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Chapter 5

THE REACTION--DEPRESSION--BITTING COLD--SHARP HUNGER AND SAD REFLEXION.

"Of being taken by the Insolent foe."--Othello.


The night that followed was inexpressibly dreary: The high-wrought
nervous tension, which had been protracted through the long hours that
the fight lasted, was succeeded by a proportionate mental depression,
such as naturally follows any strain upon the mind. This was intensified
in our cases by the sharp sting of defeat, the humiliation of having to
yield ourselves, our horses and our arms into the possession of the
enemy, the uncertainty as to the future, and the sorrow we felt at the
loss of so many of our comrades.

Company L had suffered very severely, but our chief regret was for the
gallant Osgood, our Second Lieutenant. He, above all others, was our
trusted leader. The Captain and First Lieutenant were brave men, and
good enough soldiers, but Osgood was the one "whose adoption tried, we
grappled to our souls with hooks of steel." There was never any
difficulty in getting all the volunteers he wanted for a scouting party.
A quiet, pleasant spoken gentleman, past middle age, he looked much
better fitted for the office of Justice of the Peace, to which his
fellow-citizens of Urbana, Illinois, had elected and reelected him, than
to command a troop of rough riders in a great civil war. But none more
gallant than he ever vaulted into saddle to do battle for the right.
He went into the Army solely as a matter of principle, and did his duty
with the unflagging zeal of an olden Puritan fighting for liberty and his
soul's salvation. He was a superb horseman--as all the older Illinoisans
are and, for all his two-score years and ten, he recognized few superiors
for strength and activity in the Battalion. A radical, uncompromising
Abolitionist, he had frequently asserted that he would rather die than
yield to a Rebel, and he kept his word in this as in everything else.

As for him, it was probably the way he desired to die. No one believed
more ardently than he that

Whether on the scaffold high,
Or in the battle's van;
The fittest place for man to die,
Is where he dies for man.

Among the many who had lost chums and friends was Ned Johnson, of Company
K. Ned was a young Englishman, with much of the suggestiveness of the
bull-dog common to the lower class of that nation. His fist was readier
than his tongue. His chum, Walter Savage was of the same surly type.
The two had come from England twelve years before, and had been together
ever since. Savage was killed in the struggle for the fence described in
the preceding chapter. Ned could not realize for a while that his friend
was dead. It was only when the body rapidly stiffened on its icy bed,
and the eyes which had been gleaming deadly hate when he was stricken
down were glazed over with the dull film of death, that he believed he
was gone from him forever. Then his rage was terrible. For the rest of
the day he was at the head of every assault upon the enemy. His voice
could ever be heard above the firing, cursing the Rebels bitterly, and
urging the boys to "Stand up to 'em! Stand right up to 'em! Don't give
a inch! Let them have the best you got in the shop! Shoot low, and
don't waste a cartridge!"

When we surrendered, Ned seemed to yield sullenly to the inevitable.
He threw his belt and apparently his revolver with it upon the snow.
A guard was formed around us, and we gathered about the fires that were
started. Ned sat apart, his arms folded, his head upon his breast,
brooding bitterly upon Walter's death. A horseman, evidently a Colonel
or General, clattered up to give some directions concerning us. At the
sound of his voice Ned raised his head and gave him a swift glance; the
gold stars upon the Rebel's collar led him to believe that he was the
commander of the enemy. Ned sprang to his feet, made a long stride
forward, snatched from the breast of his overcoat the revolver he had
been hiding there, cocked it and leveled it at the Rebel's breast.
Before he could pull the trigger Orderly Sergeant Charles Bentley, of his
Company, who was watching him, leaped forward, caught his wrist and threw
the revolver up. Others joined in, took the weapon away, and handed it
over to the officer, who then ordered us all to be searched for arms,
and rode away.

All our dejection could not make us forget that we were intensely hungry.
We had eaten nothing all day. The fight began before we had time to get
any breakfast, and of course there was no interval for refreshments
during the engagement. The Rebels were no better off than we, having
been marched rapidly all night in order to come upon us by daylight.

Late in the evening a few sacks of meal were given us, and we took the
first lesson in an art that long and painful practice afterward was to
make very familiar to us. We had nothing to mix the meal in, and it
looked as if we would have to eat it dry, until a happy thought struck
some one that our caps would do for kneading troughs. At once every cap
was devoted to this. Getting water from an adjacent spring, each man
made a little wad of dough--unsalted--and spreading it upon a flat stone
or a chip, set it up in front of the fire to bake. As soon as it was
browned on one side, it was pulled off the stone, and the other side
turned to the fire. It was a very primitive way of cooking and I became
thoroughly disgusted with it. It was fortunate for me that I little
dreamed that this was the way I should have to get my meals for the next
fifteen months.

After somewhat of the edge had been taken off our hunger by this food,
we crouched around the fires, talked over the events of the day,
speculated as to what was to be done with us, and snatched such sleep as
the biting cold would permit.

John McElroy