"No; them's the same old cedar thickets they wuz when you went to bed.
They hain't changed a mite durin' the night, except that they've got some dew on 'em. You must git over seein' bouggers wherever it's dark.
We'll build a fire and cook some breakfast, and git a good ready for startin'. You must eat all you kin, for you'll need all you kin hold before the day's over."
Si was employed the same way in quieting down the rest, seeing that every one was properly clothed and had all his equipments, and then he gathered them around a little fire to boil their coffee and broil a piece of fresh beef for their breakfast. He had the hardest work getting them to pay attention to this, and eat all they could. They were so wrought up over the idea that the battle would begin at any minute that the sound of a distant bugle or any noise near would bring them up standing, to the utter disregard of their meal.
"Take it cool, boys, and eat all you kin," he admonished them. "It's generally a long time between meals sich times as these, and the more you eat now the longer you kin go without."
But the boys could not calm themselves.
"There, ain't that rebel cavalry galloping and yelling?" one exclaimed; and they all sprang to their feet and stared into the darkness.
"No," said Shorty, with as much scorn as he could express with his mouthful of the last issue of soft bread that he was to get. "Set down.
That's only the Double Canister Battery goin' to water. Their Dutch bugler can't speak good English, his bugle only come to this country at the beginning o' the war, and he's got a bad cold in his head besides.
Nobody kin understand his calls but the battery boys, and they won't have no other. They swear they've the best bugler in the army."'
"Set down! Set down, I tell you," Si repeated sternly, "and swaller all the grub you kin hold. That's your first business, and it's just as much your business as it is to shoot when you're ordered to. You've got to lay in enough now to run you all day. And all that you've got to listen for is our own bugle soundin' 'Fall in!' Don't mind no other noise."
They tried to obey, but an instant later all leaped to their feet, as a volley of mule screechers mixed with human oaths and imprecations came up from a neighboring ravine.
"There! There's the rebels, sure enough," they ejaculated, dropping their coffee and meat and rushing for their guns.
"Come back and set down, and finish your breakfast," shouted Si. "That ain't no rebels. That's only the usual family row over the breakfast table between the mules and the teamsters."
"Mules is kickin' because the teamsters don't wash their hands and put on white aprons when they come to wait on 'em," suggested Shorty.
The boys looked at him in amazement, that he should jest at such a momentous time.
"There's the 'assembly' now," said Si, as the first streak of dawn on the mountain-top was greeted by the bugler at the 200th Ind.'s Headquarters, filling the chill air with stirring notes.
"Put on your things. Don't be in a hurry. Put on everything just right, so's it won't fret or chafe you during the march. You'll save time by takin' time now."
He inspected the boys carefully as it grew lighter, showed them how to adjust their blanket-rolls and canteens and heavy haversacks so as to carry to the best advantage, examined their guns, and saw that each had his full allowance of cartridges.
"Here comes meat for the rebel cavalry," shouted one of the older members of the company, as Si brought his squad up to take its place on the left of Co. Q.
"I wouldn't say much about rebel cavalry, if I was you, Wolf Greenleaf,"
Si admonished the joker. "Who was it down in Kentucky that was afraid to shoot at a rebel cavalryman, for fear it would make him mad, and he might do something?"
The laugh, that followed this old-time "grind" on one of the teasers of new recruits silenced him, and encouraged the boys.
As the light broadened, and revealed the familiar hills and woods, unpeopled by masses of enemies, the shivery "2 o'clock-in-the-morning-feeling" vanished from the boys' hearts, and was succeeded by eagerness to see the redoubtable rebels, of whom so much had been said.
The companies formed up into the regiment on the parade ground, the Colonel mounted his horse, took his position on the right flank, and gave the momentous order:
"Attention, battalion--Right face--Forward--file left--March!"
The first wave rolled forward in the mighty avalanche of men, which was not to be stayed until, four months later, Sherman telegraphed North the glad message:
"Atlanta is ours, and fairly won."
As they wound around and over the hills in front, they saw the "reserves," the "grand guard," and finally the pickets with their reserves drawn in, packed up ready for marching, and waiting for their regiments to come up, when they would fall-in.
"There's a h--l's mint of deviling, tormenting rebel cavalry out there beyond the hills," they called out to the regiment. "Drop onto 'em, and mash 'em. We'll be out there to help, if you need it."
"The 200th Injianny don't need no help to mash all the rebel cavalry this side o' the brimstone lakes," Si answered proudly. "Much obliged to you, all the same."
"Capt. McGillicuddy," commanded the Colonel, as they advanced beyond where the picket-line had been, "deploy your company on both sides of the road, and take the advance. Keep a couple hundred yards ahead of the regiment."
"Hooray," said Si, "we're in the lead again, and we'll keep it till the end o' the chapter. Co. Q, to the front and center."
They advanced noiselessly over the crest of a ridge, and the squad, which gained a little on the rest, saw a rebel videt sitting on his horse in the road some 200 or 300 yards away. The guns of the nervous boys were up instantly, but Si restrained them with a motion of his hand.
"What's the matter with him?" he asked Shorty, indicating the rebel.
"Him and his hors's wore out and asleep," answered Shorty, after a minute's study. "Look at his head and his hoss's."
"Kin we sneak up on him and git him?" asked Si.
"Scarcely," answered Shorty. "Look over there."
A squad of rebels were riding swiftly up the road toward the videt.
"Shan't I shoot him?" asked the nervous little Pete, lifting his gun to his face.
"No, no; give him a show for his life," answered Shorty, laying his hand on Pete's gun.
"It'd be murder to shoot him now. Gi' me your gun, Pete. Run down the road there apiece, and hit him or his horse with a stone and wake him up."
The boys, to whom a rebel was a savage wolf, to be killed any way that he could be caught, looked wonderingly at Si, who responded by a nod of approval.
"Won't he chop me with his sword?" asked Pete, still full of the terrors of that weapon.
"We'll look out for that. Go ahead, quick, Pete," said Si.
Poor little Pete, looking as if he was being sent to lead a forlorn hope, rushed frantically forward, picking up a stone as he ran, and hurled it with a true aim squarely against the rebel's breast, who woke with a start, clutched his carbine, and stared around, while little Pete dashed into the brush to avoid his dreaded saber.
"Look out for yourself, reb. We're a-coming," shouted Si.
The rebel whirled his horse about, fired his carbine into the air, and sped back to his friends, while the squad rushed forward and took position behind trees. The rebels came plunging on.
"Fire!" shouted Si.
The guns of the squad crashed almost together. The bullets seemed to strike near, but without taking effect on any one of the rebels, who seemed to catch sight of the rest of Co. Q coming over the crest. They whirled their horses around, and started back on a sharp trot, while the boys were reloading.
"Go ahead. Sergeant," shouted Capt. McGillicuddy, from the rear. "Follow them up. We're right behind you. Push them back on their reserves."
"All right, Cap. Back they go," shouted Si, leading forward his squad in a heavy-footed run down the road. They soon came to an opening of somewhat level ground, made by the clearing around a cabin.
The rebel squad halted beyond the cornfields, turned about, and opened fire.