Joseph A Altsheler – Civil War 05 – Star Of Gettysburg. Chapter 7, 8
CHAPTER VII. JEB STUART’S BALL
But Hooker, the new Northern commander, did not yet move. The chief cause was mud. The winter having been very cold in the first half, was very rainy in the second half. The numerous brooks and creeks and smaller rivers remained flooded beyond their banks, and the Rappahannock flowed a swollen and mighty stream. Ponds and little lakes stood everywhere. Roads had been destroyed by the marching of mighty masses and the rolling of thousands of heavy wheels. Horses often sank nearly to the knee when they trod new paths through the muddy fields. There was mud, mud everywhere.
Hooker, moreover, was confronted by a long line of earthworks and other intrenchments, extending for twenty miles along the Rappahannock, and defended by the victors of Fredericksburg. After that disastrous day the Northern masses at home were not so eager for a battle. The country realized that it was not well to rush a foe, led by men like Lee and Jackson.
But Hooker was a brave and confident man. The North, always ready, was sending forward fresh troops, and when he crossed the Rappahannock, as he intended to do, he would have more men and more guns than Burnside had led when he attacked the blazing heights of Fredericksburg. Lincoln and Stanton, warned too by the great disasters through their attempts to manage armies in the field from the Capitol, were giving Hooker a freer hand.
On the other hand, the Confederate president and his cabinet suddenly curtailed Lee’s plans. A fourth of his veterans under Longstreet were drawn off to meet a flank attack of other Northern forces which seemed to be threatened upon Richmond. Lee was left with only sixty thousand men to face Hooker’s growing odds.
It was not any wonder that the spirits of the Southern lads sank somewhat. Harry realized more fully every day that it was not sufficient for them merely to defeat the Northern armies. They must destroy them. The immense patriotism of those who fought for the Union always filled up their depleted ranks and more, and they were getting better generals all the time. Hancock and Reynolds and many another were rising to fame in the east.
The Invincibles were posted nearly opposite Falmouth, and Harry had many chances to see them. On his second visit the chessboard was mended so perfectly that the split was not visible, and the two colonels sat down to finish their game. Fifteen minutes later a dispatch from General Jackson to Colonel Leonidas Talbot arrived, telling him to leave at once by the railway in the Confederate rear for Richmond. President Davis wished detailed information from him about the fortifications along the coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina, which were now heavily threatened by the enemy.
The two colonels had not made a move, but Colonel Leonidas Talbot rose, buttoned every button of his neat tunic, and said in precise tones:
“Hector, I depart in a half hour. You will, of course, have command of the regiment in my absence, and if any young lieutenants should be exceedingly obstreperous in the course of that time, perhaps I can prove to them that they are not as old as they think they are.”
The colonel’s severity of tone was belied by a faint twinkle in the corner of his eye, and the lads knew that they had nothing to fear, especially as Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire was quite as stern and able a guardian as Colonel Talbot.
Colonel Talbot departed, good wishes following him in a shower, and that day a young officer arrived from South Carolina and took a place in the Invincibles that had been made vacant by death.
Harry was still with his friends when this officer arrived, and the tall, slender figure and dark face of the man seemed familiar to him. A little thought recalled where he had first seen that eager gesture and the manner so intense that it betrayed an excessive enthusiasm. But when Harry did remember him he remembered him well.
“How do you do, Captain Bertrand?” he said-the man wore the uniform of a captain.