A Beautiful Glittering Lie (Excerpt 3)
On strict orders to respect the citizens, the men were on their best behavior, and didn’t disturb anything. Upon entering Maryland, the Rebels received an icy reception, which was not at all what they had expected. The Marylanders had heard from Union sympathizers in Europe that Lee expected to conscript all able-bodied men for his army. Even though that wasn’t the case, the Marylanders’ sentiments were equally divided. Hiram heard a few spectators, who were observing their march from open second-story windows, comment on how they couldn’t distinguish the generals from the enlisted men, because they were all in filthy tatters. General Lee had his regimental bands play “Maryland, My Maryland.” His men cheered while they marched through, but they were later disappointed, for they were unable to successfully recruit enough soldiers to increase their depleted ranks.
One man they did recruit, however, was Bernard Kelton, who substituted for his brother. He was a stocky young man with a pleasant disposition, and because of it, Bud and Hiram took to him right away. Another was Dozier Downs, a thin, scruffy-looking character with shifty eyes.
“My brother’s wife jist had a baby,” Bernie explained while the men trudged along, “so I volunteered to take his place.”
“That was right nice of you,” remarked Bud.
“I’ll make certain he returns the favor,” Bernie joked.
“I’m in it for the bonus,” Dozier apathetically stated.
“So much for pride and valor,” Bud mumbled to Hiram.
He understood what Bud meant. Soldiers forced to fight had no patriotic motivation whatsoever, and Dozier was just one example of many. “They say war can make heroes out of cowards,” he replied with a shrug, repeating what he had heard other men in the ranks proclaim.
“Yeah, but it’s the exact opposite case for some fellers,” Bud added sarcastically, glancing at Dozier, who he knew was out of earshot.
The men made their way through unfamiliar terrain, weighed down with haversacks, bedrolls, cartridges, weaponry, and whatever cooking utensils they deemed essential. Many were without shoes. They were also lacking in equipment and numbers, thus making their Maryland campaign miserable.
The Rebels heard that General Pope had been replaced by none other than McClellan, who had turned his Grand Army of the Potomac away from Washington and was headed back in the direction of Fredericktown. The Alabamians reached Hagerstown, and awaited news from Jackson. While there, they discovered that the Maryland countryside had been left virtually untainted, unlike the ravaged landscape of Virginia.
Their reprieve was short-lived, for the next morning, September 14, they were ordered to hurriedly prepare rations, and march back to Boonsborough Gap. The men learned that their sudden turnabout was due to a blunder made during the previous week. A copy of Confidential Special Order No. 191, wrapped around three cigars, was discovered by a Union soldier in Fredericktown, and given to General McClellan. The order outlined Lee’s intentions, so McClellan reacted by attempting to cut off the Confederate army, which was scattered from Harpers Ferry to Hagerstown. The Alabamians raced to the aid of General Hill, who was subjected to protecting the gap with his small army until reinforcements arrived.
After struggling through a fourteen-mile march, the Alabamians arrived between three and four o’clock that afternoon, exhausted from their strenuous excursion over the mountain. The 4th was immediately put into action, commanded to attack the enemy to the left of the road with fixed bayonets. They were then ordered to their right. The men charged through an apple orchard over-laden with fruit. Starving, yet unable to pick any because time wouldn’t allow it, they forged ahead with the Texans and the rest of Colonel Law’s 3rd Brigade. Night fell before they could reach their opponents, so they positioned themselves in a sunken road for protection. The enemy continued firing into laurel trees standing several yards away, but to no avail, for the pelting of their bullets whacked into the trunks. At one point, Colonel McLemore climbed up on a nearby wooden rail fence to reconnoiter, but he was hit in the shoulder.
The firing tapered off, and soon Hiram and his comrades fell asleep. Around midnight, they were ordered to go quietly down the road, one at a time, in an attempt to sneak past the enemy. Carrying Colonel McLemore on a stretcher, they managed to escape, and continued on until they reached the Antietam River near Sharpsburg at noon the next day, where they learned that General Jackson had successfully captured Harpers Ferry, because McClellan was too slow to prevent it. The Alabamians found the opportunity to wash their ragged, butternut clothing, and take much needed baths.
While they stood in waist-deep water, waiting for their clothes to dry, Bud said, “I don’t know if y’all have noticed, but it seems to me the Yankees jist don’t run out. They keep on comin’ like an endless tidal wave.”
Hiram dunked his head under the cool water. Letting it rivulet down his face and through the stubble on his chin, he replied, “I have noticed. We’re up against Goliath, I’ll wager that.”
“Maybe we’ll whip them before year’s end,” said Orange Hugh optimistically.
“It’s my understandin’ that if we win another battle, Europe will pay us notice, and possibly come to our defense,” said Hiram.
“That’s all well and good,” Bud remarked, “but what if we don’t win? Our troops and ammunition are runnin’ low.”
Hiram and Orange Hugh looked at each other. “We’ll win,” Orange Hugh defiantly said with a grin.
Hiram hoped he was right.