Here to return to
THE field of Chickamauga — a worthily resounding name for one of the great battlefields of the world — lies a few miles south of the Tennessee and Georgia boundary, and is distant about an hour’s ride by rail from Chattanooga. A single morning train outward, and a single evening train inward, made an all-day excursion necessary, and the time proved to be none too long. Unhappily, as I then thought, the sun was implacable, with the mercury in the nineties, though it was only the 3d of May; and as I was on foot, and the national reservation covers nine or ten square miles, I saw hardly more than a corner of the field. This would have been a more serious disappointment had my errand been of a topographical or historical nature. As the case was, being only a sentimental pilgrim, I ought perhaps to have welcomed the burning heat as a circumstance all in my favor; suiting the spirit of the place, and constraining me to a needful moderation. When a man goes in search of a mood, he must go neither too fast nor too far. As the Scripture saith, “Bodily exercise profiteth little.” So much may readily be confessed now; for wisdom comes with reflection, and it is no great matter to bear a last year’s toothache.
From the railway station I followed, at a venture, a road that soon brought me to a comfortable, homelike house, with fine shade trees and an orchard. This was the Dyer estate, — so a tablet informed all comers. Here, in September, 1863, lived John Dyer, who suddenly found his few peaceful acres surrounded and overrun by a hundred thousand armed men, and himself drafted into service — if he needed drafting — as guide to the Confederate commander. Since then strange things had happened to the little farmhouse, which now was nothing less than a sort of government headquarters, as I rightly inferred from the general aspect of things round about, and the American flag flying above the roof. I passed the place without entering, halting only to smile at the antics of a white-breasted nuthatch, — my first Tennessee specimen, — which was hopping awkwardly about the yard. It was a question of something to eat, I suppose, or perhaps of a feather for the family nest, and precedents and appearances went for nothing. Two or three minutes afterward I came face to face with another apparition, a horseman as graceful and dignified, not to say majestic, as the nuthatch had been lumbering and ungainly; a man in civilian’s dress, but visibly a soldier, with a pose and carriage that made shoulder-straps superfluous; a man to look at; every inch a major-general, at the very least; of whom, nevertheless, — the heat or something else giving me courage, — I ventured to inquire, from under my umbrella, if there were any way of seeing some of the more interesting portions of the battlefield without too much exposure to the sun. He showed a little surprise (military gentlemen always do, so far as I have observed, when strangers address them), but recovered himself, and answered almost with affability. Yes, he said, if I would take the first turn to the left, I should pass the spot over which Longstreet made the charge that decided the fate of the contest, and as he spoke he pointed out the field, which appeared to be part of the Dyer farm; then I should presently come within sight of the Kelly house, about which the fighting was of the hottest; and from there I should do well to go to the Snodgrass Hill tower and the Snodgrass house. To do as much as that would require little walking, and at the same time I should have seen a good share of what was best worth a visitor’s notice. I thanked him, and followed his advice.
The left-hand road, of which my informant had spoken, ran between the forest — mostly of tall oaks and long-leaved pines — and the grassy Dyer field. Here it was possible to keep in the shade, and life was comparatively easy; so that I felt no stirrings of envious desire when two gentlemen, whom I recognized as having been among my fellow-passengers from Chattanooga, came up behind me in a carriage with a pair of horses and a driver. As they overtook me, and while I was wondering where they could have procured so luxurious a turnout, since I had discovered no sign of a public conveyance or a livery stable, the driver reined in his horses, and the older of the gentlemen put out his head to ask, “Were you in the battle, sir?” I answered in the negative; and he added, half apologetically, that he and his companion wished to get as many points as possible about the field. In the kindness of my heart, I told him that I was a stranger, like himself, but that the gentleman yonder, on horseback, seemed to be well acquainted with the place, and would no doubt answer all inquiries. With a queer look in his face, and some remark that I failed to catch, my interlocutor dropped back into his seat, and the carriage drove on. It was only afterward that I learned — on meeting him again — that he was no other than General Boynton, the man who is at the head of all things pertaining to Chickamauga and its history.
In the open field several Bachman finches were singing, while the woods were noisier, but less musical, with Maryland yellow-throats, black-poll warblers, tufted titmice, and two sorts of vireos. Sprinkled over the ground were the lovely spring beauty and the violet wood sorrel, with penstemon, houstonia, and a cheerful pink phlox. Here I soon heard a second nuthatch, and fell into a kind of fever about its notes, which were clearer, less nasal, than those of our New England birds, it seemed to me, and differently phrased. Such peculiarities might indicate a local race, I said to myself, with that predisposition to surprise which is one of the chief compensations of life away from home. As I went on, a wood pewee and a field sparrow began singing, — two birds whose voices might have been tuned on purpose for such a place. Of the petulant, snappish cry of an Acadian flycatcher not quite the same could be said. One of the “unreconstructed,” I was tempted to call him.
The Kelly house, on the way to which through the woods my Yankee eyes were delighted with the sight of loose patches of rue anemones, was duly marked with a tablet, and proved to be a cabin of the most primitive type, standing in the usual bit of fenced land (the smallness of the houseyards, as contrasted with the miles of open country round about, is a noticeable feature of Southern landscapes), with a corn-house near by, and a tumbledown barn across the way. For some time I sat beside the road, under an oak; then, seeing two women, older and younger, inside the house, I asked leave to enter, the doors being open, and was made welcome with apparent heartiness. The elderly woman soon confided to me that she was seventy-six years old, — a marvelous figure she seemed to consider it; and when I tried to say something about her comparative youthfulness, and the much greater age of some ladies of my acquaintance (no names being mentioned, of course), she would only repeat that she was awful old, and shouldn’t live much longer. She meant to improve the time, however, — and the unusual fortune of a visitor, — and fairly ran over with talk. She didn’t belong about here. Oh no; she came from “‘way up in Tennessee, a hundred and sixty miles!” “‘Pears like I’m a long way from home,” she said, — “a hundred and sixty miles!” Again I sought to comfort her. That wasn’t so very far. What did she think of me, who had come all the way from Massachusetts? She threw up her hands, and ejaculated, “Oh, Lor’!” with a fervor to which a regiment of exclamation points would scarcely do justice. Yet she had but a vague idea of where Massachusetts was, I fancy; for pretty soon she asked, “Where did you say you was from? Pennsylvany?” And when I said, “Oh no, Massachusetts, twice as far as that,” she could only repeat, “Oh, Lor’!” Her grandson was at work in the park, and she had come down to live with him and his wife. But she shouldn’t live long.
The wonder of this new world was still strong upon her. “Them moniment things they’ve put up,” she said, “have you seen ‘em? Men cut in a rock! — three of ‘em? Have you seen ‘em? Ain’t they a sight to see?” She referred to the granite monuments of the regulars, on which are life-size figures in high relief. And had I seen the tower on the hill, she proceeded to ask, — an open iron structure, — and what did I think of that? She wouldn’t go up in it for a bushel of money. “Oh yes, you would,” I told her. “You would like it, I’m sure.” But she stuck to her story. She wouldn’t do it for a bushel of money. She should be dizzy; and she threw up her hands, literally, at the very thought, while her granddaughter sat and smiled at my waste of breath. I asked if many visitors came here. “Oh, Lor’, yes!” the old lady answered.
“More ‘n two dozen have been here from ‘way up in Chicago.”
The mention of visitors led the younger woman to produce a box of relics, and I paid her a dime for three minis-balls. “I always get a nickel,” she said, when I inquired the price; but when I selected two, and handed her a ten-cent piece, she insisted upon my taking another. Wholesale customers deserved handsome treatment. She had picked up such things herself before now, but her husband found most of them while grubbing in the woods.
The cabin was a one-room affair, of a sort common in that country (“cracker-boxes,” one might call them, if punning were not so frowned upon), with a big fireplace, two opposite doors, two beds in diagonally opposite corners, and, I think, no window. Here was domestic life in something like its pristine simplicity, a philosopher might have said: the house still subordinate to the man, and the housekeeper not yet a slave to furniture and bric-à-brac. But even a philosopher would perhaps have tolerated a second room and a light of glass. As for myself, I remembered that I used to read of “poor white trash” in anti-slavery novels.
By this time the sun had so doubled its fury that I would not cross the bare Kelly field, and therefore did not go down to look at the “men cut in a rock;” but after visiting a shell pyramid which marks the spot where Colonel King fell, — and near which I saw my first Tennessee flicker, — I turned back toward Snodgrass Hill, keeping to the woods as jealously as any soldier can have done on the days of the battle. At the foot of the hill was a well, with a rude bucket and a rope to draw with. Here I drank, — having to stand in the sun, I remember, — and then sat down in the shelter of large trees near by, with guideboards and index-fingers all about me, while a Bachman finch, who occupied a small brush-heap just beyond the well (he had no fear of sunshine), entertained me with music. He was a master. I had never beard his equal of his own kind, and seldom a bird of any kind, that seemed so much at home with his instrument. He sang “like half a dozen birds,” to quote my own pencil; now giving out a brief and simple strain, now running into protracted and intricate warbles; and all with the most bewitching ardor and sweetness, and without the slightest suggestion of attempting to make a show. A field sparrow sang from the border of the grassland at the same moment. I wished he could have refrained. Nothing shall induce me to say a word against him; but there are times when one would rather be spared even the opportunity for a comparison.
As I went up the hill under the tall trees, largely yellow pines, a crested flycatcher stood at the tip of one of the tallest of them, screaming like a bird of war; and further on was a red-cockaded woodpecker, flitting restlessly from trunk to trunk, its flight marked with a musical woodpeckerish wing-beat, — like the downy’s purr, but louder. I had never seen the bird before except in the pine-lands of Florida, nor did I see it afterward except on this same hill, at a second visit. It is a congener of the downy and the hairy, ranking between them in size, and by way of distinction wears a big white patch, an earmuff, one might say, on the side of its head. Its habitat is strictly southern, so that its name, Dryobates borealis, though easily rememberable, seems but moderately felicitous.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the day — the most comfortable, certainly, but the words are not synonymous — was a two hour siesta on the Snodgrass Hill tower, above the tops of the highest trees. The only two landmarks of which I knew the names were Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain; the latter running back for many miles into Georgia, like a long wooded plateau, till it rises into High Point at its southern end, and breaks off precipitously.
Farther to the south were low hills followed by a long mountain of beautiful shape, — Pigeon Mountain, I heard it called, — with elevations at each end and in the middle. And so my eye made the round of the horizon, hill after hill in picturesque confusion, till it returned to Missionary Ridge, with Walden’s Ridge rising beyond, and Lookout Point on the left: a charming prospect, especially for its atmosphere and color. The hard woods, with dark pines everywhere among them to set them off, were just coming into leaf, with all those numberless, nameless, delicate shades of green that make the glory of the springtime. The open fields were not yet clear green, — if they ever would be, — but green and brown intermixed, while the cultivated hillsides, especially on Missionary Ridge, were of a deep rich reddish-brown. The air was full of beautifying haze, and cumulus clouds in the south and west threw motionless shadows upon the mountain woods.
Around me, in different parts of the battlefield, were eight or ten houses and cabins, the nearest of them, almost at my feet, being the Snodgrass house, famous as the headquarters of General Thomas, the hero of the fight, — the “Rock of Chickamauga,” — who saved the Union army after the field was lost. All was peaceful enough there now, with the lines full of the week’s washing, which a woman under a voluminous sunbonnet was at that moment taking in (in that sun things would dry, almost before the clothes-pins could be put on them, I thought), while a red-gowned child, and a hen with a brood of young chickens, kept close about her feet. Her husband, like the occupant of the Kelly house, was no doubt one of the government laborers, who to-day were burning refuse in the woods, — invisible fires, from each of which a thin cloud of blue smoke rose among the trees. The Dyer home, in a direction nearly opposite the Snodgrass house, stood broadly in the open, with an orchard behind it, and dark savins posted here and there over the outlying pasture.
Even at noonday the air was full of music: first an incessant tinkle of cow-bells rising from all sides, wondrously sweet and soothing; then a continuous, far-away hum, like a sawmill just audible in the extreme distance, or the vibration of innumerable wires, miles remote, perhaps, — a noise which I knew neither how to describe nor how to guess the origin of, the work of seventeen-year locusts, I afterward learned; and then, sung to this invariable instrumental accompaniment, — this natural pedal point, if I may call it so, — the songs of birds.
The singers were of a quiet and unpretentious sort, as befitted the hour: a summer tanager; a red-eyed vireo; a tufted titmouse; a Maryland yellow-throat, who cried, “What a pity! What a pity! What a pity!” but not as if he felt in the least distressed about it; a yellow-throated vireo, full-voiced and passionless; a field sparrow, pretty far off; a wood pewee; a yellow-billed cuckoo; a quail; a Carolina wren, with his “Cherry, cherry, cherry!” and a Carolina chickadee, — a modest woodland chorus, interrupted now by the jubilant cackling of a hen at the Snodgrass house (if a man’s daily achievements only gave him equal satisfaction!) and now by the scream of a crested flycatcher.
The most interesting member of the choir, though one of the poorest of them all as a singer, is not included in the foregoing enumeration. While I lay dreaming on the iron floor of the tower, enjoying the breeze, the landscape, the music, and, more than all, the place, I was suddenly brought wide awake by a hoarse drawling note ont of the upper branches of a tall oak a little below my level. I caught a glimpse of the bird, having run down to a lower story of the tower for that purpose. Then he disappeared, but after a while, from the same tree, he called again; and again I saw him, but not well. Another long absence, and once more, still in the same tree, he sang and showed himself: a blue-winged yellow warbler, an exquisite bunch of feathers, but with a song of the oddest and meanest, — two syllables, the first a mere nothing, and the second a husky drawl, in a voice like the blue golden-wing’s. Insignificant and almost contemptible as it was, a shabby expression of connubial felicity, to say the least, I counted myself happy to have heard it, for novelty covers a multitude of sins.
The yellow-throated warblers were hardly less interesting than the blue-wing, though they threw me into less excitement. For a long time I heard them without heeding them. From the day of my arrival in Chattanooga I had been surrounded by indigo birds in numbers beyond anything that a New England mind ever dreams of. As a matter of course they were singing here on Snodgrass Hill, or so I thought. But by and by, as the lazy notes were once more repeated, there came over me a sudden sense of difference. “Was that an indigo-bird?” I said to myself. “Wasn’t it a yellow-throated warbler?” I was sitting among the tops of the pine-trees; the birds had been droning almost in my very ears, and without a thought I had listened to them as indigo-birds. It confirmed what I had written in Florida, that the two songs are much alike; but it was a sharp lesson in caution. When a prudent man finds himself thus be-fooled, he begins to wonder how it may be with the remainder of that precious body of notions, inherited and acquired, to which, in all but his least complacent moods, he has been accustomed to give the name of knowledge.
Here was a lesson, also, in the close relation that everywhere subsists between the distribution of plants and the distribution of animals. These were the only yellow pines noticed in the neighborhood of Chattanooga; and in them, and nowhere else, I found two birds of the Southern pine-barrens, the red-cockaded woodpecker and the yellow-throated warbler.
At the base of the tower, when I finally descended, I paused a moment to look at a cluster of graves, eight or ten in all, unmarked save by a flagging of small stones; one of those family or neighborhood burying-grounds, the occupants of which — happier than most of us, who must lie in crowded cities of the dead — repose in decent privacy, surrounded by their own, with no ugly staring white slabs to publish their unmemorable names to every passer-by. From the hill it was but a few steps to the Snodgrass house, where a woman stood in the yard with a young girl, and answered all my inquiries with cheerful and easy politeness. None of the Snodgrass family now occupied the house, she said, though one of the daughters still lived just outside the reservation. The woman had heard her describe the terrible scenes on the days of the battle. The operating-table stood under this tree, and just there was a trench into which the amputated limbs were thrown. Yonder field, now grassy, was then planted with corn; and when the Federal troops were driven through it, they trod upon their own wounded, who begged piteously for water and assistance. A large tree in front of the house was famous, the woman said; and certainly it was well hacked. A picture of it had been in “The Century.” General Thomas was said to have rested under it; but an officer who had been there not long before to set up a granite monument near the gate told her that General Thomas didn’t rest under that tree, nor anywhere else. Two things he did, past all dispute: he saved the Federal army from destruction and made the Snodgrass farmhouse an American shrine.
When our talk was ended I returned to the hill, and thence sauntered through the woods — the yellow-throated warblers singing all about me in the pine-tops — down to the vicinity of the railroad. Here, finding myself in the sun again, I made toward a shop near the station, — shop and post-office in one, — where fortunately there were such edibles, semi-edibles, as are generally to be looked for in country groceries. Meanwhile there came on a Tennessee thunder shower, Iightning of the closest and rain by the bucketful; and, driven before it, an Indiana soldier made his appearance, a wiry little man of fifty or more. He had been spending the day on the field, he told me. In one hand he carried a battered and rusty cartridge-box, and out of his pockets he produced and laid on the counter a collection of bullets. His were relics of the right stamp, — found, not purchased, — and not without a little shamefacedness I showed him my three minie-balls. “Oh, you have got all Federal bullets,” he said; and on my asking how he could tell that, he placed a Confederate ball beside them, and pointed out a difference in shape. He was a cheery, communicative body, good-humored but not jocose, excellent company in such an hour, though he had small fancy for the lightning, it seemed to me. Perhaps he had been under fire so often as to have lost all relish for excitement of that kind. He was not at the battle of Chickamauga, he said, but at Vicksburg; and he gave me a vivid description of his work in the trenches, as well as of the surrender, and the happiness of the half-starved defenders of the city, who were at once fed by their captors.
All his talk showed a lively sense of the honors of war. He had seen enough of fighting, he confessed; but he couldn’t keep away from a battlefield, if he came anywhere near one. He had been to the national cemetery in Chattanooga, and agreed with me that it was a beautiful place; but he had heard that Southern soldiers were lying in unmarked graves just outside the wall (a piece of misinformation, I have no doubt), and he didn’t think it right or decent for the government to discriminate in that way. The Confederates were just as sincere as the Union men; and anyhow, vengeance ought not to follow a man after he was dead. Evidently he had fought against an army and a cause, not against individuals.
When the rain was over, or substantially so, I proposed to improve an hour of coolness and freshness by paying another visit to headquarters; but my Indiana veteran was not to be enticed out of shelter. It was still rather wet, he thought. “I’m pretty careful of my body,” he added, by way of settling the matter. It had been through so much, I suppose, that he esteemed it precious.
I set out alone, therefore, and this time went into the Dyer house, after drinking from a covered spring across the way. But there was little to see inside, and the three or four officers and clerks were occupied with maps and charts, — courteous, no doubt, but with official and counting-house courtesy; men of whom you could well enough ask a definite question, but with whom it would be impossible to drift into random talk. There was far better company outside. Even while I stood in the back door, on my way thither, there suddenly flashed upon me from a treetop by the fence a splendid Baltimore oriole. He fairly “gave me a start,” and I broke out to the young fellow beside me, “Why, there’s a Baltimore oriole!” The exclamation was thrown away, but I did not mind.
It was the birds’ own hour, — late afternoon, with sunshine after rain. The orchard and shade-trees were alive with wings, and the air was loud. How brilliant a company it was a list of names will show: a mocking-bird, a thrasher, several catbirds, a pair of bluebirds, a pair of orchard orioles, a summer tanager, a wood pewee, and a flicker, with goldfinches and indigo-birds, and behind the orchard a Bachman finch. For bright colors and fine voices that was a chorus hard to beat. As for the Baltimore oriole, the brightest bird of the lot, and the only one of his race that I found in all that country, he looked most uncommonly at home — to me — in the John Dyer trees. I was never gladder to see him.
A strange fate this that had befallen these Georgia farms, owned once by Dyer, Snodgrass, Kelly, Brotherton, and the rest: the plainest and most ordinary of country houses, in which lived the plainest of country people, with no dream of fame, or of much else, perhaps, beyond the day’s work and the day’s ration. Then comes Bragg retreating before Rosecrans, who is manœuvring him out of Tennessee. Here the Confederate leader turns upon his pursuers. Here he — or rather, one of his subordinates — wins a great victory, which nevertheless, as a Southern historian says, “sealed the fate of the Southern Confederacy.” Now the farmers are gone, but their names remain; and as long as the national government endures, pilgrims from far and near will come to walk over the historic acres. “This is the Dyer house,” they will say, “and this is the Kelly house, and this is the Snodgrass house.” So Fame catches up a chance favorite, and consigns the rest to oblivion.
My first visit to Chickamauga left so pleasant a taste that only two days afterward I repeated it. In particular I remembered my midday rest among the treetops, and my glimpse of the blue-winged warbler. It would be worth a day of my vacation to idle away another noon so agreeably, and hear again that ridiculous makeshift of a Birdsong. Field ornithology has this for one of its distinguishing advantages, that every excursion leaves something for another to verify or finish.
This time I went straight to Snodgrass Hill through the woods, and was barely on the steps of the tower before I heard the blue-wing. As well as I could judge, the voice came from the same oak that the bird had occupied two days before. I was in luck, I thought; but the miserly fellow vouchsafed not another note, and I could not spend the forenoon hours in waiting for him. Two red-cockaded woodpeckers were playing among the trees, where, like the blue-wing and the yellow-throats, they were doubtless established in summer quarters. “Sapsuckers,” one of the workmen called them. They were common, he said, but likely enough he failed to discriminate between them and their two black-and-white relatives. Red-headed woodpeckers were not common here (I had seen a single bird, displaying its colors from a lofty dead pine), but were abundant and very destructive, so my informant declared, on Lookout Mountain. Turkeys were still numerous on the mountain, and only the Sunday before one had been seen within the park limits.
The Bachman finch was again in tone at his brush-heap near the well, and between the music and a shady seat I was in no haste to go further. Finally, I experimented to see how near the fellow would let me approach, taking time enough not to startle him in the process. It was wonderful how he held his ground. The “Rock of Chickamauga” himself could not have been more obstinate. I had almost to tread on him before he would fly. He was a great singer, a genius, and a poet,
and withal a lover of the sun, — a bird never to be forgotten. I wish I knew how to praise him.
To-day, as on my previous visit, I remarked a surprising scarcity of migrants. With the exception of black-poll warblers, I am not certain that I saw any, though I went nowhere else without finding them in good variety. Had my imagination been equal to such a stretch, I might have suspected that Northern birds did not feel at home on the scene of a great Southern victory. Here and there a nuthatch called, and again I seemed to perceive a decided strangeness in the voice. From the tip of a fruit-tree in the Kelly yard a thrasher or a mocker was singing like one possessed. It was impossible to be sure which it was, and the uncertainty pleased me so much, as a testimony to the thrasher’s musical powers, that I would not go round the house in the sun to get a nearer observation. Instead, I went down to look at the monuments of the regulars, with their “men cut in a rock.” Thence I returned to Snodgrass Hill for my noonday rest, stopping once more at the well, of course, and reading again some of the placards, the number of which just here bore impressive witness to the fierceness of the battle at this point. One inscription I took pains to copy:
GEN. J. B. HOOD WAS WOUNDED
It was exactly eleven o’clock as I went up the hill toward the tower, and the workmen were already taking down their dinner-pails. Standard time, so called, is an unquestioned convenience, but the stomach of a day-laborer has little respect for convention, and is not to be appeased by a setting back of the clock. For my own part, I was not hungry, — in that respect, as in some others, I might have envied the day-laborers, but as men of a certain amusing sort are said to turn up their trousers in New York when it rains in London, so I felt it patriotic to nibble at my luncheon as best I could, now that the clocks were striking twelve in Boston.
The hour (but it was two hours) calls for little description. The breeze was delicious, and the hazy landscape beautiful. The cowbells and the locusts filled the air with music, the birds kept me company, and for half an hour or more I had human society that was even more agreeable. When the workmen had eaten their dinner at the foot of the tower, four of them climbed the stairs, and my field-glass proved so pleasing a novelty that they stayed till their time was up, to the very last minute. One after another took the glass, and no sooner had it gone the rounds once than it started again; for meanwhile every man had thought of something else that he wanted to look at. They were above concealing their delight, or affecting any previous acquaintance with such a toy, and probably I never before gave so much pleasure by so easy a means. I believe I was as happy as if the blue-wing had sung a full hour. They were rough-looking men, perhaps, at least they were coarsely dressed, but none of them spoke a rude word; and when the last moment came, one of them, in the simplest and gentlest manner, asked me to accept three relics (bullets) which he had picked up in the last day or two on the hill. It was no great thing, to be sure, but it was better: it was one of those little acts which, from their perfect and unexpected grace, can never be forgotten.
A jaunt through the woods past the Kelly house, after luncheon, brought me to a superfine, spick-and-span new road, — like the new government “boulevard” on Missionary Ridge, of which it may be a continuation, — following which I came to the Brotherton house, another war-time landmark, weather-beaten and fast going to ruin. In the woods — cleared of underbrush, and with little herbage were scattered ground flowers: houstonia, yellow and violet oxalis, phlox, cranesbill, bird-foot violets, rue anemones, and spring beauties. I remarked especially a bit of bright gromwell, such as I had found first at Orchard Knob, and a single tuft of white American cowslip (Dodecatheon), the only specimen I had ever seen growing wild. The flower that pleased me most, however, was the blood-red catch-fly, which I had seen first on Missionary Ridge. Nothing could have been more appropriate here on the bloody field of Chickamauga. Appealing to fancy instead of to fact, it nevertheless spoke of the battle almost as plainly as the hundreds of decapitated trees, here one and there one, which even the most careless observer could not fail to notice.
From the Brotherton house to the post-office was a sunny stretch, but under the protection of my umbrella I compassed it; and then, passing the Widow Glenn’s (Rosecrans’s headquarters), on the road to Crawfish Springs, I came to a diminutive body of water, — a sink-hole, — which I knew at once could be nothing but Bloody Pond. At the time of the fight it contained the only water to be had for a long distance. It was fiercely contended for, therefore, and men and horses drank from it greedily, while other men and horses lay dead in it, having dropped while drinking. Now a fence runs through it, leaving an outer segment of it open to the road for the convenience of passing teams; and when I came in sight of the spot, two boys were fishing round the further edge. Not far beyond was an unfinished granite tower, on which no one was at work, though a derrick still protruded from the top. It offered the best of shade, — the shadow of a great rock, — in the comfort of which I sat awhile, thinking of the past, and watching the peaceful labors of two or three men who were cultivating a broad ploughed field directly before me, crossing and recrossing it in the sun. Then I took the road again; but by this time I had relinquished all thought of walking to Crawfish Springs, and so did nothing but idle along. Once, I remember, I turned aside to explore a lane running up to a hillside cattle pasture, stopping by the way to admire the activities — and they were activities — of a set of big scavenger beetles. Next, I tried for half a mile a fine new road leading across the park to the left, with thick, uncleared woods on one side; and then I went back to Bloody Pond.
The place was now deserted, and I took a seat under a tree opposite. Prodigious bullfrogs, big enough to have been growing ever since the war, lay here and there upon the water; now calling in the lustiest bass, now falling silent again after one comical expiring gulp. It was getting toward the cool of the afternoon. Already the birds felt it. A wood thrush’s voice rang out at intervals from somewhere beyond the ploughed land, and a field sparrow chanted nearer by. At the same time my eye was upon a pair of kingbirds, — wayfarers hereabout, to judge from their behavior; a crested flycatcher stood guard at the top of a lofty dead tree, and a rough-winged swallow alighted on the margin of the pool, and began bathing with great enjoyment. It made me comfortable to look at him. By and by two young fellows with fishing-poles came down tho railroad.
“Why is this called Bloody Pond?” I asked.
“Why, there were a lot of soldiers killed here in the war, and the pond got bloody.” The granite tower in the shadow of which I had rested awhile ago was General Wilder’s monument, they said. His headquarters were there. Then they passed on down the track out of sight, and all was silent once more, till a chickadee gave out his sweet and quiet song just behind me, and a second swallow dropped upon the water’s edge. The pond was of the smallest and meanest, — muddy shore, muddy bottom, and muddy water; but men fought and died for it in those awful September days of heat and dust and thirst. There was no better place on the field, perhaps, in which to realize the horrors of the battle, and I was glad to have the chickadee’s voice the last sound in my ears as I turned away.