“Don’t you want a guard to protect you?”
“Does your mamma know you’re out alone?”
“Wait till to-morrow and we’ll send Beauregard’s forces to see you safe home.”
The men and officers looked very conscious and uncomfortable under the gamut of jeers, for word went along the line, and all along the route to the rear they passed through this clamor of contemptuous outcry.
“Well, I thought we had reached the eminent deadly pinnacle of disgrace,” Barney said, with a sigh, as a group of Company K watched the considerable number taken out of McDowell’s small army, “but this sight makes me feel like the man on trial for murder who escapes with a verdict of manslaughter.”
BLOOD AND IRON.
Late at night Dick came down to Jack’s bivouac with a strange tale. McDowell had come to Tyler’s quarters storming with rage. He had accused that officer of disobeying orders in forcing a fight on the fords of Bull Run where he had been told to merely reconnoitre.
The staff believed that Tyler would be cashiered, for he had not only wrecked the general’s plan of battle, but he had given the rebels the secret of the movement and demoralized one wing of the army by putting raw soldiers in front of masked batteries that could have been detected by proper outpost work. Then one of the staff reported a speech Tyler had made when his troops rushed over the empty rebel breastworks and forts around Centreville. His officers were discussing the probable forces Beauregard had behind the crooked stream beyond.
“I believe we’ve got them on the run,” Tyler said, exultingly, “from what we see here. I tell you the great man of this war is the man that plants the flag at Manassas, and I’m going through to Richmond to-night.”
“Not much comfort in knowing we’ve got such a fool for a commander,” Jack cried, thinking of the disgrace of the day before and of the small chance the regiment had under such a chief to redeem its prestige on the morrow. All personal griefs, everything but the pending battle, were driven from the men’s minds as the signs of the momentous work of the morrow accumulated. The hospital corps was up in force. The yellow flag floated from an immense tent near the roadway. A great cortege of general officers rode away from McDowell’s quarters about ten in the evening. The haversacks were filled with three days’ cooked rations. One hundred rounds of ammunition to a man were dealt out to each company. Everything not absolutely necessary was ordered to the company wagons.
The talk in the camp that night was of home—of anything and everything but the dreadful to-morrow, so long looked forward to with eager hope, now regarded with uncertainty that was not so much fear as the memory of the panic at Blackburn’s Ford. Jack was provided with a large atlas map of Virginia, and with the bits of information given by Dick he was able to conjecture the probable plan of the next day. The cronies of Company K listened in delight to his exposition of the action.