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CAPTAIN ARTIE LYON IS SHOT DOWN
Life Knox was responsible for the movement which was now being made. He had not only aided in uncovering the true strength of the enemy opposed to the Riverlawns, but he had made a discovery that he considered of great importance. Colonel Lyon had agreed with him and had acted on his advice.
As has been said, the timber faced the road. It was uneven ground, and to the north there was a sharp rise, running from the highway to a regular cliff ten rods to the rear. To the south, the rise sloped away into a hollow, at the lower end of which was a swamp having apparently no outlet.
The Confederate regiment had come upon the Riverlawns at a spot midway between the rise of ground and the swamp. If, therefore, the Riverlawns could gain the high ground, they would command the situation, for the enemy would either have to retreat to the swamp, or take to the highway and the field.
Colonel Lyon well knew that success depended very largely upon quickness of movement, and the order was passed to make the quickest time possible in advancing as indicated. All the Riverlawns' horses were of the best, and the way they tore over the brush and up the highway was marvellous to behold.
"After 'em boys, we have 'em on the run!" shouted one of the Confederate majors, and he started his battalion along the highway. He was given the chance to fire one volley, and received another in return, from Major Truman's command. He would have kept on running had not his colonel ordered him back. The Confederate commander knew there was no need for the Unionists to retreat and began to "smell a mouse."
The high ground was gained, and the first battalion, under Deck, galloped into the open timber. Life Knox, who had just been over the ground, rode in advance, as a guide. The ground was rough, but Life was a thorough backwoodsman and easily pointed out the best trail. In less than five minutes the whole regiment was behind the shelter of the trees, and by this time the first and second companies occupied positions directly in the rear of the Confederate reserves.
The reserves numbered but a company and a half, and not knowing what was taking place, the ranking captain ordered one round to be fired, and, receiving a round in return from the whole first battalion, started on a rapid retreat, to bring up against the companies from the road, which had just been turned in that direction.
These counter-movements in the timber, where the ground was sloping and rough, caused something of a mix-up, and before the Confederate colonel could bring order out of chaos, Colonel Lyon was swooping down upon him from the higher ground. The first and the third battalions were called into this action, and the Confederates ran like sheep down the slope toward the swamp.
As usual Deck was in the lead, and almost before he knew it he found himself face to face with the Confederate captain who had commanded the reserves. The captain was mounted like himself and fired at him with his pistol, while the two were less than five yards apart.
A lucky leap on Ceph's part saved Deck from serious injury, if not from death, and in a flash captain and major came together, and sword met sabre in strokes which brought forth flashes of fire. The captain was a heavy-built man of twice Deck's age, and as their blades came together the major realized that he had engaged an opponent worthy of his steel.
Since joining the army, Major Lyon had practised industriously upon the sabre exercise, until he could handle that blade about as well as any officer, with a few exceptions. The captain was skilled in the use of the sword, and had it not been for the more important battle around them, both might have taken time to "try for points." But the present contest was not merely one of skill, it was one for supremacy, and Deck went at his man with a will from the very outset.
A parry and a thrust, and Deck felt the cold steel touch him in the rib. But a rearing up by Ceph saved him from serious injury, and he went at his man again. They had circled half way around, so that neither had an advantage, so far as the ground was concerned.
Suddenly the captain made a savage blow for Deck's neck, putting forth all his strength and quickness in the motion. Had the blow fallen as intended, the major's head might have fallen from his shoulders.
But Deck was wide awake, and warded off the blow by an upper-cut which nicked his sabre, but did no further damage. Before the captain could recover, the major threw his sabre over on a side thrust, and the Confederate received the point of the blade in his shoulder.
"Oh!" groaned the victim, and gave a gasp. He tried to recover, but Major Lyon was too fast for him. He hit the sword sharply, and in a twinkling it sailed into the trees, to lodge among some small branches. The weapon had hardly left the captain's hand when a riderless horse ran against his own, and he went down, under the runaway's feet. Ceph swerved to one side; and then Deck was carried away from the scene of the stirring encounter.
The combat had warmed the major's blood, and he rode to regain the front of his battalion. It was some distance down the slope, and as he moved along he saw Sandy Lyon having a hard time of it with two Confederate sergeants, who seemed determined to bring the acting captain of the fifth company to grief. All three combatants were on foot, and it was a case of two pistols against a sabre, for Sandy's weapon was empty.
As Deck came up at full speed, or rather, as rapidly as the nature of the ground permitted, he saw his cousin on one knee, he having received an ugly wound below the left knee. One Confederate sergeant had fired his shot, and now his companion was about to follow it with a second, aimed at the acting captain's head.
Sandy Lyon made a stroke at the pistol with his sabre, but failed to reached it. The Confederate pulled the trigger, and it must be confessed that the young man who had fought so bravely since joining the Riverlawns gave himself up for lost. Even to Deck it looked as if Sandy was about to join his brother Orly as another victim of the grim Civil War.
But the pistol snapped without going off, the weapon being an old one and out of repair. "Hang the luck!" muttered the Confederate, and readjusted the trigger.
But Deck was too quick for him, and as the major's weapon rang out, the Confederate's arm dropped to his side and the pistol fell to the ground. The major fired again, striking the second sergeant in the shoulder, and a moment later both surrendered and were made prisoners.
"It was a good turn, Deck!" murmured Sandy Lyon, and he tried to rise. But the pain in his wounded leg was too great, and he fainted. Calling two privates, Deck had him carried to the rear, and he was, later on, removed to the hospital at Crawfish Springs.
As expected, the Confederate regiment had, with the exception of two companies, been driven down to the swampy ground, and here they tried to take a stand. Their colonel had been wounded, one major was dead, and the several companies were hopelessly mixed up. The two missing companies had taken to the highway, thinking the others would follow.
"I think we have the fellows where we want them," said Colonel Lyon, riding up to his son. "Dexter, don't you think you can follow those who took to the road?"
"Certainly, I can," was the prompt reply from Deck, although he could not help but wonder how bad that wound in the rib was. "How many companies got away?"
"Not more than two. You might take three companies with you."
"All right, Colonel," replied Deck, and started to find the companies in question.
Captain Abbey was busy down at the very edge of the swamp, but the second, third, and fourth companies were somewhat in the rear,--for the fierce hand-to-hand fighting had caused the battalion formations to disappear, although the companies were still in uneven lines. In a few words Deck explained to Captains Blenks and Richland, and his brother, what was expected of them, and the three companies swung around and made through the timber for the highway.
The Confederates had gone up the road a little beyond the rise. Here their leader had halted them, and sent back several messengers to tell of what he had done. The messengers were midway between the retreating troops and the scene of the conflict when Deck's command came upon them. There were three Confederates, and they came to a sudden stop in deep perplexity.
"Surrender!" cried Captain Blenks, who was at the front with the major. And as the Confederates made no sign he turned to his superior. "Shall I open on them, Major Lyon?"
"Yes," answered Deck, as one of the trio raised his pistol. He was about to fire when the second company sent in a volley, and the man dropped. The others turned and sped for their company at the best speed their legs could command.
"Forward!" ordered Major Deck, and away went the three companies up the highway until within two hundred yards of the Confederates. As they came up over the rise the enemy opened upon them, and they returned the fire. Then Deck turned to his brother.
"Artie, move over into the field and to their right," he said. "The other companies can handle them from the front."
Without delay Captain Artie Lyon switched off as commanded. The second company was sent to the opposite side, where there was a slight break in the timber.
The Confederate ranking captain, seeing this new move, and realizing that his command was not more than three-quarters as strong as the enemy, resolved to continue his retreat. But the road curved and this brought him closer and closer to the position Artie Lyon's company was riding for, a split in the road where there was a wide open field backed by some rocks impossible to travel across. Before the Confederate had time to think twice, Artie gave him two volleys, and, maddened beyond endurance, the Confederate ordered a charge in the hope of breaking through the Union line and rejoining the balance of the regiment of the South.
The rush was such as only certain Southern commands were in the habit of making, a wild, delirious oncoming, with but one purpose,--to crush all that was in front, regardless of consequences. These rushes were truly soul-inspiring and worthy of a better cause. In many cases they brought victory, but the victory was literally drowned out by the blood which flowed.
It was so in the present case. Captain Artie's company met the shock like true soldiers fighting for a cause they knew was both lofty and just. The clash of steel, the crack of musketry, the din, confusion, and smoke, the yelling and cheering, were beyond description. It was a hand-to-hand encounter, in which every man had to do for himself, leaving his nearest neighbor to do as he saw fit.
The shock came before Major Lyon could do anything to prevent it; but without waiting an instant he ordered the other companies to this part of the field, and both commands fired as they ran, aiming at the rear lines of the Confederates, which were not yet mixed up in the mêlée. The companies then went into close action, Captain Richland's men actually riding over the last line of the enemy.
Deck saw that Artie was being hard pressed personally, having gone directly to the front to urge his command to stand firm. The young captain was daring to the last degree. "Don't give them an inch!" he shouted. "Down with them! Drive them back, boys!" And the "boys" did drive them back, twenty yards or more. Artie was waving his sabre on high and continued in the front, when suddenly Deck was horrified to see him throw up both arms, reel from the saddle, and disappear from view in the surging mass of cavalrymen and infantry around him.
"Artie!" he cried, but the tumult drowned Deck's voice. Forgetting aught else, he urged Ceph into the lines and straight for that fatal spot, fully expecting to find poor Artie a corpse. He had yet a dozen yards to go when he saw Second Lieutenant Milton falling back bearing the young captain in his arms. Artie's eyes were closed, and the clothing about his left side was saturated with blood.
"Dead?" asked the major, hoarsely. He could scarcely speak.
"I'm afraid so, Major; but I'm not certain," was the answer. "Shall I take him to the rear?"
"Yes, Lieutenant, and see that he gets the best of care if he still lives," said Deck. "I will come myself, as soon as I can."
By this time the other companies had rushed in, and now the major found it absolutely necessary to re-form his battalion of three companies. This was done inside of five minutes, and by this time the force of the first shock was over; but the Confederates had lost nearly one-third of their command, while Captain Artie's company had fared little better.
Finding the rush of no avail, so far as breaking through was concerned, the Confederate leader thought once again of retreating. But Deck had hemmed him in, and a galling fire from the front and the left brought him to his wit's end. The fire was about to be repeated, when the second captain of the Confederates interfered, and after a few words had passed between him and his superior, a flag of truce was hoisted. The prisoners taken numbered exactly thirty-seven, all the other Confederates being either wounded or dead.
The fight had hardly drawn to a close when Colonel Lyon's orderly dashed up, to learn from Deck how things were going.
"They have surrendered," answered the major. "Their loss is very heavy and ours is likewise considerable--due entirely to their pig-headed leader, who kept on fighting when he should have saved his men and surrendered," he added, with perhaps more bitterness than was necessary. He was thinking of poor Artie.
"We have taken about half of the men in the swamp, and the battle is over there, also," said the orderly. "The remaining troops escaped into the timber, and Captain Knox's company has gone after them."
"Tell Colonel Lyon that Captain Artie Lyon is either dead or badly wounded," said Deck, and rode off, to learn the truth concerning his cousin and foster-brother's condition.
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