A frenzy of eagerness seized upon the tired feet, and they pressed upward, lightly, like dancers’ feet. Straps creaked upon straining breasts, and sweat ran in bubbles. Then the head of the column reached the ridge of a hill, and its leaders saw through smarting eyes a great horseshoe of sudden death.
That morning Peter Manners had received a letter, but he had not had a chance to open and read it. It was a letter that belonged next to his heart, as he judged by the writing, and next to his heart, in a secure pocket, he placed it, there to lie and give him strength and courage for the cruel day’s work, and something besides the coming of night to look forward to. For the rest, he went among the lines, and smiled like a boy released from school to see how silently and savagely they fought.
The Sixth Corps rested wherever there was shade along the banks of Rock Creek, and gathered strength and breath for whatever work should be assigned to it.
Aladdin, sharing a cherry-pie with a friend, shivered with excitement, for there was a terrific and ever-increasing discharge of cannons and muskets on the left, and it seemed that the time to go forward again and win glory was at hand. Presently one came riding back from the battle. His face was shining with delight, and, sitting like a centaur to the fiery plunges of his horse, he swung his hat and shouted. It was Sedgwick’s chief of staff, McMahon, and he brought glorious news, for he said that the corps was to move toward the heavy firing, where the fighting was most severe.
Then the whole corps sprang to its feet and went forward, tearing down the fences in its path and trampling the long grass in the fields. A mile away the long, flowery slopes ended in a knobbed hill revealed through smoke. That was Little Round Top, and its possession meant victory or defeat. The corps was halted and two regiments were sent forward up the long slope. To them the minutes seemed moments. They went like a wave over the crest to the right of the hill, and poured down into the valley beyond. Here the blue flood of men banked against a stone wall, spreading to right and left, as the waters of a stream spread the length of a dam. Then they began to fire dreadfully into the faces of their enemy, and to curse terribly, as is proper in battle. Bullets stung the long line like wasps, and men bit the sod.
Aladdin was ordered to ride up Little Round Top for information. Half-way up he left his horse among the boulders and finished the laborious ascent on foot. At the summit he came upon a leaderless battery loading and firing like clockwork, and he saw that the rocks were strewn with dead men in light-blue Zouave uniforms, who looked as if they had fallen in a shower from the clouds. Many had their faces caved in with stones, and terrible rents showed where the bayonet had been at work, for in this battle men