« PreviousContinue »
run low, and but one line of communication was left open to them—that of the railroad in the eastern part of the state. By a flank movement the Confederates succeeded in putting a line across the last highway; thus they were hemmed in; starvation or surrender stared them in the face; one alternative or the other must be accepted in a few days, unless some unexpected change took place.
Gen. Thomas grew hourly pale and despairing; he thought the fate perhaps of a nation was depending upon his action; but he was not the man to yield until every resource had been sounded to the bottom, and there was one resource left, and that was desperate and almost hopeless.
Forty miles to the eastward of them lay Stockton's command of nearly 30,000 men, unconscious of the terrible danger awaiting both commands. Stockton's command had been directed to occupy a pass in the mountains on the left, and to hold it until further orders. Of course, unaware of the terrible
condition of the main army, he would make no movement for their relief.
Communications were now entirely cut off, and it seemed an utter impossibility to re-open them through the heavy line of Confederates which lay across the railroad. Thomas, however, determined to try it, and selected three resolute and tried men from that noble army for the dangerous, but honorable, duty.
They had reason to believe that the enemy had not destroyed the railroad, and if not captured at the outset they might succeed in taking an engine through to Kanakia Station, where Stockton, with his command, lay.
All things ready and orders given at 10:30 they mounted the engine that was to carry them to death, or save an army. Before starting, the engineer ordered two tallow cans to be put on board as he was going to make time and expected the machine would heat up finely; the cans were stowed away in the caboose, the engineer opened the throttle-valve; amidst an impressive silence of the soldiers surrounding the starting point they slowly moved away. They passed the first battery and were under the guns of two
The works at that point had been constructed to command the junction of a union line with another running south. There was also a station at that point, and as they whirled passed they saw an engine standing on a side-track with steam up; they also caught sight of a number of men running toward it and others busy with the car, but going as they were at break-neck speed it was impossible for them to ascertain the cause of the bustle, but they found out too soon. They were preparing to give them a chase, and capture them if possible !