“Good God, Sherburne, it can’t be so!”
“It shouldn’t be so, but it is! Oh, why did Pemberton let himself be trapped in such a way! A whole army of ours lost and our greatest fortress in the West taken! Why, the Yankee men-of-war can steam up the Mississippi untouched, all the way from the Gulf to Minnesota.”
Harry and Dalton were appalled, and, for a little while, were silent.
“I knew that man Grant would do something terrible to us,” Harry said at last. “I’ve heard from my people in Kentucky what sort of a general he is. My father was at Shiloh, where we had a great victory on, but Grant wouldn’t admit it, and held on, until another Union army came up and turned our victory into defeat. My cousin, Dick Mason, has been with Grant a lot, and I used to get a letter from him now and then, even if he is in the Yankee army. He says that when Grant takes hold of a thing he never lets go, and that he’ll win the war for his side.”
“Your cousin may be right about Grant’s hanging on,” said Dalton with sudden angry emphasis, “but neither he nor anybody else will win this war for the Yankees. We’ve lost Vicksburg, and an army with it, and we’ve retreated from Gettysburg, with enough men fallen there to make another army, but they’ll never break through the iron front of Lee and his veterans.”
“Hope you’re right,” said Sherburne, “but I’m off now. I’m in the saddle all night with my troop. We’ve got to watch the Yankee cavalry. Custer and Pleasanton and the rest of them have learned to ride in a way that won’t let Jeb Stuart himself do any nodding.”
He cantered off and the lads sat under the trees, ready for possible orders. They saw the fire die. They heard the murmur of the camp sink. Lee lay down on his bed of boughs, other generals withdrew to similar beds or to tents, and the two boys still sat under the trees, waiting and watching, and never knowing at what moment they would be needed.
THE NORTHERN SPY
But the night remained very quiet. Harry and Dalton, growing tired of sitting, walked about the camp, and looked again to their horses, which, saddled and bridled, were nevertheless allowed to nip the grass as best they could at the end of their lariats. The last embers of the fire went out, but the moon and stars remained bright, and they saw dimly the sleeping forms of Lee and his generals. Harry, who had seen nothing strange in Meade’s lack of pursuit, now wondered at it. Surely when the news of Vicksburg came the exultant Army of the Potomac would follow, and try to deliver a crushing blow.
It was revealed to him as he stood silent in the moonlight that a gulf had suddenly yawned before the South. The slash of Grant’s sword in the West had been terrible, and the wound that it made could not be cured easily. And the Army of Northern Virginia had not only failed in its supreme attempt, but a great river now flowed between it and Virginia. If the Northern leaders, gathering courage anew, should hurl their masses upon Lee’s retreating force, neither skill nor courage might avail to save them. He suddenly beheld the situation in all its desperation; he shivered from head to foot.