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accomplished. And how soon it came! Though failing to do more, it did cause a little delay, and delay in such a situation is everything Even then the thousands of blue-garbed pursuers were at Brandenburg
Onward! Through the town clattered the rebel hoofs and rumbled the rebel cannon, and the great game of "fox and geese” was under way. What a fluttering of wings it was, what consternation, and yet what a determination arose to run this gray fox to earth!
The next morning, Salem, fifty miles inland, and two hundred removed from any hope of help! Already thousands had hurried to arms and other thousands were concentrating for hasty equipment. Behind, the roads shook with the tread of the cavalry that had followed from the south. Against this one, a dozen generals were laying plans, organizing and transporting forces. Half-frantic telegrams were passing over the hot wires between Louisville, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, and countless lesser places. Alarm bells were ringing in every town and village and hamlet.
The enemy must be cornered. But the gray fox knew how to turn and to wind in and out, never losing his direction. And he also knew how to show his teeth. Reports of his movements conflicted and put him first here and then there, and the bewildered foes knew not where to strike. They made ready at many places and moved according to their information. Country people and townsmen along the invader's track were in a state of alarm bordering on panic. Not accustomed to beholding any considerable body of soldiers, and none that were hostile, they vastly overrated the number of my general's men. Besides, they were expecting to have their throats cut, and an expectation of this character is not conducive to a calm judgment of things and events.
On and on, under the blazing summer sun, with little sleep and little rest! As by magic, the whole population knew that three thousand horsemen were running a race—the most astounding race in history—with death or captivity the penalty for losing; a race with the telegraph and steam cars, and the unnumbered foes that growled about them and behind them and forced them on. And far ahead other hosts were gathering to harry them and to drive them this way and that.
The atmosphere was charged with excitement and fear, and danger lurked everywhere. Unharvested wheat stood overripe and neglected in the fields. Husbandmen had suddenly become soldiers, and in masses were being rushed here and there along the invader's track. Never did pioneers work with such desperate energy clearing the primeval forest as did men now work to block with felled trees the roads that they had taken such pains to make. The sound of the ax, the crash of falling trees, mingled with the shouts of men, the clatter of shod hoofs and the crack of guns. Far aloft spread the smoke of burning bridges, destroyed by the general to hinder his enemies.
The fox must be hemmed in. But not yet was it to be. He did not fear the legionaries or raw recruits, numberless as they were. It was the foe behind, and those other well-trained soldiers hastening up from the war region and rising like a cloud far in his front, for whom he was on the lookout. The broad river was on his right hand, and it was now alive with armed craft ready to pounce upon him if he should attempt to recross. On his left, for hundreds of miles to the northward, was a country filled with enemies desiring his destruction. In opposition to these conditions was the fertile brain and daring spirit of one man and the strong arms of his faithful followers.
North Vernon, Versailles and Sunman Station! It was now Monday morning, and four days since the river was crossed-days of hard riding and strategy, with scant time for rest. The beginning of a new week; what would the end be? The air was filled now with murmurings of rapidly concentrating foes pouring forward from the middle North in excited streams like the rising tides of the sea. The alarm bells had aroused the people. From shop and store and field, from office and counting room, they came, eager, untried, and with nerves tremulous with tension.
What way would the fox turn? He did not turn. Straight ahead he rode, passing the Indiana border and thundering upon the highways of Ohio. And now ninety miles in a day and a night he went, while on his right two Unionist forces, each in the darkness believing the other to be the invader, fell into furious conflict and drenched the soil they were there to defend with their own blood.
On and on he swept, brushing aside one foe and eluding another, defying the telegraph, the steam cars, the dozen generals, the swarming thousands—night and day, day and night. His men were of iron, but iron will break when eaten by rust, and into these men was eating the rust of tremendous exertion without rest. There was no time for recuperation, no time to replace the vitality that was being constantly expended.
A few of the weaker dropped from their saddles and were picked up from the wayside by pursuers, some of whom were now treading
heels. At halts others fell into the slumber of exhaustion from which their officers could arouse them with difficulty. But once in the saddle again, they pressed on with mocking laughter for their foes and hearts beating high with courage. Their chief was in the van, and what he could endure they would endure, and where he led they would follow as long as they could keep their leaden feet in the stirrups.
On, for six days more, through storm and shine they rode. It was the first day of the new week, Sunday. They had drawn toward the river Ohio, now in unseasonable flood, a yellow, rushing, foaming barrier between them and the more friendly Kentucky. It seemed that God was against them. Here was Buffington Island where the general had thought to cross, but here also his enemies
lay in wait to thwart him, to drive him back. And here they fought, these wearied men—these men almost dead in their saddles —with these others, fought and died. On again, but there were hundreds of their fellows who could not follow.
Only twelve hundred were left of the three thousand. But the foe followed, that foe which crossed at Brandenburg, as determined and hardy as the quarry he was pursuing. And other opposers poured forth from every town and village and middle-west army post, on foot and horseback and railway train. They patrolled the highways; they watched from hill and tree-top; and they waited in wood and field the coming of the presumptuous rebel.
A great roar filled the midsummer air, growing louder day by day. The earth shook under the tramp of new legions All business was suspended. Nothing was thought of but the raider who for weeks had eluded and baffled his enemies in three states, and turned upon himself the eyes of millions. For his splendid courage he was lauded; for his blindness he was condemned. He was foredoomed to failure and disaster, but he was winning the future admiration of the world, and the present respect of those who were straining every nerve and muscle and brain cell to bring about his overthrow. But not yet was it accomplished.
The same day, twenty miles above Buffington Island he came again to the margin of the broad river. Here he resolved to breast its sweeping flood. Orders were given and the men rode in as they would ride upon the green sward or upon the dusty road, reckless of risk and danger. Those in advance were far out toward the southern shore when the gunboats of the Federals suddenly appeared. The general himself was in midstream, his powerful horse swimming gallantly. Looking back, he saw that it was impossible for the rest of his command to effect a passage of the stream in the teeth of the enemy's fire that was now being directed against them, against him and those about him, against those others now nearing the green soil of Kentucky. He guided his horse around and went back in the hail of shot, to remain with the remnant of his command to the end.
Only eight hundred were now left to him of the three thousand, and these eight hundred pressed on again. The sun went down but still they pressed on, through the twilight and into the night to a point off Blennerhasset's Island, where three score years before Aaron Burr unfolded to the English scholar his plans for a southwestern empire.
Vot so quiet as then were these somber shores. Coming from all directions, even from the south where lay the river, its bosom shimmering under the lights of the armed patrols, were the pursuing hunters, who now believed that the object of the chase was surrounded and without chance of escape. They moved in and shut off all means of egress, save on one side where an abrupt mountain barred the way like a mighty wall which no man, they thought, would dare attempt to scale. One man did dare and eight hundred followed, in single file, in the darkness. Up and up, stumbling, falling; up and up, winding around, and then down and down and away, while the foe awaited the coming of the dawn to finish the work of destruction.
On again, toward the east, rode these men so desperately tired and so desperately beset. For six days more they moved, sometimes thrown to the right or to the left, sometimes hurled back, hampered, harassed, but forward toward the east. A cloud of dust marked their march and revealed their presence, and other clouds of dust rose to mark the paths of the hunters.
It is incredible that men can endure what these men suffered. They were in the saddle twenty-one hours out of each twenty-four. From day to day they were killed or captured, singly or in groups. Everywhere they were met by fresh companies of legionaries which swarmed and buzzed about them, and often darted upon the flanks