Following the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863, J.E.B. Stuart and his Confederate cavaliers moved north into enemy territory. For nearly the entire month of June, they traveled northward, sometimes through unfamiliar territory, to screen General Lee’s troops. Their movements came to fruition in the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place July 1-3, 1863.
The horses plodded along with their eyes closed. A few of the drivers fell asleep, and their drowsy mules walked off the road into the ditch, pulling their wagons behind them. Some bucked, brayed and kicked in protest to their hunger and fatigue. Assigned soldiers rode up and down the line in the dark, looking for delays, barely coherent themselves. A few men slept while their horses jumped over fences, sending them sprawling, but even then they were too tired to awaken.
As dawn approached, General Stuart cantered alongside them, singing his battle song at the top of his lungs. His obedient soldiers, happy to see their commander alive and well, stirred themselves to sing along.
“Well, we’re the boys that rode around McClellian,
Rode around McClellian, rode around McClellian,
We’re the boys who rode around McClellian,
Bully boys, hey! Bully boys, ho!
“If you want to have a good time, jine the cavalry!
Jine the cavalry! Jine the cavalry!
If you want to catch the Devil, if you want to have fun,
If you want to smell Hell, jine the cavalry!”
The words inspired and rejuvenated the troopers. They began conversing amongst themselves in every effort to stay awake as the sky grew brighter, but the sun failed to appear, hidden behind thick clouds. The cavaliers wondered if, once again, they would be riding through a rainstorm.
“Wish there was somethin’ to eat besides dust,” Michael noted sarcastically as their mounts slowly walked along behind the wagon train.
“And I could go for a dunk in a lake right about now,” added John.
“I wouldn’t mind gittin’ me some new boots,” Custis commented. He pulled one of his feet from a stirrup and held it in the air, revealing a hole clean through the sole. “These here are plumb worn out, and I wasn’t lucky enough to snag me a pair back in Culpeper.”
“Well, if’n we’d ever git paid, I’d buy me two pairs of socks from the quartermaster, or a lucky feller who got some from home,” said Peter Smith, “make them into puppets, and send one to each of my daughters.”
David snickered at the thought of Peter drawing puppet faces on his socks.
“Seems the only one of us with any money is Summers,” Michael observed.
The men all looked over at David.
“Whatcha aim on doin’ with the grayback you won in that race?” Michael asked.
David hesitated for a moment. He realized that he was the only one in the group who’d been capable of earning rewards by racing and writing letters home, even though the practice of reciprocation had been outlawed by General Lee sometime before David’s enlistment.
“Well, I was thinkin’ of savin’ it up for college,” he casually replied.
The other troopers laughed.
David glared at them, astonished by their reaction.
“Son, you’ll be lucky if’n that gits you two cords of wood by the war’s end,” John remarked.
John continued, “what with the way things is goin’ with the price of things, that is. Sorry to be the one to inform you.” He smiled sympathetically.