Cheat Mountain: The Army of Northwest Virginia, by Morse, Art
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- ISBN: 9781466954793 | 1466954795
- Cover: Paperback
- Copyright: 9/27/2012
Moving as silently as wolves, Rust and Stuart followed Baker up the trail and were now creeping though the thick undergrowth beside the pike. When they reached the very edge of the road they spread out and looked at the two men who were on picket duty. Rust looked to Baker and Stuart and nodded. An instant later, Rust was on the road, and with a heavy blow knocked one of the soldiers to his knees, his musket dropping with barely a sound onto the road. A fraction of a second later, the butt of Baker's musket crashed into the head of the other picket, and he collapsed in an untidy heap on the road. Stuart was left with little to do, but he quickly stuffed his kerchief into Rust's victim's mouth and carried him to the side of the road. Make a sound and you die, whispered Stuart, as he held the soldier off the ground and against a tree with his left hand. His right hand already held his razor sharp saber, its tip drawing a drop of blood from under the soldier's chin. The soldier nodded fractionally, terrified to move his head down onto Stuart's sword. Stuart withdrew his sword a few inches and lowered the soldier to the ground. Baker had pulled the other soldier off the road and leaned him, sitting up, against another tree. That soldier was still clearly dazed. Baker removed his bayonet and cartridge belt, and checked the contents. He looked at the soldier's weapon, a fine Harper's Ferry percussion cap musket and looked over at Stuart who nodded. Baker looked proudly at his newly acquired weapon as he fastened the bayonet to the barrel. Rust had moved back into the forest and moments later, the regiment began moving slowly and quietly out of the forest. Rust moved back beside Stuart, who had pulled his kerchief from the soldier's mouth, the gleaming sword ensuring his silence. What is your regiment, soldier? demanded Rust. 2nd Ohio, sir, the soldier replied. Stuart noticed the corporal's strips on the soldier's sleeves as Rust continued his interrogation. How many men are on the mountain? The soldier hesitated and Stuart waved his saber menacingly, but it was an empty gesture and he thought he saw a gleam of intelligence in the corporal's eyes. Stuart knew he could never kill or torture the soldier in cold blood, although he would not hesitate if the man tried to yell. Two brigades, sir. Maybe four thousand men, the corporal said hesitantly. Rust seemed to deflate. Stuart gestured to Baker and he immediately came over and began to gag and tie the soldier's hands and feet. Within moments he was as trussed up as his companion. Rust motioned to Stuart and they moved away. Several companies of men were already forming up on the road, as their sergeants and officers worked with silent gestures. Rust appeared to be shaken, a different man entirely from the officer who had moved so quickly and boldly a few minutes ago. Colonel Stuart, we must retreat, Rust urged, as soon as they were alone. What? Four thousand men with percussion cap muskets against half that many with bayonets, Colonel Stuart, he continued, in a state of near panic. It would be a slaughter. I cannot ask my men to attack with no chance of success. Colonel Rust, General Lee is counting on us! But it would be useless, the General said there would be no more than a thousand men. I'm sure he would tell us to withdraw if he knew, pleaded Rust. Look, Colonel, pull yourself together! said Stuart forcefully, grabbing the rattled officer by the shoulders. I don't believe that man for a moment. I saw his eyes! He was lying! Stuart was tempted for a moment to simply leave the Colonel here and take command, but he remembered Lee's words, and his faith in Lee's uncanny judgment, was if possible, even more complete. He knew that the regiment would be shaken if their Colonel were seen to waver. He repeated his words with total conviction. I saw his eyes, Colonel Rust! He was lying! Stuart let go of Rust's shoulders and turning him away from his command he continued, He's a veteran, a corporal. He had time to gather his wits! He's trying to bluff us! Are you sure? asked Rust, beginning to recover his composure. I'm sure, said Stuart, although it didn't matter the slightest bit in his mind. He had promised Lee this mountain and he was going to take it no matter how many Federals were at the pass. Now Colonel, form up your men and if we move quickly we will catch them in their tents, said Stuart, realizing the moment of panic had passed and the Colonel was becoming himself again. The two soldiers turned and walked back to the head of the column. Baker gave Stuart a puzzled look for he had observed the entire conversation, but as no one else seemed to notice he fell in beside Stuart and offered him the other new musket. Stuart declined, and patted his holster and then his sword with a smile. Let's move out, but quietly for the moment, said Stuart, and so saying he drew his sword and waved it forward and as Rust did the same they broke into a quick march. They had gone no more than a half-mile when a swirl in the mist, revealed the tents of the Federal troops a few hundred yards ahead. Colonel Rust had almost completely recovered his composure and at the sight of the tents, which clearly proved the corporal's lies, he gave Stuart a look that asked for forgiveness. Stuart nodded and smiled and as the first unbelieving shouts were heard from the direction of the camp, Rust issued his orders.