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    Chapter 11

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    Chapter 12
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    THE ENCOUNTER AT THE RAILROAD TRESTLE

    "Here's a pretty mess, Life!"

    "We'd better get off just as quick as we can," answered the captain of the seventh company. "For all we know to the contrary there may be two or three thousand rebels around this shore."

    "Pole her off!" cried Deck to the Confederates, and ran to assist. Bolder began to do as directed, but Peters, without looking back, leaped for the ground beyond, and ran for it as rapidly as his long legs would carry him. Life was about to fire on him, when the major checked him.

    "Don't do it, Life; it may bring the enemy around our ears."

    "Right you are, Deck," answered the Kentuckian. "But don't you dare to go," and he shook his weapon threateningly at Bolder.

    "I ain't goin'," was the sullen response, and the Confederate began to use his pole, although straining his eyes in the hope that Peters or Lieutenant Blackrook would appear with aid for him.

    But nobody came, and in a few minutes more the raft was again in midstream. Deck now kept her headed for the other shore, and before long they drifted up into a meadow which was overflown for several acres. Here they ground so hard it was impossible to budge the unwieldy craft; and the voyage came to a termination.

    Before leaving the raft, Deck bound Bolder's hands behind him. Looking across the meadow they discovered a farmhouse not over a hundred yards away, and hurried in that direction.

    "Major Lyon, where have you been?" the cry came from Major Tom Belthorpe. "You look as if you had been lost in the fog."

    "We were--a short time," answered Deck. He looked around and saw that Tom had a dozen soldiers with him. "I don't know what you and your men are doing here, but if you haven't anything in particular to do, I'd like you to help Captain Knox and myself."

    "Why, what's up?"

    "We went out on a scouting tour and captured one rebel, three boxes of ammunition, and a small field-piece."

    The eyes of Kate Belthorpe's brother opened very widely. "Jee-rusa-lem! but you are doing things by the wholesale, Major,--one reb, three boxes of ammunition, and a gun! Where are they?"

    "Down in the meadow lot below here. But you haven't told me what brought you here yet."

    "Four prisoners got away and we gave chase,--that is, my men did. I met them on the road and came along, just for the excitement. We collared three of them, and the fourth escaped in the fog. Certainly, I'll go with you."

    The pair of majors set off, Belthorpe taking six men with him. It was not long before Bolder was placed among the other prisoners, and the lot were hurried to the prisoners' camp, a mile and three-quarters away. By messenger Deck sent word to his father regarding the capture of ammunition and the field-piece.

    As may well be imagined, Colonel Lyon was more pleased than ever over this new exploit of his son. The matter was referred to the commandant of the cavalry forces, and soon a detail of artillery came over and took formal charge of the capture. Later on the field-piece was used to take the place of one lost on Duck River some months back.

    Van Dorn had retreated to the territory south of Rutherford Creek, and for the present no further pursuit was inaugurated, and the Riverlawns found themselves taking it easy, enjoying a well-earned rest. In the meantime Morgan became active again, and the second division of Reynold's brigade, under Colonel Hall, was sent in his pursuit. The division took a stand near Milton, and Morgan, after trying in vain to dodge to the right or the left, and, after a stubborn contest lasting about four hours, was forced to retreat, with heavy losses.

    But the daring Confederate cavalry leader, now reënforced by some of the best Confederate soldiers which the State of Kentucky ever reared, was on his mettle, and resolved to make his raid in that State a success. He had gone to Liberty, and was preparing to make another dash, when Stanley's cavalry came upon him, and forced a fight between Liberty and Snow Hill. Morgan fought desperately, but Stanley was too wide-awake for him, and turned his left flank, and the raiders became demoralized, the exact reason for which has never been explained. Carbines were thrown away, horses went wild, and teamsters deserted their wagons; and the battle ended in such a rout that it took Morgan ten days to get his troops together again. Many another leader would have given up in disgust after such a scene as this; but Morgan's nerve was of iron, and he acknowledged no such word as fail.

    It was about the middle of April that the Riverlawns received word to move again. In the meantime Deck had not forgotten the dead Confederate named Paul who had a sister called Rosebel living at Chattanooga. He had made diligent inquiries concerning the young man and his family, but, so far, nothing definite had turned up. He was hoping to get some word from such prisoners as might have had their homes at Chattanooga; but these prisoners were hard to find.

    The movement of the Riverlawns was again in connection with two brigades of cavalry under Minty. To this force was united three brigades of infantry under General J. Reynolds and Wilder's mounted infantry. Orders were to proceed to McMinnville, take possession of the town, and destroy the railroad from there to Manchester. If the expedition should prove a success thus far, the troops were then to be reënforced by others from Carthage, and Morgan was to be attacked again.

    The weather was not bad overhead, although hardly clear; but the roads were in a deplorable condition, and, as the regiment advanced along the road, the horses sunk up to their fetlocks in mud, while the train of wagons was even worse off. At short distances one or more wagons would get stuck, and extra horses would be needed to pull the vehicles from the ruts. After proceeding with the cavalry for three hours, Captain Batterson's battery was turned back, to take up a position which was being guarded near the river.

    The railroad reached, at a point just outside of the town, a staff officer presented himself to Colonel Lyon, who was riding at ease, with Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon at his side.

    "Colonel Lyon, the general directs that you take the road branching off just below here and leading to the trestlework of the railroad. You are to destroy as much of the trestle and the road-bed of the railroad as you can, also burn all supplies and sheds containing the same."

    "Very well; tell General Reynolds I will do my best," replied Colonel Lyon. Then turning, he gave the necessary orders, and the Riverlawns detached themselves from the other cavalry and galloped down the side road indicated.

    At this time McMinnville was but a small place, yet it boasted of a newspaper, and the surrounding territory was rich in fruit and other farms. The ground in spots was full of hollows, and over these the railroad corporation had built a series of trestles, with here and there a shed and a siding for freight cars.

    Coming within sight of the trestle mentioned to him, Colonel Lyon found it guarded by a small company of Southerners, determined-looking men, about half uniformed, yet each with a trusty-looking gun in his hands. The Southerners opened fire without any parleying, and two cavalrymen were struck, although not seriously.

    "They have a fine position, Colonel," remarked Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon. "They are above us, and that planking on this side gives them a first-class protection."

    "That is right, Gordon; but we'll dislodge them fast enough," answered Noah Lyon, confidently. A leader somewhat against his will, he had now studied up military tactics in dead earnest, and with him, as with his son Deck, nothing was an impossibility.

    The first battalion was ordered to halt and take a safe place behind a slight rise of ground to the northwest of the trestle. The second was marched around to the north, and the third to the south. This done, the party above was pretty well surrounded. Half a dozen shots were exchanged, but the planking mentioned protected the Confederates, and they did not budge.

    It would have been easy to have advanced upon the party from both ends of the trestlework, but this would have cost a severe loss of life, and the humane colonel was for protecting his men from all injury if the thing could be done.

    While Colonel Lyon was debating in his mind what should be his next movement, Artie came up and saluted, having received the proper permission from his major. The young captain observed the formalities as though the colonel was of no relationship to him.

    "Colonel, I have to report something which may be of importance to you," he said.

    "Well, Captain, what is it?" smiled the colonel. "A sure way to defeat the enemy?"

    "Our company has discovered that a barrel of tar lies at the northeast end of the trestle. A freight car above was broken open, and I think the barrel was jounced out, as the road-bed seems to be very uneven, especially at the curve."

    "The tar will certainly be useful to us, Artie."

    "Yes, sir, especially as the wind is blowing from the northeast," went on the captain. "Tar, you know, makes a good, thick smoke."

    The colonel stared for an instant, then a smile came into his face.

    "Artie, I see you are bound to be a general like Deck. Your plan is to smoke the enemy out."

    "I only mentioned what we had found, and how the wind was blowing," was the modest return.

    "It amounts to the same thing. You can light that barrel, and roll it as close up to the enemy as you dare. I will send the third battalion around to the lower end of the trestle. Send Major Belthorpe to me."

    Artie retired, and presently Tom Belthorpe came dashing up. He was told to keep a strict watch through the smoke for the enemy, should they turn up the tracks. Then Colonel Lyon galloped off with the third battalion in the opposite direction.

    It was not long before the tar barrel was blazing merrily, and to add to the smoke some of the soldiers threw on a mass of dead and wet brush. The dense cloud rolled upward, and the wind carried it directly to the spot where the Confederates were located. In the midst of the smoke the barrel was rolled closer, until it set fire to the northeast end of the trestle.

    Blinded and choked, the Confederates fired several volleys at random, and were then compelled to seek some spot where a breath of pure air might be obtained. Some ran up the tracks and some down, and these engaged the second and the third battalions. A few, risking life and limb, leaped from the trestle through the advancing fire beneath; but these were captured by Major Deck's command, each man being fully covered as he landed.

    To Life Knox's gallant seventh company fell the lot of resisting the majority of those who had defended the trestle, and a desperate conflict took place in a small hollow at a second trestle above the first. The Confederate company was scarcely drilled, yet each man knew how to shoot, and when surrounded the fellows discarded their arms, and used their fists and such clubs as they had picked up on the railroad. As one Irishman in the seventh company declared afterward, "It was the most delightful Donnybrook fair he had seen since lavin' the ould country!" A private of Kentuckian blood declared, "They didn't know enough as soldiers to surrender, but jest fit, an' fit, an' fit!" This pitched battle was laughed over for many a day afterward. In the end, however, every Confederate was taken prisoner.

    By the time the contest closed, the trestle was burning at a furious rate, and the regiment was ordered further along. Inside of an hour they found themselves in McMinnville, and here the battalions were divided. A portion of a Confederate regiment had taken a stand at a cotton mill not a great distance from the depot, and Deck's battalion was sent to the place to dislodge them.

    With the intrepid major at the head, the four companies advanced on the double-quick until the cotton mill in question was gained. A halt was made, and as several shots were fired, the major directed his companies to take shelter behind a number of outbuildings. Here several Confederates were brought to light and made prisoners.

    The taking of the cotton mill looked as if it would be a much harder task than had been that of deposing the company at the trestle. The Confederates were located at every window and door of the building, and as soon as any one of Deck's command appeared he was fired upon. Moreover, the mill stood in a plot of ground by itself, so it could not be approached excepting by a dash through the open.

    "We have a nice bit of work cut out for us now, Major," observed Captain Abbey, of the first company, as he gazed at the solid-looking building in perplexity. "That makes a first-class fort."

    "I was thinking as much myself," answered Deck.

    "Can't we smoke them out--as we did down to the railroad?"

    "There is nothing at hand with which to build a fire. I wouldn't care to burn the fellows up, either."

    "Then let them come out and surrender."

    "The mill is on fire!" suddenly shouted some one. "The enemy must have set the blaze themselves."

    The report was correct, and in a minute more a heavy volume of smoke burst from several windows. Men leaped from half a dozen openings, and in a short while enough had gathered to form a good-sized company.

    "Charge!" yelled a captain, savagely. "Break right through the Northern mudsills!"

    And the Confederates charged, straight for the two companies commanded by Captain Richland and Artie Lyon.
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