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Ferdinand Heinrich Grautoff.

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there and everywhere on their indefatigable horses and disappearing with
the speed of lightning, this is how those weather-beaten rough-riders in
their torn uniforms kept up the war and stood faithful guard! Brave
fellows they were, ever ready to push on vigorously, even when the blood
from their torn feet dyed the rocks a deep red! No matter how weary they
were, the sound of the bugle never failed to endow their limbs with
renewed energy, and they could be depended on to the last man to do
whatever was required of them.

It was on these endless marches, these reckless rides through rocky
wastes and silent forests - to the accompaniment of the tramp of horses,
the creaking of saddles and the rush and roar of rolling stones on
lonely mountain-trails - that those strange, weird rhythms and melodies
arose, which lived on long afterwards in the minds and hearts of the
people.

By the end of July affairs had reached the stage where it was possible
for the Northern army, commanded by General MacArthur and consisting of
one hundred and ten thousand men, to start for the Blue Mountains in the
eastern part of Oregon, and the Pacific army of almost equal strength to
set out for Granger on the Union Pacific Railway. The troops from Cuba
and Florida, together with the three brigades stationed at New Mexico,
were to have advanced against the extreme right wing of the Japanese
army, but the grievous disaster at Corpus Christi had completely
frustrated this plan.

The German and Irish volunteer regiments were formed into special
brigades in the Northern and Pacific armies, whereas the other militia
and volunteer regiments were attached to the various divisions
promiscuously. General MacArthur's corps was composed of three
divisions, commanded by Fowler, Longworth and Wood, respectively, each
consisting of thirty thousand men. To these must be added one German and
one Irish brigade of three regiments each, about sixteen thousand men
altogether, so that the Northern army numbered about one hundred and ten
thousand men and one hundred and forty guns.

Wood's division left the encampment near Omaha the last week of July.
They went by rail to Monida, where the Oregon Short Line crosses the
boundary of Montana and Idaho. The same picture of utter confusion was
presented at all the stops and all the stations on the way. Soldiers of
all arms, exasperated staff-officers, excited station officials, guns
waiting for their horses and horses waiting for their guns, cavalry-men
whose horses had been sent on the wrong train, freight-cars full of
ammunition intended for no one knew whom, wagons loaded with camp
equipment where food was wanted and with canned goods where forage was
needed, long military trains blocking the line between stations, and
engines being switched about aimlessly: perfect chaos reigned, and the
shortness of the station platforms only added to the confusion and the
waste of precious time. If it had not been for the Americans' strongly
developed sense of humor, which served as an antidote for all the anger
and worry, this execrably handled army apparatus must have broken down
altogether. But as it was, everybody made the best of the situation and
thanked the Lord that each revolution of the wheels brought the troops
nearer to the enemy. The worst of it was that the trains had to stop at
the stations time and time again in order to allow the empty trains
returning from the front to pass.

The 28th Regiment of Wisconsin Volunteers, under command of Colonel
Katterfeld, had at last, after what seemed to both officers and soldiers
an endless journey, reached the foothills of the Rocky Mountains on the
twenty-second of July via the Northern Pacific Railway. A warm meal had
been prepared for the regiment at a little station; then the roll was
called once more and the three long trains transporting the regiment
started off again.

Colonel Katterfeld had soon won the affection of his men. He was a thin
little man with grizzly hair and beard; a soldier of fortune, who had an
eventful life behind him, having seen war on three continents. But he
never spoke of his experiences. His commands were short and decisive,
and each man felt instinctively that he was facing an able officer. He
had given up his practice as a physician in Milwaukee, and when, at the
outbreak of the war, he had offered his services to the Governor of
Wisconsin, the latter was at once convinced that here was a man upon
whom he could rely, and it had not taken Colonel Katterfeld long to
establish the correctness of the Governor's judgment. He succeeded in
being the first to raise the full complement of men for his regiment in
Wisconsin, and was therefore the first to leave for the front. The rush
for officers' commissions was tremendous and the staff of officers was
therefore excellent. One day an officer, named Walter Lange, presented
himself at the recruiting office of the regiment. When the colonel heard
the name, he glanced up from his writing, and looking inquiringly at the
newcomer, asked in an off-hand fashion: "Will you take command of the
Seventh Company as captain?"

"Sir?"

"Yes, I know, you were at Elandslaagte and afterwards at Cronstadt, were
you not?"

"Yes, sir."

"We need some officers like you who can keep their men together when
under fire. Do you accept or not?"

"Certainly, but - - "

"We'll have no buts."

And so the two became war-comrades for the second time, Captain Lange
taking command of the Seventh Company.

In thousands of ways the colonel gave proof of his practical experience;
above all else he possessed the knack of putting the right people in the
right place, and his just praise and blame aroused the ambition of
officers and men to such an extent, that the 28th Militia Regiment soon
became conspicuous for its excellence. But no one, not even his comrade
from Elandslaagte, succeeded in getting nearer to the colonel's heart.
Colonel Katterfeld was a reticent man, whom no one dared bother with
questions.

In order to make the best possible use of what little room there was in
the cars, the colonel had ordered two-hour watches to be kept. Half the
men slept on the seats and on blankets on the floor, while the other
half had to stand until the order, Relieve watch! rang out at the end of
two hours.

Captain Lange was standing at the window looking out at the moonlit
landscape through which the train was rushing. Wide valleys, rugged
mountain peaks and steep, rocky bastions flew past. A whistle - a low
rumble in the distance - the sound of approaching wheels - a flash of
light on the track - and then the hot breath of the speeding engine
sweeps across the captain's face, as a long row of black cars belonging
to an empty train returning from the mountains tears past on its way to
the encampments.

And then on and on, over bridges and viaducts, where the rolling wheels
awaken echo after echo, on into the narrow ravine, above the
forest-crowned edges of which the quiet light of the stars twinkles and
gleams in the purple sky of night.

The captain was thinking of the colonel. He could not remember having
met him on any of the South African battle-fields, and he had never
heard the name of Katterfeld. And yet he was positive he had seen those
penetrating blue eyes beneath their bushy brows before. No one who had
once seen it could ever forget that glance. But he racked his brain in
vain. He looked at the time and found that the present watch still had a
whole hour to run. The soldiers were leaning sleepily against the sides
of the car, and loud snores came from the seats and the floor. Suddenly
a rifle fell to the ground with a clatter and several men woke up and
swore at the noise. On went the train, and the monotonous melody of the
rolling wheels gradually lulled the weary thoughts to sleep.

Captain Lange thought of Elandslaagte again and of Colonel Schiel and
Dinizulu, the Kafir chief, and of the story the colonel had told, as
they bivouacked round the fire, of the latter's royal anointment with
castor-oil. They had made the fire with the covers of "Mellin's Food"
boxes - Mellin's Food - a fine chap, Mellin - Mellin? - Wasn't that the
name of the captain with whom he had once sailed to Baltimore? And Daisy
Wilford had been on board with her two cats - cats - My, how he used to
chase cats when he was a boy - it was a regular hunt - No, it hadn't been
his fault, but Walter Wells' - But he had been caught and shut up in the
attic, where his father gave him a chance to recollect that it is cruel
to torment animals - but it really had been Walter's fault, only he
wasn't going to tell on him - and then, after he had been alone, he had
knocked his head against the wall in his rage at the injustice of the
world - always - knocked - his - head - against - the - wall - always - knocked - -

Bang! went the captain's head against the window-frame and he woke up
with a start and put his hand up to his aching forehead. Where under the
sun was he? Ah, of course - there were the soldiers snoring all around
him and tossing about in their sleep. He felt dead tired. Had he been
asleep? He looked at the time again - still fifty-five minutes to the
next watch.

The roaring and clattering of the wheels came to his ears on the fresh
night air as he again looked out of the window. The train had just
rounded a curve, and the other two trains could be seen coming on
behind. Now they were passing through a gorge between bright rocky
banks, which gleamed like snow in the moonlight. Whirling, foaming
waters rushed down the mountain-side to join the dark river far below.
Then on into a dark snowshed where the hurrying beat of the revolving
wheels resounded shrilly and produced a meaningless rhythm in his
thoughts. Kat - ter - feld, Kat - ter - feld, Kat - ter - feld, came the echo
from the black beams of the shed. Katter - feld, Kat - ter - feld,
Kat - ter - feld, came the reply from the other side. Then the rattling
noise spreads over a wider area. There is a final echo and the beams of
the shed disappear in the distance, and on they go in the silent night
until the sergeant on duty pulls out his watch and awakens the sleepers
with the unwelcome call, Relieve the guard!

Two days later the regiment arrived at Monida, where they had to leave
the train. The line running from there to Baker City was only to be used
for the transportation of baggage, while the troops had to march the
rest of the way - about two hundred and fifty miles. While the
field-kitchen wagons were being used for the first time near Monida,
the men received new boots, for the two pairs of shoes which each had
received in camp had turned out such marvels of American manufacture,
that they were absolutely worn out in less than no time. It was thought
wiser, in consideration of the long marches before the soldiers, to do
away with shoes altogether and to provide strong boots in their stead.
The hard leather of which the latter were made gave the soldiers no end
of trouble, and the strange foot-gear caused a good deal of grumbling
and discomfort.

It was here that the experience of the old troopers was of value. The
old devices of former campaigns were revived. An old, gray-bearded
sergeant, who had been in the Manchurian campaign against the Japanese,
advised his comrades to burn a piece of paper in their boots, as the hot
air would enable them to slip the boots on much more easily. Captain
Lange employed a more drastic method. He made his company march through
a brook until the leather had become wet and soft, and as a result his
men suffered least from sore feet on the march.

During the ten days' march to Baker City, officers and men became
thoroughly acquainted with one another, and the many obstacles they had
had to overcome in common cemented the regiments into real living
organisms. And when, on the tenth of August, the different columns
reached Baker City, the Northern Army had firmly established its
marching ability. The transport-service, too, had got over its first
difficulties. From the front, where small detachments were continually
skirmishing with the enemy, came the news that the Japanese had
retreated from Baker City after pulling up the rails. On the evening of
the eleventh of August the 28th Militia Regiment was bivouacking a few
miles east of Baker City. The outposts towards the enemy on the other
side of the town were composed of a battalion of Regulars.

Every stone still burned with the glowing heat of the day, which spread
over the warm ground in trembling waves. The dust raised by the marching
columns filled the air like brown smoke.

The last glimmer of the August day died down on the western horizon in a
crimson glow, and a pale gleam of light surrounded the dark silhouettes
of the mountains, throwing bluish gray shadows on their sides. Then all
the colors died out and only the stars twinkled in the dark blue
heavens. Far away in the mountains the white flashes of signal-lanterns
could occasionally be seen, telling of the nearness of the enemy.
Colonel Katterfeld had ordered the officers of his regiment to come to
his quarters in a farm-house lying near the road, and a captain of
Regulars was asked to report on the number of skirmishes which had taken
place in the last few days and on the enemy's position. It was learned
that Marshal Nogi had retreated from Baker City and had withdrawn his
troops to the Blue Mountains, taking up his central position at the
point of the pass crossed by the railroad. It had not been possible to
ascertain how far the wings of the Japanese army extended to the North
or South. It was certain that the enemy maintained strong lines of
communication in both directions, but it was difficult to determine just
how far their lines penetrated into the wooded slopes and valleys.

* * * * *

When the guard was relieved at 5 o'clock in the morning, one of the
non-commissioned officers was struck by a curiously-shaped bright cloud
the size of a hand, which hung like a ball over the mountains in the
west in the early morning light.

"It must be an air-ship!" said some one.

"It evidently is; it's moving!" said the sergeant, and he at once gave
orders to awaken Captain Lange.

The captain, who had gone to sleep with the telephone beside him, jumped
up and could not at first make out where the voice came from: "A
Japanese air-ship has been sighted over the mountains." He was up in a
second and looking through his glasses! Sure enough! It was an air-ship!

Its light-colored body hovered above the mountains in the pale-blue sky
like a small silver-gray tube.

"Spread the report at once!" called the captain to the telephone
operator; and bustle ensued on all sides.

"What shall we do?" asked a lieutenant. "There's no use in shooting at
it; by the time it gets within range we should shoot our own men."

The air-ship came slowly nearer, and at last it was directly over the
American line of outposts.

"They can see our whole position!" said Captain Lange, "they can see all
our arrangements from up there."

Boom! came the sound of a shot from the right.

"That probably won't do much good."

A few hundred yards below the air-ship a little flame burst out. The
smoke from a shrapnel hung in the air for a moment like a ball of
cotton, and then that, too, disappeared. Boom! it went again.

"We shall never reach it with shrapnel," said the lieutenant, "there's
no use trying to beat it except on its own ground."

"We have some newly constructed shrapnel," answered the captain, "the
bullets of which are connected with spiral wires that tear the envelope
of the balloon."

Now two shots went off at the same time.

"Those seem to be the balloon-guns," said the lieutenant.

Far below the air-ship hovered the clouds of two shrapnel shots.

"They're getting our air-ship ready over there," cried the captain;
"that's the only sensible thing to do." He pointed to a spot far off
where a large, yellow motor-balloon could be seen hanging in the air
like a large bubble.

It went up in a slanting direction, and then, after describing several
uncertain curves, steered straight for the enemy's balloon, which also
began to rise at once.

Hundreds of thousands of eyes were following the course of those two
little yellow dots up in the clear, early morning air, as the mountain
edges began to be tipped with pink. The Japanese air-ship had reached a
position a little to one side of that occupied by the 28th Regiment,
when a tiny black speck was seen to leave it and to gain in size as it
fell with increasing velocity. When it reached the ground a vivid red
flame shot up. Tremendous clouds of smoke followed, mixed with dark
objects, and the distant mountains resounded with loud peals of thunder
which died away amid the angry rumblings in the gorges.

"That was a big bomb," said the captain, "and it seems to have done
considerable mischief."

Now a little puff of white smoke issued from the American air-ship and
ten seconds later an explosive body of some sort burst against a wall of
rock.

"If they keep on like that they'll only hit our own men," said the
lieutenant.

"The Jap is ascending," cried some one, and again all the field-glasses
were directed towards the two ships.

Now both were seen to rise.

"The Japs are throwing down everything they've got in the way of
explosives," cried the captain. A whole row of black spots came rushing
down and again came the thunder caused by the bursting of several bombs
one after the other.

The Jap went up rapidly and then crossed the path of the American
balloon about two hundred yards above it.

Suddenly the yellow envelope of the American air-ship burst into flames,
lost its shape and shrunk together, and the ship fell rapidly among the
valleys to the left, looking like the skeleton of an umbrella that has
been out in a gale of wind.

"All over," said the lieutenant with a sigh. "What a shame! We might
just as well have done that ourselves."

High up in the blue ether hovered the Japanese air-ship; then it
described a curve to the left, went straight ahead and then seemed
suddenly to be swallowed up in the morning light. But soon it appeared
again as a gray speck against the clear blue sky, and turning to the
right once more, got bigger and bigger, came nearer, and finally steered
back straight for the Blue Mountains. And then the thunder of cannon was
heard from the right.

* * * * *

The assault on Hilgard, the center of the Japanese position in the broad
valley of the Blue Mountains, had failed; two regiments had bled to
death on the wire barricades outside the little town, and then all was
over. It would be necessary to break up the enemy's position by flank
movements from both sides before another attack on their center could be
attempted. For two long days the artillery contest waged; then
Longworth's division on our right wing gained a little ground, and when
the sun sank to rest behind the Blue Mountains on August 14th, we had
reason to be satisfied with our day's work, for we had succeeded, at a
great sacrifice, it is true, in wresting from the enemy several
important positions on the sides of the mountains.

Towards evening six fresh batteries were sent forward to the captured
positions, whence they were to push on towards the left wing of the
Japanese center the next morning. Telephone messages to headquarters
from the front reported the mountain-pass leading to Walla Walla free
from the enemy, so that a transport of ammunition could be sent that way
in the evening to replenish the sadly diminished store for the decisive
battle to be fought the next day.

While the newspapers all over the East were spreading the news of this
first victory of the American arms, Lieutenant Esher was commanded by
General Longworth to carry the orders for the next day to the officer in
charge of the Tenth Brigade, which had taken up its position before the
mountain-pass on the right wing. For safety's sake General Longworth had
decided to send his orders by word of mouth, only giving instructions
that the receipt of each message should be reported to headquarters by
each detachment either by field-telegraph or telephone.

Lieutenant Esher, on his motor-cycle, passed an endless chain of
ammunition wagons on his way. For a long time he could make only slow
progress on account of the numerous ambulances and other vehicles which
the temporary field-hospitals were beginning to send back from the
front; but after a time the road gradually became clear.

The motor rattled on loudly through the silent night, which was
disturbed only now and then by the echo of a shot. Here and there along
the road a sentry challenged the solitary traveler, who gave the
password and puffed on.

He had been informed that the quickest way to reach General Lawrence
would be by way of the narrow mountain-path that turned off to the left
of the road, which had now become absolutely impassable again on account
of innumerable transports. It was a dangerous ride, for any moment the
bicycle might smash into some unseen obstacle and topple over into the
abyss on the right, into which stones and loose earth were continually
falling as the cycle pushed them to one side.

Lieutenant Esher therefore got off his wheel and pushed it along. At the
edge of a wood he stopped for a moment to study his map by the light of
an electric pocket-lamp, when he heard a sharp call just above him. He
could not quite make it out, but gave the password, and two shots rang
out simultaneously close to him. - When Lieutenant Esher came to, he
found a Japanese army doctor bending over him.

He had an uncertain feeling of having been carried over a rocky desert,
and when he at last succeeded in collecting his thoughts, he came to the
conclusion that he must have strayed from the path and run straight into
the enemy's arms.

He tried to raise his head to see where he was, but a violent pain in
his shoulder forced him to lie still. The noises all around made it
clear to him, however, that he was among Japanese outposts. The doctor
exchanged a few words with an officer who had just come up, but they
spoke Japanese and Esher could not understand a word they said.

"Am I wounded?" he asked of the ambulance soldier beside him. The latter
pointed to the doctor, who said, "You will soon be all right again."

"Where am I wounded?"

"In the right thigh," answered the doctor, sitting down on a stone near
Esher. The doctor didn't seem to have much work to do.

The stinging pain in his right shoulder robbed Esher of his senses for a
moment, but he soon came to again and remembered his orders to
Lawrence's brigade. Thank God he had no written message on his person.
As it was, the enemy had succeeded in capturing only a broken
motor-cycle and a wounded, unimportant officer. The division staff would
soon discover by telephoning that General Lawrence had not received his
orders and then repeat the message.

Esher managed to turn his head, and watched the Japanese officer copying
an order by the light of a bicycle lamp. The order had just been
delivered by a mounted messenger, who sat immovable as a statue on his
exhausted and panting steed.

Suddenly the Japanese cavalryman seemed to grow enormous bats' wings,
which spread out until they obscured the whole sky. The ghostly figure
resembled a wild creature of fable, born of the weird fancy of a Doré,
or an avenging angel of the Apocalypse. Then the rider shrank together
again and seemed to be bouncing up and down on the back of his horse
like a little grinning monkey.

The wounded man rubbed his eyes. What was that? Was he awake or had he
been dreaming?

He asked the ambulance soldier for a drink, and the latter at once
handed him some water in a tin cup. Now a real Japanese cavalryman was
once more sitting up there on his horse, while the officer was still
writing. Then the officer's arm began to grow longer and longer, until
at last he was writing on the sky with a fiery pencil:

"In case there is no Japanese attack on August 15th, the Tenth Brigade
under General Lawrence is to retain its present positions until the
attack of our center - - "

Good Lord, what was that? Yes, those were the very words of the message
he was to have delivered to the Tenth Brigade, and not only were the
words identical, but the hand-writing was the same, for the flaming
letters had burnt themselves into his memory stroke for stroke and word
for word and line for line.

He tried to get up, but could not. The lieutenant kept on writing, while


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Online LibraryFerdinand Heinrich GrautoffBanzai! by Parabellum → online text (page 18 of 23)