movements, and without any material damage to the fighting centre of the Confederacy.
Our department commander, becoming infatuated with this method of making war upon the South, was urging his corps towards a well-known railroad junction one clear, cool day in December, '62. We were some fifty miles from our base, and bodies of the enemy were continually harassing our line of march, sometimes meeting us in sharp conflict, and at all times impeding our progress by road-obstruction. Already the killed and wounded were counted by hundreds, and the coveted goal still far away. As we plodded wearily along, wondering what would happen next, one of the division staff dashed up to our brigadier and ordered him to detach one of his regiments and send it to support cavalry that had seized a bridge some miles to our right. It was the fortune of our regiment to be detached for the service, and we marched into a wood-road, rather depressed in feelings, and sadly missing that sense of security which the fellowship of a large body of men gives to the soldier. On we went for about three miles through dense woods that chilled one's very marrow with their gloom. Occasional glimpses of bits of blue sky through the overarching branches were the only reminders that the outside world remained as it used to be. Once or twice we passed small openings in which some poor white had located, and where half-naked children were the only signs of civilization, or, rather, uncivilization, till, at last, under the guidance of a scout, we filed into a clearing about a quarter of a mile from the bridge. Through the woods we could see two guns planted in the road at the bridgehead, and a squadron of dismounted cavalry supporting them. The smoke rising from the partially burnt timbers, and the frequent interchange of rifle and carbine shots, with now and then the roar of artillery, gave ample evidence that business would soon be lively in that locality. The outlook was not at all enlivening; our regiment was small in number, the woods dark and treacherous,—the main army adding mile upon mile to the interval between us,—and we were very forcibly impressed that even railroad-smashing, in plenty of company, was far better than bridge-burning with such lonesome surroundings.
While chewing the cud of reflection, and anxiously considering the situation, a major of cavalry appeared from the woods calling for assistance, and cold perspiration covered us as our captain was ordered to place his company under the major's direction. Command was given to "Fall in," which we did with very solemn faces, and whisperings went through the ranks that we guessed it was all up with us; but the order to "March" called us to duty and we proceeded down the road accompanied by a battery, which had at that moment arrived and proved a welcome addition to our meagre force. Halting in a clump of trees, a short distance from the river, we divested ourselves of all luggage and then made our way through the woods to the edge of a field that bordered on the river bank; quietness reigned as we deployed as skirmishers, and just before we advanced, the cavalryman pleasantly informed us that when the line struck a certain stump, we should get abundant notice of our Confederate friends' proximity. Not in the least overjoyed at this information, we crept slowly forward, all eyes and ears, and as the extreme left came into line with the stump, the heavens opened, or at least we thought they had, and six pieces of artillery sent their compliments in the shape of so many barrelsful of grape. One grand whir-r-r-r went over us, around us, and, in imagination, through us; it took but the sixtieth part of a minute for fifty men to flatten themselves upon the earth and wish they had never gone to the war. No time was wasted in examining the topography of the position, or in looking for safer quarters, our military discipline showing itself in the unanimity with which we then and there dropped as one man. In the short interval between the first and second discharges of grape, one of those incidents occurred which often turns the seriousness of battle into a seeming frolic. While considering the expediency of advancing, our attention was drawn to the antics of several cattle, which had been quietly grazing near by, now so thoroughly astonished at the strange proceedings that they were literally attempting to carry out the old Mother Goose rhyme of "jumping over the moon." With tails stiff as crowbars and hind legs higher than their heads, they were cavorting around the field, bellowing with fright, and making such an extremely ludicrous spectacle, that, in our excited condition, it was more than we could bear, and almost hysterical laughter weakened us so that we were hardly able to move. But the range of the enemy's guns was too accurate to admit of a long stay in this locality, so we pushed on, rolling or crawling, to the thin line of trees by the river, continual discharges of grape adding increased momentum to our movements, and solid shot from our own battery crossing us so closely that it made the neighborhood more dangerous than social. Drawing long breaths of relief at last, behind the partial shelter of a rail fence, we began to make as close investigation of our opponents across the stream as the difficulties of the position would allow. We found the country thickly inhabited, every stump and tree sheltering its quota of men in gray, and six ugly-looking cannon at work upon our position with a rapidity and precision that was certainly commendable to them, if not fully appreciated by us. However, we soon lost our fears and misgivings in our eagerness to make the climate as warm for them as they had so far made it for us, and we settled down to our work with a vim that would have made old veterans envious. The river was so narrow that every movement on either side was visible, and, lying flat upon the ground, we fired for hours at any signs of life, and were continually answered by the zip-zip of bullets as they flew past our heads, or buried themselves in the rails above us. Thus the conflict continued; grape and solid shot tore frantically over us, plowing up the dirt and crashing through the woods in the rear, filling our ears with the most frightful din. Our greatest difficulty was in loading, for if so much as a hand was exposed to view, such a rain of lead would be sent our way that it took some minutes to assure one's self that he was not killed. Once in a while, the word would be passed along, "George is wounded," "Ned is killed," or, "Serg't Smith" has a hole through his arm, and we would instinctively get closer to the ground and flatten ourselves out as thin as possible. Hunger and thirst also began to tell on us, and we longed for the darkness to come, but our opponents with their larger force held us to our work, seeming loth to have us depart.
About dusk the order was given to fall back quickly and quietly, but how to do it safely in the face of a regiment of Confederates was a puzzle to be solved; edging backward till at fair distance from the fence, we suddenly rose and scampered, in knots of two or three, at break-neck speed for the other side of the field, with bullets and grape buzzing around us like angry wasps. When, at length, we gathered, shivering with the cold, around our pile of blankets, and felt hungrily in the emptiness of our haversacks for one remaining cracker, the prevailing feeling was that "we wanted to go home," but, to our intense disgust, we were ordered to eat our hardtack, if so fortunate as to have any, and, as soon as sufficiently dark to conceal our movements, to picket the river bank near the bridge and be ready to support the battery in any attempted night surprise. This we felt to be an outrage on good nature, and so expressed ourselves in language not at all polite. We were tired and hungry, and the night cold and sharp, but orders are orders