At half-past eleven that night I had heard nothing from the front, and went to sleep, with heavy forebodings. At two o’clock I was aroused by the sounds of a moving multitude, rose and looked out to see, under the starlight, a black stream pouring down the side street, on the corner of which our quarters were situated, and turning down Princess Ann, toward the river landing. To me, it was the nation going to her doom, passing through the little period of starlight, on into the darkness and the unknown.
In Louisville, I had learned to believe that the Eternal verities demanded the destruction of our Government. True, the South had beaten the North in her bloody struggle for the privilege of holding her slaves while she flogged them; but I could see, in this, no reason why that North should be chosen as Freedom’s standard-bearer! Our ignoble Emancipation Proclamation had furnished no rock of moral principle on which to plant her feet while she struggled in that bloody surf. God was blotting out our name from among the nations, that he might plant here a government worthy of such a country.
I calculated there was a rear guard that would hold the enemy back until morning, and did not wake Georgie, who needed sleep; but I must be with my men, who would be alarmed by the unusual sounds; must see that those nurses did not run away.
To get to my post, I must cross that stream, and as I stood waiting on the bank, could see that it was not composed of men in martial array. It met exactly all my previous conceptions of a disorderly flight. There were men in and out of uniform, men rolled in blankets, men on horseback and men on foot, cannon, caisons, baggage wagons, beef cattle, ambulances and nondescripts, all mixed and mingled, filling the street from wall to wall; no one speaking a word, and all intent on getting forward as fast as possible. So thickly were they packed that I waited in vain, as much as twenty minutes, for some opening through which I might work my way to the other side, and at last called the vidette, who came and helped me over.
Reaching the theater, I found many of the men awake and listening; went among them and whispered, as I did something for each, that there was some movement on the street I did not understand, but should probably know about in the morning. During the suspense of those dark hours, and all the next day I was constantly reminded of the Bible metaphor of “a nail fastened in a sure place.” The absolute confidence which those men reposed in me, the comfort and strength I could give them, were so out of proportion to my strength that it was a study. I was a very small nail, but so securely fastened in the source of all strength, that they could hold by me and hope, even when there seemed nothing to hope for. As for me, all the armies of the world, and the world itself might melt or blow away, but I should be safe with God, and know that for every creature He was working out some noble destiny. All the pain, and sorrow, and defeat, were rough places—briars in an upward path to something we should all rejoice to see.