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IV AFTER THE BATTLE THE field of trampled clover looked as if a windstorm had swept over it, strewing the contents of a dozen dismantled houses. There were stacks of arms and piles of cooking utensils, knapsacks, half emptied, lay beside the charred remains of fires, and loose fence rails showed red and white glimpses of playing cards, hidden, before the fight, by superstitious soldiers. Groups of men were scattered in dark spots over the field, and about them stragglers drifted slowly back from the road to Centreville. There was no discipline, no order - regiment was mixed with regiment, and each man was hopelessly inquiring for his lost company. As Dan stepped over the fallen fence upon the crushed pink heads of the clover, he came upon a circle of privates making merry over a lunch basket they had picked up on the turnpike - a basket brought by one of the Washington parties who had gayly driven out to watch the battle. A broken fence rail was ablaze in the centre of the group, and as the red light fell on each soiled and unshaven face, it stood out grotesquely from the surrounding gloom. Some were slightly wounded, some had merely scented the battle from behind the hill - all were 316 After the Battle 317 drinking rare wine in honour of the early ending of the war. As Dan looked past them over the darkening meadow, where the returning soldiers drifted aimlessly across the patches of red light, he asked himself almost impatiently if this were the pure and patriotic army that held in its ranks the best born of the South? To him, standing there, it seemed but a loosened mass, without strength and without cohesion , a mob of schoolboys come back from a sham battle on the college green. It was his first fight, and he did not know that what he looked upon was but the sure result of an easy victory upon the undisciplined ardour of raw troops - that the sinews of an army are wrought not by a single trial, but by the strain of prolonged and strenuous endeavour. " I say, do you reckon they'lllemme go home termorrow ?" inquired a slightly wounded man in the group before him. "Thar's my terbaccy needs lookin' arter or the worms 'ull eat it clean up 'fo' I git thar." He shook the shaggy hair from his face, and straightened the white cotton bandage about his chin. On the right side, where the wound was, his thick sandy beard had been cut away, and the outstanding tuft on his left cheek gave him a peculiarly ill-proportioned look. " Lordy! I tell you we gave it ter 'em!" exclaimed another in excited jerks. "Fight ! Wall, that's what I call fightin', leastways it's put. I declar' I reckon I hit six Yankees phlm on the head with the butt of this here musket." He paused to knock the head off a champagne bottle, and lifting the broken neck to his lips drained the foaming wine, which spilled in white froth upon 318 The Battle-Ground his clothes. His face was red in the firelight, and when he spoke his words rolled like marbles from his tongue. Dan, looking at him, felt a curious conviction that the man had not gone near enough to the guns to smell the powder. "Wall, it may be so, but I ain't seed you," returned the first speaker, contemptuously, as he stroked his bandage. "I was thar all day and I ain't seed you raise no special dust." "Oh, I ain't claimin' nothin' special," put in the other, dIscomfited. "Six is a good many, I reckon," drawled the wounded man, reflectively, "and I ain't sayin' I settled six on 'em hand to hand - I ain't sayin' that." He spoke with conscious modesty, as if the smallness of his assertion was equalled only by the greatness of his achievements. "I ain't sayin' I settled more'n three on 'em, I reckon." Dan left the group and went on slowly across the field, now and then stumbling upon a sleeper who lay prone upon the trodden clover, obscured by the heavy dusk. The mass of the army was still somewhere on the long road - only the exhausted, the sickened, or the unambitious drifted back to fall asleep upon the uncovered ground. As Dan crossed the meadow he drew near to a knot of men from a Kentucky regiment...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780817388294
Related ISBN
9780817310417
MARC Record
OCLC
47010965
Pages
559
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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