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BOOK FOURTH THE RETURN OF THE VANQUISHED I THE RAGGED ARMY THE brigade had halted to gather rations in a corn field beside the road, and Dan, lying with his head in the shadow of a clump of sumach, hungrily regarded the "roasting ears" which Pinetop had just rolled in the ashes. A malarial fever, which he had contracted in the swamps of the Chickahominy , had wasted his vitality until he had begun to look like the mere shadow of himself; gaunt, unwashed , hollow-eyed, yet wearing his torn gray jacket and brimless cap as jauntily as he had once worn his embroidered waistcoats. His hand trembled as he reached out for his share of the green corn, but weakened as he was by sickness and starvation, the defiant humour shone all the clearer in his eyes. He had still the heart for a wliistle, Bland had said last night, looking at him a little wistfully. As he lay there, with the dusty sumach shrub above him, he saw the ragged army pushing on into the turnpike that led to Maryland. Lean, sunscorched , half-clothed, dropping its stragglers like 381 The Battle-Ground leaves upon the roadside, marching in borrowed rags, and fighting with the weapons of its enemies, dirty, fevered, choking with the hot dust of the turnpike - it still pressed onward, bending like a blade beneath Lee's hand. For this army of the sick, fighting slow agues, old wounds, and the sharp diseases that follow on green food, was becoming suddenly an army of invasion. The road led into Maryland, and the brigades swept into it, jesting like schoolboys on a frolic. Dan, stretched exhausted beside the road, ate his ear of corn, and idly watched the regiment that was marching by - marching, not with the even tread of regular troops, but with scattered ranks and broken column, each man limping in worn-out shoes, at his own pace. They were not fancy soldiers , these men, he felt as he looked after them. They were not imposing upon the road, but when their chance came to fight, they would be very sure to take it. Here and there a man still carried his old squirrel musket, with a rusted skillet handle stuck into the barrel, but when before many days the skillet would be withdrawn, the load might be relied upon to wing straight home a little later. On wet nights those muskets would stand upright upon their bayonets, with muzzles in the earth, while the rain dripped off, and on dry days they would carry aloft the full property of the mess, which had dwindled to a frying pan and an old quart cup; though seldom cleaned, they were always fit for service - or if they went foul what was easier than. to pick up a less trusty one upon the field. On the other side hung the blankets, tied at the ends and wom like The Ragged Army a sling from the left shoulder. The haversack was gone and with it the knapsack and the overcoat. When a man wanted a change of linen he knelt down and washed his single shirt in the brook, sitting in the sun while it dried upon the bank. If it was long in drying he put it on, wet as it was, and ran ahead to fall in with his company. Where the discipline was easy, each infantryman might become his own commissary. Dan finished his corn, threw the husks over his head, and sat up, looking idly at the irregular ranks. He was tired and sick, and after a short rest it seemed all the harder to get up and take the road again. As he sat there he began to bandy words with the sergeant of a Maryland regiment that was passing. " Hello! what brigade?" called the sergeant in friendly tones. He looked fat and well fed, and Dan felt this to be good ground for resentment. "General Straggler's brigade, but iot's none of your business," he promptly retorted. "General Straggler has a pretty God-forsaken crew," taunted the sergeant, looking back as he stepped on briskly. "I've seen his regiments lining the road clear up from Chantilly." "If you'd kept your fat eyes open at Manassas the other day, you'd have seen them lining the battle -field as well," pursued Dan pleasantly, chewing a long green blade of corn. "Old Stonewall saw them, I'll be bound. If General Straggler...

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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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