The brigade was halted in the fringe
of a grove. The men crouched among the trees
and pointed their restless guns out at the fields.
They tried to look beyond the smoke.
Out of this haze they could see running
men. Some shouted information and gestured as
The men of the new regiment watched
and listened eagerly, while their tongues ran on in
gossip of the battle. They mouthed rumors that
had flown like birds out of the unknown.
“They say Perry has been driven in with big
“Yes, Carrott went t’
th’ hospital. He said he was sick.
That smart lieutenant is commanding ‘G’
Company. Th’ boys say they won’t
be under Carrott no more if they all have t’
desert. They allus knew he was a ”
“Hannises’ batt’ry is took.”
“It ain’t either.
I saw Hannises’ batt’ry off on th’
left not more’n fifteen minutes ago.”
“Th’ general, he ses
he is goin’ t’ take th’ hull command
of th’ 304th when we go inteh action, an’
then he ses we’ll do sech fightin’
as never another one reg’ment done.”
“They say we’re catchin’
it over on th’ left. They say th’
enemy driv’ our line inteh a devil of a swamp
an’ took Hannises’ batt’ry.”
“No sech thing. Hannises’
batt’ry was ’long here ’bout a minute
“That young Hasbrouck, he makes
a good off’cer. He ain’t afraid ’a
“I met one of th’ 148th
Maine boys an’ he ses his brigade fit th’
hull rebel army fer four hours over on th’
turnpike road an’ killed about five thousand
of ’em. He ses one more sech fight
as that an’ th’ war ’ll be over.”
“Bill wasn’t scared either.
No, sir! It wasn’t that. Bill ain’t
a-gittin’ scared easy. He was jest mad,
that’s what he was. When that feller trod
on his hand, he up an’ sed that he was willin’
t’ give his hand t’ his country, but he
be dumbed if he was goin’ t’ have every
dumb bushwhacker in th’ kentry walkin’
‘round on it. So he went t’ th’
hospital disregardless of th’ fight. Three
fingers was crunched. Th’ dern doctor
wanted t’ amputate ‘m, an’ Bill,
he raised a heluva row, I hear. He’s a
The din in front swelled to a tremendous
chorus. The youth and his fellows were frozen
to silence. They could see a flag that tossed
in the smoke angrily. Near it were the blurred
and agitated forms of troops. There came a turbulent
stream of men across the fields. A battery changing
position at a frantic gallop scattered the stragglers
right and left.
A shell screaming like a storm banshee
went over the huddled heads of the reserves.
It landed in the grove, and exploding redly flung
the brown earth. There was a little shower of
Bullets began to whistle among the
branches and nip at the trees. Twigs and leaves
came sailing down. It was as if a thousand axes,
wee and invisible, were being wielded. Many
of the men were constantly dodging and ducking their
The lieutenant of the youth’s
company was shot in the hand. He began to swear
so wondrously that a nervous laugh went along the regimental
line. The officer’s profanity sounded conventional.
It relieved the tightened senses of the new men.
It was as if he had hit his fingers with a tack hammer
He held the wounded member carefully
away from his side so that the blood would not drip
upon his trousers.
The captain of the company, tucking
his sword under his arm, produced a handkerchief and
began to bind with it the lieutenant’s wound.
And they disputed as to how the binding should be
The battle flag in the distance jerked
about madly. It seemed to be struggling to free
itself from an agony. The billowing smoke was
filled with horizontal flashes.
Men rushing swiftly emerged from it.
They grew in numbers until it was seen that the whole
command was fleeing. The flag suddenly sank down
as if dying. Its motion as it fell was a gesture
Wild yells came from behind the walls
of smoke. A sketch in gray and red dissolved
into a moblike body of men who galloped like wild horses.
The veteran regiments on the right and left of the
304th immediately began to jeer. With the passionate
song of the bullets and the banshee shrieks of shells
were mingled loud catcalls and bits of facetious advice
concerning places of safety.
But the new regiment was breathless
with horror. “Gawd! Saunders’s
got crushed!” whispered the man at the youth’s
elbow. They shrank back and crouched as if compelled
to await a flood.
The youth shot a swift glance along
the blue ranks of the regiment. The profiles
were motionless, carven; and afterward he remembered
that the color sergeant was standing with his legs
apart, as if he expected to be pushed to the ground.
The following throng went whirling
around the flank. Here and there were officers
carried along on the stream like exasperated chips.
They were striking about them with their swords and
with their left fists, punching every head they could
reach. They cursed like highwaymen.
A mounted officer displayed the furious
anger of a spoiled child. He raged with his
head, his arms, and his legs.
Another, the commander of the brigade,
was galloping about bawling. His hat was gone
and his clothes were awry. He resembled a man
who has come from bed to go to a fire. The hoofs
of his horse often threatened the heads of the running
men, but they scampered with singular fortune.
In this rush they were apparently all deaf and blind.
They heeded not the largest and longest of the oaths
that were thrown at them from all directions.
Frequently over this tumult could
be heard the grim jokes of the critical veterans;
but the retreating men apparently were not even conscious
of the presence of an audience.
The battle reflection that shone for
an instant in the faces on the mad current made the
youth feel that forceful hands from heaven would not
have been able to have held him in place if he could
have got intelligent control of his legs.
There was an appalling imprint upon
these faces. The struggle in the smoke had pictured
an exaggeration of itself on the bleached cheeks and
in the eyes wild with one desire.
The sight of this stampede exerted
a floodlike force that seemed able to drag sticks
and stones and men from the ground. They of the
reserves had to hold on. They grew pale and firm,
and red and quaking.
The youth achieved one little thought
in the midst of this chaos. The composite monster
which had caused the other troops to flee had not
then appeared. He resolved to get a view of it,
and then, he thought he might very likely run better
than the best of them.