Campaigning With Max
UNION CITY was not a city at all: it was hardly a village, and “ Disunion ” would have been its fairer designation. It lay in the woods at the crossing of two railroads, one pointing toward Mobile and one toward Memphis, but neither leading anywhere. There was a tradition that trains had once been run upon each, but many bridges had had to be rebuilt to make the short line to Columbus passable, and the rest was ruin; for Forrest had been there with his cavalry.
The land was just so much raised above the broad swamp of Northwestern Tennessee that whisky with men to drink it, and a Methodist Church South with people to attend it, were possible. With these meagre facilities for life, and the vague inducement of a railroad-crossing, Union City had struggled into an amphibious subsistence; but it had never thriven, and its corner lots had but feebly responded to the hopes of its projectors.
For many a mile around, the forests and swamps were well-nigh impenetrable, and the occasional clearings were but desolate oases in the waste of marsh and fallen timber. The roads were woodtrails leading nowhere in particular, and all marked a region of the most scanty and unfulfilled promise.
General Asboth, seeing (by the map) that it commanded two lines of railroad, sent us to occupy this strategic point, and we gradually accumulated to the number of twenty-five hundred cavalry and four thousand infantry; drawing our regular supplies from Columbus, and occupying our time with a happy round of drills, inspections, horse-races, cockfights, and poker. It was not an elevating existence, but it was charmingly idle, and we passed the serene and lovely autumn of 1863 in a military dreamland, where nothing ever came to disturb our quiet or to mar our repose with the realities of war. We built ourselves houses, we shot game for our tables, we made egg-nog for our evenings, and we were happy. The charm of camp life — with just enough of occupation and responsibility, and with enough improvement in the troops for a reward —made even this wilderness enjoyable. I had the advantage of seniority and command, and the physical comforts that naturally gravitate toward a commanding officer did not fail me.
My house, built with the mouse-colored logs of a rebel block-house, covered with the roof of the post-office, and floored and ceiled with the smoke-mellowed lining of the Methodist church, was broad and low and snug. Its windows, also taken from tlie sanctuary in question, were set on their sides, and gave to each of tlie two rooms wide, low-browed outlooks into the woods and over the drill-ground, that would have made worse quarters agreeable. The bricks of an abandoned domestic fireside built a spacious fire-place across an angle of each of the rooms, and the clay of the locality plastered all our chinks “ to keep the wind away.” I have seen more pretentious houses and more costly, but never one in which three chosen spirits
— I had, in a happy moment, selected Voisin and The Hun for my staff— got more that is worth the getting out of the simple and virtuous life of a cavalry head-quarters. We were at peace with all the world (Forrest was in Mississippi); our pay was regular, our rations were ample, and Asboth had been ordered to Pensacola.
Old A. J., his successor, — every inch a soldier, and a good fellow to the very core, — used sometimes to roll up his camp mattress and run down from Columbus for an inspection. Those are marked days in our memories. He was a lynx in the field, and wry buttoning roused him to articulate wrath; but he unbuckled his sabre at the door, and brought only geniality within, a mellow geniality that warmed to the influences of our modest hospitality, and lasted far into the night; and then, when the simple and inoffensive game was over, and its scores were settled, the dear old boy — usually with a smile of conquest wandering through his gray beard — would unroll his bundle before the fire and sleep like a baby until reveille. Happy, happy days, and still happier nights!
Naturally, in such a life as we led at Union City, our horses formed a very important element in our occupation and in our amusements. Soon after our arrival at Columbus, an event which had taken place a few months before, a spanking mare that I had bought to replace Ruby had gone hopelessly lame, and it became again important to all who were concerned in my peace of mind that a satisfactory substitute should be found for her. There was still in my stable a little thoroughbred (Guy), who, though excellent in all respects, was a trifle under my weight, and not at all up to the rough riding that was a necessary part of our army life. He could go anywhere, could jump any practicable barrier, was fleet and sound, and in all respects admirable, but he was made for a lighter weight than mine, and, except for show and parade riding, must mainly be used to carry Ike and the saddle-bags, or to mount a friend when a friend favored me.
In a second search, in which most of the officers of the regiment took a lively interest, there was found, in Frank Moore’s Battalion of the Second Illinois Cavalry, a tall, gaunt, lean, haggard, thoroughbred-looking beast, which had been captured from Merry weather’s men in Western Tennessee. He was not a handsome horse, nor was he to the ordinary eye in any respect promising, but a trial showed that he had that peculiar whalebone character, and wiry, nervous action, which come only with blood, and without which no horse is really fit for the saddle. The chances were very much against him. He did not possess the first element of beauty, save in a clean-cut head, a prominent eye, a quick ear, a thin neck, sloping shoulders, high withers, and the brilliant activity that no abuse had been able to conquer. He was held in abeyance until a careful examination of the two thousand horses at the post showed that, even as he stood, he had no equal there for my purposes. Since he had come into the army he had been in the possession of a private soldier, who had done much scouting duty, and he had been initiated successfully into the scrub racing which Illinois soldiers much affected. The serious amount of one hundred and forty dollars was hazarded in the venture, and he was transferred to our stable. That increment of value which always follows the purchase of a new horse came rapidly in his case, and it needed only a few gallops on the breezy bluffs beyond Fort Halleck to install him as prime favorite among the head-quarters mess.
He was deemed worthy of the noble name of Max, and under Ike’s careful grooming he returned daily toward the blooming condition that only Second Illinois abuse had been able to subdue. In an early race with The Hun we were ingloriously beaten, but The Hun rode a marvelous little blood mare, blooming with hundreds of bushels of oats, and with two years of careful handling. Max, though beaten, was not discouraged, and seemed to say that with time and good treatment he would be ready for a more successful trial.
During his period of tutelage, and while he was kept from all excessive exertion, he was inducted into the mysteries of the art, to him quite new, of jumping timber. Columbus had been occupied by Rebel and Union soldiers since the outbreak of the war, and its fences, far and wide, had all disappeared, but nowhere in the world was there a greater variety nor a more ample stock of fallen trees, whose huge boles made capital leaping-bars; and over these almost daily for some months, beginning with the smaller ones and going gradually to the largest we could find, Max learned to carry a heavy weight with a power and precision that even Ruby could not have excelled.
During all this time, ample feed, good shelter, regular exercise, and a couple of hours of Ike’s hand-rubbing daily, worked an uninterrupted improvement in limb and wind and sinews and coat, until by the time we were ordered to Union City, Max had become the pride of the camp. He was over sixteen hands high, of a solid dark bay color, glistening like polished mahogany, and active and spirited as a horse in training for the Derby.
At Union City the head-quarters horses were stabled under a capital shed close at hand, and all that master’s eye and servant’s labor could accomplish for their care and improvement was lavished upon them, so that during our long months’ stay, we were among the best mounted men in the Western army. Our pleasure riding, and our work, was through swampy wood-roads, over obstructions of every sort, and across the occasional grass farms, with their neglected rail fences. The weather was almost uninterruptedly fine, our few visiting neighbors were miles away from us, the shooting was good, and the enjoyment we got from our vagabond life in camp was well supplemented by the royal rides we almost daily took.
Naturally, in a camp full of idle men given largely to sport, the elevating entertainment of horse-racing played a prominent part. Both Max and Guy were conspicuous by their successes until, long before the close of our leisurely career, but only after they had hung my walls with spurs and whips and other trophies of their successful competition with all comers, both were ruled out by the impossible odds they were obliged to give. The actual military service required was only enough to convince me that Max was a beast of endless bottom and endurance, and that, accidents apart, he would need no help in any work he might be called on to perform; for the rest of the war, with much duty of untold severity, I habitually rode no other horse for light work or for hard, for long rides or for short ones, on the march or on parade; and with all my sentiment for his charming predecessors, I had to confess that his equal as a campaigner had never come under my leg. He would walk like a cart-horse at the head of a marching column, would step like a lord in passing in review, would prance down the main street of a town as though vain of all applause, would leap any fence or ditch or fallen timber to which he might be put. would fly as though shot from a gun in passing along the line; and when, whether early or late, he was taken to his stable, would eat like a hungry colt and sleep like a tired plow-horse. In all weathers and under all circumstances he was steady, honest, intelligent, and ready for every duty. I had ridden before, at home and in the army, horses ideally good; I have ridden since, over the hunting country of Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, horses that were counted of the best, but never, before or since, have I mounted such a magnificent piece of perfectly trained and perfectly capable horseflesh.
On one occasion, at Union City, word was brought in that a flag of truce from Faulkner had arrived at our picket line, and I rode out for a parley over a trifling matter of an exchange of prisoners. The officer in charge of the flag, with the company escorting him, had originally come from our neighborhood and had belonged to Merryweather’s “band.” As Max trotted up to their bivouac, he was greeted with cries of recognition, and a lieutenant of the company was kind enough to warn me that I had shown them a stronger inducement than they had hitherto had to make an attack on our position; for, since Frank Moore had captured the horse I rode, they had determined to regain him at any risk. Happily, this laudable wish was never fulfilled, and Max remained, in spite of the devices they may have laid for his recapture.
During the five months of our stay at this post, we made some hard scouts in a hard country, and we held a good part of West Tennessee under strict surveillance, but the most memorable feature of all our scouting was generally the welcome dismounting under the wide eaves of our own house; not, I hope, that we had grown effeminate, but a week’s tramp through the woods of West Tennessee offers little that memory can cherish, and prepares one for a sensation on the near approach of comfort.
But five months of such life is enough, and I was not sorry when the order came that I must go for a soldier again.
Sherman was about to advance eastward from Vicksburg, destroy the lines of railroad by which Forrest received supplies from the fertile prairie region of Northern Mississippi, and strike the Rebellion a blow in the pit of its stomach. A. J. was to take all my infantry down the river, and the cavalry was to move to Colliersville, on the line of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, joining a considerable cavalry force gathering there under Sooy Smith and Grierson; thence we were to move southeasterly through Mississippi, to engage Forrest’s forces and to meet Sherman’s army at the crossing of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad at Meridian.
We lay in camp more than a week, ready to move, but awaiting orders. The country (a very wet one) was frozen hard and covered with snow. Our order to march and the thaw came together, on the 22d of January. We were to cross the Obion River (and bottom) at Sharp’s Ferry, twenty-three miles southwest of our camp. The command consisted of the Fourth Missouri (with a battery), Second New Jersey, Seventh Indiana, Nineteenth Pennsylvania, and Frank Moore’s Battalion of the Second Illinois; in all about twenty-five hundred well-mounted men present for duty. The roads were deep with mud and slush, and every creek was “ out of its banks” with the thaw. We reached the ferry only at nightfall of the 23d, over roads that had hourly grown deeper and more difficult. Two regiments had crossed, through floating ice (eight horses at a trip), by a rope-ferry, and at nine o’clock in the evening, under a full moon and a summer temperature, I crossed with stall and escort. The river was already so swollen that we landed in two feet of water, and still it was rising. Our camp was fixed five miles away on the upland. The first mile was only wet and nasty, and the trail not hard to follow. Then we came to the “ back slough,” thirty feet wide, four feet deep, and still covered with four inches of ice. Those who had gone before had broken a track through this, and swept the fragments of ice forward until near the shore they were packed in for a width of ten feet or more, and to the full depth of the water. I can make no stronger statement, than that we all got through safely, only wet to the skin. How it was done I do not pretend to know. Some went in one way and some in another. All I can assert is that my stalwart old Max, when he found himself standing, belly deep, in broken ice, settled quietly on his haunches and took my two hundred pounds with one spring on to dry land four feet higher than his starting point and twelve feet away,— but then, Max always was a marvel. Guy, who carried Ike, scrambled over the top of the broken ice as only he or a cat could do. The others fared variously. All were drenched, and some were hurt, but all got to the shore at last. Then came the hour-long tug to get my ambulance through, with its store of tent-hold gods, and we started for our remaining four miles. The trail, even of cavalry, is not easily followed by moonlight when covered with half a foot of water, and we lost our way, reaching camp, after fourteen miles of hard travel, at four o’clock in the morning.
The river was still rapidly rising, and word was brought that Kargé, with more than half the brigade, would have to make a detour of fifty miles and cross the three forks of the Obion far to the eastward, joining us some days later, near Jackson. So we idled on, marching a few miles each day, camping early, cooking the fat of the land for our evening meal, cultivating the questionable friendship of the rebel population by forced contributions of subsistence, and leading, on the whole, a peaceful, unlaborious, and charming picnic life. Finally, taking Kargé again under our wing, we pushed on, resolutely and rapidly, over flooded swamps, across deep, rapid rivers, and through hostile towns, to our rendezvous; whence, under the command of two generals, and as part of an army of eight thousand well-mounted cavalry and light artillery, and all in light marching order, we started for our more serious work.
The chief in command was a young and handsome, but slightly nervous individual, who eschewed the vanities of uniform, and had about, himself and his horse no evidence of his military character that could not he unbuckled and dropped with his sword-belt in case of impending capture. He was vacillating in his orders, and a little anxious in his demeanor; but he had shown himself cool and clear-headed under fire, and seemed resolutely bent on the destruction of the last vestige of Forrest’s troublesome army. It would be tedious to tell all the adventures of our forward expedition; how we inarched in three columns over different roads, each for himself, and with only a vague notion where and how we should meet, and how we should support each other. As it afterward proved, the details of the order of march had been given to the commanders of the other brigades, while I had been forgotten; so that the whole advance was vexed with crosspurposes and with the evidences of a hidden misunderstanding. The contretemps that thus came about were annoying, and, in one instance, came near being serious: as we were going into camp at Prairie Station, my advance reported having come in sight of the campfires of the enemy; a skirmish-line was sent forward, and only on the eve of engaging did they discover that we were approaching Hepburn’s brigade, of our column, which had reached the same point by another road.
The first days of our march in Mississippi were through Tippah County, as rough, hopeless, God-forsaken a country as was ever seen outside of Southern Missouri. Its hills were steep, its mud was deep, its houses and farms were poor, its facilities for the subsistence of a protecting army like ours were of the most meagre description, and its streams delayed us long with their torrents of bottomless muddy water, fast swelling from the thaw that had unlocked the snow of all the deep-buried hills and morasses of their upper waters. We built ferry-boats and swamped them, built bridges and broke them, and slowly and painfully, horse by horse, transferred the command across the nasty river beds. Tippah Creek detained us and kept us hard at work all day and all night, and we reached the Tallahatchie at New Albany barely in time to ford our last, man across before it rose to an impassable depth. And then for two days we pressed forward, in company with the whole column, through the rough, rocky, and wooded country, reaching Okolona only at nightfall.
Here we struck the marvelous prairie region of Northeastern Mississippi, literally a land flowing with milk and honey. An interminable, fertile, rolling prairie lay before us in every direction. The stern rule of the Confederacy had compelled the planters to offset every small field of cotton with a wide area of corn, until the region had become known as the granary of the Southern army. Not only must every land-owner devote his broadest fields to the cultivation of the much-needed cereal, but one tenth of all his crop must be stacked for public use in cribs at the side of the railroad.
It was an important incident of our mission to destroy everything which directly or indirectly could afford subsistence to the rebel army; and during the two days following our arrival at Okolona, while we marched as far south as West Point, the sky was red with the flames of burning corn and cotton. On a single plantation, our flanking party burned thirty-seven hundred bushels of tithe corn, which was cribbed near the railroad; no sooner was its light seen at the plantation houses than hundreds of negroes, who swarmed from their quarters to join our column, fired the railbuilt cribs in which the remaining nine tenths of the crop was stored. Driven wild with the infection, they set the torch to mansion-house, stables, cottongin, and quarters, until the whole village-like settlement was blazing in an unchecked conflagration. To see such wealth and the accumulated products of such vast labor swept from the face of the earth, gave to the aspect of war a saddening reality, which was in strong contrast to the peaceful and harmless life our brigade had thus far led. In all this prairie region there is no waste land, and the evidences of wealth and fertility lay before us in all directions. As we marched, the negroes came en masse from every plantation to join our column, leaving only fire and absolute destruction behind them. It was estimated that during these two days’ march two thousand slaves and one thousand mules were added to our train.
The incidents of all this desolation were often sickening and heart-rending; delicate women and children, whom the morning had found in peace and plenty, and glowing with pride in the valor of Southern arms and the certainty of an early independence for their beloved halfcountry, found themselves, before nightfall, homeless, penniless, and alone, in the midst of a desolate land.
Captain Frank Moore, the Cossack of our brigade, went at night to an outlying plantation, of which the showy mansionhouse stood on a gentle acclivity in the edge of a fine grove. Here lived alone with an only daughter, a beautiful girl, a man who bad been conspicuous in his aid to the Rebellion, and whose arrest had been ordered. The squadron drew up in front of the house and summoned its owner to come forth. He came, armed, sullen, stolid, and determined, but obviously unnerved by the force confronting him. Behind him followed his daughter, dressed in white, and with her long light hair falling over her shoulders. The sight of the hated “ Yanks ” crazed her with rage, and before her father could reply to the question with which he had been accosted, she called to him wildly, “ Don’t speak to the villains! Shoot! shoot them down, shoot them down!” wringing her hands, and screaming with rage. The excitement was too much for his judgment, and be fired wildly on the troops. He was riddled through and through with bullets; and as Moore turned away, be left that fine house blazing in the black night, and lighting up the figure of the crazy girl as she wandered, desolate and beautiful, to and fro before her burning home, unheeded by the negroes who ran with their hastily made bundles to join the band of their deliverers. Moore’s description of this scene in the simple language that it was his unpretending way to use, gave the most vivid picture we had seen of the unmitigated horror and badness of war.
As an instrument of destruction in the enemy’s country, our raid had thus far been more successful than we could have anticipated; but we had come for even more serious business than this, and there were already indications that its main purpose would be a failure. Our commander had evidently no stomach for a close approach to the enemy, and his injunctions at Colliersville that we were to try always to " fight at close quarters! " “ go at them as soon as possible with the sabre! ” and other valorous ejaculations, were in singular contrast to the impressions he evinced as the prospect of an actual engagement drew near.
Forrest was in our front with about our own number of cavalry, but without artillery, of which we had twenty good pieces. The open country offered good fighting ground, and gave to our better drilled and more completely organized forces a decided advantage, even without our great odds in artillery. There lay before us a fair opportunity for dispersing the most effective body of cavalry in the rebel service; and, could we effect a junction with Sherman, we should enable him to divide the Confederacy from Vicksburg to Atlanta. One of the most brilliant and damaging campaigns of the war seemed ready to open. Its key lay in a successful engagement, on a fair field, with an inferior force. Yet all of us who were in a position to know the spirit with which we were commanded were conscious of a gradual oozing out at the linger ends of the determination to make a successful fight, and it was a sad night for us all when at West Point, with our skirmish-line steadily engaging the rebel outposts, an order came that we were to fall back before daybreak toward Okolona.
The brigade commanders and their staffs had had severe duty in the scattered work of destruction, and even Max, tough though he was, had been almost overworked with constant galloping to and fro, and with the frequent countermarching our varying orders had required. Still he was better than his comrades, and many a man was anxious for his mount, should our retreat be pressed.
Early in the morning we were on our way toward the rear,—about eight thousand cavalry, ten sections of artillery, two thousand pack-mules, and an unnumbered cloud of fugitive slaves mounted on their masters’ mules, often two or three on each, and clustering under our shadow as their only means of escape to the happy land of freedom. In an organized advance, all of this vast hanging on could be kept at the rear and in good order; but on a retreat the instinct of self-preservation always attacks first the non-combatant element, and during all the days that followed, we found our way constantly blocked with these throngs of panic-stricken people.
No sooner had we turned tail than Forrest saw his time had come, and he pressed us sorely all day and until nightfall, and tried hard to gain our flanks. A hundred times we might have turned and given him successful battle; but, at every suggestion of this, we received from our general, who was well in advance of the retiring column, the order to push forward and give our rear a free road for retreat. Midnight found us again in the vicinity of Okolona, and the next daybreak showed the enemy’s long column filing out of the woods and stretching well on toward our right flank.
Even the plains of Texas could offer no field better suited for a cavalry engagement, and it was with satisfaction that we received, at five o’clock in the morning, an order to prepare at once for a fight; but our men were barely mounted and in line when an order came to turn our backs upon this open field, and to retreat with all expedition toward Memphis.
When we left Okolona we left hope behind, for our road struck at once into a wooded, hilly country, full of by-ways and cross-roads known to the enemy and unknown to us, and we well perceived that this movement would double Forrest’s power and divide our own. Then, for a long day, tired and hungry from the hard work and constant movement we had just gone through, and with our horses half-fed and overworked, we pushed on, our rear often attacked and sometimes broken, our mule-train and negroes thrown into frequent confusion, one of our brigades demoralized and put to flight, and the enemy still pressing our rear and reaching for our flanks. At last, towards night, it became evident that a stand must be made or all would be entirely lost, and at Ivy Farm, near Pontotoc, we found a broad, open hilltop, with large fields, high fences, and stout log-houses, which offered an opportunity. By this time the command was too widely separated, and some of it too much disorganized, for the concentration of even a whole brigade, but a part of Hepburn’s and a part of my own were disentangled from the corral of fugitives and brought into line. Both of our generals were upon the field, and to our surprise both seemed brave and resolute; not with the resolution of despair, for the actual immediate necessity of fighting often steadies nerves which are easily shaken by the anticipation of danger. Brave they were, but not always of the same mind, and conflicting orders continued to add to our embarrassment and insecurity.
It is not worth while to detail all the incidents of the opening of the short engagement; it was ended by the only legitimate cavalry charge made by the “ Vierte Missouri ” during the whole of its four years’ history.
We had withdrawn from the line where we had been fighting on foot, mounted, formed, and drawn sabre; the road about one hundred yards in front of us was swarming with rebels, who crept along the fence lines and in the edge of the bordering woods, and kept up a steady rain of fire well over our heads, where we heard that pfwit — pfwit—pfwit! of flying bullets which, happily, has no relative in the whole chorus of sounds, and which is heard above all the din of battle, and is felt through every remotest nerve.
At the command “ Forward ! ” excitement ran down the line, and there was a disposition for an immediate rush. But “ Steady — right dress — trot! ” in a measured tone, taken up in turn by the company officers, brought back all the effect of our three years’ discipline of the drill-ground. Later, “ Steady — right dress — gallop! ” accelerated the speed without disturbing the alignment, and then, at last, “ Charge! ” and with a universal yelling and brandishing of sabres we went forward like the wind. I then felt how mad a venture we had undertaken, for before us was the enemy, it is true, but the enemy behind a high and stout, staked and ridered rail fence. As we drew very near this, still under heavy fire, which now at the short range was telling, the command became conscious that the six-foot fence would withstand our shock, and it wavered. I turned to my bugler to sound the recall, when I saw him out of the corner of my eye, his white horse rearing literally to his full height and falling backward with a crash that must have killed the poor boy at once. The recall was not needed: the regiment had turned and was running. The officers, being the best mounted and generally the lightest weights, soon reached the front, and “Steady — right dress — trot! Steady — right dress —trot ! ” was repeated along the line, until the drill-ground precision was regained, and then “ By fours — right about — wheel!” and we stood facing the enemy again, ready for another advance. Max had been struck by a grazing bullet and had been plunging heavily, but the wound was not serious and he was soon quieted. We now saw that our charge, futile though it seemed, had done its work. The advance of the enemy was checked; the sight of troops that could retire and reform for a new attack seemed to have a stunning effect upon them. Practically the engagement was ended.
Subsequently, one of Forrest’s staff officers told The Hun that the size of the division which had charged was variously estimated at from five to ten thousand, but that he had been accustomed to such things and knew that we were not more than two thousand. In fact, we were less than six hundred. Forrest’s report of the battle of Pontotoc states that the engagement was ended “ by a cavalry charge of the enemy, which was repulsed.”
There was still some sharp scrimmaging, and we had to make two or three more squadron and company charges to drive away small attacks upon our retreating guns, but the battle, as a battle, was over, and Forrest’s whole advance had been checked and ended by six hundred Fourth Missouri Dutchmen, galloping, yelling, and swinging their sabres at several thousand men well secured behind a rail fence. I had before, in drillground charges, seen old soldiers and experienced officers jump down and run away from a fence on which they were sitting to watch the advance of charging cavalry which they knew must wheel before coming within five rods of them; but I had never supposed that hot-blooded soldiers, in the full excitement of a successful attack, could be unnerved and turned by the roar and thundering oncoming of a regiment that could by no possibility reach them. Our first setting out had driven back a thin skirmish-line which had to cross the fence under high speed; this, doubtless, aided in the débâcle ; the charge had stunned them, but it was the rally that stopped the pursuit.
The rest of our march was without interesting incident all the way to Memphis, but it was almost incessant, day and night; without incident, that is, that it is worth while to tell here, but our days and nights upon the road were filled with annoyance and disgust, and with a store of unhappy and ludicrous memories that will last the life-time of all who knew them.
One day, at New Albany, Max and I were feeding and sleeping in the door of an old null while the command was slowly crossing the antiquated bridge over the Tallahatchie, when I was awakened by Grierson’s riding up in great alarm, calling upon me “for God’s sake” to use the ford as well as the bridge, for Hepburn was being cut to pieces in the rear, and I must give him the full road for his retreat. I had always been a respectful subordinate, but none of us were then in the best temper; I did not believe a word of it, and I frankly told him so. Even old Max pricked up his ears and snorted as if in derision. Almost as we were talking, there came an aid from Hepburn saying that he had found a good supply of forage and would he glad to go into camp for the night. But there was no camp to be thought of for that tired crew; the bogey of incessant pursuit loomed up portentously close upon our rear-guard, and sent its shadow deep into the bowels of our commander, who was miles away in the advance, and who would allow us only the fewest possible hours in the very dead of night for hasty cooking and scant repose; and we were a worn and weary lot as we finally went into camp at the rear of the town; worn and weary, sadly demoralized, and almost dismounted. I had lost fifteen hundred good horses, and my men, who had been eager and ready for a successful campaign, were broken in spirit and sadly weakened in discipline.
All who had had to bear the brunt of the hard work needed for themselves and their horses absolute rest for days; but being called into the city the morning after our arrival, my eyes were greeted with the spectacle of General Sooy Smith, no longer ill, and with no trace of shame or annoyance on his face. He had shed his modest and prudent attire, and shone out with all the brass radiance of a full-fledged major-general. From this time until the Fourth Missouri cavalry was mustered out of service, our head-quarters were in the immediate neighborhood of Memphis, and our life was much more active than it had been at Union City.
Not very much is to be said for Max during this time, except in connection with the Sturgis expedition, beyond the fact that we lay long in the immediate vicinity of the race-course, which we repaired and used faithfully, and, so far as he was concerned, with eminent success. The more frequent necessity for duty, the great labor of re-mounting, reorganizing, and re-drilling the command, united with the greater publicity of our position to lay some restraint on our mode of life, and to make our conduct more circumspect. Still we were not miserable, and the neighborhood of a large town has, to a well-regulated headquarters’ mess, its compensations as well as its drawbacks.
Sturgis’s expedition to Guntown and back — especially back — has passed into history, and its unwritten memories will always remain with those who took part in it.
Guntown is far away in Northeastern Mississippi. It is not laid down on the map of the country, but it lies just across the Tishamingo Creek, and it consists mainly of two plantation houses and a school-house. Our stay there was not long, and we were too much occupied to study the locality minutely, but it is my impression that the most important incident in its history was connected with our visit.
We were a force of about nine thousand infantry, cavalry, and artillery,— some black and some white, some good and some bad, — sent out by Sherman as a tub to the Forrest whale; a diversion to keep this commander from joining Hood in Northern Georgia; though I doubt if even General Sherman in his moments of wildest enthusiasm anticipated just the issue that followed. Our march out was not rapid, and it was well ordered. We were allowed to take our train, and old John Ellard’s four stupendous mules drew our head-quarters’ wagon, well laden with the comforts we had accumulated during a long service, including a brand new, well-furnished, and abundantly stored campchest that had just arrived from St. Louis. So far as the comforts of a home for five youngsters can be stored in one mule-wagon, we were well supplied for a campaign of any length; and judging from the mess-tables to which we were invited, others of the command were no less well provided. in due time we reached the town of Ripley, a rather pretty New England-looking village, but like all Southern towns at that time, entirely devoid of men and overflowing with women of the most venomous and spiteful sort, who did all in their power to add to the interest of the Sunday evening we passed in their company.
We had some light skirmishing on our arrival, but whoever it was that attacked us withdrew and left us in undisturbed possession of the comfortable rooms and fire-places of the town. Our next day’s march brought us to a large open plantation on a commanding hill, whence our evening scouting parties soon found the enemy posted in some force and apparently disposed for an engagement.
It seemed always Forrest’s plan to select his own fighting ground, and the plan of our commanders to gratify him. Sturgis committed the usual folly of trying to hold every inch he had gained, and of forming his line of battle on the head of the column and under fire.
We breakfasted at three in the morning, and marched at half past four. My command had the advance. The enemy allowed himself to be easily driven until half past eight, when he made some show of resistance. At this time the last of our regiments could hardly have left the camping-ground, and probably a judicious retreat would have drawn Forrest’s whole force back to the open country we had left. But “retreat” was not yet written on our banners (of that day), and orders came from our general to support the advance-guard, form line of battle, and hold our position. So far as the cavalry brigade was concerned this was easily done, and we got into good line near the edge of a wood without difficulty. Here, for four mortal hours, or until half past twelve, we carried on a tolerably equal warfare, both sides blazing away at each other with little effect across the six hundred yards of cleared valley that lay between two skirts of wood. So far as the endurance of our troops was concerned, this engagement could have been kept up until nightfall, though our ranks were slowly thinning. Several desperate charges were made on our position, and were repulsed with considerable loss to both sides. Pending the arrival of the infantry it would have been folly for us to attempt a further advance, but had we been properly supported, or, better, had we at once fallen back upon our support, we might have given, as the post bellum reports of Forrest’s officers show, a better ending to the day’s work. It was only at half past twelve, when our ammunition was reduced to five rounds per man, and when our battery had fired its last shot, that the infantry began to arrive, and then they came a regiment at a time, or only so fast as the Forrest mill could grind them up in detail.
They had taken our place, and we had withdrawn to their rear, where we were joined by one after another of the defeated or exhausted infantry regiments. Little by little the enemy pressed upon us, gaining rod after rod of our position, until finally our last arriving troops, a splendid colored regiment, reached the field of battle at double-quick, breathless and beaten by their own speed, barely in time to cheek the assault until we could cross the creek and move toward the rear. The retreat was but fairly begun when we came upon our train of two hundred wagons piled pell-mell in a small field and blocked in beyond the possibility of removal. With sad eyes we saw John Ellard cut his traces and leave all that was dear to us, tents, camp-chest, poker-table, and all that we cherished, to inevitable capture. The train was our tub to the whale; and while Forrest’s men were sacking our treasures, and refilling the caissons of all our batteries, which they had captured, we had time to form for the retreat, more or less orderly according as we had come early or late off the field. The demoralizing roar of our own guns, and the howling over our heads of our own shells, together with the sharp rattle of musketry on our rear, hastened and saddened the ignominious flight of the head of our column, though, for some reason, the enemy’s advance upon us was slow.
All that long night we marched on, without food and without rest. At early dawn we reached Ripley, where we paused for breath. Max had been ridden almost uninterruptedly for twenty-four hours, and for four hours had done the constant hard work that the supervision of a long line in active engagement had made necessary; and he was glad to be unsaddled and turned for fifteen minutes into a scantily grown paddock, where he rolled and nibbled and refreshed himself as much as ordinary horses do with a whole night’s rest. The ambulances with our groaning wounded men came pouring into the village, and to our surprise, those women, who had so recently given evidence only of a horrified hatred, pressed round to offer every aid that lay in their power, and to comfort our suffering men as only kind-hearted women can.
With the increasing daylight the pursuit was reopened with vigor, and on we went, and ever on, marching all that day, our rear-guard constantly engaged, and hundreds of our men being captured, thousands more scattering into the woods. My lieutenant-colonel, Von Helmrich, who had been for twentyeight years a cavalry officer in Germany, and who, after thirteen months in Libby Prison, had overtaken us as we were leaving Memphis, was recaptured and carried back to Richmond, — to die of a good dinner on his second release, ten months later. At nightfall, the pursuit growing weak, we halted to collect together our stragglers, but not to rest, and after a short half-hour pushed on again; and all that interminable night, and until half past ten the next morning, when we reached Colliersville and the railroad, reinforcements and supplies, we marched, marched, marched, without rest, without sleep, and without food. The cavalry-men were mainly dismounted and driving their tired jades before them, only Max and a few others carrying their riders to the very end, and coming in with a whinny of content to the familiar stables and backyards of the little town.
Most other officers whose service had been as constant as mine had had extra horses to ride for relief, but I had never yet found march too long for Max’s wiry sinews, and trusted to him alone. He had now been ridden almost absolutely without intermission, and much of the time at a gallop or a rapid trot, for fiftyfour hours. I had had for my own support the excitement and then the anxious despair of responsible service, and Ike had filled his haversack with hard-bread from John Ellard’s abandoned wagon; an occasional nibble at this, and unlimited pipes of tobacco, had fortified me in my endurance of the work; but Max had had in the whole time not the half of what he would have made light of for a single meal. I have known and have written about brilliant feats of other horses, but as I look over the whole range of all the best animals I have seen, I bow with respect to the wonderful courage, endurance, and fidelity of this superbly useful brute.
There is an elasticity in youth and health, trained and hardened by years of active field-service, which asserts itself under the most depressing circumstances. Even this shameful and horrible defeat and flight had their ludicrous incidents, which we were permitted to appreciate. Thus, for instance, during a lull in the engagement at Guntown, I had seated myself in a rushbottomed chair under the lee of a broad tree-trunk; a prudent pig, suspecting danger, had taken shelter between the legs of the chair, leaving, however, his rear unprotected. Random bullets have an odd way of finding weak places, and it was due to one of these that I was unseated, with an accompaniment of squeal, by the rapid and articulate flight of my companion.
During our last night’s march, my brigade having the advance, and I being at its rear, Grierson ordered me to prevent the pushing ahead of the stragglers of the other brigades, who were to be recognized, be reminded me, by their wearing hats (mine wore caps). The order was peremptory, and was to be enforced even at the cost of cutting the offenders down. Grierson’s adjutant was at my side; we were all sleeping more or less of the time, but constantly some hatted straggler was detected pushing toward the front, and ordered back, — the adjutant being especially sharp-eyed in detecting the mutilated sugar-loaves through the gloom. Finally, close to my right and pushing slowly to the front, in a long-strided walk, came a gray horse with a hatted rider, an india-rubber poncho covering his uniform. I ordered him back; the adjutant, eager for the enforcement of the order, remonstrated at the man’s disobedience; I ordered again, but without result; the adjutant ejaculated, “Damn him, cut him down! ” I drew my sabre and laid its flat in one long, stinging welt across that black poncho: “—! who are you hitting! ” Then we both remembered that Grierson too wore a hat; and I tender him here my public acknowledgment of a good-nature so great that an evening reunion in Memphis over a dozen of wine won his generous silence.
George E. Waring, Jr.