Wednesday, August 20, 2014

the last book I ever read (Shelby Foote's The Civil War, Volume One, excerpt nine)

from The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote:

Attempting to regain control, the corps commanders divided the front into four sectors, Hardee and Polk on the left, Bragg and Breckinridge on the right. Co√∂rdination was lacking, however, and all the attacks were frontal. Besides, compliance with Johnston’s original instructions—“Every effort will be made to turn the left flank of the enemy, so as to cut off his line of retreat to the Tennessee River and throw him back on [Snake] Creek, where he will be forced to surrenderder”—was being frustrated by Prentiss, who stood fast along the sunken road. “It’s hornets’ nest in there!” the gray-clad soldiers cried, recoiling from charge after charge against the place. When Sherman and McClernand gave way, taking up successive rearward positions, the Confederate left outstripped the right, which was stalled in front of the Hornets Nest, and thus presented Johnston with the reverse of what he wanted. He rode toward the far right to correct this, carrying in his right hand a small tin cup which he had picked up in a captured camp. Seeing a lieutenant run out of one of the tents with an armload of Yankee souvenirs, Johnston told him sternly: “None of that, sir. We are not here for plunder.” Then, observing that he had hurt the young man’s feelings, which after all was a poor reward for the gallantry shown in the capture, by way of apology he leaned down without dismounting and took the tin cup off a table. “Let this be my share of the spoils today,” he said, and from then on he had used it instead of a sword to direct the battle. He used it so now, his index finger hooked through the loop of the handle, as he rode toward the right where his advance had stalled.

At the end of the battle line, on the far flank of the Hornets Nest, there was a ten-acre peach orchard in full bloom. Hurlbut had a heavy line of infantry posted among the trees, supported by guns whose smoke lazed and swirled up through the branches sheathed in pink, and a bright rain of petals fell fluttering like confetti in the sunlight as bullets clipped the blossoms overhead. Arriving just after one of Breckinridge’s brigades had recoiled from a charge against the orchard, Johnston saw that the officers were having trouble getting the troops in line to go forward again. “Men! They are stubborn; we must use the bayonet,” he told them. To emphasize his meaning he rode among them and touched the points of their bayonets with the tin cup. “These must do the work,” he said. When the line had formed, the soldiers were still hesitant to reenter the smoky uproar. So Johnston did what he had been doing all that morning, all along the line of battle. Riding front and center, he stood in the stirrups, removed his hat, and called back over his shoulder: “I will lead you!” As he touched his spurs to the flanks of his horse, the men surged forward, charging with him into the sheet of flame which blazed to meet them there among the blossoms letting fall their bright pink rain.

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