Harry sighed, nevertheless. He had two heroes, but one of them was gone. He thought again if only Stonewall Jackson had been at Gettysburg. Lee’s terrible striking arm would have smitten with the hammer of Thor. He would have pushed home the attack on the first day, when the Union vanguard was defeated and demoralized. He would have crushed the enemy on the second day, leaving no need for that fatal and terrific charge of Pickett on the third day.
“You reached the general first,” said Dalton, “but I tried my best to beat you.”
“But I started first, George, old fellow. That gave me the advantage over you.”
“It’s fine of you to say it. The army has quickened its pace since we came. A part of it, at least, ought to arrive at the river to-morrow, though their cavalry are skirmishing continually on our flanks. Don’t you hear the rifles?”
Harry heard them far away to right and left, like the faint buzzing of wasps, but he had heard the same sound so much that it made no impression upon him.
“Let ’em buzz,” he said. “They’re too distant to reach any of us, and the Army of Northern Virginia is passing on.”
Those were precious hours. Harry knew much, but he did not divine the full depths of the suspense, suffered by the people beyond the veil that clothed the two armies. Lincoln had been continually urging Meade to pursue and destroy his opponent, and Meade, knowing how formidable Lee was, and how it had been a matter of touch and go at Gettysburg, pursued, but not with all the ardor of one sure of triumph. Yet the man at the White House hoped continually for victory, and the Southern people feared that his hopes would come true.
It became sure the next day that they would reach the Potomac before Meade could attack them in flank, but the scouts brought word that the Potomac was still a deep and swollen river, impossible to be crossed unless they could rebuild the bridges.
Finally the whole army came against the Potomac and it seemed to Harry that its yellow flood had not diminished one particle since he left. But Lee acted with energy. Men were set to work at once building a new bridge near Falling Waters, parts of the ruined pontoon bridges were recovered, and new boats were built in haste. But while the workmen toiled the army went into strong positions along the river between Williamsport and Hagerstown.
Harry found himself with all of his friends again, and he was proud of the army’s defiant attitude. Meade and the Army of the Potomac were not far away, it was said, but the youthful veterans of the South were entirely willing to fight again. The older men, however, knew their danger. The disproportion of forces would be much greater than at Gettysburg, and even if they fought a successful defensive action with their back to the river the Army of the Potomac could bide its time and await reinforcements. The North would pour forth its numbers without stint.