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- Frank on the Lower Mississippi - 20/23 -


With the surrender of the rebels the object of the expedition had been accomplished--the guerrilla chief was their prisoner!

CHAPTER XIII.

Tom the Coxswain.

Now that the excitement was over, and Frank began to think more calmly, he found that he was wounded. The blow which had broken down his guard had spent its force on his head, which was bleeding profusely from a long, ragged cut. His face and clothing were covered with blood, but the wound had caused him no inconvenience. After Archie had bandaged it with his handkerchief, Frank began to look about him. The force of the rebels had originally consisted of fifteen men, of whom eight were lying, either dead or wounded, upon the floor. He could scarcely believe his eyes, and wondered how he and his companions had ever secured a victory against such heavy odds. Had the rebels, instead of relying upon their sabers and the superiority of their numbers, made use of the firearms that during the fight had become scattered about the hall, the result would have been far different. The fight, although a most severe one while it lasted, was not of more than five minutes' duration, and during that time eight rebels had been disabled, and six captured by four determined men; one only had escaped. As Archie afterward said, in a letter to his father, "It was the biggest _little_ fight" he was ever engaged in.

"Now, boys," said the major, as soon as he had satisfied himself that the remaining rebels were disarmed, "we've no time to lose. Paymaster, you and the coxswain station yourselves in those doors, and keep a good look-out, to prevent surprise. Captain, we will secure these prisoners."

One of the blankets that lay on the floor was speedily cut into strips, and with these the rebels, one after the other, were bound hand and foot. While this was going on, the leader of the guerrillas stood leaning against the wall, no doubt looking into the future, and pondering upon the punishment which, according to his own barbarous mode of warfare, he was certain would be meted out to him. He well knew what course _he_ would have pursued, had he been the victor instead of the prisoner, and, judging his captors by himself, he fully expected a speedy and terrible vengeance to be taken upon him. As these thoughts passed through his mind, he determined to make one bold effort at escape. Hastily glancing toward the door, where Archie stood looking up and down the road, he suddenly sprang forward, and giving him a violent push, that sent him headlong upon the portico, he jumped down the steps, and started for the gate at the top of his speed; but before he had gone half the distance, he was overtaken by the coxswain and thrown to the ground. The sailor, instead of standing in the door, in his eagerness, as he expressed it, to "ketch the first glimpse of any guerrilla craft that might be sailin' about," had come round to the front of the house just as the rebel had made his attempt to escape. Archie sprang to his feet and ran to the assistance of the coxswain, and by the time Frank and the major arrived, the rebel, who struggled most desperately, had been overpowered, and his hands bound behind his back. In a few moments more the prisoners were all secured, and, after a horse had been caught and saddled, the guerrilla placed upon it, his hands still bound, and the coxswain was ordered to take charge of him. The dead and wounded, together with the other prisoners, were left in the house, the doors of which were closed and fastened. They would, no doubt, soon be relieved by their friends, for the rebel who had escaped would, of course, procure assistance as soon as possible.

As soon as the major had satisfied himself that every thing was ready for the start, he mounted his horse and led the way down the road. It was now broad daylight, and their first thought was to place a safe distance between themselves and the scene of the fight, and then halt in the woods until night, when they would return to the vessel. But if this plan was adopted, it would give the guerrillas, who, of course, would hasten to the rescue of their leader, time to get between them and the river, in which case their capture was certain. Frank, who believed that every instant of time was valuable, and who delighted in dashing exploits, was in favor of returning at once to the vessel. Their horses were comparatively fresh, and, if they rode rapidly, they could make good their retreat before a sufficient force could be collected to pursue them. The major and Frank talked over these different plans as they rode along side by side, and the latter course was finally adopted. It was at once communicated to the others, and they pushed forward with all possible speed. Frank and the major rode in front, followed by the coxswain, who held fast to the horse which their prisoner rode, and Archie brought up the rear. In this manner they dashed along, passing several plantation-houses, whose inmates ran to the doors and gazed at them in astonishment. Half a dozen miles were passed over in this way without stopping, except to water their horses, and without seeing a single armed rebel, and Frank began to hope that the dangerous part of the undertaking was passed. If attacked by a superior force, the chances were that they would not only lose their prisoner, whose capture had been effected in so gallant a manner, but also their own liberty, and the thought of the treatment they would receive, judging by the order the guerrilla chief had given his men at the commencement of the fight, was enough to nerve them to make the greatest exertions to effect their escape. They had reloaded their pistols, the effective use of which had gained them a victory over almost four times their number, and Frank and Archie carried the shot-gun and carbine which they had found attached to the saddles of their horses, ready for instant use.

The rapid pace at which they were traveling had, at the end of an hour, put half a dozen miles more between them and the house where the fight had taken place, and they began to hope that, if they were followed at all, they were leaving the enemy behind. At length they came to a place where the road ran through a deep ravine, the sides of which were thickly covered with trees and bushes. They dashed along, their horses hoofs ringing loud and clear on the hard road, but as they came suddenly around a bend, almost before they were aware of it, they had run into the very midst of a small band of rebels, who were traveling as rapidly as themselves. They were not entirely unprepared for this encounter. Although they had hoped that they might be able to avoid it, they had held themselves in readiness for it, while the rebels, being taken by surprise, scattered in every direction, as if fully expecting to see a whole army of Federals close at their heels. As they dashed by, Frank fired both barrels of his gun, which emptied more than one saddle, and the others had just time to follow with a volley from their revolvers, when another bend in the road hid them from sight. It was quickly done. Before the rebels had time to think twice, the danger was over. The enemy had met them, sent three of their number to the ground, and disappeared as rapidly as they had come. But the rebels did not remain long inactive. They quickly satisfied themselves that those who had just passed were not the advance-guard of an army, as they had at first supposed, and presently the officers heard the clatter of hoofs behind them, accompanied with loud yells, and knew that the guerrillas had commenced the pursuit. Although, as we have said, the rebels had but a small force, they still greatly outnumbered Frank's party, and nothing but the most rapid flight could save them. Frank's only fear was that their pursuers would come in sight of them, and begin to pick them off at long range with their carbines, a proceeding which nothing but the numerous windings in the road prevented.

"If we do not get into a scrimmage, boys," said the major, speaking as calmly as though he was at that very moment safe in the cabin of the Boxer, "we must stick together, if possible; but if they come on us in a heavy force, we must separate and every man take care of himself."

"Oh, you needn't look so mighty pleased, Johnny!" exclaimed the coxswain, addressing himself to his prisoner, who now looking upon his rescue as beyond a doubt, could not repress a smile of triumph. "Shiver my timbers! you're not loose yet. You're just as safe here as though you were in the brig [Footnote: The brig is a small dark apartment in the hold of a vessel, in which culprits are confined.] and in double irons. Look as mad as you please, Johnny," he continued, as the guerrilla scowled savagely upon him, "a man who has smelt powder in a'most every battle fought on the Mississippi River an't often skeered by looks."

The major had, several times during the retreat, cautioned the coxswain to keep a fast hold of his prisoner, and not to allow him to escape under any circumstances. But Frank, who knew his man, had never thought the caution necessary. He had often seen the sailor in action on board ship, and the gallant manner in which he had saved his officer's life during the fight at the house, had fully satisfied the young commander that the coxswain was not the man to shrink from his duty because it was dangerous. His reply to the major had been:

"If this Johnny rebel an't safe in the brig tonight, sir, then Captain Nelson will have to make a new cox'son for the first cutter, an' another cap'n for that number two gun. I'll either take him safe through, or I'll never hear the bo'son pipe to dinner ag'in."

All this while they had been tearing along the road as fast as their horses could carry them, but rapidly as they went, the sounds of pursuit grew louder, and the yells fiercer and more distinct, showing that the guerrillas were gaining on them. Suddenly they emerged from the woods, and found before them a long, straight road, with broad fields on each side. Before they could pass this, the rebels would certainly come in sight, and, if they did not overtake them, they would at least open fire on them with their carbines.

Frank gradually drew in his horse and fell back beside his cousin. Archie was deadly pale, but he sat firmly on his horse and handled his carbine with a steady hand.

"Archie," said he, "you and I must cover the retreat of the others. Don't waste your ammunition now."

They had accomplished perhaps a quarter of the distance across the road when the foremost of their pursuers came in sight. In an instant Archie turned in his saddle, and leaving his horse to pick out his own road, he raised his gun to his shoulder and fired. A moment afterward a riderless horse was rearing and plunging about among the rebels, throwing them into confusion. This was the time for Frank, and he discharged both barrels of his gun in quick succession. The buckshot must have done terrible execution, for when the smoke cleared away, they saw the rebels retreating to the cover of the bushes. One, more daring than the rest, lingered a moment, to fire his carbine, and the fugitives heard the bullet sing through the air above their heads.

Although they were not more than five minutes crossing the road and entering the woods on the opposite side, it seemed an age to them, and they had scarcely reached the cover of the trees, when the rebels again coming in sight, fired a scattering volley after them, which rattled through the trees and sent a shower of leaves and twigs about them. The guerrillas then continued the pursuit as fiercely as ever, every time they came in sight firing their carbines, which Archie answered with effect; but they wisely kept out of range of the buck-shot in Frank's double-barrel.

Hour after hour the chase continued, the guerrillas every time they appeared having their ranks thinned by Archie's unerring rifle, until finally the fugitives heard a sound that told them in plain language that their danger was yet by no means passed. A whole chorus of hoarse


Frank on the Lower Mississippi - 20/23

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