They were followed to the Missouri line, and ordered to make no halt under penalty of death. It was more than two hundred miles to our lines, and winter was just beginning. One after another fell ill and died, or was left with Union people along the way. Only four of the party reached our army at Rolla. Two of these died a few days after their arrival, leaving only a young child and its grandfather. At St. Louis the survivors were kindly cared for, but the grief at leaving home, the hardships of the winter journey, and their destitution among strangers, had so worn upon them that they soon followed the other members of their family.
There have been thousands of cases nearly parallel to the above. The Rebels claimed to be fighting for political freedom, and charged the National Government with the most unheard-of “tyranny.” We can well be excused for not countenancing a political freedom that kills men at their firesides, and drives women and children to seek protection under another flag. We have heard much, in the past twenty years, of “Southern chivalry.” If the deeds of which the Rebels were guilty are characteristic of chivalry, who would wish to be a son of the Cavaliers? The insignia worn in the Middle Ages are set aside, to make room for the torch and the knife. The chivalry that deliberately starves its prisoners, to render them unable to return to the field, and sends blood-hounds on the track of those who attempt an escape from their hands, is the chivalry of modern days. Winder is the Coeur-de-Leon, and Quantrel the Bayard, of the nineteenth century; knights “without fear and without reproach.”
Early in January, the Army of the Southwest, under General Curtis, was put in condition for moving. Orders were issued cutting down the allowance of transportation, and throwing away every thing superfluous. Colonel Carr, with a cavalry division, was sent to the line of the Gasconade, to watch the movements of the enemy. It was the preliminary to the march into Arkansas, which resulted in the battle of Pea Ridge and the famous campaign of General Curtis from Springfield to Helena.
As fast as possible, the gun-boat fleet was pushed to completion. One after another, as the iron-clads were ready to move, they made their rendezvous at Cairo. Advertisements of the quartermaster’s department, calling for a large number of transports, showed that offensive movements were to take place. In February, Fort Henry fell, after an hour’s shelling from Admiral Foote’s gun-boats. This opened the way up the Tennessee River to a position on the flank of Columbus, Kentucky, and was followed by the evacuation of that point.
I was in St. Louis on the day the news of the fall of Fort Henry was received. The newspapers issued “extras,” with astonishing head-lines. It was the first gratifying intelligence after a long winter of inactivity, following a year which, closed with general reverses to our arms.