The soldiers pressed back to make way for General Washington as he went out of the hut, stooping low that his head might escape the roof-beams. Before the party mounted, the boyish Lafayette swung his hat round his head and shouted:
"A huzza for ze wise general!"
The soldiers cheered lustily, and General Muhlenberg followed with:
"Now a cheer for the Declaration of Independence and for the soldier who wrote down 'Seventeen seventy-six.'"
General Washington bowed in his saddle, and the shouting followed his clattering train up the valley on his daily tour of inspection.
He left behind him a new-fledged hero in the person of Jabez Rockwell, whose bold tactics had won him a powder-horn and given his comrades the rarest hour of the dreary winter at Valley Forge.
In his leisure time he scraped and polished the horn, fitted it with a wooden stopper and cord, and with greatest care and labor scratched upon its gleaming surface these words:
Jabez Rockwell, Ridgeway, Conn--His Horn Made in Camp at Valley Forge
Thin and pale, but with unbroken spirit, this sixteen-year-old veteran drilled and marched and braved picket duty in zero weather, often without a scrap of meat to brace his ration for a week on end; but he survived with no worse damage than sundry frost-bites.
In early spring he was assigned to duty as a sentinel of the company which guarded the path that led up the hill to the headquarters of the commander-in-chief. Here he learned much to make the condition of his comrades seem more hopeless and forlorn than ever.
Hard-riding scouting parties came into camp with reports of forays as far as the suburbs of Philadelphia, twenty miles away. Spies, disguised as farmers, returned with stories of visits into the heart of the capital city held by the enemy. This gossip and information, Which the young sentinel picked up bit by bit, he pieced together to make a picture of an invincible, veteran British army, waiting to fall upon the huddled mob of "rebels" at Valley Forge, and sweep them away like chaff. He heard it over and over again, that the Hessians, with their tall and gleaming brass hats and fierce mustaches, "were dreadful to look upon," that the British Grenadiers, who tramped the Philadelphia streets in legions, "were like moving ranks of stone wall."
Then Jabez would look out across the valley, and perhaps see an American regiment at drill, without uniforms, ranks half-filled, looking like an array of scarecrows. His heart would sink, dfespite his memories of Saratoga; and in such dark hours he could not believe it possible even for General Washington to win a battle in the coming summer campaign.
It was on a bright day of June that Capt. Allan McLane, the leader of scouts, galloped past the huts of the sentinels, and shouted as he rode:
"The British have marched out of Philadelphia! I have just cut my way through their skirmishers over in New Jersey!"
A little later orderlies were buzzing out of the old stone house at headquarters like bees from a hive, with orders for the troops to be ready to march. As Jabez Rockwell hurried to rejoin his regiment, men were shouting the glad news along the green valley, with songs and cheers and laughter. They fell in as a fighting army, and left behind them the tragic story of their winter at Valley Forge, as the trailing columns swept beyond the Schuylkill into the wide and smiling farm lands of Pennsylvania.
Summer heat now blistered the dusty faces that had been for so long blue and pinched with hunger and cold. A week of glad marching and full rations carried Washington's awakened army into New Jersey, by which time the troops knew their chief was leading them to block the British retreat from Philadelphia.
Jabez Rockwell, marching with the Connecticut Brigade, had forgotten his fears of the brass-capped Hessians and the stone-wall Grenadiers.
One night they camped near Monmouth village, and scouts brought in the tidings that the British were within sight. In the long summer twilight Jabez climbed a little knoll hard by, and caught a glimpse of the white tents of the Queen's Hangers, hardly beyond musket-shot.
Before daybreak a rattle of firing woke him, and he scrambled out to find that the pickets were already exchanging shots.
He picked up his old musket, and chewing a hunk of dry bread for breakfast, joined his company drawn up in a pasture. Knapsacks were piled near Freehold meeting-house, and the troops marched ahead, not knowing where they were sent.
Across the wooded fields Jabez saw the lines of red splotches which gleamed in the early sunlight, and he knew these were British troops.
The rattling musket-fire became a grinding roar, and the deeper note of artillery boomed into the tumult. A battle had begun, yet the Connecticut Brigade was stewing in the heat hour after hour, impatient, troubled, wondering why they had no part to play. As the forenoon dragged along the men became sullen and weary.
When at last an order came it was not to advance, but to retreat.
Falling back, they found themselves near their camping-place.
Valley Forge had not quenched the faith of Jabez Rockwell in General Washington's power to conquer any odds, but now he felt such dismay as brought hot tears to his eyes. On both sides of his regiment American troops were streaming to the rear, their columns broken and straggling. It seemed as if the whole army was fleeing from the veterans of Clinton and Cornwallis.
Jabez flung himself into a cornfield, and hid his face in his arms.
Round him his comrades were muttering their anger and despair. He fumbled for his canteen, and his fingers closed round his powder-horn.
"General Washington did not give you to me to run away with," he whispered; and then his parched lips moved in a little prayer:
"Dear Lord, help us to beat the British this day, and give me a chance to empty my powder-horn before night. Thou hast been with General Washington and me ever since last year. Please don't desert us now."
Nor was he surprised when, as if in direct answer to his petition, he rose to see the chief riding through the troop lines, but such a chief as he had never known before. The kindly face was aflame with anger, and streaked with dust and sweat. The powerful horse he rode was lathered, and its heaving flanks were scarred from hard-driven spurs.
As the commander passed the regiment, his staff in a whirlwind at his heels, Jabez heard him shout in a great voice vibrant with rage and grief:
"I cannot believe the army is retreating. I ordered a general advance. Who dared to give such an order? Advance those lines--"
"It was General Lee's order to retreat," Jabez heard an officer stammer in reply.
Washington vanished in a moment, with a storm of cheers in his wake.
Jabez was content to wait for orders now. He believed the Battle of Monmouth as good as won.
His recollection of the next few hours was jumbled and hazy. He knew that the regiment went forward, and then the white smoke of musket-fire closed down before him. Now and then the summer breeze made rifts in this stifling cloud, and he saw it streaked with spouting fire. He aimed his old musket at that other foggy line beyond the rail fence, whose top was lined with men in coats of red and green and black.
Suddenly his officers began running to and fro, and a shout ran down the thin line:
"Stand steady, Connecticut! Save your fire! Aim low! Here comes a charge!"
A tidal wave of red and brass broke through the gaps in the rail fence, and the sunlight rippled along a wavering line of British bayonets. They crept nearer, nearer, until Jabez could see the grim ferocity, the bared teeth, the staring eyes of the dreaded Grenadiers.
At the command to fire he pulled trigger, and the kick of his musket made him grunt with pain. Pulling the stopper from his powder-horn with his teeth, Jabez poured in a charge, and was ramming the bullet home when he felt his right leg double under him and burn as if red-hot iron had seared it.
Then the charging tide of Grenadiers swept over him. He felt their hobnailed heels bite into his back; then his head felt queer, and he closed his eyes. When he found himself trying to rise, he saw, as through a mist, his regiment falling back, driven from their ground by the first shock of the charge. He groaned in agony of spirit. What would General Washington say?
Jabez was now behind the headlong British column, which heeded him not. He was in a little part of the field cleared of fighting for the moment, except for the wounded who dotted the trampled grass.
The smoke had drifted away, for the swaying lines in front of him were locked in the frightful embrace of cold steel.
The boy staggered to his feet, with his musket as a crutch, and his wound was forgotten. He was given strength to his need by the spirit of a great purpose.
Alone he stood and reeled, while he beckoned, passionately, imploringly, his arm outstretched toward his broken regiment. The lull in the firing made a moment of strange quiet, broken only by groans and the hard, gasping curses of men locked in the death-grip.
Therefore the shrill young voice carried far, as he shouted:
"Come back, Connecticut! I'm waiting for you!"
His captain heard the boy, and waved his sword with hoarse cries to his men. They caught sight of the lonely little figure in the background, and his cry went to their hearts, and a great wave of rage and shame swept the line like a prairie fire. Like a landslide the men of Connecticut swept forward to recapture the ground they had yielded. Back fell the British before a countercharge they could not withstand, back beyond the rail fence. Nor was there refuge even there, for, shattered and spent, they were smashed to fragments in a flank attack driven home in the nick of time by the American reserves.
From a low hill to the right of this action General Washington had paused to view the charge just when his line gave way. He sent an officer in hot haste for reserves, and waited for them where he was.
Thus it happened that his eye swept the littered field from which Jabez Rockwell rose, as one from the dead, to rally his comrades, alone, undaunted, pathetic beyond words. A little later two privates were carrying to the rear the wounded lad, who had been picked up alive and conscious. They halted to salute their Commander-in-chief, and laid their burden down as the general drew rein and said:
"Take this man to my quarters, and see to it that he has every possible attention. I saw him save a regiment and retake a position."
The limp figure on the litter of boughs raised itself on an elbow, and said very feebly:
"I didn't want to see that powder-horn disgraced, sir."
With a smile of recognition General Washington responded: