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    Chapter 8

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    Chapter 9
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    THE ENGAGEMENT NEAR SPRING HILL

    The course of the first battalion of the Riverlawn Cavalry was along a path scarcely wide enough for four horsemen to ride abreast. It was through a thicket of dwarf trees, the limbs of which took off many a hat and scratched hands and faces. At several points the riders came to hollows, filled with icy water, and here detours had to be made, for fear the animals might become stuck in the stiff soil beneath.

    As was his usual habit, Deck rode at the head of his command, with Captain Abbey, of the first company, beside him. Several scouts had been sent out and with them had gone Artie Lyon, by special permission of the major.

    The scouts soon found the road making a broad sweep to the south, and presently came to a point where there was a clearing in the woods and a brook. Here they stopped their horses for a drink, and Artie pointed out some fresh tracks leading up the watercourse. The tracks were of men as well as horses.

    "Let us investigate those tracks," he said to Lieutenant Fronklyn, who was one of the party. "I think they are about what we are looking for."

    "I wouldn't be surprised," answered Fronklyn, who, as old readers know, had frequently been on the scout with Deck, and he knew a thing or two about the business. "Do we go afoot, Captain?"

    "I think we had better."

    The horses were tethered in the brush, and the pair advanced along the brook with caution. Soon the trail led to the westward, and here they found themselves confronted by a series of rocks, overgrown by moss and covered with dead leaves. Fronklyn stopped and scratched his head.

    "Are we stumped?" questioned Artie. He got down on his knees and commenced to examine the moss. "I reckon we can follow the trail in spite of the rocks. Come ahead," and again they advanced.

    The rocks ran up and then down. At the other side was another clearing, and not far away the regular road to Rover.

    "Halt!" whispered Artie, catching his companion by the arm. "There they are, as sure as guns!" and he pointed to their left.

    The young captain was right. Encamped on the edge of the clearing, and not over two hundred yards from the Rover road, was a company of Confederate cavalry. The men were taking it easy, smoking and playing cards. Not even a picket appeared in their vicinity.

    "Let us count them," whispered Artie, and began the task, while Fronklyn did the same. They settled on forty-three men, not counting several who could be heard talking, but who were out of sight.

    "Half a hundred," murmured the young captain. "If we are smart we ought to be able to bag the lot. Come on back, just as quickly as we can make it;" and he caught Fronklyn by the arm a second time.

    When the brook was again reached, the other scouts were called in, and all lost no time in reporting to Deck. The major listened to what Artie and Fronklyn had to say with interest, and nodded when Artie spoke of bagging the lot.

    "You are right," he said, and sent for Captains Abbey, Blenks, and Richland of the other companies.

    It was soon arranged that the first and second companies should proceed along the regular road until the vicinity of the Confederate camp was reached. In the meantime the third and fourth companies under Captain Richland were to take to the trail Artie had discovered, thus covering the enemy's rear.

    "As soon as we reach our position, I will send out Lieutenant Fronklyn to ascertain your arrival," said the major. "Then the four companies will take their positions north, west, east, and south as they rank. The enemy will thus be completely surrounded, and as our men will be protected by the woods, I do not see how they can do anything but surrender, unless they submit themselves to great slaughter."

    "But supposing they make a break?" was the question put by Captain Richland.

    "If they do, it will depend upon circumstances as to what shall be done, and I'll send you further orders," answered the major.

    The two commands separated, and Deck rode forward at the head of the first detachment. The approach to the Confederate encampment by the regular road was considerably longer than by the brook route, but the latter way was the rougher of the two; so the young commander judged that both detachments would arrive at their destinations at about the same time. In this his supposition proved correct.

    As before, scouts were sent out, Fronklyn at the head of the first detachment and Lieutenant Black at the head of the second, each with three men under him. It was wise that this was done, for the Confederates had just begun to throw out pickets, having received word that Rosecrans was sending troops after Wheeler and feeling the boys in blue must come somewhere in the neighborhood of where they were stopping. Each advanced guard managed to bag two pickets, silencing them ere they had a chance to make any outcry.

    "Who is in command of your company?" questioned Deck, when one of the pickets was brought to him.

    "Captain Barstow."

    "How many men has he?"

    "About twice as many as you," answered the Confederate, hoping to scare the Unionists off.

    "Indeed," rejoined the major. "That is all," and the captured one was led to the rear.

    There was a sharp turn in the road some distance from the camp of the enemy, and here the first detachment rested, while Fronklyn hurried through the woods to get word from Captain Richland. He found the second detachment just crossing the rocks, and, waiting until the two companies were located as ordered, reported the fact to the major.

    The engagement was opened by the enemy, who, on finding themselves confronted in the rear by the two companies at the rocks, began a scattering fire and retreated toward the Rover road. The second detachment of the Riverlawns returned the fire with deadly effect, and four Confederates were either killed or wounded. In their hurry to leave the exposed camp, the enemy left nearly its whole outfit behind.

    But down on the main road matters were still worse for them, for they almost ran into the first company, while the second company opened upon their right. Bewildered, they came to a halt, and looked inquiringly at their captain, while two other men dropped.

    "Left wheel, double-quick march!" yelled Captain Barstow. "Load!" And away they went, loading as they ran. But at the base of the rocks they came to another halt, for from the trees some distance back glinted nearly a hundred carbine barrels. They turned again to find more carbines on the other side.

    The first detachment had now come closer, and the Confederates were completely hemmed in, with hardly a tree to shelter them. In this position Major Deck called on them to surrender.

    "If you don't do it, my troops will cut you to pieces," he added.

    The captain of the Confederates wanted to fight, and to gain time attempted to parley over terms. But Deck would not listen to him; and five minutes later the company threw down their arms, and the angry commander was forced to give up his sword.

    It was learned that the captured body numbered but thirty-six men, the others having either been shot down or having left the camp between the time that Artie and Fronklyn made their discovery and the contest opened. The wounded were cared for and placed in a farm wagon borrowed from a planter in the vicinity, and the prisoners were marched along the Rover road to where the second and third battalions of the Riverlawns were stationed.

    "You did well, Dexter," said the colonel, when he had been informed of the course of events. "To capture such a force with only the loss of one man killed and three wounded was remarkable," and he smiled affectionately.

    "I didn't do very much myself," said the major, modestly. "Artie and Lieutenant Fronklyn found the rebels and I ordered the only thing done that seemed practicable--to surround them."

    "I see you still have your neck tied up. Does it hurt much?"

    "A little, but not enough to speak about. Artie's wound was much the worse of the two."

    "You must not be rash. Captain Abbey tells me that you exposed yourself several times while giving orders."

    "I can't remain in the rear, father," pleaded the major. "How would it look?"

    "My first battalion can't afford to lose its major, Dexter. You owe a duty to your command, as well as to yourself and me;" and here the conversation dropped.

    The larger portion of the cavalry had moved forward toward Rover, and here another body of Minty's command encountered a small regiment of Confederates and captured them. To this body of the defeated were added the force taken by Major Deck.

    Following the commands of General Rosecrans, Steedman moved forward by way of Triune and Nolinsville, and joined Davis's forces at Franklin. But Wheeler was on the alert, and by pushing forward at his utmost speed, managed to pass between those in his pursuit. On the third day of February he reached Dover, and there forced a fight with Colonel Harding, commanding about six hundred and fifty men of the Eighty-third Illinois. The latter was well intrenched at the new site of Fort Donelson, and bravely resisted two savage attacks, then charged over his works and captured nearly half a hundred of the enemy. In his double onslaught Wheeler lost five hundred and fifty in killed and wounded, while the loss to the Union forces was less than a hundred, exclusive of fifty soldiers who were captured. With broken ranks Wheeler started on his retreat through Centerville. Davis's command tried their best to cut him off, and so did a portion of Minty's cavalry, but the Confederate could not be caught, and he escaped with the remnant of his troops across Duck River. It may be added here that when Colonel Harding charged over his breastworks, he was sustained by the fire of several gunboats on the river, which were bound for Nashville with a number of transports.

    The affair near Rover ended the present series of conflicts so far as the Riverlawn Cavalry was concerned, and they went into camp once more and were again joined by Batterson's battery. But the Confederates continued to be active, and early in March an encounter took place three miles outside of Spring Hill and another at Thompson's Station. The Union forces, under Coburn, were outnumbered and compelled to surrender; but the victory was of little value to the Confederates, since it did nothing for the advancement of their position.

    On the 7th of March General Phil Sheridan moved with his division to Franklin, where he was joined by troops from Nashville and by Minty's cavalry. The object was to learn the enemy's true position. Van Dorn, the rebel leader, was at Spring Hill, and Granger was sent to dislodge him. This was done with the aid of several other Union troops, and Van Dorn was pursued as far as Rutherford Creek.

    Once more the Riverlawns found themselves in the saddle and posted on a side road not half a mile from the scene of the initial blows of the battle. The road was a winding affair, and the several battalions covered not only the highway, but also the hemp fields on either side. They were kept waiting for nearly an hour, when a staff officer came galloping up and informed Colonel Lyon that a portion of the enemy was cutting through a woods to the northeast.

    "You are to cut them off, Colonel Lyon," added the officer. "The general leaves the details of the movement to yourself."

    "How many are coming?" asked the commandant of the Riverlawns.

    "Five or six hundred, at least."

    Colonel Lyon said no more, but at once directed his regiment to break into battalions. The first was to move up the road for an eighth of a mile, the second was to cut directly across the hemp field on the left, while the third was to follow the first, as a reserve, keeping as well posted as possible on the movements of Deck's companies.

    In less than five minutes Major Belthorpe's battalion was galloping across the field as fast as the nature of the soil permitted, while Deck was moving up the highway at equal speed. Soon a patch of timber cut off the view of the first battalion by the second.

    Major Deck now felt it "in his bones" that some sharp fighting was in store for his men, and in this he was not mistaken. The position determined upon by the colonel had hardly been gained when the Confederate detachment, consisting of several companies of cavalry and a like number of infantry, discovered the battalion in the hemp field, and opened fire.

    Understanding fully Colonel Lyon's scheme, Major Belthorpe now swung around to the enemy's rear, the movement being easy on account of a fence and a hedge at the further entrance to the enclosure. They returned the fire, and several men fell upon both sides.

    A slight rise in the centre of the hemp field cut off the view of the road from the woods, and now the commander of the Confederate forces thought he saw a clear opening before him, leading directly for Rutherford Creek. He resolved to move in a semicircle also, and make for the road, and gave his commands accordingly.

    The march of the enemy's forces brought him on the road, midway between the first battalion and the third, situated, as before stated, an eighth of a mile apart. Owing to the winding course of the highway he did not see either battalion until it was too late to retreat. Deck marched down upon him, and Major Truman marched up, and he was caught between two fires, with the second battalion pressing him in the rear.

    But the Confederate leader was a "fire-eater," in the most positive meaning of that term, and he resolved to make a dash for liberty by attempting to break through Deck's command, since the field on the road's right did not look like a promising one to enter, being broken by a ditch and several swamps, into which horses and infantry were bound to go down. He yelled to his leading cavalry to follow him, and, waving his sabre over his head, charged down upon Deck like a veritable demon.
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