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"O, come off, Monty," called the more prosaic Gid Mackall; "you know we didn't have no artillery. If we'd had, we'd a blowed 'em clean offen the hill."
The whistle summoned them to get aboard and move on.
CHAPTER XXI. CHATTANOOGA AT LAST
LOST IN A MAZE OF RAILROAD TRAINS.
"WHAT'S the program?" Si inquired of the conductor, as the boys were being formed on the bank, preparatory to entering the cars. "I s'pose it's to go over there and put in a week o' hard work rebuildin' that bridge. Have you got any axes and saws on the train? How long is the blamed old bridge, anyway?"
"Not much it ain't," responded the conductor. "If you think the army's goin' to wait a week, or even a day, on a bridge, you're simply not up to date, that's all. The old Buell and Rosecrans way o' doin' things is played out since Sherman took command. Your Uncle Billy's a hustler, and don't let that escape your mind for a minute, or it'll likely lead you into trouble. You'll find when you get down to Chattynoogy that n.o.body's asleep in daylight, or for a good part o' the night. They're not only wide-awake, but on the keen jump. The old man kin see four ways at once, he's always where he ain't expected, and after everybody with a sharp stick. In Buell's time a burnt bridge 50 foot long 'd stopped us for two weeks. Now that bridge 'll likely be finished by the time we git there.
I've just been over there, and they were layin' the stringers."
"Why, how in the world did they manage?" asked Si.
"O, Sherman's first move was to order down here duplicates for every bridge on the road. He's got 'em piled up at Louisville, Nashville, Murfreesboro and Chattynoogy. The moment a bridge is reported burned a gang starts for the place with another bridge, and they're at work as soon's it's cool enough to let 'em get to the abutments. I've seen 'em pullin' away the burnin' timbers to lay new ones. They knowed at Chattynoogy as soon's we did that the bridge was burned. The operator at the next station must 've seen it and telegraphed the news, and they started a bridge-gang right out. I tell you, double-quick's the time around where old c.u.mp Sherman is."
"Duplicate bridges," gasped Si. "Well, that is an idee."
"What does he mean by duplicate, Corpril?" asked Harry Joslyn to Shorty.
"O, duplicate's something that you ring in on a feller like a cold deck."
"I don't understand," said Harry.
"Why--hem--hem--duplicate's the new-fangled college word for anything that you have up your sleeve to flatten a feller when he thinks he's got you euchered. You want to deal the other feller only left bowers and keep the right bowers for yourself. Them's duplicates. If you give him aces, have the jokers handy for when you want 'em. Them's duplicates.
Duplicates 's Sherman's great lay--learned it from his old side-partner, Unconditional Surrender Grant--just as strategy was old McClellan's.
There's this difference: Sherman always stacks the deck to win himself, while McClellan used to shuffle the cards for the other feller to win."
"Still I don't understand about the duplicate bridges," persisted Harry.
"Why, old Sherman just plays doublets on the rebels. He leads a king at 'em and then plumps down an ace, and after that the left and right bowers. They burn one bridge and he plumps down a better one instead.
They blow up a tunnel and he just hauls it out and sticks a bigger one in its place. Great head, that Sherman. Knows almost as much as old Abe Lincoln himself."
"Do you say that Sherman has extra tunnels, too, to put in whenever one is needed?" asked Harry, with opening eyes.
"O, cert," replied Shorty carelessly. "You seen that big iron buildin'
we went into to git on the cars at Louisville? That was really a tunnel, all ready to be shoved out on the road when it was needed. If you hadn't bin so keen on the lookout for guerrillas as we come along you'd 'a'
seen pieces o' tunnels layin' all along the road ready for use."
As the train dashed confidently over the newly-completed bridge the boys gazed with intense interest and astonishment at the still smoldering wreckage, which had been dragged out of the way to admit the erection of the new structure. It was one of the wonders of the new, strange life upon which they were entering.
The marvelous impressiveness and beauty of the scenery as they approached Chattanooga fascinated the boys, who had never seen anything more remarkable than the low, rounded hills of Southern Indiana.
The towering mountains, reaching up toward the clouds, or even above them, their summits crowned with castellated rocks looking like impregnable strongholds, the sheer, beetling cliffs, marking where the swift, clear current of the winding Tennessee River had cut its way through the granite walls, all had a deep fascination for them. Then, everywhere were strong intrenchments and frowning forts, guarding the crossings of the river or the pa.s.sages through the mountains. There were populous villages of log huts, some with canvas roofs, some roofed with clapboards, some with boards purloined from the Quartermaster's stores.
These were the Winter quarters of the garrisons of the fortifications.
Everywhere men were marching to and fro, and long trains of army wagons struggling through the mud of the valleys and up the steep hillsides.
"My, what lots o' men," gasped Harry Joslyn. "We won't be once among sich a crowd. Wonder if Sergeant Klegg and Corpril Elliott kin keep us from bein' lost?"
"Trust Corpril Elliott," said Gid, returning to his old partisanship of the taller veteran. "He knows his business every time."
"Not any better'n Sergeant Klegg," responded Harry, taking up the gantlet for his favorite. "Long-legged men are very good in their way, but they don't have the brains that shorter men have. Nature don't give no man everything. What she gives to his legs she takes off his head, my dad says."
"That's just because you're a duck-legged snipe," answered Gid wrathfully. "Do you mean to?"
"Don't make any slurs at me, you spindle-legged sand-hill crane,"
This was enough. Blows came next. It was their way. Gid Mackall and Harry Joslyn had been inseparable companions since they had begun going to school, and they had scarcely ever let a day pa.s.s without a fight.
The moment that Si and Shorty appeared within their horizon they had raised the issue of which was the best soldier, and made it a matter of lively partisanship.
Si and Shorty had been on the eager lookout for the indications of the position of the army, for places that they could recognize, and for regiments, brigades and divisions they were acquainted with, so they did not at first notice the squabble. Then they pulled the boys asunder, shook them and scolded them for their conduct.
New emotions filled Si's and Shorty's b.r.e.a.s.t.s. They had been away from their regiment so long that they were acutely homesick to be back to it. Such is the magic of military discipline and a.s.sociation that their regimental flag had become the center of their universe, and the real people of their world the men who gathered around it. Everything and everybody else was subsidiary to that thing of wonderful sacredness--"the regiment." They felt like wanderers who had been away for years, and were now returning to their proper home, friends, a.s.sociations and vocation. Once more under the Flag life would become again what it should be, with proper objects of daily interest and the satisfactory performance of every-day duties. They really belonged in the regiment, and everywhere else were interlopers, sojourners, strangers in a strange land. They now sat together and talked of the regiment as they had formerly sat around the campfire with the other boys and talked of their far-away homes, their fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters and sweethearts.
They had last seen their regiment in the fierce charge from the crest of Snodgra.s.s Hill. The burning questions were who had survived that terrible day? Who had been so badly wounded as to lose his place on the rolls? Who commanded the regiment and the companies? Who filled the non-commissioned offices? What voices that once rang out in command on the drill-ground, in camp and battle, were now silent, and whose would be lifted instead? "I'm af eared the old rijimint will never fight agin as it did at Stone River and Chickamauga," said Si mournfully. "Too many good men gone what made the rijimint what it is."
"Well, I don't know about that," said Shorty more hopefully. "They got two mighty good non-commish when they promoted me and you. If they done as well in the rest o' the promotions, the rijimint is all right. Lord knows I'd willingly give up my stripes to poor Jim Sanders, if he could come back; but I guess I kin yank around a squad as well as he done.
This infant cla.s.s that we're takin' down there ain't up to some o' the boys that've turned up their toes, but they average mighty well, and after we git some o' the coltishness drilled out o' 'em they'll be a credit to the rijimint."
The train finally halted on a side-track in the outskirts of Chattanooga, under the gigantic shadow of Lookout Mountain, and in the midst of an ocean of turmoiling activity that made the eyes ache to look upon it, and awed every one, even Si and Shorty, with a sense of incomprehensible immensity. As far as they could see, in every direction, were camps, forts, intrenchments, flags, hordes of men, trains of wagons, herds of cattle, innumerable horses, countless mules, mountains of boxes, barrels and bales. Immediately around them was a wilderness of trains, with noisy locomotives and shouting men. Regiments returning from veteran furlough, or entirely new ones, were disembarking with loud cheering, which was answered from the camps on the hillsides.
On the river front steamboats were whistling and clanging their bells.
The boys, too much awed for speech, cl.u.s.tered around Si and Shorty and cast anxious glances at their faces.
"Great Jehosephat," murmured Shorty. "They seem to be all here."
"No," answered Si, as the cheers of a newly-arrived regiment rang out, "the back townships are still comin' in."
Monty Scruggs found tongue enough to quote:
"And ships by thousands lay below, And men by nations, all were his."
"Where in time do you s'pose the 200th Injianny is in all this freshet of men and mules and bosses?" said Si, with an anxious brow. The look made the boys almost terror-stricken. They huddled together and turned their glances toward Shorty for hope. But Shorty looked as puzzled as Si.
"Possibly," he suggested to Si, "the conductor will take us further up into the town, where we kin find somebody that we know, who'll tell us where the rijimint is."
"No," said the conductor, who came back at that moment; "I can't go no further with you. Just got my orders. You must pile right out here at once. They want the engine and empties in five minutes to take a load back to Nashville. Git your men out quick as you kin."
"Fall in," commanded Si. "Single rank. Foller me and Corpril Elliott.
Keep well closed up, for if you git separated from us goodness knows what'll become o' you in this raft o' men."
The pa.s.sage through the crowded, busy railroad yard was bewildering, toilsome, exciting and dangerous. The s.p.a.ce between the tracks was scarcely more than wide enough for one man to pa.s.s, and the trains on either side would be moving in different directions. On the tracks that the boys crossed trains were going ahead or backing in entire regardlessness of them, and with many profane yells from the trainmen for them to get out of the way and keep out. Si only kept his direction by occasionally glancing over his shoulder and setting his face to walk in the direction away from Pulpit Rock, which juts out from the extremity of Lookout Mountain.
At last, after a series of hair-breadth dodges, Si drew up his squad in an open s.p.a.ce where the tracks crossed, and proceeded to count them.