At first light the next morning I accompanied Lee to see Longstreet. They hadn’t spoken face to face the previous evening and Lee was anxious to make sure that Longstreet understood his plan for the day. He wanted early morning attacks by both Longstreet and Ewell, which were to be co-ordinated with each other. Longstreet had different ideas, and wanted to circle south around the two hills I’d been on the day before and attack the Federal army in its rear. He’d gone so far as to issue the necessary orders, which Lee angrily cancelled as soon as he heard of them. Of course this also meant that Ewell would have to delay his attack until Longstreet was ready to follow the new plan, and Lee sent a courier back to him with orders to stand fast until 1st Corps was ready. When the courier arrived he found that instead of waiting on Ewell’s attack the Union forces had counter attacked the rebels in an effort to retake the positions on Culp’s Hill they had lost the day before, taking the initiative and ruining Lee’s plans for a concerted attack. Ewell sent back a terse reply by the courier: "Too late to recall”.
Lee wasn’t downcast at this news though. He still had a fresh division and thought his army invincible. They’d proved themselves so in the past and he knew of no reason this shouldn’t continue, and he still intended to launch an attack as soon as possible on the Union centre.
‘Now, Longstreet’, he said, ‘I want all the available guns concentrated on the enemy centre to bombard them before the infantry attacks. Along with Pickett’s division we will field brigades from Hill’s Corps on the left, under Pettigrew, and two brigades from Anderson’s division to your right. Taylor has the order of battle to discuss with you and Hill. You’ll have upwards of fifteen thousand men to follow in after the artillery has finished’.
Longstreet still wasn’t happy, and he wasn’t the sort of man just to accept orders without question – he seemed to consider himself not a subordinate of Lee’s but his co-commander. ‘ General’, he said ‘I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions, and armies, and should know, as well as any one, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men ever arrayed for battle can take that position’. Lee looked at him anxiously – this was his old warhorse expressing his doubts so he was bound to listen.
Looking at the position they had to assault, and the time the Union army had been given to fortify it I had to agree, and I was grateful that I wasn’t going to be involved. But I didn’t want any doubt about the attack in Lee’s mind at this time so I put in ‘Begging General Longstreet’s pardon, sir, while I’ve no doubt he’s right and that no other fifteen thousand men could do it, these aren’t any ordinary soldiers but the undefeated veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia. If anyone can do it they can’.
Lee brightened up at once. ‘Well said, Colonel Flashman, well said ! This is a battle we must win, and because we must win it, we will win it. The Army of Northern Virginia will understand that !’
Well, if they were going to win it wouldn’t be by the concerted actions of Longstreet and Ewell at separate points of the Union line. The battle at Culp’s Hill lasted from the artillery bombardment begun by the Union army first thing through till eleven or so that morning. Three times the rebels attempted to advance up the hill and were beaten back until finally they were pushed off all together. The fight cost Ewell many casualties, and tied him and his men down, exhausting them before they could support the attack further south. Some say it was a waste of men and supplies that could have been better used elsewhere but taking the hill would have allowed them to threaten the Baltimore Pike, which led to the Union rear and opened the way to Washington and Baltimore. Like many things in war it was a gamble but one worth taking. That it didn’t work out wasn’t for the want of effort and courage on the rebels side.
Still, it left Lee with his final throw, and if Culp’s Hill was a bit of gamble this was one on a Napoleonic scale. All morning he watched as the regiments and brigades gathered facing the centre of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, saying to himself over and over again ‘it must succeed, it must’. It was plain as a pikestaff to the enemy what was going to happen and they could be seen reinforcing their line and bringing up artillery. They had the advantage in moving men and equipment around because it was all done within their lines over shorter distances, taking far less time than for the rebels. The attack was to be preceded by an artillery bombardment with as many guns as could be mustered. This was the key to success. If they could silence the Union guns before the infantry went in casualties would be far lower and they’d have a much greater chance of success. I shuddered as I looked at the preparations on the ridge and thought of all those poor devils who, if the rebel shelling failed, would be walking into a storm of shell, canister, and grapeshot. Rather them than me, I thought. I’d been through Balaclava and the Light Brigade fiasco. If anything this was going to be ten times worse. Just keep me safe up here I thought, holding Lee’s coat and fetching him drinks, that’s all I’ll ask of today.
Lee must have sensed me getting comfortable because he suddenly said ‘Flashman, the artillery barrage is about to begin. Go down to General Longstreet and watch it from there. Come back and report when Pickett is about to lead his men off’. Well, I’d rather have stayed where I was but I should be safe enough if I stayed at the rear watching the fall of shot and I’d be back with Lee before the advance came within range of the Union lines. So I cantered off towards Longstreet and as I was reaching him there was the sound of a pair of cannon going off and at that signal the rebel artillery opened up all at once. There were more than one hundred and fifty guns concentrated on the enemy and the noise of them firing was enormous. Soon the Union artillery started to fire back and by the time I reached Longstreet fire and dense smoke covered the ridge and rolled across the fields, obscuring the view. Longstreet was sitting on a fence on the edge of Spangler's Woods watching the artillery duel. I saluted as I reached him, and he nodded and said ‘General Lee sent you ?’. I answered ‘Yes sir. I’m ordered to observe the effect of the artillery from here and then to report back to him when the advance begins’. Longstreet looked at his watch. ‘That will be fairly soon, I’d say’. Sure enough, after about thirty or forty minutes the shelling began to slacken off, and as the rebel guns began to fall silent so the counter battery fire from the ridge started to fall away, as both sides conserved ammunition.
Looking through a pair of field glasses it was difficult to assess the damage but I wasn’t optimistic about its effect. Still, that wasn’t going to be my problem and I was soon distracted by the arrival of George Pickett who went straight up to Longstreet. He gave him a written message, and after Longstreet had read it Pickett asked "Shall I advance, sir?". Without looking at him or speaking, Longstreet gave a short nod . Picket ran to his horse, gave a quick salute and raced off to get to the head of his troops. He’d been keen as mustard to get his division into battle, and was delighted when they were ordered into the line, but now that he saw the job in front of him some of that zeal had worn off. Longstreet stayed on his fence quiet and dour, his eyes looking at the floor. ‘You may return to General Lee, Colonel’, he said quietly, ’and tell him that Pickett is about to advance to his objective, the copse of trees on the ridge, as instructed’. I saluted, said ‘Yes, sir’ and got back on my horse. On my way back to Lee I passed behind the rebel gun line and I found out why their fire had stopped – they’d run out of ammunition. Staff officers from the artillery were searching for the supply wagons which should have been waiting in the rear but had disappeared.
By the time I’d reached Lee on Seminary Ridge I could see that the advance was almost ready to begin, and it was a splendid sight. The nine brigades of infantry, moving out of the woods where they’d been waiting, were more than a mile across, and were formed up as though on the parade ground, with colours flying and trumpets blowing. They had a little less than a mile of gently undulating ground to cross and I reflected that if their artillery fire hadn’t been effective they wouldn’t be in parade order, or any other order, for very long.
‘Flashman’, said Lee, ’what was your view of the artillery’s effectiveness ?’. ‘Difficult to tell, sir’, I replied ‘but General Longstreet says the advance is ready to start towards the objective’.
‘Good’, he replied. ’Once we get them onto Cemetery Hill we’ll have control of all the roads around it and will have cut off the enemy’s line of retreat’.
I gasped and Lee looked at me. ‘What’s the matter, Flashman ?’ he asked me.
‘Sir’, I blurted out, ‘ General Longstreet’s objective is the copse of trees on the ridge about a quarter of a mile south of Cemetery Hill’.
‘What ?’, he shouted. ‘That’s not the objective ! What good is reaching a clump of barely grown trees ? He must move on to Cemetery Hill, not stop on the ridge ! Flashman, do you know where Longstreet is ?’, he asked me.
‘Yes, sir’, I answered miserably.
‘Then get back there at once and inform him of the correct objective. Ride like the devil, now !’
At that I turned my horse and raced him back past the gunners to where I had last seen Longstreet. As I reached him the march towards the ridge was about to begin. ‘General’, I shouted at him, ‘ your objective is Cemetery Hill. You must not stop on the ridge but push on past it to cut off the enemy from the roads behind the hill !’
Longstreet looked at me amazed.
‘The hill ? When was that decided ?’. He looked again at the columns of infantry ready to advance. ‘Flashman, you must ride to General Pickett at the head of the advance at once. Tell him of the new objective. No one else can get to him as quickly as you !’
‘General’, I began to say, as my bowels started to quake in their old familiar way, ‘I ordered to return to General Lee and confirm that I have conveyed this information as soon as possible’.
‘Well until Pickett and the other commanders who are leading the advance have been told you haven’t done so. It’s no good telling me – it’s Pickett who needs to know. Get up there as fast as you can. No need to get yourself killed by advancing with him. Come back to me once he’s acknowledged the change, then you can report back to General Lee’.
‘Very well, sir’, I answered miserably, as I saluted and rode as fast as I could around the rear of the now advancing infantry, up alongside them, and then broad across their front until I found Pickett’s division. Just as I reached him the Union artillery began sporadic fire and a shell, landing short, sent a splinter into my horse’s flank. He whinnied in pain and fear, and reared up in the air, throwing me and galloping off in terror. I scrambled up, winded but nothing worse, and saw the line of troops was almost upon me, marching in an easy, swinging style but relentless and seemingly unstoppable. They were mostly silent though, no rebel yells splitting the air.
Suddenly a horseman appeared beside me. It was a young lieutenant of Pickett’s staff. He thrust out an arm and helped me scramble onto his horse behind him. ‘Colonel Flashman, what are you doing here ?’, he asked. ‘I must get to General Pickett at once ! Where is he ?’, I replied. ‘I have an urgent message for him’. At that he kicked his horse into motion and we trotted carefully back towards the rear of the advancing brigades, and fell in beside Pickett.
‘Flashman !’, said Pickett. ‘You’re always turning up in the damndest of places ! What is it now ?’
‘General, I’ve an urgent message from General Longstreet and the Commander in Chief’, I said.
‘Best get on with it then’, he replied. ’We’re getting damn close to the sticking point’.
I looked ahead and saw we’d covered nearly half the distance to the ridge, moving at an easy hundred yards a minute. Time for me to deliver my message and get out of the firing line.
‘Well, damn it, Flashman, what’s your message ? I don’t suppose General Lee’s changed his mind and is recalling us from this foolishness ?’, Pickett said.
‘No, sir. Your objective is changed. You are to aim for Cemetery Hill, specifically Ziegler's Grove, and take control of the roads around it’.
Pickett laughed out loud. ‘That all ? Does he want us to move on to New York as well ? He might as well ask for that too, as it’s about as likely !’
I protested that he had to let the other commanders leading the assault, Anderson’s men on the right, and Trimble, leading Pender’s division on the left, know of the change to which he said ‘Don’t you fret, Colonel. I’ll send word. Hill or ridge, cottage or barn, won’t make no difference to me. We’re going to be slaughtered out here on this field, very shortly, so Gen’l Lee can ask for the moon if he wants’. With that he detailed two gallopers to take the message to either flank, then looked back at me. ‘What are your orders now, Flashman ?’
Whatever my orders had been, I wasn’t staying there. I could see the Union army on the ridge hurrying to make ready, cannon still being rolled up to the breastworks they’d built, artillery men scurrying up with ammunition, and thousands of bayonets beside the guns, glinting in the afternoon sun. ‘I’ve to report back to General Longstreet and General Lee that I have delivered the message’, I replied. ‘Can you spare me a horse ?’.
‘You’ll have to borrow a horse from one of my staff’, he said. ‘You’ll find it difficult getting to the rear going through the advance, though, and to get round the front of the infantry now you’d have to ride too close to the enemy lines. I doubt you’d get as warm a welcome as your horse’. As he said that I looked ahead. My horse, finding a long line of men marching towards him, had fled in the only direction he could, towards the Federal army. He was now walking slowly up and down their line, trying to find a way through. As I watched a white flag was raised and two soldiers came out of the line, took his bridle, and to wild cheers from the enemy, brought him into the Union position, where he disappeared from view.
‘Probably the furthest any of this army will get today’, said Pickett. ‘Now, Colonel, you can have Johnson’s horse. Good luck’. I looked at him. I’d always supposed him just a pomaded dandy, but now I could see the raw courage that had let him lead this advance, with the near certainty of either death or horrific injury. Of course he was also a bloody fool, as was any man from Lee downwards who’d connived in this folly. So I just said ‘Good luck to you, General’, and turned to make my way to Johnson to get his horse. Too late. I’d just started towards him when the Union artillery opened up in a furious cannonade.
Almost immediately there was the sharp crump of a shell exploding on the other side of Johnson, lacerating both horse and rider into bloody pieces, and covering me in gore. The concussion knocked me off my feet to the ground, which was probably the best place to be just then. As I looked up enemy artillery fire was now slamming into the front ranks of the advancing infantry, which seemed to stagger, give up a collective moan, and then reform to cover the bloody holes torn in their lines as they continued forwards. Heavy fire was coming from the flanks as well as the front, and the lines of infantry began to shrink as the survivors filled the gaps. Pickett was nowhere to be seen.
The shot was falling all over the field now, but particularly on the first line of advancing men, so I got up and turned to go towards the rear, only to be caught up in the next line of Pickett’s Virginians, and swept forward, against my will, like a piece of flotsam on a breaking wave, to where Union artillery was blasting shot, shell, and canister towards the advancing Confederates, tearing bloody rents in their lines. With the soldiers packed so close, one shell could kill or maim ten men at a time, arms, legs, heads, equipment and all tossed up through the smoke and flame of the battle into the clear air, only to tumble back to earth like some vile rain, onto their horrified comrades. Some men broke and ran at the sight, but most just plodded on, cursing vilely or crying openly, not from fear, but from sorrow at the slaughter of their friends.
We soon reached the Emmitsburg Road. Bordering it was a rail fence that the rebels were forced to climb over, or crawl through gaps torn by the fighting. I tried to crawl through but got my head stuck. As I frantically tried to free myself I could hear the rap, rap, rap of musket balls aimed at me striking the fence on either side. It must have only been a few seconds but it seemed like forever before I managed to free myself and leap over the fence. There was a shallow trench either side of the road and I was tempted to take shelter in one of them, as quite a few men had, but it was no guarantee of safety so I kept moving and clambered in desperate fear over the fence on the other side of the road, surrounded and followed by the other men of the division. Having crossed the road we wheeled to the left to face northeast, exposing our flank to more fire from the ridge, now including musket and rifle fire from the ranks of Union soldiers, standing three or four deep there. East of the road was a large farm which the advance had to negotiate as it headed for the slope. Some soldiers found shelter around its buildings but it also hid some Union skirmishers who took a further toll on the advancing grey line.
I’d taken my pistol out but it was as much use as a peashooter at that range. The rebels were under orders to hold their fire until they closed on the Union line, so there was no fire returned to the hail of bullets being fired down upon us, though of course Union skirmishers closer by were engaged. The small arms fire began to take a toll, as the bullets zipped like angry wasps, striking men’s bodies, causing them to spin round like tops, then flop to the ground, or hitting soldiers in the head, splattering their brains all over their uniforms. One bullet almost completely severed the trigger finger off a soldier near me. He just taped the dangling finger up and when he fired used his second finger. I was shouting and yelling like the rest of them now, but it wasn’t out of anger or sorrow but sheer terror. ‘Oh, God’, I pleaded, ‘let me come through all this, please, and I’ll never mount a whore or cheat at cards again. I’ll go to church and pray, and not bully underlings again. Please God, oh, please !’ God, if he was listening, seemed to know me as well as I knew myself and offered me no immediate way of escaping the carnage.
I’d no idea what was happening elsewhere on the battlefield, though I could guess it was bloody slaughter, but we were beginning to mount the slope of the ridge, though there were far fewer of us now. Coming clear down the slope now was a chant from the enemy above us – ‘Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg’ they sang, reminding us of their slaughter before our lines the previous year, as they poured their fire down on us.
As we ran up the gentle slope, coughing and spluttering in the smoke of the battle, men began to congregate round regimental flags. The enemy concentrated fire on them and the standard bearers were soon shot down, only for someone to pick the flag up again, but then he would be shot. I saw one flag cost the lives of four men on the way up that slope. Needless to say I didn’t pick the damned rag up myself or go anywhere near it.
Now we all seemed to be converging on a low stone wall that thrust out from the Union line, forming a small salient. There was a gap in the Union line there and the point of the attack switched to it. Once we were within a hundred yards of the enemy permission was given to open fire on them, and ragged volleys began to break out. I’m not sure if they hit much but it gave the defenders cause to think and heartened the rebels as they were no longer just targets. But it didn’t stop the Yankee artillery firing and cutting swathes in the line - by now we were so close that they must have been using double canister shot in their guns. Fortunately there seemed to be only one gun facing us directly over the stone wall now. I watched the gun commander started to pull the lanyard to fire it but as I dropped on my belly I saw that he’d been hit as he fired. By the time I was off the ground he was draped, unmoving, across the barrel and the gun had stopped firing..
In the smoke and fury all organisation had been lost and the regiments were all mixed up together. Lew Armistead was up in front of everyone, his hat waving around in the air on the end of his sword as he yelled encouragement to what was left of his brigade. All around, glimpsed through the smoke, officers were doing the same, waving their men on with their swords and shouting orders but the noise of the explosion of shells, zinging bullets and the rattle of rifles was deafening and the commands were lost in the din.
As we reached the wall we crashed into it like a wave breaking on a rock and the fire and fury of the assault forced the few defenders still there back. Armistead pushed his way through to the front again, stood by the wall, and shouted 'Now give 'em the cold steel, boys!’ as rebel soldiers jumped onto and over the wall, followed by Armistead himself. Fighting was hand to hand with men shooting, hacking and stabbing at each other only an arm’s length apart, as the Union soldiers fell back across the clearing to the clump of trees at its rear. Now I was grateful for my pistol in the close quarter fighting as I huddled down by the wall. One infantry man lunged at me with his bayonet but a bullet in the neck put him down. As I turned to get the wall to my back again another discharged his rifle at point blank range but it misfired, thank God, and I shot him in the chest, and he went down, bubbling frothing blood from his mouth.
It looked like we were gaining a foothold in the clearing behind the wall, having pushed the defenders back to the trees a little behind it. Armistead rushed over to claim the capture of a Union cannon, yelling and shouting like the very devil. Then from our right came hundreds of Union soldiers, many of ‘em Zouaves, crashing into the side of the rebels fighting in the trees, and Armistead went down by his cannon, hit at least twice by bullets. I was still near the wall, holding my fire for any immediate threat, and when I saw Armistead go down, and Union reinforcements overwhelming the rebels I knew it was time to go. All attention was on the fight in the woods and clearing so I slipped over the wall and started back down the hill. As I made my way down through the smoke and confusion I could see first a few, and then lines of soldiers moving back down the hill, past the piles of bodies that lay on the slope and in the field. Many of the bodies lay piled a hundred yards before the ridge, as though the wave of the assault had crested there, and broken, and their blood now ran back down the hill in small streams. Nowhere else, it seemed, had the Union line been penetrated. I suppose it had been all of an hour since the rebel lines had stepped out of the tree and I’d been chasing after Pickett with his new orders. Now the Army of Northern Virginia was bloodied and maybe broken.
Bullets were still zipping by, aimed at the retreating soldiers, and some groups turned and fired back, taking the chance of being killed fighting rather than be shot in the back retreating. Most, though got down as quick as they could, carrying or dragging their wounded down with them, having to zigzag around the piles of dead lying in their path. Some soldiers, seeing a senior officer, attached themselves to me. They kept asking me ‘what wuz it all fer, now we’s retreatin, sir ?’. All I could do was shake my head.
By now I’d seen enough of this war to last me a lifetime. Whether or not Lincoln and Pinkerton would release me I wasn’t going spy for them any longer. I was sick of the slaughter and for once it wasn’t just fear, seeing the dead and wounded and picturing myself in their place. No, it was the sheer folly and stupidity of the whole rotten plan, which everyone from the meanest private to the highest general could see was complete madness, sacrificing some of the finest soldiers I’d served with because of the ego of one man, Robert Lee. He’d been told the likely outcome, and begged by his senior commanders to fight a more defensive and winnable battle on ground of his own choosing. But his aggressive style would not allow him to ‘act defensively’, as Raglan might have said, and he always had to push on and strike his enemy, even when the cost of his aggression was huge casualties. Today was the result of that inclination, and the price the south paid for having a man like Lee as commander of its army. Tonight, or whenever the opportunity came I was going to slip away and turn myself over to the Federal army. But I had to see Lee first, and hear what he had to say about this day’s work.
I wasn’t surprised to see him already at the edge of the trees from which the attack had been made. He was riding quietly among the rebels streaming back, talking to them, offering encouragement, and calming down those who were still in a state of panic. As I neared him I could hear him saying to them 'All this will come right in the end; we'll talk it over afterwards; but, in the meantime, all good men must rally. We want all good and true men just now’. His face was a picture of serenity and calmness as he moved among the soldiers. When he saw Pickett, riding pale and silent, in a state of shock, he went over to him immediately and asked of his division. Pickett looked up, eyes brimming with tears and said ‘General, I have no division. Armistead is down, Garnett is down, and Kemper is mortally wounded’, referring to his three brigade commanders. Lee put his hand on Pickett’s shoulder, leaned towards him in a comforting manner, and said ‘Come, General Pickett, this has been my fight and upon my shoulders rest the blame’, then asked him to rally his men behind Seminary Ridge in case of a counter attack. Pickett didn’t smile, but he shook himself into life and began to do as Lee asked.
Then he saw me, and spurred his horse over to me. ‘Flashman’, he said, ‘I feared for you when you didn’t return. General Longstreet told me what has happened to you. Are you hurt ?’. ‘No General’, I said, ‘but there are plenty who are’. He looked up at the battlefield, then back to me. 'This has been a sad day for us, Colonel, a sad day; but we can't expect always to gain victories. This has all been my fault’. I said ‘Yes sir, it is’. He shook his head. ‘You are right to rebuke me. After all is finished here I will offer my resignation to the President. Now get yourself rested and refreshed. I fear Meade may counterattack and we must be ready to receive him’. Then he trotted off to another group of soldiers, struggling back with their wounded, to see how they were and what he could do.
What’s this, you say, old Flash with a hint of sympathy and concern for his fellow man ? Is he going soft ? Well, I’ve no doubt that having made that hellish advance with Pickett’s men has influenced me but while I’m not brave, and wouldn’t have voluntarily attacked the ridge myself for all the tea in China, I can admire the bravery of those who went willingly, and be horrified at the waste of it all.
Of course there was no counter attack from the Federal forces, which was a good job, because it took hours to gather the stragglers together, particularly from Pickett’s division. No doubt Meade’s men were as done in as us and couldn’t find the energy for another fight that day. The only other action to report on was the failure of Stuart’s cavalry to provide a distraction by raiding the union rear three miles east of Gettysburg, where a strong force of Union cavalry had blocked him and he’d withdrawn his division from the field. Then it was time for a reckoning of the casualties and a decision on what to do next.
Pickett could muster not much more than a thousand men from his division by the middle of the evening, out of a total of well over five thousand. Lee had called all his remaining staff together and in A P Hill’s HQ we worked out the losses as accurately as we could. No doubt quite a number of soldiers had seen enough and either deserted or stayed out of sight for a while, getting over the strain of the battle, so it was likely that many more would return, eventually, but tallying up the losses was still a grim business. It was easier to quantify the losses among the senior officers. All three of Pickett’s brigade commanders and all 13 of his regimental commanders were killed, wounded or missing. Looking at the casualties in the army over the past three days we reckoned they couldn’t have been much less than twenty thousand, and may well have been more, a rate not far short of thirty per cent, and totally unsupportable. Lee’s face was grave as he was told the situation.
‘It is clear’, he said, ‘that we cannot continue this campaign. Not only are our losses grievous but we are short of all sorts of supplies, from rifle and artillery ammunition to food, medicine and fodder for the horses. Tomorrow we will stand in a defensive position on this ridge while we prepare to retreat. Now, gentlemen, those who have no further duties tonight should rest . We may well be called upon to fight tomorrow, and if not we will be busy preparing for our return home. I am going to see General Imboden now. I have decided that his cavalry will cover the column taking our wounded back to Virginia. Good night and take your rest where you can’. With that Lee stood up, moving rather stiffly, and left the tent.
Well, if the Army of Northern Virginia was heading south, one small part of it was going to make its move in the opposite direction. I had to be away before the retreat started and the night the battle ended would likely offer the best opportunity, as the chaos of the battle and exhaustion among the men would mean that there would be gaps in the line of guards and pickets, who would be drowsy anyway. Of course I’d have to be careful how I approached the Federal positions. It would have to be in daylight or I’d risk getting shot by some nervous sentry – Stonewall’s fate wasn’t far from the back of my mind. So I’d have to disappear and hole up somewhere out of the way for a time. As Lee’s staff dispersed from Hill’s HQ I made my way to the pup tent I’d been using. Once inside I took out a small bag I’d been carrying with me throughout the campaign, then slipped out of the tent with it, and carefully made my escape down the side of Seminary Ridge that was away from the Union army, and found my way to a thick clump of woodland. I could hear quiet voices talking, and the moans of the wounded but I didn’t bump into anyone else as I made my way there
Once inside the woods I opened the bag. First thing to do was trim my whiskers back. I’d let them grow with this in mind so that when I decamped people wouldn’t be looking for the neat and tidy whiskers I normally favoured but for a fully bearded Flashy. I hacked away at them until the beard was gone, then shaved the stubble using a little water from my canteen until I was left with just a moustache and chin whiskers. Next I trimmed my sideburns as carefully as possible. Once I’d done I looked closely at myself in a small mirror using the light of the moon. A bit untidy perhaps, but good enough to pass for someone else, I thought. Next out of the bag was a change of clothes, all civilian. I took my uniform off, bundled it up and thrust it deep inside some bushes, and put on the crumpled shirt, trousers, and a short jacket. I couldn’t do much about my boots except tuck them under my trousers, but I didn’t look like a soldier any more, but more like a down at heel reporter, which is what I had wanted.
I’d meant to wait the night out there but after a little while I heard voices maybe a hundred yards off, though it was hard to be sure, the way sound carries in the quiet of the dark. I couldn’t risk being caught so I carefully made my way out the woods, and headed west, keeping in the shadows. I took it slowly so I didn’t make any noise. Off to my right I could hear more voices and see some fires burning to the north of a small hill, so I skirted around to its south. Seeing another clump of woodland a little distance away I came out of the shadow of the hill, intending to settle in there for the rest of the night. Just as I set out towards it I heard the unmistakable sound of two rifles being cocked and a voice said ‘Jest wait right there, now, mister’. I turned and saw two rebel soldiers, obviously on guard duty, with their rifles pointing at me. One, a corporal, said to the other ‘He don’t look like no deserter to me, Jem’. ‘No, he don’t, do he ?’ the other hayseed answered. ‘Reckin he more likli’ a spy, then’, Jem continued.
‘Now, gennelman’ I said, putting on southern accent, ‘Ahm jest a noospaper man, frem Richmond, name o’ Prescott Arnold’.
‘Don’t see why no writer’d be sneakin’ about in tha dark, this time o’ night. Reckin’ Jem’s right, and you’s a spy. Cap’n’ll decide in tha’ mornin’. Meantime you kin keep yore hands up and come this way’, and he gestured back in the direction of the camp. ‘ Jem, you kin set him with all them other fellas aheadin’ fur Libby’s Prison’.
(This is the final entry in this packet of the Flashman Papers)