It is said the most trying moment on shipboard is when the deck, previous to an engagement, is sprinkled with saw-dust to receive the blood yet unshed. No man can know whose blood will be first to moisten that dust, or whose life will be passed away before the action is over. So on the eve of that first battle in Missouri, as I reclined in the cabin of our flag-boat, and saw the surgeons busy with their preparations for the coming day; as I saw them bring to light all the dreadful implements of their trade, and arrange them in readiness for sudden use—a coldness crept over me, and I fully realized we had earnest work before us. Since that time I have witnessed many a battle, many a scene of preparation and of bloody work with knife and saw and bandage, but I have never experienced a chill like that I felt on that early day of the Rebellion.
The war has made us familiar with horrors. That which once touched us to the heart is now passed over with scarce a moment’s thought. Our nerves have been hardened, our sensibilities blunted, our hearts steeled against suffering, in the terrible school through which we have passed.
[Illustration: THE OPENING GUN AT BOONEVILLE]
THE FIRST BATTLE IN MISSOURI
Moving up the River.—A Landing Effected.—The Battle.—Precipitous Retreat of the Rebels.—Spoiling a Captured Camp.—Rebel Flags Emblazoned with the State Arms.—A Journalist’s Outfit.—A Chaplain of the Church Militant.—A Mistake that might have been Unfortunate.—The People of Booneville.—Visiting an Official.—Banking-House Loyalty.—Preparations for a Campaign.
Daybreak on the 17th found us slowly moving up the river toward Booneville. General Lyon sat forward of the steamer’s cabin, closely scanning both banks of the stream. Four miles below the town his glass sought out two pieces of artillery, partially concealed in a clump of trees, and trained upon the channel by which we were to pass. At once our engines were reversed, and the boats moved back to a landing about eight miles below Booneville. A little before seven o’clock we were on shore, and our column of fifteen hundred men began its advance upon the Rebel camp.
It was the story that has found its repetition in many a battle since that time. The enemy’s pickets were driven in. The enemy, in line of battle, was discovered on a long ridge, and our own line was formed on a ridge parallel to it. Then we opened fire with our artillery (one battery was all we possessed), and received no response, save by a desultory discharge of small-arms. Next our infantry added its tenor notes to the bass of the field-guns; the Rebel forces melted steadily away, and the field was in our possession, twenty minutes after the opening shot had been fired.