Joseph A Altsheler – Civil War 05 – Star Of Gettysburg. Chapter 9, 10
CHAPTER IX. CHANCELLORSVILLE
Harry and Dalton sat down on a tiny hillock and waited while the two generals carried on their long conference, to which now and then they summoned McLaws, Anderson, Pender and other division or brigade commanders. The two lads even then felt the full import of that memorable night.
Nature herself had stripped away all softness, leaving only sternness and desolation for the terrible drama which was about to be played in the Wilderness. The night was dark, and to Harry’s imaginative mind the forest turned to some vast stretch of the ancient, primitive world.
Naturally cheerful and usually alive with the optimism of youth, the air seemed to him that night to be filled with menacing signals. Often he started at familiar sounds. The clank of arms to which he had been so long used sent a chill down his spine. As the campfires died, the gloom that hung over the Wilderness became for him heavier and more ominous.
“What’s the matter, Harry?” asked Dalton, catching a glimpse of his face in the moonlight.
“I don’t know, George. I suppose this war is getting on my nerves. I must be looking too much into the future. Anyway, I’m oppressed to-night, and I don’t know what it is that’s oppressing me so much.”
“I don’t feel that way. Maybe I’m becoming blunted. But the generals are talking a long time.”
“I suppose they have need to do a lot of talking, George. You know how small our army is, and we can’t rush Hooker behind the strong intrenchments they say he has thrown up. Oh, if only Longstreet and his corps were back with us!”
“Well, Longstreet and his men are not here, and we’ll have to do the best we can without them. Hold up your head, Harry. Lee and Jackson will find a way.”
While Lee and Jackson and their generals conferred, another conference was going on three miles away at the Chancellor House in the depths of the Wilderness. Hooker, a brave man, who had proved his courage more than once, was bewildered and uneasy. He lacked the experience in supreme command in which his great antagonist, Lee, was so rich. The field telegraph had broken down just before sunset, and his subordinates, Sedgwick and Reynolds, brave men too, who had divisions elsewhere, were vague and uncertain in their movements. Hooker did not know what to expect from them.
Some of the generals, chafing at retreat before a force which they knew to be smaller than their own, wanted to march out and attack in the morning. Hooker, suddenly grown prudent, awed perhaps by his great responsibilities, wished to contract his camp and build intrenchments yet stronger. He compromised at last amid varying counsels, and decided to hold his present intrenched lines along their full length. His gallant officers on the extended right and left were indignant at the thought of withdrawing before the enemy, sure that they could beat him back every time.
But there were bolder spirits at the Southern headquarters, three miles away. Lee and Jackson always saw clearly and were always able to decide upon a course. Besides, their need was far more desperate. The Southern army did not increase in numbers. Victories brought few new men to its standards. Winning, it held its own, and losing, it lost everything. Before it stood the Army of the Potomac, outnumbering it two to one, and behind that army stood a great nation ready to pour forth more men by the hundreds of thousands and more money by the hundreds of millions to save the Union.
Harry, leaning against a bush, fell into a light doze, from which Dalton aroused him bye and bye. But the habit of war made him awake fully and instantly. Every faculty was alive. He arose to his feet and saw that Lee and Jackson were just parting. A faint moon shone over the Wilderness, revealing but little of the great army which lay in its thickets.
“I fancy that the plan which will give us either victory or defeat is arranged,” said Dalton.