"Why, it's only a hog, Pete!" said Shorty.
"Only a hog!" murmured Pete with shamed heart.
"That a hog?" echoed the others. "Well, that's the queerest looking hog I ever saw."
"It's a hog all the same," Shorty assured them. "A genuine razor-back hog. But he's got the secession devil in him like the people, and you want to be careful of him. He ain't fit to eat or I'd kill him. Let's git back to the mill."
CHAPTER XII. THE OPENING OF THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN.
WHAT an ineffably imposing spectacle of military power was presented to the May sun, shining on the picturesque mountains and lovely valleys around Chattanooga in the busy days of the Spring of 1864.
Never before, in all his countless millions of journeys around the globe, had he seen a human force of such tremendous aggressive power concentrated on such a narrow space. He may have seen larger armies--though not many--but he had never seen 100,000 such veterans as those--originally of as fine raw material as ever gathered under a banner, and trained to war by nearly three years of as arduous schooling as men ever knew, which sifted out the weaklings, the incompetents, the feeblewilled by the boisterous winnowing of bitter war.
Thither had been gathered 35,000 of the Army of the Tennessee, who had "Fort Donelson," "Shiloh," "Corinth," "Chickasaw Bayou," "Big Black,"
"Jackson," and "Vicksburg" in letters of gold on their tattered regimental banners, and whom Sherman proudly boasted were "the best soldiers on earth." The courtly, idolized McPherson was their leader, with such men as John A. Logan, T. E. G. Ransom, Frank P. Blair and P.
J. Osterhaus as lieutenants and subordinates.
There was the Army of the Cumberland, 60,000 strong, from which all dross had been burned by the fierce fires of Shiloh, Perryville, Stone River and Chickamauga; and the campaigns across two States. "The noblest Roman of them all," grand old "Pap" Thomas, was in command, with Howard, Stanley, Newton, Wood, Palmer, Davis, Joe Hooker, Williams and Geary as his principal lieutenants.
And thither came--15,000 strong--all of the Army of the Ohio who could be spared from garrisoning dearly-won Kentucky and East Tennessee. They were men who had become inured to hunting their enemies down in mountain fastnesses, and fighting them wherever they could be found. At their head was Gen. J. M. Schofield, whom the Nation had come to know from his administration of the troublous State of Missouri. Gens. Hovey, Hascall and Cox were division commanders.
With what an air of conscious power; of evident mastery of all that might confront them; of calm, unflinching determination for the conflict, those men moved and acted. They felt themselves part of a mighty machine, that had its work before it, and would move with resistless force to perform the appointed task.
The men fell instinctively into their ranks in the companies. Without an apparent effort the companies became regiments, the regiments quietly, but with swift certainty, swung into their places in the brigade, and the brigades massed up noiselessly into divisions and corps.
And while the 100,000 veterans were drilling, organizing and manuvering the railroad was straining every one of its iron and steel tendons to bring in food and ammunition to supply the mighty host, and provide a store from which it could draw when it went forth upon its great errand.
There were 35,000 horses to be fed, in addition to the 100,000 veterans, and so the baled hay made heaps that rivalled in size the foothills of the mountains. The limitless cornfields of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois heaped up their golden harvests in other hillocks. Every mountain pass was filled with interminable droves of slow-footed cattle, bringing forward "army beef on the hoof." Boxes of ammunition and crackers, and barrels of pork covered acres, and the railroad brought them in faster than the hundreds of regimental teams could haul them out.
There is no place in the world where the assembling of such a mighty host could be seen to such an advantage as at Chattanooga. The mountains that tower straight up into the clouds around the undulating plain on which the town stands form a glorious natural amphitheater about an arena for gigantic dramas.
Naturally, the boys were big-eyed all the time with the sights that filled the landscape near and far. Wherever they looked they were astonished, and when in a march they came out on a crest that commanded a wide view, they could not help halting, to drink all its wonders in.
Even the experienced Si and Shorty were as full of amazement as they, and watched with fascination the spectacle of mighty preparation and concentrated power.
One day they got a pass and took the boys over to Lookout Mountain, for a comprehensive survey of the whole scene. They trudged over the steep, rough, winding road up the mountainside, and mads their way to Pulpit Rock, on the "nose" of the mountain, which commands a view that is hardly equalled in any country. From it they overlooked, as upon a map, the wide plain around Chattanooga, teeming with soldiers and horses, and piled-up war material, the towering line of Mission Ridge, the fort-crowned hills, the endless square miles of white camps.
"'The King sat on the rocky brow That looks o'er sea-born Salamis,
And ships by thousands lay below, And men and Nations, all were his,'
murmured Monty Scruggs. "I didn't suppose there was as many soldiers in all the world before."
"Si," said Shorty, "we thought old Rosecrans had heaped up the measure when we started out from Nashville for Stone River. But that was only the beginning for the gang he got together for the Tullyhomy campaign, and 'taint more than onct to what old Sherman's goin' to begin business with. I like it. I like to see any man start into a game with a full hand and a big stack o' chips."
"Well, from the talk that comes down from headquarters," said Si, "he may need every man. We've never had enough men so far. The rebels have always had more men than we did, and had the advantage of position.
We only won by main strength and bull-headedness, and Rosecrans's good management. The rebels are straining every nerve to put up the fight o'
their lives, and they say old Jo Johnston's got nearly as many men over there at Buzzard Roost as we have, and works that beat them we hustled Bragg out of around Tullyhomy."
"Well, let's have it as soon as possible," said Shorty. "I'm anxious to see if we can't make another Mission Ridge over there at Buzzard Roost, and run them fellers clean back to the Gulf of Mexico. But, great Jehosephat, won't there be a Spring freshet when all them men and horses and cattle break camp and start out over the country."
"Goodness, what kin I do to keep from gitting lost in all that crowd?"
wailed Pete Skidmore, and the others looked as if his fears also struck their hearts.
"Just stick closs to the 200th Injianny and to me, and you won't git lost, Pete," said Shorty. "The 200th Injianny's your home, and all real nice boys stay around home."
They made a little fire on the broad, flat surface of Pulpit Rock, boiled some coffee, and ate their dinner there, that they might watch the wonderful panorama without interruption. As the afternoon, advanced, they saw an unusual commotion in the camps, and the sound of enthusiastic cheering floated faintly up to their lofty perch.
"I'll bet a big red apple orders to move has come," said Si. "Le's git back to camp as quick as possible."
They hurried down the mountain-side, and turned sharply to the right into the road to Rossville Gap.
"Yes, the orders to move has come," said Shorty. "See them big fires, and the boys burnin' up things."
In every camp the cheering men were making bonfires of the furnishings of their Winter camps. Chairs, benches, tables, checker-boards, cupboards, what-nots, etc., which had cost them considerable pains to procure, and upon which they had lavished no little mechanical skill, and sometimes artistic ornamentation, were ruthlessly thrown to feed the joyful fires which blazed in each camp which had been lucky enough to receive orders. The bands were playing, to emphasize and give utterance to the rejoicings of the men.
Shorty took little Pete by the hand to assist him in keeping up with the rapid pace Si and he set up to get back to their own camp, and participate in its demonstrations.
"Of course, our rijimint's goin' too--goin' to have the advance," Si said to Shorty, more than anything else to quiet a little disturbing fear that would creep in. "They wouldn't leave it behind to guard one o'
these mud-piles they call forts, would they?"
"They never have yit," answered Shorty, hopefully. "They say old Sherman is as smart as they make 'em. He knows a good rijimint when he sees it, and he's certain to want the 200th Injianny in the very foremost place.
Hustle along, boys."
As they neared their camp they were delighted to find it in a similar uproar to the others, with the men cheering, the brigade band playing, and the men throwing everything they could find on the brightly blazing bonfires. Ordinarily, such a long march as they had made to the top of the Lookout Mountain and back again would have been very tiresome, but in the enthusiasm of the occasion they forgot their fatigue--almost forgot their hunger.
"The orders are," the Orderly-Sergeant explained to Si, as they were cooking supper, "that we're to move out tomorrow morning in light marching order, three days' rations, 80 rounds of cartridges, only blankets, no tents, but one wagon to a regiment, and one mule to a company to carry ammunition and rations. O, we're stripped down to the skin for a fight, I tell you. It's to be business from the first jump, and we'll be right in it. We're to have the advance, and clear away the rebel cavalry and pickets, to open up the road for the rest of the division. You'll find your rations and ammunition in front of my tent.
Draw 'em and get everything ready, and go to sleep as soon as possible, for we'll skin out of here at the first peep of day. There's a whole passel of sassy rebel cavalry out in front, that's been entirely too familiar and free, and we want to get a good whack at them before they know what's up."
And the busy Orderly passed on to superintend other preparations in the company.
After drawing and dividing the rations and cartridges. Si gave the boys the necessary instruction about having their things ready so that they could get them in the dark the next morning, and ordered them to disregard the bonfires and mirth-making, and lie down to get all the sleep they could, in preparation for the hard work of the next day.
Then, like the rest of the experienced men, who saw that the campaign was at length really on, and this would be the last opportunity for an indefinite while to write, he sat down to write short letters to his mother and to Annabel.
Influenced by the example, Shorty thought he ought to write to Maria.
He had received a second letter from her the day that he had gone out to the mill, and its words had filled his soul with a gladness that passed speech. The dispassionate reader would not have seen anything in it to justify this. He would have found it very commonplace, and full of errors of spelling and of grammar. But Shorty saw none of these.
Shakspere could have written nothing so divinely perfect to him. He had not replied to it sooner, because he had been industriously thinking of fitting things to say in reply. Now he must answer at once, or postpone it indefinitely, and that meant so much longer in hearing again from her. He got out his stationery, his gold pen, his wooden inkstand, secured a piece of a cracker box for a desk, and seated himself far from Si as possible among the men who were writing by the light of the pitch-pine in the bonfires. Then he pulled from his breast the silk bandana, and carefully developed from its folds the pocket-book and Maria's last letter, which he spread out and re-read several times.
Commonplace and formal as the letter was, there was an intangible something in it that made him feel a little nearer the writer than ever before. Therefor, he began his reply:
Dere Miss Maria Klegg:
"I talk mi pen in hand to inform you that our walkin'-papers has at last come, and we start termorrer mornin' for Buzzard Roost to settle jest whose to rool that roost. Our ideas and Mister Jo Johnston's differ on that subjeck. When we git through with him hele no more, though he probably won't be so purty as he is now."
[Illustration: LITTLE PETE'S AWFUL REBELS. 149]
He stopped to rest after this prodigious literary effort, and wipe the beaded sweat from his brow. He saw little Pete Skidmore looking at him with troubled face.
"What're you doin' up, Pete? Lay down and go to sleep."