Joseph A Altsheler – Civil War 02 – Guns Of Shiloh. Chapter 7, 8, 9
CHAPTER VII. THE MESSENGER
Victory, overwhelming and complete, had been won, but General Thomas could not follow into the deep mountains where his army might be cut off. So he remained where he was for a little while and on the second day he sent for Dick.
The general was seated alone in a tent, an open end of which faced a fire, as it was now extremely cold. General Thomas had shown no undue elation over his victory. He was as silent as ever, and now, as always, he made upon Dick the impression of strength and indomitable courage.
“Sit down,” he said, waving his hand toward a camp stool.
Dick, after saluting, sat down in silence.
“I hear,” said the general, “that you behaved very well in the battle, and that you are a lad of courage and intelligence. Courage is common, intelligence, real intelligence, is rare. You were at Bull Run also, so I hear.”
“I was, and the army fought well there too, but late in the day it was seized with a sudden panic.”
“Something that may happen at any time to raw troops. But we’ll pass to the question in hand. The campaign here in the mountains is ended for this winter, but great matters are afoot further west. A courier arrived last night stating that General Grant and Commodore Foote were preparing to advance by water from Cairo, Illinois, and attempt the reduction of the Confederate forts on the Cumberland and Tennessee. General Buell, one of your own Kentuckians, is advancing southward with a strong Union force, and in a few days his outposts will be on Green River. It will be of great advantage to Buell to know that the Confederate army in the eastern part of the state is destroyed. He can advance with freedom and, on the other hand, the Southern leader, Albert Sidney Johnston, will be compelled to throw a portion of his force to the eastward to protect his flank which has been uncovered by our victory at Mill Spring. Do you understand?”
“I do, sir.”
“Then you are to carry dispatches of the utmost importance from me to General Buell. After you reach his camp-if you reach it-you will, of course, be subject to his orders. I have learned that you know the country well between here and Green River. Because of that, and because of your intelligence, real intelligence, I mean, you are chosen for this task. You are to change to citizen’s clothes at once, and a horse of great power and endurance has been selected for you. But you must use all your faculties all the time. I warn you that the journey is full of danger.”
“I can carry it out,” replied Dick with quiet confidence, “and I thank you for choosing me.”
“I believe you will succeed,” said the general, who liked his tone. “Return here in an hour with all your preparations made, and I will give you the dispatches.”
Warner was filled with envy that his comrade was to go on a secret mission of great importance, but he generously wished him a full measure of success.
“Remember,” he said, “that on an errand like yours, presence of mind counts for at least fifty per cent. Have a quick tongue. Always be ready with a tale that looks true.”
“An’ remember, too,” said Sergeant Whitley, “that however tight a place you get into you can get into one tighter. Think of that and it will encourage you to pull right out of the hole.”
The two wrung his hand and Major Hertford also gave him his warmest wishes. The horse chosen for him was a bay of tremendous power, and Dick knew that he would serve him well. He carried double blankets strapped to the saddle, pistols in holsters with another in his belt, an abundance of ammunition, and food for several days in his saddle bags. Then he returned to General Thomas, who handed him a thin strip of tissue paper.
“It is written in indelible ink,” he said, “and it contains a statement of our forces and their positions here in the eastern part of the state. It also tells General Buell what reinforcements he can expect. If you are in imminent danger of capture destroy the paper, but to provide for such a chance, in case you escape afterward, I will read the dispatches to you.”