was, of course, a critical and anxious hour, inasmuch as a dashing force might, on the necessary reduction of our fire, get across and capture some of our longest-served and latest-removed guns.
Deep dusk had now arrived; certain batteries, as allowed, were on their way inland, while others, as directed, were well using ammunition still on hand. My own position was taken near the point of chief importance, directly back from the ford, so that I might the better know of and control each requisite operation. The members of my staff vigorously seconded my endeavors, under furious fire, in carrying orders and supervising their fulfillment, and everything appeared likely, under favoring Providence, to result in effecting the withdrawal planned.
This prospect was, however, suddenly changed. A number of infantry
men rushed rapidly by the point I occupied. Arresting them, I learned that they were of the sharpshooters who held guard at the ford; that their body had all given way, and that some of the enemy were already on our side of the river. Worn as were these men, their state of disorder, akin to panic, was not, justly, to be met with harshness. They were, however, encouraged to be steady and useful in checking disorder, and affording such tokens as they might, in the settling dark, of force, to make the enemy cautious. No other means had I of keeping back an advance. All my staff were, at the moment, absent but two, one of whom was instantly sent to find, as carefully as possible, the state of facts toward the ford; the other, to secure the orderly retirement of the last batteries and of everything attached to my own headquarters, evidences being unmistakable that the reported crossing was in part a fact. My personal situation was all the while necessarily much exposed, and now to easy capture, accessible as it was to cavalry in a few moments, should such have crossed and be coming forward.
The arrival of our own cavalry being now unlikely, I had to determine, at once, what duty required of myself. The enemy would doubtless adopt one of two courses; either, shrinking from hidden danger, cautiously proceed only 100 or 200 yards, or, more adventurous, push on a force along the chief road as he could find it. In the former case, our guns, &c., would, as considerately instructed, get fairly out of reach, and this was, in the main, my expectation; still, the other course, a pushing hostile force, had to be provided for. I therefore proceeded to a point in the road probably not then reached by any party of the enemy, on foot and leading my horse, and accompanied by my adjutant and ordnance sergeant, who had rejoined me, along a path still thundered over by the enemy's shells and crossing the road inland from the river. Those shells were obviously indicative of no intended advance of any considerable body of the enemy; firing on their own troops thus would scarcely be risked. Along the road I found the rear of our artillery column properly moving. Mounting here, I rode with the column and employed the two young officers in moving our hospital camp and enforcing order along the entire column.
While thus proceeding, I learned that General Pryor was resting not far ahead with the division under his command. Finding him perhaps within 2 miles of the river, I made known to him the state of facts, and asked of him a detail to go back with me that I might at least, were any guns captured, recover them, or, endangered, secure them. The general thought the responsibility too serious for him to assume, and requested me to refer the matter to General Hood, supposed near. General Hood's staff was found on the march, but himself, unwell, I was told, I did not see. No one could inform me where General Longstreet