Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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

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

As the cheering subsided, the men on the ridge became aware of a new sound: the rumble and boom of cannon, swelling from the direction of Cross Keys. It was Frémont, responding to Shields’ request that he “thunder down.” Going forward, however, he struck not Jackson’s rear but Ewell’s front. The first contact, after a preliminary bombardment, was on the Confederate right, where Ewell had posted a Virginia brigade along a low ridge overlooking some fields of early grain. Frémont came on with unaccustomed vigor, a regiment of New Yorkers in the lead, their boots crunching the young stalks of buckwheat. As they started up the slope there was a sudden crash of gunfire from the crest and the air was full of bullets. A second volley thinned the ranks of the survivors as they tried to reform their shattered line. They fell back, what was left of them. Frémont, reverting to the form he had shown at Strasburg, settled down to long-range fighting with his artillery, which was skillfully handled. Out in the buckwheat the wounded New Yorkers lay under this fire, crying for water. Their cries decreased as the day wore on and Frémont continued his cannonade.

In essence that was all there was to the Battle of Cross Keys. Ewell, fretting because he could not get the Pathfinder to make another attack, at last pushed forward for more than a mile until he occupied the ground from which the Federals had advanced that morning. There he stopped, having been warned not to put too much space between the two wings of the army. Frémont, with 10,5000 infantry effectives, faded back before Ewell’s 5000. It was finished. The North had lost 684 men, nearly half of them lying dead of their wounds in the grainfields; the South had lost 288, only 41 of them killed. Jackson’s trust in Old Bald Head as confirmed. Except for a quick ride out, to see how things were going, he had let Ewell fight his own battle while he himself remained on the heights above Port Republic. Asked if he did not think there was some danger that Shields would advance to help Frémont, whose guns were within earshot, Stonewall gestured towards his batteries and said grimly: “No, sir; no; he cannot do it! I should tear him to pieces.” As he stood there, listening to the sound of Ewell’s battle, intoxicated as if by music, he remarked to his ministerial chief of staff: “Major, wouldn’t it be a blessed thing if God would give us a glorious victory today?” One who overheard him said that as he spoke he wore the expression “of a child hoping to receive some favor.”

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