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THE BATTLE OF CHICKAMAUGA
"Phew, but that was a hot time while it lasted!" observed Captain Artie Lyon, when the regiment was once more in a safe position and at ease. "Those fellows can fight if they set out for it."
"We were very fortunate, having lost no officers and but four men," answered Deck, to whom he was speaking. "The second battalion fared a good deal worse with that infantry. Captain Gadbury is so severely wounded he has been sent to the rear, and Lieutenant Grand is dead."
"Then Sandy will become captain of that company!" cried Artie. "Well, he deserves such a position, to my way of thinking."
"I am sorry for Captain Gadbury," resumed Deck, and he wondered what Margie Belthorpe would say when she heard that the gallant captain was wounded. As will be remembered, the relationship between Margie Belthorpe and Captain Gadbury was even more advanced than was the tender feeling between Deck and Kate Belthorpe.
Shortly after the conversation, Deck received permission to go to the rear and visit the injured captain. He found Gadbury suffering from a wound in the hip. It was not a dangerous shot, but one which would lay the dashing fellow up for some time. Deck saw to it that the captain was given every attention, and wrote to Margie telling her of what had happened. Later on, Captain Gadbury was removed to Lyndhall, where the Belthorpe sisters did all in their power to render his convalescent state pleasant in the extreme.
Matters had to move quickly, and as soon as the thing could be arranged, Sandy Lyon was made acting captain of the fifth company, with rank of first lieutenant. He assumed control with quiet dignity, and soon made himself fully as popular as Gadbury had been.
It was felt that General Bragg had one advantage--he could see without being seen. His scouts were on the top of Pigeon Mountain, and they watched every movement of the Union troops, while the Confederates lay concealed behind the thick growth of timber along the Chickamauga. The most Rosecrans could do was to keep his cavalry in motion, reporting every movement the instant it was developed in front of the Army of the Cumberland.
Bragg had concentrated his forces, and now he planned to strike one tremendous blow at a flank of the Union forces, and gain Rosecrans' rear and his line of communication with his depot of supplies. For this purpose the Confederate leader divided his forces into two corps, one under Polk and the other under Longstreet, Hood commanding the latter temporarily. The troops advanced in the darkness, and by midnight held all the fords of the Chickamauga from Lee and Gordon's Mill well toward Missionary Ridge.
But meanwhile, the Army of the Cumberland was not idle. Crittenden was on the left, and Bragg was going to strike him. By a forced march along the Dry Valley road during the night, Thomas with his entire corps, and followed by a portion of McCook's corps, reached a position facing the Reed and Alexandria bridges, now burned,--thus making the left wing of our army virtually the right wing. And not only did Thomas do this, but without waiting for Bragg to attack, or recover from his surprise, he forced the battle by trying to capture a Confederate brigade said to have become isolated from the balance of its command. This was the opening of the great battle.
To go into the details of this contest would require volumes. Accounts without number have been written, yet the tale is far from complete. Of the fighting, let it be said briefly that it covered miles of territory thickly overgrown with timber and crossed and recrossed by numerous creeks and brooks, with here and there a rocky elevation or a stretch of marsh land. In these thickets whole divisions became separated from their comrades in arms, and often a single regiment on one side would be found fighting a regiment on the other side, totally ignorant of what was going on around them. It was almost impossible to move the artillery around, and when pieces were captured they were generally found to be "white elephants" upon the victor's hands.
As has been said, Thomas opened the fight. He had been told by McCook of the isolated Confederate brigade, McCook stating that the bridge behind the brigade had been burned, so the Confederates could not retreat. To capture this brigade Thomas sent Brennan forward, with the result that the Union forces soon encountered, not one brigade, but three, under Forrest, which were protecting Bragg's right flank. The fighting opened fiercely, and it was found necessary to send Baird to the support, along with an extra Ohio regiment. But more of the Confederate forces appeared, under Liddell, and two brigades of Union troops were hurled back, with the loss of ten pieces of artillery.
This was the first round of the great contest, but ere the enemy had been given time to take breath, the Union troops pressed forward once more, and now, by a gallant charge of the Ninth Ohio one of the batteries lost was regained.
Thomas was now reŽnforced by a portion of Crittenden's command and some troops of McCook's, while Cheatham reŽnforced the Confederate front. The latter came forward in two columns, and as they separated Bragg placed Steward in the opening. The Confederates came on with terrific yells and in turn sent back first Palmer and then Van Cleve in great disorder. For a moment it looked as if the enemy would sweep all before them.
But Davis's division was now on the ground, and he advanced, supported by Wood, and the Union forces came to a halt and were reformed, when they drove almost all the Confederate forces back to their original positions. Sheridan's troops also took part in this movement, and a large number of the Confederates in Longstreet's corps were made prisoners.
It was now past noon, and after several charges in his division positions, Bragg began another assault, on the right of the Army of the Cumberland. The assault was led by Hood, who fell furiously upon Reynolds and Van Cleve. For a quarter of an hour it looked as if this fierce onset would prove successful, and it must be admitted that the Confederate valor was never greater than at this period.
"Down with the Yanks! We'll drive 'em into the Mississippi!" was the cry. "Hurrah for the stars and bars!"
Reynolds and Van Cleve were struck and driven back, but still they battled for every inch of the ground. In the meantime, portions of six batteries were hurried into position, and then a raking fire of canister was poured into the Confederate lines. But still on they came, until the tumult drew close to the Widow Glenn's house, where Rosecrans had his headquarters. The enemy occupied the Lafayette road, and our right was shattered,--and the day looked black. But now up came Negley's division on the double-quick, supported by Brennan, and, with a rousing battle-cry, went at Hood and Johnson, "tooth and nail," fighting so doggedly and taking such terrible punishment undauntedly, that the Confederates had at last, about sunset, to give way before them, and darkness ended the day's contest, with final victory still of the uncertain to-morrow. Still later, there was another outbreak, short and sharp, but with no positive results.
During this long day's fighting the cavalry operated principally along the upper fords of the Chickamauga, although occasionally called elsewhere, to save the artillery and to fill up breaks in the lines which, owing to the roughness of the ground, the infantry could not accomplish. The Riverlawns went into action at ten o'clock, half a mile from the creek proper, along the bank of a stream locally known as Duff's Claim. Here the growth of trees was heavy, but there was very little underbrush.
It was thought that a portion of the enemy's cavalry was moving upon Duff's Claim, with the intention of following the course of the stream and getting behind the Union lines half a mile to the northeast. A few isolated riders had been seen, and at first only the first battalion of the Riverlawns advanced to investigate. The route was uneven, and the four companies went ahead almost as separate commands, Deck riding with the fourth company and beside his brother Artie.
"The battle is on for certain, now," remarked Captain Artie, as the heavy roar of artillery reached their ears. "I think this day will bring forth some decided results."
"Yes, the two armies can't play hide-and-seek much longer," answered the young major. "Listen! That was artillery below this creek. I shouldn't wonder if we catch it all along the line."
"Those troops will try to come across here,--I don't doubt it for a moment. But we--What is it, Life?" he asked abruptly, as the tall captain of the seventh company dashed up from the timber on the left.
"We've spotted several companies of the enemy over in this direction," Life jerked his thumb toward the point to which Deck was marching. "Major Belthorpe thought I had best give you the tip."
"Are they moving?" asked Deck, much interested.
"No,--looks to me as if they were retreating--but it may be a blind."
"How is it you are here?"
"The colonel sent my company after your battalion, and Major Belthorpe is just coming up."
"What of Major Truman's command?"
"Two of the companies are over yonder, and the others are in the rear. I thought--Creation! Get to cover, quick!"
Life drew his own horse back, and the others followed suit. A dozen riflemen had opened upon them, putting a bullet through the mane of Deck's horse. The first volley was followed immediately by another, and Artie Lyon suffered the ruin of one of his shoulder straps. Before the Confederates could fire again, all were safely out of range.
"We've developed 'em," was Life's dry comment. "Reckon I had best get back to my command."
"Ask Major Belthorpe to request the colonel to send you over here with part of your men, if he can spare you. I am half of a mind those men over there are sharpshooters."
"I will do it, Major," answered the tall Kentuckian, and dashed away.
By this time the first three companies of the first battalion had fallen back to a safe position, and here all of the companies were joined, in ten minutes, by Life Knox, with half of his own company and half of Captain Ripley's best marksmen. A cautious advance was now ordered, and the sharpshooters advanced on their hands and knees in a huge semicircle. To learn the true condition of affairs, Deck went with Life, the two taking a course which soon brought them to where there was a little cove. Beyond this cove the creek split in two for the distance of thirty rods, forming a long island in the centre, one hundred and fifty feet wide at the middle, and heavily wooded.
"Some of the enemy are on that island, that's certain," whispered Life, as he came to a halt at the base of a sharp rock some four feet high. "Don't expose yourself, Deck."
"I don't intend to, Life. But what can those sharpshooters be doing here? They didn't know we were coming this way."
"That's true, Major."
"And they wouldn't be here just as an advance guard for some cavalry."
"Then why are they here?"
"I give it up."
"Well, I don't."
"What do you intend to do?"
"Find out why they are here."
"But that may be impossible, without an open fight."
"I wouldn't like to force an open fight until I know how those marksmen are backed up."
"That's just the trouble. I agree that the Johnnies are there on the island. To get to the island you have got to cross that stream. If you show yourself in the water, you're a dead man--that goes without saying. Now what are you going to do?" demanded the tall Kentuckian, with half a smile, feeling certain he had cornered Deck.
"Going over on the island."
"But you'll be shot!"
"I sincerely trust not."
"But you will be! It's suicide to wade that stream!"
"I shan't wade the stream."
"You can't jump it, for it is fifteen or eighteen feet wide, and a jump wouldn't be quick enough--to my way of looking at it. You'd land, and drop, sure pop."
"I shan't wade across, neither will I attempt to jump across," smiled the young major.
"Then how in thunder do you expect to get over to the island?" demanded Life, earnestly.
"Wait and see, Life; and in the meantime keep that spot well covered," answered Deck; and he pointed up the stream a distance of twenty yards.
"What has that spot got to do with your getting over there?"
"The stream is wider there by five feet than it is down below."
"Perhaps you had better not ask any more questions, Life. But don't fail to keep that point covered," concluded Deck; and in a moment more he had glided off through the brush bordering the stream.
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