five companies strong, about 270 men. The two largest companies being
the ones from the 12th Michigan.
Quietly, they marched southwest of their camps towards the Corinth Road.
In the pitch black, only the sound of rustling uniforms and the occasional
jangle of a cartridge box and canteen broke the stillness of the night.
Unconsciously, James stroked the smooth octagonal barrel of his Dimick.
Patrick fussed with the cartridge box, and Ezra Lampkin sniffled and wiped
his running nose on his sleeve.
They were only three quarters of a mile from their camps when each man
snapped erect and alert at the crack of two muskets, and then a few more.
In the dim light, James could barely make out the shadowy form of two
"Skirmish line! Skirmish line!" Major Powell ordered frantically,
and the men reacted as best they could in a state of confusion in the
darkness, stumbling and tripping but forming a thin staggered line.
The fire of the vedettes was soon joined with that of a couple Confederate
pickets in the trees. The hastily formed skirmish line turned slightly
and advanced into Fraley Field.
"My word, they were close to camp," Ainsley Stuart said behind
"Sir!" James growled, knowing that an officer had more important
things to do than give commentary. "Sir," he repeated less harshly.
"They are close," Joe Tucker observed.
"I cain' hardly see a thing," Ezra Lampkin complained.
Patrick raised his rifle and took aim at where he had just seen a flash.
"Not yet," James whispered to his friend and reluctantly Patrick
returned the rifle to a ready position across his body. In the dim light
of the early morning, James thought he spotted dark forms moving in front
of the trees on the other end of the field.
"When do we get to fire on these bushwhackers?" Seth Dreyer
said impatiently from down the loose line.
"When the major gives the word," James said, his voice sounding
gruff and threatening without even trying, "And not before!"
Behind them, Ainsley Stuart peered into the middle of the patrol's small
skirmish line, searching for Major Powell's silhouette. Taking his family
sword out of its scabbard and pulling out the pistol with his other hand,
Ainsley looked odd, even with the darkness hiding his gaunt and awkward
But also hidden was the determined look on his face. To himself, Ainsley
quietly recited Colonel Peabody's orders, "Drive in the guard and
open up on the reserve." They were in the process of doing just that.
Suddenly, the stationary figures 160 yards ahead changed the peaceful
dawn with an eruption of noise and flash. Ainsley wasn't the only one
startled by the small volley. Seth Dreyer halted in his boots only to
be unceremoniously shoved forward by James.
"Come..." James began, only to be interrupted by Major Powell's
order to return fire. On this far end of the line, James and the others
never actually heard the command, but it was clear enough that the order
had been given, a ragged volley ran down their line.
"Independent fire! Independent fire!" James heard the echoed
order after they had all emptied their weapons.
He was already reloading his Dimick when he noticed some of the other
men slow to do so. "Just like we drilled before," he said in
a calm voice that was still loud enough to be heard by those around him.
With individual cracks and flashes, the Confederates fired.
Slowly, James' ears became deadened to the crack of rifles and the occasional
zing of a bullet, but it was the thump of a musket ball meeting flesh
that caught his attention.
With a puzzled look, he looked to his left where the peculiar sound came
from and saw a pair of boots and a form lying in the grass. His eyes followed
the boots up to the trousers and uniform. Although it was still too dark
to see a face, he knew exactly who it was from the full stomach that strained
"Ezra," Patrick said matter-of-factly as he rammed another minie
ball into his Dimick.
"Keep up the fire, boys," Ainsley interrupted from behind them.
Aware that a few men were gawking at the company's first casualty, he
shouted encouragement to them with a voice that none of them had heard
before from his skinny body. A resonating tenor shouted at them with a
calm presence. "Hot and steady, boys! Hot and steady!"
The fire picked up pace again, and despite the seriousness of their actions,
James knew he was smiling a little. Ainsley was going to make a good officer
James took aim at what he guessed was a Rebel, although it might have
been a tree. As if in answer to his question, a flash appeared from the
spot, and James instantly answered it. Although he was sure the shot had
been true, and with his Dimick it was well within his range, he could
not tell if the silhouette was still there or not. As he took another
paper cartridge from his box and tore the end off with his teeth, he wondered
how the Wisconsin boys at the other end of the line were faring. He knew
that they had been equipped with heavy Belgian muskets, and it would take
an excellent shot and a little luck to hit anything with a musket from
The black of night slowly turned to a dark blue and in the growing strands
of light, James lost count of how many times he had fired.
The change in daylight and the rate of fire from the Confederates was
almost imperceptible, but slowly, the patrol was getting the upper hand
and though there were a number of blue coated men down, they were maintaining
a higher rate of fire than the Rebels.
Major Powell noticed it also and gave the order to advance. Obediently,
the patrol edged closer.
Even the cry of pain from his left did not shake James' attention as he
focused on the Confederate pickets.
"Forward, company! Forward!" Ainsley urged above the intermittent
A few more bullets whizzed by overhead, and the patrol stopped in its
tracks but not because of the bullets.
It was the sight of an entire Confederate line of battle emerging from
the trees - thousands of men all shoulder to shoulder in two rows, stepping
off in near unison.
"Oh, my God!" Joe Tucker gasped.
James' eyes flashed from one end of the line to the other. The butternut
line stretched as far as could be seen. James didn't even want to know
what was hidden beyond sight in the trees to the right. It was obvious
to every man in the patrol that this was more than anyone anticipated.
This was Johnston's army! Stunned, James realized that they had bumped
headlong into a massive Confederate assault. No army could organize so
many so quickly. The only way that so many men could be in a line of battle
already was that they had already been marching. The Confederates had
planned a surprise attack!