THE GHOSTLY RIDE
Harry and Dalton kept close together during the long hours of the ghostly ride. Just ahead of them were Taylor and Marshall and Peyton, and in front Lee rode in silence. Now and then they passed regiments, and at other times they would halt and let regiments pass them. Then the troops, seeing the man sitting on the white horse, would start to cheer, but always their officers promptly subdued it, and they marched on feeling more confident than ever that their general was leading them to victory.
Many hours passed and still the army marched through the forests. The trees, however, were dwindling in size and even in the night they saw that the earth was growing red and sterile. Dense thickets grew everywhere, and the marching became more difficult. Harry felt a sudden thrill of awe.
“George,” he whispered, “do you know the country into which we’re riding?”
“I think I do, Harry. It’s the Wilderness.”
“It can’t be anything else, George, because I see the ghosts.”
“What are you talking about, Harry? What ghosts?”
“The thousands and thousands who have fallen in that waste. Why the Wilderness is so full of dead men that they must walk at night to give one another room. I only hope that the ghost of Old Jack will ride before us and show us the way.”
“I almost feel like that, too,” admitted Dalton, who, however, was of a less imaginative mind than Harry. “As sure as I’m sitting in the saddle we’re bound for the Wilderness. Now, what is the day going to give us?”
“Marching mostly, I think, and with the next noon will come battle. Grant doesn’t hesitate and hold back. We know that, George.”
“No, it’s not his character.”
Morning came and found them still in the forests, seeking the deep thickets of the Wilderness, and Grant, warned by his scouts and spies, and most earnestly by one whose skill, daring and judgment were unequaled, turned from his chosen line of march to meet his enemy. Once more Lee had selected the field of battle, where his inferiority in numbers would not count so much against him.
It was nearly morning when the march ceased, and officers and troops, save those on guard, lay down in the forest for rest. Harry, a seasoned veteran, could sleep under any conditions and with a blanket over him and a saddle for a pillow closed his eyes almost immediately. Lee and his older aides, Taylor and Peyton and Marshall, slept also. Around them the brigades, too, lay sleeping.
A while before dawn a large man in Confederate uniform, using the soft, lingering speech of the South, appeared almost in the center of the army of Northern Virginia. He knew all the pass words and told the officers commanding the watch that the wing under Ewell was advancing more rapidly than any of the others. Inside the line he could go about almost as he chose, and one could see little of him, save that he was large of figure and deeply tanned, like all the rest.