Bugles Blow Retreat


His father’s last words had been: ‘Be sure and take care of your health. More soldiers die of disease than are killed in battle. Don’t stay in damp clothes and always find a dry place to sleep. Remember you’ve never spent a night out of your own room.‘

Outside his room to-night the rain would be dripping through the linden trees, and in the morning the ground would be covered with buff blossoms and under his window the rambler roses would be redder.

The rain was dripping through trees now, but not his familiar lindens. These were shadowy bulks in the blackness which shrouded the strange Pennsylvania countryside. The rain was dripping steadily on Kirby, down inside the collar of his jacket, inside his boots, and on the sodden leather of the saddle. It was dripping in the churned mud of the road and on the sagging canvas tops of the wagons, growling and screeching through the ruts.

But above all the other sounds rose the ceaseless wail of the wounded. Sometimes the wail soared into shrieks that sent chills down the boy’s spine. Sometimes it died off into sobs, but it never stopped. It never would stop for Kirby. And he had dreamed of the cavalry charging. . . .

The wagon beside him careened. The driver cursed and his whip cracked. The horses snorted, floundered, and the wagon heaved. Kirby heard the bodies roll against the hard bottom.

A high-pitched scream rose and hovered in the night.

’Dear God, have mercy! Won’t somebody take me out of this wagon and let me die on the road . . .’

A low groan sounded close, detached from the rising voice of pain. Kirby realized it was himself. He looked quickly around. No one had heard him. The man in front was swaying drunkenly over the pommel of his saddle. He was asleep. Had his father warned him against sleeping in damp clothes, too?

A loud splashing sounded in the rear. There was a shout, but no one turned to look. They were too tired. The splashing grew nearer. Then Kirby heard the sergeant behind him curse.

‘You can’t pass heah ’thout shovin’ us off’n the road. Wait till the wagons git out’n these-heah woods.’

‘I’ve got to see General Imboden. I ’m the quartermaster colonel of the supply wagons.’ The voice was sharp, with authority in it.

‘I don’t keer if you’re Gin’ral Lee hisseff, you can’t pass heah now.’

There was a moment of silence. Then the authoritative voice sounded less sharp.

‘What wounded have you got in those wagons?’

‘Gin’ral Pender ’n’ Scales, ’n’ some other officers. That’s why we are traipsin’ beside these wagons ’stid of bein’ in the advance gawd.’

Ain’t theah somebody kin jest stop this wagon fer a minute and let us outa heah? Let us git out on the road and die!

The shriek cut through all the sound. Others took it up. Then it slowly died down into an endless moan.

The quartermaster’s voice was subdued now.

‘Is n’t there something we can do for these wounded men?’

‘Orduhs are not to stop for anything,’ the sergeant said. ‘We’ve got to get these wagons across the Potomac befoh the Yanks catch us.’

‘Well,’ the quartermaster said, ‘I don’t reckon the Yanks will start after us to-night. They’re cut up somewhat themselves.’

‘How bad was we hurt?’ the sergeant said. ‘We was gawdin’ these wagons ’n’ we did n’t see a damned thing.’

‘Awful.’ The quartermaster’s voice sounded tired now. ’I saw the men coming back down the hill from that cemetery. They looked like they’d been through hell, and the dead were piled up on the field like cordwood. Some of the brigades could n’t muster a company to-day. I’m afraid this has wrecked our army.’

‘I don’t know,’ the sergeant said. ‘We was bad hurt at Sharpsburg ’n’ we come back to give ’em the Wilderness.’

Old Joe Hooker, won’t you come outa the Wilderness . . .’ Kirby heard the liquid voice of Chinch, right behind him.

A voice lifted out of one of the wagons.

‘I wish we wuz back in the Wilderness. We had Old Jack then.’

‘That’s right,’ the sergeant said. ‘We’d never a lost this fight if we’d a had Stonewall.’

‘Jackson never had a division that fought any better than Pickett’s did yesterday. But that charge should never’ve been made.’

‘By Gawd, colonel, you ought n’t to say that about the Old Man.’

‘We needed to stay in the North,’ the quartermaster said, ‘because there’s no more food in the South for our army. We’re going back to Virginia — to nothing.’

‘If we git back to Vuhginny! We only got this puny regiment of cavalry for twenty mile of trains. If the Yanks ’tack us now, it’d be a massacre. Yuh can git past now.’

The splashing came again. A horse’s head snorted beside Kirby, and he moved aside. His horse lost footing in the deeper mud and neighed in fright, floundering in the quagmire. Kirby pulled him back in the mud of the road. The horse was shaking. So was he.

‘Dammit, boy,’ Chinch said, ‘stiddy that hoss.’

‘I ’ll bet his mammy don’t know he’s out,’ came a voice up front.

Kirby said nothing. He had never said anything since he joined this outfit with his dream of a charge that would show him to be worthy of Jeb Stuart’s cavalry. It was just a little more than a year ago that his dream had been born.

Kirby and his mother had been looking out of her window at the soldiers marching past. They knew that soldiers were coming from everywhere to hurl the Yankees away from the city, but not since Longstreet marched through with the First Virginia Regiment had they heard such cheering as now.

Then Kirby saw the officer they were cheering. He was on a big horse and he was the most beautiful soldier Kirby had ever seen. He wore a flowing bronzed beard, and a plume in his cocked, rolled-brim hat. A cape was flung back from his shoulders and a yellow sash was around his sword belt. The man was laughing at some girls who were putting red roses around his horse’s neck.

‘Who is that, Mother?’

‘That’s Jeb Stuart. His cavalry just rode around the whole Union army.’

Kirby stared so hard he could see the light dance in the cavalryman’s blue eyes, and he heard his laugh, very merry. He had just ridden around the whole Union army.

‘Mother, when I’m a little older, do you reckon I could ride with Jeb Stuart’s cavalry?’

‘If the war goes on, when you’re older . . . yes.’

‘Could I — could I when I’m sixteen ? ’

His mother paused. ‘Yes, Kirby, when you’re sixteen.’

‘On my birthday?’

There was a longer pause. ‘Yes, son.’

When he was sixteen and had gone to the camp at the Fair Grounds, the officers told him he was too young and inexperienced for Stuart’s cavalry. You had to be a real booger for that. But, they said, General Imboden needed young men, and they were about to start on a Northern invasion. . . .

Since that warm afternoon in June when he boarded the train in his new gray uniform, his hat rolled like Stuart’s, there had been nothing but riding in dust and darkness, heat and rain, and the jibes of the men. His uniform was dirty and stained and torn, with the dust of many weary miles caked in muddy patches. And he had never so much as seen Jeb Stuart.


Ahead of him now he saw the darkness lifting over in the east and he could see the trees bulking beside the road. He saw the line of drooping horsemen beside the wagons. The canvas tops were dripping sluggish streams inside on the wounded men. In the open back of the wagon in front of him, Kirby saw the bandaged head of a man, with closed eyes, lolling with the pitching of the wagon. Blood was fresh on the dirty cloth. Beside the matted hair were a pair of feet in soleless shoes, swaying with the wagon. Every now and again one of these struck the face beside it. Kirby slumped in the wet saddle, watching the foot and waiting for it to strike the wounded head again. It was the first thing he’d had to look at since they left Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the rain and darkness closed down.

Beside Kirby a driver, with tobacco juice streaking his gray beard, bawled out: ‘Hey, sergeant! Cain’t we stop heah, now that we kin see, and shift these men? Ain’t ary bit er straw in the bottom of these wagons. I think some of ’em’s daid and they’re all rolled togethuh. Fix ’em up a mite ’n’ we might save moh.’

‘Orduhs are not to stop foh anything. The awmy’s comin’ by a different way ’n’ we got to cross the river befoh they do — if we ever get there. Keep that wagon movin’.’

The rain slackened into a drizzle and the low sky grew as light as it ever would. The man in front was waking up. He shook his head, tossing his shaggy black hair below his faded hat. Kirby recognized him as the reckless young fellow who was always telling him that if he’d ever been in a charge he’d be glad enough now to be back with the wagons.

‘Brothuh! Wheah’s my brothuh? Git me outa this wagon! I cain’t stand no moh.’

Kirby lowered his head and forced his lips tight together. He could n’t stand any more either. Then he heard a yell up ahead. Voices picked it up, carried it down the line.

‘Greencastle! We’re comin’ into Greencastle!’

Kirby straightened. A town meant rest and food. Then he heard Chinch say: ‘Will we tarry theah, sergeant?‘

‘Dammit, we ain’t stoppin’ nowhar for nothin’. I keep tellin’ yuh, if the Yanks git us we’ll all be slaughtuhed, ’n’ they’ll be comin’ this mawnin’.‘

Kirby jerked around in his soggy saddle. He stared past Chinch into the grimy, mud-splattered, hard-bitten face of the sergeant.

‘You mean — you mean we won’t get any food there?’

‘From them Dutchmen? They’d sooner put the dogs on us.’

‘Maybe — we can scare up some,’ he faltered. ‘They do in our country.’

‘Maybe we’ll fly to Vuhginny, too,’ the sergeant snarled. ‘Ride!’

Kirby faced about, sank lifelessly back in the saddle.

‘We’re crossin’ at Williamsport, sonny,’ Chinch said. ‘Ain’t ovuh fifteen mile to theah. That ain’t much, specially ’thout no vittles to weigh down yoh belly.’

The men laughed. Kirby looked straight over the wet mane of his horse. Let them laugh. He’d show them when they got to fighting. He’d get out of this outfit then and ride with Jeb Stuart. Only — only he wished the fight would come soon. Then he would n’t mind the nausea that rose from his empty stomach. Then he would n’t mind any of this.

Ahead, he saw that the advance column was trotting into the street of a little town. The guns rattled behind. The first wagon moved into the street, then the others. An officer in a gleaming rubber blanket rode out and yelled to the sergeant.

‘You can bring your men up with the rest of the regiment now. You need n’t ride beside the wagons any more.’

Kirby prodded his horse. The tired animal slouched into a trot. He heard the sergeant yelling at the men behind. In front the men all looked alike, moving like automatons. The water cascaded in showers from them, the mud splashing up as high as the saddle flaps. Kirby saw that his sabre scabbard was coated with thick brown mud. He sat close in the saddle to avoid striking the soggy leather.

Solid footing of a street steadied the trot of his horse. Kirby saw neat rows of frame houses set back from little lawns. Summer flowers were bright with the rain in front of the porches. Women’s frightened faces peered out through the window curtains.

Kirby remembered his mother looking out of a window like that, and then he remembered himself in the morning in a house like one of these. He would be dry and there would be hot food.

‘Dammit, son, don’t be bawlin’ when you go through a Yankee town!’

Kirby saw the sergeant beside him, eyes hard and tired peering through the mask of mud. He realized then that tears were softening the mud caked on his face. He tried to say something, but his throat was constricted. He looked down, at the mud on the asphalt street, and felt those tired eyes on him.

‘Look, son. See them fellows sittin’ down theah in the street?’

Kirby looked over the horse’s drooping head. His vision was blurred. Through the moisture he saw tattered men lying and sitting along the street. Some had ragged slings around their arms, some had dirty bandages around their heads. None of them moved.

‘Them fellows are tired ’n’ hongry, too,’ the sergeant said. ‘Some of ’em’s wounded. The others are stragglers. But they’re infantry. You ain’t goin’ to let ’em see a hoss soldier bawl, are you, son?’

Kirby shook his head. ‘No, sir.’

‘Don’t suh me. I’ve jest had this troop a coupla days. Maybe somebody else’ll have it to-morrow.’

‘You’ve got the troop? Where’s the captain?’

‘That was a lieutenant you repo’ted tuh. He’s daid. I’m the captain now, but you don’t have to suh me, ’cause most likely I won’t be heah long.’

‘Yes, sir.’

The sergeant rode on ahead and Kirby saw that the troop was forming in columns of fours. He moved his horse in between Chinch and the darkhaired young man. Chinch looked ageless with his face covered by a scraggly gray beard. Tufts of gray hair poked through the holes in his hat. But he sat in his U. S. saddle with an ease that disheartened Kirby after all the riding hours. Chinch was singing softly to himself: —

If yuh want tuh have a good time, jine the cavalry . . .‘

They passed the guns and caissons. Men drooped on the carriages like wet chickens on a pole. Greencastle was falling behind. The tattered gray men lying in the street were left to the Yankees, for a prison. Some of the wounded hobbled beside the wagons. One was using a musket for a crutch.

Kirby’s wet clothes clung to him like the mud to his scabbard. He surely could not write home about this. The family would worry. These other men did n’t seem worried about getting wet. He looked at their bearded, leathery faces set in hard lines of fatigue. Suddenly he hated every one of them. He wished that he were one of those infantrymen who could fall out, be a straggler. At least he could get dry clothes and something to eat.


A yell, high-pitched and shrill, brought the whole column upright in their saddles. Kirby glared at their startled faces in triumph because they were shaken out of their drowsing. They were satisfied to doze along in the rain and muck. He wanted to fight, and maybe this was his chance to show them. Other voices had taken up the yelling and then the sharp crackle of revolvers cut through the shouting.

A screaming old man on a harness horse splashed in the field beside the train, the harness flapping out. The old man was belaboring the stumbling animal with a driving whip. Without an order, the column stopped. That old man was an ambulance driver. He screamed at the officers as his horse floundered toward them.

‘People of that damn town . . . axes . . . cut our wheels . . . wagons down . . . wounded on the ground . . . devils with axes . . .‘

A young staff officer, in a uniform that had been trim before rain-bedraggled, came thundering past the guns, past Kirby’s troop, on toward the head of the column. Kirby saw the older men loosening their sabres. Some of them pulled pistols out of the depths of their rags and inspected them.

Kirby felt himself shaking. His hand closed around the sabre hilt, and the moisture from his palm made his grip slip. Now that the moment was here, he was tightened inside as though no movement could ever be made by his body. If only they would give the word, he knew he would be released. He had to be, to show them.

The sergeant galloped toward them, and the word was coming. Kirby stood up in his stirrups, straining against his leashed emotions. Then the sergeant yelled: —

‘Move off’n the road to the right! Git out of the way! The other troop’s goin’ back tuh fight. Off’n the road! Move, boys!’

Kirby stood there in his stirrups, immobilized, gaping at the sergeant. The pivoting horse of the dark young man bumped him.

‘Move!‘ he snarled. ‘You ain’t goin’ to fight.’

Kirby sank back into the saddle. His horse was carried by the others into the hock-deep slush of a ploughed field. He saw the troop in front turn around, then stumble into a heavyfooted gallop. Kirby watched the men who were going back to fight.

They came lumbering past. The mud sprayed the whole troop. Kirby was unaware of the mud, even that plastered over the side of his mouth. That troop with the gleaming sabres was riding to fight. He was going to ride on forever in this mud. The last man passed. The men wiped their faces and spat.

‘Back intuh the road. Come on, boys, move!’

The horses wheezed and stumbled out of the glutinous mass. Kirby saw that no one was in front of them. They were now the first troop of the advance guard.

‘Close up, men, close up.’

The dark young man next to Kirby said: —

‘By God, attackin’ wagons of wounded is worse than burnin’ our houses.’

‘I’d sho’ like to come on a Yank burnin’ a house oncet,’ Chinch said in pleasant speculation. ‘Jest me ’n’ him.’

‘Close up, men, close up.’

They rode. The sky gathered close above them, black as though another downpour might come. Kirby’s wet clothes were sticking like a poultice. He felt a chill through his body. More soldiers die of disease than are killed, his father had said.

If yuh leant tuh have a good time, jine the cavalry . . .’

Chinch’s low voice was the only sound except the steady sloshing of the horses in the mud. The men were all slouched again, sacks on the plodding horses. The tension went out of Kirby’s body slowly and he slouched, too, like the others, as he had done last night.

After a time he heard firing in the rear. His body quivered and his head jerked up.

‘Jest some Yanks worryin’ the train,’ Chinch said.

Kirby slumped back. No one else noticed. When he heard the next firing, his nerves jumped once, but he would not raise his head. Later he heard the blast of the howitzers right behind them, and all the ragged men straightened. Kirby did not. He knew they would never fight. The men slouched down again.

‘McClanahan’s battery had to help drive ’em off,’ the dark young man said. ‘Yanks must be comin’ stronguh.’

‘Gawd, I sho’ hope theah main bawdy of cavalry don’t hit us,’ Chinch said feelingly.

The words rolled over Kirby’s brain without making an impression. Nothing made impression, not even the firing that broke out sporadically behind. All sense of personal consciousness lost, he lolled amœba-like down the endless miles of mud.

It was like coming out of a dreamfogged sleep in the middle of the night when voices aroused him into painful, dulled awareness. He lifted his head. His neck muscles ached. His parchment-dry eyes strained through puffed lids. At first he saw only fields of freshly mown hay. Then, beyond the drooping men on shuffling horses, he saw a cluster of houses.

‘Williamsport! Thet’s whar we cross.

. . . Back tuh Vuhginny. . . .’

Tired voices lifted in excitement.

‘You’re goin’ to be home now, sonny,’ the dark young man grinned.

‘Yoh mammy kin put yuh in dry clothes,’ Chinch said.

Kirby dropped his head. He was afraid to look at their hardened, jeering faces, because he was at the breaking point. The sight of those houses washed up another wave of homesickness, worse than at Greencastle. Now he was wearier and sicker, and he knew they would cross here, night closing down, and with no rest, no food.

His clothes stuck to him. He smelled the dampness of the river. He felt the solid surface of a street beneath his horse and he heard women’s voices. But he would n’t look up. The street went out from under his horse and they slushed through the mire of an open field. A crisp, strange voice rang out. The troop halted. Kirby lay limply over the pommel. Everyone was talking excitedly.

‘Yanks done cut the bridge. . . . River swollen too high tuh cross. . . . Great Gawd, what’ll we do with all the wounded?’

The crisp voice sounded again.

‘Bivouac here. The trains will be coming in behind you all night. You’re all that’s between them and the Yankees except a couple of companies of infantry in Winchester. The army won’t be here for another day or two, so — it’s up to you.’

There was more talking. Kirby heard the sergeant’s voice, and the colonel’s. Then he thought he heard the order to dismount. He opened his eyes. The men were climbing rustily from their horses. Kirby achingly pulled his right leg over the cantle. His left leg buckled under his weight and he slid limply into the mud. He grabbed for the pommel, clung with his trembling arm. He saw, as at a great distance, the mud-caked ribs of his horse heaving.

‘You can’t tend your horse by prayin’, son.’ The voice was soft, close in his ear.

Kirby turned slowly and looked into the reckless grin of the dark young man.

‘Follow me,’ he said.

Kirby straightened. His weak legs steadied. He stepped forward, took hold of the bridle. He followed behind the dark one, his ears filled with the sucking sound of horses and men walking through the bog.

Automatically, his movements detached from his brain, he unsaddled, curried, and watered the horse, and turned him over to the picket line. He followed the men back to the mess. The gloomy dusk was closing over them and ahead the mess fires were glowing through the shadows.

He found his mess. The dour mountaineer, who never talked, was solemnly stirring the ‘sloosh’ in the skillet. The muddy faces were all turned hungrily toward it. Chinch came up, dropped his folded blanket, and squatted on it.

If yuh want tuh have a good time, jine the cavalry . . .’

Kirby folded his damp blanket and sat down in the shadows. He tried not to look at the sickening concoction, but his hunger forced his eyes to the steaming pan. The thin chunks of rancid bacon were curling in the sizzling grease, and the mountaineer was pouring in the scant portion of lumpy flour mixed with water.

‘You goin’ to make it into cakes, Tiberius?’ the dark one asked.

The mountaineer gravely nodded, stirring the fried bacon and flour into a greasy substance. Kirby’s stomach heaved. His fascinated gaze watched the mountaineer’s deft hands separate the sodden mass into divisions and turn them from side to side, hardening the surface. The mountaineer’s helper, a lanky redhead in butternut shirt and faded jeans, brought up a bucket of water.

‘Heah’s the last of thet champagne we got from the Yanks’ supply train at Manassas.’

The men dipped their battered cups into the bucket.

‘Did n’t yuh save none of them choc’lates?’ Chinch asked.

‘Naw, but we gonna pass ’round the last of theah Havanuh cigars aftuh we vittle.’

‘Pass yoh plates,’ the mountaineer said.

The men held out their dirty calloused hands.

Kirby’s palm was not toughened enough and the sloosh cake burned. He put his dipper on the ground and shifted the hot food to his left hand. Then he bent forward quickly and took a big bite. The grease sickened him as it went down. When it hit his stomach, his intestines seemed to turn over. He dropped the cake in the mud and staggered away from the light.

Retch after retch gagged him. He fell to his knees. His hands slid in the mud. His bowels contracted, then exploded. His gullet bellowed and sloosh was released. Its rancid odor assailed his nostrils and he retched again. The violence of the retching frightened him.

‘One man’s poison is anothuh’s meat, heh, Chinch?’ It was the voice of the dark one in the distance. ‘Give you half for a chaw.’

‘My vittles don’ suit him,’ the mountaineer growled. ‘Should a brung he private cook.’

‘I reckon he’s jest missin’ the American Ho-tel down in Richmond.’

‘Naw. He’s missin’ his mammy’s hot-water tea.’

‘Heh-heh-heh-heh!’ The brutal laughter rang through Kirby there in the darkness as the retching subsided and his exhausted body stretched out in the mud. His eyes were closed tightly, to shut out images of those men he hated, and to shut out the images of home.

He did n’t know he had been sleeping until he started up at the feel of hands on him, and instinctively pushed at something encircling him.

‘Jest lay still, son,’ a voice sounded low in his ears. ‘Yuh need yoh blanket under yuh on this-heah ground.’

It was his blanket enclosing him. He was all trussed up in it, with a saddle under his head. His eyes stared through the darkness and he saw the gray-bearded face of Chinch bending over him.

‘Theah yuh are.’

Kirby relaxed, stretched his body that had been cramped.

‘Thank you — Chinch.’

The dim figure vanished silently in the darkness.

‘If yuh want tuh have a good time, jine the cavalry . . .’

The camp was silent. Kirby fell asleep again with the soft song of Chinch in his brain.


The morning was gray and damp. Kirby’s bones were stiff and he felt chilled to his marrow. He saw the men trudging through the mire toward the fringe of trees by the creek where the horses were picketed. He floundered out of his blanket. As he stood up, the dark young man approached him with the reckless grin. Kirby stiffened himself inwardly against the coming jibe and his eyes glared defiantly. The dark one gave a quick furtive glance around. Then he pulled from inside his shirt a sack made of a flour bag. Out of the sack he jerked two pieces of soggy hardtack and thrust them toward Kirby. Kirby did n’t move. He looked hungrily at the mouldy bread and back at the dark eyes. He was waiting for the joke.

‘Take ’em, son,’ the dark one said, ‘and stuff ’em down. I’ve got a drag with the quartermastuh colonel. He used to be my Greek professuh at the University of Vuhginia.’

Kirby took them gingerly.

‘Hurry up,’ the dark one said. ‘Most likely you won’t get anythin’ else today and your gullet’s empty.’

Hunger overcoming suspicion, Kirby stuffed the soggy hardtack into his mouth. He chewed and swallowed, staring all the while at the young man with the reckless grin.

‘After you get your horse, theah ’ll be some coffee. See that you keep it down.’

‘Thank you.’ Kirby’s voice was unsteady. This kindness was bringing tears back to his eyes.

The dark one stalked off.

Kirby saddled his horse, watered him, and went back to the mess. The mountaineer gave him a murderous look, but no one said anything. They were all getting potato coffee in their water dippers. It was sour and bitter, without sugar or cream, but it warmed Kirby and he kept it down.

A pleasant-looking young man was walking toward the mess. His freshly washed face revealed browned skin, and blue eyes glanced over the men.

‘Boys,’ he said, ‘we got tuh keep the blue-bellies off’n the wounded ’n’ these skimpy supplies till the awmy gits heah — and Gawd knows when thet’ll be. So it’s up to us.’

Kirby was staring at the pleasant young man. It was the sergeant! He was no more than nineteen. The sergeant turned to Kirby and smiled shyly.

‘Glad tuh see yuh kept yoh coffee down. Yuh’re goin’ to need it this day.’ His blue eyes swept over the rest of the mess. ‘Git goin’, boys. Yuh’re gawdin’ the road we come in on.’

Kirby, staring after the slender figure, suffered a mounting shame. The sergeant was nothing but a boy himself, and he had seen Kirby get sick and — and cry. Kirby drained his dipper of potato coffee and hung it on his belt. His shoulders went back as during the drill at the Fair Grounds. If the Yankees attacked to-day, he’d show them. He’d show, not the Yankees, but the troop. He rolled, like the sergeant, when he walked to his horse, and it was a firm seat he took in the saddle.

There was a different air about the men this morning. Kirby saw that as soon as they rode. They went through the town at a businesslike trot and deployed as soon as they reached the field where the freshly mown hay was. Drivers were stuffing the hay into empty wagons and piling it on the backs of horses. The wagons had all arrived and were parked in a big field right behind the town.

The men spread out facing the woods where the hayfield ended. The dark young man and three others moved ahead down the road as pickets. Everything was very still, except for an occasional shout of the wagoners piling hay. It was like a farm scene. The men drowsed in their saddles, but they did n’t have that dead appearance of yesterday. Watching the hayfield, Kirby remembered last summer on Uncle Robert’s plantation.

Just as unexpectedly as if it had been a farm scene, the scattering of shots straight ahead broke the stillness. Kirby jumped. He heard a yell, more shots, then pounding hoofs on the road. Every man was erect, every horse’s head up. The four horses of the pickets galloped into view together. The saddle of one was empty. The stirrups were flapping, and, as the horses charged nearer, Kirby saw on the mane of the riderless horse the blood that had been in the body of the dark one. Kirby’s whole body seemed to rise in unuttered protest as he remembered the dark one riding away with the reckless grin, and inside his shirt the sack of hardtack.

‘Git! Git! Regiments of Yanks!’

The spell of horror broke, scattered into a rushing torrent of panic. Wildly he spun the horse, driving in the spurs so hard the horse lunged ahead with a shrill neighing. The thought came that he’d heard no order to retreat, but he did n’t care. When he saw the other men, leaning forward over their horses’ necks and straining toward the town, he did n’t feel any better. Nothing mattered in his headlong flight.

In the field he saw horses running crazily with bonfires on their backs. Then he saw some riders in blue uniforms galloping across the field. They were setting fire to the hay on the horses. He saw the still figure of a wagoner lying in the mud. He saw one of the blue men fall off his horse, and a second later he heard a shot from the town. There were several shots from town; then a volley. The blue horsemen turned back.


The houses of the town loomed up close and Kirby saw some gray infantrymen lying between the houses and firing. Kirby’s horse stumbled on the sharp turn coming into the street. It was filled with people running around and shouting. An officer with an arm in a sling was bellowing to some bearded wagoners who milled around him. He was handing them muskets.

An old man, with blood dripping through the fingers clutching his stomach, was circling around, shrieking, ‘Great Gawd, ain’t nowhar safe?’

’Dammit, don’t run us down! You’ll save yoh mangy hides.’

A tall officer with a close-cropped beard was pulling his horse upon its haunches right in front of Kirby. He shook his sabre and yelled. Kirby saw that his horse was wet and his boots gleamed with water. Galloping down the street beyond the officer were a body of men on wet horses. Somebody shouted:—

‘McNeil’s Partisan Ranguhs! Jest crossed the rivuh! Give ’em room!’

Kirby fought his excited horse up on the sidewalk and kept going. The other men of his troop were scattering in every direction. Kirby galloped out into the mired field where they had bivouacked last night. Other cavalrymen from the regiment were milling around, everyone shouting. McNeil’s Rangers were getting smaller as they galloped away to the left. The rattle of muskets sounded, and Kirby saw some tiny gray dots running toward a farmhouse.

The ground heaved under them and his brain rocked with thunder. He cried out. Smoke came rolling down from the top of the hill and he saw figures running through it. He saw heavy guns up there and some men jerking sponges out of them. A voice rang out. The lanyards were pulled. The ground shook again and the roar blasted through the boy’s nerves. He glanced frantically around, a terrified animal seeking escape.

‘Don’t take on, sonny. ’Tain’t nuthin’ goin’ tuh hurt yuh heah.’

Kirby stared at Chinch without comprehending.

‘Up on the hill, men! For the love of God, get up there!’

Kirby’s horse was staggered around by the others. Men cursed, animals squealed, the air hummed, and then the earth shook again. Kirby was carried on by the rush. His horse floundered in the mire. At the top of the hill the smoke hung in a low cloud. Ghostly figures ran through it. Everyone was shouting. The guns blasted right in his ears.

‘Heah! Heah!’

The sergeant was rounding up the troop. Kirby found Chinch pressing beside him again. He was humming through his gray beard: —

‘If yuh want tuh have a good time, jine the cavalry . . .’

Between the thunderous belches of the guns Kirby heard rifle fire off on the left, then more of it on the right. The firing on the right deepened in tone and seemed to sweep nearer, like a driving wind. He looked apprehensively at the others of his troop. They were no longer his slovenly, jeering companions. They were cold-eyed men, hard of face, alert of body, fierce, untamed. In his own paralyzing fear he felt himself the boy they had called him, inadequate, out of place among the seasoned fighters who had endured thousands of such weary, hungry miles as those from Gettysburg, hundreds of such fights as this. And he had wanted a charge to show them he was worthy of Jeb Stuart’s cavalry. . . .

‘It’s coming on the right! That’s the main attack!’

It was General Imboden himself, shouting above the din. Kirby saw his haggard eyes, determined above his short-cropped, rain-matted beard. The troop leaders were pressing close about him.

’Go down behind this ridge so they won’t see you leave the centre. Drive back their advance and hold them until help comes. Above all, don’t let them see you leave here. If they suspect how few men we’ve got — well, they must n’t! And, men, for God’s sake, hold them!’

The sergeant spun his muddy horse around, waved his sabre over his head. Kirby felt his horse carrying him down the slippery side of the hill. His insides were an emptiness through which waves of weakness washed. His throat was so dry that to swallow hurt. He struck the bottom on the far side of the hill and then turned straight ahead.

The firing rushed nearer. It was louder here, and clear. The guns boomed behind him dully, but he could hear the sharp, distinct cracks of muskets. In a clump of bushes hospital attendants were bent over some still forms. As he rode past, Kirby saw one writhe. A knife gleamed in the wet air.

‘No! No! Please God, no! I’ll take the chance!’

In front, the lieutenant of the troop ahead yelled. His voice drifted back through the noise: ‘Follow me!’

His troop surged ahead. Their sabres flashed through the thin smoke. Off on the side some ragged, bearded old men were firing from behind a post-and-rail fence.

‘Must a awmed ev’ry one of them wagoners,’ Chinch said meditatively. ‘Who’d a thought they’d fit?’

Kirby stared at the man as if he were crazy. He could think of other people. . . .

Then the troop, trotting fast, broke into the open. He saw his first Yankees. They looked like men, adult, assured, like his father and uncles. They had authority in their trim-fitting uniforms, with shiny boots. The coats of sturdy horses shone and the men were planted firmly in the fine leather of the saddles.

Yet they were going away. A breath of relief choked up through his constricted throat. The tatterdemalions of the troop ahead were firing steadily as they galloped, and the strong men in blue were riding away. His own troop followed behind, and behind them was the third. Maybe he would n’t be in the fight after all. . . .

The blue men swarmed up a muddy embankment alongside a road. When they reached the far side, Kirby’s eyes gaped. They were becoming part of a vast horde of blue, spreading over the earth like a never-ending ink blot. He saw the sheen of metal, and then puffs of smoke popped out from them. A funny whistling strung the air and he heard the crack of carbines. There was a grunt near him and a riderless horse galloped in front. Then they all galloped.

The troop swung out around him. Kirby looked behind. The other troop was swinging out. The first troop had reached the embankment. They were piling off their horses, hurling themselves against the mud of the embankment wall. Kirby knew that was where he was headed, and again he looked back, desperately, animal instinct seeking preservation.

‘Faster, boys, faster!‘

The movement of the troop carried him on. He heard a dull plopping in the mud like rocks thrown. Then the embankment loomed up. Suddenly that muddy wall offered safety, a haven, and he spurred the horse onward. He flung himself off, while the animal was still skidding on his hocks through the slime. He threw his body into the wet mud, his face straight into it. His body was heaving with gasping breaths.

’Shoot thet ca’bine, son.’ Chinch was there again.

Kirby stared unseeingly at him with glazed eyes. The horny hand grabbed him and jerked him backward.

‘Son, you gotta ack like a man now. Don’t yuh want tub save yoh mammy from the Yankees?’

Kirby stared like one hypnotized.

‘Do like me.’

The boy watched him scoop out the wet mud on top of the wall, make two mounds and lay his carbine through it. He heard the sharp crack through all the noise. Chinch slid down, ducking behind the wall, and looked at the boy with a snaggle-toothed grin. He was already ramming a ball down the muzzle.

‘See how easy ’t is? Come on now, tuhgethuh.’

Kirby turned slowly, watching Chinch. With his eyes on that straggly-bearded face, he scooped up two piles of mud and slid his carbine through it. He did n’t see anything but hoofmarks in the mud, but when he heard the crack of Chinch’s carbine he pulled his own trigger. The sharp report steadied his hand.

He ducked down beside Chinch and reloaded. He never saw anything to shoot at. He just poked his carbine through and pulled the trigger. Then he squatted down and reloaded. The mud at the bottom was all churned and some of the men were lying in it, very still. He turned away from them and watched Chinch. Chinch grinned through his gray beard.

‘I b’lieve I got one,’ he said.

Kirby kept on firing. That was all there was to it. He got used to the humming in the air. Every once in a while a bullet plopped right in front of him. His bullets were getting low. He saw other men taking balls out of the pockets of the dead men. He fired more slowly, took longer to reload, so he would n’t have to touch the corpses.

A horse splashed up.

‘You’ve got to hold them, sergeant. You’ve got to!’

Kirby saw that Chinch was taking a long time to reload, too. He pushed his carbine through and fired again. There was a whish in front of his eyes and mud splattered his face. He ducked quickly. Chinch was still bent over his carbine. Kirby glanced at him closer. He was not moving. Kirby moved his hand toward him, stopped. He tried to speak; his tongue was thick and lifeless. He reached his hand out again.

When he touched the tattered sleeve, the still body slid forward, very slowly, just sinking down in the mud. Near the bottom the body pitched out from the wall and squashed face down in the quagmire. Kirby screamed.


‘Git back to thet firin’ wall, boy! We got to hold ’em now.’

Kirby whirled, threw himself against the mud wall. He was sobbing. He could n’t stop. Blindly he loaded, shoved his carbine through, and fired. He kept sobbing. Then there were n’t any more balls. He just stood there.

‘Out of bullets?’

He nodded dumbly.

‘Git ’em from Chinch.’

Kirby shook his head.

The sergeant started toward him. A sabre gleamed in his hand. He was n’t a pleasant-faced boy any more.

‘Damn you!’ be snarled.

Kirby stooped quickly. He had to roll the body over. He tried not to look at the face as he ran his hands through the pockets. He got a few balls and jumped back. When he stood up the straggly beard was before his eyes and for a moment he stared at the face that had been beside him for so many miles. . . .

’If yuh want tuh have a good time, jine the cavalry . . .‘

Kirby whirled away and threw the balls out of his hands as though they burned.

‘No!’ He turned toward the sergeant. ‘No . . .‘

The sergeant was n’t there. All the men were jumping back from the wall, and the sergeant was standing at the bottom of the decline beside his horse.

‘Heah comes Jeb Stuart! Mount fast, boys! If we flank ’em now, we can drive ’em away.‘

A long, high-pitched shriek rose from the line, eerie and savage, tingling down the boy’s spine. Kirby knew he was hearing the Rebel Yell for the first time. No more would it call the dark one, no more Chinch. He looked down again at that bearded face. The lids were closed over the faded eyes, but the lips revealed the snaggled teeth that used to show in a smile.

‘Follow me!’

Kirby’s head went up. The troop was trotting behind the sergeant alongside the mud wall. Ahead was a break. Kirby saw the gray rags on their backs and he saw their sabres lifted. They did n’t look invincible, like the trim blue men in their fine leather saddles on their sleek horses; but they were men like Chinch, and they were going to fight.

Kirby looked once more at the still figure. Then, sobbing, he leaped down the incline and jumped on his horse. Under the vicious spur, the animal bucked around, snorting, and scrambled through the slime of the embankment to the top. His thrashing hoofs trampled the mud mounds Chinch had built, and he staggered up on the road.


Even while he steadied the horse, Kirby saw the Yankees across the field of mud. No more were they the solid, unbreakable mass of blue. They were individual men swarming their horses up the far side of a ditch from which they had been firing. As he saw them, they were looking northward down the road in the general direction from which the retreat had come.

Kirby looked, too. At first he saw only a cyclonic blur moving over the ground. He heard the roll of padded thunder, and the blur broke into the forms of galloping cavalrymen. From them rose a shrill shriek that swept forward like a howling wind. An answering scream from the troop met it, and the combined fury broke over Kirby, wrenched at his nerves.

Then the fierce Rebel Yell was torn from his own throat and he drove the spurs in. The hand that burned from Chinch’s bullets gripped a pistol, and he started blasting at the blue figures as his horse began to gallop. They were running away, now that they had killed Chinch, running now that Jeb Stuart was coming. But he would n’t let them get away. Again and again the big pistol kicked in his hand.

The horses were pivoting and plunging as the blue troops formed and galloped east toward the rolling hills. The ditch loomed up. The last troop formed on its edge, wheeling to gallop off from the Valkyrie cry rushing toward them. A man with chevroned sleeves steadied his horse and raised his pistol, pointed straight at Kirby. The boy saw the smoke puff out and heard the whine of the bullet. Screaming hysterically, he fired again and again. The big pistol clicked.

The ditch gaped. Kirby dropped the pistol in the mud, leaned forward on the withers and clucked. The tired horse gathered himself. The boy drew his sabre and flourished it as the ground left him. When he soared over the ditch, he saw the face of the chevroned blue soldier. It was emotionless, and he sat very still as he aimed the pistol again. The smoke puffed out. Kirby’s horse shuddered. He struck the muddy earth and plunged forward.

The Yankee started to whirl his horse. Kirby’s crashed into him. The impact catapulted the boy out of the saddle. He scrambled up. The Yank’s mount was floundering, squealing, and the Yank was scrambling up, too. The pistol was still in his hand. The sabre was in Kirby’s hand. He sprang forward and slashed. The crash of the gun blinded him. His arm buckled and his wrist tingled. He felt a burn across his cheek. Blindly he struck again, and the sabre swished the air. Then he saw the Yankee lying in the mud. His eyes were glazing and blood oozed from the collar of the uniform.

Kirby felt a strange sensation, and all at once he wanted to get away from there. He turned for his horse. The animal was huddled in the mud, blood caked around a gash in his throat. The Yank’s horse was standing perfectly still. Kirby saw the U. S. on the fine saddle. He grabbed the bridle and swung up. Now he was riding a horse like the one Chinch had.

Then he realized he was all alone. Ahead, the galloping cavalry was blurring again, and the padded thunder sounded faint. He saw his own troop trotting toward him and the general was riding beside the sergeant. Kirby started toward them. He saw two figures riding along the road, and he stopped.

One was a giant of a man, his legs far below his horse’s barrel. The other wore a flowing red beard. A plume fluttered above his rolled-brim hat, and a red-lined cape was thrown back from his shoulder. A yellow sash was around his sword belt and a buff gauntlet was on his gesturing hand. Kirby just sat there, staring. He heard voices nearing him, but the words did n’t penetrate his own thoughts.

‘Like I keep tellin’ yuh, gin’ral, if my men don’t git some sleep, they won’t care what happens to the wagons.’

‘You should n’t speak like that in front of your men, sergeant.’

‘They don’t mind, gin’ral. . . . Do you, son?’

Kirby knew then they were speaking to him, and he turned around and grinned. But he said what was in his mind.

‘Now I can write home that I’ve been in a charge with Jeb Stuart.‘