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Edward Payson Roe.

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not again called into the fight, which ended, you know, the next
day.

"I had bound up my fingers as well as I could, and now, in reaction
and from loss of blood, felt sick and faint. I did not wish to go
to our field hospital, for I knew the scenes there were so horrible
that I should not be equal to witnessing them. Our surgeon came
and dressed my finger for me, and said that it would have to come
off in the morning, and I now found that my shoulder also had been
slightly cut with a bullet. These injuries on that day, however,
were the merest trifles.

"Our supper was the dreariest meal I ever took. The men spoke in
subdued tones, and every now and then a rough fellow would draw his
sleeve across his eyes, as so many things brought to mind those who
had breakfasted with us. We were like a household that had returned
from burying the greater part of its number. Yes, worse than this,
for many, suffering from terrible wounds, were in the hands of the
enemy.

"Of course I grieved for the loss of men and officers, but I had
come to feel like a brother towards Strahan, and, fatigued as I
was, solicitude on his account kept me awake for hours. The battle
was still raging on our extreme right, and I fell asleep before
the ominous sounds ceased.

"Waking with the dawn, I felt so much better and stronger that I
took a hasty cup of coffee, and then started toward the spot where
I had seen Strahan fall, in the hope of reaching it. The surgeon had
ordered that I should be relieved from duty, and told me to keep
quiet. This was impossible with my friend's fate in such uncertainty.
I soon found that the enemy occupied the ground on which we had
fought, and that to go beyond a certain point would be death or
captivity. Therefore I returned, the surgeon amputated my finger,
and then I rested with the regiment several hours. With the dawn,
heavy fighting began again on the extreme right, but we knew at
the time little of its character or object.

"After an early dinner I became restless and went to our corps-hospitals
to look after such of the wounded of my company as had been carried
thither. It was situated in a grove not far away. I will not describe
the scenes witnessed there, for it would only give you useless pain.
The surgeons had been at work all the night and morning around the
amputation tables, and our doctor and chaplain had done about all
that could be accomplished for our poor fellows. There were hundreds
of men lying on the ground, many of whom were in the agonies of
death even as I passed.

"I again went back to see if there had been any change in our front
which would enable me to reach Strahan. This still being impossible,
I continued along our lines to the right at a slow pace, that I
might gain some idea of our position and prospects. My hope now of
reaching Strahan lay in our defeating Lee and gaining the field.
Therefore I had a double motive to be intensely interested in all
I saw. Since nine in the morning a strange silence had settled on
the field, but after yesterday's experience it raised no delusive
hopes. With the aid of a small field-glass that I carried, I could
see the enemy's batteries, and catch glimpses of their half-concealed
infantry, which were moving about in a way that indicated active
preparation for something. Our officers had also made the most of
this respite, and there had been a continuous shifting of troops,
strengthening of lines, and placing of artillery in position since
the dawn. Now, however, the quiet was wonderful, in view of the
vast bodies of men which were hi deadly array. Even the spiteful
picket-firing had ceased.

"I had barely reached a high point, a little in the rear of the
Second Corps, commanded by General Hancock, when I saw evidences
of excitement and interest around me. Eyes and field-glasses were
directed towards the enemy's lines nearly opposite. Springing on
a rock near me, I turned my glass in the same direction, and saw
that Lee was massing his artillery along the edge of the woods on
the ridge opposite. The post of observation was a good one, and I
determined to maintain it. The rock promised shelter when the iron
tempest should begin.

"Battery after battery came into position, until, with my glass,
I could count nearly a hundred guns. On our side batteries were
massing also, both to the right and the left of where I stood.
Experience had so taught me what these preparations meant that I
fairly trembled with excitement and awe. It appeared as if I were
about to witness one of the most terrific combats of the world,
and while I might well doubt whether anything could survive
the concentrated fire of these rebel guns, I could not resist the
desire to see out what I felt must be the final and supreme effort
of both armies. Therefore I stuck to my rock and swept with my glass
the salient points of interest. I dreaded the effect of the awful
cannonade upon our lines of infantry that lay upon the ground below
me, behind such slight shelter as they could find. Our position at
this point was commanding, but many of the troops were fearfully
exposed, while our artillerymen had to stand in plain view. Over
all this scene, so awfully significant and unnaturally quiet,
the scorching July sun sent down its rays like fiery darts, which
everywhere on the field scintillated as if they were kindling
innumerable fires.

"At last the enemy fired a single gun. Almost instantly a flashing
line of light swept along the massed Confederate batteries, I sprung
down behind my rock as a perfect storm of iron swept over and around
me, and my heart stood almost still at the deep reverberations
which followed. This was but the prelude to the infernal symphony
that followed. With remarkable rapidity and precision of aim the
enemy continued firing, not irregularly, but in immense thundering
volleys, all together. There would be a moment's pause, and then
would come such a storm of iron that it seemed to me that even my
sheltering rock would be cut away, and that everything exposed must
be annihilated.

"At first I was exceedingly troubled that our guns did not reply.
Could it be possible that the enemy's fire was so destructive that
our forces were paralyzed? I was learning to distinguish between the
measured cadences of the enemy's firing. After a hurtling shower
flew over, I sprung out, took a survey, and was so filled with
exultation and confidence, that I crept back again with hope renewed.
Our men were standing at the guns, which officers were sighting in
order to get more accurate range, and the infantry had not budged.
Of course there were streams of wounded going to the rear, but this
is true of every battle.

"I now had to share my slight cover with several others, and saw
that if I went out again I should lose it altogether. So I determined
to wait out the artillery duel quietly. I could see the effects
of the enemy's shells in the rear, if not in front, and these were
disastrous enough. In the depression behind the ridge on which were
our guns and infantry, there were ammunition-wagons, ambulances,
and caissons. Among these, shells were making havoc. Soon a caisson
exploded with a terrific report and a great cloud of smoke, which,
clearing, revealed many prostrate forms, a few of which were able
to crawl away.

"Minutes, which seemed like ages, had passed, and the horrible din
was then doubled by the opening of all our batteries. The ground
beneath me trembled, but as time passed and our guns kept up their
steady fire, and the infantry evidently remained unshaken in their
lines of defence, my confidence became stronger. By degrees you grow
accustomed to almost anything, and I now found leisure to observe
my companions behind the rock. I instantly perceived that two of
them were press-correspondents, young, boyish-looking fellows, who
certainly proved themselves veterans in coolness and courage. Even
in that deadly tempest they were alert and busy with their note-books.

"When the caisson exploded, each swiftly wrote a few cabalistic
symbols. There was a house to the left, as we sat feeing our rear,
and I saw that they kept their eyes on that almost continually.
Curious to know why, I shouted in the ear of one, asking the
reason. He wrote, 'Meade's headquarters,' and then I shared their
solicitude. That it was occupied by some general of high rank, was
evident from the number of horses tied around it, and the rapid
coming and going of aids and orderlies; but it seemed a terrible
thing that our commander-in-chief should be so exposed. Shells flew
about the little cottage like angry hornets about their nest, and
every few minutes one went in. The poor horses, tied and helpless,
were kicking and plunging in their terror, and one after another
went down, killed or wounded. I was told that General Meade and
staff were soon compelled to leave the place.

"The hours of the cannonade grew monotonous and oppressive. Again
and again caissons were exploded and added to the terrible list
of casualties. Wagons and ambulances - such of them as were not
wrecked - were driven out of range. Every moment or two the ground
shook with the recoil and thunder of our batteries, while the air
above and around us seemed literally filled with shrieking, moaning,
whistling projectiles of almost every size and pattern in present
use. From them came puffs of smoke, sharp cracks, heard above the
general din, as they exploded and showered around us pieces of
jagged iron. When a shell bursts, its fragments strike the ground
obliquely, with a forward movement; therefore our comparative
safety behind our rock, which often shook from the terrific impact
of missiles on its outer side. So many had now sought its shelter
that some extended beyond its protection, and before the cannonade
was over two were killed outright, almost within reach of my arm.
Many of the wounded, in going to the rear, were struck down before
reaching a place of safety. The same was true of the men bringing
ammunition from the caissons in the depression beneath us. Every few
minutes an officer of some rank would be carried by on a stretcher,
with a man or two in attendance. I saw one of these hastily moving
groups prostrated by a shell, and none of them rose again or
struggled. I only tell you of these scenes in compliance with your
wish, Miss Marian, and because I see that you have the spirit of
a soldier. I was told that, in the thickest of the fight, the wife
of a general came on the field in search of her husband, who was
reported wounded. I believe that you could have done the same."

"I don't know," she replied, sadly, - "I don't know, for I never
realized what war was before;" and she looked apprehensively at
Merwyn, fearing to see traces of weakness. His side face, as he sat
in the shadow, was pale indeed, but he was rigid and motionless.
She received the impression that he was bracing himself by the
whole strength of his will to listen through the dreadful story.

Again Mr. Vosburgh suggested that these details were too terrific
for his daughter's nerves, but she interrupted him almost sternly,
saying: "No, papa, I intend to know just what my friends have
passed through. I feel that it is due to them, and, if I cannot
hear quietly, I am not worthy to be their friend. I can listen to
words when Southern girls can listen to bullets. Captain Blauvelt,
you are describing the battle exactly as I asked and wished. My only
fear is that you are going beyond your strength;" and she poured
him out a glass of light wine.

"When you come to hear all I passed through after leaving that
rock, you will know that this story-telling is not worth thinking
about," said Blauvelt, with a slight laugh, "All my exposure was
well worth the risk, for the chance of telling it to a woman of your
nerve. My hope now is that Strahan may some day learn how stanch
was our 'home support,' as we were accustomed to call you. I assure
you that many a man has been inspired to do his best because of
such friendship and sympathy. I am now about to tell you of the
grandest thing I ever saw or expect to see, and shall not abate one
jot of praise because the heroic act was performed by the enemy."






CHAPTER XXXV.

THE GRAND ASSAULT.





"After seeming ages had passed," Blauvelt resumed, having taken a
few moments of rest, "the fire of our artillery slackened and soon
ceased, and that of the rebete also became less rapid and furious.
We saw horses brought up, and some of our batteries going to the
rear at a gallop. Could our guns have been silenced? and was disaster
threatening us? Our anxiety was so great that the two correspondents
and I rushed out and were speedily reassured. There was our infantry,
still in line, and we soon saw that reserve batteries were taking
the place of those withdrawn. We afterward learned that General
Meade and brave General Hunt, Chief of Artillery, had ordered our
guns to be quiet and prepare for the assault which they knew would
follow the cannonade.

"The wind blew from us towards the enemy, and our unbroken lines
were in view. All honor to the steadfast men who had kept their
places through the most awful artillery combat ever known on this
continent. For nearly two mortal hours the infantry had been obliged
to lie still and see men on every side of them torn and mangled to
death; but like a wide blue ribbon, as far as the eye could reach,
there they lay with the sunlight glittering on their polished
muskets. The rebels' fire soon slackened also. We now mounted the
friendly rock, and I was busy with my glass again. As the smoke
lifted, which had covered the enemy's position, I saw that we had
not been the only sufferers. Many of their guns were overturned,
and the ground all along their line was thick with prostrate men.

"But they and their guns were forgotten. Their part in the bloody
drama was to be superseded, and we now witnessed a sight which can
scarcely ever be surpassed. Emerging from the woods on the opposite
ridge, over a mile away, came long lines of infantry. Our position
was to be assaulted. I suppose the cessation of our firing led the
enemy to think that our batteries had been silenced and the infantry
supports driven from the hill. The attacking column was forming
right under our eyes, and we could see other Confederate troops
moving up on the right and left to cover the movement and aid in
carrying it out.

"There was bustle on our side also, in spite of the enemy's
shells, which still fell thickly along our line. New batteries were
thundering up at a gallop; those at the front, which had horses
left, were withdrawn; others remained where they had been shattered
and disabled, fresh pieces taking position beside them. The dead
and wounded were rapidly carried to the rear, and the army stripped
itself, like an athlete, for the final struggle.

"Our batteries again opened with solid shot at the distant Confederate
infantry, but there was only the hesitation on their part incident
to final preparation. Soon on came their centre rapidly, their
flank supports, to right and left, moving after them. It proved
to be the launching of a human thunderbolt, and I watched its
progress, fascinated and overwhelmed with awe."

"Were you exposed at this time to the enemy's shells?" Marias asked.

"Yes, but their fire was not so severe as it had been, and
my interest in the assault was so absorbing that I could scarcely
think of anything else. I could not help believing that the fate
of our army, perhaps of the country, was to be decided there right
under my eyes, and this by an attack involving such deadly peril
to the participants that I felt comparatively safe.

"The scene during the next half-hour defies description. All ever
witnessed in Roman amphitheatres was child's play in comparison.
The artillery on both sides had resumed its heavy din, the enemy
seeking to distract our attention and render the success of their
assault more probable, and we concentrating our fire on that solid
attacking column. As they approached nearer, our guns were shotted
with shells that made great gaps in their ranks, but they never
faltered. Spaces were closed instantly, and on they still came like
a dark, resistless wave tipped with light, as the sun glinted on
their bayonets through rifts of smoke.

"As they came nearer, our guns in front crumbled and decimated
the leading ranks with grape and canister, while other batteries
farther away to the right and left still plowed red furrows with
shot and shell; but the human torrent, although shrinking and
diminishing, flowed on. I could not imagine a more sublime exhibition
of courage. Should the South rear to the skies a monument to their
soldiers, it would be insignificant compared with that assaulting
column, projected across the plain of Gettysburg.

"At the foot of the ridge the leaders of this forlorn hope, as
it proved, halted their troops for a moment. As far as the smoke
permitted me to see, it seemed that the supporting Confederate
divisions had not kept pace with the centre. Would the assault be
made? The familiar rebel yell was a speedy answer, as they started
up the acclivity, firing as they came. Now, more vivid than the
sunlight, a sheet of fire flashed out along our line, and the crash
of musketry drowned even the thunder of the cannon.

"The mad impulse of battle was upon me, as upon every one, and I
rushed down nearer our lines to get a better view, also from the
instinctive feeling that that attack must be repulsed, for it aimed
at nothing less than the piercing of the centre of our army. The
front melted away as if composed of phantoms, but other spectral
men took their place, the flashes of their muskets outlining their
position. On, on they came, up to our front line and over it. At
the awful point of impact there was on our side a tall, handsome
brigadier, whose black eyes glowed like coals. How he escaped so
long was one of the mysteries of battle. His voice rang out above
the horrid din as he rallied his men, who were not retreating, but
were simply pushed back by the still unspent impetus of the rebel
charge. I could not resist his appeal, or the example of his
heroism, and, seizing a musket and some cartridges belonging to a
fallen soldier, I was soon in the thick of it. I scarcely know what
happened for the next few moments, so terrible were the excitement
and confusion. Union troops and officers were rushing in on all
sides, without much regard to organization, under the same impulse
which had actuated me. I found myself firing point-blank at the
enemy but a few feet away. I saw a rebel officer waving his hat
upon his sword, and fired at him. Thank Heaven I did not hit him!
for, although he seemed the leading spirit in the charge, I would
not like to think I had killed so brave a man. In spite of all our
efforts, they pushed us back, back past the battery we were trying
to defend. I saw a young officer, not far away, although wounded,
run his gun a little forward with the aid of the two or three men
left on their feet, fire one more shot, and fall dead. Then I was
parrying bayonet thrusts and seeking to give them. One fierce-looking
fellow was making a lunge at me, but in the very act fell over,
pierced by a bullet. A second later the rebel officer, now seen to
be a general, had his hand on a gun and was shouting, 'Victory!'
but the word died on his lips as he fell, for at this moment there
was a rush in our rear. A heavy body of men burst, like a tornado,
through our shattered lines, and met the enemy in a hand-to-hand
conflict.

"I had been nearly run over in this charge, and now regained my
senses somewhat. I saw that the enemy's advance was checked, that
the spot where lay the Confederate general would mark the highest
point attained by the crimson wave of Southern valor, for Union
troops were concentrating in overwhelming numbers. The wound in
my hand had broken out afresh. I hastened to get back out of the
melee, the crush, and the 'sing' of bullets, and soon reached my
old post of observation, exhausted and panting. The correspondents
were still there, and one of them patted me on the shoulder in a way
meant to be encouraging, and offered to put my name in his paper,
an honor which I declined. We soon parted, unknown to each other.
I learned, however, that the name of the gallant brigadier was Webb,
and that he had been wounded. So also was General Hancock at this
point.

"The enemy's repulse was now changed into a rout. Prisoners were
brought in by hundreds, while those retreating across the plain were
followed by death-dealing shot and shell from our lines. As I sat
resting on my rock of observation, I felt that one could not exult
over such a foe, and I was only conscious of profound gratitude over
my own and the army's escape. Certainly if enough men, animated by
the same desperate courage, had taken part in the attack, it would
have been irresistible.

"As soon as I saw that the battle at this point was practically
decided, I started back towards our left with the purpose of finding
my regiment and our surgeon, for my hand had become very painful.
I was so fortunate as to meet with my command as it was being moved
up within a few rods of the main line of the Third Corps, where we
formed a part of the reserve. Joining my little company and seeing
their familiar faces was like coming home. Their welcome, a cup of
coffee, and the redressing of my wound made me over again. I had to
answer many questions from the small group of officers remaining,
for they, kept in the rear all day, had not yet learned much about
the battle or its results.

"While I gladdened their hearts with the tidings of our victory,
our surgeon growled: 'I'll have you put under arrest if you don't
keep quiet. You've been doing more than look on, or your hand would
not be in its present condition.'

"Soon after I fell asleep, with my few and faithful men around me,
and it was nearly midnight when I wakened."

"It's very evident that none of your present audience is inclined
to sleep," Marian exclaimed, with a deep breath.

"And yet it's after midnight," Mr. Vosburgh added. "I fear we are
taxing you, captain, far beyond your strength. Your cheeks, Marian,
are feverish."

"I do not feel weary yet," said the young officer, "if you are
not. Imagine that I have just waked up from that long nap of which
I have spoken. Miss Marian was such a sympathetic listener that
I dwelt much longer than I intended on scenes which impressed me
powerfully. I have not yet described my search for Strahan, or
given Mr. Merwyn such hints as my experience affords. Having just
come from the field, I do not see that he could gain much by undue
haste. He can accomplish quite as much by leaving sometime tomorrow.
To be frank, I believe that the only place to find Strahan is
under a rebel guard going South. Our troops may interpose in time
to release him; if not, he will be exchanged before long."

"In a matter of this kind there should be no uncertainty which can
possibly be removed," Merwyn said, in a husky voice. "I shall now
save time by obtaining the information you can give, for I shall
know better how to direct my search. I shall certainly go in the
morning."

"Yes, captain," said Marian, eagerly. "Since you disclaim weariness
we could listen for hours yet. You are a skilful narrator, for,
intensely as your story has interested me, you have reserved its
climax to the last, even though your search led you only among
woful scenes in the hospitals."

"On such scenes I will touch as lightly as possible, and chiefly
for Mr. Merwyn's benefit; for if Strahan had been left on the field,
either killed or wounded, I do not see how he could have escaped
me." Then, with a smile at the young girl, he added: "Since you
credit me with some skill as a story-teller, and since my story is
so long, perhaps it should be divided. In that case what I am now
about to relate should be headed with the words, 'My search for
Strahan.'"






CHAPTER XXXVI.

BLAUVELT'S SEARCH FOR STRAHAN.





"You will remember," said the captain, after a moment's pause,
that he might take up the thread of his narrative consecutively,
"that I awoke a little before midnight. At first I was confused,
but soon all that had happened came back to me. I found myself a
part of a long line of sleeping men that formed the reserve. Not
farther than from here across the street was another line in front
of us. Beyond this were our vigilant pickets, and then the vedettes
of the enemy. All seemed strangely still and peaceful, but a single



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeAn Original Belle → online text (page 24 of 37)