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AURA LEE - PART 21
1/27/2010 7:27:50 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]


AURA LEE – PART 21

The saddle did not feel right, and Little Sorrel was fidgety. General Jackson had mounted quickly, and his trousers refused to slide properly against the leather; the feeling of exceptional comfort he normally experienced upon first mounting his horse was not there; his boots tilted backwards as if someone had shortened the stirrup straps. Pulling his greatcoat closer, the better to see first down the right, then the left, there appeared no abnormal adjustment; both feet were equally the same distance upward from the ground.

It is the new uniform, he thought; a new fabric and tighter in the rump, the trousers pegged narrower, the tunic a size or two smaller, as Mary Anna had accurately predicted he had lost weight due to unregimented eating habits and a poor assortment and scarcity of food. He had worn the other uniform for so long it had adapted itself as part of his skin.

He reined the horse in a small circle and came alongside Capt. Morrison. “It is darker this night than I thought it would be,” he said, and his tone indicated to the young aide the night was far from over. “And colder. The men are not to build fires with the enemy so close and unpredictable.”

Morrison came closer to the general. “They will not attack. The Yankees don’t like fightin’ at night. Neither do I.”

Jackson nodded. “The combat habits of citizen soldiers is a macedoine of actions, and you’re right: night fighting is more often taboo than all the others. To most of them. But I think it could be decisive. Southerners would thrive on it, given the chance. Remember night maneuvers at VMI? I thought they were marvelous.”

“If I think about them at all, sir,” Morrison replied, “it’s to wonder why they were always scheduled when it was raining.”
“Character,” the general assured him. “Nothing builds character faster in young men than being cold and wet and unable to see how miserable each other truly are.”

Little Sorrel shivered, then bucked slightly, uneasily thumping his right rear leg was though he would prefer to be tethered for the night under a protective tree.

“Easy, boy,” Jackson soothed, tousling the horse’s mane with his free hand. A sudden recollection of that first day at Harper’s Ferry when boxcar after boxcar of a captured Union train bound for Washington had evicted hundreds of horses, one of which he’d immediately spotted coming down the wooden ramp.

“Look at that one!” he’d said excitedly to Lt. Henry Scrivener standing nearby. “That’s a fancy one—perfect—and I’m going to claim him for Mary Anna. Saddle him up—let me try him out! Come here, Fancy! That’s what I’ll call him, too: Fancy! Come here, boy! Mary Anna will love him!”

Lt. Scrivener would write, years later:
In face and figure Jackson was striking in the classic sense; his military demeanor was riveting. Above average height, with a frame angular, muscular, and fleshless, he was, in all his movements from riding a horse to handling a pen, the most graceful man in the army. ... Walking or riding, the General was spectacular: his main object was to get over the ground quickly and decisively. He rode boldly and well, with grace or ease, and "Little Sorrel" was as like a Pegasus as Jackson was an Apollo. He was, simply, a man of style.
Of course, this was written long after the war and through the fog of many yesterdays. The General Jackson (he held the rank of colonel then, at Harper’s Ferry) was immediately taken by the young gelding, and his gift to Mary Anna remained undelivered. An expert horseman, Jackson never rode any other, except for one distracting occasion when Little Sorrel had been stolen for a day (the thief was never found, but the horse was.) The name “Fancy” was the only one to which the animal responded, and no one but Jackson ever used it. “Little Sorrel” was the name used by the troops—and history. Of course, they shared a common fondness for lemons, and it was rare that the general, while riding, would munch and suck on one without reaching around the horse’s muzzle and offering the other half. . .
Jackson’s reverie of that day at Harper’s Ferry evaporated as Major R. L. Dabney, accompanied by Lieutenants Ed Willis, Jason Garnett, and George Junkin, arrived quickly at Chancellorsville with disturbing news.
“We may have missed an opportunity,” he said, and there was frost on his breath.
“How so?”
“General Pender and Lt. Meade reported back an hour or so ago, and they say Hooker has already split a whole division into a bivouac for the night into two sectors half a mile apart. Sir, they rode north to the river and had a look and couldn’t believe their eyes.”
Jackson sat back further in his saddle and glanced again at the Chancellor House. He wished he could canter again to that front portico and hail Hooker to come outside and talk about it . . .
“Joseph, what strategy did Attila concoct to befuddle Aetius Flavius into thinking he had but half an army left?”
“Don’t you remember, Thomas? Has Lee fermented your brain with praise and the valorous but weighty garlands of victory? Has the noise and smell of war numbed your senses? Flavius was ready to throw down his sword and shield the moment he thought Attila no longer posed a threat. Do you perceive me now as a docile and ineffectual dolt?”
“Hooker, if you were in my army Lee would have had you and Burnside both court-martialed within twenty-four hours after Fredericksburg.”
Lt. Smith brought his horse up close, and Little Sorrel nudged him away. “General, sir, Sergeant Colson came through from General Lee’s headquarters—sir, the general requests we take a look just beyond our lines. There’s a report Hooker’s Second Corps has gone east and west— ”
“I know, I know,” Jackson uttered, and to himself, the man is mad—lost his sense completely.
“Either that,” he said, aloud, “or there’s a funeral pyre someplace out there, and one of us will jump on it rather than surrender. Where’s Lt. Morrison?”
“Here, sir!” The young aide was sitting on his horse just behind Jackson’s right.
“What do you make of it?”
Without hesitation Morrison replied, “Classic Chalons. General Hooker thinks he’s the reincarnated Hun!”
“Then you remember?”
“Of course. It was the only semester on Roman strategy I actually got a decent grade on. . . . Sir, what are we going to do?”
Jackson pulled a lemon from the pocket of his greatcoat and, reaching around, slipped it into Little Sorrel’s mouth. “What would you do, Fancy?” he asked the animal. Little Sorrel answered with a whinny that sounded more like a sniffle.
“Right. That’s exactly what I thought.” To Morrison, “Let Worboys and Goodis know—round up Jameson and a few others. Let’s go see what Hooker the Hun is up to!”


TO BE CONTINUED

Copyright©2002 by Robert A. Mills


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Taste of Hanshan (Cold Mountain) by Alexander Goldstein

Han Shan and Shi De are two inseparable characters in the history of Chan Buddhism, forming one of the most favourite subjects of Oriental fine arts: Shi De is often pictured with ..  
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