"When we get through," murmured Alf Russell dolefully. "How many of us will ever get through?"
"Who'll be the Jim Humphreys and Gid Mackals this time?" said Monty Scruggs, looking at the tangled mass of tree-tops.
"Can you see any path through this abatis, Sergeant?" nervously asked Harry Joslyn.
"No, Harry," said Si, kindly and encouragingly. "But we'll find some way to git through. There's probably a path that we kin strike. Stay close by me, and we'll try our best."
"Well, I for one am goin' through, and I'm goin' to take Pete and Sandy with me," said Shorty, in a loud, confident tone, to brace up the others. "I've always gone through every one o' them things I've struck yit, and this ain't no worse'n the others. But we ought to jump 'em at once, while they're shiverin' over the shelling' we give 'em. They must be shakin' up there yit like a dog on a January mornin'. Why don't we start, I wonder?"
The batteries behind them began throwing shells slowly and deliberately, as if testing their range, before beginning a general cannonade.
All along the crest, to their right and to their left, could be seen regiments moving up and going into line of battle.
"It's goin' to be a big smash this time, sure," said Si. "And the 200th Injianny's got a front seat at the performance. We'll show them how to do it, and we're just the ones that kin. Brace up, boys. The eyes of the whole army's on us. They expect big things from us."
"Here she goes, I guess," he continued, as a bugle sounded at headquarters. "Everybody git ready to jump at the word, and not stop goin' till we're inside the works."
The lines stiffened, every one drew a long breath, gripped his gun, and braced himself for the fiery ordeal. There was an anxious wait, and then the Adjutant came walking quietly down the line, with his horse's bridle over his arm.
"It seems," he explained to Capt. McGillicuddy, loud enough for the company to hear, "that we are not to make an assault, after all. There's enough rebels over there in the works to eat us up without salt. We are ordered to only make a demonstration, and hold them, while the rest work down on their flanks toward Calhoun, which is six miles below, and get in their rear. You can let your men rest in place till further orders."
"Take the company Orderly," said the Captain, walking off with the Adjutant.
"'Tention! Stack arms; Place rest!" commanded the Orderly.
The revulsion of feeling among the keenly-wrought-up men was almost painful.
"Demonstration be blamed," said Si, sinking upon a convenient rock. "I always did hate foolin'. Gracious, how tired I am."
"Only a demonstration--only powow, noise, show and bluff," sneered Shorty, flinging his gun against the stack. "Why didn't they tell us this an hour ago, and save me all this wear and tear that's makin' me old before my time? When I git ready for a fight I want it to come off, without any postponement on account of weather. Come, Pete, go wash your face and hands, and then we'll spread our blankets and lay down. I'm tireder'n a mule after crossin' Rocky Face Ridge. I don't want to take another step, nor even think, till I git a good sleep."
"We don't have to go over that brush, then?" said Alf Russell, with an expression of deep relief. "I'm so glad. Great Jerusalem, how my wound begins to ache again. You fellows oughtn't to laugh at my wound. You don't know how it hurts to have all those delicate nerves torn up."
So it was with every one. The moment the excitement of the impending fight passed away, every one was sinking with fatigue, and all his other troubles came back. Monty Scruggs suddenly remembered how badly he had been hurt, and started to drag himself off in search of the Surgeon, while Harry Joslyn and Sandy Baker, chumming together for the first time, snuggled together in their blankets, and sought that relief from the excitement and fatigues of the day which kindly Nature never refuses to healthy young bodies.
CHAPTER XIX. SI AND SHORTY ARE PUT UNDER ARREST.
THE next morning the rebels were found to be gone from the position in front of the 200th Ind;, and after breakfast the regiment marched leisurely by a road around the dreaded abatis, to the ground which had been scarred and mangled by our terrible artillery fire.
It was an appalling scene that the eyes of the boys rested upon. Every horrid form of mutilation and death which could be inflicted by the jagged shards and fiendish shells, or the even more demon-like shrapnel-balls, was visible.
Everything was torn, rent, and ragged, as if soma mighty giant, insane to destroy, had spent his fury there. Nothing had escaped the iron flail of devastation. Trees shattered or cut entirely down; limberchests and cannon-wheels merely bunches of blackened splinters; frightfully mangled horses, dead, or yet living in agony that filled their great plaintive eyes; lying in ghastly pools of blood, which filmed and clotted under the bright rays of the May morning sun.
"Looks like Judgment morn or the fall of Babylon," muttered the religious-minded Alf Russell, the first to break their awed silence.
[Illustration: AWFUL DESTRUCTION. 241]
"Or the destruction of Sennacherib," suggested Monty Scruggs--
"For the angel of death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed."
"I should say he had a mighty strong breath, Monty," Shorty interrupted.
He liked to break in on Monty's heroics. "Excuse me from havin' a 12pounder breathin' around me."
"And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still," continued Monty.
"I'll bet there wasn't much sleepin' around here while that shell'n' was goin' on," broke in Shorty again. "Except the sleep that has the sod for a coverlet and Gabriel's trumpet for a breakfast bell."
Monty continued impressively:
"And there lay the steed, with his nostrils all wide, But through them there rolled not the breath of his pride; And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf, And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf."
"Poor horses," murmured Shorty. "I always feel mighty sorry for them.
They hadn't nothin' to do with gittin' up this rebellion. We must go around and kill such as is alive, and put them out o' their misery."
"And there lay the rider, distorted and pale.
With the dew on his brow and the rust on his mail; And the tents were all silent, the banners alone.
The lances uplifted, the trumpets unblown."
"Serves 'em right, the yaller-bellied, clay-eatin' yowlers," said Shorty savagely, looking over the mangled corpses. "Pays 'em up for their murderin' abatis. We got it in this time worse on them than they did on us, though it'd take as much of this as'd make up several Counties to pay up for any one o' the good boys we lost yesterday. I hope they are all where they kin look down and see how we got it on the secesh hell-hounds. We'll do 'em up worse yit before we're through with 'em."
"Our batteries are improvin' wonderfully," commented the more practical Si, studying the field. "They seem to've socked every shell in just where it'd do the most good. No shootin' at the State o' Georgy generally and trustin' to luck to hit a rebel. Every shell seems to've landed just where it was needed, and then 'tended to its business and busted. You don't see no signs of any strikin' a quarter of a mile away, nor a whole one layin' around anywhere. That's good gunnin', and I'm glad our old six-hoss thrashin'-machine done the biggest share of it.
Our brigade has the best battery in the whole army."
"The regiment will go on," reported Orderly-Sergeant, "but Co. Q will stay behind to bury the dead, gather up the arms and things, and then bring up the brigade ammunition train."
"Stay behind to bury the dead," grumbled Shorty. "Nice business that!
Sextons to the Southern Confederacy. Hain't they got any niggers around here that they kin set at the work?"
Nor did Si like the job. "The artillery made the muss, and now the infantry's got to stay and clean up after it. That don't seem right."
"Well, orders is orders, and got to be obeyed," said the Orderly-Sergeant, cutting short the discussion with the usual formulary of his class. An Orderly-Sergeant is robbed of one of the cherished privileges of the other enlisted men. He can not criticise or grumble, but must stop the others from doing so beyond a certain point, and his refuge must be the prompt assumption that the orders are all right, and must be executed cheerfully. And he has not the satisfaction of the officers above him in knowing the why and wherefore of the orders, and perhaps advising as to them. He is "betwixt and between," as they say out West.
"The quicker we get at it," continued the Orderly, "the sooner it'll be over. Serg't Klegg, take eight or 10 men and hunt around for some picks and shovels. I think that deep trench over there behind the works 'll do for a grave. You can shovel the bank right down on them and save hard work. Serg't Wilson, you take eight or 10 men and gather up these pieces o' men and lay them in there. Corp'l Jones, you take another man or two and go around and kill those horses. Be careful how you shoot now. Don't hurt anybody with glancing bullets. Corp'l Elliott, you take the rest and go round and gather the guns and other things, and pile them up there by that tree to turn over to the ordnance officer. Hustle, now, all of you."
"They didn't think they were digging their own graves," philosophized Monty Scruggs, as he stood shovel in hand watching the remains being gathered into the trench.
"He digged a ditch, he digged it deep; He digged it for his brother, But for his great sin he fell in The ditch he'd digged for t'other."
"Good, good, Monty," said Si. "That's the best thing I've heard you spout yit. Give us some more of it."
"There isn't any more of it. The only thing I can think of is:
"The rebel Solomon Grundy; Born in Georgia on Monday; Become a rebel on Tuesday; Run off from Buzzard's Roost on Wednesday; Got licked at Dalton on Thursday; Worse whipped at Resaca on Friday; Blown up by a shell on Saturday; Died and buried on Sunday; And this was the end of Solomon Grundy."
Alf Russell's interest in anatomy had led him to join Serg't Wilson's party in gathering up the ghastly fragments of bodies, but the sights were too much for his nerves, and as he perceived that he was growing sick at the stomach he went over to Shorty's squad.