Newt Gingrich, William R Forstchen
Never Call Retreat
August 22, 1863 5:15 A.M.
Capt. Phil Duvall of the Third Virginia Cavalry, Fitz Lee's Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia, raced up the steps of the Carlisle Barracks, taking them two at a time. Reaching the top floor, he scrambled up a ladder to the small cupola that domed the building.
One of his men was already there, Sergeant Lucas, half squatting, eye to the telescope. As Duvall reached the top step of the ladder, Lucas stepped back from the telescope and looked down at him. "It ain't good, sir."
Lucas offered him a hand, pulling his captain up. Phil looked around. Morning mist carpeted the valley around them. At any other time he would have just stood there for a long moment to soak in the view. It was a stunningly beautiful morning. The heat of the previous days had broken during the night as a line of thunderstorms marched down from the northwest. The air was fresh, the valley bathed in the indigo glow and deep shadows of approaching dawn. The sounds of an early summer morning floated about him, birds singing, someone nearby chopping wood, but mingled in was another sound.
He squatted down, putting his eye to the telescope, squinting, adjusting the focus. He saw nothing but mist, then, after several seconds, a flash of light. It was hard to distinguish, but long seconds later a distant pop echoed, then another.
He stood back up, taking out his field glasses, focusing them on the same spot. With their broader sweep he could now see them, antlike, deployed in open line, mounted, crossing a pasture at a trot, their uniforms almost black in the early morning light… Yankee cavalry, a skirmish line… behind them, a half mile back, what looked to be a mounted regiment in column on the Cumberland Valley Pike.
He lowered his glasses and looked down at the parade ground in front of the barracks. His troopers were already falling in, saddling mounts, scrambling about.
"Lucas, get down there and tell the boys they got ten minutes to pack up."
"We gonna fight 'em?"
Phil looked at him.
"Are you insane? That's at least a regiment out there. Now tell 'em they got ten minutes to pack it up."
Lucas slid down the ladder, his boots echoing as he ran down the stairs.
Phil looked back to the east. He didn't need field glasses now. He could see them. The Yankee skirmishers were across the pasture, disappearing into a narrow stretch of woods bordering a winding stream. A few more pops, and from the west side of the creek, half a dozen troopers emerged… his boys. They were riding at full gallop, jumping a fence, coming out on the main pike.
Only six of them? There should be twenty or more. These were the boys at the forward picket just outside of Marysville. So the first rumor was true: They had been caught by surprise.
The Yankee skirmishers did not come out of the wood line in pursuit, reining in after emerging from the woods. There were a few flashes. One of his men slumped over in the saddle but managed to stay mounted. The mounted Yankee regiment on the road started to come forward, beginning to shake out from column into line, obviously preparing to rush the town.
He lowered his glasses and looked around one last time. It had been a lovely month here, duty easy, the locals not exactly friendly, but not hostile either. The land was rich, the food good, his mounts fattening on the rich grass, the bushels of oats, his men fattening as well.
Positioned here as an outpost they had missed the battles of the previous four weeks around Washington and Baltimore… and he was glad of it.
As a West Pointer, class of 1861, he knew he should be of higher rank by now, but that did not bother him. He had seen enough of slaughter. Though others sought "recognition in dispatches" in order to gain promotions, that was a vainglorious game he felt to be childish. Staying alive and making sure his men stayed alive held a higher priority. Besides, Jeb Stuart trusted his judgment as a scout. That was recognition enough. Ever since Grant came east and started moving tens of thousands of troops into Harrisburg, it was his job to watch them from the other side of the river and report in with accurate assessments, and he had been doing that.
He had sent a report just yesterday that he suspected a move was about to begin on their part, and now it had indeed begun. What was surprising was the speed of it all. Carlisle was a dozen miles west of Harrisburg. Apparently, the Yankees had thrown a bridge across the river during the night and were now pushing forward with their cavalry to create a screen behind which their infantry would advance.
He ran his hand along the smooth polished brass tube of the telescope. There had been quiet evenings when he had used it to study the moon, the crescent of Venus, and now, on August mornings, before dawn, the belt of Orion.
Bring it along? It weighed a good thirty pounds.
Reluctantly he upended it, letting it tumble back down the stairwell, crashing on the floor below.
He took one last look, then slid down the ladder, boots echoing as he tromped down the stairs. Some men were running back into the building, darting into rooms, re-emerging carrying some souvenir or keepsake picked up over the last month… a banjo, a wall clock, a quilt. At the sight of this, he regretted the destruction of the telescope. After the war it would have been nice to have it back home in the valley and take it up Massanutten to watch the stars at night or gaze out across a Shenandoah peaceful once more.
He heard heavy steps coming up the stairs. It was Lieutenant Syms, the man he had assigned to their forward station at Marysville. Syms was gray-faced, wincing with each step, his right calf bleeding, boot punctured by a ball.
"Damn it, Syms. Where the hell have you been?" Phil shouted.
"Sir, I'm sorry, sir. Didn't you get our report by wire?" "Only part of it."
Phil stuck his head into the telegraphy station they had established on the second floor of the barracks.
Sergeant Billings was sitting by the key, looking at him calmly, awaiting orders.
"Read what Syms wired."
Billings picked up a scrap of paper.
'This came through at two-ten this morning. 'Pontoon bridge across river. Cavalry…'"
Billings looked back up.
'That was it, sir."
Syms shook his head.
"Damn all. I'm sorry, sir. They slipped some troopers across. Cut the line behind us before we could get more out."
"In other words, they caught you by surprise."
Syms was always straightforward, and after only a second's hesitation he reluctantly nodded his head in agreement.
"Something like that, sir."
"So what the hell is going on?" 'They jumped us at our headquarters. Ten of us got out. I sent a few boys down to the river, and in the confusion they were able to see that one bridge was already across and infantry on it. A civilian, reliable, he's been in our pay, told one of my boys that it was Ord's Corps leading the crossing."
"Do you believe that?"
"Yes, sir. I caught a glimpse of the bridge as we pulled out."
"How did you see it in the dark?"
"It was lined with torches, sir. I could see infantry on it. A long column clear back across the river into Harrisburg."
How did the Yankees get a bridge across the Susquehanna so quickly? They must have built sections of it upstream and floated them down once it got dark. He suspected that Syms and his boys were truly asleep, from too much drink, if they let that get past them.
Duvall sighed and looked at Sergeant Billings.
"Send the following to headquarters: 'Grant started crossing Susquehanna shortly after midnight. Ord's Corps in the lead.'"
Gunfire outside interrupted his thoughts. He looked up and saw what was left of Sym's detachment galloping onto the parade ground: one trooper leading the horse of a wounded comrade, who was slumped over in the saddle.
" 'Believe Grant moving down this valley, heading south. Regiment or more of their cavalry about to storm Carlisle. Abandoning this post.' Now send it!"
Billings worked the key as Duvall went to the window and looked out. The Yankee cavalry were clearly visible on the main pike, deployed to either side of the road, forming a battlefront several hundred yards across. They were coming on cautiously, most likely not sure if this town was. well garrisoned or not. Mounted skirmishers were now advancing less than a quarter mile away.
Billings finished sending the message, the confirm reply clicking back seconds later.
"Smash all this equipment, then get mounted," Duvall snapped, and he walked out of the room.
He reached the ground floor and saw three troopers upending cans of coal oil onto the floor, a sergeant holding a rolled-up newspaper, already striking a match.
"What the hell are you doing there, Sergeant?"
"Well, sir, this is Yankee government property, isn't it? Figured you'd want it torched."
The sergeant was grinning. There was something about arson that seemed to excite most young men, and the wanton destruction of this fine old barracks would be quite a blaze.
Duvall looked around, the corridor lined with old prints, lithographs of the war in Mexico, a portrait of Lincoln still hanging but the glass on it smashed, a rather scatological comment penciled across his brow. The barracks were a reminder that this was the oldest military post in the United States. It dated back to the French and Indian Wars.
The newspaper flared. The sergeant looked at him expectantly.
I grew up a little more than a hundred miles from here, Duvall thought. We were neighbors once, a sister even marrying a fine young man from the theological seminary down at Gettysburg. He had not heard from her in more than a year, not since her husband was killed at Second Manassas, fighting for the Yankees.
We were neighbors once.
"Sergeant," Duvall said quietly. "Don't."
"You heard me. Let it be."
The sergeant looked disappointed.
"Go out and mount up."
The sergeant nodded, carrying his flaming torch, tossing it by the doorstep, where it flickered and smoked, his disappointed assistants following. Billings came running down the stairs and out the door behind them.
Duvall took one last look, walked over to the smoldering paper and crushed it out with his heel, then stepped onto the porch. His command of a hundred men was mounted, many with revolvers drawn, expecting to be ordered to turn out on to the pike and face the Yankees head-on.
Syms was kneeling over the wounded trooper, shot in the back, lying on his side, blood dripping out.
"We leave him here," Duvall said. "They'll take care of him."
"Sir, forgot to tell you," Syms said, looking up at Phil. "Your old friend is over there."
"George Armstrong Custer. That's his brigade dogging us. I saw him in the lead."
George, it would have to be him. No one spoke. All knew that he and George had been roommates at West Point.
An orderly led up his mount, and Duvall climbed into the saddle, turned to face his men, and pointed south. "Let's go, boys."
"We ain't fighting 'em?" Sergeant Lucas asked, coming up to Phil's side as they trotted across the parade ground, angling toward the road out of the south side of town.
Phil shook his head.
"Hell no, Sergeant. That's not a regiment out there, that's Grant and the entire Yankee army. Now let's go."
Maj. Ely Parker, aide-de-camp to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, turned off Pennsylvania Avenue and approached the east gate of the White House. A crowd milled about on the sidewalks, spilling into the streets. Guards lined the iron fence facing them. There was a low hum, as copies of newspapers, which had just hit the streets minutes before, were passed back and forth. He caught snatches of conversation. "Sickles is dead." "The rebs will be here by tomorrow I tell you…"
At his approach a detachment swung the gate open, a captain stepping forward to block Ely's approach. Ely leaned over, showing a slip of paper.
"Bearing dispatches from General Grant," he whispered. The captain examined the note, nodded, stepped back, and saluted.
"Hey, who's the Injun they're letting in?" a civilian shouted. "Injuns and niggers, Abe's got a helluva an army, don't he?"
Ely knew he shouldn't, but he was just so damn fed up and tired. Being a full-blooded Seneca in the army, he had often drawn comments, which he knew how to deal with, usually by a cold stare. But this morning he was tired, damn tired and fed up. He turned his mount and stared straight at the man who had shouted the insult.
The crowd parted back to the offender.
"Got a problem there, Major?" the man asked.
"Injuns and niggers are dying for you," Ely said quietly. "And you stand out here taunting. If you don't like us, at least have the courage to put on a gray uniform and fight us like a man. You're a coward, sir, and if you don't like that, wait out here for me after I meet the president and we can discuss it further.
"Pistols, swords"-he paused-"or tomahawks."
The man paled. A flicker of laughter greeted Ely's comments. "Bully for you," someone shouted. The loud-mouthed civilian turned and stalked off. Applause rippled through the crowd.
Angry that he had allowed himself to be baited, Ely turned back and rode the last few feet to the entry to the White House, dismounting wearily.
The captain at the gate came to his side.
"Can you tell me what's going on, Major?" he asked curiously.
Ely shook his head.
"Sorry to ask, sir," the captain pressed. "Just the city's been crazy with rumors for two days now. Word is the entire Army of the Potomac was wiped out and Lee will be here by tomorrow. That crowd has been out there all night. A lot of them are like that fool you dealt with. I have my men standing by with loaded rifles."
Ely said nothing, just nodded as he walked up the steps to the door, a sergeant opened it for him. An elderly black servant, waiting inside, offered to take Ely's hat.
"I'm bearing dispatches from General Grant," Ely said. "Is the president available? I'm ordered to deliver these to him personally."
"He's awake, sir. In fact, been up most of the night. Could you wait here, please?"
Ely nodded. The servant turned and went up the stairs, returning less than a minute later.
"This way, sir."
Ely followed him, looking around with curiosity. It was his first time in the White House, in fact, the first time he would stand before a president. If not for all that he had seen the last few days, the enormity of what he was bearing with him, he knew he should be nervous, but he wasn't. If anything, he was angry, damn angry.
The servant knocked on a door and seconds later it opened. Ely was surprised to see that it was the president himself opening the door.
The man towered above him, dark eyes looking straight at Ely.
"Thank you, Jim," the president said, then extended his hand to Ely.
"Come on in, Major. I was hoping you or someone would come down from our General Grant. Are you hungry?"
Caught a bit off guard, Ely lied and said no.
"Jim, could you bring our guest a cup of coffee?"
Ely stepped into the office. One other person was in the room, shirt half open, tie off, sitting on a sofa by an open window.
"Major Parker, is it?" Lincoln asked.
"Yes, sir. I'm on General Grant's staff, sir." — "Congressman Elihu Washburne," Lincoln said, nodding toward Elihu, who stood up and offered his hand.
"So do you think you'll fight that duel with that Copperhead down on the street?" Elihu asked.
Ely looked at him with surprise, dark features flushing even darker.
Elihu chuckled and pointed toward the open window.
"I heard you're a Seneca," Elihu said. "Yes, sir."
"Noble tribe," Lincoln said with a smile. "I'm glad you're on our side "
Lincoln motioned for Ely to sit down on the sofa alongside of Elihu while he sank into an overstuffed leather chair facing them.
Even as he sat down Ely reached into the haversack at his side and drew out a sealed package and handed it to the president.
"These come directly from General Grant," Ely said. "I should add, sir, I was with General Sickles during the fight on Gunpowder River. After being separated from Sickles I recrossed the Susquehanna where a courier from General Grant met me, handed over the dispatches you now have, with orders to deliver them to you personally."
Jim came back into the room, bearing a small silver tray with several cups and a coffeepot, and placed it on a table, then filled the cups.
Lincoln placed the package on the table and motioned for Ely to take some coffee.
"So you were with Sickles during the fight?"
"Yes, sir, right up till he was wounded and taken from the field. After that, I felt it was my duty to retire and report on what I had seen." 'Tell me about it. Everything that's happened this last week. Why were you there with Sickles? What happened?"
Ely sighed and could not help but shake his head.
"Go on. I know you're tired, Major, but I want to hear it all."
"Of course, sir. No, I'm not really tired," he lied. "Well, sir, it's just the waste of it all, sir. It never should have happened.
"Sir, in brief. General Grant suspected that General Sickles was about to take the Army of the Potomac and cross the Susquehanna River to engage Lee on his own. That was specifically against Grant's orders.
"General Sickles, as you know, sir, crossed the river and fought Lee at Gunpowder River, and he was soundly defeated."
"Annihilated is more the word," Elihu interrupted.
"Sir, I was there throughout. That is why I felt I should come and report to you personally while carrying those dispatches at the same time."
He paused, taking a long sip of coffee. It was good, darn good, the best he had had in weeks. It hit his empty stomach, and for a second he felt slightly nauseous from it, suppressing a gag. He let it settle, Lincoln still staring at him.
"Take a minute, Major," Lincoln said, "then you can tell me the rest."
Lincoln had his shoes off, threadbare stocking feet stretched out, cup in his hand, sipping on it.
Where do I start? Ely wondered.
Lincoln put his coffee cup down, reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded paring knife, opened it, and cut the cords wrapped around the dispatch, peeling off the matches attached to the wax seal, and opening the cover.
He opened a dispatch of several pages and Ely immediately recognized Grant's handwriting. Lincoln scanned the sheet, features impassive, saying nothing, and then passed it to Elihu.
He picked up a second sheet, and scanned it. As he turned it over, Lincoln's features clouded. He stood up, turning away from Ely, and forcefully thrust the note toward Elihu, who took it.
"Damn it," Elihu muttered.
Lincoln paced over to the window and looked out for a moment, shoulders back, head lowered, lips moving as if speaking to himself.
Elihu tossed the second note on to the table. Ely looked at it, and Elihu nodded for him to pick it up.
The memo was authorization by Secretary Stanton for Sickles to move independently of Grant's command, and there, scrawled on the back in Grant's distinctive handwriting, was the question "Mr. President, did you authorize this?"
The silence in the room was interrupted only by the clock sounding the half hour.
Lincoln turned and walked over to his chair and sat down, with a long glance between him and Elihu.
"Go on, Major, tell me everything. Start with why you were sent down to General Sickles."
"Sir, on the afternoon of August 19 General Grant ordered me to proceed down to the Army of the Potomac," Ely began. "The general suspected that General Sickles was about to move, contrary to orders."
"His, sir. There had been a staff meeting several days earlier that I attended as secretary. I did not bring a copy of that transcript, since it is highly sensitive, and if I were to be captured, it would have revealed in full detail General Grant's entire plan. It can be sent to you, sir, under escort if you wish, and it is proof that General Sickles acted against orders, for he was at that meeting as well."
"I think we'd like to see that at some point," Lincoln replied. "Now please go on."
"At that meeting General Grant outlined his plan for the forthcoming campaign. General Grant was waiting for the arrival of additional remounts, artillery, enough material for two more pontoon bridges, and at least another two divisions, planning that all would be in place by September 10. He would then have General Sickles cautiously move toward Baltimore to hold General Lee in place, while the Army of the Susquehanna moved to the west to outflank and envelop General Lee. As you can see, sir, those orders were not followed."
Ely hesitated. Lincoln nodded for him to continue.
"For whatever reasons, sir, General Sickles began to move independently, crossing the Susquehanna on August 19."
"And Grant did not authorize this?" Elihu asked sharply.
"Sir, he was not even aware of it."
"So why did he send you down to Sickles?" Elihu pressed.
"Because, sir, the telegraph connections between our command and Sickles went down. General Grant became suspicious, and there were rumors afloat that Sickles was indeed moving. I was sent down, carrying a direct written order from General Grant Sickles was to reverse his march, fall back across the river, and then report directly to General Grant."
"So General Grant in no way whatsoever gave General Sickles any option to move independently?" Lincoln asked. "No, sir."
Lincoln and Elihu again exchanged glances. "Go on."
"Sir, I arrived at Havre de Grace on the morning of August 20 to discover that the Army of the Potomac was already across the river and pressing south toward Baltimore. I should add, sir, that I did a little checking at the telegraphy station there and, frankly, that was a wild goose chase."
"Well, sir, it was rather obvious the explanation that so-called rebel raiders had cut the lines north of Port Deposit was nothing more than a subterfuge. Those lines had been cut deliberately. I was met there by several of Sickles's staff. I told them I had to find the general at once. It was clear they had been waiting for someone from General Grant's headquarters to arrive."
Ely could not help but shake his head, the memory of that frustration apparent to Lincoln and Washburne.
"And they led you on another wild goose chase, is that it?" Elihu asked.
"Yes, sir," Ely said coldly. "I could have been up to General Sickles in two or three hours if guided correctly."
He shook his head angrily.
"I could have stopped that battle, sir," he said, voice heavy with despair. "I could have stopped it if I had gotten up to Sickles in time."
"I doubt that," Elihu replied.
"Sickles was hell-bent on winning the war on his own. Major, you were outmaneuvered by one very slick general, and there was precious little you could have done to stop him, no matter what you tried."
"It took nearly the entire day of us riding back and forth," Ely continued. "I finally abandoned those damn… excuse me, sir… those staffers and headed off on my own. I could hear the sound of a battle developing and just rode straight to it. I found General Sickles at around four or so that afternoon.
"The battle was already on. I delivered General Grant's orders to disengage, but General Sickles argued that the battle had begun and he was driving them."
"Was he?" Lincoln asked.
"Yes, sir, and frankly, sir, once something like that starts, it's kind of hard to stop it. It looked as if Sickles did have the advantage over the rebels at that moment."
"Should he have disengaged anyhow?" Lincoln asked.
"Well, sir, at that moment, I guess not. He had two corps on our side tangling with but two divisions. But the point is, sir, if not led about so deliberately, I could have gotten up there before the battle even started. I had no doubt that General Sickles had the whole thing planned out."
Lincoln nodded thoughtfully.
"And the end of the first day?"
"Well, sir. They broke Pickett. Broke him badly. I saw that, but they pressed in too aggressively in pursuit, then ran smack into at least two more Confederate divisions and got mauled. I think, sir, at that moment it was obvious that all of General Lee's army was coming up and the battle had turned."
"Did Sickles see that?"
"Yes, sir, but he kept exclaiming that he now had Lee where he wanted him. I tried to press him yet again to follow the commander's orders. That, come morning, he would be facing superior numbers, while acting against the orders of the commanding general as well."
"But he pressed in anyhow." "Yes, sir, he did." Ely sighed.
"He had to," Elihu interjected. "He was going for all or nothing."
"What happened then?"
"General Sickles misread Lee's intent, believing he was retreating. Sir, I would not care to second-guess a general on the field."
"Least of all General Grant," Elihu said with a bit of a smile.
"That's been my only experience up till then, sir," Ely replied. "But General Sickles had not yet fixed where Lee's new corps, under Beauregard, might be located. He pressed in anyhow and walked straight into a trap, Beauregard coming out on the right flank of the army and rolling it up.
"I was with General Sickles when he lost his leg. With that, sir, command broke down completely."
"There's a report that Sickles had his men carry him along the volley line, shouting for them to hold on," Lincoln said.
"Yes, sir. I'll give the man that. He had guts."
"Too much, I dare say," Elihu said coldly. "The ball should have taken his head off. He's already giving interviews in Philadelphia proclaiming the battle could have been a complete victory had not Grant failed to back him up as planned."
"That's a contemptible lie, sir," Ely snapped angrily. "General Grant up in Harrisburg had no idea that Sickles, a hundred miles away, was moving. It would have taken four days, at least, for Grant to come down and offer support. There was no plan. To say otherwise is a lie, a damned lie."
"I know that," Washburne said soothingly. "But there are a lot of people out there who won't."
"Sir, he directly disobeyed orders." 'Technically, no," Lincoln said quietly. Again he looked over at Elihu and then put his finger on the telegram resting on the table.
"He did have authorization from our secretary of war." There was a long moment of silence.
Lincoln lowered his head, nibbing his brow with both hands. 4That does it," he finally whispered and stood up, going to the door. He stepped out of the office for a moment, Elihu watching him intently as he left "Your trip down here?" Elihu asked, finally looking back at Ely.
"I fell back to Havre de Grace sir. Once things broke down I thought it was my duty to report back to General Grant. Back across the river, sir, well, it was a madhouse there-wounded, broken troops, reporters shouting questions. By luck I saw one of General Grant's staff carrying the dispatches I have just given to the president. I took over that mission, sir. I thought it best to report directly on what I had seen as well, and I had the courier carry my report back to the general."
"Right decision, Major."
Ely leaned over and picked the coffee cup back up, draining the now tepid drink. Lincoln came back into the room and looked over at Ely, who stood up, sensing that his mission was complete and it was time to retire.
Lincoln extended his hands, gesturing for Ely to sit back down.
"I think you should stay a little longer, Major." Elihu shifted, stood up, and started to button his shirt. "Sir? Perhaps we should deal with this on our own," Elihu asked.
"I believe our major should see this," Lincoln replied, even as he sat down and struggled to put his boots on. "I want him to report it to General Grant exactly as he sees it"
Ely, a bit confused, looked at the two. Obviously, given the way Elihu was putting on his tie and then his jacket, something momentous was about to happen.
Lincoln said nothing, finishing with his boots and then running his fingers through his coarse hair. He walked to the window and looked out. Elihu settled silently back on the sofa and closed his eyes.
Ely felt uncomfortable, not sure why he was still there or what was about to happen. He filled another cup with coffee and drained it. He wished he could smoke, longing for the cigar in his pocket, but unsure of the proper protocol, he refrained.
The minutes dragged by, Lincoln silent by the window, Elihu drifting into sleep, the clock striking seven. Finally, Lincoln stirred.
The president turned away from the window, picked up the memo from the table, while nudging Washburne awake, and then stood in the center of the room.
Washburne stood up, and Ely did as well. Not sure of his place, he stepped back a few feet while Elihu walked over to stand behind Lincoln.
There was a knock on the door. When it opened, Ely immediately recognized Edwin Stanton, the secretary of war. The man came into the room, a bit of a smile on his face, which froze when his gaze rested on Lincoln, Elihu behind him. He shot a quick glance at Ely, who again felt self-conscious. He suddenly realized what a sight he must be, not having changed uniforms in over a week, mud splattered, face streaked with sweat, mud, smoke.
Stanton regained his composure and actually bowed slightly to Lincoln.
"Mr. President, you sent for me?"
"Yes, Edwin, may I introduce you to Maj. Ely Parker of General Grant's staff?"
Edwin spared another quick glance at Ely, who came to attention and saluted. Edwin did not reply and then turned back to Lincoln as if Ely was not even there.
"Sir, may I inquire as to the nature of this early morning call? I was over at the War Office reviewing dispatches when your summons came."
Lincoln extended his hand, offering the memo that Ely had delivered.
"Sir, let us not beat about the bush," Lincoln said coldly. "I just wish for you to explain this dispatch. Major Parker delivered it to me less than an hour ago. I should add that Major Parker was with Sickles at Gunpowder River, bearing a message from General Grant to General Sickles ordering him to withdraw. An order which General Sickles refused to comply with. Now, sir, please read what I've just handed you."
Edwin visibly paled, coughing, then held the memo up, adjusting his spectacles. He scanned the message.
"Sir, I am not sure of the meaning of this inquiry," Stanton said even as he read.
"When finished, please turn it over," Lincoln said.
Stanton did as requested, reading Grant's addendum, "Mr. President, did you authorize this?" and handed the message back to Lincoln.
"Sir, I think, yet again, there has been some miscommunication."
"Miscommunication?" Lincoln said softly, and shook his head. "Miscommunication? The Army of the Potomac all but annihilated and you call it a miscommunication?"
"Sir. I suspect here that General Grant failed to properly coordinate with General Sickles regarding the intent of the plans for the campaign. I warned you of that last month when Grant first came to Washington. If he had stayed here as I requested, this never would have happened."
Lincoln actually sighed and then chuckled softly.
Ely, outraged, struggled to contain a retort. Elihu looked over at him, and with a shake of his head communicated for him to stay out of it.
Stanton saw the gesture and cast a withering glance at Ely.
"Mr. President, I think we should discuss this in private." Now his gaze swept over to Elihu as well.
"No, sir, we will discuss this now. If you wish, you can sit down and listen to all that Major Parker has told me about what happened."
"I think, sir, there are better uses of our time than the report of a major obviously biased in favor of a general who has placed our cause in jeopardy."
Lincoln sighed again and raised his head.
There was a cold light in his eyes. All that Ely had heard of Lincoln never mentioned this. It was always "Old Abe," or just "Abe," but there was something different at this moment, a terrible anger that seemed ready to explode.
"Mr. Stanton, I expect your resignation before you leave this building," Lincoln said softly.
"What?" Stanton reddened.
"Just that, sir. Sickles moved on your authorization. I made it distinctly clear to all that when Grant took command in the field, all orders of troop movements were to be routed through him for his approval as well. You did not do so. Nor, for that matter, did you inform me of these orders you sent to Sickles."
He held the memo up, clenching it in a balled fist, shaking it at Stanton.
Stanton started to speak but Lincoln cut him off.
"We lost maybe thirty thousand or more at Gunpowder River. A fine army destroyed. What in Heaven's name am I to say to the nation about that, sir? You, sir, have placed the plans of the last month in grave jeopardy; in fact, we might very well lose this war thanks to what you did."
"What I did?" Stanton fired back. "What I did? Mr. President, if you had but listened to me all along, we would not be in this fix. You have placed a drunkard in command of our armies."
"That is a lie, sir," Ely snapped, no longer able to contain himself and instantly regretting his words as all three turned to gaze at him.
"Damn you!" Stanton shouted. "You are relieved of your rank, Major. How dare you call me a liar."
Ely did not know what to say. Stanton turned to advance on him, but Lincoln stepped between the two.
"Mr. Stanton, you no longer have the authority to relieve anyone as of this moment. Now, sir, do I have your resignation, or do I fire you and release that information to the press waiting outside?"
Stanton looked back at Lincoln, breathing hard.
"I will not resign, sir."
"Then I shall relieve you of your posting, effective as of this moment."
Stanton now paled. For a second Ely thought he would collapse, as the man began, to wheeze, doubling over to cough.
"Which shall it be?" Lincoln pressed, even as Stanton continued to cough.
Stanton looked up at him.
"Which shall it be?" Lincoln pressed.
"Go ahead and fire me," Stanton replied coldly. "I'll take this before Congress and the Committee on the Conduct of the War. Then we shall see."
"See what? Are you threatening me?" Lincoln snapped angrily. "Congress is not in session, nor shall I call it back into session until this crisis is finished. You can go to the newspapers and I shall counter with a copy of this memo, a direct violation of my own orders."
"It will ruin you, sir," Washburne interjected. "If you resign, you can claim reasons of health, your asthma. It's that or a fight you don't want and cannot win."
Lincoln sighed again.
"Or one the nation needs at this moment."
His tone softened and Lincoln drew closer.
"Edwin, you did fine to a point, but you overstepped yourself. Not just here but in the orders you sent to Meade during Union Mills. I am asking, as someone who once worked alongside you, please resign."
Edwin continued to cough, wheezing hard, then finally straightened back up.
"I'll resign," he whispered. — "Fine, then." Lincoln led him over to his desk, took out a sheet of White House stationery, and offered him a pen.
The stationery already was filled out with a statement of resignation. Stanton read it over once, then quickly signed it, straightening back up.
"And I assume my replacement is your friend there," Stanton asked, nodding toward Elihu.
"I figured as much."
Stanton looked over at Ely.
"Major Parker you said your name is?"
Ely felt a cold chill with the way Stanton looked at him.
Stanton said nothing. "Good day, Mr. President." He turned and walked out.
Lincoln's shoulders hunched over, and wearily he walked over to his desk and sat down on the edge of it.
Again there was a long silence. Lincoln finally reached into a pigeonhole of his desk and drew out a sealed envelope.
"Elihu, this is your authorization to assume control as acting secretary of war until such time as the Senate reconvenes to confirm your appointment. I expect you to go over to the War Office right now. Take an escort with you. Edwin's office is to be sealed. He is not allowed back in till such time as you review all records contained in there. Personal items will be returned to him once your review is complete."
"Yes, Mr. President."
Lincoln looked back over at Ely, who stood rooted in place.
"Don't let that little threat bother you," Lincoln said. "Threat, sir?"
"His asking your name like that. Rather ungentlemanly of him."
Ely did not reply. After all he had seen the last few days, the threat of a former secretary of war seemed almost inconsequential.
Lincoln fell silent again for a few minutes, Elihu standing by the desk as if waiting.
"You know what to do," Lincoln said.
"What we talked about, sir," Elihu replied.
For the first time Ely realized the drama he had just witnessed had been planned out long before his arrival. His messages were simply the confirmation the president had been waiting for.
"Elihu, I'll drop by your new office a bit later this morning. I want all the arrangements made for my little adventure."
"Sir, I still caution against it. Stanton is on his way to the newspapers even now. It will cause an explosion in this town once the word hits. Plus the risk involved."
"Don't worry, Elihu, I'll have a good escort with me. I think Major Parker will serve as an excellent guide and traveling companion."
"Sir?" Parker asked, now thoroughly confused.
"I think it's time I paid a little visit to your general," Lincoln said.
Lincoln looked at the two, his features serious.
"Gentlemen, I think that the crisis is truly upon us now. Lee has outmaneuvered us again. Major, it is obvious that the word you bring to me is that General Grant has launched his attack prematurely, forced to do so because of Sickles's disastrous actions."
"Yes, sir, that is obviously the case."
"So the risks are far higher now. I must confer with Grant upon them before giving my own approval. The choice is ultimately mine."
He lowered his head as if speaking to himself.
"I am now convinced we shall either win or lose this war in the next two weeks."
Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia
Seven Miles South of Havre de Grace,
Maryland August 22, 1863
It was the noonday lull, the cool breezes of morning giving way to a still midday heat. Gen. Robert E. Lee, commander, Army of Northern Virginia, rode in silence. The road before him was packed with troops, men marching at a vigorous pace. He trotted past the troops, edging along fencerows, cutting out into pastures and orchards to make speed.
The men were moving, maintaining a grueling pace of three miles an hour, hunched over, rifles balanced on shoulders or slung inverted, hats pulled down over brows to shield eyes from the noonday glare, faces sweat-streaked, dust kicking up in swirling, choking clouds. Some saw him and gave a salute or shout as he cantered along; others, sunk into the hypnotic rhythm of the march, were unaware of his presence.
These men had marched over a hundred miles in the past week and fought a brutal three-day running battle in killing heat, and it showed. The usual banter of a victorious army on the march was gone; the high spirits that should have echoed after their overwhelming victories over the Army of the Potomac were not showing this day. Exhaustion had overwhelmed exhilaration.
He rode in silence, lost in thought. Walter Taylor, his aide-de-camp, the staff, even the secretary of state, Judah Benjamin, sensing he wished to ride alone to think, trailed a respectful distance behind him.
After the smashing defeat of Sickles he expected Grant to wait, or perhaps even to start transferring his army by train and boat down to Washington, there to assume a defensive posture through the fall and winter.
But to take an aggressive path? To cross the river and move south, perhaps straight at him. No, he had not expected that. After every defeat dealt the Union Army over the last year, his opponents had always retreated, regrouped, and waited several months before venturing another blow.
It was like facing an opponent in chess. The traditional opening of a king or queen's pawn is expected, but then, instead, the man across the table puts his knight out first. That was usually the move of a fool… or could it be that of a master or someone who sensed or planned something Lee could not yet ascertain.
Who was Grant? In that tight-knit cadre of old comrades from West Point, the old professional army of the frontier, of Mexico, or garrison duty in East Coast fortifications, Grant was one man he could not remember. He knew the man had served in Mexico and gained distinction there for personal bravery and leadership, but as an army commander? He had beaten Beauregard at Shiloh, captured an entire army at Fort Donelson and Vicksburg. He was used to victory… perhaps that could be turned against him.
There were the rumors as well about the man's drinking, but then again, the army had always been a hard-drinking lot. In the case of Grant, the few who knew him said it had been brought on by a fit of melancholia when stationed out on the West Coast, separated from his wife and children.
Longstreet, who did know him, dismissed the drinking, saying that it was a demon his old friend would have overcome, especially when he had returned to the army and given the responsibility of command.
All the others he had faced so far, McClellan, the fool Pope, the slow-moving Burnside, the hard-driving but morally weak Hooker, even Meade and Sickles, he could read them, and he could read as well the thinking, the rhythm, the mentality of the Army of the Potomac… reft by internal dissent and political maneuverings, hampered by even more political maneuverings in Washington.
But he was no longer facing the Army of the Potomac, and even in Washington he sensed a change. Halleck was out, and just this morning Judah Benjamin had suggested that perhaps Stanton's days were numbered as well. A staff officer of Sickles's, a prisoner, had bitterly complained that his general had moved without coordination with Grant, and everyone at Sickles's headquarters knew that Stanton had sent out contradictory orders for which "someone would pay."
And Grant's corps commanders-Ord, McPherson, Banks, Burnside. He knew the mettle of Burnside, knew the fumbling reputation of Banks, who survived due to political influence. Word on McPherson was his men worshipped him and declared him to be the best corps commander in any army.
And he knew him as well, as superintendent at West Point. The memory of McPherson caused him to smile. McPherson had risen to become the top-ranking officer of cadets. He was a moral man, honest, open-handed, respected by all. John Bell Hood had been his roommate and he loved him like a brother.
Of all the potential opponents this war had forced him to confront, James Birdseye McPherson was the one opponent he wished he did not have to face. There was a deep bond of affection, that of a mentor for a beloved student.
Now I will have to face him, and turn all that was good between us into a tool, a weapon to defeat him in battle.
Edward Ord, new to his rank of corps commander, was a man who supposedly loved a good head-on fight, a man like Hood.
And their troops. These Union soldiers from the West were used to victory; they were used to tough fighting in the scorching heat and bayous of Mississippi, the tangled forests of Tennessee, the swamps of Louisiana. They were fighters-and filled with a belief in themselves. In battle, such belief is often what tips the scale between victory and defeat. Though tough soldiers, the men of the Army of the Potomac seemed to carry an innate sense that defeat would always be their ultimate fate, and that had come true at Union Mills and Gunpowder River.
He wished he had another month, time to evaluate, to maneuver and observe Grant, to spar with him to get a taste of him, before moving in for the kill.
The pasture ahead dropped down into a glen and he welcomed the momentary pause as he loosened Traveler's reins and gave his companion a chance to drink in the shade of the willows lining the shallow creek. There the air was damp and rich, the brook rippling and sparkling with reflected light.
To his left a battery of guns was clattering over a rough-hewn wooden bridge, troops left the road to wade across the knee-deep stream. A few men playfully splashed each other. Sergeants called for canteens, handing them off to details to fill while the column pushed on, the water bearers enjoying their work for a few minutes, some tossing off packs, haversacks, and cartridge boxes and collapsing into the water to cool off, before picking up their gear and filled canteens to double-time back into the column.
More than a few men lay in the shadow of the trees, barefoot, soaking their feet, one of the men gingerly wrapping torn strips of cloth around his bleeding and blistered heels. At the sight of the general some came to attention. A provost guard watching the group nervously declared the men" exhausted troops from a Virginia regiment, had been given passes to fall out of the march for a few minutes but would catch up to their unit.
Lee said nothing. He nodded and then, gathering Traveler's reins, trotted across the stream and up the bank through the high river grass, birds kicking up around him.
Old Thomas Jackson would never have stood for the boys falling out like that. He'd have shouted for them to get back in the ranks and march till they dropped, but today was not the day for that. Reports from the previous week's march were that hundreds of men, listed as missing in action, had actually collapsed and died in the forced marching in hundred-degree heat. He therefore had sent word down that those unable to keep up today were to be treated leniently.
As he came up out of the streambed he saw a low church steeple, a small village of a few dozen homes, the windows of some showing limp Confederate flags, others shuttered and closed. Longstreet's headquarters flag fluttered out in a gentle breeze near the church, an awning set up in front of it, with staff gathering around.
Uniforms showed gold braid. He saw Stuart still astride his horse, leaning over, talking with Beauregard. Hood, sitting on a chair under the awning, head back, was obviously asleep. Seeing him coming up, men began to stir, staff moving about, setting chairs around a table.
A corporal offered to take Traveler's reins, and Lee with a sigh dismounted. On stiff legs he walked toward the gathering, returning the salutes of those waiting for him.
Someone nudged Hood, who looked around sleepily and then stood up. Stuart dismounted, taking off his plumed hat as he stepped under the awning.
These were his old warriors and Providence had been kind in this fight, sparing all of them yet again. Not a division commander had been lost in this last fight, thank God, though Pickett had lost three of his five brigade commanders and the others were wounded. He caught a glimpse of Pickett standing nervously to one side, the man breaking eye contact when Lee looked at him for a moment.
Under the awning Longstreet pointed to a chair at the head of the table. Lee settled down, a servant bringing to him what appeared to be a miracle, lemonade that was actually iced, and he gladly took it, draining half the glass. Benjamin sat down by his right side, Taylor moved in behind Lee, while his cavalry escort dismounted, the men then walking their mounts back down to the stream to water them.
The corps commanders gathered around the table and sat down, division commanders stood behind them.
"General Stuart," Lee began, "what is the latest news?"
"Well, sir, we lost our outpost and telegraphy connection at Carlisle."
"Shortly after six this morning, sir. Yankee cavalry hit them hard. Our men were forced to retreat and we lost all connection."
"And what other word is there?"
"Sir, all our telegraph connections that can report quickly on Harrisburg are down. The outposts we still have are at Shippensburg, Hanover Junction, Frederick, and Gettysburg."
As he spoke he pointed out the positions on the map.
"We had a report at midmorning that the Yankees were also crossing by ferry at Wrightsville, cavalry," he paused, "and infantry. It is also reported they are starting to build a pontoon bridge as well at that location. We then lost our outpost at York about two hours ago."
"Grant's first move," Longstreet interjected, "is to cut our telegraph outposts, blind us."
"We'd have done the same," Lee replied noncommittally. He had hoped they could have held contact for most of the day. The use of telegraphs for such reports was something new for the Army of Northern Virginia, but given the vast front they now operated on, literally all of eastern Maryland and south central Pennsylvania, he had hoped to keep these precious lines up awhile longer.
"So any information we have now, sir," Stuart continued, "is nearly as old as our first reports, couriers have to carry them back to our remaining posts."
"And those reports?"
"The same, sir. Grant pushed the bridge across during the night at Harrisburg, and they started moving before dawn.
Railroad equipment was sighted as well. Moved by train up to the bridge north of Harrisburg, across the river, and down the right bank. Apparently they are already laying track and replacing bridges we'd torn up." "Units?"
"Definitely corps strength or more. McPherson's Corps was in the lead. The report I just mentioned from York indicated infantry in corps strength preparing to cross at Wrightsville. That's it, so far."
"He'd lead with McPherson," Hood said softly. "We all know he is a good man."
Lee nodded in agreement.
"And that is it?" Lee asked.
"I'm sorry, sir, but that is all I can report now."
"It is not your fault, General Stuart," Lee replied, holding his hand up.
He did not add that now, more than ever, he regretted the audacity of the raid attempted a week ago by Wade Hampton. He had felt some reluctance to adopt Stuart's bold plan, to launch Hampton on a raid up toward Reading to gather intelligence on Grant, sow panic, disrupt rail transportation, and perhaps even skirt the edge of Philadelphia.
Grant's cavalry, backed by infantry, had relentlessly hunted Wade down, killed him, and wiped out his entire brigade. Those men would have been invaluable now for shadowing Grant. The only forces deployed to shadow Grant were two regiments detached from his nephew Fitz Lee's Brigade. That was nowhere near enough to harass Grant, to slow him, and at this moment, far more importantly, to gain knowledge of his intentions.
Lee studied the map for a moment, finishing his iced lemonade.
What would I do? He wondered. I will not put myself in Grant's shoes, not yet. I'll do so when I know the man better. Don't assume he will do what I would do.
He leaned back from the table and motioned for another glass.
"He'll come straight at us," "Pete" Longstreet said. "He's just securing his right flank at Carlisle. The main push will come from York to Hanover Junction, then to Baltimore using the Northern Central Railroad for supplies. He'll use the rail line for supplies and come straight down those tracks toward Baltimore."
Pete fell silent for a moment. Lee nodded for his old war-horse to continue.
"If he started this last night, I think he was hoping that we would still be tangled up along the Susquehanna, mopping up Sickles. Our men exhausted, worn down. He then pivots."
As Longstreet spoke he brushed his hand across the map to indicate the move.
"Pins us north of Baltimore."
"Precisely why I ordered this forced march back to Baltimore today," Lee replied.
He nodded toward the road down which the endless column flowed by, the men slowing in their passage at the sight of Lee and his lieutenants under the awning not fifty yards away. Guards along the road could be heard chanting over and over, "Keep moving, boys. Yes, it's General Lee. Don't disturb them. Keep moving, boys…"
"If he does that," Lee said, "we've slipped the noose and Grant will just reoccupy the ground Sickles tried to take. Let him have it, then we are inside Baltimore, behind fortifications, and he can attack us till doomsday."
"I've learned to have a healthy respect for this man," Beauregard said softly, the lilt of his Louisiana accent soft and pleasant.
"Go on, sir," Lee replied.
"I'd be nervous about getting ourselves pinned inside of Baltimore. Look at the way he maneuvered between Forts Henry and Donelson, the way he encircled Vicksburg from the rear. If we stay in Baltimore, he might very well envelope us, circle around, and reconnect to his supplies through Washington. Do that, and he frees up the garrison of Washington to act as an offensive force, too. Sir, I'd be cautious about that move. We don't want Grant to gain control of the forty thousand men still pinned down there."
"Good advice, General Beauregard, but if that threat should arise, it will be five days, perhaps a week from now. But would you concur with General Longstreet that he will turn at Carlisle and come straight at us?"
Beauregard lowered his gaze, staring intently at the map for a moment.
"Honestly, sir, I don't know. I do not know this terrain, the land, the roads the way you men do.
Hood cleared his threat and Lee turned to face the commander of his Second Corps.
"Go on, General Hood. Your thoughts."
"I'd agree with General Longstreet," Hood replied, "except for one thing."
"And that is?"
"McPherson being in the lead and marching on Carlisle."
"And that is?"
"Sir. You and I know McPherson. I believe Grant brought him east to be his fast-moving corps, his Jackson."
Hood hesitated, realizing he had unintentionally offered an insult.
"Or the task you now do so ably, General Longstreet," Hood cried.
"No insult taken, sir," Pete said, just offering a smile and a nod.
"Please continue, General Hood," Lee interjected.
"If I was Grant, and wanted the strike to come due south, I'd have placed McPherson in Wrightsville and built the first bridge there, not at Harrisburg. I think we can read into this, sir, that perhaps Grant's intent is not to come due south, but rather to swing wide."
Hood gestured toward the map and motioned with his hand.
"A broad sweeping march down the Cumberland Valley. To turn our flank, perhaps even spring into Virginia."
Lee did not reply. Hood had raised a point. He next turned to Jeb.
"General Stuart? Your opinion."
"Most likely straight at us, sir. He can close in three to four days, using the intact railroad for support. Swinging down the valley will take more time, and the Yankees always are slower than us. Add in that, repairing the railroad will tie them up further. We tore that railroad in the Cumberland Valley apart for just that reason, sir, but kept the Northern Central intact in case we had to eventually move back to Harrisburg. Grant will take advantage of that and come straight at us looking for a fight."
"May I interject something, sir?" Judah Benjamin, the Confederate secretary of state, asked quietly.
"Of course, sir. I always value your opinion."
"I am not a military man, sir, but I can look at this from the political side."
"Go on, sir."
"The Lincoln administration has suffered two devastating blows in less than two months. Your victories at Union Mills and these last few days on this ground. Your victories have brought Maryland officially to our side as well."
Longstreet shifted a bit but said nothing. Only the day before Pete had spoken derisively of Maryland's failure to raise even a single division to join the ranks. Only a few thousand Marylanders had so far volunteered; the rest were taking a wait-and-see attitude.
Judah looked up at Pete and smiled.
"I know, General, you are disappointed that there has been no levy en masse by our brothers in Maryland, but remember, they have endured two years of oppression by Lincoln and his cronies."
"All the more reason for them to rally to the colors."
"That time will come."
"When the war is over and we have won," Pete- replied coolly.
"Gentlemen, let us focus on the moment," Lee interjected smoothly.
Longstreet lowered his head.
"The political pressure on Lincoln is, after what you achieved these last few days, all but overwhelming. His coalition is on the point of collapse."
"I wish to heaven he would collapse! When are they going to learn they can't beat us?" Beauregard interjected. If not for the presence of Lee, he would have used more forceful words. All those around the table would have eagerly added to them, but none dared to voice their hatred of this effort to conquer them.
"Sickles was a War Democrat, the darling of that group, and now he is defeated and in disgrace," Benjamin said.
"Does anyone know how he is?" Lee asked.
"He's in Philadelphia," Stuart said. "He'll live, but I regret to say, sir, that we just got word that General Warren died this morning in one of our field hospitals."
There was a moment of silence, someone behind Lee sighing with a whispered comment, "Damn this war."
Warren had been one of them, or rather they had once been one with him. Another comrade of West Point gone, a devout man, well liked on both sides.
Benjamin had fallen silent out of respect. At a gesture from Lee he went on. 'There is no real political motive for the War Democrats of the North to continue to support Lincoln, but there is precious little they can do at this moment to stop him. Congress is adjourned, the rats having fled when we first threatened the capital. For all practical purposes Lincoln has a dictatorship at this moment, but he must do something with that, and his lone remaining chance is Grant."
"So you think he will order Grant to come straight at us?" "No, sir, I don't," Judah said quietly. "Pray why not?"
"It's his last card. Lincoln is holding one last card, and he is now looking us straight in the eyes. Once he plays it, well, the drama will be decided as to whether that card is trump or not. I suspect he'll buy a little more time. The War Democrats can announce their withdrawal of support, riots can erupt again in New York and elsewhere, but I think our opponent will not lay that card down until something is in place to hedge his bet with."
"What about France?" Beauregard asked. "I heard that you said their intervention is all but certain."
Beauregard, proud of his French heritage, was always promoting the idea that France would eventually come to their side, as she did back during the First Revolution.
"Not a direct quote, sir," Judah replied with a cagey smile, "but close enough. Yes, Emperor Napoleon the Third will come in, but will that impact us here over the next month or two? I doubt it. If he sorties with his fleet to try to break the blockade at Wilmington, Charleston, or even at the mouth of the Chesapeake, I dare say the Yankee navy and heavy ironclads will make short work of them.
"No, the French, as always, will play their own game to their own advantage. They will not help directly, only indirectly, and that will be along the coast of Texas, in support of their mad affair in Mexico. Even if they did break the blockade there, even if they broke the blockade at New Orleans, it would be long months before that impacted this front here.
"And frankly, gentleman, as secretary of state, though I wish for their help now, I certainly do not look forward to cleaning up the mess when we finally win and then have to kick them back out, because once involved on our side they will demand payment of some kind or another."
"So you don't see any change that will affect us here and now?" Beauregard asked. There was a trace of sadness in his voice.
"No, sir. And Lincoln knows that, too. Sorry, gentlemen, but don't look to France for any major changes in the situation you now face here in Maryland"
"Back to the original issue then," Lee said, "the here and now of this moment. For all these reasons, what do you think Grant will do, Mr. Secretary?"
"Wait you out."
"Just that, General Lee. I heard the report you received but yesterday that a colored division had joined Grant's army. If he waits you out another two weeks, might he not gain another few divisions of colored troops, perhaps a few more battalions of artillery, more supplies, a few more brigades of remounts for cavalry? Might he not actually repair the rail line in the Cumberland Valley clear down to Hagerstown and thus give himself even more mobility? Might he not wait and force you to take the initative and in so doing choose the ground? Perhaps, sir, might he not just simply bypass you completely and march down the valley, cross into Virginia, and march on Richmond?"
"It is hard for me to see him doing that," Lee replied slowly, sipping again at his refilled glass of lemonade. "Moving on Richmond or waiting."
"Your views, sir?" Judah asked.
"If I were Grant, I would attack now, and with everything I have. My army has endured two months of hard campaigning; we took heavier-than-expected losses in our last action."
He could not help but raise his head for a few seconds and gaze again at Pickett, who stood silent, frozen in place.
"Five of the original nine divisions that started this campaign two and a half months ago have taken grievous losses. My sense of Grant is that he will come straight on, hoping to catch us exhausted, perhaps still strung out on a march back to Baltimore. Force us then to turn and fight.
"That is why I ordered this forced march today, no matter how painful it is for the men out there."
He gestured toward the road, where the weary columns continued to march by, and felt a wave of pity for his men. As they passed they undoubtedly knew that, yet again, he was deciding their fate. He had to do what was right for his country, and what was right for them, too. Dozens, perhaps a hundred or more, might die today during this march, but through their sacrifice all could rest in Baltimore, and by tomorrow the situation would be clearer. He pitied the thousands of wounded whom he had ordered to be loaded on ambulances and evacuated by any means possible back to the city. Their ordeal would be horrific this day.
Lee was silent and lowered his head. Tomorrow we shall know. By then it will be clear whether Grant has turned south, coming straight on, or not. We can refit in Baltimore then and plan our next move.
He hated this. He wished that right now telegraph keys were clicking, telling him which way Grant was moving, either coming straight on or, as Hood suggested, swinging wide on a flanking march to the southwest.
In-almost every battle in the past, we knew their intentions. This time it was different, and that was indeed troubling. And yet, at Chancellorsville he had been caught off guard and turned near defeat into an overwhelming victory.
"Just one more victory, gentlemen," Lee said softly, surveying his lieutenants and the secretary of state. "Whether he comes due south or tries to flank us, all we seek is one more victory-and the war is over."
All around him nodded in agreement.
"Keep the troops moving, gentlemen. I want the entire army into Baltimore as quickly as possible, and then they can rest.
"General Stuart, starting tomorrow I want a strong screen moved forward toward General Grant. Give your men time to rest this afternoon and into tomorrow. Report to me tonight for orders."
"Sir, a problem."
"Many of our mounts are worn. I dare say half our horses need reshoeing." 'Then find new mounts in the city."
"Sir, city horses, well, they just aren't fit for cavalry. Draught horses, mostly. We're starting to sweep this area clean of remounts. I must have several days at least to refit after the hard ride of the last week."
"Rest your men today. Get them off the roads. Concentrate at a place of your choosing between here and Baltimore, then report to me as ordered. Send some of your staff back to the city to see what arrangements can be made for your refitting^" "Yes, sir."
"Gentlemen, I want this army to make twenty-five miles today. I know it will be a hard march. But I promise you at least a day of rest tomorrow. As I said before, be liberal with those who cannot keep up. We are not an army in retreat, and those who fall out will surely rejoin the ranks. They are good men, so treat the exhausted, the ill, with respect; make that clear to your provost guards."
All nodded in agreement.
"We meet tomorrow in Baltimore, and there will plan our next move."
The look in his eyes was clear indication of dismissal. The group began to break up, officers calling for their mounts, staff, and escorts.
Lee caught General Pickett's eye and motioned for him to come over, the crestfallen division commander yielding with a certain reluctance.
"General Longstreet, would you join us for a moment?"
Lee stepped out from under the awning into the warm afternoon sun.
"General Pickett, sir, I am disappointed in the report I received regarding your action at Gunpowder River."
"Sir, our blood was up," Pickett replied defensively. "We would not run before Yankees."
"And you destroyed your division, sir."
Pickett looked at him, eyes wide.
Lee looked over at Longstreet. Pickett was his old friend.
Pete gave no indication either way of his wishes. He knew Longstreet was in a quandary.
"I had hoped that in actions to come, General Pickett, it would be your division, which had been the heaviest division in my army, to see victory through. The honor might have been yours to lead a charge that could have won the war."
He paused for a moment.
"Sir, I shall not relieve you of command. But know, sir, that I shall be watching you closely henceforth."
"General Lee," Pickett replied icily, "if you do not have confidence in my ability, sir, then accept my resignation."
"I have no wish or time for such a result," Lee replied sharply, controlling his anger. "I need you and what is left of your division. I need every man, every experienced field commander I can find. Just do your duty, and follow orders, next time, to the letter. That is what I expect of you now."
Features pale, Pickett stood motionless. Slowly he saluted.
He turned and walked off.
"I think you should have relieved him," Pete said quietly, waiting till Pickett was out of earshot.
"Perhaps. But controlled, under your direct observation, he can still lead. General Longstreet, I shall see you tonight in Baltimore. Perhaps by this time tomorrow the picture will be clearer and we will see our next move."
"I hope so, sir."
Lee looked at him closely. Now was not the time to show hesitation, even if it did whisper to him.
"I know so, General Longstreet."
He walked off, signaling for Traveler. An orderly brought his horse up; he mounted and fell in alongside the endless column, into the boiling clouds of dust, moving south toward Baltimore.
Headquarters, Army of the Susquehanna Carlisle
August 22, 1863
The evening air was beginning to cool as he stepped out of the Carlisle army barracks, which had become his headquarters for the night. The corridor reeked of coal oil. A rolled-up newspaper, half burnt and then crushed, lay by the doorway, as if the rebs were going to burn the place then changed their minds. Whoever it was who had spared the building, he was grateful to him. The barracks was a fine old part of army history.
He lit a cigar and leaned against a pillar on the veranda, drawing the smoke in, signing as he exhaled. He actually felt relaxed, all the weeks of tension, of waiting, what seemed to be interminable waiting, were over. They were on the move.
It had been a good day's march. McPherson's Corps had made over twenty five miles and camped ten miles southwest, at Centerville, and just behind him was Burnside's Ninth. Ord's men were still filing into Carlisle, and as he stood on the veranda, he watched them pass.
The town was rich, prosperous, not really touched by the war. Gaslight illuminated the main thoroughfare, this incredible valley pike, the type of road he'd have given a right arm for while struggling through the back lanes and swamps of Louisiana and Mississippi. Broad, well macadamized, the crushed limestone pavement glittering in the glow of the gaslight.
The troops marched by in good order, their spirits up. They were on the move and in the East. All day long the men he had brought with him from the Mississippi campaign had been in high spirits. Though over eighty degrees, the air was relatively dry. There were no foul humors in this Pennsylvania air carrying ague or yellow jack. For them twenty-five miles in such conditions was all in a day's work, though some had found the paved pike to be hard on the feet after the soft mud or powder of western roads.
What had captivated him and his army was the outright celebration of the citizenry. The pike was lined with thousands of civilians. They had been behind the rebel lines for over a month, and though Lee's men had treated them with the utmost respect, still it had been an occupying army, and now the liberators had come. It was a heady experience for all of them, civilians, soldiers, and even their general. For the first time on a campaign march they had been greeted as friends and not as alien invaders.
That thought, of being aliens in their own country, had often troubled him. Nearly twenty years earlier, during the build-up before the war with Mexico, he had spent a winter in Louisiana and had found it to be a pleasant memory, of cool winter nights and days usually filled with a nice touch of warmth when compared to Ohio or the freezing nights at the Point. Back then they had been treated as heroes about to go off to war. But those days were long gone. Not since the start of all this current misery had he seen such a march as they had experienced this day.
Pretty girls, many wearing patriotic ribbons of red, white, and blue, stood at farm gates, waving flags, cheering as each regiment passed. Mothers had looked on smilingly, passing out fresh-baked biscuits and bread; little boys had run up and down along the fencerows bordering the pike, laughing and playing friendly pranks. When the march broke for ten minutes' rest at the end of every hour, civilians had mingled freely among the men, bearing buckets of cool fresh well water and passing out yet more food.
So many soldiers in the ranks who were fathers found themselves, for a few minutes, transported back home, a child in their lap, tickling it, trying to get the infant or toddler to smile, and everyone laughing even when the child burst into tears and reached for its mother. Men began taking bullets out of a cartridge box, tearing them open and tossing a handful of loose powder into a quickly made fire to give the children a thrill as it burst with a puff of sulfurous smoke, then passing the minie ball to some wide-eyed boy as a souvenir. So many were doing this that word passed down the ranks that the practice had to be stopped before someone got hurt, and besides, multiplied a hundred thousand times, it was enough ammunition to keep an entire brigade on the firing line for a long day's fight.
When the bugles and drums sounded for the march to resume more than one man had tears in his eyes as he hugged and kissed a child who had been "his" for ten brief minutes. Younger men, boys of seventeen and eighteen, fell in love a dozen times that day, for at each stop there was a pretty lass, scores of pretty lasses. At such a moment all the restraints and decorum were set aside for a few minutes, though parents still kept a watchful eye, usually chatting with a captain or older sergeant as they watched. Boys who at home had stammered at the sight of a girl now boldly asked their names, how old they were, and if they had any brothers or sweethearts in the army. Girls looked into young soldiers' eyes and would not turn away, would smile, offer kind words, perhaps even the touch of a hand to a cheek or even a chaste kiss and a tearful, "Good luck soldier. I'll pray for you tonight." Addresses were hurriedly scribbled and exchanged, with the usually unfulfilled promise of writing after "all this is over."
And so the columns would form up and move on, passing through small villages of prosperous homes, past rich farms with neatly painted barns as big as churches. The fences bordering the pike were sturdy, well-built affairs of post and rail, enclosing orchards, wheat fields, and corn head high on the other side. The fences were often piled thick with honeysuckle in bloom and morning glories fading in the midday heat The air was rich with the scents of an abundant land, of ripening apples, corn, flowers, and over all a sheen of softness, almost of a memory forming that could haunt those who outlived the weeks ahead, haunting them fifty years hence with dreams of at least one day when war did have a touch of glory to it as they marched ever west and south.
The column, stretching back twenty miles, all the way to Harrisburg, had thus moved throughout the day, thousands of rifles on shoulders swaying, sparkling as they caught and reflected the sunlight Behind each brigade moved a couple of dozen wagons, the limit set by Grant before the march, one wagon with additional ammunition for each regiment, a second wagon for regimental supplies, and one ambulance per regiment for the surgeon, his equipment, and room enough for four men to ride who might be too sick to keep up with the day's march. It was a lean army marching fast.
Cresting low rises along the pike, a soldier could stop for a moment, looking back and then forward. As far as the eye could reach there were the long serpentine columns, dark blue, dull white canvas tops of wagons, the glint of bronze from batteries of Napoleon twelve-pounders, and always the flags. On this first day of march, a march carrying them down through loyal Pennsylvania, all the flags were uncased and held high, the light breeze out of the southwest gently lifting the banners.
National colors, the flag of the Union, state flags, many never seen before by the civilians, flags of Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, and Illinois mixed in with the more familiar banners of Ohio, New York, and, of course, Pennsylvania. Most of the flags were shot-torn, some little more than tattered rags, which had been lovingly patched, sewn, and resewn by those who bore them. Faded gold lettering was emblazoned upon them, names of distant battles from what seemed almost to be another war… Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, Jackson, and in new, yet-to-fade letters, Vicksburg.
The colorful new flags of divisions and corps marked the head of each column, boys by the side of the road eagerly arguing with each other at the sight of them.
"Red means First Division, blue Second Division, and that is Thirteenth Corps!"
"No, Jimmie, you darn fool, white is Second and blue is Third, and I tell you that is Ninth Corps!"
At the passage of the colored division of Ninth Corps many at first stood silent, for such a sight had never been seen before, colored men, in uniform, carrying rifles on their shoulders and heading to war.
The men of that division, knowing they were being more closely watched than others, made it a point to march in. proper style, rifles shouldered, not slung, hour after hour sergeants chanting the cadence, "Your left, your left, your left, right, left."
At the front of each regiment were brand-new national colors, beside them the unique yellow regimental flags of the United States Colored Troops. No battle honors were emblazoned on them yet, but all knew they soon would be.
As the first regiment in that division passed through ham- lets and towns, past farms and workshops, most onlookers stood silent. But the sight of them, their new uniforms, the way they marched, keeping step, thousands of them, made their mark, and by the time the second brigade of the divi- sion passed, scattered applause would break out, and then cheers as the men, thousands of voices joined together, would sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." "He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never sound retreat "
They must have sung it twenty times that day, each time as heartfelt as the last, and those lining the road joined in. And each time as they finished there was a strange, momentary silence. White citizens of a republic locked in the third year of a desperate war, looking now upon black men who perhaps indeed were the major cause of that war, armed and heading south. Such a sight would have been unimaginable passing through Pennsylvania only a few years before, but all things change, and war brings far more changes than anyone ever expects.
Their passage carried that message, that realization. More than one person watching them pass had lost a son, a brother, a husband to the inferno, and some felt tears come to their eyes. Perhaps, after all, there was worth in their loss; perhaps these men represented that.
For the men of Third Division, Ninth Corps, this was not just a war about the preserving of the Union, it was a war of liberation. When someone cried out, "Good luck, soldier," they felt a swelling pride within.
For those in that column that one word, "soldier," carried with it a weight undreamed of by those who cried it. It was no longer "boy," or even a kindly "uncle," or the dark, bitter insult of "hey, nigger."
Now it was "soldier."
And so this first day of the campaign had passed, hard marching to be certain, but lighthearted. For so many, somehow, war again seemed to have to it some distant glory, a thrill down the spine as song would sweep through the ranks. There was, there had to be, a meaning to what they were doing now; perhaps all the suffering might be leading toward something beyond them as individuals. They were swept up in this vast undertaking, joined together in a single spirit, the soul of the Union, and it gave to them meaning. It might bring them to death, to that terrifying moment when, a limb gone, life's blood flowed into the dust, but that was tomorrow. For the more philosophical, there was the thought as well that though death did indeed come to all men they would forever have this moment-and because of it, a hundred or, a hundred and fifty years hence, they would be remembered.
A captain with an Illinois regiment, a man of some schooling, would recite poetry to his men as they marched. Sometimes they'd listen, sometimes not; sometimes they'd laugh a bit derisively; on occasion the silence would mean deep thought. "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers," he said today. And Grant, standing at the bridge across the Susquehanna as they passed by just before dawn, had heard those words, coming louder as the regiment approached, then drifting off as they continued on. The words had stayed in his heart throughout the day.
The soldiers had marched from before dawn well into the twilight of evening before breaking at last and going into camp with word that they would roust out at four in the morning to start again.
The Cumberland Valley was broad, relatively flat, a dozen miles wide. From Harrisburg to Carlisle it spread almost due west, then gradually began to arc to the southwest and then south, a broad open avenue that pointed eventually to the Potomac, to Maryland and Virginia beyond. As they moved down the valley the mountains that eventually would be the Catoctin Range stood to their left, a natural barrier that on the other side was still rebel territory.
The column marching past the Carlisle barracks thinned out as the wagons of the last brigade in line passed. At the end rode a unit of the provost guards, shepherding along those who had fallen out during the day because of illness and the heat. More than one of the guards had an exhausted man riding behind him on the rump of his horse. There had been almost no straggling this first day; that would come later as the relentless pace Grant had planned took its toll. Today had been easy for men well rested and eager. Two weeks from now it might be a different story.
An officer was approaching out of the twilight, the glow from the gaslights reflecting the glint of a single star on each shoulder.
Grant nodded and returned the man's salute. "Sir, I'm Henry Hunt. You sent word for me to report." "That was over a week ago, General Hunt. What kept you?"
"Sorry, sir. The doctor said it was a touch of typhoid. I thought you received my telegram about that."
Grant shook his head.
"Most likely lost in all the confusion, Hunt. Never mind that, though. Are you fit now?" "Yes, sir, I am."
Grant looked at him closely, and for a second there was the memory of Herman Haupt, dead last week from dysentery. Anyone who served in the army sooner or later was stricken by the typhoid or dysentery, an occupational hazard that killed more than the bullets did.
"Walk with me, Hunt."
Grant stepped down from the veranda. The excitement in the town was beginning to die down, but curious civilians still lined the streets. He turned away and started toward the darkness of the parade field, Hunt by his side.
The last glow of twilight in the west was fading away, the sky overhead dark, clear with stars, the moon yet to rise.
"General, I know you are a good man. Your record at Malvern Hill, at Cemetery Hill the first day at Gettysburg, proved that." 'Thank you, sir."
"What happened at Union Mills?" "Sir?" 'Tell me everything."
"Yes, sir," and for fifteen minutes he talked, Grant did not interrupt as Hunt described the debacle which had unfolded, the bombardment which had failed to dislodge Lee, and the horror of watching the futile charge go forward.
He finally fell silent. Grant, having finished his cigar, reached into his breast pocket, pulled out a silver case, opened it, gave Hunt a cigar, and took another for himself. Henry snapped a lucifer with his thumbnail, sparking it to light, illuminating the two of them as they puffed their cigars to life.
"A few questions," Grant said. "Anything, sir."
"Could Meade have won? Or let me put it another way. When did it begin to go wrong?" Henry shook his head.
"Sir, I really don't like speaking poorly of the dead."
"He was a brother officer. If the roles were reversed right now-if it was I who were dead, and Meade in command, he'd ask the same question."
Henry nodded in reluctant agreement.
"The entire army should have been on the move as soon as word arrived that we were being flanked at Gettysburg," Henry said. "If so, the following morning we could have cut Lee in half, his troops strung out on thirty miles of road from just outside Westminister clear back to Gettysburg. We'd have had him for certain then."
"I don't know about that," Grant said softly, gazing up at the stars.
"You are talking about Meade not acting like Meade. I suspect our rival somewhere over there"-he looked at Hunt while pointing off to the east-"Lee; had the measure of the Army of the Potomac before even one man stepped out on that incredible march to Union Mills. You must admit, Lee was masterful in that campaign."
"Yes, sir, he was," Hunt said quietly.
"He knew Meade would be slow to react, perhaps even to the point of first seeking a council of war, not fully yet in command, his fellow corps commanders still his peers rather than his subordinates. He knew Sickles would be impetuous-that is clearly evident from how he played him at Gunpowder River-but that Meade would rein him in." He stopped and puffed on his cigar for a moment. "General Lee had the measure of all of you from the start and played it accordingly."
Grant signed, and went on. "I remember once, down in Mexico, after the fighting stopped, some darn fool officers decided to go hunting. But it wasn't a hunt. They got their men to go up into the hills, form a line, and drive the game toward them. It was a slaughter."
The memory of it sickened him. How anyone could take pleasure in killing a dumb creature driven by fear was beyond him. War was little better.
"That was your Army of the Potomac," Grant said coldly. "You were boxed and driven."
"That has always bedeviled us," Hunt sighed. "It's as if Lee is always sitting in the corner at our meetings, wandering our camps at night. He seems to know even before we know."
Grant slapped the side of his leg with his hand.
"That stops now."
"You speak of Lee as if he is a ghost or one of those mind readers at a county fair."
"Yes, sir, it was like that," Henry said. 'That bothers you, Hunt?" 'They were good men, sir. Damn good men. Warren, Reynolds, the boys with my command. They deserved better. A damn sight better."
"They will get it," Grant said calmly.
"Not those who are dead, sir."
"The dead are behind us, Hunt. What concerns you and me is now, and I tell you this, if you are to join my command, it stops now. I want you to understand that."
"So you want me then, sir?"
"For what, sir?" "What would you suggest?" "Artillery of course, sir." "That was my intention."
Henry grinned. After his dismissal from the Army of the Potomac by Sickles he thought he would never get a chance for action again. Grant was now giving him that chance.
"I'll confess, Hunt, out west, in those forests, those bayous and swamps, artillery wasn't much use, too much of a tangle and too often slowed us down. I understand it's different here, and frankly I can already see that just with today's ride."
"Sir, this is the best damn artillery ground of the war, right here, clear down into northern Virginia. Almost all the land is cleared. You'll notice the lay of the land, sir. Ridgelines tend to run south to north, or southwest to northeast, spaced at good range, every four hundred to a thousand yards or so. It's damn good ground for guns."
"And Lee has your guns now, doesn't he?"
Henry, his spirit broken by that comment, said nothing.
"How would you organize yourself?"
"What would be your preference in organization of artillery for this army?"
"What do you have with you, sir?" Henry replied, filled again with enthusiasm.
"I have twenty-three batteries, a hundred and thirty-eight guns-eighteen batteries of newly forged three-inch rifles, or Parrott guns, the rest smoothbore Napoleons. General Haupt tried to bring more up. If I had another couple of weeks I could have made it twenty-eight batteries, but things didn't play out that way."
"Yes, Haupt," Henry replied. "Another good man."
"You knew him?"
"Briefly, sir. Met him in Harrisburg after the retreat from Union Mills. He sent me on to Washington to report. I heard he died last week."
"Yes. I've sent for Grenville Dodge, who served with me out West, to replace him."
"I saw Haupt's handiwork coming up here today, sir. It looks like his men have repaired ten miles or more of rail line today alone."
"I know. Now back to the question, Hunt. If I give you command of artillery, how do you see it organized?"
"Under one unified command, sir."
"And that is you?"
"Answering directly to you, sir."
"A single unified command, sir. You are right in that Lee does have my guns, damn it. He must outnumber you"-he paused before correcting himself-"us, in artillery by two or more to one. But many of his gunners are amateurs. It takes months, years, to train good gunners. If you give me a unified command, I can pick the spot for you on any battlefield, concentrate the guns, and tear him apart." "Offensively?"
Hunt hesitated and shook his head.
"Our guns just aren't effective for that. Don't get me wrong, sir," and as he spoke, Hunt warmed to his subject, "a three-inch ordnance rifle, with a good crew, can pick a lone rider off at a thousand yards, but once a battle starts, the smoke, the confusion…"
His voice trailed off for a moment, as if he were remembering something.
"You had over two hundred guns at Union Mills, didn't you?"
"Yes, sir, and we didn't budge them. We hurt them, at least I think we did, but not enough for Hancock, for Sedgwick, to break through. And in turn, their guns that survived our barrage just shredded our men down in that open field"
"What I figured," Grant said quietly.
"But if you need to anchor a position, or tear apart reb infantry out in the open coming at you-that I can give you."
"And Lee's superior numbers in guns?"
"Let him try and dislodge me. Just let him." There was a grim ferocity to Hunt's voice that Grant liked.
"The job is yours, General Hunt. You report directly to me. I'll cut the orders tomorrow morning to my corps commanders that all rifled guns are now assigned to your control. I know my corps commanders, and they'll squawk like crows over that order, so for now, let them keep their Napoleon smoothbores for close-in support, but the rest will go to you."
Hunt looked at him, more than a bit surprised. He had argued for this chance for two years, and now, with almost detached calm, this man from the West had finally given it to him.
'Thank you, sir. I won't let you down." "See that you don't," Grant said. There was a note of dismissal in his voice.
"Set up your headquarters with mine for now. Pull together what staff you need. I'm promoting you to major general as well so you don't have to worry about any fights with others. Ord and McPherson know better, but Banks and Burnside…"
"I understand, sir, and thank you."
"Just do your job and we'll get along well."
Knowing that their, conversation was finished, Hunt saluted and withdrew.
He watched Hunt leave. He sensed he had made the right choice with this man. He had a score to settle with Lee, and by giving Hunt his chance, not just to settle a score, but to prove his theory about a unified command of artillery, he would bind the man to him.
Alone, he walked the length of the parade ground to the flagpole. Someone had told him that for the last month rebel colors had flown from it, torn down just hours ago as their cavalry pulled out ahead of his advance.
He leaned against the pole, struck a match against it, and puffed yet another cigar to life.
It was good to be alone for a few minutes. He looked back at the barracks, aglow with light, staff inside, couriers riding up to the veranda, dismounting, and rushing inside, other couriers coming out, mounting, and galloping off.
He smiled. So many of them were boys, playing at this game, actually enjoying it. The day had been a good one, a fairly good march, though he would have preferred to make a few more miles.
He looked off to the southeast. Over there, just about a hundred miles away, was Lee.
He wished for a moment that the old stories were true, the stories of Napoleon, Caesar, and Alexander, how they could slip into the mind of their opponents, sow doubt, and learn the deepest of secrets. It would be wonderful to turn the tables on this legendary soldier, to get into his mind as easily as he infiltrated the minds of so many of his opponents.
Foolishness, of course. This was an age of science, of machines, not of magic, and to waste another thought on such foolery was indeed a waste.
As he could not slip into the mind of Lee, he must ensure that Lee could never slip into his, never read his heart, never stir a note of discord or, worst of all, fear.
No, by simply doing that alone I can unnerve him. I've set my plans, made so hurriedly, thanks to that fool Sickles. I'd have preferred another three weeks, a month, to marshal more strength, but to have waited after the debacle by Sickles would have played against us, given Lee time to rest, to re-gather his strength and his nerve for the next encounter.
He sensed that just this move alone had most likely caught him off guard. Every other general whom Lee had faced, excepting Sickles, had always erred on the side of caution. Even Meade, in his blind panic to attack at Union Mills, was ultimately driven by caution, fear of how Washington would respond to his being outflanked and cut off.
Out west, in California, Grant had heard stories from mountain men who had seen wolves bring down their prey, elk, even old grizzlies. They did not charge in blindly, nor did they run away. Always they lurked, dashing in, pulling back, dashing in, in a hunt that might last for days, wearing their victim down to exhaustion. Always circling, always moving, never letting their victim rest, closing in, limiting their prey's movements, exhausting them-until at last the throat was bared and the kill made.
He continued to gaze southeastward, toward Baltimore. Chances were that Lee had forced marched back from the Susquehanna this day, concerned by word of the crossing at Harrisburg. He will have to rest for a few days while I am fresh. He will have to refit, reorganize, rest his men after their mad dash and brilliant campaign of the last week; then they will venture out to meet me.
He took another puff on his cigar, coughing slightly as he took it out of his mouth and looked at the glowing tip.
And yet I know this, he realized. Even as I plot my moves, Lee will plot his. Neither of us will get fully what we want. In war one never does until the very last day, when the guns finally fall silent and one side submits.
We both seek the submission of the other, and it won't come in one battle, one sharp moment of combat. It will be a grinding down, and tens of thousands will die in the weeks to come. I can move along several paths now, but then again so can he.
Was Lee sleeping now? He doubted it. Most likely, even at this moment he is looking toward me, thinking the same thoughts I do.
Grant let his cigar drop, and rubbed out the glowing embers with his foot. Turning, he went into his headquarters to get some sleep. Tomorrow would be a very long day.
Ten Miles North of Hanover, Pennsylvania
August 23, 1863
Captain, rider coming in." Capt. Phil Duvall looked up from the simmering campfire where he and Sergeant Lucas had been frying some fresh-cut pork, requisitioned from the farmer whose yard they were camped in.
It was Syms. How the man was keeping to the saddle was beyond him. A local doctor in a town they had passed through had dug the rifle ball out of Syms's calf, bandaged it, and told him to stay out of things for a week. Syms had just laughed, asked the doctor to cut his boot down below the wound and bulky bandage, remounted, and fell back in. Besides, to "stay out of things" would have meant staying behind to be captured by the Yankee cavalry that had been pressing them back all day.
Duvall had pickets a few miles north of where they were camped, watching the road from Carlisle. The Yankee regiment went into camp at dusk. They had pressed, but not to the point of aggressively seeking a fight, rolling him back, trading shots at long range, probing forward, he retreating a mile or so, and thus it had been all day, with no casualties on either side-just a steady, constant pressure to mask what was behind them.
It was indeed his old friend Custer. He had spotted him just before sunset, riding in the lead, about a mile off. Strange that he was not coming on more aggressively, Phil thought more than once after confirming who his opponent was. That was an indicator right there that George was ordered not to seek engagement, but just keep pushing him back.
Syms halted and Lucas stood up to help him get out of the saddle, the man grimacing as he dismounted and hobbled over to squat by Phil's side.
"Love it, sir."
Phil poured him a cup, and Syms took it, looking hungrily at the slices of pork in the frying pan. Phil handed him a fork; Syms stabbed a piece and took a bite, cursing and muttering as he gingerly chewed on the meat, then took a long drink of the hot brew.
He sat down with a sigh.
"What do you have for me?" Phil asked.
"Infantry, lots of infantry."
Syms reached into his haversack and pulled out a sketch pad. Drawn on it was a rough map.
"There's a road here, the one that runs south of the main pike out of Harrisburg. It passes through Dillsburg and on to Petersburg, which we rode through yesterday morning. I circled far out to the left as you told me to. Waited till dark, then cut north using farm lanes and back trails.
"Their cavalry screen is tight. You can tell someone new is running that show. Before, we used to punch through Stoneman or Pleasanton as a joke. Not now. Every crossroads was manned, every village had at least a troop of cavalry guarding the roads. So it was a lot of cutting through fields and keeping quiet.
"Near Dillsburg I finally saw the infantry. Campfires by the hundreds."
"That puts them fifteen miles due south of Carlisle," Phil said. "It means they're heading this way." "Looks that way."
"You get any prisoners, identifications of units?" Syms shook his head.
"I'm lucky just to get back with what I told you, sir. I lost two men coming back; we got jumped crossing a road. We wounded one man and talked to him. He's with Custer."
"But the infantry?"
"I can't tell you, sir, but from the campfires it looked to be division strength."
Their conversation was interrupted by the distant pop of rifle fire. The men camped around Phil looked up, some stood, a few going over their mounts, which had remained saddled through the night, and began to pack up, tying on blanket rolls, checking revolvers for loads.
"Our friends seem to want another day of it." Phil sighed. He looked over at Lucas, asked for Syms's notebook, and quickly wrote out a message.
Detachment, Third Virginia Fifteen Miles Northwest of Hanover Report has arrived that this night Union infantry in division strength camped at Dillsburg. Am facing at least a regiment of Custer's command. Will fall back toward Hanover.
Captain Duval He tore the sheet off and handed it to Lucas.
"Ride like hell to Hanover. Be careful, they might have tried to slip around us during the night. Get this message telegraphed to headquarters. Wait there for me. I suspect we'll not be far behind you."
Phil leaned over, forked a piece of pork, and wolfed it down.
"Mount up! We move in ten minutes," he shouted.
Three Miles Southeast of Port Deposit
August 23, 1863
The train, pulling but two passenger cars, slid to a halt, steam venting around the president's legs. The engineer leaned out of the cab, looking at him wide-eyed. "Are you Abe?" the engineer asked. "Last time I looked in the mirror I was," Lincoln said with a smile. The startled engineer quickly doffed his hat and nodded.
A captain leaning out of the door of the first car jumped down, ran up to him, nervously came to attention, and saluted.
"Mr. President. I must admit, I can't believe it's really you, sir." "It is."
"I thought the courier was mad when he grabbed me, told me to round up a company of men, and follow him to the rail yard and get aboard."
"Captain." Ely Parker stepped forward, the two exchanging salutes.
"That courier came straight from the War Department. You were, most likely, the first officer he spotted. Did you follow his orders and tell no one what you were about?"
"Yes, sir. I just rounded up my boys as ordered. I felt I should report to my colonel, but the courier showed me the dispatch with your signature on it, so I did as ordered."
"May I ask what this is about, Major?"
"You and your men are to provide escort for the president up to Harrisburg. Absolutely no one is to know who is aboard this train. We'll stop only for water and wood. If but one man gets off the train and says a word to anyone, I'll have all of you up on court-martial before General Grant himself. Do we understand each other?"
"Yes, sir," said the captain, and he nervously saluted again.
"Son, I see you have a red Maltese cross on your cap," Lincoln interrupted. "Fifth Corps?"
"Yes, sir. Capt. Thomas Chamberlain, sir, Twentieth Maine."
"You were at Union Mills and Gunpowder River."
"Actually neither, sir. Our regiment was lost at Taneytown on July 2. We were paroled and just exchanged."
"We'll talk more about that later, Captain. I'm curious to hear your story."
"Fine, now get aboard, and let's get moving."
The captain ran back to his car, shouting at the men leaning out the windows, "Get the hell back inside."
Ely looked up and down the track. They were several miles outside of Port Deposit, the length of track empty. The fast courier boat that had delivered them to this spot was resting in the reeds, the crew watching the show. Behind them was the broad open stretch of the Susquehanna, Havre de Grace just barely visible half a dozen miles downstream on the other shore.
Wisps of fog drifted on the river, several gunboats in midstream, anchored. On the far shore a huge Confederate flag, their "unstained banner," which could, when lying flat, be mistaken for a flag of truce, was displayed from the side of a barn.
He wondered if that just might be an outpost Someone with a telescope could perhaps see what was going on here, yet another reason he had insisted that Lincoln, at least for once, not wear his distinctive top hat and black frock coat, covering himself with a cavalry poncho and a slouch cap.
The two walked to the back of the train. Without a platform it was a long step up, but Lincoln took it with ease, actually offering a hand back to the far shorter Ely, who was almost tempted to take it, but then pulled himself up. They got on board the car, which was empty except for the staff officer from the War Department who had come up several hours ahead to make the arrangements for the train.
"A good job, Major Wilkenson," Lincoln said. "All very cloak-and-dagger, something almost out of a play."
"It was the first good locomotive I could grab and get up here, sir. The engineer says she'll make sixty miles to the hour on the good track up toward Chester. The road ahead is being cleared, with the report there's several wounded generals on board."
"I'm sorry the arrangements are so spartan," Wilkenson said, gesturing around the car.
It was clear that the car had seen hard use in recent weeks. The chairs were simple wood; a stove stood at one end, a privy cabin at the other. As the major looked about, he noticed dark stains on the floor and many of the seats, and there was a faint odor of decay.
"Sorry, sir,"- Wilkenson said. "It just came back from taking wounded up to Wilmington, still hasn't been fully scrubbed out, but it was all I could find."
"That's no problem," Lincoln said softly.
The train lurched, whistle shrieking. After looking for a relatively clean seat, Lincoln sat down. He motioned for Ely to sit across from him.
Wilkenson stood silent for a few seconds, then said he was going forward to check with the engineer and come back with some rations.
For Ely it was a moment to finally sit back, one more hurdle jumped. Little had he dreamed this time yesterday that he would be escorting the president to meet Grant.
They had left Washington early in the afternoon, taking a gunboat down the Potomac and up the Chesapeake. Amazingly, they had slipped out of Washington without being noticed through a series of subterfuges and a report that the president had a mild dose of variola and had to be confined to bed and quarantine for several days.
Once aboard ship the president had retired to a cabin and within minutes was fast asleep, sleeping, in fact, for most of the journey. Ely, consumed with concern for the man he escorted, found he could not sleep.
The train was picking up speed, rails clicking, the car swaying as they went through a sweeping curve. To their right was the Susquehanna, at the moment still rebel territory on the far side.
Lincoln put his feet up on the seat and smiled.
"Now, Major, guess we have a long ride ahead. Please tell me everything about yourself, your tribe, how you came to wear the uniform."
"A long story, sir."
"We have plenty of time. You know, I sort of volunteered during the so-called Black Hawk War, nearly thirty years back. Glad as anything we didn't have to fight. Actually, my sympathies rested more with your side in that unfortunate affair."
"Well, sir, America is my country, too." Lincoln leaned over and patted him lightly on the knee. "I'm proud to hear that, Major. I wish we could all feel that way."
He leaned back, looking out the window. They were racing by an army encampment, survivors no doubt of Gunpowder River.
"So start your story, Major, and then, when you're done, I've got a few questions for you about General.Grant."
The train thundered on, racing through the switching yard that put them on the main track heading north toward Pennsylvania.
Wearily, Gen. Robert E. Lee swung his leg out of the stirrup. Trembling with exhaustion, he dismounted, grateful that Walter Taylor was holding his mount's bridle. He had left Traveler behind this morning to rest, borrowing an escort's mount to press the final miles into the city. The horse was feisty and skittish and had nearly thrown him when startled by a dog that had darted out of an alleyway to challenge possession of the road.
The city was quiet, provost guards out patrolling the streets, weary troops marching at route step down the main roads from the north, then turning to file west into their old encampment sites used prior to the start of the Gunpowder River campaign. The ranks were thin, thousands of men having fallen out during the last twenty-four hours from exhaustion, and again he had passed orders to deal lightly with such men.
Coming down the steps of the hotel flying the First Corps headquarters flag came Pete Longstreet. Pete had pushed on ahead at his request to ensure that the city was secure, and that no coordinated action might be coming from the Union garrison still occupying Fort McHenry down in the harbor.
"General, sir, good to see you," Pete said quietly, saluting. "Did you get some rest last night, sir?"
"Yes, actually I did."
He had stopped just south of Gunpowder River and was asleep within minutes. If he was to think this current situation through, he had to be sharper, and, besides, he felt secure with Pete heading back into the city while he slept.
"Things here in the town are secure, sir," Pete said. "Not a peep from the garrison down in the harbor."
"As I assumed. I doubt if General Grant could extend such control in a coordinated manner, but still it was a worry. Even a brief sally from the fort could have caused us problems."
"I talked with one of our citizens, a bit of an amateur spy, a minister who said he was in the fort last evening, under a pass to visit his brother, who is ill."
"He was under a pass?" Lee asked. "You know I don't like using such things for subterfuge."
"No one ordered him to do it, sir, from our army. He took it upon himself."
Lee hesitated, then nodded.
"Go on then."
"He said they were aware of Sickles being beaten, but had no word whatsoever of Grant moving." "Good."
"He said they were all rather demoralized down there. Especially with word we were coming back into the city. That's about it regarding the fort. Garrison is still several thousand strong, with reports of more troops, mostly marines in the gunboats just outside the harbor. But nothing unusual to report from that side."
"And what else, General?"
"A rider came over the South Mountains into Gettysburg just before dusk, reporting in from Chambersburg. He carried a report that strong Yankee columns were seen coming down the valley past Carlisle.
"And then a report that just came in a few minutes back. Scouts report sighting Union infantry camped last night at Dillsburg."
Lee stood silent, trying to remember the location.
"At least ten miles south of Carlisle, a route that could take them toward Hanover. Also, Custer was screening that movement."
"Any indication which corps it was?"
"Nothing on any of that, sir. They are keeping up a solid screen."
Good move on Grant's part the first day out, Lee thought. Blinds us and now moves in a shadow land to the north and west.
As they spoke they slowly walked into the hotel lobby in which Longstreet had set up. Jed Hotchkiss, the army cartographer who had ridden ahead with Longstreet, was there to greet them. A table was set up covered with maps, and Lee walked over to it, with Longstreet by his side.
"Well, Major Hotchkiss," Lee said, "I see you've-been busy again."
"Same maps as before, sir, but I thought you might want to get a look at them."
Longstreet leaned over the table, pointing toward York and then Carlisle.
"Sir," Hotchkiss began, "we know that they have a screen of cavalry, at least two divisions' worth, spread in an arc from York westward, over to here at Heidlersburg, about twenty miles north of Gettysburg. It was from Heidlersburg that our last report came in, and that outpost is now withdrawing to Hanover."
"I'll want General Stuart to start moving out a screen tomorrow, probing, across this entire front."
As he spoke he drew a line with his finger from Gettysburg eastward to the Susquehanna River.
"Tomorrow, sir?" Pete asked.
"Yes, I know," Lee replied slowly, and as he spoke he sat down, reached into his breast pocket to take out a pair of spectacles and put them on.
"Walter, my compliments to General Stuart, and please convey that order to him. Tell him I only want him to send out those regiments that he feels are relatively fresh. I fear our new rival has the jump on us on that issue. I suspect many of Grant's troopers have mounts well shod and rested, and the boys astride them as good in the saddle as our boys are. If there is to be a tangle in the next few days, I want our boys on good mounts, otherwise they'll be run down."
He was silent for a moment, staring again at the map.
By rights he should give Stuart at least a week to refit. The reshodding of one mount would only take a matter of minutes, but ten thousand? Every blacksmith and farrier in Baltimore would be busy for days with that task. Then there were the horses for the artillery, quartermaster corps, and medical corps to be tended to as well before this army could march on a campaign of maneuver that also might span a hundred miles or more in a matter of days.
I need a week, he thought, but if I wait, that will give Grant a week to do as he pleases. "For want of a nail a horseshoe was lost, for want of a horseshoe…"
"Give the cavalry precedence in reshoeing the horses and drawing provisions. They have to move first or we will be blind.
"We need two things, General Longstreet," Lee said, adjusting his spectacles as he gazed at the maps, "time to rest and time to analyze what General Grant is about to do."
He forced a smile, accepting a cup of tea from Walter, who had fetched it from the kitchen in the hotel. He blew on the china rim before taking a sip.
"Don't worry, though, gentleman. We've faced others like this before. Remember Pope coming from the West with all his boasts?"
The staff chuckled.
"Headquarters in his saddle," Taylor laughed softly, and those gathered round Lee grinned with how that inane comment had been quickly turned into a meaning other than what Pope intended.
Lee looked over at Jed Hotchkiss and from him to Walter Taylor and the staff that was beginning to come in through the door.
"Gentlemen, two favors. First, Walter, would you be so kind as to ask the owner of this establishment if I might make my headquarters here? It is convenient and directly across the street from the telegraphy station. Also, Walter, I need you to see to the placement of the men as they file in. I want them to come in and find fresh rations. There's still plenty of beef and store goods in this town. Coffee, lots of coffee, tobacco, and fresh beef mean more now than three months of back pay. The men are to have tomorrow in camp, no drills, plenty of time to rest and for church services." "I'll see to it at once, sir."
"The second thing, gentlemen. If General Longstreet and I might have some time alone."
Nothing more needed to be said. Within seconds the room was emptied except for Pete and himself. A minute later Walter came back in, offering him a key to a room on the second floor with the compliments of the owner, who said he was honored by Lee's presence. After whispering that a guard was being posted around the hotel, he withdrew.
Pete was sitting across from him, exhaustion graying his features. It had been a hard march for him, too, he could see that.
Longstreet stirred, took out a cigar, and looked over at Lee, who nodded his approval before Pete lit up.
"I think we need to have a talk, General Longstreet." "I do, too, sir." "Why so?"
"Things have changed, a lot of things." Pete fell silent.
"Go on, General, I need you to speak freely. As I told you at Gettysburg, you are my right arm. I need to hear your opinions. Your insights gave us victory in the past; I am counting on you to help give us victory again."
Pete sighed, blew out a cloud of blue smoke, and leaned forward, looking Lee in the eyes.
"Sir, they just don't stop. I thought, after Union Mills, that would force Lincoln to give in. Certainly his abolitionist friends would stand by him, but the blow we gave them that day, I thought it was the beginning of the end."
"So did I, General," Lee said wistfully.
"We did it again at Gunpowder River. In some ways that victory was even more complete than Union Mills. It finished the Army of the Potomac, once and for all."
Longstreet sat back, shaking his head.
"I don't know anymore. I just don't know. I just thought that finally they would stop coming, but here they come again."
"You knew Grant. I mean before the war." "Yes, sir." 'Tell me something about him."
"Well, sir, when I knew him, to be honest it was all rather tragic. He was a year behind me at the Point, graduating in forty-three. I knew him there as an honest sort. Didn't like to gamble, drink. A bit reserved. Curious, actually, since he didn't like the army all that much and would voice that in private. Even admitted he went to the Point simply because it was a free education. He planned to do his service afterward, then get out. The one thing he did enjoy was horsemanship. Underneath that gruff exterior there is actually a rather sensitive soul, though most would find that impossible to believe."
"This tragic side you mentioned."
"The word was he took to drink out of loneliness and despair when separated from his wife. He was, sir, a gentleman and many of the men stationed out in California after the war… well, sir, you know what I mean when it came to women out there and such. Grant wasn't one of them, and the loneliness drove him half crazy."
"That's why he left the army?"
"I think so. Also, killing just sickened him."
"As it should all of us, General Longstreet. Yet everyone says he is relentless, cold-blooded," Lee finally ventured, uncomfortable with his own thoughts.
"He is indeed that At least I'm told that. I've never seen him in combat before. But from the word in the ranks he was absolutely fearless in Mexico. He doesn't lose his nerve under pressure the way many do, that is for certain."
"And yet, after leaving the army, he did not make much of himself."
Longstreet chuckled softly.
"No, sir, he did not. Failed at most everything he did. But let me put the shoe on the other foot. How many officers do we know who were all great guns in peacetime and then failed miserably when the bullets really did begin to whine about them?" Lee smiled sadly.
"More than any of us would like to admit, especially of old comrades."
"I think Grant is suited to this new kind of war that so many talk about."
"He doesn't stop. He just doesn't stop. Take Shiloh, for example, or his winter campaign around Vicksburg. Takes a reversal, what most anyone else would call a defeat, he wakes up the next morning as if yesterday didn't exist, and then pushes again."
"Like you, General Longstreet."
"Yes, sir, including me, but the difference is, he can draw on reserves we can only dream of. He understands that. Back in George Washington's time, an army fought a battle, it took weeks to resupply it, months to replace the men. Grant understands how different it all is now with trains, steamboats, factories. Fight a battle, he snaps a finger, brings up five million more rounds of ammunition, ten thousand more men, and pitches in again."
Both were silent for a moment.
"He is relentless once fixed on an objective. Though sensitive to the point of illness at the sight of blood, he can stand back and let it flow. Shiloh is an example we should look at carefully, sir. He turned it into a grinding match that finally broke Beauregard."
"Yet in many ways that battle was inconclusive."
"Inconclusive only because he did not have the authority to follow up. Halleck stepped in. I dare say, if Grant had been given full authority then, he would've pushed Beauregard clear to the Gulf of Mexico and not just to Corinth."
"Halleck. Sadly, those days are over," Lee said quietly, taking a sip of his tea.
"What do you think that portends?"
"That Lincoln has not yet lost his nerve, not by a long shot. In a way, he's sacked perhaps two of our best friends. Halleck, as you know, was always by the book. Stanton tended to work at cross-purposes to the administration in Washington."
Longstreet slapped the table with his fist and shook his head.
"Sorry, sir. I forgot to tell you. Lincoln did indeed sack Stanton yesterday." Lee said nothing.
"Sorry. Word was out on the wires late yesterday. We have some boys who've tapped into the line from Washington that they've run across land to the Chesapeake. Stanton is out."
"Elihu Washburne. Congressman from Illinois. The man who nominated Lincoln at the Republican convention. Perhaps more importantly he was Grant's congressman and apparently a close friend of his."
"That is news," Lee said quietly. "That means Grant has the full support of the administration. Carte blanche from now on."
"Sir, you just asked me to speak freely." "Yes, I did."
"I think it's time for us to get back across the Potomac."
"Why so?" Lee asked.
"There is nothing more to accomplish here."
"I would disagree, General Longstreet. We hold Baltimore, we still threaten Washington, we have supplies to see us clean through the spring if need be."
"Sir, may I present my case?" Longstreet asked.
"Of course, General. I need to hear what you have to say, though it does surprise me, your thought of conceding this ground without a fight, when I believe we could finally settle the issue here once and for all."
"Sir, we've destroyed the Army of the Potomac, a stated goal of our mission back in June. We've brought Maryland into the Confederacy. I think, at this point, a strategic withdrawal into northern Virginia would be prudent.
"We do a methodical and orderly withdrawal out of Baltimore now, and Grant just swings on empty air when he comes in. We also take apart the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as we pull back, take down every bridge, burn all the rolling stock left behind, tear apart the switching yards, burn the roundhouses, and take the heavy tools and machinery.
"If we pull out now, starting tomorrow, we can take with us every locomotive in this town, tear up track to take as well, even haul some of the machinery out of the factories as we go. Escort all that as we leave, and it would be a bonanza for our railroads in the South."
Lee did not respond.
Longstreet, warming to his position, pressed forward. "Sir, you might recall all the equipment that Jackson snatched from the Baltimore and Ohio back at the start of the war. It was brilliant and gave our side locomotives we desperately needed."
Lee smiled at the memory of how, in the early days of the struggle, Jackson had pulled off a wonderful hoodwinking of the Baltimore and Ohio, convincing them that they could only run trains in convoys at certain times, but he would not interfere with their operations in Maryland. Then, when the moment was right, he had raided across the river, blocked the track, and trapped an entire convoy of locomotives, supplies, and rolling stock. The equipment had been taken into Virginia and proved essential in keeping the Southern cause alive.
"Sir. If we take all their locomotives and rolling stock, then tear everything else apart, it would cripple their logistical support for months. It'd give us a lot of breathing room once out of Maryland with nothing but the wreckage of railroads behind us. Grant's offensive would grind to a halt."
"You know I don't like wanton destruction," Lee replied. "And remember, Maryland is now on our side. We cannot abandon it so lightly, or engage in such destruction in a state that is now part of our Confederacy.
"And what of our president's orders to hold Baltimore?" Lee asked. 'To hold Maryland?"
Longstreet said nothing for a moment.
"Sir, you asked for my opinion, which means relating to the military situation, not a response to what the civilian government told us to do."
"Why the caution now, General Longstreet?"
"The cost, sir. Our total casualties have been well over sixty thousand since May. We've lost over a dozen generals, scores of regimental commanders. Some of our finest divisions have been fought to a mere shell. Pickett, Pender, Anderson, Johnson, Heth are all down to a fraction of their original strength.
"Withdraw across the Potomac, hold the fords-and in another eight weeks the campaign season will be over till spring. That will give time for the wounded to heal, to reorganize, bring regiments back up to strength. Our boys will understand it, sir. In fact, they'll welcome it."
"And yet that gives Grant time as well," Lee said. "We believe he has four corps with him at this very moment. Wait till spring and it might be six or seven corps."
"Sir, though it's not our realm, I think Secretary Benjamin would agree with me as well. It would give time for Europe to react to your victories, perhaps bring France into the picture, with luck maybe even England, too. This war is, ultimately, one in which we achieve a political victory. Either Lincoln is impeached or is voted out of office. All we need do now is hold on till one or the other happens. Lincoln is undoubtedly pushing Grant to fight. Let us not give him that opportunity, and then see what happens."
Lee said nothing, letting his gaze drop to the maps on the table.
He had originally sought Pete's advice simply to examine the moment, what needed to be done the next few days, but instead his "right arm" had opened a far broader examination: a fundamental decision of what was to come not just tomorrow but in the weeks ahead.
"I cannot withdraw," Lee said, staring at the map.
"Because of President Davis?"
"Yes, in fair part. We have been ordered to hold Maryland and Baltimore, and I must not abandon such orders lightly. There is, as well, a logic to his orders to us. If we do indeed win the peace this fall, it is essential that Maryland be part of our new nation. It will force the Federals to abandon Washington as their capital, will insure that the Chesapeake Bay is controlled by us, and give us the one major industrial center in the South. We abandon that, we abandon a major position of stability after the war is over."
"Even if, in holding, we lose all, sir?"
"We will not lose," Lee said bluntly. "General Longstreet, we will not lose."
"Sir, if I might be so bold, please enlighten me about your thinking," Longstreet replied.
"Just this, General. I see no reason to assume that an encounter with Grant will go against us. Yes, he has caught us off guard for the moment, but such is war.
"You were not with me in May, when Hooker made his move up the Rappahannock. I will confess, in private, he did catch me completely off guard with the audacity of that move. We were outnumbered, before your arrival, nearly three to one. Whichever way I turned I would be flanked, and yet we did fight our way out of that, turned the tables, and won a stunning success, thanks be to God."
"The cost, though, sir-Jackson lost, nearly twenty thousand killed or wounded."
"Yes, I know, but success we did have."
"We've paid that price twice more over these last two months. Sir, we are running dry. Defeat Grant at a cost of twenty thousand and this army will be a burned-out shell of its former self."
"I see no reason to anticipate that price," Lee said sharply. He leaned over the table and swept his hand across the map. "Grant will come at us from one of two directions and we will know what it will be within forty-eight hours.
"If he advances en masse, along the railroad, we either go for maneuver to flank or we dig in, perhaps near Relay Station, just west of here, and let him try us in the type of battle you always seek, good defensive ground for them to bleed out on."
"His other choice?" Longstreet asked softly.
"He takes the broader strategic move. Goes down the Cumberland Valley, takes Hagerstown and Harpers Ferry, then threatens to advance into Virginia or draw us westward into a fight along the South Mountain range."
"And your thoughts, sir?"
Lee sighed, rubbing his forehead.
"Too early to tell. This is, after all, only the second day of maneuver for both of us. The path down the Cumberland, to gain proper position, will take him a week or more, and he knows it will give us the time that we need. The direct advance would mean a crisis in three to five days.
"I suspect that even if Grant is operating on his own initiative, Lincoln will still put his finger into his plans. After the humiliation with the Army of the Potomac, I believe Lincoln desperately needs some kind of victory as quickly as possible. He'll push for the direct assault."
"But will Grant agree to that, sir?"
"If Lincoln orders it, he has to, the same as I would have to if directly ordered by the president," Lee replied.
"One more sharp battle, another day like Union Mills, where we lured him into a fight on our ground, and we have him, and this nightmare is finished."
"One more day, sir?"
"Yes, that should do it."
'Then you agree with my position, Pete?" Lee asked. Longstreet forced a smile. "Sir, you command this army, and I follow orders." "But do you agree?"
"Sir, I've voiced my opinion," Longstreet replied. "But if you are confident of victory, then it is my job to help you in any way possible to achieve that."
"I will continue to weigh your suggestions, Pete," Lee replied, again using the more familiar first name. "Thank you. As I have said publicly many times these last seven weeks, your suggestion at Gettysburg that we abandon that field and go for a flanking march was the crucial element in. creating our victory at Union Mills."
"Thank you, sir. May I offer one further suggestion?"
"Either way, the B and O line will be important to us. May I suggest we contract with them now to get it fully operational as far as Frederick and position some supplies, perhaps some troops and artillery there."
"It will be the first time this army has relied upon such means for direct movement on a tactical level."
"Actually, sir, it was crucial at First Manassas, and Beauregard is familiar with its uses at Corinth and also the transfer of his troops up here. It is something I believe we should have paid attention to earlier."
Lee nodded in agreement.
"You're right. We should have looked into the use of the B and O earlier. I'll ask Secretary Benjamin if he would be willing to go over to their offices."
"And one other thing, sir."
"Get the pontoon bridges ready. We have enough captured bridging to run a span across the Potomac. I think they should be loaded on to flatcars and perhaps moved, prepositioned, over toward Frederick."
"Now? Move them now?"
"General Longstreet, there is a chance that a sound-enough defeat of General Grant might afford us the opportunity to think aggressively, very aggressively, indeed. Perhaps even to span the Susquehanna in pursuit. We would need that bridging material shifted north instead of west."
"Sir, if we move the bridging material west to Frederick by rail, and Grant is indeed smashed, it will take but hours for us to return it to Baltimore."
"Why this insistence, General Longstreet?"
"Call it an ace up the sleeve, sir. If things should indeed go wrong, right now we are reliant on but several fords to disengage our army and pull back into Virginia. The pontoon bridges give us greater flexibility, and frankly, sir, I'd like us to have that extra ace."
Lee was silent for a moment.
"Sending them west, might that not give the wrong message to some, that we are preparing to evacuate?"
"If it does, so what, sir? Perhaps it might embolden Grant to move rashly and make a mistake. Either way, those pontoons are a nightmare to move. We all know that. It took Burnside weeks just to bring them up fifty miles last November and cost him the opportunity to get across the Rappahannock before we were into position. I urge you, sir, move them now."
Lee finally nodded in agreement.
"Who is in charge of them?"
"A Maj. Zachariah Cruickshank. He use to be in command of First Corps' supply train. After we captured the pontoons from the Yankees at Union Mills I transferred to him the responsibility for their movement." 'Transferred? Why?"
"Well, sir, he has a bit of a problem with the bottle. A profane man as well, but one of the best men for running wagons I ever saw. It's just he got a bit insubordinate with me a few times when drunk, and I felt it was best that we distanced ourselves for his good and mine."
"Insubordinate to you?"
"I'd rather not repeat what he said, sir. But regardless of that, like I said, he's a man who can be relied on when it comes to moving wagons." 'Tell this profane major to go down to the rail yards, find the right people there, and prepare to load for a move to Frederick."
"But do not misinterpret this caution, General Longstreet. I want all my generals to realize and to know in their hearts that I plan to seek out General Grant, meet him in the field, and in one sharp action defeat him as we have defeated all others who have come against us."
"Of course, sir," Longstreet said quietly.
Baltimore and Ohio Rail Yard Baltimore
August 23 1:00 P.M.
You mick son of a bitch, come back here!" The yard boss turned, glaring at Maj. Zachariah Cruickshank, commander of the pontoon bridge train, Army of Northern Virginia, with a dark eye. Several of his fellow workers gathered around behind their boss, one of them hoisting a sledgehammer and swinging it one-handed. Cruickshank's men, a hard-bitten lot themselves, stepped closer to their major, one of them unclipping the flap on his revolver, another beginning to uncoil a bullwhip.
"Go ahead and shoot me," the yard boss snarled, "but I'll be damned if I'll take your ordering me around like some damn slave. This is my rail yard, not yours."
Cruickshank was tempted to do just that, shoot the son of a bitch. Not kill him, just blow a hole in his foot or arm to make the point. General Longstreet had ordered him to get the pontoon train loaded up, and by damn he had to do it. Now this dumb Irish Yankee was giving him back talk.
He looked around as more of the yard crew came over. Tough-looking men every one of them. Some were grinning, expecting the start of a donnybrook, and were picking up sledges, pickaxes, pieces of ballast.
"Most of 'em are goddamn Yankees," a sergeant standing next to Cruickshank whispered. "Let's go at 'em and take this damn place. I can get your trains for you, sir."
The men around Cruickshank muttered agreement.
Kill some of those sons of bitches, Cruickshank thought, and it will be my ass hauled before Old Pete again, the threat of court-martial real this time.
CruIckshank wearily shook his head, reached into his haversack, and pulled out a half-empty bottle of whiskey and held it up.
"Let's you and me talk," Cruickshank said, glaring at the yard boss. It galled him that he had to be reduced to making this offer, but damn all, he had orders from Longstreet himself and had to see them through.
The yard boss looked at the bottle, then nodded his head, turned to his men, and yelled at them to go back to work. Cruickshank ordered his men to back off, walked over to the yard boss, and together they climbed into an empty boxcar and sat down.
The two sides, like two street gangs waiting to see if it would be work or fight, stood apart, watching as their chiefs negotiated. A gesture from either would mean a bloodbath.
Cruickshank handed over the bottle; the yard boss uncorked it and took a long pull.
"Good stuff," he gasped. "This town's been dry as a bone ever since you rebs came in and confiscated all the liquor."
"There's plenty more where that came from"-Zachariah hated to say the words but had to-"if you help me out."
The yard boss looked over at him and grinned.
"So, got you by the short hairs, reb. One minute I'm a son of a bitch and the next you're trying to bribe me."
"I got a barrel of Tennessee's finest if you can help me work things out."
"This is my yard, not yours. You don't come in here ordering me around, especially in front of my men. Damn you, even the boss calls me Mr. McDougal, not 'Hey, you.'"
"I understand. Listen, McDougal-"
"Mr. McDougal." Cruickshank sighed.
"All right then, Mr. McDougal. It's hot, I'm tired, and I got my orders."
"Listen, Major. I've had no word from the office about this. You just come wandering in here and demand four engines and forty flatcars. You have to be joking."
"And I expect an apology for that son-of-a-bitch comment, you son of a bitch."
Cruickshank swallowed hard. Anyone else, at this moment, he'd have dropped him with one good punch.
"All right, one son of a bitch to another, does that satisfy you?"
"Barely," the boss said, taking another drink. He all but drained the bottle and tossed it out on the ground, where it shattered, then looked over expectantly at Cruickshank. Cruickshank motioned to one of his sergeants, who reluctantly came over, opened his haversack, and pulled out another.
For the first time, McDougal smiled, uncorked it, took another drink, then passed it back to Cruickshank, who took a long one as well.
Outside the boxcar this was read as a signal that things were simmering down. A few of his men, as Cruickshank had hoped, took out bottles and passed them to the work crew facing them.
"Let me guess," Cruickshank asked, "you're a Union man, aren't you?"
"And if I admit to that, do I get arrested?"
"No. We're not like Lincoln, who's arrested thousands."
"Well, before you and your men came and took over Baltimore, we had business here. Good pay. I've let go of nearly all my crews. Men of mine are starving, thanks to you."
"I don't see any colored around here," Cruickshank said.
The yard boss laughed.
"With you graybacks coming? Every last one took off, most likely working the yards up in Wilmington or Philadelphia now. I lost some good men, thanks to you."
"I could say the same thing," Cruickshank replied. "Look, you and I are stuck in the middle of all this. I drove wagons before the war; you put together trains. I've got orders, and I'm told you'll get orders, too. Our civilian boss, Mr. Benjamin, is supposed to be meeting with your boss right now to set up the contracts, but I was told to get over here right now and start things moving. So either we work together, or I'll shoot you here and now, say you attacked me, then get my men to take over."
"You do that, you'll have a riot on your hands," McDougal replied with a smile. "Besides, what kind of gentleman are you to give a man a drink, then shoot him?"
"I'm no gentleman."
"I thought all you Southern officers were gentlemen. And besides, you sound a bit like a damn Englishman."
"Listen, McDougal. Someday I'll tell you my hard-luck story. I'm not Irish, but the slums of Liverpool are just as tough for a working-class English boy. I'm an officer because I was a civilian teamster before the war running supplies to army posts out in Texas. You name the place and I'll run a hundred wagons to it, and be damned to whoever gets in my way. I've killed more than my share of Comanche and a few drunken Irish, too, when they tried their hand at thieving from my wagon train."
McDougal looked at him and burst out laughing, taking the bottle back, and after a long drink, handed it back.
Outside the boxcar the laughter was a signal for everyone to relax, and more bottles came out. Cruickshank watched them for a second. It was fine that they mingled, but get them too drunk and maybe a brawl would start just for the hell of it, unraveling all the concessions he had been forced to make so far.
"Four trains it is that you want?" McDougal asked. "That's what I figure. Actually would prefer six, but figure I'd start with four." "What the hell for?"
There was no sense in lying about it. Once they started loading up, the whole yard would see it. "Ever seen a pontoon bridge?" "You mean a bridge on boats?"
"Yes, damn them. Boats that you lay planking across. I hate the damn things." "That's your job?"
"My curse. Each boat is nearly thirty feet long. It takes a dozen mules to move but one on a road, and if the road is too narrow or twisting… well, it makes you want to shoot yourself or get drunk. I got forty of 'em, plus the bridging lumber, and I need to get them to Frederick."
"Frederick?" McDougal laughed. "Between you and the Union boys, that line is a mess. Water tanks toppled, temporary bridges ready to fall apart, a helluva mess. The bridge over the Monocacy was blown last year during the fighting around Antietam, and she was a beauty. I helped put it up before the war, and then some dumb rebel blows it apart. The one we got up now is just temporary. You got a helluva job, Major. I wouldn't want it."
Cruickshank pushed the bottle back.
"I'll have a barrel for you tonight if you can at least get things moving."
McDougal picked up the bottle and looked at it.
"Your boys cleaned out every bottle of whiskey in town this last month."
"Like I said, I got barrels of 'em stashed in one of my boats."
"A deal then it is," McDougal announced loud enough that all could hear. "A barrel to get started, a barrel when you get loaded up."
Cruickshank nodded and stood up. Between one drinking man and another a deal could always be reached-when one had liquor and the other didn't.
The two shook hands. McDougal's grip was tight, rock-solid, and for a few seconds they played the game, the two looking straight at each other, neither relenting.
Finally, McDougal relaxed his grip and smiled.
"Guess you're not a gentleman after all," he said. "You're damn right," Cruickshank replied without a smile.
He jumped down from the boxcar, McDougal by his side.
"I'll be back in an hour," Cruickshank announced and walked off. His second in command, Captain Sigel, fell in by his side.
"So you made the deal," Sigel asked. "Two barrels. Supposedly the good stuff." "Sir?"
"You know what to do. Empty the good stuff out and refill it with some of the white lightning you boys brewed up. Get some strong tea into it to color it right. That old Irishman will never know the difference. I'll be damned if he'll guzzle down my ten-year-old whiskey."
Cruickshank walked on, stepping around a pile of barrels leaking molasses, cursing as the sticky fluid clung to his boots.
"Damn job," he sighed. It was better than getting shot at, but moving those damn boats, what a rotten way to fight the war.
Mr. Secretary, you realize the difficult position you are placing the Baltimore and Ohio in with this request?"
Judah Benjamin, secretary of state for the Confederate government, smiled at James Garrett, superintendent of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, but the smile hid an evergrowing frustration. "Sir, we are simply talking business," Judah replied warmly, putting on his best negotiating smile, "a business deal for which the B and O will be fully compensated."
"I could take a strictly business approach to this, Mr. Secretary, and ask how my company will be compensated. Are you prepared to pay up front for our services? Contracts with the federal government are paid for in cash, and on time. I am in no position to accept payment in Confederate money, which both you and I know has no real value."
"I understand your concern, sir. My salary is paid with that same money."
Garrett did not smile at the joke.
"Sir, I'll personally sign a promissory note, payable in gold upon the ending of hostilities."
"And suppose you lose?"
"Given our current position, the successes of the previous months, I think that unlikely," Judah replied.
Garrett was silent and Judah could almost read his thoughts. If Garrett agreed to contract with the Confederate army for troop and supply movements and the North then wins, he could very well find himself out of a job at the very least, perhaps even in jail if Lincoln was feeling vindictive. If the South should win, cooperation now would bring advantages after the war, but even then payment might take years, and the North could very well turn around and seize Baltimore and Ohio property outside of the Confederacy.
"I know you are in a difficult position, Mr. Garrett," Judah said smoothly. "I don't envy you at this moment."
"And if I don't cooperate?" Garrett asked coolly.
"Sir, I am afraid we will have to seize your line. There will be no payment, and after our victory the Confederate government might not be in a position to look favorably upon your property and the ownership by stockholders outside of the Confederacy."
"That does sound like a threat," Garrett replied sharply.
"It is not intended to be," Judah lied. "It is just a simple reality."
"If you do seize the line, realize that many of my workers will not cooperate. You'll have to man the lines with your own personnel."
"I know that, and we can do it."
Judah did not add that at this very moment one of Longstreet's officers was already down in the railyard negotiating with the workers there. He had suggested to Lee that the two meetings take place at the same time. Garrett was a known Union man, and it was best to be ready to move quickly if he refused to cooperate.
It was now Garrett's turn to smile.
"You don't have the logistical know-how," he replied, voice even and soft. "You don't have an organization like the United States Military Railroad, nor a man like Haupt or Dodge to run it for you. Is there a single man with your army now who can organize and run scores of trains, perhaps a hundred or more, as you've requested? I don't think so."
"That is why I am appealing to you," Judah said, still forcing his diplomatic smile.
"I think I will have to convene a meeting of the board of directors for this," Garrett announced.
Judah sighed. Garrett was taking the standard dodge. He will not make a decision either way and therefore will come out clean. If the South wins, he can claim his hands were tied by his board, fire a few of them, and come out of it position intact. If the North wins, he can claim to have made a heroic stand.
"And how long will convening this board meeting take?" Judah asked.
'To get a quorum? A week or two, and it will mean obtaining passes of transit through your lines for our members who are now in Northern territory."
"We don't have weeks," Judah said, an edge of anger to his voice now. "We need the line starting today."
"Then, sir, I am afraid I cannot help you at this moment," Garrett said, folding his hands across his waist.
"Then, sir, I must inform you that by the authority I hold in the government of the Confederate States of America, I am seizing control of your line for the duration, and compensation will not be offered."
"Be my guest," Garrett said calmly. "And I wish you luck with it."
Ten Miles South of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on the Cumberland Pike August 23, 1863 6:30 P.M.
It was impossible to conceal who he was. The word had raced down the column hours ahead of his approach, and cheer upon cheer greeted him as he rode along the side of the road. His escort, a troop of cavalry, guided him around side paths, through cuts in the fence, and across fields to try to disrupt, as little as possible, the flow of the march moving at flood tide down the Cumberland Pike.
Passing an Illinois regiment, he got a resounding cheer. All semblance of marching discipline broke down as the men swarmed off the road to the fence flanking the pike, calling out his name.
He did not want to slow their advance, but at the sight of the Illinois state flag the emotion he felt was too much to ignore, especially when he recognized a captain in the ranks. He had once been a boy hanging around the law offices, running errands for a few pennies, then grown, gone off to school, and now to war.
Lincoln trotted over, reined in, leaned over the fence, and extended his hand.
"Robert Boers, isn't it?" "Yes, sir!"
"How are your folks?" "Just fine, sir." "And you?"
"Delighted to see you, Mr. President," the captain cried excitedly, the men of his company pressing in close, extending hands as well.
Lincoln couldn't resist. He dismounted and climbed onto the top rail of the fence and sat down, grateful when one of the men offered up his canteen. "Hot day, isn't it, boys?"
"Sure is sir," a sergeant cried, "but we'll make it a dang sight hotter for Bobbie Lee before long."
A resounding cheer went up with that, and Lincoln couldn't help but grin.
As he gazed out at their upturned faces, a smile creased his lined features. For the moment he would not think of all that was still to come, what these boys would have to face in the days ahead.
They were a tough-looking group. These were not the baby-faced recruits that he used to see on the drill fields back in the winter of 1861. These men had endured two hard years of campaigning in some of the worst climes in America. They reminded him of the line from Shakespeare in their appearance, having a "lean and hungry look," and in those hardened eyes and bronzed features he saw men of war and yet, down deep, neighbors, friends, still quintessentially American. They were professionals at what they did now, but given their druthers, all of them, to a man, would rather be back home tending their fields, working in their shops, perhaps getting some more schooling, perhaps trekking farther west to find new land to break to the plow and grow crops on, to raise a family on.
Several shouted out names of their kin he might know, one said he was born in New Salem and remembered him as postmaster, another proclaimed Lincoln had won a suit for his daddy and then, laughing, said his daddy had yet to pay the bill.
"Well, son, tell your dad the debt is canceled and you did the canceling for him." More laughter.
He looked back toward the road. A brigade commander was watching, indulgent but also obviously impatient at the delay that had stopped the column.
"Boys, you gotta get back on the march now. That general back there, usually he's got to salute me, but on this day I think I better salute him and follow what he wants."
Lincoln offered a friendly salute and the general, grinning, returned it. Officers herded the men back onto the pike, shouting for double time, for them to pick up and fall back in with the next regiment in line, which was now several hundred yards down the road.
" 'Bye, Abe, God bless ya, Abe!"
The years had fallen away from them for a moment: They were boys off on an adventure, acting as if they had just met a favorite schoolmaster, who now had to shoo them along back to their work, the work of killing.
The brigade commander nodded his thanks, then, a bit shyly, rode up to Lincoln and formally saluted and extended his hand.
"Sir, it's a mighty big surprise to see you up here in Pennsylvania. Rumors have been coming down the line for hours that you were on the road behind us."
"Just thought I'd come up for a little look around," Lincoln said, again smiling.
"How did you get here, sir?"
"Well, General, let's just call that our military secret for now. But between us I rode over on one of Thaddeus Lowe's balloons."
The general looked at him for a few seconds, almost believing him, and then, shaking his head, broke into laughter.
"I'll remember that one, sir, you had me going for a second."
"Glad I can still do it at times."
"God bless you, sir. I better get moving. I think you'll find General Grant coming back shortly. Word came down the line from headquarters that if you were seen to have you escorted in. I think he's right in front of us."
"Then I think I'll wait right here," Lincoln said. "It's been a long day of travel. I'd like to sit for a spell."
The general saluted again and rode off.
Lincoln passed the word to the commander of his escort regiment for the boys to take a break and dismount. The colonel detailed men off to line the road to keep the men back and moving.
To Abe's delight, a sergeant came up grinning and shyly offered him an apple. It was still a bit green, but he didn't care. Taking out his paring knife he opened it up and studiously began to peel the fruit, doing it with skill, one continual loop of reddish-green skin coiling down from the apple as he turned it in his hand.
Another regiment came by, boys from Ohio whom he had passed at a near gallop minutes before. They broke into "Three cheers for Old Abe!" as they marched by. He looked up and nodded, smiling, enjoying the moment.
Something inside him whispered that what he was doing now was exactly what he was supposed to be doing. He was president of the United States, and far too many took that office far too seriously. Not serious on the points that mattered, but rather in all the folderol, all the ceremonies, all the scraping and bowing, all the maneuvering and backslapping and backroom dealing.
These boys constituted the army created by his words, his dreams, his hopes. They were a part of him and he was a part of them. Being president for them at this moment meant he was to sit on a rail, peel an apple, cut it into slices, and munch them slowly to savor the tart flavor-and be seen as president doing it.
It was not so long ago I used to do just this. Sit atop a fence or lean on it, chatting with a constituent, or when riding the circuit, to stop at a farm for a drink of water, ask for directions, talk of weather and wind, summer heats and winter storms, find out who was dying and who was being born.
He ran his free hand along the fence rail and smiled inwardly. Just such a rail had helped him win the presidency, at the moment when loyalists carried it onto the convention floor in Chicago, claiming it was a rail Old Abe had split with his very own hands as a youth.
How I used to hate that work, he thought. Backbreaking labor for a few bits a day. A friend had once said if you were a failure at everything else, or too lazy for anything else, there was always schoolteaching or law. Schoolteaching was out, what with the few months of education he had ever received, so law it had been.
And yet, at times, he longed for moments like this, to sit on a fence, smell the honeysuckle and late summer flowers, the scent of ripening corn, and feel the warm, gentle breeze.
He was lost in such thoughts for a few moments until another regiment approached, more Ohio boys, who shouted with joy at the sight of him, taking off their caps and waving as they passed.
Someone had told him that, at Fredericksburg, Lee had said, "It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it."
At this moment he found he was fond of it, in fact, inwardly thrilled by the sight of it, if but for a moment he could suppress all that was implied behind this ceaseless parade marching by.
Where he had stopped was atop a low rise, just a gentle elevation of a few dozen feet that the pike came up and over, straight as an arrow. Looking either way he could see for miles, the road choked with men, artillery, wagons, all flowing ever southwestward. The steady tramp of the men echoed, almost timed to the beating of his heart.
They looked like tough campaigners. He always felt that the boys of the Army of the Potomac were too burdened down. Those darn foolish French caps, the kepis which did a man little good; a broad-brimmed felt hat was far better and to his mind looked far more American in spirit. These western troops carried blanket rolls slung over shoulders, rifles slung as well, though as the regiments passed him, officers called for the men to come to port arms in salute. The sound of marching, the rattle of canteens and tin cups, the shouts, the clatter of hooves on the macadam pavement, all blended together into what could almost be music for his soul.
"Sir, I think the general is coming," a lieutenant from his escort cried, pointing south.
Lincoln turned his gaze against the setting sun and shaded his eyes and sure enough, he could see a flag standing out in the evening breeze, moving along the side of the road.
The lieutenant drew out his field glasses and focused them. "That's him all right, sir. It's General Grant."
Someone was riding ahead-the inexhaustible Ely Parker, his mount lathered.
Lincoln nodded his thanks and then had a moment's quandary. I can sit here, as informal as can be, or I can fall back into the role once more. Given the gravity of the moment, he decided on the latter and stepped down from the fence, folding up his pocket knife.
Parker saluted. 'The general is right behind me, sir."
"I can see that, Ely. Now why don't you just relax? You've done an admirable job getting me here and finding General Grant."
Ely sighed and leaned forward in the saddle, uncorking a canteen and took a long drink.
Grant leapt a low fence, rather than go around to an open gate, in a beautiful display of horsemanship. He came on at a near gallop, headquarters flag flying behind him. He reined in, snapping off a salute, Lincoln looked up, unable to hide a smile at what could only be taken as surprise on Grant's face.
"Mr. President, I hope this does not sound impertinent, but may I ask just what it is you are doing here?"
"Just thought I'd come up this way and see how you and the boys were doing."
Grant was silent for a moment, obviously caught completely off guard, and then dismounted. Lincoln extended his hand, and Grant, a bit shyly, took it.
"How are you, General?"
"Well, sir, to be honest, rather startled. Rumor came to me a couple of hours ago that you were in Harrisburg. Then that you were across the river riding aboard a supply train on the Cumberland line."
"Remarkable work those engineers are doing," Lincoln exclaimed. "I understand they've replaced bridging for fifteen miles just since yesterday." 'They're Herman Haupt's boys. They know their business."
"Yes, unfortunate loss. I heard of his passing," Lincoln said.
"Sir, if I had known you were coming, I could have arranged better accommodations for us to meet."
"General Grant, right here is just fine," Lincoln replied, and nodded toward the road.
The men of his escort, staff from Grant's headquarters, and provost guards were now having one devil of a time keeping the men moving, forming a cordon on the other side of the fence. The cheering was near to deafening.
'To be truthful, General, I think if we wish to sit and talk a spell, we better go someplace else. I don't want to inconvenience your march or you."
"No, sir, no inconvenience at all, though I do agree we should move. Perhaps up to a creek I just crossed."
"Lead the way then."
Lincoln climbed back into the saddle, Grant easily mounting and coming to his side. They rode south for a few hundred yards, between the fence bordering the pike and a farmer's orchard, gradually angling away from the road. The trees closest to the road had nearly been stripped bare of fruit but once back a dozen rows the trees hung heavy, and on impulse Lincoln plucked one. Grant saw him do it and smiled.
"That's foraging in friendly territory, sir." Lincoln laughed softly.
"I'll tell the farmer he can call it a war tax if he should inquire about my indiscretion."
They reached the edge of the orchard, staff having opened a gate that led to a narrow path sloping down between elms to spreading willow trees.
Someone on Grant's staff had obviously been thinking, in spite of the surprise. A blanket was already spread under a willow, a small fire burning under a pot, two camp chairs set up.
The cavalcade reined in, eager hands reaching up to take the bridle of Lincoln's horse as he dismounted. Stretching, he looked around.
It was a charming spot. A narrow creek gurgled by not a dozen feet away, the bank grown high with rushes and cattails. The path was a shallow ford, perhaps tracing the original road, long since abandoned when the pike came through. All was shaded by willows, long branches hanging down in a canopy. It was all so peaceful, the air rich with the scent of moisture, cooling and relaxing. The shadows were already deepening, providing a diffused golden light to the setting.
Looking downstream, he could barely see the single-arch stone bridge which leapt the stream, men continuing to cross over it. But here under the shade of the trees the two of them were all but invisible.
"Some coffee, sirs?" the sergeant tending the fire asked.
"Yes, Sergeant McKinley, that would be fine," Grant replied.
Seconds later Lincoln had a battered tin cup in his hand, and he sat down on the camp chair, blowing on the rim before taking a sip.
"You keep fine accommodations, General," Lincoln said, pointing to the small fire, the blanket, and the two chairs.
He sighed and leaned back in the folding chair made of carpet and a few pieces of wood.
"This is actually a luxury, General," and he nodded to their surroundings. "I wish I had such a place on the grounds of the White House, a brook, some willows, and a bit of solitude."
"Well, sir, if you came to the army to seek solitude, I dare say you have come to the wrong place. We have over seventy thousand men on the march around us and a staff always in earshot."
Lincoln saw the dozens of staff that stood around expectantly. As he gazed at them, they stiffened, some saluting, some bowing, others just looking at him wide-eyed.
"Gentlemen, may I ask an indulgence," Lincoln said.
No one spoke.
"I'd like to talk with General Grant for a while. There'll be time enough later for us to chat a bit. So would you please excuse us?"
There were hurried excuses, and within seconds all had scrambled off, drawing back, moving away.
Lincoln leaned forward, staring down into his cup of coffee as if lost in thought.
"Your Parker is a good man," Lincoln said, breaking the silence. "I don't think he's had a wink of sleep in three days."
As he spoke he gestured across the stream, where Parker was sprawled out under a willow… fast asleep.
"One of the best. I'm glad he took it upon himself to report straight to you after being with Sickles."
"I assume he told you about Stanton."
"Yes, sir," Grant said noncommittally.
Again, there was a long silence, Lincoln sipping his coffee and then stretching his legs out.
Grant stirred, coughed a bit self-consciously, and Lincoln looked over at him.
"Well, sir, I guess I do have to ask you then, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" Grant asked.
"I could be flippant and say that it is nothing more than a courtesy stop, General Grant, but you and I know that is not the case."
"No, sir, I assumed not."
"I need to see certain things clearly, General Grant. It has been nearly a month since we last met, much has changed, and the portents of what is to come are profound. I thought that was worth the journey to discuss these issues with you."
"Whatever you wish to know, sir, just ask."
Lincoln drew his legs in and then leaned toward Grant, so close they could almost touch, the president looking straight into the eyes of the general.
"General Grant, I will cut to the core. No foolery, no mincing of words. Win or lose, the fate of the Union now rests with you and those men marching across that bridge."
He motioned toward the pike, where the troops continued to pass, flowing endlessly, the men oblivious of the meeting taking place less than a hundred yards away.
Grant leaned back in his camp chair, the front legs lifting from the ground. After a long sip of the scalding coffee, he set the cup on the ground. "Sir, I understand that, and so do my men."
Lincoln fixed his gaze upon Grant's eyes. This is what he had traveled so far to gauge. It was one thing to meet Grant a few days after his appointment. It was another thing to see him now, a month later, a month after he had had time to contemplate the responsibility placed on him.
He had decided upon this long journey for precisely this moment. The original plan that Grant had devised to destroy Lee-an overwhelming advance using the Army of the Potomac and at least ten thousand additional troops-had gone out the window. And Grant, without any prior notice, had jumped across the Susquehanna. He had come all this way to see why. To see if Grant was going off half-cocked. And to see if this was indeed a man he could trust with this winner-take-all move.
"What do you wish of me, sir?" Grant asked.
"First of all, I need a straight answer. No speaking in vague terms, no concern for self. I want you to consider the future of our republic, the debt in blood owed to all those who have already died.
"I want a straightforward answer, sir, without puffery or the bombast so many others have given me.
"General Grant, are you and your men up to this task?"
"Yes, sir," Grant said quietly. He did not look at Lincoln. His shoulders were hunched, his gaze fixed on his cup of coffee. But his words were strong, filled with conviction.
"I cannot afford another mistake, another defeat, or even half a victory. Lee must be crushed," Lincoln said urgently. "Congress is on the point of rebellion. I've held them off as long as possible but they will soon reconvene, and when they do, there will be a call to end the fighting and negotiate a settlement. There's renewed rioting in half a dozen cities. Secretary of State Seward is constantly at my doorstep with warnings that Europe might soon intervene. This war cannot drag out any longer.
"General Grant, I need to know that you fully realize that and can rise to the occasion."
The years in courtrooms, the years of watching others, of leaning against fences and talking, had taught him much, taught him about when men lied and when they spoke the truth, when men had strength or did not, when men thought far too much of themselves and not of others. The last two years of war had sharpened those insights with bitter lessons of military failure and bombastic generals unable to match their deeds to their self-esteem when it came to fighting Robert E. Lee.
Grant stirred then. He looked into Lincoln's eyes. "I can bring it to an end, sir. I can win this war."
At that the tension Lincoln had suppressed uncoiled. He had come to this encounter with a terrible intent he had voiced to no one. If in this meeting he had doubts, he would not have hesitated. Lord knows, he would have had difficulty in that decision, but if need be, he'd have removed Grant and found someone else. Was this the voice of the naysayers, those who had planted the thought? Of Halleck, of Stanton, even Seward, saying, "Replace this man." If forced to, he would have.
Could I? He realized he would have. This decision, at this moment, he realized, was as momentous as the decision to relieve Stanton. One had been fired; the other was to be kept.
It wasn't just the statement, "I can win this war," that had laid to rest any lingering doubts; it was the look in the man's eyes, something he had never seen in any general before. There was a determination, a confidence that settled the issue once and for all. He trusted now that the plan Grant had would be one he would endorse.
Grant was, indeed, his man.
Both seemed to sense that a moment had passed that neither need worry about again.
There was a dropping off of tension. Grant stood up, going over to refill his tin cup and then to light up a cigar, which he had refrained from doing since they first met.
Lincoln was silent as he waited for Grant to settle into his chair.
"A few more questions, General." "Anything, sir."
"Sickles, for starters. I know that derailed your plan. Why did you move so quickly after his defeat and why did you not inform me?"
"Sir, after such a blow I knew Lee would expect me to wait, to replenish our numbers. That would mean waiting well beyond September, more likely October. That would have risked winter weather stopping the campaign and forcing us into winter quarters with Lee still owning Maryland."
"We can't wait that long," Lincoln said forcefully.
"Sir, I know you cannot wait. The country cannot wait. We have to resolve this now and that is why I decided to make this move and do it with or without Sickles in support."
"Fair enough," Lincoln said.
"And besides, sir, though Sickles lost that battle, he bloodied Lee. I understand that Pickett's Division is a hollow wreck. To achieve his victory, Lee force-marched his army a hundred miles in killing heat and in the end was forty miles north of a line that he would choose to be on, right along the banks of the Susquehanna. With Washington as a barrier Lee is actually farther away from Virginia than we are, and we have better roads and railroads to support us. I knew that this first move had to be taken, and I took it, regardless of Sickles."
Lincoln nodded thoughtfully.
"Go on, sir," Lincoln said.
"By moving first I knew it would push Lee off balance. My reports are that he has force-marched once again, falling back into Baltimore. To march troops such distances, day after day, takes its toll. My men are moving fast, but doing so through friendly territory, and they are filled with confidence."
"Confidence in you?"
"Yes, sir. To be frank, yes," and he said so without any display of undue pride.
"Half this army marched with me across the Mississippi, abandoned our line of supplies, went to Jackson to block Joe Johnston and then doubled back on Vicksburg, bottling up Pemberton. They were there when Pemberton surrendered his garrison and reopened the Mississippi. They're good men. McPherson is superb, and Ord, though new to corps command, is a hard driver I trust My boys are confident; they feel they have something to prove here, to go up against Bobbie Lee and thrash him the way they thrashed Johnston, Pemberton, Beauregard, and Buckner. Upon that confidence and desire to prove something much can be built."
Again Lincoln liked what he heard. It was not confidence in him personally, it was confidence in his men, which Lincoln sensed was mutual from what he had observed while riding down here.
"Coordination, General. I've always felt we never truly coordinated all of our strength. Before coming here Elihu showed me a roster of total strength. Good heavens, General, we have nearly three quarters of a million men under arms. Can you bring additional strength to bear?"
"I agree, sir. But realize this. Half of those numbers are nonexistent. Take off ten percent or more just as deserters. Then add in governors holding back pet units filled with their political appointees. Many of those hundreds of thousands are ninety-day militia, of no value in a stand-up fight against Lee's veterans. There is an old saying I learned at West Point-it dates back to the Romans-'To send untrained men into battle is to send them to their deaths.'"
Lincoln nodded in agreement, remembering the tragedy of First Bull Run.
"I have nearly twenty thousand militia under Couch. To send them straight into a fight would be cruel and wasteful. If I had six months with those men, they'd prove to be as good as any, but we don't have that time, sir. But they are serving a valuable purpose right now, which I'll explain when we go over my plans in detail, but don't expect them to stand on the volley line at seventy-five yards and trade it out with an elite, well-trained unit like the Stonewall Brigade.
"Others are sitting out garrison duty as far north as Portland, Maine, and as far west as Council Bluffs, Iowa. Sir, what I am marching with is all that I will have for this campaign. But I should add, sir, that General Lee faces the same crisis. Governor Vance in North Carolina is notorious for keeping men back as home-guard units in the western mountains. Every other governor does the same down there. That is the paradox and the curse of their system even more than ours, states' rights. Each Southern state is doing right for its own purposes, but making it impossible for Davis and Lee to organize Southern resources for the common purpose. With your leadership and the strength of our Constitution we can do a far better job of mobilizing all our assets over time than they can."
He was warming to his subject, and Lincoln nodded for him to continue.
"For every man on the front line we need at least one more to guard our lines of supply, to shepherd along ammunition, food, fodder for horses, medical supplies. That eats up our numbers rather quickly. That's a second service Couch's men will give us once their first mission is completed. They'll provide security to our rear and the relaying of supplies. That means that every man that marches with me now will be in the fight."
"And your other fronts?"
"On other fronts I can tell you this, sir. Sherman has driven Bragg out of Chattanooga. That is a major victory for us. I have ordered him to not stop, to relentlessly press southward now and invest Atlanta before the end of autumn. I have confidence in Sherman. He's grown and is ready for independent command, and I think he'll make the most of it. He has seventy thousand men with him, I wish it was a hundred thousand. He'll need fifty thousand more just to secure his supply lines back to Memphis and Louisville.
"We've abandoned our operations before Charleston, as you know. The navy can handle that. Bottling it up is all we needed, nothing more, along with Wilmington. Additional troops still need to hold Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and New Orleans. When you get right down to it, sir, that comes to less than two hundred thousand on the front lines, though heaven knows I'd give my right arm for fifty thousand more right now."
"The colored troops?" Lincoln asked.
"Yet to be proven in battle, sir, but I think they'll fight. I understand their training has been intensive, unlike most white regiments, and all their officers are handpicked volunteers with extensive experience in the field prior to promotion to command those regiments.
"I just worry that their spirit will continue when they get hit by their first volley."
"They'll hold," Lincoln said forcefully. "I saw that when our line was broken at Fort Stevens and the colored men from Massachusetts charged forward. They'll do their duty when the time comes."
"And that regiment is still in Washington?"
"Yes, along with over forty thousand other men," Lincoln said. "Why do you ask?"
"Sir, I'd like to replace General Heintzelman as commander of the Washington garrison."
"Because that is part of my plan, sir." "This is something we did not discuss before, General Grant."
"Sir, if you have come this far to talk, now is the time to talk about it. I did not want to trust the core of my plan to dispatches. That is also the answer to why I did not promptly inform you of my change of plans. I simply could not at that moment. Too many dispatches have been lost in the past, or leaked to the newspapers before the ink on them was barely dry."
"Nor did you want Stanton to interfere," Lincoln said, a cagey smile lighting his features.
Grant said nothing.
"That's over with. You will answer to Elihu Washburne. The two of you know and trust each other. General Grant, you still must answer to the civilian government, but I agree with your keeping your cards close in this opening stage. It was a sound move, and I would have done the same if in your shoes."
"Thank you, sir. I did not want to hold information back from you, but at the moment I felt the risk was too great. It was utter chaos at the Port Deposit transfer, and things could have gone awry there. General Sickles was doing everything possible to intercept any information I would pass along. Also, I cannot trust a civilian telegraph network with such sensitive information. That is why I am glad you are here. In the future, sir, knowing our lines of communication are secured, I will keep you posted on all issues and follow your orders. I have some plans I'd like to share with you to insure a speedy transfer of information in the days to come."
Lincoln nodded, liking what he heard. In contrast, he remembered his visit to McClellan after Antietam. The general was obviously disturbed by his presence, giving him the runaround, in subtle ways actually moving to insult him to the point of giving him a horse far too small for his stature during a review of the troops. In contrast he and Grant were now sitting alone, talking. Grant, though a bit nervous at first, was now obviously relaxing and being open. He was impressed as well by Ely Parker, who had held nothing back during their long journey together.
"General, I do not want you to wait for orders from Washington or worry about any day-to-day interference. Lord knows we had too many generals in the East looking over their shoulder for political manipulation and strict instructions. Stanton is gone, and Washburne will support your every effort. You will issue orders both here and to the armies throughout the country. I want you to keep your eye on Lee, and Sherman to keep his eye on Bragg. I will keep my eye on Washington and the politicians.
"As commander in chief I have to know what you intend to do. That is my duty. However, as long as I give you the command, you must give the orders. All I ask is that you keep me informed so I know what your plans are both here and throughout the country, then I can support them and get reinforcements where needed. That also enables me to answer the newspapers and the politicians." He paused.
"That is why I came here to see you. And, General Grant, I think we see eye to eye on these issues." "Thank you, sir," Grant replied.
"Now, how do you propose we end this terrible conflict?"
Grant stood up, and taking several puffs on his cigar, he began to explain his plan, Lincoln sitting quiet, hands folded in his lap as he leaned back in his camp chair.
"You are asking a lot, sir," Lincoln finally said, when, after fifteen minutes, and a tracing of a map with the toe of his boot on the ground, Grant at last fell silent.
"I know that, sir."
"It means a trust in your decisions, sir, that I've given to no other before. Washington would be stripped bare, something I've never allowed in the past."
"Sir, if I might be so bold. To quote you, you once said, 'The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.'"
Lincoln could not help but smile.
"Did you ever consider politics, General Grant"
"Heaven spare me that," Grant said with a weary chuckle.
"You are asking for a winner-take-all shake of the dice. You are talking about some very hard fighting within a week, perhaps the hardest of the war. The losses might very well be appalling, and Washington itself could fall if things turn against you."
"Something like that, sir. The loss of Sickles means having to draw on every reserve in this theater of operations. I no longer have a reserve as was originally planned. But I will tell you my greatest fear."
"That General Lee does indeed flee south. That he abandons Maryland, crosses the Potomac, fortifies the river crossings, and then drags this war into another year. Sir, I do not want to imagine another year of this contemptible war. We'll have to fight him to gain that river. From there into northern Virginia, cross the Rappahannock, and most likely into where Hooker fought at Chancellorsville. From there across the North Anna, and then crawling and fighting every inch of the way to Richmond. No, sir, I want him to stay here, in Maryland, or better yet even in Pennsylvania. His victories here, sir, I want them to be a trap that will enable us to destroy him in the end."
"But suppose, General Grant-dare I say it-suppose it is Lee who wishes the same thing, who seeks that same battle with you and in the end we lose both you and Washington."
"Then, sir, we have lost the war," Grant said quietly.
"And do you believe that can happen?"
"No, sir, we are going to win this one."
Near Hanover, Pennsylvania
August 24, 1863
"General, sir, I hate to wake you, but this could be important."
Gen. George Armstrong Custer groaned and sat up, confused for a second as to where he was. A staffer stood in the doorway holding a lantern.
Custer sat up, holding his head. He realized now he had indeed taken a little too much Madeira with dinner. "What the hell is it?"
"Sir, a civilian just came in. I think you should talk to him."
"Couldn't it bloody well wait? What time is it?"
"Four in the morning, sir, and frankly, no, sir, I think you need to hear this man's story."
"Go on then, bring him in, but it had better be good."
The staff lieutenant disappeared for a moment. There was muffled conversation out in the corridor of the house he had requisitioned as headquarters, and then the lantern reappeared.
A strongly built man, with massive shoulders, stood behind the lieutenant.
"Who the hell are you?" Custer asked.
"James Donlevy, I work in the B and O rail yards down in Baltimore." "So?" Well, if you don't want to hear it, General, the hell with it."
Custer sat back down on the edge of his bed. "Lieutenant, get me some damn coffee. Now, Donlevy, tell me why you're here." "I was sent up by my boss." "Who's that?" "Mr. McDougal." "Never heard of him."
"Frankly, sir, he's most likely never heard of you."
Custer took a deep breath and exhaled. This wasn't getting off to a good start at all. Wasting time being irritated with civilians was not going to get the job done. Patience, George, he told himself.
"All right, James. Just tell me why it was so important this Mr. McDougal thought I should be woken up at four in the morning."
"Well, Genera], he had a little information about the rebs and their movements he thought you should be aware of. Or at least General Grant should be."
"And that is."
"Something about pontoon bridges being moved about on the railroad."
This finally caught Custer's attention, and he looked up. The lieutenant came back in, bearing a cup of coffee. "You want some, Donlevy?"
"Wouldn't mind if I do."
Custer motioned for him to take the cup and sent the lieutenant out for another. "Go on, then."
"Yesterday afternoon a damn surly rebel officer came to the rail yard for the B and O, looking for engines and flatcars to pull what he called pontoon boats to Frederick."
The lieutenant came back with a second cup and Custer sent him back out.
"How many cars did he want?"
"At least forty, he said."
Custer did a quick calculation. That was enough bridging to span more than a quarter mile. Not enough for the Suesquehanna but definitely enough for the Potomac. This was interesting, damn interesting.
"I heard something about the boats being captured from General Meade."
Custer knew that was true. The pontoon train had been overrun in the retreat, some of the equipment destroyed, but word was the rebs had captured enough for at least one good bridge.
"Where did they want to move these pontoon bridges to?" "Mr. McDougal said they want to use the B and O to move them at least to Frederick." Custer took that in.
Frederick. Once there the rebels could move the bridging down to Point of Rocks, to half a dozen different locations along the Potomac. It'd give them a bolt hole back across the Potomac without having to rely on a ford.
Now he was fully awake. Does this mean Lee was retreating?
"How and why did you get here?"
"My boss is a Union man, same as me."
"So why aren't you in the army?" he asked, just to see how this civilian would respond, and he watched him carefully.
"My brother was," Donlevy said quietly. "I'm all my mother has left now. My brother died at Fredericksburg with the Seventy-second Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Brigade. After that I promised my mother I'd stay home and take care of her."
The man seemed slightly embarrassed by the admission, and Custer nodded.
"How did you get up here?"
"The rebels took over the railroads yesterday. Mr. McDougal said something about them seizing all the lines. A train was coming up to Westminster to check the track and perhaps to establish a depot for supplies. Mr. McDougal got me on the train, told me to steal a horse once into Westminster, and ride north till I ran into your patrols."
"What about the rebs? How did you get around them?"
"Wasn't too hard. There aren't many out there. I had a good horse and outran one of their patrols.
"I avoid the rebels, then almost get killed by your men, General," Donlevy said indignantly. "Your damn men are trigger-happy. They fired a couple of shots at me before finally letting me come in."
"Sorry about that, but a healthy-looking man like you, on horseback at night. It would rattle a patrol."
"Still, what would have happened to my mother then, damn it? Precious poor gratitude I call it."
"If your information is correct, I'm certain our government will show proper gratitude, Donlevy."
He didn't add that Donlevy would be a guest of his headquarters until the report was confirmed. If it turned out he was a rebel agent, sent to sow false information, he'd soon be dangling from a tree.
"Make yourself comfortable, Donlevy. We'll be moving out in a few hours and you can ride with me."
"I didn't plan to join the army."
"You are now my guest."
"I see," Donlevy said quietly. "But if I get docked pay for not going back, well, I expect someone to take care of that."
"We will. Consider yourself on my staff for the moment at a pay equal to your railroad pay."
Custer left him and stepped out into the corridor, where his lieutenant had obviously been eavesdropping.
"What do you think?" Custer asked.
"He seems real enough. He's right, our boys almost shot him. His horse is outside, blown and lathered. He's dressed like a rail worker, greasy as hell, no look of a cavalryman to him. I think he's telling the truth."
"If true, that means Lee is pulling out," Custer said. "By damn, he's pulling out of Baltimore. He means to skedaddle back to Virginia and hold us off from there."
"It does look that way."
"Damn all. We got to get that bridging material. Burn that and we can block him."
Custer slapped his hands together with sudden glee.
"I want the entire brigade mounted and ready to move within the hour. Get the fastest rider you can find and send him back up the line to General Kilpatrick with this report."
Custer grabbed a sheet of paper and a pencil from the lieutenant, who then held a candle while Custer leaned against the wall and jotted out a note:
Headquarters, Second Brigade, Third Division Hanover, Pennsylvania Aug. 24 4:00 A.M.
Have received word from civilian who took train to Westminster, stole a horse, and rode into our lines, claiming to work in Baltimore and Ohio yards in Baltimore. States that Army of Northern Virginia pontoon train, loaded on forty rail cars, to be moved by rail to Frederick and perhaps beyond. States as well, same railroad now taken over by rebels. Will set out this morning, moving west and then south to Frederick to intercept.
Signed, Custer "Sir, what about our orders to hold here and screen Couch?" 'The hell with that now. We can sit back and do nothing, waiting a day for orders, or show some dash and, with that, win glory. Now what's it to be?"
The lieutenant knew better than to respond to that question. He saluted, dashed out the door, and in less than a minute "boots and saddles" broke the early morning silence. Within seconds the camp began to stir.
Custer stepped out the door and in the twilight of dawn took in the scene, the sight of the men of the First Michigan standing up, cursing and muttering, but answering the call.
It was going to be a great day for a ride, Custer thought with a grin.
Headquarters, Army of the Susquehanna Near Shippensburg, Pennsylvania August 24 11:30 A.M.
The early lunch under the canvas awning had been simple army fare: hardtack, salt pork, some roasting ears purchased from the farmer whose yard they were camped in, and, of course, coffee, plenty of hot coffee, Lincoln taking his with some cool sweet cream.
A hundred yards away, down on the Valley Pike, the troops continued to move, a seemingly endless, procession, regiment after regiment passing by, these men the tail end of Ord's Corps, General Ord having ridden over to join them for lunch.
The talk around the table had been on anything but the war, perhaps a mess tradition, Lincoln thought, and, if so, a wise one. A young lieutenant proudly showed off a daguerreotype of his wife and newborn son. Grant shared a story about California and its beauty, his hope of perhaps settling out there after the war. Ord told of how some eastern men had challenged his men yesterday, asking what their corps badge was. One of his men had proudly slapped his cartridge box, proclaiming, "Here's our corps badge, a cartridge box with forty rounds."
Ord had already decided that this would be the insignia for his command, a black cartridge box with the gold U.S. oval in the middle.
From there they had talked about military standards of old, Napoleon's famous eagles, the eagles of Rome, the horsetail standards of the Mongols. A captain shared the story of Varus and the lost eagles of the legions, taken by the Germans during the reign of Augustus, and how Augustus wandered the palace crying out, "Varus, give me back my eagles!"
The group fell silent at that story, some looking sidelong at Lincoln, wondering if he might have done the same after Union Mills. And yes, he knew that story, and it did indeed haunt him when he thought of those bloody slopes, the thousands of dead and dying. He thought, as well, of the story already circulating across the country-how, several weeks after Union Mills, a rebel soldier had slipped through the picket line at Washington, calling for a truce, taking from under his jacket a green banner stained with the blood of the Irish Brigade. He said he had retrieved it on the battlefield, taking it from a dying Union officer's hands and pledging he'd return it. The reb, a son of Ireland as well, refused any offer of money, or even food, and was escorted with honor back to his own lines, where his comrades gave him three cheers.
As he was sipping his second cup of coffee, realizing that his mission here was completed and it was time to leave the pleasant comradeship of the army and return to the turmoil of Washington, an officer came galloping along the roadside, leapt a fence, and rode straight toward the group. His stallion was sleek, jet black, the officer astride it cutting a sharp figure in a neatly fitting uniform. He reined in hard and dismounted with a flourish.
Lincoln's first instinct was a dislike of this man. He had the look of George McClellan about him, his uniform a little too neat when contrasted to Grant's simple four-button private's jacket, or Ord, covered with dust and sweat, and other officers begrimed. The man was short, about the same height as McClellan, and perhaps that was a trigger for Lincoln, who like many who were tall, saw military men of diminutive stature and too much braid as being "little Napoleons."
The officer came up to Grant, grinning, and saluted.
"General Sheridan, may I present you to our president?"
Sheridan turned and actually looked startled. He had not seen Lincoln sitting in the shade, slouched in a canvas-back chair, sipping coffee.
The man instantly snapped to rigid attention and saluted.
"Excuse me, sir, I mean, Mr. President, I didn't see you, sir."
He looked a bit flustered, and Lincoln's first sense of dislike dissipated. He stood up, nodded, and extended his hand, which Sheridan took warmly.
"Sir, an honor to meet you," Sheridan said enthusiastically.
'Thank you, sir."
"I heard you were with the army. I was hoping to be able to see you."
"You came here in what seemed to be a hurry, General Sheridan. Do you bear important news?" "Yes, sir." "Report then."
Lincoln was caught by the fact that Sheridan pulled a dispatch out of his breast pocket and handed it straight to him. With McClellan's army there would have been all sorts of secrecy, officers huddled outside, McClellan with a touch of pomposity excusing himself to go confer in whispers before coming back to tell Lincoln what was occurring-and often distorting the news. This openness was refreshing. The note, he saw immediately, was addressed to Grant, yet Sheridan had handed it directly to him. A small issue to be certain, but one that was. telling.
"I think this is for our general," Lincoln said, handing the note over to Grant, who opened it up.
Grant scanned the memo and stood silent for a moment, as if lost in thought.
"Interesting news?" Lincoln asked.
"Yes, sir, it is."
Grant looked around at the gathering.
"A report from General Custer." He paused for a second.
"Good man, Custer," one of the staff said, "promoted to brigade command just before Gettysburg. Aggressive as all hell."
Lincoln realized that Grant had taken the pause in order to be prompted, to get a little background on Custer before proceeding in front of the president.
"It was sent this morning at four A.M. from near Hanover. The report says that a civilian informant, whom Custer believes is truthful, came through the lines from Baltimore. General Lee is preparing to move his pontoon train via the B and O to Frederick, perhaps beyond." 'That's news," Ord said softly. "Is he running?"
Grant handed the memo to Lincoln.
"If I'm not mistaken, General," Lincoln said softly after scanning it, "Hanover is not that far from here. Why has it taken nearly eight hours for this message to arrive?"
Grant nodded in agreement, looking over at Sheridan.
"Sir, I was at the telegraph and railhead five miles north of here when it was carried in by courier. Seems some pro-Southern civilians, or perhaps rebel raiders, are cutting our telegraph links as Grierson advances on the east side of the mountain. Apparently the courier from Custer wasted several hours looking for Kilpatrick and then Grierson before moving it back up the line to Carlisle, where it was telegraphed to our railhead. Seeing the importance of it, I rode it down here myself."
Lincoln handed the dispatch back to Grant, saying nothing.
Grant motioned for the table to be cleared, and within seconds plates and cups were pushed back, a map quickly spread out, men gathering round.
"Is this reliable?" Grant asked, looking around. "I don't know this Custer. His dispatch states that he is moving on his own toward Frederick to intercept. Did Kilpatrick or Grierson authorize this?"
"Apparently not," Sheridan replied. "There're no endorsements or comments from either of them yet."
Grant looked around at the gathering.
"Again my question," Grant said sharply. "Custer. Is he reliable?"
"A glory hound some call him," Ely said quietly, "but from what I've been able to pick up, he's at the front of a fight."
"Last in his class at West Point. Damn young to command a brigade. Class of 'sixty-one," a captain added. "A staff officer with McClellan."
There was a momentary pause in the conversation, Lincoln standing quiet, watching.
"Captain, you are a staff officer under Grant. Should that disqualify you for field command if the need arises?" Sheridan asked.
The captain stood silent, then shook his head.
"How did he rise so quickly?" Grant asked.
"He can fight," Ely replied. "After Union Mills, he was one of the few who brought his command out relatively intact. Even defeated a couple of rebel infantry regiments trying to cut him off from Harrisburg. That's how he wound up under our command rather than back with the Army of the Potomac. He was in Harrisburg when we came in and did good service patrolling the western bank of the river."
Again there was a moment of silence as Grant examined the map.
Lincoln studied him carefully. This was strictly a military decision, and he was curious to see how Grant would handle it, what advice he'd solicit. Would he make his decisions on his own, and do so boldly, or convey timidity and lack of confidence?
Grant lit a cigar, and that seemed to be a signal for the others gathered round to fall silent. He puffed intently, staring at the map, picking up the dispatch for a moment, setting it back down.
"One thing to note here," Grant said at last. "Custer, by moving, has left a gap ten miles wide in our cavalry pickets shielding Couch's slow but steady advance. That was always a decoy, but one I hoped would hold for another day or two. If but one patrol of rebel cavalry attacks that opening, gets through, and takes a few prisoners, they'll realize that move is nothing but a feint. It's twenty thousand militia playacting at being our main force to direct Lee's gaze to the north rather than the west."
There were nods of agreement.
"We must assume Lee will know by the end of the day we are not coming straight on, but attempting to flank to the west of the mountains, so that game is up."
He was silent again for a moment, puffing on his cigar.
"Lee is playing the safe move. Get the pontoon train west and to the rear of his operational area."
"Do you think he's pulling out?" Ord asked.
Grant shook his head.
"Not like Lee. No, but he will play the safe move first. He needs to secure a line of retreat if we should outmaneuver him or defeat him outright. We'd do the same."
Grant looked over at Ely.
"What pontooning material do we know they have?"
"Their bridging material at the start of Maryland campaign was laid at Williamsport, and then washed away in the floods right after Union Mills. We know he captured some of ours after Union Mills."
"Enough at least to get across the Potomac." Grant nodded.
"That gives him a secure line of retreat if he can get it in place, say here, or here," and as he spoke he pointed toward several potential crossing spots south of Frederick.
Grant leaned back from the table, hands clasped behind his back.
'Two potential choices here, gentlemen. The first, that Lee is preparing for a general pullout, the first action to be the moving up of his pontoon bridge and getting it in place, followed within hours by the evacuation of Baltimore."
"Do you think he'is pulling out?" Lincoln could not help but ask.
Grant emphatically shook his head. "No, Mr. President. Everything we know of Lee is that he is extraordinarily aggressive. He has won three great battles in a row, starting with Chancellorsville, and he has destroyed the Army of the Potomac. I am confident he will want to face us and seek a single battle of decision. But Lee is not a wild gambler. He is a very smart, calculating risk taker. I believe he is simply taking a safe move at the start. Chances are he has no idea we are even aware of it. In fact, it is fair to assume he has no idea at all. He is just doing what any general does before an action, no matter how aggressive he is, to secure a line of retreat before moving forward to action. Lee will stay and fight. There will be another battle soon, and it will be in Maryland."
Grant paused, hands on the table, looking down at the map again.
"I do not want him to have that line of retreat. We allow him to do that, things go against him, he can then get out and retreat to Virginia to lick his wounds and prepare for yet another campaign. We've got to stop that train from getting any farther than the east side of Monocacy Creek, just outside of Frederick."
Lincoln took all this in with great interest. He sensed that Grant was already thinking beyond a single battle, the events of tomorrow or the day after; he was thinking out an entire campaign, perhaps two battles, half a dozen, but all with the ultimate intent of keeping Lee north of the Potomac and destroying him.
He continued to watch, saying nothing, but feeling an ever deepening reassurance.
Grant stood up and looked around at his staff.
"Ely, send a dispatch to General McPherson. The easy marching is over. His current location?"
"Sir, according to our schedule, by noon the head of his column should be down near Greencastle."
"Fine. I want a fast courier down to him now. Wfite out the orders for me and I'll sign them. General McPherson is to force-march through Hagerstown, then cross over the South Mountains and Catoctin ranges. I expect him in Frederick by late tomorrow, to secure that town and block the west bank of the Monocacy. That will be thirty-five miles of tough marching, and his men had better be ready to fight at the end of it."
"Second order," and as he spoke, Ely had a notebook out, scribbling away furiously. "Get a courier over to Custer, tell him he is authorized to gain the west bank of the Monocacy, secure the rail crossing at Frederick, and burn all the bridges. That will bottle Lee upon the other side."
"Sir, there are three bridges at Monocacy."
Henry Hunt, who had been standing quietly with the staff officers, stepped forward.
Lincoln caught Hunt's eye and nodded an acknowledgment. This was the officer who had brought in the first report to him of the debacle at Union Mills.
"I was there, sir, June 28, reporting to General Meade after he took command of the Army of the Potomac. I remember the railroad bridge as a temporary wooden structure. The iron bridge was blown last year during the Antietam campaign. There's also a solid covered bridge, double wide, two spans, within rifle range of the railroad bridge. Then there's a heavy stone bridge where the National Road crosses the river, a half mile or so north of the rail bridge. I don't think Custer will have the munitions to destroy that one."
"Thank you, Hunt. But at least Custer can make a fight for that."
"If they can push him back, regain the west bank, and have some engineering troops, that railroad span could be brought back up in fairly short order," Hunt continued.
"That's why I want McPherson in there," Grant said, and Hunt nodded in agreement.
"Third order, I want the pace of the corps following McPherson to be picked up. We are not going to leave him out there dangling. Now get to work, gentlemen."
The group scattered, calling for their mounts; Ely remained seated. He tore off a sheet of paper and began to draft orders.
Lincoln Watched, taking it all in. There was no panic, no confusion, no debate. Orders had been given decisively and were now being acted on, all done in a matter of minutes.
Grant looked over at Lincoln and nodded. Sheridan stood to one side, saying nothing.
"Phil, stand by me, for I might need you shortly." "Yes, sir."
A subtle gesture on Lincoln's part indicated that he wished to talk. He and Grant stepped out from under the awning and slowly walked halfway down to the road, where troops were continuing to pass, not yet aware of what was transpiring.
"Did this catch you off guard, General?" Lincoln asked.
Grant shook his head.
"Not seriously. A standard opening move."
"So Lee is not escaping?"
"I can't promise that, sir, but if the shoes were reversed, I know I would not give up all the gains I had achieved without a fight. As I said yesterday, we want his victories to be a trap, to hold him in place. He is just displaying a bit of caution here with the movement of the pontoon train."
"So why block him?"
"Two reasons. First off, he'll wonder how we knew. If Custer sweeps down ahead of the trains, burns the bridge, or better yet captures the bridging material, Lee will be caught off balance and it will set him to wondering, something I want him to do. Second, it sets the stage for our meeting. McPherson coming down on Frederick, that's an open challenge for a fight he cannot resist."
"And yet this seems to disrupt your plans?"
"Not seriously. I planned all along to maneuver west of the mountains as far as Frederick, then come down and face him. If time had permitted, perhaps even push far enough eastward to block him entirely from the Potomac and link up with the Washington garrison. I don't think that will happen now. He'll figure out Couch by the end of this day and the diversion I set for him with the militia. Then it is fair to assume he will ascertain the rest, but we will be on the move to block that."
"This Custer left a wide-open hole in that screen," Lincoin asked. "Suppose he is off on a fool's errand, planted by some rebel agent."
"Then General Custer will be Captain Custer doing garrison duty in Kansas or the Dakotas," Grant said coolly.
"But I was not there when this civilian came in, so for the moment I'll have to trust Custer's judgment. He made the decision of a general, and I will back him until proven wrong. If I don't do that, no general under me will have the audacity to take a chance. I only get angry when they've done so on what is obviously information they should have seen through or do not act when the evidence before them is as plain as day but they lack the courage to act.
"Besides, our little farce with Couch could not have lasted much longer. We wanted the rebels to see him at long distance but not get close enough to figure out the truth. That was bound to unravel at some point."
"The Baltimore and Ohio, though."
"Yes, it gives Lee an interesting advantage. Plenty of rolling stock and locomotives in Baltimore. He might use that to move swiftly, while my men will be on foot."
Grant smiled again.
"My men will just have to move hard and fast."
"A curious point, General, from earlier," Lincoln said casually. "You mentioned how a general always keeps a line of retreat open. Yet you risked all back in May when you crossed the Mississippi, then cut a hundred miles into that state with no line of supply or retreat. Isn't that a violation of the rule you just said Lee would follow?"
"That was different, sir. Frankly, I knew the mettle of my opponents, and knew I could do it and win."
"I see." Lincoln looked at him intently.
His cigar almost finished, Grant let it drop, crushing the embers out with his heel.
"Mr. President, I hope this does not seem rude, but I must move south. You are welcome to join me."
Lincoln laughed softly.
"But tending to a president might be a hindrance at this moment."
"I didn't say that, sir."
"But you might be thinking it."
Grant looked up at him, not sure how to react, and Lincoln smiled.
"I've seen all I need to see here, General. I know the armies of the Republic are in good hands. Do your duty." "Yes, sir. Of course, sir."
"And do not let Lee escape. Finish him and finish this war," Lincoln said forcefully.
"I will do all in my power to achieve that, sir." Lincoln extended his hand. "I know you will."
The two turned and walked back toward the awning, where Ely was still busy writing out orders and Sheridan stood silent, waiting.
"This Sheridan. He's from the West, isn't he?" Lincoln asked.
"Yes, sir. Fought under Rosecrans, gained a reputation as a hard driver at Stone's River and Perryville." "You ever see him in action?" "No, sir, not personally." "Why did you bring him east?"
"I heard this man just doesn't know when to quit. He's tough, aggressive. Yes, a bit of a showman, but it's always good to have one like that in your army. I didn't want to strip any more officers out of Sherman's command, but word was Sheridan is good, so I ordered him east a couple of weeks back."
"At the moment, a general in my back pocket. I've been watching him carefully. He's acting right now as an assistant, being my eyes where I can't be, and doing a fine job of it."
"I don't get your meaning. About him being in your back pocket."
"In case I need to fire someone, sir, or someone is wounded and can't continue in command," Grant said quiedy.
Lincoln nodded. Good planning. Long before he had crossed the line with his decision to replace Stanton, he had Washburne marked for the job.
The two paused, Lincoln putting out a friendly hand, resting it on Grant's shoulder.
"I'll be back in Washington by this time tomorrow. I've thought it over and agree to your replacing Heintzelman with Winfield Hancock if the man is physically up to the job. I'll see that your request regarding the garrison in Washington is carried through and will inform Secretary Washbume of your other plans. I will confess I hesitated as I contemplated it last night. Perhaps it was this latest news, this thought that Lee just might escape south of the Potomac because of the pontoon bridge."
He looked Grant straight in the eyes.
"Perhaps instead it's the trust I now have in your judgment. You did not hesitate a few minutes back when Sheridan came in with that dispatch. There was no panicking, no running about, no calling for yet another staff meeting and hours wasted as a result. You run things as I've wanted to see them run for over two years, Grant. I trust you."
"Thank you for that confidence, sir. I will see that I continue to hold it."
"God be with you, General Grant."
"And with you and the Union, sir," Grant replied.
Lincoln said nothing more, turning and walking off to where an orderly already had his horse ready to go. Grant looked over to Sheridan and gestured for him to join Lincoln. Phil mounted and trotted over to the president's side to escort him back to the railhead.
The two rode off.
Grant watched them leave, troops along the road cheering as they saw. Lincoln riding toward them, then turning north, heading up the valley for the long trip back to Washington. Soon they were gone from view, while before him the endless column continued to march by.
"Ely," Grant said, without looking back, "I want those dispatches now."
Near Taneytown, Maryland
After riding hard, Capt. Phil Duvall reined in before the mansion on the outskirts of Taneytown. In the previous few minutes he and his command had crossed through the battlefield of the previous month, an experience that had cut into his heart.
Everywhere there were shallow sunken depressions of upturned earth, the graves of the thousands who had died here on July 2.
Phil remembered a quote from Wellington he had learned at West Point, that the only thing as depressing as a battlefield lost was a battlefield won.
No one could tell the difference between won or lost now. The air was thick with that sickly sweet smell of death, more than one of his troopers, hardened as they might be, vomited even as they rode.
Ever since leaving Hanover they had crossed over the ground the armies had campaigned across and fought on in the Gettysburg-Union Mills campaign. Sunken graves, decaying horses still unburied, overturned caissons, burnt wagons. He was stunned to discover in Gettysburg a hospital tended by Union volunteers of the Sanitary Commission filled with hundreds of patients, Union and Confederate. The men had been there ever since the battles of early July, too sick or injured to be moved.
One of the volunteers, a woman, had burst into tears at the sight of him. "Not another battle here," she cried. "Not another battle."
The memory of her was sobering. He could see in her his own mother and sisters. Such women were always there after the fight, to clean up the wreckage after the armies moved on, to hold hands late at night as boys continued to die, long after the gods of war had gone elsewhere in quest of victims.
Taneytown itself was a scene of utter wreckage-homes burned, crops trampled down and rotting, civilians silent and sullen as he rode in.
They had passed a regimental graveyard, a rough-hewn plank marking it as men of the Twentieth Maine. He had heard of their stand and annihilation by Pickett. Over three score were buried there, shallow graves that had washed out in the rains, and then been scavenged by wild pigs and dogs. The sight sickened him. Rotting blue fragments of uniforms, a skeletal hand half raised out of a grave, an overturned wagon, burned out, broken remnants of ammunition boxes littering the field.
Waste, nothing but damn waste. Is this where I shall be a month from now? he wondered. He wondered as well what his men thought as they trotted across the battlefield, silent, grim faced.
As he dismounted before the mansion, he looked about. Supposedly, both Meade and Lee had used this mansion during the earlier campaign. He walked up the steps of the mansion, knocked on the door, and waited. No one answered at first until finally, after a long minute, a black servant opened the door.
"May I use your home?" Phil asked. 'The owners aren't home."
"I just need to use your top floor for a few minutes," Phil said politely.
The servant opened the door and let him in.
"Sir, is there gonna be fighting around here again?"
"No. We're just riding through."
"General Lee used this is as his headquarters during the last fight. It was terrible, sir, the fighting around here."
The servant pointed to broken windows, covered over with pieces of paper, bullet holes pocking the side of the house facing the town, a shattered eave struck by a shell.
"Don't worry. We're just riding through."
As he walked down the corridor to the main staircase Phil saw that whoever owned this place had simply left. Bits of paper still littered the floor. A table in the room to the left rested in the center of the room, chairs drawn up around it, a map marked with penciled lines still there, as if Lee and his staff had departed only minutes before.
"I'm the only one here to look after the place," the servant said apologetically. "Been meaning to get around to cleaning all this up."
The opposite parlor across the hallway had obviously been used as a hospital. Carpets and walls were stained with dried blood, furniture was upended and piled in a corner, the room still having a lingering, sickening smell to it.
He bounded up the stairs, going to the third floor, then scaled the ladder up to the cupola, Sergeant Lucas behind him.
Breathing-hard, Phil uncased his field glasses and looked back down the road he had just traversed with his small company. Behind him, not three miles away, was a column of Yankee troopers. Not a company or regiment, it had to be a brigade or more the way the dust swirled up behind them, clear back to the horizon.
"Custer?" Lucas asked.
"Yup. It's gotta be him."
"Driving damn hard," Lucas said.
'That's George," Phil said drily.
He remembered many an afternoon, George and he, out for a ride after seeing to their duties as cadets, trotting along the heights overlooking the Hudson, talking about all their hopes and dreams of glory. The war was still ahead, the arguing and shouting of politicians of no concern to them during those wonderful days but four years ago. Their talk instead was of what it might be like out on the great prairies of the West, with endless horizons ahead of them, or perhaps a posting to California or Charleston and the lovely belles that might await them there.
He smiled with the memory, how on so many nights, after lights out, they'd lighted a candle concealed behind a blanket and he'd sat up with George, reviewing yet again plane geometry or French, trying to coax his roommate along, to keep him, last in his class, from flunking out.
On those rides together George would inevitably challenge him to race, and off they would gallop together, George usually winning and teasing him about the legend that southern boys could always beat a Yankee on horseback.
So now we are in race again, old friend, Phil thought as he raised his field glasses and scanned the horizon, but this time, I have to beat you at it.
He scanned the horizon. The day was clear, no haze. Taking out a map, he propped it against the windowsill, orienting himself. The hills to the north must be Gettysburg, the South Mountain range beyond. He scanned that way. Nothing. No troop movements, at least on this side of the range, but what was happening beyond it? Well, that was a mystery.
Looking toward Gettysburg he thought he caught a gleam of reflected light, perhaps some dust. Infantry? It was impossible to tell.
George, though, was obviously driving southwest, coming straight at him. If so, what was his goal?
Shadow the east side of the mountains? Why moving so fast? If he was to provide a screen for the advancing infantry, they'd still be a dozen miles back. Was he heading for some objective this way? Phil traced a finger down the map.
Why there, if the bulk of the Union army, as seen by the patrol by Syms, was now north of Hanover? He had sent Syms and a dozen men back north even as they had pulled out of Hanover to try to identify a unit, but so far nothing had been heard from them. He feared Syms was most likely lost.
Frederick. Push hard and he could be in there by tomorrow morning. Block the pass or perhaps take the railroad.
A distant line of skirmishers emerged along the road back to Littlestown, advancing at a trot. Now less than two miles away. In another fifteen minutes they'd be into the town.
Give them a punch here? he wondered. Leaning out of the cupola he looked down at his ragged command. They had been retreating for nearly two days. Horses were blown, half a dozen men left behind because of a thrown shoe, a mount collapsing.
No, he had to keep pulling back until Stuart sent up reinforcements.
"We keep moving, Sergeant Lucas," Phil said bitterly.
The two raced down the stairs, ignoring the servant, who, amazingly, had actually made up some tea and had it waiting for them.
Coming back out on the porch Lucas shouted for the men to remount and get ready to move.
Duvall leaned against a porch pillar, casing his field glasses, dreading the thought of getting back into the saddle. He had been riding since dawn, was exhausted, and just wished for an hour of uninterrupted sleep.
A clatter of hooves echoed, some of his men turning, raising carbines or pistols, looking toward the road from the mansion back into the village. They relaxed at the sight of Lieutenant Syms. His mount was lathered, foaming, Syms's features pale as he reined in, grimacing with pain.
"Can't believe I found you here," Syms gasped, leaning forward in his saddle, breathing hard.
"You look like hell," Duvall said.
Syms smiled weakly and fainted. Lucas went to his side to help him out of the saddle. Half a dozen willing hands came to his side, carrying him up to the porch of the mansion.
Syms opened his eyes and looked around in confusion. The servant from the mansion knelt by his side and gently held a cup of tea to his lips. Syms took a drink and nodded his thanks.
"Where are the rest of your men?" Phil asked.
"Dead, captured, or played out." "What did you find out?"
"I must have ridden fifty miles since dawn. Circled around Custer's men. By God, are they moving fast!" "I know."
"We hit a Yankee infantry column about twenty miles north of here. Phil, it's a sham, all a sham." "What do you mean?"
"We came over a rise and there they were, a column marching on the road, not even any skirmishers forward. Scared the hell out of me. I mean we were less than fifty yards away when we ran smack into them."
He grinned weakly.
"One sight of us, though, the mighty cavalry of the Confederate army"-Syms chuckled at the memory-"and the entire column bolted and ran like sheep. Not a shot fired, they weren't even loaded up.
"We ran them down, took a dozen prisoners, the rest of them just disappearing, jumping fences, throwing their rifles and packs away, running off into the woods and across the fields. Hell, if I had fifty men, I could have bagged five hundred."
"You're damn right. Nothing but militia. If it wasn't so funny, I'd of been disgusted with 'em. One of them, a lieutenant, cried like a baby and spilled everything when we threatened to shoot him."
"My God, you didn't!" Phil said.
"Hell, no." Syms grinned weakly. "He said all the boys in his division were in the army for ninety days to avoid the draft. The entire army was just like him. They'd been lying about Harrisburg for weeks. Just hating Grant's men who lorded it over them. Grant's boys are moving to the west, behind the mountains. These boys, under Couch, crossed the river by ferry down at Wrightsville. Supposedly close on to twenty thousand of them. They were even told they wouldn't have to face a battle, just march about for a week or so."
Phil sat back on his heels.
The realization hit. McPherson's men, tough veterans, had crossed at Harrisburg. If they weren't in front of him, that meant they had to be on the road over the other side of the South Mountains.
It was fitting together. Custer makes a dash to seize the pass at Frederick; McPherson comes through with the rest of the army behind him.
'The rest of your men?" Phil asked.
"We got jumped riding through Gettysburg on the way down here looking for you. Some troopers from your friend's brigade."
He seemed to drift away for a moment, then sighed. "I had to leave my men behind, Phil. I had the best mount. The boys even told me to ride for it and carry the news back to you. My boys, they're dead now or prisoners. They turned back to fight while I rode off."
Phil knelt by his side, holding his hand, and shook him slightly.
"Look at me," Phil said softly, and the lieutenant gazed up at him.
"Are you certain of this report? The entire army north of us is militia?"
"That's what the prisoners we took told us. They were scared. Hell, I hated to do it, but I had a cocked gun to the lieutenant's head and said I'd blow the man's brains out if the others lied. We kept them separated, then brought them up before the lieutenant one at a time, and they all said the same thing. One of 'em even identified the four corps marching with Grant-McPherson, then Burnside, then Ord, and finally Banks. That poor lieutenant soiled his britches, he was so frightened."
"Wish you'd brought him back."
"Couldn't. So we just told them to strip naked-they thought we were going to shoot them-and then we sent them running with a few shots over their heads."
Syms chuckled at the memory.
He laid back, breathing hard.
Phil put a hand to his forehead. Syms was burning with fever. He looked down at Syms's right leg, hit the day before. The man had been riding with his boot off. Leaning over, Phil sniffed the bandage and suppressed a gag reflex.
Lucas was up by their side with a blanket, and the black servant was on the porch, bringing a pillow and blankets as well.
"Lieutenant, why don't you rest here awhile," Phil said softly. He looked up at the servant.
"I'll take care of him, sir," the servant said quietly. Syms didn't argue.
"I'm played out, Phil. Just played out."
"Custer's boys will take care of you."
"Hate to lose the leg. Damn me. Sally sure did like to dance. I can't picture her marrying a cripple."
"You'll be dancing soon enough," Phil lied. "And besides, she loves you and will be honored to marry you." This time he spoke the truth, his voice choking.
Syms forced a smile.
Phil stood back up, looking at his men.
Their mounts were blown, and in this region finding new horses would be impossible. It had been picked over clean the month before.
They'd have to ride with what they had.
"Let's go," he said quietly. He'd have to find someone to push ahead, to get down to the nearest telegraph outpost and send the word of what was happening here. That might take hours.
Sadly, he looked back at his old comrade that he was leaving behind.
He pulled out his notebook, opened it, and scribbled out a quick message.
To General George Armstrong Custer,
As a favor to your old roommate. Please take care of my friend. Lieutenant Syms. He is an honorable soldier of the South. After the war he plans to marry my sister Sally. When all this is over, I look forward to a chance to see you again under less difficult circumstances.
Yours truly, Phil Duvall Class of 1861 He handed the note to the servant, then tore off another sheet, jotting down his report.
"Sergeant Lucas, find someone with the best horse. Have him ride to Westminster."
"The telegraph station there might still be open. If Custer is driving southwest toward Frederick, they might be bypassing that place. Tell the courier to ride like hell."
Lucas took the note, walked down the line of mounted troopers, picked one out, handed up the note, and the man was off at a gallop.
There was a rattle of carbine fire at the north edge of town. He caught a glimpse of some Yankee troopers. A few rounds hummed overhead.
"Let's go," Phil shouted, mounting up and turning to look back one last time at his old friend, who weakly raised a hand in salute.
The small column turned and rode off, heading toward Frederick.
August 24 6:30 P.M.
General Lee rode alone through the early evening, long shadows descending on the camps that ringed the west side of the city. The days were getting shorter, a touch of a cooling breeze was a welcome relief after a day of heat. Campfires were flaring to life, men standing about them.
There were snatches of laughter, a banjo and hornpipe playing, a few of the more energetic men dancing to the tune. The air was rich with the scent of fresh roasting meat. Each regiment had been given a bullock or a couple of pigs for dinner, and the meat had been roasting throughout the afternoon.
Several of the regiments were planning evenings of entertainment, amateur skits, song and dance presentations, a minstrel show, and a theater group from Baltimore was appearing before the boys of Scales's Division with a presentation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, starring one of the Booth family, John Wilkes, as Brutus. He wished he could attend but was pressed by other matters.
As he wove his way through the camps, men who saw him approaching lined the road, cheering, taking off caps and holding them high, officers with a flourish drawing swords to salute. A young lady, visiting one of the camps, actually stepped in front of him, blocking his path, and offered up a bouquet of flowers, which, a bit embarrassed, he took and then, once out of her sight, handed to Walter Taylor, who trailed along behind him.
He was taking his ride for several reasons. One, of course, was to be seen by the men. The second was to see them, to evaluate their spirits after the grueling efforts of the previous weeks, and the third was just to have time to think.
He could see that though the men were tired the morale of his army was as good as ever. They had known nothing but victory since Fredericksburg. After but a single day of rest their spirits were returning, though in one sense that was deceiving. He had spent most of the day reviewing with his three corps commanders the muster returns. Dozens of regimental and brigade commanders again needed to be replaced. Promotions by the dozens would have to be written up. Many regiments were now commanded by captains, companies by sergeants. If given time, he would most likely break down Pickett's Division and reassign the remnants to beef up Scales, whose division he was now passing.
Scales had been out of the fight, shadowing Washington, but he had been ordered north to Baltimore. Lee sensed that every rifle would be needed and that division, the remnants of Pender and Pettigrew, having sat out the last fight, would now be his vanguard when the time came to move. Besides, the sham of threatening Washington was past.
It was Grant whom he wanted now. It all rested on that, one sharp action with Grant. Lure him into an action as decisive as Union Mills or Gunpowder River-break him, and in breaking him, break Lincoln as well. Finally, leave the stubborn Illinois lawyer with no choice but to accept that he could not coerce the South.
He stopped under a spread of elms canopying the road, loosening his reins, Traveler moving to the side of the road to nibble at some tall grass growing along the fencerow. A steady stream of traffic moved by in both directions, a company of troops marching by, a couple of supply wagons heading back into the city, a drover leading half a dozen cattle. Lee's staff kept a respectful distance, whispering for those passing to let the general have a few minutes alone, and all obeyed the request, the passing column of infantry silently coming to present arms as they marched by.
He dismounted, going over to lean on the fence, looking out over the encampment that spread out across the open fields outside of Baltimore. More fires — were flaring up, cheers erupting from where Scales was camped. Most likely the acting troupe had arrived, a circle of torches being ignited to illuminate the stage where the story of Caesar would be enacted.
He felt that the clock was now ticking. He wished for nothing more than "to give these men a few more days like this. Plenty to eat, time to sleep as much as they wanted, to write letters home, to horseplay, to forget for a brief moment what they had been through, and to ignore what faced them again.
An inner sense told him, though, that such would not be the case. This was a last night of peace, a single night of peace before it would all start again.
He bowed his head.
"Dear Lord, please guide me in the days to come," he whispered. "Give me strength to do what is right. Guide me always to seek the honorable path and in so doing bring this terrible struggle to an end.
"For those whom I lead, dear God, and for those whom I face. I know many will fall in the days to come. Forgive them their sins and bring them into your loving embrace. Let friend and foe come together before your holy throne as brothers once more. Amen."
"General Lee? Forgive me, sir, for interrupting."
He looked over his shoulder. It was Walter, his hat off.
Walter was pointing toward the road that wove past the defensive earthworks of Baltimore. Coming toward them was a carriage, and he could see Judah Benjamin, Jeb Stuart, and Pete Longstreet.
"Thank you, Walter."
Lee saluted Judah as he stepped down, followed by Pete and Jeb.
The three came over to the side of the road to join him.
"I suspect, gentlemen, you bring news," Lee said.
Judah nodded and Lee could see the look in Longstreet's eyes.
"A telegram just came in from Westminster. It's troubling, sir."
"Sir, a report from a captain with the Third Virginia. The same boys who were covering Carlisle. He states that the Yankee infantry moving on the east side of the mountains are nothing but militia. It looks like Grant's main striking force is west of the mountains."
Lee listened in silence. He nodded, saying nothing, taking the information in.
"How reliable?" Lee asked.
"I know the captain of that troop," Jeb said. "A good man, West Point. I was slating him for promotion to a regimental command. He's done excellent scout work in the past."
"How did he get this information?"
"The first telegram just gave the general details, a second one came in a few minutes later. It stated that a patrol had encountered a column of infantry north of Gettysburg and taken prisoners. The sender declared the information to be reliable."
Lee looked over at Jeb.
"I wish we had more to go on," Lee said.
"I know, sir. I do, too. It's taking a devilish long time to get our mounts rested, reshod, and refitted. I've already detailed two regiments up to Westminster with orders to force a probe. Jones and Jenkins, minus about half their men, are moving down the B and O right now, covering that line." 'The B and O," Judah sighed, shaking his head.
"One other thing," Pete said, interrupting Judah before that conversation over the railroad started. "The report from Westminster also stated that an entire brigade, under Custer, is driving hard, is already into Taneytown, heading southwest, apparently pushing toward Frederick."
Lee turned away, going back to lean against the fence.
So it was beginning, the mask starting to slip away. It was all becoming clear now. Grant hoped to hold his attention northward until into position to sprint toward Frederick. Once in Frederick he'd close off the railroad to Harpers Ferry, to a possible crossing at Point of Rocks.
Lee looked back at Longstreet, who stood silent.
"So now we know," Lee said.
Pete merely nodded.
Lee turned his gaze on Stuart.
"I want every one of your men mounted and ready to move before dawn tomorrow."
"Sir, that will be tough to accomplish. I have thousands of men still waiting for shoes for their horses."
Lee shook his head.
"We need your cavalry moving, General Stuart."
"Yes, sir," Jeb replied.
"And then there's the railroad," Judah said.
"It didn't work out, did it?" Lee asked.
"No, sir. Garrett refused."
Lee, in an uncharacteristic gesture, slammed a balled fist against the fence rail.
"General Longstreet, any suggestions?"
"First and foremost, we must secure that bridge over the Monocacy."
"What do we have there now?"
"Just an outpost and telegraphy station."
"I want Jenkins and Jones up there by tomorrow morning to secure the crossing. General Stuart, I want you up there as well. Take a train if you can, otherwise, sir, I think you'll just have to ride."
Stuart nodded, offering no protest.
"Sir, I've been doing some checking," Judah interjected. "We face some real problems using the B and O."
"I'm not certain we really have to use the B and O," Lee said. "We've moved quickly in the past without use of rail."
"I think, sir, it's different this time," Pete said.
"If a fight is brewing at Frederick, and if we can get the bulk of our forces there ahead of Grant, we can bottleneck him. He'll have only one road, the National Road, to bring everything up. It'll be a race, and the railroad can help us tremendously. Fifty trains can bring up an entire division with supplies in just two hours, compared to two days of marching. Plus the men will be fresh.
"There's our artillery reserves as well. We have nearly two hundred and forty guns total. That's over forty batteries. Sixty trains can move those guns, with horses and men. Three days if we move them overland."
"The B and O has some fine locomotives," Judah announced, "capable of pulling twenty cars. It can give us a tremendous advantage."
"But it won't cooperate," Lee replied sharply.
"I've already informed Garrett we are seizing control for the duration of the campaign. I suggest, sir, tonight, that word be put out to every regiment in this army. Any man with railroading experience, especially engineers, mechanics, brakemen, report to the main depot in Baltimore."
Lee said nothing for a moment. If only he had an organized division of military railroad troops, this would not even be a bother.
He looked over at Walter and nodded in agreement. "Get the word out at once. Men to report by dawn.
"Pete, find someone to put in charge."
"I thought he was in command of the pontoon bridges."
"He's a hard driver. I think he's our man."
"Promote him to brigadier general, and get him working on it. Now what about the pontoon bridges? Weren't they supposed to already be up at Frederick?"
Pete sighed and shook his head.
"They're still at the depot."
"Sir, nearly every yard worker just sat down or took off once word came that Garrett was not cooperating. Cruickshank has apparently struck a deal with the yard boss, though, and we should be moving around midnight. But it's going to cost."
Lee looked at Judah.
"I do have some cash reserves," Judah said. "Silver coinage."
"Fine, then," Lee replied. "Have Cruickshank offer five dollars a day to any man who will come back to work. Jeb, I want you up there when the pontoon train goes forward. Take the bridge at Monocacy and hold it at all cost."
"We definitely need that bridge," Longstreet interjected. "It's not just the bridge, it's the junction just on the other side. There's a water tank there, and also a turntable."
"Aren't there other turntables along the line?"
Judah shook his head.
"I looked at the maps in Garrett's office. There's a turntable at Relay Station, just outside of here, the next one on the line is at Frederick Junction, on the west side of the Monocacy. We don't have that, and every train will have to be backed up. Also, there's a bottleneck. It's double track most of the way, but there's a thirteen-mile stretch between two tunnels, east of the Monocacy, that's single track. Everything will have to route back and forth through that."
Lee sighed. During the winter at Fredericksburg he had sweated out the movement of but half a dozen supply trains a day coming up from Richmond. But one engine breaking down meant short rations for that day. Now they were talking about moving hundreds of trains.
"Gentlemen, we are racing through too many issues at once here. Let us focus on the overall issue, and then all will derive from that."
The group around him fell silent.
"I think it is clear that General Grant will move on Frederick rather than toward Harpers Ferry and crossing into Virginia. It is clear as well that our concern to the north was nothing more than a masterful feint on his part.
"I had hoped for a few more days' rest for our army, that is now finished. Grant's intention in taking Frederick was perhaps to threaten our potential line of retreat if we had planned to withdraw, but we all know that was never our intent. We are here to stay in Maryland."
"Could we not let him come to us?" Judah asked. "He'll wear his men out; we can continue to rest and refit."
"Impossible," Longstreet replied. "Do that, let him envelope us here and reunite with the Washington garrison, and we'd be pinned in this city with no line of retreat. He could then wait us out, forcing us to attack on his terms."
Lee nodded in agreement.
"No, Mr. Secretary, it has never been the policy of this army to let our opponents choose their ground. From Harrisburg to Hagerstown and then over the National Road to Frederick is more than a hundred miles of marching. All of it in the end funneling down to one road over the Catoctin Mountains. We marched that same road last year during the Sharpsburg campaign. It's a good road but a steep climb over the South Mountains and then the Catoctins.
"No, sir, that will be a hard march. He's been on the road for three days now. I'd place the head of his column at Greencastle, perhaps lead elements as far as Hagerstown, but he is more than a day away, more likely two, from Frederick. And even then, all will have4o funnel over that one road.
"If we can take advantage of the railroad, and get our army up and marching before dawn, we can have all our strength there in two days, the bulk of our army there ahead of Grant.
'Then we choose the ground and let him come at us. Lincoln is undoubtedly pressuring him to attack, and attack us he will. We will have the better ground, and by heaven's help we will smash him."
He looked around, and even Pete nodded in agreement "Another battle like the ones you talk about, General Longstreet," Lee said enthusiastically, looking over at Pete. "A good defensive line, like the one we had at Union Mills, and we bleed him out"
"I hope so, sir."
"I know so," Lee said emphatically.
"Now, gentlemen, you know your orders. Walter, find Generals Hood and Beauregard and have them report to me back at my headquarters in Baltimore immediately. I want those trains moving, infantry to be on the march at dawn with five days' rations and full cartridge boxes. General Longstreet, please accompany me back to headquarters and we shall lay out the routes of march for our corps. If we can get the trains running correctly, General Scales's Division will lead off by train, sparing them the march and placing them ahead of the Union cavalry.
"Gentiemen, this is the battle we have been waiting for, and with God's help this will finally end the war."
B and O Rail Yards, Baltimore
McDougal, damn it, are we finally ready to move?" "Yes, Major, I think so." "It's general now, McDougal. Remember that." "Yes, your worship," McDougal said with a grin while shifting a wad of tobacco and spitting.
Former major, now general, Cruickshank muttered a curse under his breath. A job that should have taken only three or four hours had consumed a day and a half. The pontoons and bridging material had been laboriously hauled through the streets of Baltimore to the rail yard. Then there had been the nightmare of maneuvering each wagon carrying a thirty-foot-long boat up onto a flatcar. Easy enough when talking about it, but bloody chaos when turned into a reality. Each flatcar had to be backed up individually to a loading ramp, mules unhooked, then the cumbersome wagon pushed by several dozen men from the ramp onto the car. Several of them had slipped, the clearance of wagon wheel width and rail car width being only a few inches to either side, and one of the boats had been staved in when it.tumbled off the car.
Once loaded, the wheels had to be chocked, cables hooked to secure the wagon in place, the single car then pulled away from the ramp and sidetracked, another flatcar hooked to a locomotive and backed into place.
Meanwhile cantankerous mules had to be forced aboard boxcars or open-sided cattle cars, kicking and braying. After hours of waiting in the heat, men then had to go into those same cars, lead the mules out to feed and water them, then lead them back in again.
If the full Baltimore and Ohio crew had been around, he knew the job would have gone off without a hitch; instead, he was primarily reliant on his own men and a hundred or so workers who had shown up just after dark, when word circulated around that each man would be given five dollars, in silver, at the end of each day's work.
That alone burned him. His boys were getting a few dollars a month in worthless Confederate scrip and that issue alone had triggered more than a few fistfights with the civilians.
McDougal, who had agreed to stay on as yard boss for twenty dollars a day, silver, watched as the first of the locomotives began to inch forward.
Jeb Stuart was aboard that train. An extra car hooked on to the end, an open cattle car now carrying half a dozen horses and the "cavalier" himself, sitting astride the siding of the car, hat off and waving a salute to Cruickshank as they passed.
"Damn show-off," Cruickshank muttered.
"He's off to war and you ain't," McDougal said. "Count yourself lucky."
"I'm stuck here now, McDougal," Cruickshank said. "I'd rather be going with my pontoons. Get the hell out of this place."
"Oh, you'll have grand fun these next few days," McDougal said cheerfully. "I figure you'll have to help organize two hundred trains or more. A snap if you know what you are doing."
"I don't, and you do," Cruickshank said coldly, looking over at McDougal. "And by God, you better do it right." McDougal smiled.
"But, of course, Major… I mean, General. Of course."
Near Sykesville, Maryland
"Stop the train, stop the damn train!" Jeb Stuart leaned over the side of the car. Mules in the boxcar up ahead were kicking, screaming in panic. Flames shot out from under the wheels of the boxcar, streaming back.
The train whistle was shrieking, a couple of brakemen running aft, leaping from car to car, clamping down the brakes as the train skidded to a halt. As the train slowed, flames that had been trailing in the wind started to lick upward.
Jeb jumped off the car he was riding on, nearly tripping, regaining his footing and running alongside the train. The mules inside the burning car were terrified. A brakeman was by his side, helping to fling the door open, and the animals leapt out, disappearing into the darkness.
The front left journal box of the car was glowing red hot, flames licking out. The engineer of the train and the fireman came back, lugging canvas buckets which they threw on the box, steam hissing. More buckets were hauled by several soldiers, dousing the side of the railcar.
"What in hell is going on here?" Jeb roared.
"Happens all the time, General," a brakeman announced. "That's a journal box. Filled with grease to lubricate the axle of the wheel. Sometimes it just catches fire."
Another bucket was upended on the box, the water hissing.
"Open the damn thing up."
"Once it cools, we'll repack it," the engineer said.
"Once it cools."
"Just open the damn thing."
A brakeman with a crowbar flipped the lid of the journal box open, the engineer holding a lantern and peering in at the steaming mess.
"I'll be damned," he whispered.
"What is it?" Jeb asked.
"Packed with wood shavings and scrap metal."
"Sorry, sir. Someone sabotaged this car. It should have caught fire twenty miles back. Was most likely smoldering and we didn't even notice it in the dark."
"You mean someone deliberately wrecked it?"
The engineer said nothing, finally nodding his head when Jeb gave him a sharp look.
"Don't know, sir. Most likely back in Baltimore. Should have burned miles back down the track. Lucky we got this far. We're going to have to check every single box on this train now."
"Damn all," Jeb hissed, turned away, slapping his thigh angrily.
Looking down the track he saw the headlight of the following train, hauling ten more cars loaded with the pontoon bridging. One of the brakemen was already running down the track, waving a lantern.
"In the dark like this?" the engineer said. "An hour or two to check all the boxes. Better check the ones on the following trains as well. Sorry, sir, but we're stopped for now."
Exasperated, Stuart looked around at his staff, who had climbed off the cattle car to witness the show.
"Mount our horses up. How far to Frederick?" he asked.
"Follow the track, another twenty miles or so to Frederick, sir."
"You wait to dawn, sir, we'll have things ready." "I have no time, Custer isn't waiting for some train to get fixed," Stuart snapped. "Mount up. We ride to Frederick."
Two Miles North of Frederick, Maryland
Morning mist clung to the fields flanking the road. To his right George Armstrong Custer could catch occasional glimpses of the Catoctin range, rising up nearly a thousand feet, the ridge-line golden with the glow of dawn.
It was a beautiful morning after an exhausting night. Turning in his saddle, he looked back, the column of his troopers, led by the First Michigan, were quiet, many slumped over in their saddles, nodding. Ever since they gained the pike at Emmitsburg the ride had been an easy one, a broad, open, well-paved road, and not a rebel in sight as they swept southward through the night, taking four hours for men and horses to rest before remounting two hours ago.
He could see the church spires of Frederick just ahead, rising up out of the mist, which was starting to burn off the fields, but still clung thick to the winding course of the Monocacy on his left. ^ A scout, a young lieutenant, came out of the mist, riding fast, reining up and grinning.
"Was just in the center of the town, sir. Not a reb in sight. Talked with some civilians. They said a reb patrol rode through about an hour or so ahead of us and turned east to head down to the Monocacy."
"How many, Schultz?"
"About a hundred or so. There was some commotion at the telegraph station there. The rebs had that occupied, and then all of them pulled out heading east."
Most likely Phil, he thought with a grin. The wounded prisoner taken at Carlisle had told him who he was facing: his old roommate from the Point. Usually I could beat Phil in a race and that's what it is now. He had hoped to spring on him during the night but Phil had always stayed a jump ahead.
Well, my friend, now I got you against the river. Will you turn and fight?
And part of him hoped he would not. That he would just get the hell out of the way.
"You know the way to the bridge?" Custer asked Schultz.
"Easy enough, sir. Get to the center of town and turn east. Few blocks, you'll be at the depot for the town. We can follow the track for the spur line that runs up to the center of town. If you just keep heading south through town it turns into a toll road that heads straight down to the river, a covered bridge crossing the Monocacy just south of the railroad bridge. I think that'd be the quicker path. Civilians said that's the route the rebs took."
Custer nodded, trying to picture it. He had come through here the year before with McClellan.
"I'll take the lead with the First. You go back up the line, tell Colonel Alger to take his Fifth. Once he's in the center of town, he's to pick up the tracks and come down that way to the river. Tell Colonel Gray. I remember the National Road crosses the Monocacy via a stone bridge. Have Gray send a company down to take that bridge, rest of his command to stay in reserve. Mann with the Seventh to stay in town as reserve also. I can be found at the railroad bridge."
Lieutenant Schultz set off at a gallop.
"Let's move it!" Custer shouted.
He set the pace at a quick trot, buglers passing the signal back up the column.
Out front, as always, he thrilled to the thunder behind him as his troopers picked up the pace. Guidons were fluttering as he looked back. Colonel Town, commander of the First, spurred his mount to come up by Custer's side.
"George, bit impetuous just riding straight in like this, ain't it?" Town shouted.
"No time to feel things out, Charles. Schultz is a good scout. His boys have the center of town already. But it's the bridge we want."
Cresting a low rise, they passed the last farm flanking the pike. The town was directly ahead. It was so typical of this region, the houses built close together, facing right onto the street. A scattering of civilians were out, a few were unfurling Union flags from their windows.
He thought of the story of Barbara Frietchie. Most said it was all made up, others said it was the truth, how she had hung a Union flag out the year before, when the rebels marched through on their way to Antietam. Some troops threatened to fire on the old lady and her flag until Stonewall himself came up and supposedly exclaimed, "Who touches a hair of your gray head, dies like a dog, march or…" He'd have to look her up afterward and find out if the old lady really did confront Stonewall.
As they approached the center of town the thunder of their arrival echoed in the canyonlike street, more and more civilians leaning out of windows, some cheering and waving, others staring in silence.
He saw Schultz's boys at the main crossroads, still mounted, carbines drawn. He slowed and shouted for the toll road. The men pointed south.
"The Fifth will follow the railroad track! I'm taking the First in on this road!"
"The rebs are down at the main junction," a sergeant shouted. "Saw them not ten minutes ago."
"Guide the Fifth, Sergeant, and Seventh. Tell them to set up at that columned building that looks like a school and await my orders."
He knew that, according to the book, he should stop here with his reserve and let his lead regiments go forward and, as his professors would say, "develop the situation." Only then should he go forward.
To hell with the book! He was in the lead and would always be in the lead.
The men of the First, coming on fast, were almost up to him. He spurred his mount hard and took off, heading straight through the town. Several blocks farther south and he was again back into open fields, the road just ahead forking, and for a second he slowed.
Schultz hadn't told him about this. Which was the main pike?
The road to the left was broader, partially macadamized, and not waiting, he followed it Less than a minute later he saw the toll station, a small shack, the gate up. The ground ahead started to slope down. It was obviously the way to the river, which was still cloaked with morning mist.
Hills on the far side were clear of fog. They were less than a mile away. Broad open fields greeted him, the usual patchwork of ripening corn, rich green shoots of winter wheat coming up, orchards, pastures, and squared-off woodlots.
No cattle or cows were out grazing. This area had been well picked over last fall and again two months ago as the armies recrossed this ground heading toward Gettysburg. Here and there.fences were missing, passing troops from the previous two campaigns using them as firewood. He reined in, coming to a stop. He turned, pointing toward a farm lane to the west, shouting for the men to form into line. Troopers turned, urging their mounts on, chickens scattering and squawking as the boys galloped to either side of a farmhouse and barn.
The owner of the farm was out on the porch, red-faced and shouting something, but Custer ignored him.
"Colonel Town, you command the right flank. I'll be in the middle. Have four of your companies follow me."
He judged the fence on the east side of the road, ready to jump it, but several troopers were already dismounted, tearing down the stacked-up split rails. The owner was down by the road, shouting curses about having just rebuilt the fence. Custer just looked over at him, grinned, saluted cheerfully, and then rode through the opening, cutting around the edge of a cornfield and into an orchard.- Looking back toward Frederick he saw where the men of the Fifth were coming out, riding to either side of the railroad track, going a bit slower. It'd take another ten minutes before they'd be up and deployed into line.
Turning, he gauged the distance to the river. He could see his goal now, a wooden trestle. The road he had just been on headed down to a covered bridge a few hundred yards south of the railroad crossing.
Dismount and go in carefully or rush it? He pulled out his field glasses and scanned the river bottom and could see nothing. All was cloaked in mist.
If it's only Phil down there, he most likely has only a hundred or so. But give them a little time and they could work some mischief and prepare a defense, or worse, perhaps some reinforcements are coming up.
Rush him on horseback before he has time to get ready. He cased his field glasses and drew his saber.
The men of the First were lined up, covering a front of a couple of hundred yards, pistols or carbines out of holsters, officers with sabers drawn.
He could feel that their blood was up. There was nothing like the anticipation of a mounted charge to do that to a man. The tension was building, horses sensing it as well, snorting, a few rearing up, men grasping reins tighter. Men were looking over at him wide-eyed, some grinning.
He hesitated for a second. Go straight in, or wait for the Fifth to come in on my flank? I've got nearly three hundred men with the First. Five to ten minutes is often the difference between victory and defeat. No, this is the moment!
"First Michigan! Forward at the trot!" He pointed toward the railroad bridge.
Typical George Custer," Captain Duvall announced, snaking his head. With field glasses focused on George, he watched as his old friend drew his saber, pointed, and then set off, moving to the front of the advancing line.
A thousand yards, three or four minutes, and they'll be on us. He scanned the ground, so far only one regiment. What looked to be a second was just becoming visible, along the bed of the spur line leading into Frederick. Why didn't George wait for them?
Phil lowered his glasses. Perched on the roof of the depot, he had a clear view, except for the mist still gently rolling up from the river directly behind him.
He had deployed half his men to the left, about a hundred yards over, where the toll road came down to the covered bridge. There was a nice little cut there made by the railroad, about fifteen feet deep, with steep, sloping sides, a perfect entrenchment and place of concealment for his mounts. The rest of his men were in the depot, toolsheds, and outbuildings.
The depot was inside a triangle of rail track formed by the main line of the Baltimore and Ohio right after it crossed the river, the main track running west. The other two sides of the triangle were formed by the spur line that came down from the town of Frederick, branching to either side of the depot so that trains from the city could head west or east.
There were two blockhouses as well. Rude affairs, abandoned. If only he'd had a few field guns he could have held this place against anything George threw at him. One blockhouse, on the far side of the river, looked straight down on the bridge. A single Napoleon twelve-pounder in there could have swept the bridge. The other blockhouse, inside the western edge of the triangle, commanded the railroad cut and the spur line. He had placed a half dozen of his best shooters in there.
George's advancing line was down to less than a quarter mile. He could hear their bugle calls floating across the morning stillness, a beautiful sound. They were picking up speed, George a good twenty yards in front. Phil focused for a few seconds on the distant figure, hat off, golden shoulder-length hair waving in the breeze, a match for the crazy-quilt patchwork of braid on his uniform.
Phil smiled. George always did like those things, a true seeker of glory. And in his heart he prayed that none of his men now singled him out. His own boys knew they'd been friends at the Point, but still, George was a target that just begged to be shot.
Phil slid down from the roof, knocking off a few shingles, jumped to the solid awning that protected passengers waiting for a train, then climbed through an open window to the second floor. His men were hunkered down by the windows, carbines raised, waiting. Many had the new Sharps breechloading carbines, captured during the Gettysburg-Union Mills campaign, cartridges laid out on the windowsills. More than a few were grinning. George was coming straight on, mounted, in the open.
Three hundred yards, now two hundred.
The Yankee bugle call echoed the charge!
The men over in the railroad embankment to his left waited, maintaining good discipline. Let them get close.
A hundred yards. Damn, they were coming on fast, yelling like demons.
A solid volley rang out from his forty men. Good shots all of them, a dozen saddles emptied. The men around him in the depot opened up, enfilading fire pouring into the flank of Custer's charge.
"Charge!" The bugles picked up the command, echoing across the valley, the sound all but overwhelmed by the pounding of hoofs, the high-pitched cries of men loosed from all restraint, caught up in the mad, magnificent splendor of a full-out cavalry charge. He looked back for a second at these good troopers, up off their saddles, knees braced in tight, leaning forward, holding reins with one hand, weapon in the other, crouched low over the necks of their mounts.
The first volley caught him by surprise. He felt a bullet wing past, puffs of smoke ahead.
He looked back. Several troopers had dropped, tumbling from saddles; four or five horses were down, men pitching off their mounts, tumbling end over end. And yet the momentum of the charge was now unstoppable, men and horses weaving around the fallen, riding full out, the first blow not slowing them, instead now driving them forward, weapons raised high. "Come on, Wolverines! Common!" The charge swept down through open pasture and fields. What appeared to be a ravine, perhaps a railroad cut, was straight ahead, marked by puffs of smoke. "Come on, boys!"
He urged his mount onward, the horse moving uncomfortably, favoring its right side. He spared a quick glance down and saw where a shot had sliced its right leg, blood streaming out.
Fifty yards, now twenty-five.
Rebs stood up-from the edge of the ravine, carbines lowered. He hunched down low in the saddle. Another volley. His horse just collapsed, throwing him, knocking his wind out. Troopers of the First Michigan were reining in around him, as he struggled to stand up, their pistols drawn, firing blindly at the puffs of smoke, cursing, yelling.
He judged the moment. Not too many over there, maybe not more than fifty or sixty. He stood up, feeling dizzy, looking for his saber. A trooper leaned far over from his saddle, picked it up from the ground, and tossed it to him.
"Come on! Keep pushing!'
Men, yelling wildly, rode up to the edge of the ravine, pistols out, firing left and right. Men pitched out of saddles. Some rebs were up out of the ravine, pistols drawn, emptying cylinders, tossing revolvers away and drawing sabers, swinging wildly. A mad melee erupted.
A volley erupted from his left. The railroad depot. Puffs of smoke swirling from windows, mingling with the early morning fog. A blockhouse caught his attention. Aperture for a field piece.
My God, did they have artillery here?
Saddles were emptying around him from the enfilading fire. A trooper came up to his side, leading a riderless mount.
"General, sir, might I suggest we get the hell outta here?" the sergeant shouted. Custer remounted.
He scanned the action. The ravine was full of horses; it was hard to count them in all the confusion. A reb came up out of the ravine, raised a carbine, pointing straight at him. The sergeant next to him dropped the man with three shots from his revolver.
"Sound recall. We'll wait for the Fifth."
The bugle call sounded, the well-disciplined men of his command turned about, many glad to do so, and broke into a ragged gallop back across the field they had traversed minutes before with such confidence.
A few hundred yards out Custer looked back. More than a few rebs were up out of the ravine, shouting defiance.
He looked off to the north. The men of the Fifth were deploying from column into line.
"Let the bastards cheer," Custer announced. "We'll bag them before the hour is out, boys."
Three Miles East ofMonocacy Junction 6:30 A.M.
"General, is that gunfire?" Jeb Stuart reined in, stopping, the aide by his side, head cocked, listening. Yes, it was. Distant, a soft, muffled popping, almost drowned out by the clatter of hooves behind him, men of Jenkins's Brigade riding to either side of the track in a sinuous column that stretched back for over a mile.
Damn all. What the hell was going on? If not for the damn train he'd have been in Monocacy a couple of hours ago. Looking back down the track, which after the tunnel they had ridden through was again a double line, he saw nothing but his men on horseback. "Pick up the pace!" Stuart shouted. Leaving the column behind he broke into a gallop, heading toward the sound of distant battle.
"Dismount!" George Custer, himself, remained mounted, ignoring the snapping whine of.52 Sharps carbine rounds whistling over his head. The troopers of the First, their blood up after the initial repulse, gladly followed orders, drawing carbines from saddle holsters, levering breechings open, inserting rounds, deploying out into heavy skirmish line, every fifth man detailed off to hold the reins of the four who dismounted.
He wished now for just a few guns, even a section of three-inch ordnance rifles to sweep the edge of the ravine with canister before going in. But he had traveled fast, leaving his one battery of light guns behind.
"Boys, forward at the double!" Custer shouted, 'Take that damn depot!"
The men started forward on foot, running flat out. A few tumbled over before reaching a shallow ravine, pausing, hunching down, a ragged volley ringing out as they began to return fire. The more venturesome then stood up, racing forward, closing the range to a hundred yards.
The rebs, though, were in an excellent position. Phil had picked his ground well. The railroad cut was a trench offering protection, the depot, especially the log blockhouse, an impregnable position. To his Jeft the troopers of the Fifth were doing the same, advancing dismounted, shooting, pushing up a few dozen yards, sprawling out on the ground, firing again. Scanning the depot building with field glasses he saw shards of wood explode from the side, windows shattering, a reb out in the open for a second, sprinting from a shed back to the depot, collapsing on the track from a well-aimed shot.
George pushed up, ignoring the danger, furious that his charge had been repulsed.
"Here comes Gray!" someone shouted.
George looked back. He had sent word for Gray to come up in support, and the column was coming out of the town, riding hard.
"Keep pushing them, keep pushing!"
Phil Duvall raised his field glasses and saw the distant column coming out of Frederick. This time, damn it, George was doing it right. A regiment, dismounted, was coming down on his right. Custer's lead regiment, dismounted as well, was pressing on the left. The third regiment meant that well over a thousand men would be pushing in on him in a matter of minutes. At better than ten-to-one odds he would simply be pushed back from the bridge. It was just a matter of time.
Several of the men by the windows were already down, one dead, another cursing, holding his shoulder, a third man crying, a spray of shattered glass having torn into his face.
He walked to the far side of the room and looked over at the ravine. His men were up at the lip, firing away, but he knew it was useless now to try to hold longer.
Damn all, where was Stuart? He gazed back at the railroad bridge, hoping against hope that he'd see a column crossing it even now, reinforcements coming up to hold this crucial junction.
"They're starting to deploy out, sir."
He looked back to the north. The column coming out of the town was swinging out into line, preparing to charge. They'd ride through the dismounted skirmishers and this time overrun him.
"Time to get out, boys," Phil shouted. "No bugle calls, just mount up. I'll see you on the far side of the bridge. Sergeant Lucas, get up to the ravine, tell them to bring down our horses!"
Lucas raced down the stairs.
He lingered a few seconds longer, again shifting his field glasses to George. He could tell his old friend was loving the moment. Mounted again, riding along the skirmish line, urging his men to get up, to press forward.
He certainly led a charmed life. He had seen George go down, and for a second feared he was dead, but then the man had stood up, brushed himself off, remounted, and was back in the fight.
"Your day, George," he said.
Phil ran down the stairs and out under the awning of the depot.
The men over at the ravine were disengaging, sliding down the slope, running to their horses, mounting up. It was going to be a tight race. As soon as his boys stopped shooting, George would press in.
The first of them came galloping down the track, more following, troopers leading the empty mounts of the men who had been holding the depot. The telegraphy crew from Frederick were already riding for the bridge.
Lucas brought up Phil's horse, and he climbed into the saddle. He didn't need to give any orders now, the boys knew where to go and just wanted to skedaddle before the Yankees closed in. They raced for the bridge. Fortunately, the wooden structure, wide enough for two tracks, had planking laid to either side between the crossties, otherwise they'd have had to cross dismounted, leading nervous mounts.
His men galloped across, Phil slowing as he reached the bridge. Bullets whined about him. Yankees were up to the ravine, tumbling down its side; others were running toward the depot. He caught a glimpse of George, raised a hand in salute, and, turning, urged his mount across the bridge at a gallop.
Was that Phil? George wondered, quickly uncasing his field glasses and focusing them on the bridge. It was hard to tell with the smoke and the mist still rising off the river.
The way he kept his saddle, the wave-it did indeed look like his old friend.
He edged his mount around the ravine, leaning back in his saddle as he finally went down the slope and out onto the track. His men, breathing hard, grinning, faces besmirched with powder, sweating, were down into the ravine, running toward the depot.
Half a dozen rebs lay along the lip of the railroad cut, dead. A dozen more, wounded, were down by the track, several of his men already there helping them. "What regiment are you?" Custer asked. "Third Virginia," one of them announced, looking up at him defiantly.
"That's our man. What of it?" the reb said. George nodded and then saluted. "My compliments, boys. You put up a good fight." So it was Phil.
"Any trains come through here since yesterday?" "How the hell would I know. We just got here ahead of you Yankees."
George rode up to the depot, looking around. If the rebs had moved trains up here, there would have been more men defending this place than an outpost patrol he'd been dogging since yesterday. By damn, we got here ahead of 'em.
The depot itself was pockmarked with bullet holes. He studied the bridge that Phil had just ridden across, the far end obscured by smoke and fog. The bridge, a rough affair, looked like something military railroad crews would have thrown up after an earlier bridge was destroyed. He drew closer, and saw down in the river twisted lengths of cable, iron girders. Obviously the wreckage of what had been here, most likely before the Antietam campaign.
Already his mind was working. Hold it or destroy it?
His gaze swept back over the depot. Blockhouse, a turntable, the triangle of track. If the rebs get hold of this they can easily turn trains around. With a double-track system, in a matter of hours they can bring up a hundred trains or more out of Baltimore, move an entire army.
He had no idea where Grant was at this moment. Maybe ten miles off, maybe fifty. Destroy the bridge, perhaps it will get Grant's dander up, but then again, we can replace it in a day or two. No, I came here to block the rebs from moving their pontoon bridge and by God that's what I'll do.
He looked over his shoulder. Lieutenant Schultz was riding up.
"Sir, Colonel Gray's compliments. His boys are deployed, but he is shifting two companies over to the stone bridge, the one for the National Road. Says that reb skirmishers are on the other side. Colonel Mann is in place as reserves."
George nodded, saying nothing.
Skirmishers on the main road heading back to Baltimore. "Infantry or cavalry?" "Sir, he didn't say."
Most likely cavalry, George thought. I've got a thousand men with me. It has to be cavalry coming up. It is surprising they're not already here.
That decided it.
"Lieutenant Schultz, do we have any ammunition reserves, raw powder?"
"Just that, barrels of powder?"
He already knew the answer, but felt he had to think out loud at this moment.
"Sir, just what our men our carrying with us. We left the supply wagons behind."
"Get back up to Frederick, see if any shops have blasting powder. Check the depot here as well."
"Sir, I doubt that we'll find any. Both armies have been through here twice in the last year."
George nodded in agreement. Four or five barrels under a main trestle would do the trick, but to find that many now might take hours.
"We've got to destroy that bridge, Lieutenant."
Trying to burn it might sound easy but he knew it wouldn't be. He'd have to get at least a couple of cords of kindling wood. There was enough of that in a wood rick next to the depot, but hauling it out there, placing it under a trestle, with Phil's boys popping away from the other side at less than a hundred yards would be damn difficult.
Schultz looked over at the bridge and seemed lost in thought.
The lieutenant suddenly grinned.
"Sir, there are two locomotives in the depot up in Frederick, both with passenger cars and boxcars. Maybe we could use those."
Custer grinned, too.
"I always enjoyed the sight of a good train wreck. Get on it, Lieutenant."
East Bank, Monocacy Creek
Jeb Stuart reined in, an exhausted, begrimed captain coming up to him on foot and saluting. "Capt. Phil Duvall, sir, Third Virginia." "What is going on here?" Stuart asked. "Sir, didn't you get the telegraph message we sent out an hour ago?"
"I've been riding up here, Captain," Jeb said, exasperated. "No, I did not get the telegraph message."
"Sir, we've been withdrawing in front of Custer's Brigade since yesterday, from Hanover down to here. We tried to hold the depot on the other side of the river, but he pushed us back about twenty minutes ago. He has at least three regiments over there."
Jeb looked toward the bridge, the far side obscured by fog.
"How many men over there?"
"Like I said, sir, a brigade. I'd guess at a thousand or so." "You couldn't hold?"
Phil pointed to the exhausted men, still mounted, who were gathered behind him.
"Sir, we put up a fight, kept them back for a half hour or so, but if we'd stayed five minutes longer, sir," he sighed, "well, we'd either be dead or prisoners now."
Jeb contained his exasperation. It was obvious that Du-vall's men had put up a fight: At least a quarter of them were nursing wounds, while a score of horses without riders was testimony to those left behind.
"Where can I maneuver here?" Jeb asked.
"Sir, down there to the south, about two hundred yards downstream you got a covered bridge, double wide. To the north about two miles or so, I'm told there's a stone bridge. I suspect there's a number of fords here as well." Stuart nodded.
"Jenkins will be up within the half hour. Jones is right behind him. Duvall, you keep your men posted here." Phil wearily nodded and saluted. "Yes, sir."
Stuart, realizing this man had done all that was possible, drew a deep breath then leaned over, offering his hand.
"You did good, Captain, real good. You did all you could. Now it's our turn. Give me an hour and we'll have that bridge back!"
Headquarters, Army of the Susquehanna
Near Greencastle, Pennsylvania August 25
"Excuse me, sir, I thought you should know. It's started."
Grant looked up at an excited Phil Sheridan standing at the entryway of his tent.
"Yes, sir. It was actually a reb dispatch, sent to Baltimore, but the line was open, and it was also transmitted up the B and O telegraph line to Harpers Ferry and also to Hager-stown. We had a Union man at the station there. He just dispatched it up to us here."
"What did it say?"
"It was a rebel outpost reporting from Frederick. Said they were abandoning their post and would attempt to hold the railroad bridge at Monocacy. Brigade-strength Union cavalry, believed to be Custer, in pursuit."
Grant sat back in his chair, rubbing his brow. The beginnings of a migraine were upon him, the tingling in the fingertips, a slight ringing in his ears. Why now?
He looked down at the map spread upon his desk.
"This morning's report, he's into Hagerstown, head of his column about five miles beyond." "Burnside?"
"Lagging a bit. McPherson pushed his men until midnight, Burnside had them fall out after dark. He's between here and Greencastle."
"I'm going up."
"You have a problem with that, Sheridan?" "Well, sir. I'm sort of a fifth wheel here. I could go forward for you."
Grant studied him and yet again was glad of the decision to bring this man east. Sheridan wanted to go forward because he smelled a fight coming and wanted to be in the thick of it.
"No, Phil, you stay here for now. Dispatches and such are being routed to this position. Send a message back up the line for Ord and Banks and Hunt with the artillery to pick up the pace. I'm going forward. By the end of the day I should be into Frederick. I'm taking Ely Parker and my staff with me."
He sat back for a moment, studying the map. It was beginning to look like a meeting engagement. He had hoped to be able to secure the Catoctin Pass, perhaps even move all four of his corps down into the plains in front of Frederick, before Lee caught wind of his maneuver. If now, after the triggering of this fight by Custer, Lee came up quickly, he could block the pass and in so doing secure a defensive barrier that would allow him to maneuver as he pleased, either to retreat across the Potomac or shift the bulk of his force back on Washington. That thought was chilling, especially given the agreement he and Lincoln had arrived at only yesterday.
Send a countermand to Lincoln, suggesting a change? It'd take at least a day for that to catch up. It would show, as well, a loss of nerve.
No, we have to take the pass first and hold it.
"Keep them moving, Phil, and then report to me in Frederick by the end of the day."
Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia
General Lee, there's action at Frederick." Walter had allowed him to sleep hours past his usual time of rising. For that Lee was grateful, having been up half the night with Longstreet and Judah Benjamin analyzing the reports that increasingly confirmed that the so-called army coming down from the north was a sham, and that Grant was pulling a wide flanking march, either to cross the Potomac into Virginia or come out of the mountains at Frederick or Point of Rocks down on the Potomac.
Lee was already half-dressed, a servant helping him with his boots, when Taylor knocked on the door. He reached up, taking the dispatch Taylor was holding.
He scanned the message from the outpost at Frederick and put it down on his bed.
"Has General Stuart arrived there yet? What about the pontoon train?"
"Sir, a report came in about four this morning that the trains carrying the pontoon bridge were sabotaged. Wheels on the cars were not greased prior to leaving the depot and several caught on fire twenty miles east of Frederick. General Stuart got off the train and went on by horseback." 'This is disturbing," Lee said softly. "I thought we would have that position secured by now."
"Stuart's last report, sent by telegraph from about ten miles east of Frederick, a place called New Market, said he was riding up fast, the brigades of Jenkins and Jones were moving to secure the junction and hoped to secure the railroad bridge and the National Road bridge upon his arrival. He has two brigades of cavalry, compared to Custer's one light brigade."
"What trains are readily available down at the depot?"
"We have a convoy of fifteen trains forming up now, sir. Scales's Division is loading up even now. General Longstreet rousted his corps out three hours ago, and they are already marching west."
"But that will take two days for them to arrive."
"Yes, sir. But we are forming a second convoy of twenty trains to move by midmorning with Johnson's boys loading up."
"Good, Stonewall Division, excellent," Lee whispered.
He stood up, leaning over the map. It was becoming clear now. Grant meant to move over the mountains into the central Maryland plains at Frederick.
Lee smiled slightly as he contemplated that. Grant will only have one road to do his maneuver, while I'll have the railroad, the main pike of the National Road, and numerous secondary roads.
We get into position ahead of him, it will be the classic position for destroying an opponent, with him feeding troops in piecemeal while we are already in place… if we can get there first.
"Walter, get down to the rail yard. I want a train ready to take me up as soon as possible. Pass word to Generals Longstreet and Beauregard to keep their men moving west. The railroad will move up Hood's Corps and our artillery, then once that is done will start shuttling back to pick up the infantry."
"Sir, I'm concerned about this sabotage problem. It stopped our pontoon trains cold this morning. A few more acts like that could paralyze our movements."
"Tell that man Longstreet appointed…"
"Cruickshank," Walter prompted.
"Tell him to make sure every car, every engine, is inspected before departure. If there is a Yankee spy or agents working in that rail yard, men not in uniform, they are to be dealt with swiftly and harshly as spies and saboteurs."
He hated to say that, it went against his nature, but at this moment half a dozen provocateurs could wreck the entire movement of his army.
Walter saluted and left the room.
Putting on his jacket, Lee gazed once more at the map. So it was beginning. He'd have liked to have had two or three more days to rest and refit his men, but the Lord had willed differently. So perhaps this was now the moment after all. One more swift victory, to drive Grant back, and surely Lincoln would be forced to negotiate or collapse.
George Armstrong Custer crawled up on to the roof of the depot, standing up, using one of the two chimneys as a brace. Balanced precariously, he took out his field glasses and scanned the opposite bank.
A column of rebel troopers were coming up along the track that clung to the side of a hill on the other side. Men were dismounting, pulling out carbines, horses then being led back. He saw guidons of at least two regiments, hard to tell which.
He braced himself, leaning field glasses on top of the chimney. A bullet zipped by, another smacked the chimney in front of him.
There! He caught a glimpse of him and smiled. It was Jeb, Jeb Stuart over there, plumed hat, gold braid, a group of men standing about his horse as he pointed, the men saluting and running off.
So I've got Jeb on me. How many men? A brigade? No, not Jeb. He'd come on with everything he had, two brigades, maybe three, but it will take time for tliat column to come up the rail tract He turned to look north. He couldn't see the stone bridge of the National Road, but the morning was still, the last wisps of fog burning off the stream, and it was impossible to miss the plumes of dust to the north. More rebels coming that way?
Infantry? No, he doubted that. They had obviously caught the rebs by surprise here. It would be cavalry first.
Another bullet slapped a shingle by his foot, bits of wood flying up.
He looked back to the rail bridge. Reb skirmishers were on the other side, puffs of smoke. His study of the bridge confirmed his first impression. It was a temporary affair, made of wood that had been soaked with pitch and tar, smeared with grease and oil from passing trains. If not for the rebs on the other side, he'd have it aflame within an hour, but old Jeb, of course, made that all but impossible.
Another puff of smoke, another bullet zipping dangerously close.
The rebs on the far side of the bridge were hunkered down behind support beams, a few sprawled on their stomachs on the tracks, others down in brush along the stream embankment. The volume of fire was beginning to pick up as the first of their reinforcements sprinted along the track, spreading out, finding cover. For an instant he thought he could catch a glimpse of Phil, waving his arm, standing up, pointing out a position, then quickly ducking down as a volley rang out from his own side.
He looked to his left, at the covered bridge for the toll road. On the far side reb skirmishers were already deploying. The bridge was double-wide. A column would take casualties but could indeed storm it if he didn't act quickly.
Taking a deep breath, he slid down the roof, leapt to the awning, and ducked through a window, bullets pocking the wall around him.
"Sir, I think that was rather bold of you," a sergeant quipped, looking up at Custer as he landed in the room, "and frankly, sir, damn stupid."
Custer gazed at him for a second then broke into a grin.
A bullet slammed through the room, passing clean through the plank siding and plaster interior.
Cursing, the sergeant knelt, aimed through the window where Custer had just entered, and fired back.
Custer looked around the room. A dead reb lay in the comer, two more of them, wounded, sitting by the body. The face of one of the rebs was a smear of blood, eyes swollen shut.
He ran down the stairs and out behind the depot. Men of the Fifth Michigan were swarming across the spur line, dropping behind stacks of railroad ties, woodpiles, anything that could offer protection.
Colonel Town was already waiting for him, as was Alger of the Fifth and Colonel Gray of the Sixth. He had already sent orders back to Colonel Mann to take his entire command to block the National Road bridge.
"It's going to get hot," Custer announced. "I saw Jeb Stuart over there. A brigade is coming up. I suspect he'll have another one or two up shortly."
"Let 'em come," Town growled. "We got this side now and we'll hold it."
Custer grinned, then shook his head.
"If I knew we had infantry coming up, I wouldn't worry, but we don't know. Colonel Town, get a couple of your troopers, ones with the best mounts. Send them west on the National Road toward Hagerstown. Have them report to whoever is at the head of the infantry column they should find. Tell them we're holding the west bank of the Monocacy and will attempt to burn the bridge, but we need support."
"That thing? We can burn that in no time," Town said, leaning around the side of the depot for a few seconds to point at the bridge. A bullet whacked into the clapboard siding beside his face.
Custer laughed softly when he pulled back.
"See what I mean? We have to do it under fire, and it's going to get worse. We just can't send men out there with kindling and coal oil, they'll get mowed down."
The three colonels around him nodded in agreement.
"Mann is to hold the north flank. Alger, you hold the center here with your Fifth. I doubt if they'll try and rush the bridge, but they might get desperate and try it. Gray, for the moment you'll be in reserve. Move your boys back to that woodlot behind us, keep them mounted, though, and ready to move quick to where I need them. Town, your boys get the right flank. And I want that covered bridge burned as well before they try and get a column across. It should be easier than burning the rail bridge.
"I sent some men up to Frederick. There's a couple of locomotives there. Check with your own men, anybody who has railroading experience, detail them off to go back to town and help out. We're going to take those two trains, get them on the bridge, and blow them. That should take things down."
"Should be fun," Town said.
"Unless you're on the train," Gray replied.
"Jenkins, Jones, we cannot let the Yankees burn that bridge!" Jeb Stuart, with his two brigade commanders, stood pointing out the window of the top floor of the mill just south of the railroad track and north of the toll road on the east bank of the Monocacy.
The volume of carbine fire was rapidly increasing as the first of Jenkins's men, of the Fourteenth Virginia, dismounted and pushed down to the river's edge. Behind them the men of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth were dismounting as well, forming up to go in.
"We keep it under fire," Jenkins offered, "and there is no way in hell they can get out on to it and set it ablaze."
"From what I've heard so far about this Custer, he's impetuous," Jeb said. "Remember, he did fight his way out after Union Mills. He might try anything."
Jeb walked to the other side of the top floor of the mill and looked over at the covered bridge just south of the railroad. With his field glasses he could see Yankees deployed across the front of that bridge and along the riverbank. He studied them intently and saw that some of them were bringing up armloads of wood, kindling. So they were going to burn that first. Good move, he'd have done the same.
"Jenkins, think you can storm that bridge?" Jeb asked.
Jenkins looked out the window, studying the double-spanned bridge for a long moment.
"It's over a hundred yards long, sir. We try to charge that, we'll have four men across inside the bridge, but one volley and our boys will get tangled up."
"I want that bridge," Jeb said. "We take it, we flank Custer, then drive him back from the depot."
"Sir, do it on horseback, I don't know. Two or three wounded horses inside a covered bridge…" His voice trailed off. They were all experienced enough to know that inside a covered bridge a few downed horses could stop an entire charge.
"Your boys of the Thirty-fourth, are they still mounted?" "Coming up now, sir."
Jeb hesitated, then looked over reassuringly at Jenkins.
"We've got to try. Send them in. The Yankees will have that bridge afire in a few more minutes. Send in the Thirty-fourth. First company mounted, the rest on foot behind them. With luck your first company can rush it, then the dismounted men secure it."
Jenkins nodded, but his features were grim, as if Jeb had just given a death order.
"There must be fords along this river. It's not that deep."
"Send out patrols to look for them, but I want that bridge now. We fail in that, well, then try to find the fords. Get the boys of the Thirty-fourth ready. Have the rest of your men sweep the rail bridge with carbine fire. How long before some artillery comes up?"
"Jackson with the Charlottesville Battery is still an hour or more off, sir," Jenkins said.
"Send a courier back and tell them to move it, to move it! The next hour could be the decisive hour."
He turned on Jones.
"You have the north flank. If you think you can rush the National Road bridge, do it now! Probe for fords. Secure your left flank to Jenkins's right."
"What kind of reinforcements can we expect?" Jones asked.
"Fitz Lee's boys are back at Sykesville. I've pulled them off shadowing the north and I'm bringing them here, but it will be midday or later before they come up. Scales's infantry division was supposedly loading up in Baltimore after midnight. They should be up any time now."
"Artillery with them?" Jenkins asked. "A battalion of artillery could smother those damn Yankees, and push them back."
"A couple more batteries. Combined with the Charlottesville boys and your light battery, we can pound the hell out of them, but that is still hours away. I want that covered bridge before then, and once we take it, we flank Custer and secure the rail bridge."
He pointed toward the distant crest of the Catoctin Range, four miles away, standing out dark blue in the morning light.
"I'm not sure when, but today most likely, Grant and his infantry will come pouring out of that pass up there. He's only got one road to traverse those mountains. We take the ridge and block the road, we got the bastard bottled, no mistake. General Lee wants us to secure that pass and then the Yankees will bleed themselves white trying to get over it. I want that ridge today, and not just the railroad. Now move it!"
Baltimore and Ohio Bail Yard
"God damn it, McDougal, now what!" Cruickshank roared. A billowing vent of steam was blowing out from the lead locomotive of the convoy. The engineer was out of his cab, stamping his feet, cursing, looking around, bewildered.
McDougal, cursing, left Cruickshank's side and ran up to the engine, stopping at the edge of the plume of scalding steam.
"Stephens, you stupid son of a bitch!" McDougal roared. "What happened?"
The engineer looked back at him and then simply shrugged his shoulders, but his eyes were focused nervously on Cruickshank, who was up by McDougal's side.
"I don't know, sir. I started to feed in steam to get moving and a line just blew wide open."
"Well, shut the damn thing down," McDougal screamed, trying to be heard above the high-pitched whistling roar of the venting steam.
Stephens climbed back into the cabin, worked a valve, and the roar drifted down to a whisper. McDougal cautiously approached the locomotive, shaking his head, and then pointed toward the steam line that fed into the left-side cylinder of the locomotive.
"Busted, sir," McDougal sighed. "Just blown wide open. It'll have to be replaced."
"Four hours at least." 'Too many things have broken, McDougal."
"You accusing me of somethin', sir?"
Cruickshank raised his arms, then slapped his sides in exasperation. He looked back down the line. Fifteen trains were fully loaded with an entire division of infantry, men piled so thick on the cars that many were riding on the cowcatchers of the locomotives, the wood tenders, and atop the boxcars.
The locomotive that had just broken down was the lead one in line.
"Get this wreck pushed out of the way," Cruickshank said. "How?"
"You idiot, the locomotive behind it." 'Too much weight sir."
"Then damn you, disconnect it from its own train, push this wreck to a side track, and clear the line. I need this convoy moving now. General Lee will be here any minute; I need an express for him as well.
"Just move 'em," Cruickshank shouted.
"What about the broken-down train with the pontoon bridge on the single-track section?" McDougal asked.
Cruickshank stepped closer to McDougal. They were of the same height and build and anyone watching would have expected a brawl to break out.
"I'm raising your pay to fifty dollars a day in silver," Cruickshank said coldly. 'Telegraph up the line, make sure those pontoon trains are clear of the single track. This division needs to move up now. But so help me, McDougal, I'll string you up myself if I think you're playing double with me."
"Me, sir, at fifty dollars a day?" McDougal laughed. "Like hell, sir. I'll take care of you."
The Toll Road on Monocacy Creek
Colonel Witcher of the Thirty-fourth Virginia nervously turned and looked back at his men. First company was mounted, guidon at the front. Behind them, the rest of his command was dismounted, carbines and pistols out, the men in a column stretching up the road for fifty yards.
He lowered his head, whispering a silent prayer, then drew his saber and pointed toward the bridge, its roof just visible through the trees. "Bugler, sound the charge!"
Custer was just riding down to the covered bridge when he heard the high clarion notes of the charge. The west end of the bridge was beginning to smoke.
Someone had found a can of coal oil in a nearby farmhouse, cut it open with a knife, and was hurling the contents on to the shingled siding. Troopers were sprinting up, tossing loads of kindling against the side of the bridge, then dodging for cover. Three men were already down, one of them dead by the side of the bridge.
George urged his mount to a gallop, riding down the length of track, reining in where the toll road crossed the track and looked straight down the tunnel-like length of the bridge, the interior already coiling with smoke, the sides licked by flames.
He saw the head of the charging column appear at the far end.
"Someone get back to Gray," he shouted. "He's in reserve back in the woodlot a few hundred yards north of here. I need him here now!"
The entry to the bridge was directly ahead, and Witcher caught a glimpse of a sign WALK YOUR HORSES WHEN CROSSING.
He leaned into the neck of his mount. Once into the dark tunnel of the bridge the noise was stunning, pounding hooves, echoes doubling and redoubling off the roof, the walls, the floor of the bridge, men shouting. A Yankee trooper, hunched down by a support beam at midpoint, was out from concealment, running, the far end obscured by smoke, licks of flame. No gunfire yet.
Thirty seconds, dear God, thirty seconds and we're across and back into the open.
The charge thundered forward, men shouting, a few shots, men caught in the madness of the charge, firing pistols blindly.
Saber out, he pointed the way, leaning forward, caught in the madness of a charge across a bridge, yelling insanely.
Half way across, fifty yards, ten seconds, five seconds, and we're out.
The smoke was blinding, he couldn't see, his mount nervous, slowing at the sight of the flames licking the walls on the far side. He spurred her viciously; the horse lunged forward.
Almost out of the smoke.
And then he saw it. A double file of Yankee troopers, standing, carbines lowered. A suddenly flash, and then just a quiet stillness and a slipping away.
The lead horses of the charge collapsed not ten yards away, riders thrown, men and horses screaming, tangling up. The third and fourth ranks of the column colliding with the horses that were already down, more men falling, a lone horse jumping the tangle, the rider superbly keeping his saddle, crashing into the double file of the volley line, slashing left and right with saber, two men staggering back, screaming, one just collapsing, a headless corpse. "Reload! Reload and fire!" Custer roared. Men were levering open their carbines, slamming in rounds, cocking pieces, firing blindly into the smoke. Another horse came out, riderless, then two more, men still holding their saddles, one with pistol out, firing, emptying his cylinder, then pitching backward off his horse.
The bridge echoed with a roaring shout. Through an eddy in the smoke George saw a packed column of dismounted troopers racing forward.
More of his men from the First were up on their feet, running up, forming a volley line three ranks deep, a lieutenant shouting for volley fire.
The men reloaded, waiting the extra few seconds. Several pitched over even as they waited. "Present! Fire!"
The interior of the covered bridge was now all smoke and confusion. Men screaming, cursing, a horse with a broken leg staggering out in blind panic, knocking its way through the volley line, a trooper coming up to its side and putting a bullet in its head, the animal collapsing and the same trooper then dropping down behind it, reloading his carbine.
George had his revolver out, drawn, cocked, waiting… and then the charge hit with full fury, two hundred dismounted cavalry of Virginians swarming forward, pistols, carbines, sabers out His thin volley line began to step back, men dropping carbines, drawing revolvers, blazing away.
George felt something slap his left arm, numbing it. He pivoted on his mount, saw a rebel trooper with pistol raised, cocking his revolver, and George dropped him with two shots. The rebels were out of the bridge, beginning to swarm outward, pushing the men of the First back, but as they emerged from the bridge they stepped into a firestorm. Troopers hunkered down in the ravine that Duvall's men had held but two hours ago now turned and poured in a withering fire. Few rebs made it more than a dozen feet before collapsing.
George caught a glimpse of men still inside the bridge, tearing off their jackets, using them to beat out the flames that were licking up the sides of the bridge. The one side, soaked with the can of coal oil, was now burning hotly, but it could still be stopped.
"Come on, boys!" Custer shouted. 'Take it back!"
Men from the ravine flanking the bridge stormed forward, and a mad bloody melee ensued at close range. Troopers firing into each other's faces from not five feet away, men down on the ground grabbing, kicking, punching.
He heard a bugle call from behind him, looked back, and saw Gray riding down hard, a ragged line of mounted troopers behind him. George stood in his stirrups and waved, cheering them on.
The mounted column slammed into the melee. His boys on horseback firing left and right, pushing their way through the confused struggle… and the rebs began to fall back, one or two at first, and then within seconds the entire command, turning and running.
Gray, caught in the madness of the moment, pushed into the flaming bridge, saber drawn, slashing to either side, his mount jumping the tangle of dead and dying horses. The column thundered down the bridge, pursuing the retreating rebs across its entire length.
Custer fell in with the column, his mount screaming with fear as they pushed through the flames licking up the side of the bridge and over the blood-soaked bodies. Dozens of Union troopers were inside the bridge, yelling, cursing, firing blindly. Far ahead he could see that Gray had reached the far side in pursuit, and then was blocked seconds later by a volley that dropped half a dozen men around him.
"Sound recall!" Custer roared.
But he did not need to give the order. Already Gray had turned — about, the turn difficult in the tight confusion of the bridge, more men dropping.
The survivors of Gray's countercharge emerged, Gray leading the way, hat gone, blood streaming down the side of his face. The men were panting, some cursing, others filled with the wide-eyed look of troopers who had known the moment, the thrill of a charge, the driving of their enemies.
"Good work, Gray. Now get your boys back in reserve!"
Gray gasping for air, nodded, saluted, and shouted for the men of the regiment to follow him back.
All around Custer was chaos. Half a hundred or more men were down, dead, wounded, screaming, their screams mingled with the pitiful screams of the horses and those of the wounded trapped on the burning bridge.
The bridge was now ablaze. Flames licking along the eaves, gradually spreading toward the center of the span. In short order it would spread to the underpinnings, the support beams, the dry wooden floor. For the moment his right flank was secure.
He caught the eye of a sergeant and motioned him over.
"Sergeant, get a flag of truce. Tell Jeb Stuart my compliments, but I'm asking for a fifteen-minute truce on this bridge to get the wounded and dead off before they burn."
The screams of the horses and men caught in the flames were horrific.
"And for God's sake, shoot those poor animals. They deserve better than to die like that."
Jeb Stuart lowered his field glasses, shaking his head. He had spotted the Yankee trooper waving a white flag on the far side of the bridge and sent word down to honor it. The bridge was rapidly disappearing in flames, smoke billowing hundreds of feet into the air, and it was obvious they were trying to rescue as many of the wounded as possible.
Damn all. For a brief instant he thought Witcher had actually carried the bridge. Now it was going to take time, scouting, finding a ford that could be taken without too much loss.
Nothing yet at the railroad bridge, just heavy skirmishing fire back and forth. Word had just come that the light battery of the Charlottesville Artillery was even now arriving, and he had sent a courier back to guide it into place next to the blockhouse that looked down on the bridge. The Yankees had no artillery yet to counter with, a carbine was next to useless much beyond three hundred yards, and with the guns he could dominate the position. For starters, they could flatten the depot.
Lieutenant Schultz, what the hell is holding you up?" Schultz looked up in surprise. It was Custer, left arm hanging limp, blood dripping from his fingertips. "General, you're hurt."
"Don't bother me with that now. I want to know what the hell is going on with these locomotives!"
"Sir. The boilers were dead cold. We had to get them fired up. It's taking time to build up a good head of steam."
"Another hour at least."
Even as they spoke Custer turned in his saddle to look back toward the river where a different sound had just mingled in with the cacophony of battle-artillery fire.
A couple of dozen men were gathered around the locomotives, cavalry troopers, one of them a corporal, obviously having taken charge, shouting orders. Custer rode up to him, and the corporal saluted.
"Who are you?"
"Tyler, sir. Rick Tyler, First Michigan." "Why are you here?"
"Was an engineer for three years before the war. Heard the word you needed railroad men up here, sir, so came up to help out."
"You're in charge then, Tyler, and I'm promoting you to sergeant. Will make you a lieutenant if you pull this off. Now why is it taking so damn long?"
"It's a cold start, sir. Got to get into the firebox, build a fire from scratch, start shoveling wood in. Then heat the water to a boil, build up steam pressure. It ain't healthy, but I'm throwing some coal oil in to get it going faster."
"We're in luck, sir. Found five hundred gallons or more of it, sir, in that warehouse over there. We're going to put it all in the passenger cars pulled by the trains. Also found some turpentine, barrels of grease as well. That will really let go."
"Any blasting powder?"
"None to be found, sir. We've been asking around, but folks here say it was all cleaned out by the armies passing through. Also, sir, found a third locomotive in that engine shed over there. It's an old teakettle, twenty years old at least, but we're firing that one up as well."
"At least an hour, then?" Custer asked, and even as he spoke he fought down the light-headedness overtaking him.
"Sir, to be honest, two hours, but I'll push it. We need a damn good head of steam if you want to do it right."
"Well, sir. Figure once we get the train on the bridge I can smash down the safety valves. The fire in the passenger cars, they'll burn, but it will burn up, sir, not down. It might damage the bridge but they can still fix it. I seen that happen once with a string of boxcars just outside of Detroit that caught fire on a bridge. The bridge was back in service the next day. We get the boiler to explode, though, and, well, sir, that'll be a helluva show."
"Good work," Custer said softly.
He looked over to Schultz, a regimental surgeon from the Fifth who was by his side. "Let me look at that arm." "Not now."
"Sir, looks like you are about to keel over,"- the surgeon replied. "Just give me five minutes, sir."
Custer nodded reluctantly, and with a grimace dismounted, sitting down on a bench under the awning of the station. Schultz helped Custer take his uniform jacket off, Custer cursing softly. The doctor bent over, examining the entry wound a couple of inches below his left elbow, an assistant by his side handing him scissors, which he used to cut the shirt back.
"This is gonna hurt, General," the doctor whispered, and then there was a flood of pain as the doctor slipped his finger into the wound.
He thought he was about to faint. The doctor drew his finger out.
"Got some bad news for you, sir. The bone's broken. Sir, I think you're going to lose that arm." "Like hell I am," Custer hissed.
"Sir, I can have you under in five minutes; it'll be over in ten. From the way you're bleeding I think an artery is severed in there. You'll bleed out if I don't take it off now."
"I've got a battle to run, damn you."
"Not today, sir. You'll be back in action in a month, sir, but today is finished for you," the doctor said gently.
"Tie it off."
"What do you mean, sir?"
"Just that," Custer snapped. "Get a tourniquet on it. That will stop the bleeding, won't it?" "For a while, but why?"
"Because I've got to get back to my command."
"Sir, I put a tourniquet on that arm, it'll be above the elbow, and you'll lose that, too, if it stays on too long."
"Just do it, goddamn you. Get a tourniquet on it. You can hack at me once this is over."
The doctor stared at him intently for a moment, then reluctantly nodded, actually patting him lightly on the shoulder. He motioned to his assistant, who set to work, taking a tourniquet out of the doctor's medical bag, wrapping it around the general's arm just above the elbow, then clamping it down so tight that Custer struggled not to cry out.
The flow of blood slowed and then nearly stopped.
The assistant rigged up an arm sling, helped put it on the general, who sat back, pallid.
"Promise, once this is over, you'll come straight back to me," the doctor said.
"Sure," Custer said, forcing a weak smile, looking up at him.
"I can give you a little morphine for the pain."
"Addle my mind. Just a good shot of whiskey will do."
Several of the troopers who had gathered round to watch reached into pockets and haversacks, pulling out bottles. Custer grinned, took one of the bottles, knocked down a good long drink, and then rose shakily to his feet.
He had not commanded these men long, and he knew some resented him and his meteoric rise to command. But by God this was his day now. It was almost worth losing an arm for. A week from now the illustrated papers would be plastered with images of him, arm in sling, leading a charge, bridge blowing up in the background. It could very well mean a second star.
"Help me up."
Again more eager hands reached out, helping him slip his jacket on, then up into the saddle.
"Get a report down to me, Tyler, once you're ready to roll. Until then I am going to keep Stuart and his rebs off the bridges."
He turned and galloped off.
"You know I used to hate that son of a bitch," one of the troopers said, "too much glory seeking, but, damn me, he sure has the stomach for a good fight."
One Mile North of Boonsborough, Maryland
Riding as he always did at the head of his column Gen. James McPherson, commander of Seventeenth Corps, Army of the Susquehanna, saw the swirl of dust ahead, two troopers riding hard as they came out of the village. They had slowed for an instant as they approached his advance line of mounted skirmishers, several of the skirmishers then falling in by their side to lead them in.
McPherson urged his own mount to a quick trot and forged ahead to meet them at the edge of town. The troopers, their mounts snorting, lathered with sweat, reined in, saluting, the men gasping for breath. "General McPherson?" "You have him."
"Thank God, sir," one of the troopers gasped. "Afraid we'd kill our mounts if we pushed them much farther." "What's your report?"
"Sir, we're with General Custer's Brigade. He's in one hell of a fight just east of Frederick, facing two or more brigades of rebel cavalry." — "What is Custer doing there?" McPherson asked. Though he had no details of what was supposed to be happening east of the Catoctins, his information was that the cavalry was to slowly push south, acting as a deceptive screen to keep Lee's attention focused north until his corps gained the pass and were into Frederick.
"Sir, yesterday," a trooper gasped, "the general got word the rebs were moving a pontoon train through Frederick. He decided to get there first and block the bridge over Monoc-acy Creek. We got there just minutes ahead of a whole swarm of rebs. Sir, he's asking for infantry support."
"The railroad bridge there-what is it made of?"
"Wood, sir. But the creek's only a hundred yards wide or so. Doubt if we can get a fire burning on it; anybody steps out on it is bound to get shot."
"None, sir, we left it behind in the dash down to Frederick." "Which rebel brigades?"
"Don't know, sir, but I can tell you, as I was riding up over the pass through the Catoctins, I looked back. That whole riverbank a mile wide was just swarming with them. You could see a lot of dust in the distance, maybe infantry, maybe more cavalry. I couldn't tell."
McPherson nodded, still studying the map. Twelve miles at least to Frederick. He looked east. The high expanse of the South Mountain range was only a couple of miles ahead, a tough climb.
"The road ahead?"
"It's the National Road, sir, well macadamized. Tough on the horses, though. Mine was going lame. About six miles across the next valley and then up over the Catoctin Pass."
Custer had certainly triggered something. If Lee takes the bridges, then blocks the pass, Grant's plan unravels.
He didn't hesitate any longer with his decision. He turned and looked back. His massive column, fifteen thousand men, was visible for miles back across the valley, dust swirling up, morning light glinting off shouldered rifles, white canvas tops of ammunition wagons and ambulances standing out.
They'd been marching since before dawn, having already covered nearly ten miles. He was planning for them to break in another hour to cook up their midday meals.
He looked back at the troopers. "If I get you fresh mounts, can you guide me?"
The two hesitated, then nodded. McPherson turned to his staff.
"Pass the word to every regimental commander. I want the men pressed. Three miles to the hour, ten-minute break to the hour and not a minute more. No straggling, provost guards to keep them moving until they drop on their faces. I want this column moving and moving hard. Round up my headquarters guard detail and find fresh mounts for these two boys. I'm going up to Frederick. I expect to see this column crossing the Catoctin Pass no later than midafternoon. Do you understand me?"
"Sir, it looks like hard pushing getting over those mountains," one of his men said, pointing toward the looming South Mountain range directly ahead.
"Get all wagons off the road, just infantry. The wagons can fall in behind them after the corps has passed. Ambulances, tell the surgeons to pack what they can on a horse and then fall in riding with the column. Pull ammunition out of the wagons, get the extra rounds passed out to the men as they march by, eighty, a hundred rounds to each man if possible. Send word back to General Grant describing everything you've just heard here. I don't have time to write it out. Tell him I'm going ahead to Frederick."
He pointed at one of his young, eager lieutenants.
"You, get back up the road to Burnside. Inform him of what you've heard here and my decision to force-march on Frederick. Tell him I hope he will press forward with all possible speed to my assistance."
The two couriers from Custer were off their mounts, one of them patting the animal's neck with affection, pouring water into his hat, emptying his canteen, the horse eagerly gulping down the few drops.
Troopers from the headquarters company came up, a lieutenant detailing two men off to trade horses. The cavalryman from Custer's Brigade was reluctant to leave his mount, handing over the reins.
"Her name is Ginger. She's a good horse, carried me through three charges. I'll come back for her after this is over."
The trooper receiving the horse nodded, the two understanding each other and their love for their mounts. There was a pause and they shook hands.
"William Bradley, I'll take good care of her. Mine is Sarah, she's got a tender mouth and hates spurs, so go easy on her."
Bradley gently led the horse over to the side of the road where it could crop some grass while he took its saddle off.
McPherson saw the exchange and could not help but smile. The two men trading horses were actually not much more than boys, their mounts beloved pets, companions.
He looked to the mountains ahead. So close and yet so far, he thought, but it was not of the fight ahead he was thinking. Who he thought of now was beyond the imposing range, little more than fifty miles away, in Baltimore.
If not for this rebel invasion of Maryland I'd be married now. Grant had promised him, once Vicksburg fell, he could have a furlough to go to Baltimore to marry Miss Emily Hoffman. And then the rebels took Baltimore, and not a word from her since.
Ironically, he knew her parents were delighted. They were devout secessionists and at the start of the war had forbidden their marriage.
So close, he thought. Perhaps we can end this war as Grant said we would, and then I'll ride into Baltimore and, parents or not, Emily and I will marry.
Custer's troopers finished their exchange of mounts and saddled up, coming over to his side, disrupting his thoughts.
McPherson motioned to one of his staff, who pulled out a flask, handing it to the two troopers.
The one gladly took it, draining it half off, the second shook his head.
"I'm a temperance man," he said.
"Good for you, son," McPherson replied. "Now let's go see what your General Custer has started."
The depot was burning, the pounding of the last hour from the four guns arrayed on the opposite bank having torn it to shreds and then finally ignited it. The last of the troopers within poured out of the building, running and dodging as another shell screamed in, detonating on the track of the main line, ballast and shrapnel spraying.
George Custer sat behind the blockhouse just west of the depot, feeling light-headed, his anxious staff gathered round.
Mann was still holding the National Road bridge but had just reported that a second rebel battery was deploying on the far side, and could expect to engage at any moment. Also, it appeared that more rebs were coming up and already across the ford between him and the railroad bridge. Word had just come back from Town that several companies of rebs were across the river to the south as well, at a place called McCausland's Ford. Town already had a picket line out and, for the moment, was holding them, but more troopers, a regiment or more, could be seen on the opposite bank, heading in that direction.
"Gray, you detach half your men, send them to back up to Town," George said.
Gray nodded to one of his staff, who galloped off. Seconds later a shell nicked the side of the blockhouse, bounded off, then exploded on the far side of the track, the group hunkering down.
"Sir, maybe it's time we get out of here," Gray offered. "We're being flanked on both sides. They got two batteries. I just had a rider come down from Frederick. He was up in a church steeple and said he saw plumes of smoke, from trains approaching. My God, if they have infantry on those trains, they'll force the bridge regardless of loss. By then we'll be cut off from retreat as well."
"We hold," Custer said coolly.
"Sir, we did our best," Gray countered. We can still get out, pull back to the top of the Catoctins behind us."
He pointed to the mountain range now standing out boldly under a late morning sun. "There's only one road. We can block it all day. We get cut off and wiped out here, the rebs will have the bridge and the pass, too."
"What good is holding the pass if Lee keeps this bridge, gets his pontoons across, and then escapes?"
"Escape, sir? It's time we thought about escaping. Besides, the men are damn near out of ammunition. If infantry are coming up, what are we supposed to do, throw rocks at them?"
Custer shook his head, feeling so weak he couldn't respond. He looked up at Gray.
"May I suggest, sir, you're seriously injured, perhaps you should get back to the surgeon."
"And have you take command and order a withdrawal?" Custer snapped angrily.
Another shell slammed into the blockhouse, the building shaking from the impact, the men still inside cursing.
Their argument was cut short by the distant cry of a steam whistle and Custer looked up expectantly. For a few seconds he wasn't sure of the direction the sound came from. Could the rebel reinforcements already be coming up? A second whistle sounded and he struggled to his feet.
"We are going to blow this bridge, then we'll get out," Custer announced. "Get my horse!" ' eb Stuart shifted his field glasses. It was hard to see with the smoke that billowed up in the still summer air, but then he saw it, two trains, coming out of Frederick. What is going on? He watched them intently, and then the realization hit. "Tell Captain Jackson with the battery, I want his guns to hit those trains before they reach the bridge. Order the Fourteenth onto the bridge now."
His staff looked at him, confused by the suicidal order. Only minutes before, Jeb had been exuberant, the river had been forded at two locations, he was funneling men across even now, and in another hour they'd have the depot.
'Those trains!" Jeb shouted. "They'll blow them on the bridge. Move it!"
Every step of his horse was agony to him, but George kept his saddle, galloping up the length of track toward Frederick. There was a sharp curve ahead, a small white clapboard schoolhouse to one side. He saw the smoke of the lead locomotive; it wasn't moving fast but it was coming on, rounding the curve, the locomotive not pulling anything other than its tender.
George slowed. He saw Lieutenant Schultz on the cowcatcher, the excited lieutenant leaping off as the train skidded to a stop.
The smoke of the second locomotive was several hundred yards back.
"We got a plan, sir!" Schultz cried. "Where's the cars loaded with coal oil?" "That's the second train, sir." "Where's Tyler?"
"He's piloting the second train. He sent me ahead, but we got to talk quick, sir." "The third train?"
"Another ten minutes or so before its steam is up." "I don't understand," Custer said, again feeling lightheaded.
Schultz quickly outlined the details, the idea registering with George, who in spite of his pain grinned. "Do it!"
Schultz ran up to the cab of the locomotive waving his arms.
The venting of steam stopped, pressure built up, smoke billowed from the smokestack, and, finally, the engine began to inch forward. As it slipped past Custer the engineer and two firemen on board leapt out.
The locomotive continued, unpiloted, down the track, and for a second George was hit with a deep fear. He had never thought to pass the order to make sure the switches had been set properly. He could only pray that someone down at the burning depot knew what to do.
He turned about and started to ride back down the track. To his left he saw puffs of smoke. Men, his men, on horseback, pulling back along a road, reb skirmishers pressing them.
The next engine came around the bend, pulling a passenger car and boxcar. It was picking up speed as it thundered past him. Sergeant-hopefully soon-to-be lieutenant-Tyler leaned out and waved.
George loosened his reins, spurring his mount. The pain forgotten for the moment, he galloped down the track toward the depot, riding just behind the train.
Phil Duvall looked around anxiously at his men. Over half his command was down after five long hours of fighting. Men were tearing open the cartridge boxes of the dead and wounded, trying to load back up. Wide-eyed, he gazed over at the colonel of the Fourteenth, who was breathing hard, gulping.
The man was scared. Hell, who wouldn't be? "Alright boys," the colonel cried. "Let's go!" The colonel stood up and then stepped out right to the middle of the bridge, standing between the two tracks, saber out, pointing.
There was a hesitation and he looked back. "Come on, you bastards!" he shouted. "Don't let it be said that the Fourteenth is filled with cowards!"
Men stood up and began to run forward, hunched low, hugging the sides of the bridge, dashing from one support beam to the next.
Phil looked around at his own small command that the colonel of the Fourteenth had "volunteered" into this mad charge. He caught Sergeant Lucas's eyes, the man looking at him as if to say, "Do we really have to do this?"
"Come on, boys," Phil said, swallowing hard. "Let's go."
He stood up and ran forward. There was no rebel yell this time. The situation was too grim for that. It would be a mad dash into a blaze of fire erupting from the other side.
They reached the middle of the bridge, several men already down, one tumbling off the side of the bridge into the stream. Others were dropping, crumpling; some were slowing, returning fire.
There was the discordant hum of an artillery shell, followed by three more soaring overhead, but he could not see where they landed.
And then he heard it coming. Looking up, he saw a locomotive, near to derailing it seemed, coming through the switch from the spur line to Frederick and on to the main track. It was thundering straight toward him on the east-bound side.
He jumped back, flattening himself against a trestle beam, the engine roaring by. He caught a quick glimpse of the cab. No one was on board.
What the hell is going on?
The engine raced across the bridge, the temporary structure shaking and rattling with its passage. All the men in the charge stopped for a second, looking back as the train cleared the bridge and then disappeared around the bend.
"Here comes another!" someone shouted.
Phil looked back to the west, the smoke of the passing train making it difficult to see.
Another locomotive was coming off the spur line on to the main track, this one beginning to slow down. Sparks were shooting out from the wheels as it began to brake.
"Get it!" someone screamed.
And instantly dozens of shots rang out, sparks flying off the brass and iron siding of the locomotive. To his absolute amazement he saw three Yankees aboard the locomotive, one of them now swinging a heavy sledgehammer, as if smashing something. Phil raised his revolver and fired it, emptying all six rounds. The man staggered but swung again. From out of the passenger car several Yankees emerged, jumping down. One of them made a dash for the side of the bridge as if to jump off, but he was shot before reaching the railing.
From inside the passenger car he could see flames erupting, blowing out the windows, a popping sound, like muffled explosions within, each pop setting off more flames.
Phil stepped up to the side of the locomotive and pointed his empty revolver at the man with the sledgehammer.
"Make a move and I'll blow your damn head off," he threatened.
The man looked at him, grinned, and dropped the sledgehammer, putting one hand up in the air, his other arm hanging limp.
"You're damn right I'm getting down," the Yankee said, reaching for the railing by the steps and then leaping off. He hit the bridge flooring and cursed, going over on his side.
"Reb, give me a hand up."
Already carbine fire from the far side of the bridge had resumed. Torn, Phil felt he should go forward and still try to capture the other side.
"I'll tell you a secret, reb."
"And that is?"
"This son of a bitch is going to blow up in a few minutes, and there isn't a damn thing you can do now to stop it. I've smashed up the works good and proper, and that boiler is getting set to let go."
Phil looked around at his men. The way ahead was already almost impossible to traverse; the passenger car was burning fiercely, flames like blowtorches blasting out of the windows, which were shattering from the heat.
The Yankee was half up to his feet, looking at him wide-eyed, his features pale.
"You want to live, reb, get off this bridge now.r Phil reached down and pulled the man roughly to his feet. "Pull back!" he roared. "Get off the bridge!" His men needed no urging. They had had enough of this fight.
Shoving his prisoner along, Phil broke into a run, the two crossing the final feet back off the bridge and tumbling down into a culvert.
The Yankee grunted as he hit the ground next to Phil and then, to Phil's amazement, the Yankee reached into his pocket, pulled out a bottle, and uncorked it.
"You first, reb."
Phil nodded and took the drink. A minute ago he figured he was a dead man, and for the moment was damn grateful to still be alive. He realized that if this damn fool had not come along with his train, he'd have been forced to continue in that bloody charge. Many of the men of the Fourteenth were now cut off by the burning passenger car, some daring the flames, crouched down low, running back, others just giving up and jumping off the bridge.
"What's going to happen?" Phil asked.
"You just watch," the Yankee said, taking the bottle back and gulping down at least half a pint in three or four hard swallows. "But stay down low."
Peeking up over the side of the culvert Phil now saw a third locomotive appear, a small switch engine. It looked like an antique from twenty years ago, but it was moving fast, men jumping off as it rounded through the switch on the spur line. It thundered on to the bridge, artillery shells detonating to either side of it.
The switch engine came onto the bridge, still building speed, and plowed into the train ahead of it. The boxcar at the rear of the second train collapsed, and an instant later exploded into a fireball of flame as hundreds of gallons of coal oil sprayed out. The boxcar then telescoped into the passenger car, the burning car bursting asunder, spilling out rivers of flaming oil on to the bridge. The switching engine upended, tipping over, crashing through a trestle railing, careening off the bridge with a roar. It plunged into the river below, tearing out the side of the bridge, ripping up track, an explosion of steam and smoke erupting as it hit the river.
"I'll be damned," Phil whispered, standing up.
"Get down, reb!" the Yankee shouted, reaching out with his good arm to pull him down.
The second locomotive had lurched forward half a dozen feet from the impact, breaking the rail, tipping over slightly.
"About ready," the Yankee said. "Now stay down!"
There was a thunderclap and Phil could not resist peeking over the edge of the culvert. He felt a wash of heat and steam, the boiler of the locomotive erupting. Debris soared heavenward: part of a drive wheel, the smokestack, nearly intact, hunks of metal, flaming coals that looked like meteors or mortar shells fired at night.
He could feel the ground shudder. The bridge itself seemed to lurch, almost as if it had jumped from its foundation, and then settled back down. Wooden beams collapsed, spraying fire across most of the structure.
On both sides, everyone stopped shooting. Like schoolboys they stood up to watch the destruction, — some even shouting excitedly.
The Yankee pulled him back into the culvert, curling up as he did so. A hunk of red-hot metal, part of the boiler, hit the side of the culvert and then bounced over them, spraying Phil with a shower of boiling hot water so that he cursed and slapped at his face.
The echo of the explosion rumbled across the valley.
George Armstrong Custer, still mounted, watched, mesmerized by the spreading cloud of debris. He could barely keep his saddle now, and perhaps, if not already injured, he would have been more alert and seen it coming, the expanding explosion, shards of iron, wood, part of a train axle spinning end over end, the axle killing his mount and tearing him out of the saddle.
A Mile East of Monocacy
The train lurched even as a fireman leapt atop the tender and down to the door of the passenger car "Out, get out!" he screamed. Lee, half dozing, opened his eyes, men looking up at the wide-eyed fireman.
"We're gonna wreck. Jump for it!" Their train was slowing, skidding, the locomotive brakes shrieking as if they were about to be torn apart.
Walter leaned out the window to look and then turned on Lee, grabbing him by the shoulder, hauling him physically out of his seat and pushing him back to the rear door, the rest of the staff now following him. The train was still moving at ten miles an hour or more. Lee reached the last step and hesitated. "Jump, sir! Jump!"
Lee leapt off, hitting the ground hard, rolling, Walter coming down by his side. Seconds later Hotchkiss was on the ground twenty feet away. More men piled out.
Lee sat up, confused, actually feeling a bit humiliated, and undignified by this sudden action. Then he saw it Coming down the track, straight at them, was a locomotive, moving frightfully fast.
Walter grabbed Lee by the shoulder, pulling him up and away from the track.
The firemen and engineer were the last to leap, hitting the ground on their feet, and began to run up the sloping embankment away from the train.
The locomotive coming toward them appeared to be slowing down but still it was coming on at a good thirty miles an hour or more… when it collided head-on with their train, both boilers exploding, debris soaring heavenward. The passenger car they were on disintegrated, and then actually slid backward, its shattered remnants rolling into the ditch Lee had landed in.
Stunned, he looked about, oblivious to the debris showering down even as Walter protectively stood at his side, looking up, watching for danger.
Fire and steam boiled across the track, the two locomotives seemingly mated in a single tangled pile of scrap metal, both tracks torn up and mangled by the collision.
Lee looked back. Fortunately, the head of the convoy bearing Scales's Division was skidding to a stop, a good hundred yards back from the wreck.
"What in heaven's name was that?" Hotchkiss whispered, coming up to Lee's side, brushing himself off.
"Did all the men get out?" Lee asked.
Walter looked around.
"I think so, sir"
There was a voice inside him that whispered that he never should have thought of using the railroads to move his men. It was a strength of the Yankees, but sometimes also a weakness, since a single derailment could tie up movement for days. He looked back at the trains bearing Scales and his men.
"Get them dismounted," he said. 'Traveler is back on the second or third train. Bring him up to me. I'm riding forward."
He walked up the line to look at the wreckage, shielding his face from the heat of the fire. One of the men had indeed not gotten out, the fireman who had leapt to their car to give the warning, thereby saving Lee's life. The man had apparently been caught between the passenger car and the tender, his body nearly torn in two.
He knelt by his side. Fortunately, the poor man was already dead. He whispered a prayer and then stood up. Someone with Scales had already thought to bring Traveler forward, and Lee mounted up.
"I'm going forward, gendemen. Get Scales up as quick as possible," he said quietly, and, edging around the wreckage, he pushed on toward Monocacy.
Custer knew he was dying. It wasn't the arm that got him. It was the hunk of red-hot metal, bursting from the explosion, that had shattered his legs, killing his horse as well. Several of his men had tenderly carried him back behind the depot and into the blockhouse.
He chuckled. Hell of a way to die. Hope the artists make it look good.
The rebs were now closing in from all sides. He had ordered Gray and Mann to try to get out, to get up to the Catoctin Pass and hold it till Grant arrived.
The bridge was still standing, but barely. The north side was collapsed between the second and fourth piers, the south side a twisted jumble of torn-up track, smoldering wood. A scattering of shots still echoed, now a circle of fire as the rebs who had forded the river to the north and south closed in.
Alger had not made it out. Shot in the stomach, bent double but still game, he raised his revolver to fire at the rebs coming down the main track from the west.
The ring closed in tighter. The rebs flanking him now circled the higher ground around the blockhouse, firing volley after volley into the gun ports. The inside of the blockhouse was a shambles, a shell having pierced a gun port, striking down a dozen men within.
Numbed, George looked around. Damn rotten place to die, he thought. Out in the open, after a damn good charge. That's how I wanted it, Custer's Last Charge. Not inside this shambles.
"Cease fire," he whispered.
Alger looked over at him.
"Cease fire," George said again.
Alger nodded, looked around for something white, finally tearing off the bloody shirt of a dead trooper, putting it on the point of his sword, and sticking it out a port.
The gunfire outside slacked and then stilled.
"Put your guns down, boys," George said softly.
The begrimed men around him said nothing.
"You done good. You just might have given Grant the time he needs. No shame in surrender after what we did."
"You Yanks, come on outta there."
Four men picked up the makeshift litter, made out of a blanket, and carried George, blinking, into the sunlight. They set him down against the blockhouse after he asked to be able to sit up.
Directly ahead the railroad bridge was still burning. To his right the remnants of the covered bridge had already collapsed, hissing and steaming into the creek. He had certainly made a fine job of destruction here this morning.
Dozens of his men were being rounded up, hands over their heads, being herded to the far side of the depot, which had just collapsed in on itself.
A thin line of rebel troopers were now coming across the railroad bridge on foot, edging their way across over broken beams, twisted track, barely able to negotiate the collapsed section except for a single stringer that had somehow survived.
"George, how are you?"
He felt a hand slip into his.
"It's me, George." "Think I'm dying, Phil." Phil hesitated. "You are, George."
A blanket had been placed across George's legs. He looked down and saw part of a leg sticking out at an impossible angle, other leg gone nearly at the hip. So damn stupid, killed by an exploding train.
"How are you, sir?"
It was hard to see.
"Who is it?"
"Corporal Tyler, sir. You said I'd make lieutenant if I blew up the bridge."
"I did, didn't I. What are you doing here, Tyler?"
"He's my prisoner, George," Phil said. "A brave man. Figure he saved my life. I'll see he gets taken care of, and will sign a statement of your promoting him if you wish."
George smiled, no longer able to speak.
"Hell of a fight, George. You certainly put a twist into us. You always wanted glory," Phil said, his voice suddenly choking. "Well, you got it, my friend."
But he was already slipping away, to visions of other places, and, of course, of glory.
The Confederate White House
August 25 Noon
Frustrated, President Jefferson Davis tossed the latest dispatches on his desk. It was turning into another hot day, and slipping off his coat he walked about the room, hands behind his back.
Something was brewing, that was clearly evident, but what he could not tell. The latest word from General Lee was dated from yesterday morning, indicating that Grant had indeed crossed the Susquehanna, that he appeared to be coming straight south toward Baltimore, and that Lee was preparing to engage.
He could sense the difficulty Lee was facing. The Richmond Examiner was still hailing the great triumph at Gunpowder Falls, predicting now that Washington would fall within the week and the war would be won.
His own experience, though, whispered to him that it would not be that easy. Lee's dispatch indicated they had sustained over eight thousand casualties, many of regimental and brigade rank. His leadership ranks were sorely depleted and the Army of Northern Virginia had always relied on its midlevel officers to give it a speed and flexibility the Union army did not seem capable of matching. The battle had been fought in hundred-degree heat. Of course, he'd prefer to rest and refit before seeking action yet again. Grant had disrupted that.
The disturbing part was all the other news. In the pile of dispatches was a report, taken from the telegraph line at Harpers Ferry, sent over to Winchester and from there to Richmond, with the information from an.outpost that a Union cavalry brigade had occupied Frederick. Another report had come in from a scout, who rode down from Green-castle during the night to Winchester, claiming that all of Grant's army was in the Cumberland Valley, heading straight to the Shenandoah Valley.
Did Lee know this?
The news from the west was of equal concern. Bragg had lost Chattanooga without a fight, pulled back, and yesterday turned at a place called Chickamauga, where Sherman had fought him to a standstill, Bragg complaining that had he been properly reinforced with but one more corps he could have destroyed Sherman. Bragg now claimed he might have to retreat as far as Atlanta if he did not receive sufficient reinforcements. He had already dispatched Joe Johnston's small force to Bragg, but sensed that would not help much. If anything, those two would quickly turn on each other.
Unless Bragg could somehow turn the tables on Sherman, Atlanta might be threatened in another month.
But if Lee could indeed destroy Grant, then take Washington as ordered, what Sherman did in the West would be moot. Lincoln's coalition would fall apart, and whether it was Lincoln or there was a coup and a new president was in place, the North would agree to peace terms. Word had yet to come back from France as well, but after the recent great victories in Maryland, he fully expected the French now to be in the fight within a month, putting yet more pressure on Lincoln.
The problem still remained, though: There were no more reserves. Governor Vance of North Carolina was supposedly holding back ten thousand militia, claiming they were state-controlled and needed for coastal defense. Other governors were doing the same. There were simply no more reinforcements to send to Lee.
He sat back down, picked up the copy of the Examiner, and again read the supposed details of the victory at Gunpowder River. For the moment, that was all that he could do.
The White House Noon
General Hancock, sir."
Lincoln stood up from behind his desk and came to the door to greet the general, who leaned shakily on a cane while trying to offer a salute.
Lincoln reached out, took him by the arm, and led him over to the sofa in his office. Hancock smiled, moving slowly, and sat down.
His features were pale. He was obviously in pain and had lost weight, a bit of a grayish hue to his complexion. At first look, Lincoln regretted the decision to order him down here. It was clearly evident the man had come straight from his bed in Philadelphia to be here.
"Your wound, sir?" Lincoln asked. "How is it?"
"Mr. President, if you are asking if it prevents me from doing my duty, then the answer is, I am doing fine."
Lincoln smiled at that reply, his first doubt receding a bit.
"Personally though, sir, and forgive the language, it hurts like hell."
"I can imagine," the president responded sympathetically. Curiosity got the better of him. "Is it true they pulled a ten-penny nail out of you?"
Winfield smiled weakly.
"Have it as a keepsake back home. That and a few other things pulled out of me, but the wound is healing, sir."
Lincoln looked down at the man's lap and noticed a bulge where a pad and bandage were wrapped around Hancock's upper thigh underneath his trousers. The wound was most likely still open and not yet properly healed.
"Either the rebs are getting short of standard canister ammunition or the nail came from the saddle," Hancock said.
"General, forgive me, but I must be blunt with you, sir," Lincoln replied, leaning over and gently patting Hancock on the knee. "Do you feel fit to take field command?"
"Yes, sir. Of course, sir."
Lincoln looked straight into his eyes.
"How will you ride a horse, sir?"
"Well, sir, old Dick Ewell used a carriage. Both Grant and Lee did, too, after taking bad spills from their mounts. If that is the only constraint regarding your concerns, please dismiss them, sir. I want a command, and if given it, I will command." Hancock's voice deepened as he said "will."
He paused for a few seconds, looking off, past Lincoln.
"Especially after what they did to my boys of the Second Corps. I owe it to them to do everything possible to make sure our cause succeeds."
There was a cold edge to his voice. This man carried an anger, a bitterness, for what had happened to a command that all knew he loved.
Hancock looked back at Lincoln.
"Sir, at Union Mills, my corps was destroyed in a futile charge. I could have accepted that, even those who died, God rest them"-his voice came near to breaking-"could have accepted that if we had won. Sir, we could have won. I could see it just before I got hit. If all of Sixth Corps and Third Corps had gone in after my boys, we'd have taken that ridge and shattered Lee."
Hancock lowered his head, saying no more, as if lost in a nightmare.
Lincoln still wasn't sure, though, as he watched Hancock. The man could barely walk, even though he sensed his soul was afire to get back.
"Sir, it's been nearly eight weeks since I was wounded,"
Hancock whispered. "I survived it, I'm healing. I have to get back into this fight."
"The pain, though?"
"Yes, sir, there's some."
"Are you taking anything for that?" Lincoln asked, again being blunt.
"I did, sir. Morphine. I remember hearing how Jackson once said he didn't drink because he found he liked it too much."
Hancock chuckled softly.
"Well, sir, it was the same for me. I stopped it a month ago, right after the doctor finally probed and found the nail, draining the wound. No, sir, no concern there. My mind is clear, and I want back into this fight."
There was a knock at the door and Lincoln turned, a bit surprised. He had just come back to the White House, arriving in a shuttered carriage from the Naval Yard. The carriage had to force its way through a huge crowd gathered at the gate, and when he got out, the reaction was mixed: some cheered, others openly booed.
When he heard that Hancock was already at the White House, waiting to see him, he had left word they were not to be interrupted. After spending a few brief minutes with Mary and Tad, he had come to his office and asked for Hancock to be escorted in.
The door opened, it was Elihu Washburne, and Lincoln relaxed.
"Mr. President, thank God you are back."
"Just returned an hour ago," Lincoln said, standing up. "I was going to come over to your office immediately, but our good General Hancock was waiting to see me."
Hancock, as if to show his strength, stood up smoothly, a slight grimace wrinkling his face as he came to attention and saluted Elihu, who came over and shook the general's hand.
"You are well, sir?" Elihu asked.
Hancock chuckled softly. "The president and I were just discussing that, sir. Well enough to command is the right answer, I think."
"How were things with Grant?" Elihu asked, looking over at Lincoln.
— "Splendid," and he briefly described his journey there, what he had observed, and his return.
"Not so good here," Elihu said after listening patiently.
"Stanton for one. It will come out in the papers this evening that he is calling for Congress to reconvene and begin impeachment proceedings. Says that his removal was illegal. He's already filed charges about my orders not to let him into his old office, claims we've illegally seized personal property of his."
Elihu shook his head.
"I fired Halleck from his staff position, a couple of dozen others. All of them are howling for blood, and the papers are picking it up. They're arguing I have no authority to do so since I've yet to be officially confirmed by Congress as secretary of war."
"To be expected," Lincoln said. "I can stand the heat if you can, Elihu. You did what I hoped you would do."
"There's worse, sir."
"There are rumors floating that one or two others in the cabinet might side with Stanton, saying that you have lost the war and repeatedly exceeded your constitutional authority. Your authorizing me to act with the authority of the secretary of war without proper confirmation by Congress being an example."
Elihu looked over at Hancock.
"Gentlemen, if you wish me to withdraw." Hancock said. Lincoln shook his head.
"What Secretary Washburne is now talking about, General, will take weeks before anything happens," Lincoln said coldly. "Long before the Congress can do anything, the war will have been decided. That is why your being here is so important. We need your help to ensure the war is decided in our favor."
He walked away from the two for a moment, then turned back.
"Weeks before they can crawl out and do anything. Let them howl. Let them try and fiddle while Rome burns. I don't care, I tell you." His voice was filled with a cold anger. "My concern is of the moment, here, now, what we can do within the next two weeks before those howlers have any chance to act."
"Still, sir, eventually it will happen, and they'll come for your blood," Elihu said.
"I don't care now," Lincoln snapped angrily. "Let them impeach me. If we win, I don't care what comes next. I'll have done my job as I believe the Founding Fathers would have wanted it done.
"And if we lose"-he sighed deeply-"it won't matter."
He lowered his head, and his two companions were silent.
Lincoln walked over to a map pegged to the wall, motioning for the two to follow him.
He studied it intently for a moment, then turned to Hancock and smiled.
"General Hancock. You are my man. You are to take command of the garrison of Washington. I am relieving Heintzelman today. He's a good officer but not up to what General Grant and I want done. We both agreed that you, sir, were the man to see it through."
"Sir?" There was obviously a tone of disappointment in Hancock's voice.
"Is anything wrong?"
"A garrison command, sir. I hoped I'd be returning to the field."
Near Boonesborough, Maryland
August 25 Noon
General Burnside, why are these men resting?" Grant snapped, riding up to where Burnside and his staff were gathered against the side of a church in the center of town. Several were sipping tin cups of coffee, others standing about as enlisted men worked a cooking fire, frying up some fresh cuts of pork, the slaughtered animal hanging from a nearby tree.
Burnside, obviously flustered by this sudden appearance of the commanding general, came to attention.
Grant glared down at him, breathing hard, his mount snorting and blowing. More of his staff were coming up behind him.
"Sir, it is noonday. I thought I could get better marching out of them this afternoon if they were fed a good meal."
"Did you not receive the dispatch from General McPherson?" Grant asked sharply. "I most certainly did, and it requested that you press forward with all possible speed."
"Sir, I am indeed doing that," Burnside said quietly, "but you can only ask so much of men's legs when their stomachs are empty."
"How far ahead is McPherson?"
"Sir, I'm not sure."
Grant lowered his head, an obscenity about to break out of him. He held back, drawing his mount closer to Burnside.
"The front man in your column should have been ten feet behind the last man with McPherson. Now you tell me you don't know how far ahead he is?"
"Sir, an hour or so ago I could see them cresting over those mountains," and Burnside pointed toward the South Mountain range.
"Then by heaven's, man, I expect to see your men cresting those same mountains and catching up! I'm going ahead to join McPherson. I expect you up to Frederick with all possible speed. Do I make myself clear?" "Yes, sir," Burnside said icily.
Grant jerked the reins of his mount, turned back on to the National Road, and was quickly up to a gallop, heading east.
Burnside and his staff watched him ride off.
"Westerners," one of his men sighed. "Wait until he comes face-to-face with Bobbie Lee and the men are exhausted."
As Grant reached the east side of the village, he saw thousands of the colored troops, in the fields on either side, building fires, rifles stacked, backpacks off, the men milling about. It'd take a half hour or more, Grant knew, to get these men formed up, out on the road, and marching again.
Uttering a whispered curse and a frustrated "What does Burnside think he is doing?" he pressed on.
"General Lee, thank heavens, we were worried sick about you!" Jeb Stuart rode up to Lee's side, saluted, and then reached over in an uncharacteristic gesture and took his hand.
"I'm just fine, General Stuart."
"We heard about the wreck of your train. First reports were that you were trapped in it."
"Foolishness," Lee said, even as he thought of the fireman's scalded and mangled body. "I'm just fine."
Lee looked away from Jeb for a moment to take in the scene of destruction. The depot was burning, the water tower, punctured by a shell, was trickling water. Behind him the bridge was burning, teams of troopers were working around the edge of the fires, trying to beat them out with blankets, a few buckets of water hauled up from the river, shovelfuls of dirt.
One entire side of the bridge was completely destroyed. The smoldering remnants of two locomotives and what appeared to be a passenger car now lay in the river. The north side of the bridge was still tenuously holding together, a few stringers connecting the piers, but all planking and track gone.
Lee turned to Jed Hotchkiss.
"That's the bridge we needed?"
"No other crossings for rail?" "No, sir." Lee sighed.
"How long do you think it will take to get a track laid back across it?" Jed shook his head.
"Not my department, sir. We don't have the railroad men the way the Yankees do. But it looks like the stringers are still intact on one side. Put three, four hundred men on it, and maybe in a day or two we can have it back for at least one side with lighdy loaded trains."
Lee looked back at Jeb.
"We took out most of Custer's Brigade. Sir, he put up a darn good fight. That's him over there."
Lee looked to where a small knot of captured Union soldiers sat around a blanket-covered body, a lone Confederate officer sitting among them. As he looked at them, the Confederate officer stood up and saluted, most of the Yankees standing and doing the same.
"That's Captain Duvall, sir," Stuart whispered. "He and Custer were close friends back at the Point. Duvall was the one who sent the warnings from Taneytown and first tried to hold this side of the river. I think he should get a regiment, sir. He's ready for it, and he's earned it."
Lee edged Traveler over to the group, the last of the Yankees still sitting coming to their feet as he approached.
"My compliments, gentlemen, on your stand here," Lee said, returning the salute of a begrimed Union captain whose arm was in a sling. "I understand you fought with honor and bravery. My thanks to you for that flag of truce so our wounded could be taken off the burning bridge."
"You'd have done the same, General," the captain replied.
"I'll see that you and your men are paroled as quickly as possible," Lee said. "Men such as you should be allowed to return safely to your families."
The captain looked up at him.
"Thank you, sir."
"Captain Duvall, my sympathies on the loss of your friend. Sadly, such is the nature of this war. I shall pray for you and for his family this evening."
"Thank you, sir," and there was a catch in Duvall's voice.
Lee motioned for Jeb to join him. Together they rode around the blockhouse, which was now serving as a field hospital, and up a gentle slope to the edge of the railroad cut, which was littered with bodies from both sides. Behind him, remnants of the covered bridge, sticking out of the water, still burned.
Uncasing his field glasses, Lee quickly scanned the town. He remembered it well, having ridden through it the year before during the Sharpsburg campaign. Well-ordered, neat homes, the citizens not necessarily pro-Confederate but at least respectful of him and his men.
Beyond, he could see where the National Road rose up, curving back and forth to the crest of the Catoctin Mountains. He could see puffs of smoke, hear a distant echo of gunfire.
"Do we have the heights yet?" Lee asked.
"No, sir. My first concern was to try and envelop Custer and at the same time seize the railroad bridge intact. I've detailed off Jenkins to push the heights, Jones to secure the town. Fitz Lee is bringing his brigade across the National Road bridge even now, and I've ordered them up to the heights."
"I know, I just passed my nephew while coming here."
"Sir, we could use infantry and artillery.".
"Scales is bringing his division across the ford just north of here and is halfway up to the town, but it will still take time to deploy and get them into action."
If only we had held this bridge, Lee thought. We could have brought the trains in, run them right up the siding to Frederick, and Scales would already be in action.
"What's up there?"
"What's left of Custer. I'd say two of his regiments got out."
"Surely we can gain the heights from them with what we have?"
"Sir, my boys rode all night." "So did Custer's."
"Sir. That's a steep slope fighting dismounted. It'll take some doing to get up it."
Lee reluctantly found he had to agree. "Any word of their infantry?"
"Nothing, sir. With luck we just might've stolen the march on them. We gain those heights with Scales and my boys, and Grant is bottled up in the next valley over. He'll bang his head against us all day along. That ridge makes our ground at Fredericksburg look like a billiard table in comparison."
Lee looked about at the ground, hay and winter wheat trampled down by the passing of both armies, smoke cloaking the river valley. Even as he watched, a thirty-foot section of the bridge gave way with a creaking groan and dropped into the river.
His engineering training allowed him to work a quick calculation. He'd have to find good timber, shore up at least one side of the bridge for a single track, get men to find rail, best bet being to tear some up from the spur line. It'd take a day, at least, maybe two. Bottle Grant up at the same time and force him to attack, filling him with the anxiety that he could very well escape back into Virginia once his pontoon train moved down to Point of Rocks. That would force Grant to come on.
"I want those heights, at least for the moment. I want to see what is going on over on the other side," Lee said. "Either we'll see all of Grant's army coming on, or nothing. If it's nothing, then we'll know that Grant is heading toward Virginia, or just perhaps moving behind the screen of militia to the north. We need to confirm that right now.
"Round up every extra man you have and send them up there. I'll set up headquarters back at the National Road bridge."
Stuart saluted and galloped off.
Though caught off balance for the moment, Lee found himself sensing that he was recapturing that balance, that with luck Grant was indeed coming in from the west. If so, he could now choose the ground and force Grant to come at him, the same as at Union Mills.
Braddock Heights-Catoctin Ridge
Here it comes," McPherson announced, but no one needed to be told. The few hundred cavalry troopers with him, joined by his headquarters staff, were played out; barely a man had half a dozen cartridges left.
On the road below, a column of infantry was advancing with impunity. At such range, artillery would have torn them apart, but there was no artillery up here.
McPherson turned and rode but a few dozen yards to the west. Below him he could see his own column, dark blue, like a long coiling serpent moving across the valley between the Catoctin Range and South Mountains, the head of his column still a half hour away.
He had sent back several couriers, urging the column to press forward, but the race would apparently be lost by not more than a few minutes.
"They're deploying, sir!" someone shouted. Colonel Mann, one of Custer's men, who was dismounted, his horse dead, was pointing.
He didn't need to go back to look. They were most likely down to two hundred yards, lead regiments shaking out from column to line for the final sweep up to the ridge.
A scattering of shots echoed, and a dozen troopers, still mounted, came over the crest of the road, slowing at the sight of McPherson.
"Sorry, sir, we ain't got a round left, and don't ask us to draw sabers and charge,"
McPherson smiled and shook his head.
"You did good, boys, the best I've ever seen cavalry fight. Get yourselves out of here."
The sergeant leading the group saluted and led his men down the road to the west.
One of McPherson's staff came up, leading his horse.
"They'll be on the crest in a minute, sir."
McPherson sighed, mounting, watching as Mann rallied what was left of Custer's men, pointing to the rear.
"Sir." One of McPherson's staff was pointing down the road. A knot of officers, riding hard, was coming up the slope. Behind the officers he could see that the head of the column was double-timing, men running, sunlight glinting off of rifles. With field glasses raised he could see as well that with every yard gained a man was staggering out of the column and collapsing from exhaustion. Men were shedding blanket rolls, haversacks, but still pressing on.
The officer in front… it was Grant, of course.
As a volley rang out behind him, he turned and looked back and saw the first of the rebel infantry, mingled in with dismounted reb cavalry, reaching the crest.
Suicide was not a gesture he cared for today. He spurred his mount, starting down the slope, staff about him, Custer's men, most on foot, some mounted, staggering along.
Grant spotted him, leaned into his mount and, with his usual display of brilliant horsemanship, came up the slope at a gallop. McPherson rode down to meet him.
"What is happening here?" Grant shouted, reining in hard by McPherson's side.
"Infantry just on the other side." "How many?"
"Full division. It stretches all the way back to Frederick. Lead regiments deploying into line."
Grant looked up to the crest of the road and then back to their own troops, still coming on at the double, several hundred yards away.
A few shots whistled past them but Grant ignored the threat.
"Can we take 'em with your men?"
Grant pointed back to the great blue serpent weaving across the valley.
"Hell, yes," McPherson replied.
"Lead them in. I'll head back down and urge them on."
He leaned over and shook McPherson's hand.
"Stay healthy, James. And you did a good job, moving your men forward. Half an hour later and Lee would have had this ridge for good."
Grant turned and rode off, McPherson grinning. That man already assumed they were going to sweep the rebs off the crest.
By heavens, if he believes it, then I'm the man to do it, McPherson thought, even as he rode down to the head of his column, shouting for the boys to keep moving but to shake out into line of battle.
"Come on, South Carolina, form up here!"
Sergeant Major Hazner, following the lead of Colonel Brown, urged his men on at the double. Men were doubled over, panting, some peeling off blanket rolls and dropping them even as they ran up the steep grade of the road. Then they broke to the right, climbing over a post and rail fence, and then into a tangle of second-growth trees, low branches whipping back into men's faces, the column turning into a pushing, shoving, cursing crowd.
To their left a volley rang out and Hazner could see the smoke swirling up from the road. Cavalry troopers were mingled in with the infantry, firing with carbines; some had pistols out, waiting for the range to close. Shouts ahead; a staff officer, hat oft and sword drawn, was waving to Brown.
"Fall in here. Fall in here!"
The ground began to slope away, dropping down. They were over the crest and Hazner felt as if his legs were about to buckle and give way.
"What the hell is going on?" Brown shouted to the staff officer.
"We got the crest, but by God, they've got infantry, thousands of 'em, coming up the road. Get ready, they'll hit any minute. Scales says we got to hold this ridge!"
The staff officer saluted and, turning, ran northward, shouting for the next regiment behind the Fourteenth South Carolina to fall into line.
The men were already loaded, Brown shouting for all ten companies to fall in by line, Hazner pushing the men along.
Another volley from the left, then a switching over to independent fire. Must mean they are close, Hazner thought.
Directly ahead, the second-growth timber gave way to an orchard, and as he looked that way, he stood goggle-eyed. He could see them, see them clear back to the next mountain range, which had to be five or six miles off. A long column of blue that seemed endless, surging forward, weaving its way clear up to the crest beyond.
"There's thousands of 'em," someone gasped.
"Just worry about the ones in front of you," Hazner shouted. Even as he spoke he saw Yankee skirmishers on the far side of the orchard. They were moving slow, either cautious or exhausted. A few stepped out into the orchard and dropped within seconds from the fire going downslope delivered by the regiment astride the road.
More skirmishers appeared, dropping down behind the fence bordering the other side of the orchard. Puffs of smoke, but so far none in the direction of the Fourteenth.
"Get down, men, get down," Brown shouted.
No one needed to be told what he was thinking, and all were grateful to collapse to the forest floor. After the heat of the climb up the road, the cool leaves, ferns, and undergrowth were a blessing. Some of the men pulled their canteens around, lifting them to drink. Hazner said nothing, but if they came begging for water an hour from now, the hell with them.
But the sight of them drinking got to him. He took a few sips himself, the water a bit muddy, having been scooped up while they crossed the Monocacy. They waited, fire from behind the fence building in intensity, still directed toward the regiment astride the road and open yards of the small homes and tavern atop the crest.
"Check your caps, boys," Hazner said, even as he drew up his own rifle, half-cocked it, and saw that the percussion cap was still in place. He waited, glad for even a few minutes to catch his breath, the trembling in his legs stopping, but hunger hitting him so, that he reached into his haversack and pulled out a piece of hardtack.
As he reached in, his hand brushed against the journal of his comrade, Maj. John Williamson, dead at Union Mills. Why he still carried it was beyond him. It was an extra pound, its details, its questionings too disturbing, but somehow it was still a link to a childhood friend he could not quite let go of.
Two months ago John was still alive, the two of them marching side by side up the Cumberland Valley, filled with hope that soon the war would be over. John had died at Union Mills, shot through the head.
Brown leaned up on one elbow to survey their line. The regiment was little more than a third of those who had marched that day back in June. Gone were the men lost at Gettysburg, Union Mills, and in the disastrous charge in front of Washington.
Always they were told the "next one" would be the "last one." Though he found it hard to believe in a God who cared, who intervened for those who prayed, still he could not help but utter a silent wish, Let this be the end of it.
He looked down the slope while biting off a piece of hardtack and saw a flicker of red, white… a Union flag. A regiment was coming up. Shadowy glimpses of men in dark blue, shaking out from column into line, moving up to the edge of the fence row.
"Get ready," Colonel Brown hissed, crouching low, moving down the length of the line.
The flag emerged from the other side of the orchard, held high, a state flag beside it, Hazner could not tell which one.
The men approaching gave out three "Huzzahs!" as they knocked over the split rail fence, stepped into the orchard, and with poised bayonets started through the orchard.
"Up, boys, up!" Brown shouted.
The regiment stood.
"Volley fire on my command! Take aim!"
The two hundred rifles of the Fourteenth South Carolina were lowered, aiming downslope. The Yankee regiment, angling toward the men holding the road, had not expected this. Their colonel, out front, still mounted, shouted something, pointing his sword toward the Fourteenth.
Dozens of Yanks dropped. Miraculously, their colonel still kept his mount.
"Reload! Independent fire at will!"
The Yankees, as if guided by a single hand, raised their rifles to their shoulders and took aim.
"For that which we are about to receive…" a wag in the line shouted, even as the Union volley hit. They had the advantage of being up slope, protected by the trees, but still a dozen men dropped or staggered back from the volley line. Hazner was showered with bits of bark and tree sap from a spruce he was standing next to.
The fastest had already reloaded, and now the fight was truly on. Fire rippled up and down the line, men shouting, cursing, laughing, tearing cartridges, capping nipples, taking aim. The calmer ones braced their rifles against a tree before firing.
Hazner stepped back from the volley line, walking its length. He spotted young Lieutenant Hurt, so green at Fort Stevens, now calmly directing his men to pour it into the men around the colors. Smoke cloaked the orchard. Then the return fire slackened.
A cheer went up from the Fourteenth, the Yankees were falling back. But they did not retreat far. Once out of the orchard they stopped, some of the men taking a few dangerous seconds to grab fence rails and pile them up as a barricade before dropping behind them.
Well-aimed fire began to slam into the ranks of the Fourteenth. Some of the shots were high, but some were hitting, men grunting, cursing, or silendy collapsing.
"Down, boys!" Hazner shouted.
His men needed no urging. They hunkered down behind trees, rocks, some crawling up the dozen or so yards to the edge of the orchard, tearing down the fence that flanked it on their side, piling the rails up the way the Yankees did on the other side, a hundred yards away.
Within a few minutes a deadly game was on. Both sides seasoned, both knowing how to fight, trading fire across a narrow orchard, neither willing to give any ground.
General Lee, I must urge you, sir, please come up on foot," General Scales begged, standing between him and the incoming fire sweeping the crest. Lee could not help but nod in agreement. To take Traveler the few dozen yards to the crest would be madness, for him, his staff, and his beloved mount. He swung down out of the saddle.
On the road beside him men from Scales's Division were continuing to push up the road. He had passed them on the ride up here, too restless to remain any longer at the bridge.
As he rode by, the men struggled to cheer, but they were moving fast, doubled over, pounding up the steep slope to the roar of battle, which now swept the crest.
"Sir, please come no further. It's too dangerous up there."
Lee smiled and simply stepped around Scales, who came back to his side and deliberately placed himself in front of Lee.
"Sir, if you insist, please follow me then," Scales said, and crouching down slightly, he led the way.
They angled off the road to the left and slipped behind a small tavern.
"From the top floor you can see what is happening, but please do not stand close to the window, sir."
Lee walked into the building, which was already transformed into a hospital, dozens of men on the floor, and followed Scales up the narrow steps to the second floor. When Scales opened a door, several cavalry troopers near the window looked back at their guests in surprise, the sergeant leading the three coming to attention.
"Good log walls, General, is stopping the bullets," the sergeant said, "but this window is mighty dangerous."
Even as he spoke splinters of glass from a windowpane sprayed back onto the bed in the middle of the room.
Lee nodded his thanks and approached to within a half dozen feet, and raising his field glasses, he looked out.
Smoke obscured the road directly below, but what he saw beyond was what he had come to find out. A corps at the very least, the column visible clear across the valley and back up to the mountain beyond.
"It's their Seventeenth Corps," Scales said. "We've taken a few prisoners. James McPherson is their commander."
Lee sighed inwardly..
It was far too bitter, and he looked away for a moment. James was brilliant, tough, a good leader. He'd push straight in, sensing that if he let his opponent consolidate his hold on this ridge, the campaign was already over, the initiative now on the Southern side.
He remembered conversations with the young cadet about military history, about Napoleon's use of mass at the crucial point of battle. McPherson would not wait; he'd come slamming in; he was already doing that. Studying the road again, Lee saw the regiments were shaking out of column and coming up the slope in battie line, moving fast.
"Sir, when can we expect reinforcements?" Scales asked, interrupting Lee's thoughts.
"Hood's old division is coming up. They took trains from Baltimore and should be getting off now."
"Back where we dismounted?" Scales asked. "That's several hours of marching."
Lee nodded, saying nothing.
"Artillery, sir, a few batteries would be mighty helpful."
"Back with the trains as well."
Scales fell silent as Lee raised his glasses again.
He scanned the advancing columns of blue. They were moving hard; he could see scatterings of men by the roadside, collapsed. McPherson would be calling for double time to bring up his men; his corps would be exhausted by the time they reached this crest. Back at the opposite crest, the South Mountain range, Lee saw that the road was empty except for some wagons. A break in their column of march? Maybe there was an opportunity presenting itself. Catch McPherson by himself and defeat him in isolation.
He watched, ignoring another shower of glass that sent Walter Taylor nervously to his side, almost blocking his view.
"Let them come," Lee said quietly, his voice almost tinged with sadness. "Let them come."
"Sir?" Scales asked.
"Hold as long as you can," Lee said, "but don't overex-tend. I want your division intact, sir, not a wreck. Hold as long as you can then pull back."
"I don't understand sir."
"If we hold here, McPherson will finally halt, build up, and then come on in full strength against your one division. But there is a chance we can actually lure McPherson in. He is impetutous when he feels he is winning. We lure him over this ridge and then hit him with our reserves coming up."
Lee stepped away from the window and began to outline his plan.
Below Braddock Heights
James McPherson, hat off, shouted for the next regiment in line to break to the right, cross the field, and deploy into line. The men were pale with exhaustion. The Second Brigade of his Second Division was now up and deploying out.
The fire coming from the crest was murderous, but through eddies in the smoke he could see his own volley lines, extending out farther and farther to either flank as each new regiment fell into line.
They were stretching them out up there. The rebs must be damn near as tired as my boys going up that slope. Just one good push and he'd be through them; he could sense that.
The Third Brigade was now approaching, men moving fast.
"Straight up the slope, my boys!" McPherson shouted. "Straight up till you're engaged, then give them hell!"
The men of the Fourteenth South Carolina were starting to run short of ammunition. They had been trading fire across the orchard for over an hour. Nearly a quarter of the men were down.
Hazner, crouched behind a tree, struggled with his ramrod to pound another round down the fouled barrel of his gun. Reloading he rolled over on to his stomach, leveled the barrel against a log, and waited. The smoke parted for a moment; he caught a flash of black, a cap, aimed carefully, and fired. The hat disappeared and he grinned. He might not have hit the man, but he sure had given him something to think about.
The orchard between the opposing sides was shredded. Two regiments fighting it out on either side had most likely fired more than twenty thousand rounds back and forth during the last hour. Trees were nearly stripped bare, apples exploding so that there was the interesting scent of cider, more than one man commenting that they wished they could crawl down there and gather up some of the shattered fruit. The trees inside the woodlot they were deployed in were torn and splintered, a few smaller ones actually toppling over.
The fire from the other side began to slacken and then stopped.
"Everyone load, hold fire," Brown shouted.
It was obvious something was building. They were going to try another charge.
A distant hoarse cheer, the Yankee "huzzahs" given three times, rolled up the hill.
A staff officer, this one mounted, came through the woods toward the Fourteenth, Brown standing up to meet him, but making it a point to keep a tree between him and the Yankees.
"Column coming up the road. Enfilade it, but then you are to pull back."
"Fall back?" Brown asked, obviously confused. "Hell, sir, just get me some more ammunition and some water. We'll hold."
"Orders from General Lee himself. He doesn't want this division torn apart. We're pulling back into Frederick. Rally your men in the center of town."
The officer turned without waiting for a reply and rode to the north, toward the next regiment in line.
Brown turned. "You heard him boys. We're pulling back. Wounded who can walk, start moving now."
A couple of dozen men who had been resting just behind the volley line struggled to their feet and began staggering back. Those who could not move looked toward Brown beseechingly.
"Sorry, boys," Brown said sadly. "We got to leave you. Don't worry. The Yankees will take good care of you."
"Yeah, right," one of them hissed. "Point Lookout for us if we live."
"Here it comes!" someone shouted.
Hazner turned and saw the head of a column coming up the road. At the same moment the regiment they'd been facing across the orchard stood up and came out into the open, advancing at the double.
'Take aim straight ahead, boys," Brown shouted.
Hazner agreed. To hell with the column. It was the men they were facing they had to worry about.
A ragged volley swept the orchard, dropping another dozen, but this time the Yankees did not slow; they just kept on coming.
"Fall back, men, stay with me!"
The Fourteenth moved woodenly at first. After the long march, the bitter fight, they were exhausted. Behind them the Yankees, sensing the breaking of their opponents, let out a cheer, and seconds later a volley ripped through the woods, the Fourteenth losing a half dozen more.
Hazner reached the crest of the ridge. Along the road to his right he could see where troops were falling back, cavairy mounting up, infantry pushing around them. A thunderous fire erupted from the road, a sharp volley sent into the advancing column, and then those men turned and started to run.
Over the crest, Hazner, falling in by Brown's side, started down the slope. It was steep and he ran like a drunken man, nearly tumbling over, men around him cursing, panting, some tangling up in the brush and falling, getting up again.
Behind them he could hear taunting yells. Looking back, he saw where the Yankees had gained the ridge. Some were pushing on, others stopping to reload.
Ahead and below the town of Frederick was two miles off. Beyond, he could see smoke cloaking the river valley and a distant column of troops moving along the National Road.
Brown staggered and tripped, cursing as he hit the ground. Hazner pulled him up, the colonel's hands badly skinned from the tumble.
"Come on, sir," Hazner cried, "but by damn, there better be a good reason for this."
James was atop the crest, glasses raised, studying the ground ahead. A half mile downslope he could see where the rebels were swarming along the road and fields, heading back toward Frederick. Beyond the river he could already spot another column coming up.
Grant came to his side, grinning.
"Good work, McPherson."
"Cost us," James said quietly. "We fought entire battles out west and lost fewer men than I just did taking this ridge."
"It's only started," Grant replied coolly. "Are you pressing them?"
"My boys are exhausted, sir. I've double-timed them for miles, threw them into this fight. They need a few minutes at least. We got the good ground now. Isn't that what we wanted?"
Grant was silent for a moment, field glasses raised, studying the terrain ahead.
'That bridge is out of artillery range from up here. We give Lee time, he just might get it back up again. Besides, if we sit up here, he will not come at us."
McPherson looked over at him.
"We just had a meeting engagement up here, both sides equally tired. If we dig in here tonight, what will Lee do tomorrow? Attack?"
McPherson found he had to agree.
"No, sir, of course not."
"I want him to fight us. We've got to grab hold of him and stay in contact. I don't want him to have time to think, to maneuver, to repair that bridge, to think about the Potomac River at all. We give him good bait, though, and he'll bite it and then hang on to us the way I want."
"And that means my corps, sir, doesn't it?"
Grant grabbed him by the forearm.
"You know what to do. But you, personally, don't go doing anything foolish. Push down there and grab hold of Lee. I'm setting up here for the moment. Give your boys twenty minutes to catch their breath, try and find some water, then send them in. I want that town and the river beyond."
McPherson knew without even having to ask what Grant was ordering him to do. To stick his corps out forward and let Lee bite into them. He thought of all the quiet afternoons he had spent with Lee at West Point, the admiration he had always held for him. He wondered if Lee knew whose corps this was that was about to come down to meet him. It was going to be one hell of a bloody mess this day.
McPherson saluted and rode off.
Good heavens, sir, they're coming down." Lee said nothing, sitting astride Traveler at the edge of the city, looking up at the Catoctin Heights. Yes, indeed, McPherson was coming down, battle lines deployed out a quarter mile to either side of the National Road. Flags flying, regiments came down the steep slope, skirmishers to the fore. It was a grand sight. All about him stopped to look. The battle line was studded with national flags and state flags, and he found a swelling of admiration within himself. His star student from the West Point days was doing a remarkable job. Despite himself, he was proud of him as a mentor might be of a cherished younger person.
A half-mile front, late afternoon sun behind them, bayonets flashing, disciplined in their advance even on such difficult ground.
"Half a league, half a league, half a league onward," Walter whispered.
Lee nodded in agreement. These were brave men indeed. Brave and foolish. They had taken the bait. McPherson has courage but he is going to give us an opportunity to defeat him in isolation before Grant can arrive.
"Walter, tell Robertson he must come up. Scales is to hold the town as we talked about. We'll fight them street by street if need be. I want their entire corps pulled into this fight."
"Yes, sir!" Walter galloped off.
Lee turned about and rode into the center of town, General Scales by his side. Regiments were still forming up after their retreat off of the ridge; men gathered around wells, filling canteens; wounded being carried into churches and homes; citizens standing silent, watching, looking up at the heights, worrying that their homes would be destroyed if Frederick became a battlefield.
"General Scales, get your provost guards out and order these civilians into their basements. There's going to be a fight here, and I wish to avoid injury to them."
"Yes, sir. So we hold the town, sir?"
"I want to pull McPherson in here. Yes, you will hold the town. Grant has done what I hoped. If he had sat up on those heights, he could have waited for days, concentrated, or perhaps even shielded us from a maneuver down into the northern Shenandoah. Now he will be forced to come on in support of McPherson. We have an opportunity to defeat his army in detail, one corps at a time."
Lee looked to the east.
"Robertson should be up in a few hours by train and will roll in from the north and smash, McPherson. If Grant is so impetuous, he'll then funnel more men in and we will smash them in turn. By this time tomorrow the rest of our army will be concentrated here, but we will have taken out a quarter, perhaps a half of his army. Then he shall dance to our tune. He will learn that the East is a more dangerous place than his Western campaigns prepared him for."
Two Miles East of Monocacy Junction
Cursing soundly at the engineer of his train General Robertson rode past the hissing engine. It had taken them six hours to come up from Baltimore, rather than the two promised to them back in the rail yard. Two locomotives had broken down, one of them obviously sabotaged with a hole punched into a cylinder and then plugged with tallow and hemp that had finally blown out. It had forced his entire convoy to shift tracks, then shift back again, to get around the stalled engine, leaving two regiments behind. The scene just east of the river was chaos. Dozens of trains were backed up, the ones that had brought up Scales waiting to begin a backward shuttle all the way to Relay Junction before being able to turn around. The pontoon bridges were parked to one side, blocking the westbound track, and straight ahead was the wreck that he had heard almost killed General Lee.
On the way up they had passed Longstreet's Corps, marching on the National Road, fifteen miles out of Baltimore but still a good day and a half away from the spreading battle at Frederick.
He turned and looked back. His men were piling off the boxcars, passenger cars, flatcars, and even coal hoppers pressed into service for this troop movement. The men were forming up into columns of march, beginning to surge forward on either side of the tracks.
"Keep 'em moving!" Robertson shouted. "Boys, General Lee needs us. Now keep moving!"
General McPherson spared a final glance back at the South Mountain range, five miles away. The valley between him and the distant ridge was empty. No troops were coming up.
Where in heavens name was Ninth Corps? They should already be over the crest, flooding in to support him.
But orders were orders and he knew what Grant wanted-to hold Lee in place here' while he cast his net wide. If only the rebs had come on again. Holding this ridge he could have pounded away at them all day. His reserve ammunition trains were coming up the slope, along with a battery of three-inch rifles, the only battery Grant had allotted to him. But he understood his orders, the mission Grant wanted, and that he was now a pawn, or perhaps a knight, ventured out into the middle of the board.
Downslope, a mile away, skirmish fire was erupting, reb infantry and cavalry falling back into the town. He looked around at his staff.
"A moment of prayer, gentlemen," he said softly, and removed his hat.
Lowering his head he silently commended his soul to God, asking for a blessing upon his men who this day might fall. All were silent.
"Let's go," he said, his voice matter-of-fact, as if they were out for an afternoon's ride down into a friendly village to visit old friends.
He raised his field glasses one last time, looking to the far horizon. It should be possible on a clear day to see the church spires of Baltimore. So close to Emily, and yet so far. Battle smoke obscured the view. He lowered his glasses and cased them.
General McPherson and his staff set off down the road to Frederick.
Sergeant Hazner raced up the steps to the top floor of the building and flung a door open. He stopped for a few seconds in amazement. It was a photographer's studio, the owner, a dyspeptic-looking frail gentleman gazing at him with surprise, the air thick with the odor of ether and other chemicals.
"Sir, might I suggest you go to the basement," Hazner said, stepping back from the doorway and then directing the half dozen men with him to take positions by the windows.
One of the men started to smash the window panes with the butt of his rifle and the photographer shouted a protest.
"Please just open them," Hazner said. "Let's not get carried away."
He had to laugh inside at this little point of etiquette. If what was about to happen, did happen, this place would be a shambles in fairly short order.
The men did as ordered and Hazner walked over to the table the photographer had set up in one side of the room. A number of wet collodion plates were lying on black felt, others were hanging up, drying. Hazner studied them for a few seconds. Some were just blurs, but a few were really quite remarkable, a blurred column of men moving up the road just below, but there, in a different picture, remaining stock-still at the main intersection of the town, was General Lee on Traveler, General Scales by his side. Another photograph showed the Catoctin Heights wreathed in smoke, blurred columns moving up the National Road, and in the foreground General Lee with field glasses raised, looking up at the battle.
"So you've been busy today?" Hazner asked.
"Quite so! A dozen images, many of the battle itself. Quite extraordinary. I hope to get more," and he pointed to the camera on the far side of the room.
"Could I convince you gentlemen to pose for me right now?"
Several of Hazner's men looked at him, grinning. He was almost tempted, but then shook his head.
"Sir, I don't think you realize how dangerous it will be here in a few minutes. Please go to your basement."
"You can't force me," the photographer said loudly. "Good heavens, man, no one has ever photographed a battle before, and I plan to do so today."
Hazner shook his head.
"Just be careful, sir," he said, nodded to his men, and then ran down the stairs and out into the main street.
The last of the Confederate infantry were disappearing into buildings, men running. A block to the west a two-gun section was set up, both pieces firing at the same instant, recoiling, filing the street with roiling clouds of smoke. The guns were hooked to their caissons by trail ropes, the guns being dragged down the street even as their crews worked to reload. They stopped at the main intersection.
Both guns kicked back, several windowpanes shattering from the blast, the solid shot of the twin Napoleons screaming down the street.
Still hooked to the caissons by twenty feet of rope, the team started to move again.
"Better get off the street there, Sergeant," the section commander shouted. "They're coming on fast!"
Hazner looked up the road, and sure enough, he could see them a half dozen blocks "away, Yankee infantry, running hard, dodging into buildings, rifle fire already erupting from upper-floor windows. A minie ball hummed past him, and then another; a gunner collapsed, holding his arm and cursing, his comrades quickly picking him up and helping him to get up on the caisson.
The crew moved another block. Hazner pressed himself inside the doorway as they fired again, the scream of the shot tearing down the street and slapping him with a shock wave. He peeked out and saw it slash through a file of troops on the street, knockifig them over. More shots came down the street. From the window overhead his men were opening up, leaning out, shooting, ducking back in. It was time to get inside.
He dashed back into the building and up the stairs. The photographer was in the corner of the room, head under a black hood behind the camera, asking if the men would stand still for a moment, but they ignored him. Two of the best shooters were at the windows, the others passing up loaded rifles. Glass was shattering, the room filling with smoke.
Strange, all their other fights had been out in the open. Usually towns were bypassed in a fight. Why Scales had decided to stand here, men broken up into small units, was beyond him. This was going to be one ugly fight.
Hazner settled down by a window, back pressed against the wall, and then leaned over to look out. Swarms of Yankees were coming down the street, men dropping with every step forward, the column breaking up, an officer out front shouting, waving his sword, the formation disintegrating as they broke and ran toward buildings, ducking into doorways. Within seconds the return fire became intense, bullets smacking into windowsills, tearing across brick fronting. Across the street a man tumbled out of a third-floor window, smacking into the pavement with a sickening crunch.
"Gentlemen, just please remain still for fifteen seconds, that's all I ask!"
Hazner ignored the man, raised his rifle, and joined the fight.
Grant stood silent, field glasses trained on the town below. It was turning into one hell of a fight. McPherson had waded straight in. Buildings were ablaze, a church steeple wreathed now in smoke, fire licking up its sides. Beyond, he could see where a large column of infantry was coming over the National Road bridge across the Monocacy, the distant smoke of locomotives barely visible through the haze.
Lee's Second Division was starting to deploy, preparing to sweep into the town from the north side. McPherson had placed his men well. One division was forming to the north to meet the counterthreat, at least another division into the town, and what looked to be a brigade pushing to the south side of the town, fighting what appeared be dismounted cavalry, and steadily moving toward the river.
Now, if only I had more men up, Grant thought. A Confederate division with Lee's army carried almost as much strength as a Union light corps. Though McPherson had fifteen thousand at the start of the day, several thousand at least had fallen out in the forced march. Even now those stragglers were walking past him, small groups, a few men, a couple of dozen being shepherded along by a corporal or a sergeant, more than one stopping to ask one of his staff where the fighting was or where they should go. And always they were directed down the road into Frederick and told to get into the fight.
McPherson had, even by conservative estimates, lost two thousand men taking these heights. Hospitals were already set up on the western slope, the wounded, Union and Confederate alike, being carried in. Grant dared not even to watch that too closely. Unlike many another general, hospitals terrified him, turned his stomach.
So McPherson, at best, had carried nine or ten thousand into the fight and Lee had twenty perhaps twenty five thousand down there closing in. Yes, McPherson was the bait, but now he needed a solid line to hang on to him.
He turned and looked to the west. Only now did Grant see the head of Burnside's column coming over the South Mountains, and the sight filled him with rage. Those men should be up here now, forming up just behind the slope, and ready to sweep forward in mass to catch Lee off guard. He wondered if Lee had realized that. He had conceded the heights too easily. Even as I set the bait, was Lee urging me to cast it in?
No. Never think that. Do that and I start to become like all the others who faced Lee, worrying more about him than what my own plans are.
"I think that's General Sheridan coming up," Ely announced, pointing to the west.
Indeed he was-coming on hard, lashing his mount, Rienzi, up the final steep slope.
"Damn that man," Sheridan shouted, even as he reined in.
"Exactly. Says he can't possibly push his men any faster."
Grant looked back to the boiling cauldron of battle down below, Sheridan falling silent by his side.
"My God," Sheridan said, "what a fight."
"It is. I sent McPherson down there to hold Lee in place. If we had dug in here, Lee never would have sought battle and perhaps slipped off."
Grant turned to Sheridan. "I will not leave McPherson down there to be slaughtered. I need Ninth Corps and I need Hunt's guns. We've sucked Lee in and a good counterblow right now would hurt him."
Sheridan did not reply.
"He's got his colored division in the lead, sir. What about that?"
"I don't care which division he's got in the lead. I want them into this fight before nightfall!"
Grant looked around at his silent staff. Ely gazed at him and simply nodded, as if reading his mind.
"General Sheridan. You are to take command of Ninth Corps." Even as he spoke he motioned for Ely to write out the authorization. "Relieve Burnside of command on the spot. Tell him he can report to me tomorrow for reassignment. You will take command of the corps and push them forward with all possible speed. Any division or brigade commander who fails in doing that, relieve them on the spot and find someone who can do the job. Send word back to Hunt to push forward even if it takes all night. If we can save McPherson, Lee will surely hang on for a rematch tomorrow, and we need guns in position to meet him. Do you understand your orders?"
"Yes, sir!" Sheridan said with a grin.
Ely finished writing the dispatch, tore the sheet off, and handed it to Grant who scanned it, then signed the document relieving Burnside.
Sheridan snatched it, turned, and, with staff trailing, set off at a gallop.
General, they're hitting us from the north!" James McPherson turned to look as a courier came riding in from the north side of town. "Full division. Robertson's I'm told. Hood's old command."
"Good," McPherson said with a grin. "The more the merrier."
"Our boys are falling back. They can't hold."
"Then go back there and.tell them to get into the houses, hunker down, and, damn them, hold. We've got to hold!"
All around him was blazing wreckage. The pleasant town of Frederick had become a battlefield much like Fredericksburg the year before. The entire western end of the town was afire, flames leaping from building to building on the westerly breeze that had sprung up. There was a touch of coolness in the air and he looked up at the dark clouds gathering on the other side of the mountain, filled with the promise of an evening thunderstorm.
It was always said that a battle brought rain, and it was hard to tell at this moment whether the thunder rolled from the heavens, the incessant rifle fire in the center of town, or the burst of artillery streaking through the streets.
Lee stirred anxiously, sipping a cup of coffee, leaning against a fence rail, looking toward the town wreathed in smoke. It sickened his heart to see a church spire collapse in flames, and he whispered a silent prayer that if it was being used as a hospital that those within had been evacuated.
He looked back at the bridge. All the fires were out hours ago, and hundreds of men were now at work. Men were tearing up track from the spur line, bringing it down, along with the ties. A crew of men were tearing at the timbers of a barn, dismantling it piece by piece to get at the precious beams, which would then be dragged down and slung into place to provide bridge supports. A captain with Stuart, who had worked on this same line before the war, said he could get a bridge in place for at least one track by late tomorrow and was now running the job.
Robertson's boys were going in. The volume of fire on the north side of town was clear evidence of that. Now if only Johnson's division was up, he could make a clean sweep of it, envelop McPherson from the left, and close the trap. But the latest dispatches from Baltimore indicated Johnson's men were still on the rail line, twenty miles back.
Longstreet and Beauregard were reporting good marching on the roads, but were still a day away, and his artillery reserve, so dependent on the railroad, had not yet left Baltimore.
This was unlike any battle he had ever fought. He had hoped, when first he grasped Grant's maneuver, that he could catch him by surprise here, at the base of the Catoctins, tear apart one, perhaps two, of his corps, and then chase him down and finish him. He had placed too much reliance on the railroads, and now it was telling.
He finished his coffee, set the cup down, and walked over to his staff, who were hurriedly eating while standing about the smoking ruins of the depot, watching the work crews scrambling about the wreckage of the bridge.
"Gentlemen, I think we should go into the fight," Lee said.
Several looked at him with surprise. It was obvious they had assumed that after the long day he would establish his headquarters here for the night.
"General, let me go forward," Stuart said. "My boys are blocking that Yankee brigade on the south side of town. I can manage things."
"No, I want to see how Robertson is doing," Lee announced.
Everyone knew better than to argue with him. An orderly brought up Traveler. He mounted and headed into the cauldron, staff following anxiously.
The White House
Lincoln ate alone; his servant Jim Bartlett had delivered a tray with a few slices of fried ham, some potatoes, and coffee to his office. Finishing his meal he stood up to stretch, the sound of his chair scraping on the floor amounting to a signal. Jim politely tapped x›n the door. "Come on in."
"Sir, should I clear your tray?" Jim asked. "Thank you," Lincoln replied.
Lincoln had gone to the window. Crowds had gathered in Lafayette Park, with troops ringing the White House. Lincoln suddenly turned. "Jim, a question." "Anything, sir."
"The colored of Washington. I know this might sound like a strange question. But with all the news of the last few days, what do you hear?"
"Well, sir, I've spent most of my time here in the White House, but I do hear talk with the staff."
"And that is?"
"Frustration? Over what?"
Jim stood holding the tray and Lincoln motioned for him to put it down.
"Jim, let's talk frankly. I need to hear what you have to say. This war is your war, too."
"Precisely why so many are frustrated. They want to be in on it."
"What about volunteering for the Colored Troops."
"Sir, both my son and grandson are already with them."
Lincoln sensed the slightest of defensive notes in Jim's voice, as if the president had implied that those who were frustrated should join the army.
"I meant no insult, Jim, and yes, I am proud of the service of your son and grandson."
"Sir, so many men here are working folk with large families to support. Day laborers, men who work the rail yards, the canal docks. They can't afford to go off for twelve dollars a month the way some can like my son. But still they feel it's their war."
Lincoln took this in and nodded.
"Perhaps a way can be found for them to volunteer for short-term service," Lincoln said offhandedly. Jim suddenly smiled.
"Can I take that as a request, sir?" Jim asked. "To talk with folks and see if there'd be some interest in that."
"By all means," Lincoln said absently, and then, lost in thought, he returned to looking out the window.
Sergeant Hazner ducked down as a spray of shot slammed through the window. It had been fired from across the street. He leaned back up, drew a quick bead on the half dozen Yankees leaning out of the windows on the opposite side of the street, fired, and saw one drop.
He ducked down, motioning for one of his men to hand over a loaded musket. The photographer, long since giving up his quest for a photograph, was on the floor moaning with fear.
The stench in the room was dizzying, the air thick with ether. Bottles of chemicals had been shattered, and to the photographer's horror, several of the glass plates, including the precious one of Lee astride Traveler, watching the fight, had been blown apart, bits of glass sprayed across the room.
"Want a picture now?" Hazner shouted.
The photographer simply shook his head.
Hazner peeked up, caught a glimpse of several Yankees running across the street toward his building, fired, but wasn't sure if he'd hit one.
Below, he heard the door slam open, shouts.
"Come on, boys," Hazner shouted, standing up and running for the doorway. Of the six he had led in, only three were still standing. They followed him out. He hit the staircase, ducking as the two men below aimed and fired, plaster flying.
Hazner leapt down the stairs, bayonet poised. One man parried the strike, another edging around to swing a clubbed musket at him.
He countered the parry, bayoneting the man before him, ducking under the blow. One of his own men behind him shot the man with the clubbed musket, shattering his skull. The two others fell back, running out the doorway.
Panting, Hazner looked down at the man he had just killed. Damn, just a boy. Rawboned, uniform of dark blue, weather-stained, threadbare, patches on his knees, shoes in tatters.
Damn near look like us, he thought sadly.
He grabbed one of his men.
"Sit at the top of the stairs, shoot anyone who comes through that door."
The man nodded and Hazner went upstairs, ducking low, crawling to the window.
"Sir, I think we must pull back!" McPherson ignored his staff officer. The entire west end of the town was ablaze. In places Union and Confederate wounded were helping each other to get out of buildings. Hundreds of his men were streaming to the rear, limping, cradling broken arms, slowly carrying makeshift litters with wounded comrades curled up on them. A hysterical officer staggered past him, crying about losing his flag.
From the north side of town a steady shower of shot was raining down. Looking up a side street he saw men of his Second Division giving back, running down the street, shouting that the rebs were right behind them.
He had never fought a battle like this. Always it had been in open fields or a tangle of woods and bayous. Here it was impossible to tell anymore who was winning or losing. If he had been sent down here by Grant to be the bait, he had most certainly succeeded in his task. He was being hammered from three directions by two full Confederate divisions and at least a brigade or more of cavalry.
Down the street, several hundred yards away, a fireball went up, brilliant in the early evening sky. Across the street a pillared building was burning, dozens of men coming out of it, carrying wounded, and he shouted for his staff officers to find some additional men to help evacuate the wounded.
For a moment he was tempted to somehow try to arrange a cease-fire, to ask Lee to stop fighting for one hour. The town was burning; thousands of wounded were trapped in buildings, and they needed to be taken out.
But how? A fight in a town like this was utter confusion. Rebs might hold a block, a building, while across the street his boys were holding on. In several places, columns of troops advancing had turned a comer, only to collide with their foes, with the fight degenerating into a vicious street brawl until one side or the other pulled back.
"Sir, for Cod's sake, let's pull back."
He turned on the man, shouting the advance.
"No, sir. We go forward. Grant will bring up Burnside and we are going to hold this town!"
General Robertson!" Lee rode to Robertson's side, his division commander saluting. "How goes it, sir?"
Robertson shook his head and looked up at the darkening sky, now streaked with lightning.
"Sir, it's chaos in that town. Can't keep any control or command of troops. Its street by street, and those Yankees just won't give up. Frankly, sir, I can't tell you what is going on."
"Are we driving them?"
"Yes, sir," Robertson said, "but it isn't like any fight we've been in before. Hard to tell in a town like that. The men we're facing aren't like the Army of the Potomac. Never seen anyone try to hold a town like this before."
He pointed toward Frederick, the city ablaze, driving back the approaching darkness. It looked to Lee like something out of the Bible, apocalyptic, the air reverberating with thunder, explosions, the crackle of rifle fire.
"Drive them! Keep driving them," Lee shouted. "I want those Federals in there taken. Tonight."
"We'll try, sir."
Lee spurred his mount, going forward into the fight.
Sgt. Maj. Lee Robinson, First Texas, Hood's old Texan brigade, was at the head of the column, not carrying the colors for the moment, instead directing his men to keep moving, to drive to the center of the town regardless of loss.
Yankee snipers were at a score of windows, shooting down. He urged his own on as ordered. If they got tangled up in a building by building fight all semblance of order would vanish. The orders were to seize the center of town, and that was only one block ahead.
"Keep moving, keep moving!"
"This way!" McPherson shouted.
Leading part of an Illinois regiment, McPherson pointed the way straight into the center of town. Two of his staff had dropped in the last block and a dozen men of the Illinois regiment. The center of the town, he thought. Hold that intersection and we can hang on awhile longer.
"Come on boys, come on!" He spurred his mount ahead.
Sergeant Hazner leaned up on the windowsill. If not for the spreading fires it would have been impossible to see a target. He saw the column, an officer on horseback, rose up to shoot, and a volley from across the street drove him back down.
Sergeant Robinson stopped dead in his tracks, stunned as a Yankee officer, alone, came around the corner on horseback. His own men staggered to a halt, the column around him confused for a brief instant, then raising their weapons up.
Robinson, rifle poised, aimed straight at the officer. He was less than ten feet away.
"For God's sake," Robinson shouted, "surrender!" The officer looked straight at him, grinned, offered a salute, and then started to turn as if to ride away.
Robinson shot him, feeling as if it was murder. The man jerked upright, swayed, and then tumbled from his mount.
A few seconds later Yankee infantry appeared, and at the sight of the downed officer a wild shout of rage rose up from them and they lunged forward.
Robinson's Texans deployed, delivered a volley at point-blank range, and charged in with bayonet. A frightful melee ensued.
"McPherson! McPherson!" the cry went up among the Yankees, even as the Texans waded in, clubbing and lunging.
Within seconds the Union troops broke and fell back, driven around the corner by the advancing Texans.
Robinson, however, stopped, and knelt down by the Union officer, who was still alive.
"Sir, why didn't you just surrender?" he asked.
"Not in my nature," McPherson gasped. "Could you do me a favor, soldier. Can't breathe. Help me sit up."
Robinson set his rifle down and propped McPherson up against the side of the building. McPherson coughed, clearing his lungs, blood foaming from his lips. "Thank you."
Robinson looked up and was stunned to see General Lee approaching, oblivious to the battle raging around him, staff nervously drawn in close in a protective ring.
More troops of Hood's old Texas brigade were running past, going into the fight.
"Who is that, Sergeant?" Lee asked.
Robinson looked at the man's shoulders.
"A major general, sir."
Walter took the reins of Traveler as Lee dismounted and stepped up to the two. Robinson, not sure whether he should come to attention, decided to continue to help the wounded officer and kept him braced against the wall.
"Oh, God," Lee sighed, "James."
McPherson opened his eyes.
"General, sir. Sorry we had to meet again like this."
Lee knelt by his side and took his hand.
"James. Dear God, James, I'm so sorry."
"Fortunes of war, General. Remember old Alfred T. Mahan always talked about that, the chances of war."
Robinson did not know what to do. Should he draw back, stay to help the Union general, or rejoin his command?
The sergeant looked over at Lee.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said, voice near to breaking. "I asked him to surrender, but he wouldn't. I'm sorry, sir." His voice trailed off.
"Not your fault, Sergeant," McPherson whispered. "Did your duty. Foolish of me, actually. Don't blame yourself."
Robinson found himself looking up into Lee's eyes, and was filled with anguish.
"I'm sorry, sir."
Lee shook his head.
"No, Sergeant. War, contemptible war, did it." Lee looked back at McPherson. "Are you sorely hurt, James?"
McPherson nodded. "Can't seem to breathe." Blood was spilling out from just under his armpit, trickling down from his lips and nostrils. "General?"
Lee looked up. It was Walter.
"Sir, it isn't safe for you here. Word is more Yankees are coming into the town. Sir, you must move!"
Lee nodded, then looked from his old student to Robinson.
"Sergeant, get a detail together. Carry General McPherson back to the depot down by the river. Stay with him, I'm ordering you to stay with him. Find my surgeon down there, and see that the general is tended to immediately."
"Of course, sir," Robinson replied.
He wondered for a second whether Lee remembered the incident at Taneytown, where he had defied Lee, grabbing hold of Traveler's reins and blocking his advance. But the general seemed lost in misery.
"I'll see he is taken care of, sir," Robinson whispered.
"General Lee, a favor," McPherson whispered.
"My fiancee is in Baltimore. We were planning to many but then this campaign started. Interfered with our plans." He paused, struggling for breath, coughing up more blood. "Could you send for her?" "Of course, James. Anything."
"Her name is Emily Hoffman." He paused again as if already drifting away, Lee leaning closer.
McPherson chuckled and then grimaced with pain.
"Can't remember her address, it seems. But it's on her letters in my breast pocket."
"She'll be on a train and up to you by tomorrow, James."
"Would like to see her again."
"You will, my friend. God forgive me. I am so sorry."
"Duty divided us," McPherson whispered, "but you are still my friend, sir."
Lee, head lowered, could not suppress a sob, squeezing McPherson's hand "General, sir!"
It was Walter, dismounted, placing a hand on Lee's shoulder.
"Sir, it is too dangerous here. They have reinforcements coming in from the pass. We must move!"
Lee stood up woodenly, his gaze turning again to Robinson.
"Sergeant, this man is your duty now. Please see to him, and I shall be grateful." "Yes, sir."
Lee mounted and rode off.
A number of soldiers who had gathered round to watch had already made up a litter out of blankets and muskets strapped together. Robinson gently helped to pick up the general and place him in the litter.
"Help me sit up, Sergeant," McPherson gasped. "Can't breathe lying down."
"Certainly, sir," Robinson said softly, as if to a sick child. "I'll keep you up. You'll be all right, sir."
McPherson looked at him and smiled weakly.
"Don't think so. You're a damn good shooter, Sergeant."
Sgt. Lee Robinson found he could not reply.
As the group setoff he caught a glimpse of Hazner standing outside a building, remembering him from the charge at Fort Stevens. As they passed, Hazner saluted.
Come on boys, that's it, that's it!" Grant shouted.
The lead division of Ninth Corps was storming over the heights, running at the double, Sheridan in the lead.
Whatever had been said before about colored troops, he now laid to rest as he watched them pass. These men were tough, unbelievably tough, rifles at the shoulder, moving at the double, still keeping columns. A few collapsed as they passed, but then struggled to get to their feet and press forward.
Sheridan barely paused to salute, obviously in his glory. He had driven these men forward without pity, and they had answered to his call.
"How did Burnside take it?" Grant asked, as Sheridan rode up to his side.
"Like a soldier actually," Phil replied. "I think he expected it. I don't like the man leading these colored men, Ferroro, but for the moment he'll do. He, at least, is at the front. Tough men, double-timed them the last two miles."
"Courier came back, saying if Burnside's boys will get the hell off the road he'll have the first guns up by midnight."
"Good, very good," Grant replied enthusiastically.
"Sir, I've got a battle to fight," Phil announced excitedly, and turning, he fell in with the column, heading down the ridge into Frederick, and as he rode the heavens opened and the rain began.
General Lee stood at the edge of the town watching it burn even as the storm swept down from the hills. By the flashes of lightning he could see a column of Union troops coming down off the ridge.
It had to be another corps. Reports were they were colored, men of Ninth Corps.
The battle for today had served its purpose. The Union Seventeenth Corps had been shredded in the town. There was no sense any longer in trying to hold it It was afire, all semblance of control lost. Throughout the night Grant would keep pouring more men in while Johnston would not arrive much before midnight and it'd still take several hours to bring him up.
No. The day had started off poorly with the bridge, but he felt confident now. They had smashed a corps, and Grant would not let that pass lightly. He'll bring in the rest of his men. Now is the time for us to take the good ground.
He turned to Walter.
"Order Scales and Robertson to evacuate the town, to pull back to the other side of the river."
"The other side, sir? What about the bridge?"
"The other side has higher ground, Walter. You saw the survey Jed Hotchkiss did for us today. It's a good defensive position, and I will not venture a fight on this side. Grant's blood is up, and he'll hit us, come tomorrow. Let him think we're retreating and that will bring him on. I want everyone back across the river and then let us see what Grant will do. Once we defeat him, we can repair the bridge and move our pontoons."
Walter rode off.
Lee sat silent, watching the town burn, the wounded coming out, and he lowered his head.
"Merciful God," he whispered, "forgive us what we did to each other this day. Please let this be the last fight. Let it end here so that no longer friend is turned against friend."
In spite of the rain, Frederick continued to burn. The moon was out, its light reflecting off the thick haze of smoke that cloaked the valley below. Word had just come back to Grant that McPherson was wounded, perhaps already dead, and now a prisoner. His corps was a shambles, according to Sheridan, at best six thousand troops still effective.
A bloody first day, upward of nine thousand men killed, wounded, or captured between McPherson and Custer. The damage to Lee, Grant wasn't sure about, though hundreds of rebel wounded were now in the hospitals behind the heights or being tended to in the town, what was left of it.
Ely came up to him with a dispatch to sign, a request to be carried through the Confederate lines to Lee, asking for information on McPherson. Lee's nephew, Fitz Lee, had been taken prisoner, his horse shot out from under him. His leg was badly broken in the fall and might need to be amputated and he wished to inform his uncle, as well, that his kin was being well taken care of and would receive the best treatment possible.
Grant signed the note, and Ely went off to find a courier willing to brave approaching the Confederate side, under flag of truce, at night.
The clattering echo in the valley behind him was building. Coming up the road he saw a band of officers, one of them carrying a sputtering torch. It was Henry Hunt.
Hunt spotted Grant and came over.
"Damn, sir, wish I could have gotten here sooner," Hunt gasped. "Just the road was clogged with infantry, that damn Ninth Corps."
"That damn Ninth Corps, as you put it," Grant replied, "has come through now, under Sheridan. They're down in the town."
Grant pointed to the smoldering nightmare below, and Hunt nodded, whistling softly.
"Looks like it was one helluva fight."
"It was, and it will be. Where are your guns, sir?"
Hunt proudly pointed down the road. Already visible by the light of the torches and lanterns around the hospital area, the first team was pulling hard, coming up the slope. As they rounded the final curve the dismounted gunners were leaning into the wheels of the lead piece, horses panting and slipping on the macadamized road, which had turned soft and greasy after the heavy thunderstorms. The driver was shouting, cursing, trace riders spurring their mounts, and the piece lunged forward, gaining the crest. Behind it was a double caisson pulled by six more horses, behind that another gun, and then another double caisson, all of them struggling and lunging forward to gain the final slope.
"We've been on the road eighteen hours, sir. Getting down the road over South Mountains was tough going since the rain had just passed. I lost several pieces upended, teams killed, and several men when the guns went out of control. I'll send horses back in the morning to get them. My men are beat, but where do you want us?"
"That's the spirit, Hunt," Grant said approvingly. "That's the drive I want. Take them down the slope. You'll find General Sheridan has set up headquarters, I'm told, in what's left of the railroad depot in the center of town. Report to him."
"McPherson's down," Grant said quietly. "Sorry, sir. I didn't know."
"Sheridan's in command down on the field at the moment. I'm waiting up. here. Don't worry, Hunt, you'll get your chance at your grand battery; I'm not splitting you up. Phil has the lay of the land down there and will tell you where you should set up for the moment. Report to me down in the town at dawn."
"Where's Ord? Have you heard from him?"
"He's right behind my column, sir. Cursing at me all the way, says I'm slowing his march."
"That's Ord," Grant said with a smile.
"He should be along once the last of my guns has passed. I'd say he's about three miles back."
"You've done good today, Hunt. Now get to work."
Henry looked at him and then grinned, saluted, and rode off, yelling at his men to move faster regardless of the downslope ahead.
It was Ely.
'The dispatch is going off now. May I suggest you grab a little sleep. It's been a long day."
At the mere mention of sleep, tiredness overcome him. He'd ridden nearly thirty miles, been in the thick of it, and for the first time directly matched wits with Lee. He had also sent a good friend to his death or captivity.
Ely pointed to a house, a small clapboard affair on the other side of the road.
Grant walked over, dodging around a gun team pushing by him, the trace-horse driver swearing at him to "get the hell out of our way," the driver not realizing whom he was yelling at.
Lights glowed within the house.
"Hospital inside, sir," Ely said, "but a couple of the boys arranged a spot for you on the porch."
A bed was made up, an actual mattress under a couple of blankets.
Wearily he sat down, not turning aside the offer when Ely knelt to help pull off his boots. The migraine which had bedeviled him all day still held on, and he suddenly felt nauseous, as if the awareness of his affliction intensified it.
He lay back with a sigh. Migraine or not, within a few minutes he was fast asleep. Guards quietly circled the porch with orders from Ely to maintain a silent vigil. Ely sat down on the porch, leaning against the railing, struggling to stay awake to intercept any dispatches that might come in, but even he succumbed, falling asleep with his head resting on his drawn-up knees.
Out on the road the guns continued to pass, Napoleons, Parrotts, three-inch ordnance rifles, caissons, forge wagons, teams panting and struggling, crews cursing, moving woodenly in their exhaustion. They responded to Grant's orders for speed as he slipped into a dream wracked by nightmares of McPherson, of so many dead, all looking at him as if to ask whether it was indeed worth it, whether he was worthy of them.
"Emily. Wake up, dear. Wake up." Starded, Emily Hoffman sat up in her bed, her mother by her side, holding a lit candle. "What is it?" she asked.
"Dear, there's a soldier downstairs. A captain, he insists on seeing you."
"A Confederate?" she asked, still half asleep and confused.
"Yes, dear," Her mother stifled a sob.
She was out of her bed, snatching up her dressing gown, slipping into it, and half-lacing the top as she raced barefoot down the stairs. A light was glowing in the parlor, and as she stepped into the room, the soldier, who had been talking with her father, turned and stiffened.
"What is it?" she gasped.
"Miss Emily Hoffman?" the captain asked nervously. "Yes."
"Ma'am. I bear a telegram from General Lee, addressed to you, ma'am."
He held out the envelope, and she stood frozen, fearing to accept it.
The captain just stood there, red-faced, unable to speak, hand still extended with the envelope.
Her mother stepped forward, and the captain bowed slightly as she took the envelope and tore it open, her father holding a lantern up so she could read it.
Her mother began to shake, lowering her head.
"It's James," her mother gasped.
"Papa?" Emily looked at her father imploringly.
Her father took the telegram.
"It's addressed to you, sweetheart, from General Lee." He began to read:
"It is with a heavy heart I must-inform you that your fiance" has been severely wounded. I regret to tell you he is not expected to live. He was a beloved student of mine, and this tragedy touches me deeply. If you wish, you may take the next train out of Baltimore to come to his side at Frederick, where even now my physician attends him. The officer bearing this letter will escort you and your family."
Her father stepped forward, as if to hand her the letter, but she backed up, collapsing on to the sofa, sobbing.
"It's not safe," her mother said. "I think she should stay here. There's fighting up there."
"I'm going," she gasped.
"Madam," the officer said, "General Lee will provide for your safety and protection." He paused.
"If it was me," he whispered, "I'd want my Eleanor to be at my side."
Emily looked up at the officer. She felt at this moment that she should hate him with all her soul. It was someone in that uniform who had shot her James. But the look in his eyes, which were brimming with tears, stilled her anger.
"Thank you, Captain…"
"Cain. Bill Cain, ma'am. Headquarters staff for General Lee, stationed here in Baltimore. It's where I grew up."
He forced a smile through his tears.
"You might not remember me, Miss Hoffman, but I once danced with you at a social before the war. I met your fiance that night, an honorable gendeman."
"Mama, pack my things," Emily whispered.
He almost wished that he was back on the train racing across Pennsylvania. At least for those wonderful twelve hours he was able to stretch out and sleep. No one disturbed him, the passenger car sealed and guarded. No news, no decisions, just peaceful rest.
He and his escort rode down the narrow streets of Georgetown, which in spite of the early hour was awake, filled with traffic. Troops by the thousands lined the roads, fully laden with backpacks, haversacks stuffed to overflowing, the men in long lines shuffling forward a few dozen feet, stopping, then moving again.
As he rode past them, the soldiers looked up, saluting. A few called his name, but they were tired, having been up nearly the entire night, filing down from the fortress lines. They kept the city awake with the constant tramp of their marching, the rumble of field pieces, the cracking whips of drivers urging on supply wagons. Men leaned wearily against muskets, swaying, some actually falling asleep standing up, then comrades nudging them awake when the column moved forward again a few dozen feet.
He caught sight of Winfield down by the docks. Amazingly, the man was actually on horseback, his features pale in the morning light, Elihu by his side. At his approach Winfield smiled and saluted.
"How goes it?" Lincoln asked.
"Oh, sir, the usual chaos." Winfield pointed to the docks and wharfs of the old Chesapeake and Ohio canal. Dozens of barges were lined up, troops filing aboard. A hoist was swinging the barrel of a thirty-pounder Parrott gun out over a barge and slowly lowering it down. The men were nervously standing back as the barrel came to rest in the hull, the boat sinking deeper into the water as it took on the burden.
It did indeed look like chaos, hundreds of workers hauling boxes of rations, ammunition, barrels of salt pork, and stacking them up inside the bulk-hauling boats, many of them coated with layers of coal dust from their years of service bringing coal down from the mountains of western Virginia. Troops were filing aboard passenger boats, a hundred men or more to each, and he could see a procession' of barges was already heading up the canal. Once aboard and settled in, the men relaxed, lying down to sleep, some sitting up, digging into their haversacks. One man had a small concertina out and was playing a lively jig.
"Ready to go!" The barge carrying three of the Parrott guns cast off, the four mules hauling it braying, digging in, their driver cursing at them, snapping a whip. The barge inched away from the wharf.
Resting in a sling by the side of a wharf was the massive barrel of a hundred-pound Parrott gun, twenty tons of metal, its iron carriage in another sling, dozens of men swarming around the monster, hooking cables to the thick woven mat the barrel was resting on. A work crew was busy carrying individual shells aboard, a hundred pounds each, and massive bags of grape and canister shot. Farther down the wharf, another boat, surrounded by sentries with bayoneted rifles, was loading barrels of powder, with hand-lettered EXPLOSIVES signs marking the entrance to the wharf.
"I should be leaving soon," Winfield said. "I think they've got the system down. I'll leave staff here to keep moving it along. I want to get up to the front. We have a brigade of mounted troops moving up the canal ahead of all this. Word will get out, and Mosby and his boys might try some mischief. I want to be up there if he does."
Lincoln nodded and extended his hand.
"Be careful, Winfield. You're a good man. Take care of yourself."
"Oh, I will, sir."
He started to dismount and a couple of young staff officers moved quickly by his side. It was not so much a dismounting as it was a lifting-down. He grimaced with the pain, but then, remembering Lincoln, he smiled.
"See, sir, no problem at all." He accepted his cane and leaned heavily on it. Then he limped off.
"Think he can handle it?" Lincoln asked, looking over at Elihu.
"If anyone can, it's him. He spent an hour with me yesterday morning, went over the details, and then was down here at the docks all day and clean through the night He knows his job."
"Fine, then. We made the right choice."
"Something curious going on you should know about," Elihu said, and motioned to a sidestreet, leading Lincoln as they wove through the columns of troops queuing up to get aboard the canal boats.
As they turned the corner Lincoln was startled to see hundreds of black men standing about in a crowd, many with shovels, picks, and axes on their shoulders. Others had wheelbarrows loaded down with baggage. Two men had between them a large two-man whipsaw. A scattering of them were armed with old muskets or pistols.
At their approach the milling crowd fell silent, many of the men taking their hats off, stepping back at Lincoln's approach. To his amazement Lincoln saw Jim Bartlett standing in the crowd-rather, standing out, since he was dressed in a fine suit while most of the men wore the ordinary clothes of laborers.
"Jim?" Lincoln asked. "May I ask what is going on here?"
Jim braced his shoulders back, staring Lincoln straight in the eye.
"Mr. President, remember last night when you asked me to see if men would be interested in volunteering short-term for some work?
"Well, we know where them boats are going." He nodded toward the canal barges loading up.
"How do you know that, Jim?"
With that a number of the men started to chuckle.
"Ain't no secrets from us colored folk, Mr. Lincoln," a burly worker replied, and that brought on more laughter.
"Too many of you white folks think we're invisible. We're cleaning the dishes and the missus starts gossiping with other ladies about what her husband just told her, we're sweeping the floor at Willard's and the officers are boasting, or we're emptying trash in the War Office and pieces of paper just come falling into our laps. Oh, we know."
That brought renewed laughter, and Lincoln could not suppress a grin. He instantly saw the wisdom of it, thinking himself of so many conversations in the White House with servants walking in and out of the room. By heavens, of course they'd know.
"What are you and your friends proposing, Jim?" Lincoln asked.
"Our hands, our backs. There are tens of thousands of colored in this city who want to do something, anything. Let us go with the soldiers. We can dig for them, and, sir, we know that's a worry of yours."
The burly man nudged the man next to him, a thin, frail gentleman with graying hair who stepped forward nervously.
"Begging your pardon, Mr. Washburne, I hope you ain't mad, but I brought coffee into the room while you and a general were talking. I heard you say something about moving the men, but maybe not having time to dig in proper, building forts and such."
Washburne looked at the speaker in amazement.
"You know I oughta fire you," he blustered. "What you overheard is a military secret."
"Oh, I heard Mr. Stanton talking all the time, a lot of things, sir, maybe you should know about, considering all the fuss he's kicking up in the newspapers."
Lincoln threw back his head and laughed, a laugh unlike any he had experienced in weeks.
"He's got you, Elihu. We need this man."
Elihu shook his head, then leaned out of his saddle and extended his hand.
"All right then. We'll talk after this is over, but by heavens I'll never speak a word again when you are around."
The man grinned and took Elihu's hand.
"We're on the same side, sir. Maybe for different reasons, but the same side."
"For the same reasons now," Lincoln said quietly, and he looked back at Jim. 'Troops have to have priority on the boats, but wherever there's additional room, you men get aboard."
A cheer went up.
Lincoln extended his hand.
"I should warn you, though. It will be dangerous. I cannot guarantee that you will be treated well if things turn against us and you are captured."
"Then we fight," Jim said quietly. "A pick or an ax is as good as a bayonet."
"Not against disciplined troops," Elihu said softly.
"It'll be hours, most likely, before there will be room on any of the boats," Lincoln said.
"We already figured that," the burly man said. "We'll just start walking if you don't mind. Follow the canal path."
Lincoln suddenly was overcome by emotion, his face limp with sadness.
One of the men held up a banner made out of a bedsheeL Emblazoned in red letters: WASHINGTON COLORED VOLUNTEERS.
The crowd cheered again and then spontaneously poured down the street, turning on to the canal path to head toward the front. As they surged by him, Lincoln remained motionless.
Looking back toward the boats, he saw Colonel Shaw leading the men of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts aboard several barges. Shaw caught his eye and snapped to attention, saluting, his men cheering as they saw their brothers pouring down the street and then turning to follow the canal path.
"How" the world is changing," Lincoln whispered. He reached over and took Jim's hand.
"God be with you, my friend."
"And with you too, Mr. President," he paused, "and thank you."
Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia
East Bank of Monocacy Creek August 26
Gen. Pete Longstreet rode up the steep slope past a wooden blockhouse, pausing for a moment to watch as a gun crew struggled to maneuver a twelve-pound Napoleon through the back doorway, then rolled it into place inside, positioning it at a gun port looking down on the river below.
The blockhouse was perfectly positioned to cover the ruins of the railroad bridge and the still-smoking wreckage of a rail depot on the other bank, less than four hundred yards away. To either flank of the blockhouse men were digging in, cutting trenches, a work crew dragging cut lumber from the mill just south of the track to pile atop the barricades.
A scattering of Yankee skirmishers were around the depot on the other side of the creek, but for the moment there seemed to be one of those informal cease-fires between them and the Confederate skirmishers. Many were up, walking about, examining the wreckage, both sides adopting the live-and-let-live attitude of soldiers who were more than willing to fight when called upon, but considered sniping to be little better than murder if there was no immediate purpose to it. Like schoolboys they prowled around the wreckage, coming to the river to examine the bridge and gape down at the two shattered locomotives in the creek. A few had started fires to fix one last pot of coffee before battle was rejoined.
Even Pete stopped for a minute to look at the ruins. It was obvious there had been one hell of a fight here yesterday. Bark had been peeled off trees by bullets, hunks of metal from the exploding train littered the riverbank, and burial details were at work on both sides of the river, as if clearing the ground for the next harvest, which would begin soon enough.
"Hey, reb, who's the general?" a Yank with a booming voice shouted from across the river.
Several of the Confederates down by the bridge looked back and saw Pete.
"Why, that's old Longstreet!" one of them shouted back. "Now that he's here, there'll be hell to pay for you boys."
Pete shook his head. A compliment in a way, but the men would be in Yankee headquarters within the hour. Curious, this war: no matter how often the men were lectured on it, skirmishers on both sides tended to gossip and give away secrets, just like old women at a quilting party.
Pete pressed up the hill to a flat plateau where Lee, Jeb Stuart, Walter Taylor, and John Hood stood, all with field glasses raised, looking toward the distant ridgeline.
Pete offered a salute as he approached, and Lee, lowering his glasses, smiled.
"General, good to see you. You must be exhausted after such a long ride."
"I'm fine, sir," he lied. He was numb after the twenty-four-hour ride, the anxiety of what was happening ahead, and the frustration he felt as he paralleled the railroad track and saw the colossal traffic jam mat stretched for miles. The hope had been that during the night, once Hood was finished moving his divisions up, the trains could start shuttling troops from his own corps forward, sparing them the rest of the march. That was clearly impossible. Only a few engines were moving, while dozens waited to back up through the single-line track between the two tunnels.
'Tell me, General, when can we begin to expect your troops?" Lee asked, as Pete dismounted. One of the staff handed him a cup of coffee, which he gladly accepted.
"I left them during the night, sir. The lead division, McLaw's, should be up by noon."
"Good. And General Beauregard's Corps?"
"Behind the rest of my column, sir, but he is also moving on parallel roads, not the National Road. He should start filing in late this afternoon."
Lee nodded approvingly.
"How are things here, sir?" Pete asked.
"Grant is living up to his reputation," Lee said and motioned to the Catoctin Ridge.
Pete uncased his field glasses and focused on the distant ridge. Though it was wreathed in early morning mist and smoke from the burning town, he was able to catch glimpses of troops moving down the road.
"Ord we think," Walter interjected.
"McPherson and Burnside are already accounted for," Lee said. "That only leaves Banks. Scouts with General Stuart reported a number of batteries coming into the town during the night."
"I heard you really chewed into McPherson yesterday," Pete said.
"Yes," Lee replied, his voice now barely a whisper. "Sir, I'm sorry. I meant no disrespect to James. He was a good man."
"He's still alive," Walter said.
"Will he pull through?"
Lee shook his head.
"Again, sir, I'm sorry."
"It is God's will," Lee said softly.
"Most-of McPherson's Corps was destroyed yesterday," Walter said. "We briefly tangled with some of Burnside's men last night. Colored troops."
"Damn all," Hood said coldly.
Lee turned and looked over at Hood, who lowered his gaze.
"They are to be treated like any other troops we face,"
Lee announced. "If taken prisoner, they and their officers are to be shown all due respect, as has been our tradition. I want everyone to understand that." "Yes, sir," Hood said.
"So that leaves one of Grant's corps unaccounted for," Longstreet said, feeling it best to change the topic. "Banks, supposedly his strongest unit."
"I suspect he is on the far side of that ridge even now," Lee announced.
"There's nothing to the north," Stuart said. "My screen is still holding, though there has been some heavy skirmishing with Grierson. The only cavalry unit to break through so far was Custer, and we saw what happened to him yesterday."
"But he did bum the rail bridge and covered bridge and mauled several regiments in the process," Hotchkiss interjected. "I'd consider that a fair trade."
"Yes, indeed, a fair trade. And it also fixed this place as the one where this war will be decided, once and for all," Lee announced.
Pete, sipping his coffee, looked over at Lee.
"It has to be here," Lee said. "We could have held those heights up there." He pointed to the Catoctin Ridge. "But if we had, Grant would not have taken the bait. The position is simply impregnable, and even Grant would not have attacked us if we had stayed there. He'd have stopped his advance and dug in along South Mountains."
Lee turned to face his officers.
"Remember last year. But one of our divisions held that ridge for an entire day while we regrouped at Sharpsburg. The Catoctin Ridge was an even better tactical position, with only one road crossing it versus three at South Mountains."
"Then, sir, why did you concede it?" Longstreet asked.
"Because it was too good. If Scales had stayed there, and then been reinforced by Robertson's Division, no force on the face of this earth could have pushed us off. Grant would have remained concealed behind South Mountains, and that would give him time. He could have sat us out for weeks or perhaps pushed down to Harpers Ferry, crossed into Virginia, and thus forced us to follow him. No, when I saw this ground, I wanted him here."
Lee turned and pointed to the flat open plain between the river and Frederick.
"They will deploy out there, gentlemen. Our elevation here, according to Jed Hotchkiss, is a good hundred to two hundred feet higher, with excellent fields of fire for our preponderance in artillery. We have the range of hills to our south bordering the river; they can act as a tactical shield if we should wish to maneuver that way. But I think Grant will come straight on."
"Just like Burnside at Fredericksburg," Hood interjected.
Lee nodded in agreement.
"I believe I am getting the measure of Grant. He is tenacious. He pushed McPherson's Corps forward yesterday afternoon to seize the town and perhaps the bridge regardless of the losses. We bloodied him. It is obvious by what we see over there that blood has not deterred him. He has pushed two more corps in, and they will begin to deploy down to the river and then come straight at us. And I say, let them come!"
He slapped a balled fist against the palm of his hand.
Longstreet turned to look at the ground. Lee was right. It was indeed ideal ground for a fight. The Monocacy Creek formed a natural barrier to slow any assault. There were numerous fords, and the still-intact stone bridge of the National Road, but each of those fords and the bridge faced, on the east side, excellent ground for artillery, infantry, and observation. Union attacks would have to funnel into those points, and it would be a killing ground. There were also fairly good roads on the east side, running north to south, which could provide for rapid redeployment of troops.
"Then why will he attack?" Pete asked. "We do hold the better ground here. Not suicidal, as would be the case if we were atop Catoctin Heights, just slightly better ground than those on the west side. But why attack us? Why not wait? I think, sir, if it was us over there, we would definitely not attack."
"Because he is under pressure, General Longstreet, from Washington. And because everything we know about Grant tells us that he is aggressive and persistent. I think Grant is not a fool like Burnside. When he hits, as he did at the second day of Shiloh, he will come on with everything at once. But he will come on."
"Only if he thinks he can win, or has a broader plan," Pete said. "I wish Beauregard was here to see this and offer his opinion."
At this Lee turned to look at Pete with fire in his eyes, a flash of anger even. Pete had seen that look before. So many spoke of the gentleman Lee, the courtly Lee, but when battle loomed, a cold side could come out, even one of anger. That had truly flared to the surface at Union Mills when he fired Dick Ewell from command and sent him home in disgrace.
When word had first come that Grant was on the move he had seen Lee surprisingly off balance for over a day, pondering, unsure. That was now washed away. He was confident, eager for battle, perhaps too much so.
"We both want this to end," Lee snapped. "We received a report yesterday that not three days past Lincoln was with Grant up by Carlisle. Lincoln is facing a firestorm back in Washington over his removal of Stanton and the defeats. If Grant cannot win it for them in the next week or two, their government might collapse."
"Therefore, might not the seizing of Catoctin Heights have been a wise move?" Longstreet ventured. "It would have forced Grant to either make a suicidal attack or maneuver, which would have taken too much time."
Lee looked at him sharply, and Pete realized he had overstepped his bounds. It was something he could have said to Lee in private, but to second-guess a decision which could no longer be reversed, in front of others, was a major mistake.
"I apologize, sir," Longstreet said softly.
"No offense taken," Lee replied, and his features softened.
"No, General Longstreet, I want this settled now. We have.lured Grant down out of the pass. Once our guns are up and in place, we can turn that field across the stream into a slaughterhouse. We break him in his attacks, then counter-strike. He'll have only one road out as we converge in. We break him, then unleash Jeb here to finish the job. I dare say that in three days we can annihilate Grant here, push him up over the Catoctin Pass, and what is left we can annihilate in the valley beyond."
Longstreet said nothing. He could see that the Old Man's fire was up, the same as the first day at Gettysburg, and there was no arguing with him now. It was just that there was one question unanswered. If this was indeed a killing ground, why was Grant marching into it?
"Ready to go, Ely?" Grant asked.
Grant looked around at his staff. Lohman would stay behind at the crest to keep an eye on the approach of Banks's Corps, which, though slow, was now cresting the South Mountain range. All of Hunt's guns had long since passed. Behind Banks would come the tangle of supply wagons, twenty-five miles of them, with orders to go into reserve behind the Catoctin Mountains, with priority given to ammunition, rations, and medical supplies.
A report had just arrived that the railroad crews had completed the repair of the Cumberland Valley Railroad down to Hagerstown, and the first trains were coming in even now, carrying extra supplies. A dozen trains a day from Harrisburg would free up a thousand or more wagons that could be used to improve his supply line from Hagerstown to here. With the double mountain barrier, other than the problem it presented with the steep slopes, he now enjoyed a very secure line of supply. With the extra wagons, the load per wagon could be lightened to speed up the passage over the mountains. By midday his telegraphy crews promised they'd have a direct line completed from Hagerstown to Frederick. With that in place he'd be linked to Harrisburg and the North.
Another crew a hundred miles away was hard at work stringing a connection due east out of Washington to the Chesapeake and another line on the east shore connecting into the line that ran up to Dover. By late in the day, messages from Washington and back, which only yesterday took days, would be cut to not more than an hour or two.
There were times in his past when he had wanted to be as far away from contact with Washington as possible. But not now, not with the confidence among himself, Lincoln, and Washburne. If his plan was to work, they had to have this intricate web of wire to hook it all together, encircling Lee with tapping signals made of electricity that Napoleon and Caesar could never have dreamed of.
He was grateful to Ely for the five hours of uninterrupted sleep. All of Hunt's Artillery had passed, and now the second division of Ord's Corps was slipping and sliding to the top of the crest and then sliding down the opposite side. Ely had told him that Ord had passed by without even wakening him, saying he and Phil would figure out where to deploy.
Both these men were new to corps command. Ord only in May, Phil just since yesterday, but he felt a sense of confidence in them. They understood every detail of the intricate plan he had worked out even before Sickles went off half-cocked. Though he had yet to actually see Phil under fire, he knew Ord had a good eye for ground and would act correctly. If he had encountered any real questions, he would have sent a message back.
The men of Ord's command were indeed exhausted. Typical of Ord he had pushed them remorselessly. As Grant rode out into the road, he took one last look to the west and saw Ord's Third Division struggling forward. The side of the road for miles back across the valley was dotted with blue specks, men who had collapsed after a day and a night of marching, with only a two-hour break at midnight. Perhaps twenty percent of his strength was thus scattered, but he had learned long ago that each regiment had its core, the hardbitten lot of two or three hundred who did ninety percent of the fighting. Some of the stragglers, he knew, were good spirits in a fight but physically unable to keep up on a forced march, some were the shirkers, worse than useless in a fight, and many were just ill with the usual complaints of the "two steps," ague, or lung sickness, and to slow an army for them to keep pace was senseless. '
A collecting point had already been established for them in the village of Middletown, appropriately named, for it was midway between the two mountain ranges. Hospitals were set up there for the sick, and once the road was cleared, those capable again of marching would be pushed forward.
He started down the slope, taking in the details. At least half a dozen of Hunt's guns and even more of the double limber caissons had wrecked on the way down. Crews had lost control and jumped off, with horses, guns, and caissons going over the side of the road in a horrifying tangle. And yet Hunt had pushed on.
A scattering of dead from both sides lined the sides of the road. Boys in tattered gray and butternut mingled with the tattered blue of McPherson's boys. No one had bothered to move them, other than to drag off the road those who blocked the way.
He tried not to look; the sights were far too distressing: sixteen-year-olds clutching a Bible or daguerreotype, older men twisted up in agony, others so peaceful, as if asleep. Two boys, identical twins, lay arm in arm, their blood commingled in the mud. The bodies were all so still, but strangely, if you stared at them too long, they appeared to be breathing still. A reb sergeant and a union private lay side by side, an open canteen between them, and yet ten feet away were two more, transfixed in death, one with a knife buried in the stomach of the other, the faces of both frozen in a terrible rage.
One man, a Confederate captain, was sitting against a tree, letters scattered about him, one still clutched in his hand. Letters from a mother, a sweetheart perhaps? He looked for a second, then turned his gaze away, forcing himself to again look straight ahead. None would ever go home; they'd be buried here. Perhaps weeks or months later a letter might arrive from a company officer or comrade, "Dear Madam, I regret to inform you…"
Wellington was right, the only thing as terrible as a battlefield lost was a battlefield won. Win or lose was still not decided, but for those now carpeting the sides of the road, victory or defeat no longer mattered.
I can never dwell on that too long, he thought. Will Lee and I one day answer for this, he wondered. It was a thought he knew was not healthy for him at this moment, and he forced it aside.
The migraine still bedeviled him, and he rubbed his brow. Ely was watching him with concern. He had tried to eat breakfast, a fine feast of fresh eggs, some salt pork, and even a few links of smoked sausage, and then slipped into the woods to vomit it all up. He smiled away Ely's concerns with the simple, "I'm fine."
A cigar helped a bit, and he puffed on it continually as he rode down the slope. The random thought came to him that a drink right now would taste awfully good, would settle his stomach, perhaps push the headache back, but that was something he knew he could never do now.
Maybe years from now, when I think of this moment, he thought, perhaps then I'll get a good bottle of whiskey down and drink it dry, but not now, definitely not now. But if there was anything that could turn a man back into an alcoholic it was this nightmare road and the wreckage of battle strewn along it.
The headache intensified. He tossed aside the cigar he was smoking, half finished, and then in a couple of minutes lit another.
They rode into the western end of Frederick, dozens of buildings smoking ruins. Ord's lead division was by his side, men moving slowly in their exhaustion but looking around, exclaiming over the wreckage, the obvious signs of a hard-fought battle.
Collapsed buildings still smoldered, civilians picking through the wreckage, a dazed woman standing by the side of the road clutching a flame-scorched portrait. A detail of soldiers, several of them Confederate prisoners, was hauling buckets of water, flinging them against the side of a home which was partially burned and still flickering with flames. A brick house, windows shot out, had a hospital flag flying in front of it; dozens of homes now displayed that flag, or just white bedsheets hanging out of windows. Wounded Union and Confederates lay on the sidewalk, while from within came ghastly cries of anguish.
An upended limber wagon blocked a sidestreet, several of the horses still alive, whimpering in pain, and Grant turned to one of his men, asking him to put the poor beasts out of their misery. He loathed the sight of an animal in pain.
In another section of town, nearly an entire block had been leveled by fire, smoke billowing up from the ruins. A church, its steeple tilting at a drunken angle after being hit by an exploding shell, had its doors flung open. On its doorstep he saw Union and Confederate doctors, working together, doing the grisly task of admitting some within and quietly telling many stretcher bearers to cany their burden "around the back," which meant they were too far gone for help.
The windows of nearly every shop were smashed in, and from a tree two bodies dangled on ropes, one a rebel, another a Union soldier, signs hanging from their stiffening bodies: LOOTERS AND COWARDS.
He edged his way toward the center of town. Here the battle had been at its fiercest Dead carpeted the sidewalks, dangled from windows, were sprawled into shop windows, and laid curled up in alleyways. A cavalry detachment, a few weary men from Custer's command, were mounted and at the center of town, directing Ord's column to keep moving eastward, to not stop till the far side of town.
"General Sheridan's headquarters?" Ely asked, and a trooper pointed down the road.
"At the Frederick railroad depot, about four blocks ahead, sir," and the men saluted as Grant rode by.
He looked over at his inquirer, a civilian carrying a cumbersome box with tripod over his shoulder. "Sir, a favor!" "What is it?" Grant asked.
"Sir, General McPherson was shot right over there." The photographer pointed toward a corner building at the center of town, several bodies lying in the gutter, bloodstains still in the street.
Grant stared at him.
"May I have your portrait there, sir? Surely the Illustrated Weekly will want this one. General Grant mourns at the place McPherson fell."
Though obscenities were rare for him, one spilled forth now, and turning, he rode on, staff glaring coldly at the photographer who stood there, mystified by the response. Then, shrugging his shoulders, he moved on, setting up his camera for another shot of the troops when they paused for a break.
He pushed on, past a house where a tattered Confederate regimental flag dangled from a third-floor window. He saw a column of exhausted rebel prisoners, fifty or more, being escorted by several equally exhausted guards, a minister saying a prayer over a dozen blanketed bodies, a Catholic priest giving communion to several men who had stopped for his blessing, and then to his amazement, an embalmer who was selling policies.
Men like him always trailed the armies. They'd sell an "embalming policy" for fifty dollars to any soldier and issue him a receipt. If a comrade brought the body in with the receipt, the deliverer received five dollars, the body was supposedly embalmed, usually poorly done, and then shipped to the family.
Some of Mcpherson's men were negotiating with him, dead bodies lying around his wagon.
"Drive that scoundrel off," Grant snapped, and several of the men of Grant's headquarters detail were more than happy to comply, one of them deliberately smashing the embalmer's bottles of fluids with his sword, then drawing a pistol on him and telling him, "Get the hell out of this town, you son of a bitch."
Grant did not look back, but rode on. At last he saw it, the rail depot. It was a wreck, a small roundhouse burned to the ground, several cars still flickering with flames, a warehouse all but flattened by fire except for the skeleton-like eyes of its windows.
He spotted Sheridan out front, Ord by his side, and Hunt leaning against a tree, smoking a cigar. At his approach the three came to attention.
"Quite a mess here in town," Sheridan announced, as Grant rode up.
"I can see that."
"No fighting to report, sir. The rebels gave back during the night and retreated across the Monocacy."
Grant nodded. No news there. At dawn he had seen it clearly enough. Frankly, he did not expect Lee to try to fight him on this side of the creek. There was no good tactical ground for him to hold, other than to try to maintain his grip on the town and block the one road.
Grant dismounted, tossed his cigar aside, and walked over to a table where Phil had a map spread out, pencil marks indicating troop movements. The other officers fell in around him.
Grant puffed on his cigar as he leaned over the map and studied it intently, examining where Sheridan had sketched in the rebel positions.
"We fight hira here," Grant said.
"But he has chosen this ground," Hunt replied. "Sir, I know you said we should stop trying to worry about what Lee wants, but still, from experience, sir, when that man chooses ground, it means a tough fight."
"And that is precisely why I will fight him here," Grant replied sharply. "He wants this fight, and so do I. Let him choose this ground, this particular place. It will fix him in place the way I want it."
He leaned back, rubbing his brow again.
Ord grinned and said nothing.
Grant leaned over the map again.
"We just had a report come up from the depot," Sheridan said, "that General Longstreet was spotted."
"Is Beauregard up yet?"
"No indication of that, sir," Sheridan replied. "We've accounted for two divisions of Hood's. About a hundred guns are deploying along the heights above the depot and also over on our right flank here."
He pointed to where the creek took a turn to the southwest for a mile or so before bending back to the south.
"It's called the McCausland Farm. A good open hill. Guns there can enfilade the depot area."
"Sir," Ord interjected, "we have two intact corps up. Hunt has his batteries up. Why don't we go for them here?"
He pointed toward the McCausland Farm.
"There's a ford below the farm. My boys could force it."
Grant nodded, looking at the map, remembering the lay of the terrain he had spent hours studying yesterday.
"Your boys have marched for nearly twenty-four hours," Grant said.
"My command, then," Sheridan offered. 'They've had several hours' rest."
"I want you to hold the center of the line and the left flank," Grant said. "You're already in position for that."
He contemplated the move and then finally nodded.
"I want to keep the pressure on Lee, but Banks is not yet up. General Ord, a limited attack, later in the day. Do not bring on a general engagement, though."
"The last thing I want now is to push Lee out of this position, but I do not want him to think we are suffering from temerity. Commit as if we are about to try a serious lunge, but conserve your boys."
"If I gain the ford?" Ord asked.
"Hold it, of course. That will force him to want to take it back, but do not bring on a general engagement." "I understand, sir."
Grant sat down on, of all things, a church pew that had been carried out of the church across the street and his staff gathered round as Sheridan held a map up, Grant behind him, tracing out the move.
He hated giving orders like this for a limited attack. A "demonstration" they use to call it at the Point. Still, such a demonstration might cost a thousand lives before it was done.
One Mile Southeast ofMonocacy Junction
The train drifted to a halt. Emily Hoffman gazed out the window, the spectacle around her not registering, for at such a moment the world collapses into itself, and the struggle, the anguish, the drama of a hundred thousand others become meaningless.
For the last six miles they had passed train after train stalled on the other track, locomotives puffing, backing up slowly, foot by foot. Troops lined the tracks, marching westward, battle flags at the fore of each regiment. "Miss Hoffman?".
She looked up. It was the kindly Captain Cain, and she forced a smile. "Miss Hoffman?" "Yes, Bill?" "We're here, ma'am." "Thank you."
She stood up. Her parents, sitting across from her, stood as well, her mother reaching out to take her hand, which she refused. She took a deep breath and followed Cain to the back of the single car, empty except for the four of them.Troops piled off the other cars in the train and she realized this was one more part of the war she hated. As she stepped out onto the rear platform, she found a detachment was waiting for her, Confederate cavalry and a small carriage, a battered country type of carriage, barely able to hold four, its top gone, a single aging horse in the traces.
"Sorry about the carriage, ma'am," a major said as she stepped down, taking.Cain's hand. "It's all General Lee could find for you."
She forced a smile as she stepped into the carriage, Cain taking the reins, her mother and father squeezing in on the seat behind her.
The major rode out front, escorts flanking the carriage, and they set off. The road they were on, heading south, was packed with troops, the major riding ahead, shouting for them to clear the way.
The men, grumbling, stepped aside but, at the sight of her, many removed their hats. "That's her," she heard one of them announce as they passed.
The road turned off to the west, and after another turn to the south, they pulled into the drive of a modest two-story frame house.
She recoiled at the sight confronting her. Several hundred men lay in the yard, under the trees of a small orchard, some out in the glaring sun, others under quickly erected awnings of shelter halves and tarps. A tent was set lip outside the building, and to her horror a pile of bloody limbs rested outside the tent.
The major barked a sharp command, and one of his troopers dismounted, grabbed a blanket from behind his saddle, ran up, and threw the blanket over the grisly sight, but it was too late; she had already seen it.
She felt as if she would faint but then whispered a silent prayer for strength. James must not see me weak, not now. Behind her, her mother began to cry.
Cain got down from the carriage and offered his hand.
"This way, Miss Hoffman."
She stepped down from the carriage. All in the yard fell strangely quiet at the sight of her. men whispering to each other. Some of the wounded were boys in blue, and one of them, leg missing below the knee, propped himself on his elbow.
"Let's hear it for old McPherson!" he cried, and a ragged three cheers echoed weakly.
She looked at her escort of Confederate troopers and officers. They were silent, but she could see in their eyes there was no rancor, instead she saw looks of compassion, and she nodded to them, one of the men offering a handkerchief so she could wipe her eyes.
She mounted the steps. A minister was standing there, and for a horrified second she feared she was too late.
"I'm Reverend Lacy," he said. "I used to serve with General Jackson. Now I'm on General Lee's staff. He asked that I attend you, miss. Your fiance is still with us."
"Thank you, Reverend," she whispered.
He extended his hand and she took it.
"He's upstairs, resting at the moment."
"His condition?" her father asked.
The reverend looked straight at her.
"You must be strong, my dear, and place your faith in Our Lord."
"He won't live, will he?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"A few hours perhaps."
"Is he in pain?"
"No. The doctor gave him morphine, though he tried to refuse it. Miss, he is shot through both lungs. It is only a matter of time now."
She said nothing but felt a frightful urgency to see him and stepped into the house. Again she wanted to recoil. It appeared to be the home of a country physician, his office to her right, but the sight within that room filled her with horror, for the doctor was operating on a man, blood dripping to the floor, the doctor bent over, cutting into the man's open thigh. In the parlor to the left, a dozen men were on the floor, a woman, most likely the doctor's wife, bandaging a boy's face, slashed wide open from scalp to jaw. She looked up at Emily, but said nothing.
'This way," Reverend Beverly Lacy said and led her upstairs to the second floor. In what was obviously the doctor's bedroom she saw him as she reached the last step, doorway open.
She took a deep breath, prayed yet again for strength, and slowly walked in. He was under the covers, which were pulled down to his waist. -Chest bandaged, the left side soaked red. A trickle of blood frothed his lips. He was breathing raggedly, gasping, each breath another froth of blood.
She knelt down by his side and took his hand. It was cool to the touch, graying, so unlike the warm strong grasp she once knew, the way he held her when they danced, when they walked together beneath the moonlight, the way his hands had so lovingly cupped her face when they kissed for the first time.
She leaned "forward and whispered. He moaned sofdy, eyes fluttering.
"The morphine," Lacy whispered behind her. "He knows I'm here now," she replied. "James, it's Emily."
His eyes opened. He turned his head slightly, looked at her, and smiled.
She took the handkerchief given to her by the Confederate officer and wiped his lips.
"Emily." It was barely a whisper.
She leaned forward and kissed him.
She had to be strong, she knew that, and though she wanted to collapse, to cry, to just curl up and die with him, she knew she could not.
She stood up and looked at Lacy.
"A favor, Reverend."
"James and I were to be married. In fact, if not for what is happening now, General Grant had promised him a furlough once Vicksburg was taken for him to come to Baltimore so we could be joined."
She looked back down at James.
"We want to be married," she whispered.
"My dear?" It was her mother standing in the doorway.
A look from Emily silenced her mother. She looked at her father, who nodded in agreement.
"My dear, at this moment? He is drugged and his time approaches."
"You attended General Jackson at his deathbed, did you not?" she asked.
"Yes, miss," Lacy whispered. "And his wife was present?" "Yes."
"Then let General McPherson's wife attend to him." Lacy did not respond. "Marry us."
It was McPherson, eyes open, a smile on his lips. Lacy nodded in response.
"No years together," McPherson whispered, "no wedding night, but still we have a little time, and then we will be together for all eternity."
Forcing back her tears she took James's hand and turned to face the minister.
Near McCausland's Ford
Go, boys, go!" Ord was standing in his stirrups, saber drawn, urging his men on as they ran down the slope on the double, in column by regiments. Shells rained down into the packed ranks, men screaming; at the ford, smoke swirled up from volley after volley blazing from the other side of the Monocacy.
"A splendid fight!" Ord shouted. "A splendid fight. Now drive'em to hell!"
He turned and galloped down to the edge of the creek, violating strict orders from Grant to stay to the rear. He knew the general standing at the edge of town might see him, but he no longer cared. The fury of battle was upon him and he loved every second of it.
An Indiana regiment was in the lead, terrifyingly shredded by a volley delivered from the other bank, but they piled into the river anyhow, regardless of loss, plunging into the thigh-deep waters, pushing forward, men collapsing at every step, to be carried off by the waters.
Overhead was an inferno as Hunt's batteries, firing at long distance, plowed up the field on the other side of the creek and tried to suppress the dozen rebel batteries up next to a brick farmhouse that overlooked the ford less than a quarter mile away.
The Indiana regiment buckled as it reached midstream and started to give back, boys from Ohio pushing up behind them, gaining another twenty to thirty feet before they, too, started to collapse. Another Ohio regiment pushed in after them, plunging across, and barely gained the muddy bank on the other side. The Union was paying in blood for each foot gained for what was, as their commanding general declared, "a demonstration to fix Lee in place."
On those banks it turned to hand-to-hand fighting, men screaming, cursing, lunging with bayonets. Ohio just barely gained the opposite bank and then the artillery thundered in. The reb infantry gave back, coming out of the willows and ferns that lined the stream, running across the open field, dodging around the exploding shells of Hunt's batteries. As they fell back a terrible inferno erupted, battery after battery lining the hilltop around the McCausland farm opening up, sending down volleys of case shot that exploded over the Monocacy. Any shot that went high detonated or plowed into the ranks of the supporting brigade coming up to join in the assault. Treetops exploded in flames, solid shot slamming into the water threw up geysers thirty feet high pockmarked by the iron and lead balls of case shot slamming into the stream.
Ord, hat off, screamed with fury, urging his men to press in. A courier rode up, the side of his mount dripping blood, the horse limping badly.
"From General Grant, sir!" the courier shouted. "Call it off. Pull back!"
"We have the other bank!" Ord cried.
"You are ordered to call it off, sir!"
Ord reluctandy nodded, shouted for one of his staff to get across the stream, another to order the Second Brigade to turn about and retreat. Buglers began sounding recall throughout the attack.
The first courier into the stream went down, a shell detonating directly over him. Another dashed off, young lieutenants looking for glory were always thus, hoping a general would notice them. He barely made it to the other side, shouting to a regimental commander, and then he, too, pitched out of his saddle.
Within seconds the Ohio regiments on the other side broke and fell back across the stream. The supporting brigade, the men obviously not at all upset about the order to pull back, reversed and started to double-time back up the open slope.
As the last of the Ohio and Indiana regiments came up out of the river bottom, picking up wounded as they retreated, the rebel artillery ceased fire, a taunting cheer rising up from the other side.
"Some demonstration," Ord hissed, as he looked at the hundreds of dead and wounded piled along the riverbank or floating downstream. "I certainly hope Grant is right and this brings about an effect worthy of the lives of these young men.
"Tomorrow, you bastards," he shouted defiantly, and, turning, he retreated with his men.
The last train of the artillery reserve rolled out of the Baltimore depot twenty-four hours behind schedule. Cruickshank wiped the sweat from his brow and looked over at McDougal, who had, pulled out a bottle and was taking a "wee nip," something he tended to do at least twice an hour.
"Useless now to try and move Beauregard," Cruickshank said, "but there're the supplies, hundreds of tons of it. Rations, additional ammunition, evacuation back of the wounded, replacement horses and mules."
"And not a locomotive to be seen," McDougal said with a shrug.
"They'll be back tonight." There was almost a pleading note in Cruickshank's weary voice.
"A few perhaps, but you seem to have forgotten something, General."
"And that is?"
"Wood and coal."
"What do you mean?"
"You have over a hundred locomotives up the line and all snarled together. Their boilers have most likely been cooking away all day. They're short of wood and coal."
"I thought the order was given to send the necessary supplies for them up the line."
"Never got out, what with you rushing about, countermanding orders, then countermandering them again."
"Damn it, you should have kept me informed."
"I did, twice today, don't you remember? But you kept saying, 'Get the guns, up, McDougal, get the guns up.'"
He glared at the man, honestly not sure whether he was telling the truth or not. After two days with barely any sleep it was hard to tell anymore what was said just ten minutes ago.
"I'd say two thousand tons should do the trick," McDougal announced, fingers out as if calculating on them. 'That'll be ten of our heavier trains, but we seem short of hopper cars."
"Where the hell are they?"
"A fair number of Robertson's boys rode up on them, General, sir. Don't you remember?"
"No, I don't, damn you," Cruickshank hissed, turning his back on McDougal.
What a simple, stupid, and yet all-too-obvious concern. When he drove supply wagons in Texas before the war, hauling along extra water and grain was a given. If the trains had simply gone up and off-loaded, then come straight back, he would not have a problem now, but many had been stranded up there for over a day, and their crews had undoubtedly kept the boilers lit and steam up.
Of course they'd be running short of fuel by now.
"What is stored along the line?" Cruickshank asked, not looking back.
"What do you mean 'stored'?" McDougal replied. "Fuel, damn it."
"Wood ricks at the stations usually have a couple of cords that local farmers bring in. Coal for some of our newer engines, a few tons at each station. But you got more than a hundred locomotives up there, General, and they're all hungry and thirsty."
McDougal's tone was flat, showing he had enough sense not to rub the general's face in the problem. He knew he could take him on in a good knockdown, and if there had been the slightest hint in his voice, there would have been a fistfight, or better yet knives or pistols, one that had been building for days.
"How many locomotives still in the yard?" 'Three, and all of them are old wheezers."
"Load one of them up with wood and get it up at least to the tunnel and the changeover to a single track."
"Won't haul more than a hundred cord or so."
"I don't care. Just get something up there."
Cruickshank turned to one of his dwindling staff. He had been sending them out on assignments all day and none had yet returned.
"Get a message up to General Lee. Write something down and I'll sign it. Tell him about our fuel problem, and also what you see along the line."
The captain, one of his old drivers, sat down on a barrel and laboriously began to write out the dispatch.
The yard was strangely quiet after the mad bustle of moving out two divisions of infantry and over two hundred artillery pieces. Men who worked for the Baltimore and Ohio were sitting about in the shade, eating their evening meals, laughing and smoking, and somehow he felt that many were looking at him and secretly grinning.
If only Garrett had been cornered into a contract or, better yet, this army had had a trained railroad detachment the way the Yankees did. There were just too many details-and then he inwardly cursed himself, knowing he was trying to justify his own failings.
McDougal was off, shouting for some of his men to warm up one of the three remaining engines, several of them laughing when McDougal called out the number.
"I could pull more with me own hands," a derisive reply came back.
"Just do it, damn ya," McDougal shouted.
The staffer finished writing out the dispatch, Cruickshank cringing a bit as he read it, with all its misspellings, but the content was correct and he signed it.
Cruickshank walked over to McDougal's side.
"Not much to do here, General, until the engines start coming back. If they come back. Why don't you go sleep."
"I think I should stay," Cruickshank replied.
"Don't trust me?"
"No, I don't."
"General, darlin', would any of my lads be so stupid as to get themselves shot now? You have guards all over this place watching their every move. Go back to the company office and get some sleep."
Cruickshank reluctantly nodded in agreement.
"One question first," Cruickshank said.
"And what might that be, General, and if you are asking me if I am sabotaging your plans, of course, the answer is no."
"No, it's about one particular train."
"This morning, the one for Miss Hoffman. Even though it was pulling troops, you had an extra car on it within minutes, had a good crew on board. It left here without a hitch except for the traffic farther up the line."
McDougal fell silent. After another sip from his bottle he handed it to Cruickshank.
"Wouldn't you have done the same?"
Cruickshank finished the bottle and threw the empty on the tracks, the glass shattering.
He looked at McDougal, nodded, and then went off to find a place to sleep.
Hauling Ferry on the Potomac River
Twenty Miles South of Frederick
The sharp crackle of carbine fire rippled along the road leading down to the ferry. Winfield Scott Hancock had worried deeply about this moment, for two reasons. First, would they arrive here ahead of any strong Confederate detachments or would they have to fight for possession of the crossing?
It looked to be no more than a company of Confederate cavalry which were already drawing back as his cavalry regiment, escorting the lead boats, had pushed ahead. They had been ordered to try to drive all the rebels off before the first barge arrived, to keep concealed what was going on, but Winfield knew that was an impossible hope.
By midday, on the other side of the Potomac, they had been steadily trailed by Confederate scouts, most likely Mosby's men, who had laid down an occasional harassing fire. For a while they had simply taken to firing on the barges, the men aboard them delighted with the challenge and giving back entire volleys, dropping several of the raiders.
Then Mosby's men had switched tactics, firing on the draft horses pulling the barges, killing or wounding several, which had really set tempers aflare among his men, who thought this was unfair and downright cruel.
Strange how war is, he thought. Killing men is part of the game, but to deliberately shoot horses, except in the heat of battle, is thought unfair and draws howls of protest.
Mosby's men had pushed ahead, crossed the river at Edwards Ferry, and just above it tried to destroy one of the locks, which would have tangled the entire operation. Fortunately, the cavalry escort on his side had second-guessed them and raced ahead, stopping them just in time.
So to think that word had not gone ahead and up to Lee regarding their move was now senseless.
What had worried him more, though, was his own reaction to fire. He had seen it with more than one officer or soldier. A man of courage, or the sublime few, were as calm under fire as they were at a church service, until finally they were hit. They lost a limb, took a bad wound, and something within died, never to return. When again under fire the calm was gone, some broken completely, to be relieved of command or sent back to the rear, old comrades watching their departure with pity and, yes, also a touch of disdain.
His own experience, he knew, would haunt him the rest of his life. It was not the pain at the moment of being wounded. Surprisingly, there had only been numbed shock and deep rage that fate had pulled him out of the fight at Union Mills just when he was needed the most. No, it was what had happened afterward.
The doctor had withdrawn the bullet from his inner thigh just below his crotch and stanched the bleeding that, at first, he thought might kill him. It was later, in Philadelphia, when the wound festered, his leg swelled to twice its normal size, and the heat, the terrible heat.
At that moment he knew he was dying, in fact, inwardly he begged for it to end the agony. The mere touch of a sheet on his leg sending shock waves through him, the morphine dulling the pain, but still it was there. Doctor after doctor would come in and stick probes into the wound to keep searching for something, anything, and the room would spin in circles, and he would break, whimpering for more morphine. He lived for the next injection and prayed for death in between.
Then one doctor struck upon a plan, and when he was told of it, he begged to just be left alone to die, not to be moved, not to endure what was proposed but then relented when his wife asked him to try for life, to stay with her and the children.
They then brought a saddle into the room, set it up on sawhorses. lifted him naked from his bed and had him sit on the saddle, feet in the stirrups. The doctor then marked where the entry wound touched against the saddle, crawled under the sawhorse, and carefully drilled a hole through the saddle. He was matching up the trajectory of the bullet with how it struck him while he was upright, astride a horse. All the other doctors had probed his wound with him flat on his back, legs spread wide. This one doctor had figured they should put him back into the position he was in at the moment he was struck and perhaps in so doing a probe could find whatever it was that was now killing him. He reasoned that the bullet which had struck him had not creased up the side of the horse, but instead had gone straight through his mount's neck, then into the saddle and finally lodged in his upper thigh.
Several assistants now braced him as he sat in the saddle, feet forced into the stirrups, the mere act of bending his swollen leg a living, burning hell. The doctor was on the floor under him and took a long hooked probe out of his medical bag.
"Be brave, General," the doctor said, and then he slipped the probe through the hole in the saddle and into Hancock's body. Groaning, sweat pouring from his face in the ninety-degree heat, he hung on, gripping the hands of an orderly, struggling not to scream.
"Got it!" the doctor cried, and he pulled the probe out, its hooked blade snagged onto a tenpenny nail, bits of uniform, saddle, and rotting horsehair and flesh.
The wound exploded, decaying flesh and pus cascading out onto the floor, now that the plug within had been removed.
When he awoke the fever was abating, the wound still draining… and he was alive.
And since that moment the fear had eaten at his heart. Can I stand battle again? Will terror of facing such an ordeal again unman me? Can I still command?
And there was the other aspect of it. He had ordered the morphine to be stopped the day after the ordeal, but the wound was not healed, perhaps never would be, leaving a suppurating hole in his leg. His doctor had raged with protest when Winfield had told him he had orders to report to Washington.
'Three months from now, maybe," was the reply, "but for God's sake, General, you did your duty. I didn't put you through that agony and save your life just to see you throw it away. Let someone else carry the burden now. You have a loving wife and family to think of."
"Doctor, thank you for my life, but you are talking about what is now my duty, my country's call." With a smile he limped out of the doctor's office.
What he had not told the doctor was the wish that he could somehow take a supply of morphine with him. Its memory haunted him, its soothing call, the strange dreams, the easing of pain.
All that was set aside at this moment. A minie ball snicked past him. He did not flinch, though several of his staff did. It was a test, and he had passed it.
He looked around at his staff and grinned with delight.
"I don't think they've made another ball to hit me just yet."
"Maybe not you, sir," one of his men replied, "but maybe there's one out there for us."
The group chuckled at the gallows humor.
Infantrymen converted from soldiers of a Maine heavy artillery regiment were jumping off the lead barges, deploying into skirmish line, double-timing up the road to fall in with the cavalry skirmishers driving back the few rebs contesting the position.
Hancock waited for a landing plank to be laid to his barge before he stepped off, leaning heavily on his cane for support.
He looked around. A typical river crossing for the Potomac. He remembered it from an earlier campaign when he had crossed here on a pontoon bridge. The ferry was a standard affair, cable strung across the river as towropes, but the boat was gone, the position abandoned after the war swept through back in June.
With even a modest pontoon bridge it'd be an excellent crossing point, a clear but narrow road straight up to Frederick to the north and Leesburg, Virginia, a dozen miles to the south.
The low river-bottom ground quickly gave way to a rising slope which even now his skirmishers were taking.
He set off at a slow walk, heading up the slope. Pausing for a breath, he looked back. A bridge on the road from the ferry crossing rose up over the canal, and the barge crews were now using it to run their horses across, and with practiced skill the first barge was already being pulled back toward Washington, narrowly passing those barges still coming up.
Just ahead was what was considered to be one of the engineering marvels of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the viaduct over Monocacy Creek.
It was a stone arched bridge, carrying not a railroad track but the water of the canal, flat and level from one side of the Monocacy to the other, well over thirty feet above the river's flood plain. The towpaths on either side were excellent crossing points for infantry and it was essential to hold this position.
He was surprised that neither side, at some point during this war, had not decided to blow this viaduct; it would have shut the canal down for months.
Looking back down the canal, toward Washington, he could see a long procession, boats riding low in the water, the men in high spirits. They'd been garrison troops for far too long, enduring the endless gibes and often scuffles with the men of his beloved and now gone Army of the Potomac.
He had felt a bit of the same disdain for them once. While his boys were up at the front, battling it out with the Army of Northern Virginia, the Washington garrison had sat out two years of the war, in heated barracks, with cookhouses, fresh rations, and even beds to sleep in. They had, however, won their honor with the holding of the city in July. Reinforced now by tough veterans from the South Carolina campaign, they were out of the city that many themselves had come to hate, were in the field on a new adventure, and had not seen so much action that they dreaded the next shock. In a way they reminded him of how he and his men had once looked, long ago, in the early spring of 1862, when McClellan had led them forth to the Peninsula, fresh, eager, neat, and ready for a fight.
He worried some about how they would react when they were hit by the hardened combat veterans Bobbie Lee would throw at them. He knew that in an open running fight he would bet on the veterans of field combat over heavy artillerymen converted into infantry. However, dug in, with a defensive role of stopping the rebs and not maneuvering against them, he thought his Washington garrison troops might just do the job. He was certainly going to do everything he could to stiffen their resolve and get them ready before Lee got to them.
He gained the top of the slope. The view was magnificent, the Potomac River coiling behind him, the canal with its boats, the sun low over the Catoctin Mountains to the west.
The last of the skirmishing ahead was dying- down. No casualties to either side, the rebel patrol far back now on the road, a mile or more away.
His staff was coming up around him, several of them survivors of the Second Corps who had escaped the debacles at Union Mills and Gunpowder River and who he had requested to join him now.
"Right here, gentlemen," Hancock announced. "I want a good survey done right now along this rise. We dig in close to the river."
"This close?" a major asked.
It was Jeremiah Siemens, his old topographical engineer when he commanded a division at Chancellorsville. Jeremiah had missed Union Mills, having been wounded at Chancellorsville, his empty left sleeve rolled up.
"No room for withdrawal, sir, if things go against us."
He knew Jeremiah well enough to know that the question was not so much for himself, but as an answer to those gathering round.
"There will be no withdrawal, gentlemen," Hancock announced. "Our orders are to secure every potential crossing spot between here and Point of Rocks." He pointed toward the Catoctins, ten miles to the northwest.
"That's here, Nolands Ferry just on the other side of the viaduct, then Point of Rocks. We leave five thousand men back at Edwards Ferry across from Leesburg, but the rest come up here."
The group, now including several officers from his First Division, were silent.
"If Lee should come on us with everything he has," one of them finally ventured, "we have to defend four crossings, and picket in between. He can focus on one point and outnumber us there five, maybe even six or seven, to one."
"That's why we dig in," Hancock replied sharply. "Jeremiah, I want surveys completed here and at Nolands before dark. Then up to Point of Rocks by dawn, but defending that position will be easy, it's a narrow squeeze down to the crossing and three thousand men there would be like the three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae. Remember, we don't have to defeat Lee by ourselves. We simply have to stop him long enough for Grant to catch up and hit him from the rear. If we do our job, Grant will do his. Somewhere along here Lee is going to try to get home to Virginia. We are the cork in the bottle to stop him."
Hancock looked upriver and then downriver. He made a summary judgment of what he saw and what he remembered from the maps of the region.
"No, I doubt that it will be Point of Rocks or Edwards Ferry. If Lee should turn, it will be here."
"That's a lot of work," someone said. "Our boys are good diggers, Lord knows. They did their share around Washington, but to make it secure, while also putting out pickets, keeping back Mosby…"
No one spoke for a moment. All had fallen silent, for in the distance, like a summer storm, came a dull, rolling thunder.
"Then let's start now," Hancock replied sharply. "The sooner we are dug in, the safer we will be. Make sure the men understand that. They are digging for their lives."
Headquarters, Army of the Susquehanna Frederick, Maryland
A cool evening breeze wafted down from the heights behind the town and Grant sighed with relief as the temperature dropped several degrees within minutes. Not like Mississippi at all, where the muggy heat would linger through the night. No mosquitoes either, and that was a blessing.
He had moved his headquarters from the town depot out to a low rise just east of the toll gate south of town. At the edge of the rise, a quarter mile away, Hunt was busy with his guns, crews digging in, throwing up lunettes around each piece, constructing rough bombproofs to store limber chests in. Occasional harassing fire came from the rebel guns on the far side of the river, but nothing serious, just a growling back and forth like two old neighboring dogs reminding each other of their existence. It dropped off as dusk settled over the countryside.
All orders had been given; Sheridan and Ord knew their tasks. Of Banks he was not sure yet, but his men had come up in good order during the day, filing down out of the mountain pass and falling in on the north flank. Banks's men, at least, he knew were good troops that had fought through the swamps of the lower Mississippi, though ironically many of the regiments were recruited from New York and New England. It had been easier in the first year of the war to ship men from there to New Orleans while the Confederates still held Vicksburg and Port Hudson.
They had seen action before, though not on the scale of battles here in the East, but he had a sense of them, that they were grateful to be out of the Deep South and eager to prove themselves… and tomorrow would definitely be a day of proving. He hoped they would rise to the occasion.
The orders were straightforward and simple. At dawn, all three corps were to engage: Sheridan in the center, Ord on the right, Banks on the left, with what was left of Mcpherson's Corps to be in reserve in the town. The three attacking corps were to go for the fords, but also force a general action up and down the length of the river for five miles or more, to fight like hell and hold Lee in place, to not give him a breather or the room to maneuver, but to lock hold of him and hang on. And they were not to throw men away senselessly. Ord, his blood up after barely taking the ford, was ready to do so, to storm straight in against a hundred or more guns. No, first we have to wear the other side down, exhaust them, and then let the plan unfold.
Campfires by the thousands were springing to light along the river, on both sides, the scent of wood smoke, coffee, and frying salt pork filling the evening air. To him it was a comforting smell, part of his life, a better part of the army life he had always loved. The day's march done, the men settling down, songs drifting on the air, rations being cooked, the first stars of evening coming out.
If only war were like this forever, I would love it so, he thought, but only if this moment could be frozen, not what had been or what was to come. Behind him his staff was having their supper, spread out on a rough plank table, the men laughing at a joke. They were used to his going off like this, especially before a fight, to be alone, to smoke, to think, to recalculate, to think again, in silence. Besides, the migraine still tormented him and the thought of trying to eat anything beyond some hardtack made his stomach rebel.
Was everything in place? Is there anything I forgot?
He knew it was senseless to try to reason those questions out now, and yet always he did it on the eve of a confrontation. It was not a question of resolve, however.
He had resolved on this moment on the day the telegram arrived from Lincoln bearing news of Union Mills and of his own promotion to command. He knew the focus of his task, to track Lee down, bring him to battle, and then destroy him.
So many would die tomorrow. He knew that; they all did, on both sides of the river. Even as the men around the camp-fires joked and sang, many others had drawn off. Some sat alone, looking up at the heavens, in wonder, in prayer, or, for a tragic few, in terror. Others knelt or stood in prayer. Some stood in circles around a trusted minister or simply a man of the regiment who everyone acknowledged "had the ear of the Lord." Some sang hymns, others recited psalms, a group of Catholics knelt before a makeshift altar while a priest offered up mass and then absolution.
Others wrote letters home, or if they could not write, dictated a few lines that a comrade would jot down. The darkness deepened, the sky a deep indigo, and he sat in silence, smoking, and watching the far bank of the river.
Home of Dr. O'Neill Near Monocacy function
Emily looked out the window, watching as the hills to the west darkened, the last glow of twilight fading, a cooling breeze fluttering the curtains. "Emily?" "Yes, James."
She reached out and took his hand. Her father, on the other side of the bed, wiped James's brow with a damp towel.
"Is it dark out?"
"Thought I couldn't see anymore."
Reverend Lacy sat by her side, hand on James's chest. He looked over at her and she could see in his eyes that he sensed something.
He suddenly arched his back, struggling to take a breath, the struggle continuing for long seconds.
"Dearest, dearest," she gasped, standing up and leaning over him.
"You'll always love me, Emi?"
"You are my husband now."
"I'll wait for you. Please wait…"
He took another breath and then seemed to fall back, his body beginning to relax.
"The Lord is my shepherd," McPherson whispered as he gently exhaled.
"I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures," Lacy replied.
She could feel his hand relax. Leaning over, she felt his last breath drift out of his body and, instinctively, she breathed in, as if by so doing she could take his soul into hers.
"He leadeth me beside the still waters," Lacy contin-^ ued.
She whispered the psalm with him, and when finished stood up and let James's hand slip from hers.
Strange, she felt as if his presence were still there and then was, ever so gently, drifting away.
Lacy stood up. He closed James's eyes and pulled the sheet over his face.
He was silent as Emily walked to the window, the evening breeze drifting in. In the west the evening star was shining. She knew then that if she should live another fifty years, every time she saw it, she would think of him, of this moment.
There would never be another in her life. There would be no children, no years of growing old together, of watching a family grow even as they faded away. This war had taken all that away.
In the fields below her, hundreds of campfires glowed. It was a beautiful sight, and at that moment she could see why her husband had loved it so. This world of men-of such violence-was a world also of comradeship. Behind her she heard muffled sobs, of her father, her mother, and of young Captain Cain, weeping for a fallen enemy who had become a comrade.
The campfires flickered and glowed. How many of those gathered about them tonight will be with my husband tomorrow? she wondered. How many wives at home prayed tonight, mothers and fathers, children and friends, and tomorrow their worlds will end as mine just has.
Would anyone realize that? she wondered. Yes, those who suffered what we have. But later, long afterward, would anyone care? Would anyone remember?
And long years from now, when others spoke of this time and dwelt upon its supposed glories, who would think then of those left behind? Who would think of a childless, aging widow, dying alone, hoping that her young love did indeed wait for her in heaven?
Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia 8:00 P.M.
General Lee smiled and nodded as Pete Longstreet came to his side carrying a folding camp chair. "Mind if I join you, General?" "Glad for the company." Pete unfolded the chair and sat down by Lee.
"Beautiful evening," Lee said.
Pete nodded in agreement, lighting a cigar and puffing it to life.
The valley below them was aglow with campfires, the evening air cooling, darkness cloaking the mountains, the woods, and fields. From both sides of Monocacy Creek came singing, some boys shouting out "Bonnie Blue Flag" and seconds later the other side of the creek echoing to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
"A regular song fest by the bridge tonight," Pete said quietly. "I dare say, those must be Irish boys over there; they have some good tenors.
"Strange isn't it? Serenading each other on the eve of battle."
"Happened before, week before Chancellorsville," Lee said. "They finished with both sides singing 'Home Sweet Home.'"
Lee fell silent for a moment, voice near to choking at the memory of it, the way it had started out with patriotic airs, then to songs from before the war, and then finished with the haunting refrain, "Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home." 'Tomorrow should decide it," Lee said, regaining his composure. "I hope so, sir."
"You don't sound the way you did that night before Union Mills," Lee said, looking over at his old comrade.
"That seems a long time ago," Pete replied meditatively. "Why?"
"It's just that they don't stop. They just keep coming at us. Before Union Mills, I saw it clearly. Lure them into that one great fight, which we did, and they would see our resolve and bring an end to it. And now, two months later, here we are again, another army before us."
He gestured to the campfires on the far side of the creek.
"Just about a year ago we crossed through this same ground. Just on the other side of those mountains we fought Sharpsburg, and I remember those campfires and the evening rain. Then the cold night before Fredericksburg and the thousands of fires."
The chorus from the other side echoed. "I have seen him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps."
Pete fell silent.
"It will end here," Lee whispered. "I hope so." "I know so."
Lee reached out and patted Pete on the knee.
"It will end here. That army across from us is the last they have. They will venture it tomorrow. We saw their first lunge late this afternoon, and they drew back and spent hundreds to our few score. That was just a probe, a test. Tomorrow Grant will come at us with everything he has. They will come again tomorrow, and it will be like Fredericksburg, like Union Mills."
"And you, my old warhorse, will hold the center."
Walter Taylor approached and Lee could tell by his demeanor that the news was not good. "Go on, Walter."
"Sir, a message just came up from Doctor O'Neill's house. General McPherson is dead. Sir, my condolences, I know how close you were to him."
It was inevitable. Reverend Lacy had told him earlier in the day that it was only a matter of hours.
"And Miss Hamilton?" Lee asked. "Did she arrive safely?"
"She is now Mrs. McPherson. The reverend married them when she arrived."
"I see," Lee said softly and lowered his head.
Though Pete was present, he did not hesitate to go down on his knees. With bowed head he recited the Twenty-third Psalm, Pete and Walter joining in.
He was silent for a moment, reflecting on James, just how young he was at the Point, how enthusiastic and cheerful, always eager to help underclassmen, even protective of plebes, admonishing others one day in chapel that the usual hazing endured by first-year cadets was unchristian and unprofessional. It was an unpopular view with the cadets and even many of the instructors, who saw hazing as a way of toughening boys into men, but Lee had wholeheartedly agreed with him and admired his courage for standing up and speaking out.
"Miss, I mean, Mrs. McPherson. Walter, please convey my deepest sympathies to her. Inform her that when this crisis is over and time permits I wish to personally convey those sympathies but cannot do so at this moment."
"Yes, sir. I've already written out a brief note for you to sign."
"Thank you, Walter, but I'll do that myself later." "Yes, sir."
"Please be certain that Reverend Lacy stays with her. If she wishes to join a train back to Baltimore and to take her husband with her, we are at her disposal."
He stood up and saw that there was something else. "What is it, Walter?"
"We've just had a scout come in. Says he is with Mosby and he carries a dispatch from him." "Concerning?"
"Sir, a large convoy of canal barges carrying Union troops moved this day up the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. They have traveled as far as Hauling Ferry, where they started to unload."
"How many barges? How many men?" 'The note doesn't say, other than 'dozens of barges.'"
"What about the courier?"
"He says it looked like thousands of Yankees. He got across the river just ahead of their patrols and rode straight here."
"Looks like they are trying to close the back door," Pete said, slapping his hands together. Lee nodded in agreement.
He was silent, looking again at the flickering campfires on the far bank. The Union boys had long ago finished their "Battle Hymn" and both sides were now singing 'Tenting Tonight."
"It won't affect us tomorrow," Lee said.
"I don't like it, though," Pete replied. "We've always had a way out of Maryland if need be. They're trying to block it now."
"It won't affect us tomorrow." Lee repeated himself, this time more forcefully. "So what if they block the fords and ferry crossi