Gaudia Certaminis

— “ Come, close up there ! Steady on the right ! Forward into line ! ” And the brigade of Tecumseh Sherman, which had been running on what the boys called “ all fours,” — that is, by the flank, — suddenly swept forward and formed a line of battle across the road. Our men were breathing hard as they came up from the Centreville Ridge at what was termed the “double quick ; ” and so great was our eager pride to be in at the first shedding of blood that nearly all, sick or well, weak or strong, had somehow contrived to be present. The usual straggling and falling out by the wayside, which later became only too familiar, were on this occasion conspicuously absent. Some remnant there was of the impression of the holiday excursion which had been promised us by our home sympathizers ; and the tedious and gruesome realities so soon to be experienced were scarcely apprehended by our gallant soldiery, so many of whom were to have returned that very day, since their three months’ term of service was just expiring. Uniforms were still new, gold lace was but little tarnished. Even the horses were glossy from recent grooming, and were neighing from recent oats, little recking how soon they too would drop the gaudy trappings of war which now bedizened them. How readily they caught the holiday spirit which surrounded them, how sociably they whinnied ! All that we had ever read in the Old Testament and elsewhere about the unthinking horse in battle seemed here to be realized. We had expected that the quadrupeds of our crusade would require reassuring ; that an animal so timid in the city streets that he can easily be stampeded by a vagrant firecracker could not be relied upon at first to face the hideous noises which now prevailed, but that he must gradually become inured to the terrors of the cannonade. Yet, to our surprise, the horses showed no signs of fear whatever. We noticed that no horse ran away except when he became riderless ; then, with lifted head and staring eyes and floating mane, he would flee bewildered. But horses and mules all accepted the sounds and tokens of coming battle with far more equanimity, apparently, than could be accredited to many of their tamers.

Yes, there was no disguising the fact, the scene was a dreadful one. From a source entirely invisible, missiles were sent crashing through the woods, like a hurricane of delirious metal, shrieking and falling, to be buried in the earth with what was literally a sickening thud. The number who were hurt, it is true, was not very great ; what appalled us was the mystery of it all, the strange unexpectedness with which the danger appeared. Then, too, the orders were given in a tone of low, hissing intensity that seemed to have the carrying power of the stage whisper. Add to this the perpetual galloping of horses immediately in our rear, — horses belonging to the staff officers who were conveying orders ; then a pause, and the hurricane of cannonade in our front was redoubled. The men were told to lie down ; the officers remained standing at our rear, while those of sufficient rank maintained their position on horseback, a little farther back. The screaming of the missiles was interrupted from time to time by what we now knew to be the bursting of shells. The deepening danger grew tragically intense, for there was nothing to be done except to stay and confront it. At last, to the manifest relief of the long, long line, the orders were to advance ; and as we stepped forward somewhat blithely, we noticed, moving directly in front of us, a little more rapidly than ourselves, a small body of glittering cavalry escorting a group of gorgeously appointed staff officers. We also noticed that they had a most enthusiastic companion. A large dog, with shaggy, jet-black curly hair and most musical voice, followed the cavalcade closely, barking sonorously, as though he felt his duty to be akin to that of the bugler. His superb waving tail moved high in air in rhythmic cadence with the marching men who were behind him, rather than in time to the clattering hoofs and chaos of sound which preceded him. The awful peril of our own situation did not prevent us from wondering how the noble beast had managed to get there, and what would be his fate if he remained. We could not learn, even, whether he belonged to any of those who were actors in the fearful drama before us; but presumably this was the case, for there was that in his movements betokening a dog who felt himself to be at home, rather than the vagrant canine who had run away whither he had no business to go.

Still on and on, as the brigade advanced, went the delighted dog, occasionally raising his head yet higher, as if for the purpose of throwing his voice farther, while his everswaying tail responded to the cadenced step of the dear dog’s fellow-countrymen. How he loved the scene ! I have often been charmed with the delight shown by dogs when there is dancing or other frolic going on ; their emotional nature fairly reveling in movement of any kind. The least sociable dog is always ready for a run or a romp with the least congenial companion, and there is no being to whom the infection of gayety is so generously contagious.

All through the desolate two hours occupied by this engagement, the first of the war, our friend still pursued his delighted tactics, — an example of glowing fearlessness. “ Why,” exclaimed a soldier, “ he’s better than a brass band to keep our spirits up ! ” We were all young then, the group surveying this ecstatic dog, and much nearer to college and classic phraseology than most of us have ever been since ; and so, when a recent graduate cried, “ Well done, Gaudia Certaminis ! ” the refrain was taken up by all who could translate it, and by a great many who could not, and Gaudia Certaminis the dog remained throughout his martial career.

Later on, as one by one the various regiments were drawn off from a field now deemed impracticable, we could see our handsome friend holding his ground among the very last, until, in the deepening twilight, he was observed majestically striding after his cavalry escort, as we now called it, on their way to the rear. Ah, then that swaying tail, which an hour before had moved in joyous unison with the soldiery, had fallen to a discontented level, as the poor dog bewilderedly retraced his footsteps, following whatever master among the glittering staff might lay claim to his prowess and his fidelity.

All the succeeding night we were kept awake by the fierce whistle of trains bearing what we only too well knew were reinforcements from Richmond. When at last, at daybreak, we stood on that vast plateau where we were to see by far the greatest battle yet fought on this continent, we instinctively looked for our four-footed comrade, Gaudia ; for somehow we were well assured that he must be with us, taking his share of peril, as beseemed a noble knight.

At dark of that day of monstrous calamity the warring hosts had separated, and, for some reason which will never be known, the legions of the North were in full retreat, having been victorious all through the day ! Terrified teamsters, homesick militiamen, panic-stricken mules, and stragglers of every sort had started the stampede at the rear long before the fighting in our front had ceased. The German reserves stationed at Centreville, five miles behind us, were in full retreat an hour previous to the last charge of the seventy-ninth Highlanders. As our discouraged, despairing soldiery staggered in retreat towards the stone bridges, walking as though wading through seas of clotted blood, one of the last scenes that fell upon our disturbed vision, on passing through Centreville, was that of our dear Gaudia returning from the field, with a small red rill of blood trickling from his neck. He probably did not live to go much farther ; and, associated as he was in our minds with the army when advancing, it seemed to us well if he did not survive to witness that retreat which brought mourning into nearly every house in the land.

I have seen much of the brave man’s contempt of death, of the risks run for glory, of the honest patriotism which dares for duty, but I have never seen such exultation of joy in battle, such genuine sympathy with heroic pageant, as were shown by this handsome dog at the battle of Blackburn’s Ford. Hitherto, I confess that it had seemed a sentimental exaggeration of Byron’s when he wrote of his dog, Boatswain, in the famous epitaph : " Here lies one who possessed beauty without vanity, strength without insolence, courage without ferocity, — all the virtues of man without his vices. This praise, which would be unmeaning flattery if inscribed over human ashes, is but simple truth when told of a dog.” But the fitness of these words had for me been visibly verified ; and I think it would be no exaggeration to say that, in all our glittering host, there was no braver heart nor one with greater zest for battle than that which beat in the breast of our poor Gaudia Certaminis.