The darkness increased, sweeping down like a great black pall over the Wilderness. The battle in the center and on the left died. Lee and his staff dismounting, prepared for the labors of the night.
When night settled down over the Wilderness the two armies lay almost face to face on a long line. The preliminary battle, on the whole, had favored the Confederacy. Hill had held his ground and Ewell had gained, but Grant had immense forces, and, though naturally kind of heart, he had made up his mind to strike and keep on striking, no matter what the loss. He could afford to lose two men where the Confederacy lost one.
Harry, like many others, felt that this would be the great Northern general’s plan. To-morrow’s battle might end in Southern success, but Grant would be there to fight the following day with undiminished resolution. He was as sure of this as he was sure that the day would come.
The night itself was somber and sinister, the heavens dusky and a raw chill in the air. Heavy vapors rose from the marshes, and clouds of smoke from the afternoon’s battle floated about over the thickets, poisoning the air as if with gas, and making the men cough as they breathed it. It made Harry’s heart beat harder than usual, and his head felt as if it were swollen. Everything seemed clothed in a black mist with a slightly reddish tint.
A small fire had been built in a sheltered place for the commander-in-chief and his staff, and the cooks were preparing the supper, which was of the simplest kind. While they ate the food and drank their coffee, the darkness increased, with the faint lights of other fires showing here and there through it. Around the muddy places frogs croaked in defiance of armies, and, from distant points, came the crackling fire of skirmishers prowling in the dusk.
Harry’s horse, saddled and bridled, was tied to a bush not far away. He knew that it was to be no night of rest for him, or any other member of the staff. Lee would be sending messages continually. Longstreet, although he had been marching hard, was not yet up on the right, and he and his veterans must be present when the shock of Grant’s mighty attack came in the morning.
Hill, thin and pale, yet suffering from the effects of his wounds, but burning as usual with the fire of battle, rode up and consulted long and earnestly with Lee. Presently he went back to his own place nearer the center, and then Lee began to send away his staff one by one with messages. Harry was among the last to go, but he bore a dispatch to Longstreet.
He had heard that Longstreet had criticized Lee for ordering Pickett’s famous charge at Gettysburg, but if so, Lee had taken no notice of it, and Longstreet had proved himself the same stalwart fighter as of old. He and the prompt arrival of his veterans had enabled Bragg to win Chickamauga, and it was not Longstreet’s fault that the advantage gained there was lost afterward. Now Harry knew that he would be up in time with his seasoned veterans.