« PreviousContinue »
were either lost or won. Long after darkness had canopied the earth the bloody tournament continued; the flashing of guns as vivid as lightning, the deafening war reverberating among the hills, formed a panorama of sights and sounds never to be forgotten.
The sun was sinking below the horizon when the 36th was ordered to the right to support the bleeding columns that were maintaining the desperate conflict. We marched to a cornfield contiguous to the enemy's position, and remained there until one o'clock in the morning. No fires were lighted, for we knew the enemy was near in unknown numbers, and the glimmer of the feeblest spire of flame might light us on to destruction. We heard the tread of their sentries and the low hum of conversation but a few yards away, and subsequently learned that five Con federate regiments were bivouacked not twenty yards distant. The weary men lay down upon the damp ground, with no covering except the hazy sky, and slept soundly, though chilled by the frosty night air. On the left a glorious victory had been achieved. The right, though shattered and driven a half mile back from their position in the morning, were not disheartened, and with a few regiments to aid their stroke might be able to inflict a blow that would be fatal to rebel hopes of victory. But a few hundred yards intervened between the two armies as they lay down to rest, or made fresh preparations for renewing the struggle in the morning. The dead and many of the wounded were left where they fell. Some of the regiments were terribly reduced in numbers, and many in Carr's division, where the conflict had been more severe, were oppressed with doubts as to the final result. The night was rendered more sombre by the pitiful braying of mules and horses, which for twenty-four hours had been without forage or water. Neither had the men tasted
MIDNIGHT AFTER THE BATTLE.
food or water since the early morning, and between hunger, cold and fatigue were not in exuberant spirits.
At midnight the division commanders assembled at the Commanding General's quarters, and reported the condition and strength of their respective commands, together with such opinions and advice as to future operations as their present condition and previous experience suggested. Carr and Asboth, in view of their thinned ranks and the rude treatment they had received, were filled with gloomy forebodings, while Davis, Sigel and Osterhaus, whose losses had been small, were hopeful and confident. From the verbal reports of his subordinates, Gen. Curtis was able to grasp the whole situation, and believed that by a contraction of his lines and a combined effort of the whole army upon the heights about the Elk-Horn, the contest would no longer be a doubtful one, but that victory would speedily result. In pursuance of this object all the troops were called in and new positions assigned which embraced a line of battle of less than half the extent of that of the preceding day.
Accordingly at 1 o'clock A. M. the order was passed in whispers to proceed to the telegraph road, and we silently left our position in the field, groping our way among the deadened cornstalks, clambering over fences, meandering through woods, falling over logs, ascending steep hills and crossing ravines, until after an hour's painful marching we reached the road, near where a muddy rivulet trickled by. We rushed to the banks, and, lying prostrate upon the earth, quaffed great draughts of the precious beverage and found refreshment and vigor in its cooling waters, the whole brigade brightening up under its invigorating influ
Soon little impromptu camp fires were blazing in the hollows; frying pans and bake kettles, borrowed from other commands,
were brought into requisition, and a few hastily and half-baked flap-jacks, made of flour and water, were the first morsels of food which had passed our lips for nearly twenty-four hours. This, in a measure, appeased our ravenous hunger, after which a craving for rest was gratified by an hour's sleep upon the muddy ground. The damp, cold air, and a want of blankets and sufficient clothing, rendered this a most chilly and restless affair. This dumping down by the roadside is not suggestive of special comfort, but we were thoroughly tired out, and had reached a point where sleep, however uncomfortable, was a necessity.
No one removed his sword or separated himself from his gun. Horses stood saddled, ready for instant service. The mules continued their braying. Pickets stood with eyes and ears open, ready to give warning should a night attack be attempted. Such as could not readily close their eyes in sleep, looked up through the branching tree tops to the sky arching over all, and the stars moving calmly on their appointed way, and thought of the utter absurdity and wickedness of this whole game of war. Within an area of two square miles lay thirty-five thousand men; some stiff and stark, looking with visionless eyes up into the pitying heavens ; some tossing in agony on hospital beds or lying maimed and bleeding under the trees, while yet other thousands were hugging in their sleep the weapons with which to-morrow they were to renew the work of death. with the lives and safety of these thousands was that of other thousands at the home firesides, and far beyond and over all the fate of our country. And here comes in the moral and patriotic elements of war, to which animal passions, strength and skill must be subservient. Looking at the subject in this light, no doubts disturb us as to our duty to stand up and fight it out to
SECOND DAY OF THE BATTLE.
the bitter end; and, notwithstanding our contempt and horror of war, we must, in view of all the mighty interests at stake, feel that we were in the right place on this blood-stained battlefield. With such thoughts crowding upon the brain, sleep comes at length, and another long day was over.
BATTLE OF PEA RIDGE-SECOND DAY.
N THE morning of the 8th, before it was fully
light, we were aroused and homeopathic doses of flap-jacks served to the men, who then proceeded to make ready for whatever hardship, trial and endurance the day should demand.
The smoke of yesterday's conflict hung in drapery folds over field, woodland and mountain, and there being no breeze to drive it away, the sun appeared dim and red, and shone with a mellow radiance through the drifting sheen.
While sitting around the camp-fires, and, like Tantalus of the classic myth, looking and longing for a more substantial breakfast than the one which had been meted out to us, suddenly from out the smoky mist came the report of a cannon, followed by a bursting thunderbolt, and so near as to seem within the precincts of the camp. Then followed explosion after explosion in quick succession, while whizzing balls and fiery shell winged
their doleful way through the air, clipping the leafless twigs from the trees just over our heads and striking a hundred yards beyond. Our batteries galloped up the road, the guns were unlimbered, the horses brought back fifty paces to the rear, and in an instant roared forth an answer to the morning salutation accorded us. Shot answered shot, and battery after battery mingled in the thunders of the hour.
Their guns lowered, their range and shot were dropping within the bounds of camp, too uncomfortably near to render our position one of entire safety. A shell exploded in the midst of a camp-fire, around which a score of the men of Company K were sitting, and flaming brands, earth and ashes were scattered promiscuously over the dismayed and startled group, who suddenly recollected that they had urgent business in other portions of the wood.
Swiftly from regiment to regiment the order was passed to advance. The men sprang to their feet, grasped their muskets and fell into the moving lines. Field officers, worn out by fatigue, roused themselves, were soon in the saddle, at the head of columns with which the woods seemed alive, all moving in perfect order towards, and not away from the enemy.
The Second Brigade, including the 36th Illinois, formed by the roadside; its field officers lead the way, and hurrying up the road it neared the sulphurous field where the continuous roll of cannon told us that no idle hands were at the work. Leaving the road, we filed to the left and passed close along the rear of batteries planted in the edge of the fields and pouring a responsive fire to the guns of the enemy, which from the heights looked frowningly down upon us.
Behind the batteries and in the edge of the timber large bodies of troops were forming in line of battle, and as we rushed past them at a double quick, cheer upon