As everything now seemed quiet in front, the two partners sat down with their back against trees to catch a little sleep before the momentous movement in the morning.
It seemed to Si that he had hardly closed his eyes when the Orderly shook him and whispered an order to help arouse the men and get them into line.
"Don't make the least noise," whispered the Orderly. "I hear the rebels moving around, but we want to jump 'em before they know we're up. The further we can get through that abatis before they discover us, the fewer we'll have killed. It's going to be mighty tough work at best, and I wish that we were going over the works now."
It was the chill gray of the morning, when every man's spirits and courage are at ebb-tide. For an instant, Si felt his heart sink at the thought of the awful ordeal that confronted them. There came across his mind a swift vision of the peaceful home back in Indiana, with the pleasant fields lying about, over which he used to go on sweet Spring mornings like this and note the flowers that had bloomed over night, and the growth the wheat had made. How sickening to be now starting to open up a hell of pain, wounds, and death. Then his natural courage and will reasserted themselves, and he began rousing the boys, but with a tenderness born of the thought that their hearts would be as low as his in that bleak hour.
Jim Humphreys waked up stolidly, and without a word began preparing to fall in. Alf Russell's and Monty Scruggs's faces turned ashy after they had fairly awakened, and they picked up their guns with nerveless fingers.
Harry Joslyn took the position of a soldier, with his gun at an order, his lips tightly closed, and his eyes fixed on the rebel position, as the spreading light developed it. Sandy Baker fidgeted about at one time tinkering with his gun and equipments, and then stopping half-way in the task he had started and falling into a fit of musing. Little Pete Skidmore wandered about, looking into Si's and Shorty's grave faces, and then into others equally solemn, and finding no comfort in any. It was the first time that he heard no joke or quip flash along the forming line to bring cheers or laughter.
"Come, boys," said Si, kindly, "eat your breakfasts. You can't make no coffee nor fry no meat, but you'd better fill up on cold grub. You'll need all you can eat."
The mention of something to eat seemed to remind Gid Mackall of his usual appetite. He pulled a cracker out of his haversack and bit it, but it seemed distasteful, and he spat the piece out.
"The orders are," said the Orderly-Sergeant in a low tone, as he passed down in front of the company, "to strip off your bankets, canteens, and haversacks, and pile them. They'll be in the road in the rush, and catch in going through the abatis."
"Orderly," said Shorty in his most conciliatory way, "if you want to do me a favor make Pete Skidmore one of the detail."
"I ain't asking suggestions from you," said the Orderly, still surly.
"But I shall detail Baker and Skidmore for the duty."
The boys flung their things off with something like desperation in their looks.
It was now daylight, but a dense fog prevented seeing more than a few feet.
"We can't wait any longer," said the Colonel. "Pass the word down the line to move forward. Make no noise till the enemy opens fire. Then everybody push forward as rapidly as possible for the works."
"The first fire will probably go over our heads and do little damage,"
said Capt. McGillicuddy, stepping down to the center, so that his whisper could be heard by all. "It's always so when men fire downhill.
Then, you all want to be careful and fire low, so as to hit as many as possible, and rattle them in their future firing. The more of them we can hit the less of us will be hit afterward. Forward--Guide right!"
It seemed as if the crashing of their marching feet was so loud that the rebels on the hill could not fail to hear it, and they held their breaths in painful expectancy of the volley. But they had gotten a rod or more into the entangling brush of the abatis, and were stumbling and crashing amid the baffling branches, before they heard the voice of the previous night command:
The rebel muskets crashed together in a terrific volley, which generally passed over the heads of the 200th Ind., though a few men fell into the brush with wounds.
Si had gone up the path that he had found the night before, and therefore had no struggle with the fallen trees to shake his nerves and disturb his aim. He had calculated upon this. He brought his musket down deliberately and took good aim at the point whence the voice of command had come. As his gun cracked he heard voices cry:
"The Kunnel's shot. Look out for the Kunnel thar."
Another voice immediately spoke up in command: "Steady, men! Keep cool!
Fire low, and give it to the blue-bellied scoundrels!"
Then broke out a mad rage of death and destruction, in which both sides seemed in the fiercest insanity of murder. The 200th Ind., encouraged by the shouts of their officers, pressed forward through the baffling tree-tops, stumbling, falling, rising again, firing as fast as they could load their guns, and yelling like demons. They were frantic to get through the obstructions and come to hand-to-hand struggle with the fiends who were yelling and firing from the top of the breastworks.
The rebel battery in the fort began hurling a tornado of shells as near as they could bring their guns to bear on the yelling. This aroused its enemy battery of the night before, and it opened up viciously. The regiments to the right and left of the 200th Ind. moved forward at the sound of the firing, and added to the dinning turbulence.
Si had kept to the path, firing coolly and with deadly aim as he kept pace with the line, which was fiercely forging through the brush. There had gathered behind him Jim Humphreys, Harry Joslyn, and Gid Mackall.
The rest had gathered over toward Shorty, who was raging through the abatis, tearing aside the branches which impeded the others, yelling, swearing most horribly, and firing as a loaded gun would be handed him.
He happened to look around to see who was handing him guns, and saw that it was Pete Skidmore and Sandy Baker.
"I thought you little brats was ordered to stay behind with the things,"
"I know we was," whimpered little Pete as he capped a gun and handed it to Shorty; "but we couldn't stay when we heard the yelling and shooting.
We was so scared that we was afraid to stay there, so we hunted you up, and--"
"Come on, boys," yelled Shorty to the others. "Go ahead. We're almost through, and then we'll salivate them whelps of damnation."
A bullet came so nigh Si's face that it seemed to burn him, and then he heard it strike. Jim Humphreys fell without a groan--a bullet through his brain.
"Don't mind that. Forward, boys," shouted Si. "Here's the end of the abatis."
Gid Mackall fell, and Harry Joslyn turned to help him.
"Don't mind him. Come on," Si called over his shoulder, as he rushed in the clear place, just at the edge of the shallow ditch in front of the works. "Everybody this way."
[Illustration: THE CHARGE THRU THE ABATIS. 211]
All that was left of the regiment was now through the abatis. The fog suddenly lifted, and showed the combatants face to face, with only the ditch and the bank of earth between them. The sight was so startling that both sides paused for an instant.
"Forward, 200th Ind.! Rally on your colors!" rang out the clear, sweet, penetrating voice of the Colonel, as he snatched the colors from the hand of the third man who had borne them since the regiment moved forward, and sprang up the side of the works.
Of the pandemonium that reigned inside the rebel works for the next few minutes Si only recollected seeing the Orderly-Sergeant, bareheaded, and with bayonet fixed, leap down from the bank and transfix a man who tried to snatch the flag from the Colonel's hand. Si arrived just in time to shoot the rebel officer who was striking at the Orderly with his sword, while Shorty came up, knocking down a winrow of men with his gun swung by the butt as a club, to rescue Si from three rebels who were trying to bayonet him.
All at once the entire rebel line broke and ran down the hill in a wave of dingy brown, while another wave of blue rolled over the works to the right and left of the 200th Ind.
"I hope you ain't hurt, Orderly," said Si, dropping the butt of his musket on the ground, and wiping his flushed face. "I thought that officer was goin' to git you, sure."
"He would, if it hadn't been for you, Si. He got in one slash on me, but it ain't much, I think. But Shorty helped you out of a tight box."
"Yes; Shorty generally does that," said Si, with a beaming look on his partner. "He's the best soldier in the regiment, and kin always be trusted to git in on time anywhere."
"Well, I'm afraid it 'll be a short roll I'll have to call this evening," said the Orderly, with a sorrowful expression. "I suppose we'd better go back through that brush and look up the boys that were dropped."
CHAPTER XVII. GATHERING UP THE BOYS AFTER THE BATTLE.
"HOORAY for Injianny. Injianny gits there every time," roared Si, joining the yelling, exultant throng crowding around the Colonel. "The old 200th wuz the first to cross the works, and miles ahead o' any other rejimint."
"Bully for the Wild Wanderers of the Wabash," Shorty joined in. "They're the boss regiment in the army o' the Cumberland, and the Army o' the Cumberland's the boss army on earth. Hooray for US Co. Le's have a speech. Where's Monty Scruggs?"
"Yes, Where's Monty?" echoed Si, with a little chill at his heart, for he had not remembered seeing the boy since they emerged from the abatis, just before the final rush.
"Well, le's have a song, then," said Shorty, as Si was looking around.