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    Chapter 24

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    Chapter 25
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    Captain Vallingham was a graduate of West Point who had gone into the volunteer service of the South immediately after Fort Sumter was fired upon. He had attached himself to the cavalry at first, but had soon been transferred, by his own wish, to the signal corps.

    The corps as operated in the army of Tennessee under General Braxton Bragg was a poor one, yet it did some excellent work in those districts where travelling from one hilltop to another was slow work, but where the topography was just right for sending messages from point to point by means of various signalling apparatuses.

    The captain was a brave fellow, and four years at our national military academy had "taught him a thing or two," as old army officers are wont to express it. He was a prisoner of the enemy, but he did not intend to remain so very long, if he could help it. To think that he had been captured by a Union officer much younger than himself, supported by only one or two followers, filled him with chagrin, and he resolved to square matters with Deck at the first opportunity.

    Like the young major of the first battalion, the Confederate captain owned a horse that he had trained from ponyhood; but, unlike Deck, he still possessed the steed and was now riding him. In addition to this, the Confederate officer knew every foot of the ground the whole party were now traversing. He resolved to make use of his knowledge and of the abilities of his horse at the first opportunity.

    The chance was not long in coming. At one point in the trail along the creek, the rocks came to within ten feet of the water, so that the safe part of the road was only wide enough for one rider to pass along at a time. Consequently, the party had to move ahead in single file, Captain Knox leading, Deck following, and Captain Vallingham coming next, with the remaining Confederates behind him, the sharpshooters bringing up in the rear.

    The rocks were from six to ten feet in height, and were covered in spots with sparse growths of brush. Back of them, at a distance of a hundred feet or more, was a hill, leading up into a growth of cedars.

    As the narrowest part of the trail was gained, Captain Vallingham dropped behind, until fifteen or twenty feet separated him and Deck. Then, of a sudden, he drew his horse around and spoke to the animal. The intelligent equine understood, and with one marvellous leap, cleared the edge of the rocks and stood on the flat surface above. Without a halt, Captain Vallingham urged him forward, and away he went at a breakneck speed for the cedars.

    The two Confederates riding back of their leaders saw the movement the instant it was made, but they said nothing. Deck heard the noise as the horse landed on the rocks and turned as quickly as he could. From where he sat nothing could be seen but the top of the escaping man's head, and he fired at this, putting a hole through Captain Vallingham's hat and giving the alarm.

    "Escaping, is he!" cried Life, and just then the rifle of the first of the sharpshooters rang out, and another ballet increased the ventilation in the daring man's head-covering. The second and the third sharpshooters tried to urge their horses up the rocks, but this could not be done, and they made the leaps alone, directly from their saddles.

    "Stay back and watch these two!" cried Deck, to Life and the two remaining sharpshooters, and leaped up the rocks. As he landed, he heard a splash in the water, and glancing back saw that one of the other prisoners had tried to escape by swimming the creek. The movement was a foolish one, for the moment he reappeared, in midstream, both of the sharpshooters still on the trail fired at him, killing him instantly.

    By the time Deck had reached the top of the rocks, Vallingham had covered half of the distance to the cedars. He was urging his horse along among the tallest brush the plain of rocks afforded, and it was difficult to get another shot at him. Deck fired once, and so did one of the sharpshooters behind him, but the bullets whistled harmlessly among the cedars beyond.

    "He's got the bulge on us, Major, bein' mounted!" panted Clefton, who now caught up to Deck. "How he got his hoss to take that jump is a mystery to me."

    "If I had had Ceph I could have jumped after him," answered Deck, and a pang of regret shot through his heart, as he realized what a great help noble Ceph had been to him. "Clefton, you run to the right and I will run to the left. Sanford, you keep on straight ahead. Unless he knows those woods thoroughly, he'll be bothered to find a path, and will have to turn in one direction or another."

    By the time Major Lyon had ceased speaking, Vallingham had gained the first of the cedars. He struck the woods at a spot where the ground was very uneven, and turned to the left,--the direction Deck had assigned to himself.

    Ordinarily it is impossible for a man on foot to catch up with a running horse, although the man may be able to overtake the horse in the course of two or three days' running, if the man is a trained runner. But Captain Vallingham had to move along with a certain amount of caution, for if his steed went down into a hole and broke a leg, the game would be up. Being closer to the ground, Deck could see fairly well, and he came along without slacking his speed.

    The major was within a hundred feet of the Confederate, and was on the point of calling upon him to halt, when Vallingham slipped behind the first growth of cedars and out of sight.

    "This way, boys!" called Deck, and made for the spot, with Clefton and Sanford not over two hundred feet away. There was a small brook to cross, and he came into the woods over some uncovered roots of trees and amid a mass of half-rotted leaves and pine needles and cones.

    "Captain Vallingham, you might as well give up!" he called out. "You cannot escape."

    "Follow me at your peril!" came back in a determined voice. "I am not unarmed, as you suppose."

    This reply startled Deck, but in a moment he made up his mind that the Confederate was bluffing, and he did not slacken his speed. Clefton called to him, and he ordered both sharpshooters to come into the woods with him.

    There was a road through the cedars, starting from a point to the north of where Vallingham had entered. Toward this road the Confederate now pressed, with Deck at his heels, trying to get a shot, but balked by the trees and the darkness. More than once, the major went down, and he wondered how the escaping prisoner could keep in the saddle.

    As a matter of fact, Vallingham had dismounted, and was leading his steed for the road. He was armed, as he had intimated, but his weapon was nothing more formidable than a stout stick just picked up. He reached the road at last, and leaped into the saddle once more.

    Deck came into the opening before Vallingham had advanced more than ten yards. In the gloom he saw the forms of horse and rider, and fired twice in quick succession, at the same time calling upon Clefton and Sanford that the prisoner was again in sight.

    The second leaden messenger from the major's weapon struck the Confederate's horse in the flank, and he leaped to one side from the pain, unseating Vallingham, and sending the captain to the ground. The shock was a heavy one, and ere the captain could recover, Deck was upon him.

    "Do you surrender, or shall I fire on you?" demanded the young Union officer.

    "I--I surrender," groaned Vallingham. "Oh! I am afraid I have broken a rib."

    "If you have, I am sorry for you, but you brought it on yourself," answered Deck, coolly. "Sit still until the others come up."

    Clefton and Sanford were in sight, and a call brought them to Deck's side. By this time Captain Vallingham had grown very pale; and suddenly he fainted. Water was brought, and he revived, but he said his right side hurt him a good deal where it had struck against a sharp stone.

    The horse that had been wounded walked lamely, but was still in fair condition, and the Confederate, being unable to walk, was allowed to ride, Sanford leading the steed. The whole party turned back to the trail, where they found Life and his men and the third prisoner awaiting them.

    "And so Colver is gone," said Captain Vallingham, when told of the shooting of the man who had leaped into the creek. "Poor fellow; I am afraid I am responsible for his rashness."

    "It was a fool move all round, Cap'n," growled the third prisoner, and the captain did not gainsay it.

    Once more the march for the Union encampment was resumed, and this time a close watch was kept on the prisoners, something which was now scarcely necessary, as Captain Vallingham was in no condition to attempt another escape, and the other prisoner being far too scared to dream of such a thing.

    It was dawn of the following day when Major Lyon finally reached headquarters, having placed the prisoners in Life's charge, to be turned over to the proper authorities in the camp.

    He found the general commander just finishing his scant toilet, after taking a much-needed sleep of a few hours.

    "Be brief, Major Lyon, for I have little time to spare," he said, as he motioned Deck to a chair.

    Deck had prepared his report in his mind before announcing himself, and was as terse as any one could wish. The general listened attentively, and studied the maps and the note-book with interest.

    "This is another feather in your cap, Major Lyon," he said, at the conclusion of the interview. "I shall make mention of it."

    "The men under me are as much entitled to credit as myself," answered the young major, wishing to be entirely fair. Yet it must be confessed that his bosom swelled with pride at his commander's words.

    "Possibly they are;--they shall be remembered also," was the rejoinder, and then the major was dismissed, to make place for several others who had come in to report.

    "You ought to be an out-and-out scout, Deck!" cried Artie, when the two got together later in the day. "Life has been telling me about what was done. I only wish I had been along." And later on Sandy Lyon said the same thing.

    Information had been obtained, some days back, that the Union commander, Burnside, had occupied Knoxville, and that his opponent, S. B. Buckner, had retreated to Loudon. It was now stated that fifteen thousand Confederate forces were on their way to join Bragg. The question was, would the two forces concentrate in Chattanooga, or at some place outside, to do battle with the army of the North?

    As has been said, the Army of the Cumberland lay along the western base of the mountains. On the 7th of September, Negley's division commenced the ascent of the steep sides, and at four o'clock in the afternoon gained the summit. A reconnaissance was made by Colonel Wood, and it was found that the enemy had heavy guns in the vicinity, covering the eastern side of the mountain. The next day General Negley seized Cooper's and Stevens' Gaps, finding the latter heavily barricaded.

    Other troops moved in various directions. The Riverlawns, with the cavalry on the extreme right, were ordered to sweep through Broomtown Valley and seize the railroad in the vicinity of Dalton, thus cutting off the enemy's line of communication in this district.

    The Riverlawns moved forward full of enthusiasm, and satisfied that at last some sort of a battle was at hand. But, alas! those hopes were doomed to disappointment. Bragg was leaving Chattanooga as fast as he could, and by the 9th of the month, everybody in the Army of the Cumberland knew it. Rosecrans had gained "The Gateway to Georgia," by strategy alone.

    As the enemy had retired, there was but one thing left to do,--go after him and compel him to either fight or surrender, and this Rosecrans did without a moment's delay.

    As Chattanooga was abandoned, General Crittenden took possession without serious opposition. The remainder of his troops were called up from the river, and on the same day that the news of the evacuation was spread around, he started with his corps for Ringgold, arriving at Rossville that evening. On the same day, Negley marched to McLemore's Cove, a split formed between Lookout Mountain and Pigeon Mountain, where he met the enemy's outposts and drove them back for several miles. At the same time Heg's brigade marched into Broomtown Valley, to support the cavalry, should they be needed.

    The pursuit was growing warm, and the next day the advance of the Union troops was checked in several places and severe skirmishes resulted. General Bragg had left Chattanooga in haste, but had no idea of retreating without a battle. He reckoned that the Union forces were larger in numbers than his own, and he devised a plan for meeting them not as a whole but by columns.

    The Confederate's first combination was directed against the corps under General Thomas. If he could reach and crush Thomas's force before the others could come up, he felt the remainder of the campaign would be comparatively plain sailing. The division under Negley at McLemore's Cove was not allowed to rest, for Bragg ordered a movement against it in great force.

    Had Bragg's orders been carried out, there is no doubt but that Negley's division would have been overwhelmed by mere force of numbers if nothing else. But fortunately for Thomas's corps there was a delay. Hill sent word that the gaps were filled with felled timbers and could not be cleared in twenty-four hours. Bragg then ordered Buckner forward to coöperate with Hindman, but there was another fatal halt. To hasten this battle Bragg then moved his headquarters to Lafayette, and ordered more soldiers to this united attack, which was to fall on Negley, who was isolated from the balance of the Fourteenth Army Corps by mountains hard to travel.

    All day long the Confederate commander listened for Hindman's proposed attack, but it did not come, for Hindman thought the force before him too strong and awaited reënforcements under Hill. In the meantime, General Baird had come to Negley's support. There was some sharp fighting, but Negley's division was saved and withdrew to the base of Lookout Mountain, where it was joined by Reynold's and Brennan's divisions; and then the Union centre was once more secure.
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