Ferdinand Heinrich Grautoff.

Banzai! by Parabellum online

. (page 20 of 23)
Online LibraryFerdinand Heinrich GrautoffBanzai! by Parabellum → online text (page 20 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

long boards and bags of earth on top of the wires, stood out sharply
against the light of the explosives with which the Americans were
attempting to loosen the supporting posts.

[Illustration: Diagram of the Battle of Hilgard]

The light of the dancing flames fell on swaying, leaping figures.
Shots rang out constantly, millions of sparks flew all around and
through all the din could be distinguished the short, sharp
rattatattatt - rrrrr - rattatattatt of the machine-guns, sounding more
like cobble-stones being emptied out of a cart than anything else.

Hell had meanwhile broken loose on the other side. The attacking
regiments were exposed to a perfectly terrific rifle-fire from the
houses and streets of Hilgard, which was accompanied by a destructive
cannonade. But on they went! Over the corpses of the slain who had
breathed their last jammed in among the deadly wires, over the swaying
planks and through the gaps made by the exploding bombs, the battalions
swept on with loud shouts of Hurrah! What mattered it that the
machine-guns, which they had brought along, were sometimes dragged
through furrows of blood! On they went! The field-batteries to the right
and left of the first houses and two of the enemy's machine-guns just in
front of the barricade were in the hands of the 28th Regiment, and now
they advanced against the houses themselves. But it was utterly
impossible to get a foot further. A whole battalion was sacrificed
before the high barricade at the entrance to the main street, but still
they went on! There were no storming-ladders, and after all they were
hardly needed, for human pyramids were speedily run up against the
walls, and up these soldiers scrambled, assisted from below, until at
last they were high enough to shoot into the loop-holes. Others aided in
the work with axes and the butt-ends of their guns, and before long the
Americans had gained possession of several houses. All of the enemy's
searchlights concentrated their glare on the town, so that the fighting
was done in a brilliant light. The white top of the church-tower seemed
strangely near, while reddish-gold reflections played on the torn copper

But no reënforcements came from the rear, and it was no wonder, for a
furious fire from the enemy's artillery and machine-guns swept across
the space in front of Hilgard, raining bullets and balls upon the
trenches, out of which new battalions climbed again and again; the shots
plowed up the land into glowing furrows and created an impassable
fire-zone between the trenches and the nearest houses of Hilgard, whence
shrieking bugle-calls begged for immediate assistance. If the enemy
should succeed in throwing reënforcements into Hilgard, he would have no
difficulty in dislodging the Americans from the positions they had won.
Suddenly an attack from the wooded valley on the left at last brought
relief. It was the Irish brigade under General O'Brien that came on like
a whirlwind, quite unexpectedly, and joined in the fight.

This attack threw back the advancing Japanese reënforcements. The
regiments could be seen retreating in the pale light of dawn, and then
they were seen to form in line on the rising ground behind. Between
them and the rear of the town lay the Irish sharpshooters, who went
forward by leaps and bounds. But the furious artillery fire from the
enemy brought the fighting temporarily to a stand-still.

Wild confusion reigned on all sides as dawn broke. The 17th Japanese
Infantry Regiment was still battling with the two American regiments for
the possession of the front houses of Hilgard, and the two Japanese
battalions in the rear of the town directed their fire on the compact
columns of the Third Irish Regiment, which had not yet been formed into
line for shooting. It was a critical moment, and everything depended
upon the rapidity with which the Japanese resistance in Hilgard could be

In the houses and on the illuminated streets a furious hand-to-hand
encounter was going on, the men rushing at one another with bayonets and
the butt-ends of their guns. No effort was made to keep the men or
regiments together. Where the weapons had been destroyed or lost in the
mad scramble, the soldiers fought like gorillas, tearing one another's
flesh with teeth and nails. On all sides houses were on fire, and the
falling beams and walls, the bursting flames, the showers of descending
sparks, and the bursting shrapnels killing friend and foe alike, created
an indescribable jumble.

At last reënforcements arrived in the shape of a regiment which had lost
more than half its men in passing through the fire-zone in front of

"Where is Colonel Johnson?"

"Over there, on the other side of the street."

"A prisoner?" asked some one.

"I guess not, they're not making prisoners and we aren't either."

Slowly it grew lighter.

The Irish in the rear of Hilgard had hard work to maintain their
position. To dislodge the enemy, it was absolutely necessary to turn his
flank; otherwise there was no chance of advancing further. Each line of
sharpshooters that leaped forward was partially mowed down by the
terrible machine-guns. The enemy didn't budge an inch.

General O'Brien had already dispatched five orderlies to Fowler's
division with instructions to attack the enemy from the left, but all
five had been shot down the moment they left their cover. Something had
to be done at once, or the entire brigade would be destroyed.

Suddenly Corporal Freeman, who had crept up along the ground, appeared
beside the General.

"Here, sir," he cried, his face beaming, "here's the connection for
you." And he shoved a telephone apparatus towards O'Brien. He had
dragged the connecting wire behind him through the entire fire-zone.

"You must be a wizard!" cried the General, and then seizing the
instrument he called: "Throw all the troops you can possibly get hold of
against the right wing of the Japanese in front of us! The enemy's
position is weakened, but we can't attack the ridge in the front from

Several minutes passed - minutes pregnant with destruction. The bursting
shells thinned the ranks terribly, while the infantry fire continued to
sweep along the ground, but worst of all, the ammunition of the Irish
regiments was getting low. Several batteries were planted between the
ruins of the houses in Hilgard, but even then the enemy did not budge.

Then came a great rush from the left: Cavalry, Indian scouts, regular
cavalry, cavalry militia, volunteer regiments, and behind them all the
machine-guns and the field-artillery - a perfect avalanche of human
beings and horses wrapped in thick clouds of smoke from which showers of
sparks descended.

That was our salvation. A wild shout of joy from the Irishmen rose above
the din of battle, and after that there was no restraining them. The
front ranks of the cavalry were mown down like sheaves of corn by the
bullets of the enemy's machine-guns; but that made no difference, on
they went, on, ever on! Whole regiments were cut to pieces. Hundreds of
saddles were emptied, but the riders came on just the same, and even
before they had reached the Irish sharpshooters, every man who wore the
green was headed for the ridge almost without waiting for the word of

It was an assault the enemy could not possibly repulse. The Irish and
the cavalry were right among their firing lines; a battery galloped up
into the hostile ranks, crushing dead and wounded beneath its wheels.
Bloody shreds of flesh were sticking to the gun-barrels, and torn limbs
and even whole bodies were whirled round and round in the spokes of the

Shrill bugle-calls resounded. The horses were wheeled around and the
battery unlimbered. A hostile shell suddenly struck the shaft of the
gun-carriage, and in a second the horses were a bloody mass of legs
wildly beating the air and of writhing, groaning bodies.

But the gun was in position. And now out with the ammunition! Bang! went
the first shot, which had been in the barrel, and then everybody lent a
hand; an Indian scout, bleeding at the shoulder, and an engineer helped
pass the shells, while a mortally wounded gunner shoved the cartridge
into the barrel.

"Aim up there to the left, near the two detached pine-trees, six hundred
yards," roared a lieutenant, whose blood-covered shirt could be seen
beneath his open uniform.

"The two pines to the left," answered the gunner, lying across the
bracket-trail. Bang! off went the shot, and a line of Japanese
sharpshooters rose like a flock of quail.

More cannon, more machine-guns, more ammunition-carts rushed up in mad
haste; the batteries kept up a continual fire.

The battle moved on farther to the front. The houses of Hilgard were all
in flames; only the white top of the church-tower still projected above
the ruins. On the right of the town one column after another marched
past to the strains of regimental music.

An orderly galloped past, and some one called out to him: "How are
things in front?" "Fine, fine, we're winning!" came the answer, which
was greeted with jubilant cheers. Gradually the enemy's shots became
scarcer as the battle advanced up the slopes.

Engineers were hard at work getting the streets of Hilgard cleared so as
to save the troops the detour round the outside of the town. The burning
houses were blown up with dynamite, and a temporary hospital was
established near the city, to which the wounded were brought from all
parts of the battle-field.

By noon Hilgard was sufficiently cleared to allow the 36th Militia
Regiment (Nebraska) to pass through. On both sides of the streets were
smoking ruins filled with dead and dying and charred remains. The steps
of the battalion sounded strangely hollow as the first company turned
into the square where the white church still stood almost intact in the
midst of the ruins. A wounded soldier was calling loudly for water.

What was that? Were the bells tolling? The soldiers involuntarily
softened their step when they heard it. Yes, the bells were tolling,
slowly at first and low, but then the peals rang out louder and louder
until a great volume of sound burst through the little windows in the
white church-spire. Ding - dong, ding - dong - -

The flag-bearer of the first company lowered his flag and the soldiers
marched past in silence. The captain rode over to the entrance to the
tower and looked in. A little boy, about ten years old, was tugging and
straining at the heavy bell-ropes. There seemed to be a number of
wounded soldiers in the church, as loud groans could be heard through
the half-open door.

The captain looked about him in astonishment. Near a post he saw two
Japanese, presenting a fearful spectacle in the convulsions of death.
Close to them lay an American foot-soldier, writhing with pain from a
bayonet-wound in the abdomen; and over in the farther corner he could
distinguish a woman, dressed in black, lying on a ragged mattress.
Ding - dong, ding - dong, rang the bells up above, but the noise of battle
did not penetrate here.

"What are you doing, sonny?" asked the captain.

"I'm ringing the bells for mother," said the little fellow.

"For mother?"

"General," called a weak voice from the corner, "please let the boy
alone. I want to hear our bells just once more before I die."

"What's the matter, are you wounded?" asked the captain.

"I feel that I'm dying," was the answer; "a bullet has entered my lung;
I think it's the lung."

"I'll send you a doctor," said the captain, "although we - - "

"Don't bother, general; it wouldn't do any good."

"How did you get here?"

"My husband," came the answer in a weak voice, "is lying across the
street in our burning home. He was the minister here in Hilgard. These
last days have been fearful, general; you have no idea how fearful.
First they shot my husband, and then our little Elly was killed by a
piece of shell when I was running across the street to the church with
her and the boy." She paused a moment, and then continued with growing
agitation: "It's enough to make one lose faith in the wisdom of the Lord
to see this butchery - all the heartrending sorrow that's created in the
world when men begin to murder one another like this. You don't realize
it in the midst of the battle, but here - And as God has seen fit to
spare His church in the battle, I asked the boy to ring the bells once
more, for I thought it might be a comfort to some of those dying out
there to hear a voice from above proclaiming peace after these awful
days. Let him keep on ringing, general, won't you?"

"Can I help you in any way?" asked the captain.

"No, only I should like some water."

The captain knelt down by the side of the poor, deserted woman and
handed her his flask.

She drank greedily, and then thanked him and began to sob softly. "What
will become of my boy? My poor husband - - "

"My good woman," said the captain, forcing himself to speak bluntly,
"it's not a question of this boy, or of a single individual who has
fallen in battle, but rather of a great people which has just defeated
the enemy. The widows and orphans will be taken care of by the
survivors, now that the Lord has given us the victory. Those who are
lying outside the town and those here have surrendered their lives for
their country, and the country will not forget them."

Ding - dong, ding - dong, went the bells as the captain left the church,
deeply affected. Ding - dong, ding - dong. Thousands out on the
battle-field in the throes of death, and the many unfortunates lying
with broken limbs in the burning houses and watching the flames
creeping towards them, heard that last call from on high, like a call
from God, Who seemed to have turned away from our people.

And then evening came, the evening of the sixteenth of August, which is
recorded with bloody letters on the pages of our country's history. Soon
all the reserves were engaged in battle. Our splendid regiments could
not be checked, so eager were they to push forward, and they succeeded
in storming one of the enemy's positions after the other along the
mountain-side. At last the enemy began to retreat, and the thunder of
the cannon was again and again drowned in the frenzied cheers. General
MacArthur was continually receiving at his headquarters reports of fresh
victories in the front and on both wings.

The telegraph wires had long ago spread the glad tidings over the length
and breadth of the land. Great joy reigned in every town, the Stars and
Stripes waved proudly from all the houses, and the people's hearts were
fluttering with exultation.

General MacArthur, whose headquarters were located near Hilgard, was
waiting for news of Fowler's Division, which had orders to advance on
the pass through the valleys on the left wing. They were to try and
outflank the enemy's right wing, but word was sent that they had met
with unexpected resistance. It appeared, therefore, that the enemy had
not yet begun to retreat at that point.

On the other hand, things were going better in the center. But what was
the good of this reckless advance, of this bold rush, which built
bridges of human bodies across the enemy's trenches and formed living
ladders composed of whole companies before the enemy's earthworks - what
was the good of all this heroic courage in the face of Marshal Nogi's
relentless calculations? He was overjoyed to see regiment after
regiment storm towards him, while from his tent he gave directions for
the sharp tongs of the Japanese flanks to close in the rear of General
MacArthur's army.

About seven o'clock in the evening the surprising news came from the
right wing that the batteries which had begun firing on the enemy's
lines retreating along the railway line were suddenly being shelled from
the rear, and begged for reënforcements. But there were no reserves
left; the last battalion, the last man had been pushed to the front! How
did the enemy manage to outflank us?

Imploringly, eagerly, the telephone begged for reënforcements, for
batteries, for machine-guns, for ammunition. The transport section of
the army service corps had been exhausted long ago, and all the
ammunition we had was in front, while a wide chasm yawned between the
fighting troops and the depots far away in the blue distance. General
MacArthur had nothing left to send.

And now from Indian Valley came the request for more machine-guns, but
there wasn't one left. General MacArthur telegraphed to Union, the
terminus of the field-railway, but the answer came that no assistance
could be given for several hours, as the roadbed had first to be
repaired. From Toll Gate, too, came stormy demands for more
ammunition - all in vain.

And then, at eight o'clock, when the sun had sunk like a ball of fire in
the west, and the Blue Mountains, above which hovered puffs of smoke
from the bursting shrapnel, were bathed in the golden evening light and
the valley became gradually veiled in darkness, the crushing news came
from Baker City that large, compact bodies of Japanese troops had been
seen on the stretch of broken-down railroad near Sumpter. Soon
afterwards Union reported the interruption of railway communication
with the rear and an attack with machine-guns by Japanese dismounted
cavalry, while Wood's division in the front continued to report the
capture of Japanese positions.

With relentless accuracy the arms of the gigantic tongs with which Nogi
threatened to surround the entire Army of the North began to close. The
American troops attacking both flanks had not noticed the Japanese
reserves, which had been held concealed in the depressions and shallow
valleys under cover of the woods. Two miles more to the right and left,
and our cavalry would have come upon the steel teeth of the huge tongs,
but there was the rub: they hadn't gone far enough.

About ten o'clock in the evening Baker City, which was in flames, was
stormed by the Japanese, Indian Valley having already fallen into their
hands. The attack in front, high up in the mountains, began to waver,
then to stop; a few captured positions had to be abandoned, and down in
the valley near La Grande, whence the field-hospitals were being removed
to the rear, the ambulances and Red Cross transports encountered the
troops streaming back from Baker City. One retreating force caught up
with the other, and then night came - that terrible night of destruction.
Again the cannon thundered across the valley, again the machine-guns
joined in the tumult, while the infantry fire surged to and fro.

You may be able to urge an exhausted or famished troop on to a final
assault, you may even gain the victory with their last vestige of
energy, their last bit of strength, provided you can inspire them with
sufficient enthusiasm; but it is impossible to save a lost cause with
troops who have been hunted up and down for twenty-four hours and whose
nerves are positively blunt from the strain of the prolonged battle.

The exhausted regiments went back, back into the basin of the Blue
Mountains, into a flaming pit that hid death and destruction in its
midst. The headquarters, too, had to be moved back. General MacArthur
lost his way in the darkness, and, accompanied by a single officer, rode
across the bloody battle-field right through the enemy's line of fire.

He soon ran across a cavalry brigade belonging to Longworth's division,
and at once placed himself at its head and led an onslaught on a
Japanese regiment. A wild _mêlée_ ensued in the darkness, and, although
only a few hundred riders remained in their saddles, the attack had
cleared the atmosphere and the wavering battalions gained new courage.

General MacArthur ordered a retreat by way of Union, employing Wood's
division, which was slowly making its way back to Hilgard, to cover the
retreat. Regiment after regiment threatened to become disbanded, and
only the determined action of the officers prevented a general rout. The
decimated regiments of Wood's division stood like a wall before the
ruins of Hilgard; they formed a rock against which the enemy's troops
dashed themselves in vain. In this way Fowler's and Longworth's
divisions succeeded in making a fair retreat, especially as the enemy's
strength was beginning to become exhausted. The uncertainty of a night
attack, when the fighting is done with bandaged eyes, as it were, and it
becomes impossible to control the effect of one's own firing,
contributed also towards weakening the Japanese attacks. The thin lines
of hostile troops from Baker City and from the north, which had
threatened to surround our army, were pierced by the determined assaults
of the American regiments; and although our entire transport service and
numerous guns remained in possession of the enemy, our retreat by way of
Union was open.

At dawn on the seventeenth of August the remains of Wood's division
began to leave Hilgard, which they had so bravely and stubbornly
defended, the heroes retreating step by step in face of the enemy's
artillery fire.

General MacArthur stopped just outside of Union and watched the
regiments - often consisting only of a single company - pass in silence.
He frowned with displeasure when he saw Colonel Smeaton riding alone in
the middle of the road, followed by two foot-soldiers. The colonel was
bleeding from a wound in his forehead.

General MacArthur gave spurs to his horse and rode towards the colonel,
saying: "Colonel, how can you desert your regiment?"

Colonel Smeaton raised himself in his stirrups, saluted, and said: "I
have the honor to report that only these two, Dan Woodlark and Abraham
Bent, are left of my regiment. They are brave men, general, and I
herewith recommend them for promotion."

The general's eyes grew moist, and, stifling a sigh, he held out his
hand to Colonel Smeaton: "Forgive me," he said simply, "I did not intend
to hurt your feelings."

"Nonsense!" cried the colonel. "We'll begin over again, general, we'll
simply start all over again. As long as we don't lose faith in
ourselves, nothing is lost."

Those were significant words spoken that seventeenth day of August.

_Chapter XX_


The attitude towards the war in Australia was entirely different from
that of Europe. Everyone realized that this was not an ordinary war, but
a war upon which the future of Australia depended. If the Japanese
succeeded in conquering a foot of land in North America, if a single
star was extinguished on the blue field of the American flag, it would
mean that the whole continent lying in Asia's shadow would also fall a
prey to the yellow race.

The early reports from the Philippines and from San Francisco, and the
crushing news of the destruction of the Pacific fleet, swept like a
whirlwind through the streets of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Wellington
and Auckland, and gave rise to tremendous public demonstrations.
Business came to a stand-still, for the Australian people had ears only
for the far-off thunder of cannon, and their thoughts were occupied with
the future. Huge open-air mass-meetings and innumerable demonstrations
before the American consulates bore witness to Australia's honest
sympathy. The time had arrived for the fifth continent to establish its
political status in the council of nations.

In Sydney the mob had smashed the windows of the Japanese consulate.
Satisfaction was at once categorically demanded from London, where the
government trembled at the bare idea of a hostile demonstration against
its ally. The apology was to take the form of a salute to the Japanese
flag on the consulate by a coast battery, etc. But the Australian
government refused point blank to do this, and contented itself with a
simple declaration of regret; and as there was no other course open to
him, the Japanese Consul had to be satisfied. But in Tokio this affair
was entered on the credit side of the Anglo-Japanese ledger, offsetting
the debt of gratitude for August 10, 1904, when the English fleet
constituted the shifting scenery behind Togo's battleships.

A great many of the Japanese located in Australia had left the country
before the outbreak of the war to join the army of invasion, and those
who remained behind soon recognized that there was no work for them
anywhere on the continent. When they refused to take this hint and make
themselves scarce, Australian fists began to remind them that the period
of Anglo-Mongolian brotherhood was a thing of the past. The last of the
Japanese settlers were put aboard an English steamer at Sydney and told
to shift for themselves. The Chinese, too, began to leave the country,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23

Online LibraryFerdinand Heinrich GrautoffBanzai! by Parabellum → online text (page 20 of 23)