S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

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autbor'0 Definitive BDitlon







Copyright, 1886,

All rights reserved.

Cbe Knickerbocker press, Hew orh

J? W '



" Let that bright north star of our race
Stern Duty guide thy certain life,
Through days of peace ; to-morrow's need
Shall find thee ready for the strife. "

AMIDST the great host which crossed the Rap-
idan early in May, 1864, with the sternly resolute
man who was to determine the fate of the South,
was Roland Blake. An orphan from his early
years, he had been brought up on the shores of
New Hampshire, near to the old town of Ports
mouth, by an uncle, a Congregational minister,
who was his guardian, and who had skillfully
cared for the moderate estate left by the boy's
parents. A thoughtful, quiet young fellow, he
lived a wholesome out -door life, with sea and
winds for comrades, while his uncle's personal at
tention to his education amply prepared him for
his life at Harvard.

Nature gives to one man curiosity and little

means to gratify it. To another she gives desire

to know and the organization which can answer

its demands. Then she has made an observer




and a friend to whom, with discreet reluctance, she
tells her secrets. Directness and simplicity attend
the practical workings of such persons' minds.
They are poet, or naturalist, or both, as the rest of
their mental structure determines, and are fortu
nate if fate cast their lot in early life remote
from cities and put them in natural relation with
the glorious company of sea and sky and wood.

Outside circumstances found in Roland Blake
the qualities which make a man observant. The
sea-side life gave him activity and physical vigor.
The stern, practical, every-day existence of a home
in which strong sense of duty ruled modified the
natural dreaminess of a too thoughtful youth, on
whom, also, the speculative turn of the ever-
troubled New England mind was not without its

Blake hesitated little when the war broke out.
His own beliefs, his family traditions, and the
decided anti-slavery opinions in which he had
lived brought him home from study abroad and
carried him into the army early in the great con
test. Thus far the bullets which had cleared his
way from the ranks to a captaincy had spared him
from harm.

A dull sun rose red through the dust which
already at early morn filled the air and lay thick
on the unstirred leaves of the thin woods about
Germanna Ford. It was May, but even at this
hour the atmosphere was close and oppressive.


The sullen flow of the ruddy Rapidan was
crossed by two pontoon-bridges of wooden boats,
over which streamed steadily long trains of artil
lery, dark-green caissons and flashing, brightly-
polished cannon. The crack of whips, the rum
ble of wheels, the bray of mules, loud-voiced
orders, oaths, and cries filled the air. Masses of
infantry marched rapidly up to the shores, regi
ment after regiment, and in turn tramped in
broken order across the swaying bridges. The
bayonets sparkled over them in the yellow light,
and the blue masses climbed the farther bank,
disappearing among the thin woods and under
brush of hazel, scrub-oaks, sassafras, and pine, as
the brigades of the Fifth and Sixth Corps marched
into the sombre depths of the Wilderness.

On the banks were scattered groups of idle con
trabands of all hues, from " sad-colored " to a tint
deep as that of their own tobacco, liking the spec
tacle well, but apparently mere amused and not
much concerned spectators. Now and then a
chuckle rose as a man lost his footing on the
bridge or a mule-team regaled them with brief re
bellion ; while the inventive capacity of the mule-
driving American, much stimulated by being
pitted against the noble simplicity of the mule
mind, filled the air with ingenious blasphemy, to
which the swearing of all other lands is as milk to
apple- whiskey.

Then some headquarters wagons dashed up,
and with the secure authority of aristocrats


scattered the motley collection of negroes, who
moved away with muttered disgust, like people
at a play who are put out of seats they consider
their own. At the same time a staff orderly
wearing the badge of the Fifth Corps rode up to
a laughing group of officers lounging on foot, or
lying down, or still in the saddle, in all sorts of
such odd postures as become easy and restful to
the man who has lived for a year or two on the
back of a horse.

The orderly saluted, and said, " Headquarters
wagons. Please make room."

" Hang these staff orderlies ! They 're worse
than old regulars ! " exclaimed a lightly - built
young lieutenant, an officer of the provost-mar
shal's guard, and bearing on his breast the badge
of the Sixth Corps. He was watching with infi
nite amusement the humors of the first scene of
the tragedy about to be acted out in the sombre
woods beyond the river.

" Give me an old regular-army ' doctor for tip
top airiness," said a captain of volunteer cavalry,
as he swung into the saddle ; " but the staff fel
lows are bad enough." Everybody growled a lit
tle as they got out of their lounging attitudes and
moved closer to the ford.

" By George," said the first speaker, " those
darkies are like old Romans watching us poor
barbarians go into the arena. Halloa ! Give me
your glass, Lawrence, I thought so ! " And he
rode out from the group. " Why, there 's Roland


" Blake ! I say, Blake ! " he called.

An officer turned from the masses of an infan
try regiment about to cross the muddy stream.
He was a square-shouldered man of over middle
height, and some twenty-four years of age. His
face was grave and resolute, and carried a certain
serenity of expression ; the eyes were attentive, a
good blue-gray, and about the lines of the lip
there was a pleasant sweetness which the faint
brown fringe of moustache failed to hide.

Several men rode up to meet him. " This is
good," he said. " I have n't seen one of you since
that last scrimmage at Gettysburg. How 's the
arm, Francis ? "

" Oh, that 's all right," said the other ; " but I
have been hit twice since. I always get hit," he
added, gravely. " My career has been punctuated
with full stops from rebel balls."

" Seems to agree with you," said a man at his

" It 's got past jesting." And then, his natural
sense of fun overcoming him, " Whom the gods
love die young ; whom the gods hate get hit in
every skirmish."

" I hope the gods will prove indifferent and for
get me," said Blake. " I must go. Good luck to
you all ! Got any 'baccy, Phil ? I 'm out."

Two or three men offered him scant contribu
tions, with which he hastily filled his pouch.

"Thanks: that will do. See you again, Law
rence. Good-bye, Joe. I see you 're in the P.
M.'s guard, Phil."


" Yes, for a while ; I don't fancy it. Look us
up at headquarters if you chance to get near us."

" There are our people," said Lawrence ; " that 's
the Sixth, I think. We 're come to stay this
time, Blake."

" God grant it ! " said the latter, as he made
haste to regain his place.

" Same old boy," said Lawrence, as the group
moved on towards the ford.

" I never thought he would have taken to any
thing as practical as war," returned the officer
addressed as Joe. " There was always a queer
mysticism in his talk when we were at Harvard."

" And yet if you want a thing done and well
done no man is more practical than Blake," re
turned Francis.

" Well, he used to bewilder me at Harvard,"
said a captain ; " it was wildly confusing at

"It is all on top, outside talk," said Francis.

" Perhaps so. But certainly, he is the only
person who is never bewildered by his own talk.
The fact is, a fellow always knows when to believe
himself and he don't always know when to believe
another fellow."

"That's about as clear as Blake," laughed

" Well, he 's a good fellow, at any rate, and the
least self-conscious man I ever saw."

" That 's so," said another. " Hark ! was that
a gun at the front ? "


Hardly yet."

" Halloa ! there 's the colonel. The air will be
curdled with cussing when he hears I could n't
find that ordnance wagon. Here goes for it I I
shall cool off on the march." And he rode away.

Blake received on the morning of the 5th of
May an order to report at general headquarters
to the officer in charge of the bureau of informa
tion. Greatly surprised, he went through the
needed formalities with his colonel, and set out to
find the staff.

He walked rapidly through the woods and
small clearings, asking his way as he passed the
brigades which were hurrying by. Far overhead
occasional bullets were whizzing through the air,
and here and there young leaves and twigs were
mysteriously falling. After a wearisome search
of two or three hours, he came upon a small log
cabin, in a little, squalid clearing, and knew by
the headquarters flag that he had found what he

As he approached the log house through the
confusion of wagons, kicking mules, and orderlies
going and coming, an old colonel of regulars came
hastily out of the door.

Roland asked where he could find the provost-
marshal, and announced his errand.

" Oh, you 're Captain Blake," said the colonel.

" That is my name. I am here to report."

" And have taken your time about it, too."

" I could get no horse, sir, and I found it diffi
cult to find my way."


"You won't be the only one," said the grim
old regular. " Pretty country to fight in ! Can't
see fifty feet ahead ! "

" Bad enough," said Blake. " May I ask why
I am wanted ? "

" Yes. Come over here ; we had best get out
of earshot. These headquarters orderlies are as
curious as garrison girls, and the aids are not
much better."

So saying, he walked to the edge of the clear
ing and sat down on a stump. " Take a seat," he
said. "You can't move your chair." Then he
looked about him, and went on :

"I am in charge of the bureau of information."

At this moment an eccentric shell turned a
somersault about twenty feet above their heads,
and gave vent to the strange howl which this per
formance always produced. The colonel's back
being towards the coming projectile, he crouched
ever so slightly, and, turning, glanced quickly at
Blake's face : it showed no sign of amusement or
other form of mental comment. The colonel went

" Lieutenant Francis mentioned you to me this
morning "

" Hang Francis ! " muttered Blake. " What 's
up now, I wonder ? "

" Confound the musketry ! Can you hear me ?
It must be getting warm in front. Ah ! " and he
lifted one foot hastily as a nearly spent bullet
ricochetted past it. " As I said, I am in charge of


the bureau. My chief aid, Captain Weston, was
drowned at Raccoon Ford yesterday. I want an
officer in his place. Your colonel is an old friend
of mine. He says you will do. It needs a cer
tain kind of man, a gentleman above all."

Blake bowed. " Is it an order, sir ? "

" Yes ; what the deuce else do you suppose
it is?"

The captain did not like it; but he had re
solved when he entered the service to accept liter
ally and without complaint whatever duty came
to him.

"What are my orders?" he said, rising. "I
am ready."

" Good, sir ! You will do. And now to busi
ness. It was a part of Weston 's work to see and
know all our scouts. They go out of our lines,
get what news they can, and return, usually allow
ing themselves to be captured on the picket-line.
They stay a day or so among the prisoners, and
then are separated, as if to be sent North. Let
us move a little ; the bullets are getting rather too
plenty, though they 're mostly overhead. There ;
that is better," he said, as he got his back to a
corn-crib. " Investigating prisoners is another
duty. In fact, it is all simple enough."

Blake began to be curious. "Is there any
immediate matter?"

" Yes, that is just what there is, a difficult
one. Oh, confound the racket ! "

As he spoke, an officer's horse tied to a small


tree near by uttered a strange, wild cry, tore
loose his halter, and rolled over, convulsed in
death. A young aid ran out of the cabin to catch
him. He stood a moment quite close to them,
a mere boy, regarding the mournful eyes of the
horse and its twitching upper lip. " I had as lief
been hit myself," he said. Then he turned sharp
ly, clutching at his own left arm. " Who struck
me? " he said, and, tottering, fell on his face.

Blake ran forward and turned him over. The
young fellow's eyes opened.

"Are you badly hit? " said the captain.

" Was it a bullet, sir ? Not much hurt, I guess.
How queer ! a bullet! "

It was his first battle.

Two orderlies carried him into the house, and
Blake went back to the colonel.

" Bad hit? " said the latter, who had not moved.

" I think not."

The colonel continued : " Captain Weston alone
knew the names of the one or two persons in our
pay who are employed in the departments of the
Rebel government. These names are kept as se
cret as possible, but must of course be known to
some one, as I shall explain to you. I myself
have never heard them. You will find them in
an envelope : here it is. In case of risk of cap
ture you will destroy the paper. Usually Weston
did not commit them to writing, but as it was
meant to order him elsewhere, he left them with
careful memoranda for his successor."


** I see, sir."

"Weston has twice met one of the most re
liable of these people, a man really very valua
ble to us. He was to have seen him again to-night
at eleven, about twelve miles from here ; one of
our scouts knows the place. These meetings are
usually to receive important information, and to
pay the rascal."

" I understand. I am to take Captain Wes-
ton's place and meet and pay this fellow. It is
not a pleasant duty, colonel."

" No ; but it is a duty."

" When should I leave ? "

" Very soon. I will give you the needful papers
now, and let you talk to Weston's orderly. But
remember, carry no memoranda ; run no foolish
risks. We must on no account get this man into
trouble at home. Scamp or not, he is worth to
us a dozen such as you or I."

" Very good, sir."

"You will take five men, two scouts, and a
guide. One of our scouts knows the country per
fectly. You can trust Pearson to guide you. Of
course you ride ? "

" Yes ; I am an infantry man now, but I am an
old rider, and I served first with the cavalry. I
shall want an outfit."

" That is easily arranged."

" My old regiment is part of your command.
It is under the hill, sir, on the left. If there is
no objection I would like to take a lieutenant."


" Yes, if you like ; but the smaller the party
the better. I would suggest your friend Mr.
Francis. He is pretty well up on the roads about
here, such as they are. There is the needed
order. The men are attached to our service;
your scouts know them well, and will help you to

Blake asked a few questions, and then followed
him to a tent near by in the wood, where the
colonel gave him the necessary papers, and left


" The whole world

Hangs full of morals as every twig in a hedge
IB endowed with a thorn."

" But go the casual drift of circumstance
Catches us In its eddy."

DESPITE familiarity with death, Blake looked
with some emotion over the careful directions left
by his predecessor. It was easy to see that he
had kept his official affairs in a state of prepara
tion for another's eye. It gave the reader a
strong impression of the simple soldierly readi
ness of the dead man, and with a feeling of being
braced up anew by wholesome example, the young
man went on to his task, his earnest intelligent
nature intent upon carrying with a clear con
science the load the writer had laid down.

He soon learned that by the aid of a negro
messenger the man he was to meet had commu
nicated to Captain Weston the time and place of
their rendezvous, and had drawn on a card a
rough map of the roads, and such directions as
were needed. All of these were given in capital
letters, evidently to avoid display of handwrit
ing, and the last line was underscored, and was
to the effect that it was useless for any one to meet
him except Captain Weston. A sealed envelope


marked " Private," and addressed " to my suc
cessor," in Weston's writing, explained matters
more fully. It ran thus : " In case of disaster to
me, I leave to any one who may be called on to
fulfill my duties these memoranda. The three
persons named are never seen except by me, and
to me only are their true names known." Then
came the names in question, with a few lines as
to the need to make sure that no contingency of
war should be allowed to throw these compromis
ing papers into the hands of an enemy.

Blake's first care was to make two or three
copies of the little map, and then to fix on his
memory the three names given. He had noticed
that they were numbered 55, 56, 57 ; and although
Weston had neglected to state this, his successor
easily concluded that these numbers were meant
to be used in some way to identify the people
with whom he was to confer. He had already
made himself as familiar with the country as our
very poor maps allowed, and for the lesser details
felt that he must trust to his scouts.

He spent a few minutes more over the details
of daily duty set out in a little blank-book, and
sat awhile longer in half-bewildered consideration
of the intricate and complicated system of acquir
ing intelligence of which he was to be a part.
For a time he was to live among the baseness and
trickery of spies, deserters, and prisoners, who
could be led to tell what they knew. He did not
at first recognize the fact that some of the scouts


who came and went between the two armies were
gallant men, honestly believing in their own side
of the great quarrel, and was for a time simply
overcome by a horrible perception of the varied
forms of villainy which have to be cultivated and
rewarded to make an army successful.

War had indeed always seemed to him bad
enough, but deaths of men were to his fine sense
small affairs compared to this novel aspect of its

At last he rose, thinking, " As well I as another.
Pray God it last not long ! " and making a fresh
resolution to keep his soul as clean as possible
from stain, he called aloud for the orderly.

The man entered, saluting.

" Is there a horse for me ? "

" Yes, sir. Captain Weston had two : his man
is close by with them in the wood. The colonel
says you are to take one of them. I would take
the dark bay ; she won't be seen as easily as the
gray. I was to tell you the detail from the pro
vost-marshal's guard would be ready at five, and
two scouts, sir."

" All right. And you go with me ? "

" Of course, sir."

" Bring the horse at once. Is n't the 6th New
Hampshire cavalry back here a bit ? "

" Yes, sir, three companies, a mile or so it
might be."

" Then take a horse, find Lieutenant Francis,
Company B, deliver this order, and return at


" Yes, sir."

The lesser details of his preparations were soon
completed, and about five o'clock Blake found his
little party awaiting him well back in the woods,
out of harm from the stray bullets, which by this
time had been coming thicker, as Warren's corps
was slowly pressed by Ewell's forces. Above the
musketry he could hear the distant sound of un
numbered axes, where away on the battle-lines,
not two hundred yards apart, both sides were
"falling" trees to construct breastworks, abatis,
and slashes, in a woodland so dense with under
brush that at this distance the hostile forces worked
on unseen of one another.

Blake found his friend in charge of the little
party, and every precaution for a noiseless march
made with the deliberate care of men accustomed
as were these to errands in which the clink and
rattle of cavalry marching might have serious re
sults. Sabres were caught between the leg and
the saddle-leather, the chains tied up with scraps
of blanket, the carbines secured.

After a careful inspection, Blake mounted, and
the little troop rode away to the northwest, to
avoid the left flank of Lee's army, and for an hour
or more continued to meet bodies of cavalry and
wagon-trains. After a while the sound of mus
ketry was heard less and less distinctly, and at the
fork of a road which follows the line of the Orange
turnpike, Blake halted his party and drew aside
into the woods.


"If I am correct," he said to his chief scout,
" we go about four miles on this road to the upper
water of Mine Run, and then cross the pike and
the plank- road near Verdiersville. Do you know
it well?"

"I was over it, at Captain Weston's request,
yesterday, after he told me he expected to meet
56 to-night. Shall you wait for night to go on ?
It will be best. We go near some houses."

" You seem a cool hand," said Blake.

" Yes ; I don't het up easy."

" Where are you from ? "

" Tennessee, sir."

" And how came you to choose such a life as
yours must be ? "

" Well, it 's a long tale, captain. Mostly I hate
'em ; had reason, I think. Then I like it ; it ain't
a reg'lar life, a thing I could n't abide since I
was a boy. Why, I used to plough crooked-like,
to see if I could hit a stone or a weed with my
eyes shut. Now, this here life is the highest kind
of zigzag ; suits me down to the ground."

The two officers laughed.

" Let the men eat ; but no fire," said Blake,
" and, above all, no pipes : tobacco smoke can be
smelt a long way."

While they were in motion, Francis, an admira
ble officer, had been at one moment in the rear or
flank, and then ahead with the scouts. Now he
asked Blake what exactly was the final purpose of
their march, and was told as much as his friend
thought fit to disclose.


After a dismal delay in the rain-sodden woods,
they started anew, with still greater precaution.

" You might 'a ' bin in this sort of thing before,"
said the scout, as they turned into the mud of a
cross-road. " You don't take no chances, I see."

" Never ; but I am very anxious."

"Well, if you ain't bin in it the Lord's bin
a-losin' a heap of your time. Might I ask for a
bit of 'baccy, sir?"

" I don't chew," said Blake.

" Well, it beats Job for comfort ; I 'm out of

It was dark when they turned southward, but
the tall scout rode quietly on with the certainty of
a woodcraftsman. Through exhausted tobacco-
fields, into and out of stump-dotted clearings and
little valleys where black-jacks, sassafras, and
short pines made the night yet blacker, they passed
on, seeing no one, and hearing rarely some good
Confederate watch-dog. By half-past nine their
way had led them well around the left flank of
Lee's army. Here they passed a group of houses
where were some lights. A large dog came out
of a clearing and followed them, barking furiously ;
then a more distant friend took up the cry and
howled a response.

" Hang that brute ! " said the scout, and they
pushed on faster, the Confederate canine at their

"Got to kill him," exclaimed Francis. "A
single shot is of no moment, and he will rouse the


* I hate it," said Blake. " Better to push on

"He's got to go, sir, knows his duty, that
dog does."

" Get it done, then."

" A shot barks worse than a dog." And so say
ing the scout dismounted, gave his bridle to a
comrade, drew his sabre, and moving quickly away
was lost to view in the sombre shadows of the

Meanwhile the little party halted. Suddenly
there was a howl of pain, and then a faint yelp
and silence. The too faithful sentinel was dead.
The scout reappeared, and as he settled himself
in the saddle, said, " Darn it I I always did like
dogs. The brute ! he just come to me like he
knowed me. I 'd as lief it had been his master.
Hang the dogl What business had he got to
f oiler us?"


War is the devil's nursery."

HALF an hour later they came upon a deserted
ox-road which led out into a rather more open
and rolling country, and could see in the far dis
tance on the cloudy sky the ruddy upward flare of
the camp fires of Longstreet's and Hill's brigades.

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