts of death. She was enabled to form a
kinder judgment, and to believe it very possible that Merwyn, in
the consciousness of his weakness, was suffering more than many a
wounded man of sterner mettle.

On the evening of the day whereon she had read the ominous words
in regard to her friends, Merwyn's card was handed to her, and,
although surprised, she went down to meet him without hesitation.
His motives for this call need brief explanation.

For a time he had given way to the deepest dejection in regard to
his own prospects. There seemed nothing for him to do but wait for
the arrival of his mother, whom he could not welcome. He still had
a lingering hope that when she came and found her ambitious dreams
of Southern victory dissipated, she might be induced to give him
back his freedom, and on this hope he lived. But, in the main, he
was like one stunned and paralyzed by a blow, and for a time he
could not rally. He had been almost sleepless for days from intense
excitement and expectation, and the reaction was proportionately
great. At last he thought of Strahan, and telegraphed to Mrs.
Strahan, at her country place, asking if she had heard from her son.
Soon, after receiving a negative answer, he saw, in the long lists
of casualties, the brief, vague statement that Marian had found.
The thought then occurred to him that he might go to Gettysburg
and search for Strahan. Anything would be better than inaction.
He believed that he would have time to go and return before his
mother's arrival, and, if he did not, he would leave directions
for her reception. The prospect of doing something dispelled his
apathy, and the hope of being of service to his friend had decided
attractions, for he had now become sincerely attached to Strahan.
He therefore rapidly made his preparations to depart that very
night, but decided first to see Marian, thinking it possible that
she might have received some later intelligence. Therefore, although
very doubtful of his reception, he had ventured to call, hoping
that Marian's interest in her friend might secure for him a slight
semblance of welcome. He was relieved when she greeted him gravely,
quietly, but not coldly.

He at once stated his purpose, and asked if she had any information
that would guide him in his search. Although she shook her head
and told him that she knew nothing beyond what she had seen in the
paper, he saw with much satisfaction that her face lighted up with
hope and eagerness, and that she approved of his effort. While
explaining his intentions he had not sat down, but now she cordially
asked him to be seated and to give his plans more in detail.

"I fear you will find fearful confusion and difficulty in reaching
the field," she said.

"I have no fears," he replied. "I shall go by rail as far as possible,
then hire or purchase a horse. The first list of casualties is
always made up hastily, and I have strong hopes of finding Strahan
in one of the many extemporized hospitals, or, at least, of getting
some tidings of him."

"One thing is certain," she added, kindly, - "you have proved that
if you do find him, he will have a devoted nurse."

"I shall do my best for him," he replied, quietly. "If he has been
taken from the field and I can learn his whereabouts, I shall follow
him."

The color caused by his first slight embarrassment had faded away,
and Marian exclaimed, "Mr. Merwyn, you are either ill or have been
ill."

"Oh, no," he said, carelessly; "I have only shared in the general
excitement and anxiety. I am satisfied that we have but barely
escaped a serious outbreak in this city."

"I think you are right," she answered, gravely, and her thought was:
"He is indeed to be pitied if a few weeks of fearful expectation have
made him so pale and haggard. It has probably cost him a tremendous
effort to remain in the city where he has so much at stake."

After a moment's silence Merwyn resumed: "I shall soon take my
train. Would you not like to write a few lines to Strahan? As I
told you, in effect, once before, they may prove the best possible
tonic in case I find him."

Marian, eager to comply with the suggestion, excused herself. In her
absence her father entered. He also greeted the young man kindly,
and, learning of his project, volunteered some useful instructions,
adding, "I can give you a few lines that may be of service."

At last Merwyn was about to depart, and Marian, for the first time,
gave him her hand and wished him "God-speed." He flushed deeply,
and there was a flash of pleasure in his dark eyes as he said, in
a low tone, that he would try to deserve her kindness.

At this moment there was a ring at the door, and a card was brought
in. Marian could scarcely believe her eyes, for on it was written,
"Henry Blauvelt."

She rushed to the door and welcomed the young officer with exclamations
of delight, and then added, eagerly, "Where is Mr. Strahan?"

"I am sorry indeed to tell you that I do not know," Blauvelt
replied, sadly. Then he hastily added: "But I am sure he was not
killed, for I have searched every part of the field where he could
possibly have fallen. I have visited the hospitals, and have spent
days and nights in inquiries. My belief now is that he was taken
prisoner."

"Then there is still hope!" exclaimed the young girl, with tears
in her eyes. "You surely believe there is still hope?"

"I certainly believe there is much reason for hope. The rebels
left their own seriously wounded men on the field, and took away
as prisoners only such of our men as were able to march. It is true
I saw Strahan fall just as we were driven back; but I am sure that
he was neither killed nor seriously wounded, for I went to the spot
as soon as possible afterwards and he was not there, nor have I
been able, since, to find him or obtain tidings of him. He may have
been knocked down by a piece of shell or a spent ball. A moment or
two later the enemy charged over the spot where he fell, and what
was left of our regiment was driven back some distance. From that
moment I lost all trace of him. I believe that he has only been
captured with many other prisoners, and that he will be exchanged
in a few weeks."

"Heaven grant that it may be so!" she breathed, fervently. "But,
Mr. Blauvelt, YOU are wounded. Do not think us indifferent because
we have asked so eagerly after Major Strahan, for you are here
alive and apparently as undaunted as ever."

"Oh, my wounds are slight. Carrying my arm in a sling gives too
serious an impression. I merely had one of the fingers of my left
hand shot away, and a scratch on my shoulder."

"But have these wounds been dressed lately?" Mr. Vosburgh asked,
gravely.

"And have you had your rations this evening?" Marian added, with
the glimmer of a smile.

"Thanks, yes to both questions. I arrived this afternoon, and at
once saw a good surgeon. I have not taken time to obtain a better
costume than this old uniform, which has seen hard service."

"Like the wearer," said Marian. "I should have been sorry indeed
if you had changed it."

"Well, I knew that you would be anxious to have even a negative
assurance of Strahan's safety."

"And equally so to be positively assured of your own."

"I hoped that that would be true to some extent. My dear old mother,
in New Hampshire, to whom I have telegraphed, is eager to see me,
and so I shall go on in the morning."

"You must be our guest, then, to-night," said Mr. Vosburgh,
decisively. "We will take no refusal, and I shall send at once to
the hotel for your luggage."

"It is small indeed," laughed Blauvelt, flushing with pleasure,
"for I came away in very light marching order."

Marian then explained that Merwyn, who, after a brief, polite
greeting from Blauvelt, had been almost forgotten, was about to
start in search of Strahan.

"I would not lay a straw in his way, and possibly he may obtain
some clue that escaped me," said the young officer.

"Perhaps, if you feel strong enough to tell us something of that
part of the battle in which you were engaged, and of your search,
Mr. Merwyn may receive hints which will be of service to him," Mr.
Vosburgh suggested.

"I shall be very glad to do so, and feel entirely equal to the
effort. Indeed, I have been resting and sleeping in the cars nearly
all day, and am so much better that I scarcely feel it right to be
absent from the regiment."

They at once repaired to the library, Marian leaving word with
Mammy Borden that they were engaged, should there be other callers.






CHAPTER XXXIII.

A GLIMPSE OF WAR.





"Captain Blauvelt," said Marian, when they were seated in the
library, "I have two favors to ask of you. First, that you will
discontinue your story as soon as you feel the least weakness, and,
second, that you will not gloss anything over. I wish a life-picture
of a soldier's experience. You and Mr. Strahan have been inclined
to give me the brighter side of campaigning. Now, tell us just what
you and Mr. Strahan did. I've no right to be the friend of soldiers
if I cannot listen to the tragic details of a battle, while sitting
here in this quiet room, and I wish to realize, as I never have
done, what you and others have passed through. Do not be so modest
that you cannot tell us exactly what you did. In brief, a plain,
unvarnished tale unfold, and I shall be content."

"Now," she thought, "Mr. Merwyn shall know to whom I can give my
friendship. I do not ask him, or any one, to face these scenes,
but my heart is for a man who can face them."

Blauvelt felt that he was fortunate indeed. He knew that he had
fair powers as a raconteur, and he was conscious of having taken no
unworthy part in the events he was about to describe, while she,
who required the story, was the woman whom he most admired, and
whose good opinion was dear to him.

Therefore, after a moment's thought, he began: "In order to give
you a quiet, and therefore a more artistic prelude to the tragedy
of the battle, I shall touch lightly on some of the incidents of
our march to the field. I will take up the thread of our experiences
on the 15th of June, for I think you were quite well informed of
what occurred before that date. The 15th was one of the hottest
days that I remember. I refer to this fact because of a pleasant
incident which introduces a little light among the shadows, and
suggests that soldiers are not such bad fellows after all, although
inclined to be a little rough and profane. Our men suffered terribly
from the heat, and some received sunstrokes. Many were obliged to
fall out of the ranks, but managed to keep up with the column. At
noon we were halted near a Vermont regiment that had just drawn a
ration of soft bread and were boiling their coffee. As our exhausted
men came straggling and staggering in, these hospitable Vermonters
gave them their entire ration of bread and the hot coffee prepared
for their own meal; and when the ambulances brought in the men who
had been sun-struck, these generous fellows turned their camp into
a temporary hospital and themselves into nurses.

"I will now give you a glimpse of a different experience. Towards
evening on the 19th a rain-storm began, and continued all night.
No orders to halt came till after midnight. On we splashed, waded,
and floundered along roads cut up by troops in advance until the
mud in many places reached the depth of ten inches. It was intensely
dark, and we could not see to pick our way. Splashed from head to
foot, and wet through for hours, we had then one of the most dismal
experiences I remember. I had not been well since the terrible
heat of the 15th, and Strahan, putting on the air of a martinet,
sternly ordered me to mount his horse while he took charge of my
company."

Marian here clapped her hands in applause.

"At last we were ordered to file to the right into a field and bivouac
for the night. The field proved to be a marshy meadow, worse than
the road. But there was no help for it, and we were too tired to
hunt around in the darkness for a better place. Strahan mounted
again to assist in giving orders for the night's arrangement, and
to find drier ground if possible. In the darkness he and his horse
tumbled into a ditch so full of mire and water that he escaped all
injury. We sank half-way to our knees in the swampy ground, and the
horses floundered so that one or two of the officers were thrown,
and all were obliged to dismount. At last, by hallooing, the regiment
formed into line, and then came the unique order from the colonel,
'Squat, my bull-frogs.' There was nothing for us to do but to
lie down on the swampy, oozing ground, with our shelter tents and
blankets wrapped around and under us. You remember what an exquisite
Strahan used to be. I wish you could have seen him when the morning
revealed us to one another. He was of the color of the sacred soil
from crown to toe. When we met we stood and laughed at each other,
and I wanted him to let me make a sketch for your benefit, but we
hadn't time.

"I will now relate a little incident which shows how promptly
pluck and character tell. During the 25th we were pushed forward
not far from thirty miles. On the morning of this severe march
a young civilian officer, who had been appointed to the regiment
by the Governor, joined us, and was given command of Company I.
When he took his place in the march there was a feeling of intense
hostility toward him, as there ever is among veterans against
civilians who are appointed over them. If he had fallen out of the
ranks and died by the roadside I scarcely believe that a man would
have volunteered to bury him. But, while evidently unaccustomed to
marching, he kept at the head of his company throughout the entire
day, when every step must have been torture. He uttered not a word
of complaint, and at night was seen, by the light of a flaring
candle, pricking the blisters on his swollen feet; then he put on
his shoes, and walked away as erect as if on parade. In those few
hours he had won the respect of the entire regiment, and had become
one of us. Poor fellow! I may as well mention now that he was
killed, a few days later, with many of the company that he was
bravely leading. His military career lasted but little over a week,
yet he proved himself a hero.

"Now I will put in a few high lights again. On the 28th we entered
Frederick City. Here we had a most delightful experience. The day
was warm and all were thirsty. Instead of the cold, lowering glances
to which we had been accustomed in Virginia, smiling mothers, often
accompanied by pretty daughters, stood in the gateways with pails
and goblets of cool, sparkling water. I doubt whether the same



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 22 of 37)