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He halts on a little knoll, wheels his horse to face us, and waves his hat to draw his companions to him. A tall, lank fellow in the next four to me--who goes by the nickname of "'Leven Yards"--aims his carbine at him, and, without checking his horse's pace, fires.
The heavy Sharpe's bullet tears a gaping hole through the Rebel's heart.
He drops from his saddle, his life-blood runs down in little rills on either side of the knoll, and his riderless horse dashes away in a panic. At this instant comes an order for the Company to break up into fours and press on through the forest in pursuit. My four trots off to the road at the right. A Rebel bugler, who hag been cut off, leaps his horse into the road in front of us.
We all fire at him on the impulse of the moment. He falls from his horse with a bullet through his back. Company M, which has remained in column as a reserve, is now thundering up close behind at a gallop. Its seventy-five powerful horses are spurning the solid earth with steel-clad hoofs. The man will be ground into a shapeless mass if left where he has fallen.
We spring from our horses and drag him into a fence corner; then remount and join in the pursuit. Late in the afternoon the anxious watchers at Jonesville saw a single fugitive urging his well-nigh spent horse down the slope of the hill toward town. In an agony of anxiety they hurried forward to meet him and learn his news.
The first messenger who rushed into Job's presence to announce the beginning of the series of misfortunes which were to afflict the upright man of Uz is a type of all the cowards who, before or since then, have been the first to speed away from the field of battle to spread the news of disaster. He said:. The terrible extent of his words was belied a little later, by the appearance on the distant summit of the hill of a considerable mob of fugitives, flying at the utmost speed of their nearly exhausted horses.
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As they came on down the hill as almost equally disorganized crowd of pursuers appeared on the summit, yelling in voices hoarse with continued shouting, and pouring an incessant fire of carbine and revolver bullets upon the hapless men of the Sixty-fourth Virginia. The two masses of men swept on through the town. Beyond it, the road branched in several directions, the pursued scattered on each of these, and the worn-out pursuers gave up the chase.
Returning to Jonesville, we took an account of stock, and found that we were "ahead" one hundred and fifteen prisoners, nearly that many horses, and a considerable quantity of small arms. How many of the enemy had been killed and wounded could not be told, as they were scattered over the whole fifteen miles between where the fight occurred and the pursuit ended.
Our loss was trifling. Comparing notes around the camp-fires in the evening, we found that our success had been owing to the Major's instinct, his grasp of the situation, and the soldierly way in which he took advantage of it. When he reached the summit of the hill he found the Rebel line nearly formed and ready for action. A moment's hesitation might have been fatal to us. At his command Company I went into line with the thought-like celerity of trained cavalry, and instantly dashed through the right of the Rebel line.
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Company K followed and plunged through the Rebel center, and when we of Company L arrived on the ground, and charged the left, the last vestige of resistance was swept away. The whole affair did not probably occupy more than fifteen minutes. For weeks we rode up and down--hither and thither--along the length of the narrow, granite-walled Valley; between mountains so lofty that the sun labored slowly over them in the morning, occupying half the forenoon in getting to where his rays would reach the stream that ran through the Valley's center.
Perpetual shadow reigned on the northern and western faces of these towering Nights--not enough warmth and sunshine reaching them in the cold months to check the growth of the ever-lengthening icicles hanging from the jutting cliffs, or melt the arabesque frost- forms with which the many dashing cascades decorated the adjacent rocks and shrubbery. Occasionally we would see where some little stream ran down over the face of the bare, black rocks for many hundred feet, and then its course would be a long band of sheeny white, like a great rich, spotless scarf of satin, festooning the war-grimed walls of some old castle.
Our duty now was to break up any nuclei of concentration that the Rebels might attempt to form, and to guard our foragers--that is, the teamsters and employee of the Quartermaster's Department--who were loading grain into wagons and hauling it away. This last was an arduous task. There is no man in the world that needs as much protection as an Army teamster. He is worse in this respect than a New England manufacturer, or an old maid on her travels.
He is given to sudden fears and causeless panics. Very innocent cedars have a fashion of assuming in his eyes the appearance of desperate Rebels armed with murderous guns, and there is no telling what moment a rock may take such a form as to freeze his young blood, and make each particular hair stand on end like quills upon the fretful porcupine. One has to be particular about snapping caps in his neighborhood, and give to him careful warning before discharging a carbine to clean it.
His first impulse, when anything occurs to jar upon his delicate nerves, is to cut his wheel-mule loose and retire with the precipitation of a man having an appointment to keep and being behind time. There is no man who can get as much speed out of a mule as a teamster falling back from the neighborhood of heavy firing.
This nervous tremor was not peculiar to the engineers of our transportation department. It was noticeable in the gentry who carted the scanty provisions of the Rebels. One of Wheeler's cavalrymen told me that the brigade to which he belonged was one evening ordered to move at daybreak.