Joseph A Altsheler – Civil War 02 – Guns Of Shiloh. Chapter 16
CHAPTER XVI. THE FIERCE FINISH OF SHILOH
Dick, who had been lying under cover just behind the crest of one of the low ridges, suddenly heard the loud beating of his heart. He did not know, for a moment or two, that the sound came so distinctly because the mighty tumult which had been raging around him all day had ceased, as if by a concerted signal. Those blinding flashes of flame no longer came from the forest before him, the shot and shell quit their horrible screaming, and the air was free from the unpleasant hiss of countless bullets.
He stretched himself a little and stood up. The lads all around him were standing up, and were beginning to talk to each other in the high-pitched, shouting voices that they had been compelled to use all day long, not yet realizing to the full that the tumult of the battle had ceased. The boy felt stiff and sore in every bone and muscle, and, although the cannon and rifles were silent, there was still a hollow roaring in his ears. His eyes were yet dim from the smoke, and his head felt heavy and dull. He gazed vacantly at the forest in front of him, and wondered dimly why the Southern army was not still there, attacking, as it had attacked for so many hours.
But the deep woods were silent and empty. Coils and streamers of smoke floated about among the trees, and suddenly a gray squirrel hopped out on a bough and began to chatter wildly. Dick, despite himself, laughed, but the laugh was hysterical. He could appreciate the feelings of the squirrel, which probably had been imprisoned in a hollow of the tree all day long, listening to this tremendous battle, and squirrels were not used to such battles. It was a trifle that made him laugh, but everything was out of proportion now. Life did not go on in the usual way at all. The ordinary occupations were gone, and people spent most of their time trying to kill one another.
He rubbed his hands across his eyes and cleared them of the smoke. The battle was certainly over for the day at least, and neither he nor his comrades had sufficient vitality yet to think of the morrow. The twilight was fast deepening into night. The last rosy glow of the sun faded, and thick darkness enveloped the vast forest, in which twenty thousand men had fallen, and in which most of them yet lay, the wounded with the dead.
There was presently a deep boom from the river, and a shell fired by one of the gunboats curved far over their heads and dropped into the forest, where the Southern army was encamped. All through the night and at short but regular intervals the gunboats maintained this warning fire, heartening the Union soldiers, and telling them at every discharge that however they might have to fight for the land, the water was always theirs.
Dick saw Colonel Winchester going among his men, and pulling himself together he saluted his chief.
“Any orders, sir?” he said.
“No, Dick, my boy, none for the present,” replied the colonel, a little sadly. “Half of my poor regiment is killed or wounded, and the rest are so exhausted that they are barely able to move. But they fought magnificently, Dick! They had to, or be crushed! It is only here that we have withstood the rush of the Southern army, and it is probable that we, too, would have gone had not night come to our help.”
“Then we have been beaten?”
“Yes, Dick, we have been beaten, and beaten badly. It was the surprise that did it. How on earth we could have let the Southern army creep upon us and strike unaware I don’t understand. But Dick, my boy, there will be another battle tomorrow, and it may tell a different tale. Some prisoners whom we have taken say that Johnston has been killed, and Beauregard is no such leader as he.”
“Will the army of General Buell reach us tonight?”
“Buell, himself, is here. He has been with Grant for some time, and all his brigades are marching at the double quick. Lew Wallace arrived less than half an hour ago with seven thousand men fresh and eager for battle. Dick! Dick, my boy, we’ll have forty thousand new troops on the field at the next dawn, and before God we’ll wipe out the disgrace of today! Listen to the big guns from the boats as they speak at intervals! Why, I can understand the very words they speak! They are saying to the Southern army: ‘Look out! Look out! We’re coming in the morning, and it’s we who’ll attack now!'”