Joseph A Altsheler – Civil War 05 – Star Of Gettysburg. Chapter 13

Joseph A Altsheler – Civil War 05 – Star Of Gettysburg. Chapter 13


Harry took many messages that night, and he witnessed the gathering of the generals about Lee. He saw Ewell come, hobbling on his crutches, eager for battle and disappointed that they had not pushed the victory. Hill returned again, refusing to yield to his illness. And there was Longstreet, thick-bearded, the best fighter that Lee had since the death of Jackson; McLaws, Hood, Heth, Pender, Jubal Early, Anderson and others, veterans of many battles, great and small.

They talked long and earnestly and pointed many times to the battlefield and the opposing heights. While they talked, a man appeared among the men in blue on Cemetery Hill, accompanied only by a staff officer and an orderly. He had ridden a long distance, and naturally lean and haggard, these traits in his appearance were exaggerated by weariness and anxiety. He looked as little like a great general as Jackson had looked in those days before he had sprung into fame.

His military hat was black and broad of brim, and the brim, having become limp, drooped down over his face. There were spectacles on his nose, and it is said of him that he could have been taken more easily for a teacher than for a commander-in-chief. Thus Meade came to his army in the decisive moment of his country’s life. He inspired neither enthusiasm nor discouragement. He looked upon those left from the battle and upon the brigades which had come since, thousands of men already sound asleep among the white stones of the churchyard. Then he turned in a calm and businesslike manner to the task of arranging a stern front for the storm which he knew would burst upon them to-morrow. The respect of his officers for him increased.

Lee’s generals went to their respective commands. Harry once more took orders, and, as he carried messages or brought them back, he never failed to see all that he could. The great corps of Ewell was drawn up on the battlefield of the day, Hill’s forces extended to Willoughby Run, and the Southern line was complete along the whole curve. They also had the welcome news that Stuart at Carlisle had heard of the battle and would be present with the cavalry on the morrow.

Harry, riding about in the darkness, recovered much of his spirits. The whole Southern army would be present in the morning, and while Jackson was dead, his spirit might ride again at their head. Now he awaited the dawn with confidence, believing that Lee would win another great victory.

Harry was sent on his last errand far after midnight, and it took him to one of Ewell’s divisions, in the edge of Gettysburg. It was a clear night, with a bright summer sky, a good moon and the stars in their myriads twinkling peacefully over the panorama of human passion and death. But they seemed very far away and cold to the boy, who was chilled by the night and the impending sense of mighty conflict. In Virginia they were fighting against the invader and in defense of their own soil. Now they were the invader, and it was the men in blue who defended.

As he passed over that battlefield, on which the dead and the badly hurt yet lay, his heart was dissolved for the time in sadness. The dead were thick all around him, and there were many hurt seriously who were so still that he did not know whether they were alive or not. He heard very few groans. He noticed often on the battlefields that the hurt usually shut their teeth together and endured in silence. As he approached one of the little streams, a form twisted itself suddenly from his path, and a weak voice exclaimed:

“For God’s sake don’t step on me!”

Harry looked down. It was a boy with yellow hair, younger than himself. He could not have been over sixteen, but he wore a blue uniform and a bullet had gone through his shoulder. Harry had a powerful sensation of pity.

“I would not have stepped on you,” he said. His duty urged him on, but his feelings would not let him go, and he added:

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