With Lee in Virginia: A Story Of The American Civil War, by G. A. Henty, Chapter 15

With Lee in Virginia: A Story Of The American Civil War.

Chapter XV.

As soon as breakfast was over Vincent mounted Wildfire—which had been sent back after he had been taken prisoner, and rode into Richmond. There he reported himself at headquarters as having returned after escaping from a Federal prison, and making his way through the lines of the enemy.

“I had my shoulder-bone smashed in a fight with some Yankees,” he said, “and was laid up in hiding for six weeks; but have now fairly recovered. My shoulder, at times, gives me considerable pain, and although I am desirous of returning to duty and rejoining my regiment until the battle at Fredericksburg has taken place, I must request that three months’ leave be granted to me after that to return home and complete my cure, promising of course to rejoin my regiment at once should hostilities break out before the spring.”

“We saw the news that you had escaped,” the general said, “but feared, as so long a time elapsed without hearing from you, that you had been shot in attempting to cross the lines. Your request for leave is of course granted, and a note will be made of your zeal in thus rejoining on the very day after your return. The vacancy in the regiment has been filled up, but I will appoint you temporarily to General Stuart’s staff, and I shall have great pleasure in to-day filling up your commission as captain. Now let me hear how you made your escape. By the accounts published in the Northern papers it seemed that you must have had a confederate outside the walls.”

Vincent gave a full account of his escape from prison and a brief sketch of his subsequent proceedings, saying only that he was in the house of some loyal people in Tennessee, when it was attacked by a party of Yankee bushwhackers, that these were beaten off in the fight, but that he himself had a pistol bullet in his shoulder. He then made his way on until compelled by his wound to lay up for six weeks in a lonely farmhouse near Mount Pleasant; that afterward in the disguise of a young farmer he had made a long detour across the Tennessee river and reached Georgia.

“When do you leave for the front, Captain Wingfield?”

“I shall be ready to start to-night, sir.”

“In that case I will trouble you to come round here this evening. There will be a fast train going through with ammunition for Lee at ten o’clock, and I shall have a bag of despatches for him, which I will trouble you to deliver. You will find me here up to the last moment. I will give orders that a horse-box be put on to the train.”

After expressing his thanks Vincent took his leave. As he left the general’s quarters, a young man, just alighting from his horse, gave a shout of greeting.

“Why, Wingfield, it is good to see you! I thought you were pining again in a Yankee dungeon, or had got knocked on the head crossing the lines. Where have you sprung from, and when did you arrive?”

“I only got in yesterday after sundry adventures which I will tell you about presently. When did you arrive from the front?”

“I came down a few days ago on a week’s leave on urgent family business,” the young man laughed, “and I am going back again this afternoon by the four o’clock train.”

“Stay till ten,” Vincent said, “and we will go back together. There is a special train going through with ammunition, and as everything will make way for that it will not be long behind the four o’clock, and likely enough may pass it on the way. There is a horse-box attached to it, and as I only take one horse there will be room for yours.”

“I haven’t brought my horse down,” Harry Furniss said; “but I will certainly go with you by the ten o’clock. Then we can have a long talk. I don’t think I have seen you since the day you asked me to lend you my boat two years ago.”

“Can you spare me two hours now?” Vincent asked. “You will do me a very great favor if you will.”

Harry Furniss looked at his watch. “It is eleven o’clock now; we have a lot of people to lunch at half-past one, and I must be back by then.”

“You can manage that easy enough,” Vincent replied; “in two hours from the time we leave here you can be at home.”

“I am your man, then, Vincent. Just wait five minutes. I have to see some one in here.”

A few minutes later Harry Furniss came out again and mounted.

“Now which way, Vincent? and what is it you want me for?”

“The way is to Jackson’s place at the Cedars, the why I will tell you about as we ride.”

Vincent then recounted his feud with the Jacksons, of which, up to the date of the purchase of Dinah Morris, his friend was aware, having been present at the sale. He now heard of the attack upon young Jackson by Tony, and of the disappearance of Dinah Morris.

“I should not be at all surprised, Wingfield, if your surmises are correct, and that old scoundrel has carried off the girl to avenge himself upon Tony. Of course, if you could prove it, it would be a very serious offense; for the stealing a slave, and by force too, is a crime with a very heavy penalty, and has cost men their lives before now. But I don’t see that you have anything like a positive proof, however strong a case of suspicion it may be. I don’t see what you are going to say when you get there.”

“I am going to tell him that if he does not say what he has done with the girl, I will have his son arrested for treachery as soon as he sets foot in the Confederacy again.”

“Treachery!” Furniss said in surprise; “what treachery has he been guilty of? I saw that he was one of those who escaped with you, and I rather wondered at the time at you two being mixed up together in anything. I heard that he had been recaptured through some black fellow that had been his slave, but I did not read the account. Have you got proof of what you say?”

“Perhaps no proof that would hold in a court of law,” Vincent replied, “but proof enough to make it an absolute certainty to my mind.”

Vincent then gave an account of their escape, and of the anonymous denunciation of himself and Dan.

“Now,” he said, “no one but Dan knew of the intended escape, no one knew what clothes he had purchased, no one could possibly have known that I was to be disguised as a preacher and Dan as my servant. Therefore the information must have been given by Jackson.”

“I have not the least doubt but that the blackguard did give it, Wingfield; but there is no proof.”

“I consider that there is a proof—an absolute and positive proof,” Vincent asserted, “because no one else could have known it.”

“Well, you see that as a matter of fact the other officer did know it, and might possibly have given the information.”

“But why should he? The idea is absurd. He had never had a quarrel with me, and he owed his liberty to me.”

“Just so, Wingfield. I am as certain that it was Jackson as you are, because I know the circumstances; but you see there is no more absolute proof against one man than against the other. It is true that you had had a quarrel with Jackson some two years before, but you see you had made it up and had become friends in prison—so much so that you selected him from among a score of others in the same room to be the companion of your flight. You and I, who know Jackson, can well believe him guilty of an act of gross ingratitude—of ingratitude and treachery; but people who do not know would hardly credit it as possible—that a man could be such a villain. The defense he would set up would be that in the first place there is no shadow of evidence that he more than the other turned traitor. In the second place he would be sure to say that such an accusation against a Confederate officer is too monstrous and preposterous to be entertained for a moment; and that doubtless your negro, although he denies the fact, really chattered about his doings to the negroes he was lodging with, and that it was through them that some one got to know of the disguise you would wear. We know that it wasn’t so, Wingfield; but ninety-nine out of every hundred white men in the South would rather believe that a negro had chattered than that a Confederate officer had been guilty of a gross act of treachery and ingratitude.”

Vincent was silent. He felt that what his companion said was the truth; and that a weapon by which he had hoped to force the elder Jackson into saying what he had done with Dinah would probably fail in its purpose. The old man was too astute not to perceive that there was no real proof against his son, and would therefore be unlikely at once to admit that he had committed a serious crime, and to forego his revenge.

“I will try at any rate,” he said at last; “and if he refuses I will publish the story in the papers. When the fellow gets back from Yankee-land he may either call me out or demand a court of inquiry. I may not succeed in getting a verdict from twelve white men, but I think I can convince every one of our own class that the fellow did it; and when this battle that is expected is over I have got three months’ leave, and I will move heaven and earth to find the woman; and if I do, Jackson will either have to bolt or stand a trial, with the prospect of ten years’ imprisonment if he is convicted. In either case we are not likely to have his son about here again; and if he did venture back and brought an action against me, his chance of getting damages would be a small one.”

Another half-hour’s ride brought them to the Cedars. They dismounted at the house, and fastening their horses to the portico knocked at the door. It was opened by a negro.

“Tell your master,” Vincent said, “that Mr. Wingfield wishes to speak to him.”

Andrew Jackson himself came to the door.

“To what do I owe the very great pleasure of this visit, Mr. Wingfield?” he said grimly.

“I have come to ask you what you have done with Dinah Morris, whom, I have every ground for believing, you have caused to be kidnaped from my mother’s house.”

“This is a serious charge, young gentleman,” Andrew Jackson said, “and one that I shall call upon you to justify in the law-courts. Men are not to be charged with criminal actions even by young gentlemen of good Virginian families.”

“I shall be quite ready to meet you there, Mr. Jackson, whenever you choose; but my visit here is rather to give you an opportunity of escaping the consequences that will follow your detection as the author of the crime; for I warn you that I will bring the crime home to you, whatever it costs me in time and money. My offer is this: produce the woman and her child, and not only shall no prosecution take place, but I will remain silent concerning a fact which affects the honor of your son.”

Andrew Jackson’s face had been perfectly unmoved during this conversation until he heard the allusion to his son. Then his face changed visibly.

“I know nothing concerning which you can attack the honor of my son, Mr. Wingfield,” he said, with an effort to speak as unconcernedly as before.

“My charge is as follows,” Vincent said quietly: “I was imprisoned at Elmira with a number of other officers, among them your son. Thinking that it was time for the unpleasantness that had been existing between us to come to an end, I offered him my hand. This he accepted and we became friends. A short time afterward a mode of escape offered itself to me, and I proved the sincerity of my feelings toward him by offering to him and another officer the means of sharing my escape. This they accepted. Once outside the walls, I furnished them with disguises that had been prepared for them, assuming myself that of a minister. We then separated, going in different directions, I myself being accompanied by my negro servant, to whose fidelity I owed our escape. Two days afterward an anonymous writer communicated to the police the fact that I had escaped in the disguise of a minister, and was accompanied by my black servant. This fact was only known to the negro, myself, and the two officers. My negro, who had released me, was certainly not my betrayer; the other officer could certainly have had no possible motive for betraying me. There remains, therefore, only your son, whose hostility to me was notorious, and who had expressed himself with bitterness against me on many occasions, and among others in the hearing of my friend Mr. Furniss here. Such being the case, it is my intention to charge him before the military authorities with this act of treachery. But, as I have said, I am willing to forego this and to keep silence as to your conduct with reference to my slave Dinah Morris, if you will restore her and her child uninjured to the house from which you caused her to be taken.”

The sallow cheeks of the old planter had grown a shade paler as he listened to Vincent’s narrative, but he now burst out in angry tones:

“Hew dare you, sir, bring such an infamous accusation against my son—an accusation, like that against myself, wholly unsupported by a shred of evidence? Doubtless your negro had confided to some of his associates his plans for assisting you to escape from prison, and it is from one of these that the denunciation has come. Go, sir, report where you will what lies and fables you have invented; but be assured that I and my son will seek our compensation for such gross libels in the courts.”

“Very well, sir,” Vincent said, as be prepared to mount his horse; “if you will take the trouble to look in the papers to-morrow, you will see that your threats of action for libel have no effect whatever upon me.”

“The man is as hard as a rock, Wingfield,” Furniss said, as they rode off together. “He wilted a little when you were telling your story, but the moment he saw you had no definite proofs he was, as I expected he would be, ready to defy you. What shall you do now?”

“I shall ride back into Richmond again and give a full account of my escape from the jail, and state that I firmly believe that the information as to my disguise was given by Jackson, and that it was the result of a personal hostility which, as many young men in Richmond are well aware, has existed for some time between us.”

“Well, you must do as you like, Wingfield, but I think it will be a risky business.”

“It may be so,” Vincent said; “but I have little doubt that long before Jackson is exchanged I shall have discovered Dinah, and shall prosecute Jackson for theft and kidnaping, in which case the young man will hardly venture to prosecute me or indeed to show his face in this part of the country.”

That evening the two young officers started for the front, and the next morning the Richmond papers came out with a sensational heading, “Alleged Gross Act of Treachery and Ingratitude by a Confederate Officer.”

It was the 10th of December when Vincent joined the army at Fredericksburg. He reported himself to General Stuart, who received him with great cordiality.

“You are just in time, Wingfield,” he said. “I believe that in another twenty-four hours the battle will be fought. They have for the last two days been moving about in front, and apparently want us to believe that they intend to cross somewhere below the town; but all the news we get from our spies is to the effect that these are only feints and that they intend to throw a bridge across here. We know, anyhow, they have got two trains concealed opposite, near the river. Burnside is likely to find it a hard nut to crack. Of course they are superior in number to us, as they always are; but as we have always beat them well on level ground I do not think their chances of getting up these heights are by any means hopeful. Then, too, their change of commanders is against them. McClellan fought a drawn battle against us at Antietam and showed himself a really able general in the operations in front of Richmond. The army have confidence in him, and he is by far the best man they have got so far, but the fools at Washington have now for the second time displaced him because they are jealous of him. Burnside has shown himself a good man in minor commands, but I don’t think he is equal to command such a vast army as this; and besides, we know from our friends at Washington that he has protested against this advance across the river, but has been overruled. You will see Fredericksburg will add another to the long list of our victories.”

Vincent shared a tent with another officer of the same rank in General Stuart’s staff. They sat chatting till late, and it was still dark when they were suddenly aroused by an outbreak of musketry down at the river.

“The general was right,” Captain Longmore, Vincent’s companion, exclaimed. “They are evidently throwing a bridge across the river, and the fire we hear comes from two regiments of Mississippians who are posted down in the town under Barksdale.”

It was but the work of a minute to throw on their clothes and hurry out. The night was dark and a heavy fog hung over the river. A perfect roar of musketry came up from the valley. Drums and bugles were sounding all along the crest. At the same moment they issued out General Stuart came out from his tent, which was close by.

“Is that you, Longmore? Jump on your horse and ride down to the town. Bring back news of what is going on.”

A few minutes later an officer rode up. Some wood had been thrown on the fire, and by its light Vincent recognized Stonewall Jackson.

“Have you any news for us?” he asked.

“Not yet, I have sent an officer down to inquire. The enemy have been trying to bridge the river.

“I suppose so,” Jackson replied. “I have ordered one of my brigades to come to the head of the bank as soon as they can be formed up, to help Barksdale if need be, but I don’t want to take them down into the town. It is commanded by all the hills on the opposite side, and we know they have brought up also all their artillery there.”

In a few minutes Captain Longmore returned.

“The enemy have thrown two pontoon bridges across, one above and one below the old railway bridge. The Mississippians have driven them back once, but they are pushing on the work and will soon get it finished; but General Barksdale bids me report that with the force at his command he can repulse any attempt to cross.”

The light was now breaking in the east, but the roar of musketry continued under the canopy of fog. General Lee, Longstreet, and others had now arrived upon the spot, and Vincent was surprised that no orders were issued for troops to reinforce those under General Barksdale. Presently the sun rose, and as it gained in power the fog slowly lifted, and it was seen that the two pontoon bridges were complete; but the fire of the Mississippians was so heavy that although the enemy several times attempted to cross they recoiled before it. Suddenly a gun was fired from the opposite height, and at the signal more than a hundred pieces of artillery opened fire upon the town. Many of the inhabitants had left as soon as the musketry fire began, but the slopes behind it soon presented a sad spectacle. Men, women, and children poured out from the town, bewildered with the din and terrified by the storm of shot and shell that crashed into it. Higher and higher the crowd of fugitives made their way until they reached the crest; among them were weeping women and crying children, many of them in the scantiest attire and carrying such articles of dress and valuables as they had caught up when startled by the terrible rain of missiles. In a very few minutes smoke began to rise over the town, followed by tongues of flame, and in half an hour the place was on fire in a score of places.

All day the bombardment went on without cessation and Fredericksburg crumbled into ruins. Still, in spite of this terrible fire the Mississippians clung to the burning town amid crashing walls, falling chimneys, and shells exploding in every direction. As night fell the enemy poured across the bridges, and Barksdale, contesting every foot of ground, fell back through the burning city and took up a position behind a stone wall in its rear.

Throughout the day not a single shot had been fired by the Confederate artillery, which was very inferior in power to that of the enemy. General Lee had no wish finally to hinder the passage of the Federals, the stubborn resistance of Barksdale’s force being only intended to give him time to concentrate all his army as soon as he knew for certain the point at which the enemy was going to cross; and he did not wish, therefore, to risk the destruction of any of his batteries by calling down the Federal fire upon them.

During the day the troops were all brought up into position. Longstreet was on the left and Jackson on the right, while the guns, forty-seven in number, were in readiness to take up their post in the morning on the slopes in front of them. On the extreme right General Stuart was posted with his cavalry and horse artillery. The night passed quietly and by daybreak the troops were all drawn up in their positions.

As soon as the sun rose it was seen that during the night the enemy had thrown more bridges across and that the greater portion of the army was already over. They were, indeed, already in movement against the Confederate position, their attack being directed toward the portion of the line held by Jackson’s division. General Stuart gave orders to Major Pelham, who commanded his horse artillery, and who immediately brought up the guns and began the battle by opening fire on the flank of the enemy. The guns of the Northern batteries at once replied, and for some hours the artillery duel continued, the Federal guns doing heavy execution. For a time attacks were threatened from various points, but about ten o’clock, when the fog lifted, a mass of some 55,000 troops advanced against Jackson. They were suffered to come within 800 yards before a gun was fired, and then fourteen guns opened upon them with such effect that they fell back in confusion.

At one o’clock another attempt was made, covered by a tremendous fire of artillery. For a time the columns of attack were kept at bay by the fire of the Confederate batteries, but they advanced with great resolution, pushed their way through Jackson’s first line, and forced them to fall back. Jackson brought up his second line and drove the enemy back with great slaughter until his advance was checked by the fire of the Northern artillery.

All day the fight went on, the Federals attempting to crush the Confederate artillery by the weight of their fire in order that their infantry columns might again advance. But although outnumbered by more than two to one the Confederate guns were worked with great resolution, and the day passed and darkness begun to fall without their retiring from the positions they had taken up. Just at sunset General Stuart ordered all the batteries on the right to advance. This they did and opened their fire on the Northern infantry with such effect that these fell back to the position near the town that they had occupied in the morning.

On the left an equally terrible battle had raged all day, but here the Northern troops were compelled to cross open ground between the town and the base of the hill, and suffered so terribly from the fire that they never succeeded in reaching the Confederate front. Throughout the day the Confederates held their position with such ease that General Lee considered the affair as nothing more than a demonstration of force to feel his position, and expected an even sterner battle on the following day. Jackson’s first and second lines, composed of less than 15,000 men, had repulsed without difficulty the divisions of Franklin and Hooker, 55,000 strong; while Longstreet with about the same force had never been really pressed by the enemy, although on that side they had a force of over 50,000 men.

In the morning the Northern army was seen drawn up in battle array as if to advance for fresh assault, but no movement was made. General Burnside was in favor of a fresh attack, but the generals commanding the various divisions felt that their troops, after the repulse the day before, were not equal to the work, and were unanimously of opinion that a second assault should not be attempted. After remaining for some hours in order of battle they fell back into the town and two days later the whole army recrossed the Rappahannock River. The loss of the Confederates was 1,800 men, who were for the most part killed or wounded by the enemy’s artillery, while the Federal loss was no less than 13,771. General Burnside soon afterward resigned his command, and General Hooker, an officer of the same politics as the president and his advisers, was appointed to succeed him.

The cavalry had not been called upon to act during the day, and Vincent’s duties were confined to carrying orders to the commanders of the various batteries of artillery posted in that part of the field, as these had all been placed under General Stuart’s orders. He had many narrow escapes by shot and fragments of shells, but passed through the day uninjured.

General Lee has been blamed for not taking advantage of his victory and falling upon the Federals on the morning after the battle; but although such an assault might possibly have been successful he was conscious of his immense inferiority in force, and his troops would have been compelled to have advanced to the attack across ground completely swept by the fire of the magnificently served Northern artillery posted upon their commanding heights. He was moreover ignorant of the full extent of the loss he had inflicted upon the enemy, and expected a renewed attack by them. He was therefore, doubtless, unwilling to risk the results of the victory he had gained and of the victory he expected to gain should the enemy renew their attack, by a movement which might not be successful, and which would at any rate have cost him a tremendous loss of men, and men were already becoming scarce in the Confederacy.

As soon as the enemy had gone back across the river and it was certain that there was little chance of another forward movement on their part for a considerable time, Vincent showed to General Stuart the permit he had received to return home until the spring on leave, and at once received the general’s permission to retire from the staff for a time.

He had not been accompanied by Dan on his railway journey to the front, having left him behind with instructions to endeavor by every means to find some clew as to the direction in which Dinah had been carried off. He telegraphed on his way home the news of his coming, and found Dan at the station waiting for him.

“Well, Dan, have you obtained any news?” he asked as soon as his horse had been removed from its box, and he had mounted and at a foot-pace left the station, with Dan walking beside him.

“No, sah; I hab done my best, but I cannot find out anyting. The niggers at Jackson’s all say dat no strangers hab been there wid de old man for a long time before de day dat Dinah was carried off. I have been over dar, massa, and hab talked wid the hands at de house. Dey all say dat no one been dere for a month. Me sure dat dey no tell a lie about it, because dey all hate Massa Jackson like pison. Den de lawyer, he am put de advertisement you told him in the papers: Five hundred dollars to whoever would give information about de carrying off of a female slave from Missy Wingfield, or dat would lead to de discovery of her hiding-place. But no answer come. Me heard Missy Wingfield say so last night.”

“That’s bad, Dan; but I hardly expected anything better. I felt sure the old fox would have taken every precaution, knowing what a serious business it would be for him if it were found out. Now I am back I will take the matter up myself, and we will see what we can do. I wish I could have set about it the day after she was carried away. It is more than a fortnight ago now, and that will make it much more difficult than it would have been had it been begun at once.”

“Well, Vincent, so you have come back to us undamaged this time,” his mother said after the first greeting. “We were very anxious when the news came that a great battle had been fought last Friday; but when we heard the next morning the enemy had been repulsed so easily we were not so anxious, although it was not until this morning that the list of killed and wounded was published, and our minds set at rest.”

“No, mother; it was a tremendous artillery battle, but it was a little more than that—at least on our side. But I have never heard anything at all like it from sunrise to sunset. But, after all, an artillery fire is more frightening than dangerous, except at comparatively close quarters. The enemy must have fired at least fifty shots for every man that was hit. I counted several times, and there wore fully a hundred shots a minute, and I don’t think it lessened much the whole day. I should think they must have fired two or three hundred rounds at least from each gun. The roar was incessant, and what with the din they made, and the replies of our own artillery, and the bursting of shells, and the rattle of musketry, the din at times was almost bewildering. Wildfire was hit with a piece of shell, but fortunately it was not a very large one, and he is not much the worse for it, but the shock knocked him off his legs; of course I went down with him, and thought for a moment I had been hit myself No; it was by far the most hollow affair we have had. The enemy fought obstinately enough, but without the slightest spirit or dash, and only once did they get up anywhere near our line, and then they went back a good deal quicker than they came.”

“And now you are going to be with us for three months, Vincent?”

I hope so, mother; at least if they do not advance again. I shall be here off and on. I mean to find Dinah Morris if it is possible, and if I can obtain the slightest clew I shall follow it up and go wherever it may lead me.”

“Well, we will spare you for that, Vincent. As you know, I did not like your mixing yourself up in that business two years ago, but it is altogether different now. The woman was very willing and well conducted, and I had got to be really fond of her. But putting that aside, it is intolerable that such a piece of insolence as the stealing of one of our slaves should go unpunished. Therefore if you do find any clew to the affair we will not grumble at your following it up, even if it does take you away from home for a short time. By the by, we had letters this morning from a certain young lady in Georgia inclosing her photograph, and I rather fancy there is one for you somewhere.”

“Where is it, mother?” Vincent asked, jumping from his seat.

“Let me think,” Mrs. Wingfield replied. “Did either of you girls put it away, or where can it have been stowed?” The girls both laughed.

“Now, Vincent, what offer do you make for the letter? Well, we won’t tease you,” Annie went on as Vincent gave an impatient exclamation. “Another time we might do so, but as you have just come safely back to us I don’t think it will be fair, especially as this is the very first letter. Here it is it” and she took out of the workbox before her the missive Vincent was so eager to receive.

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