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Cannon still thundered to right and left, and now and then showers of bursting shell sprayed over the heads of the tired and gloomy soldiers. Dick, thoughtful and scholarly, was in the depths of a bitterness and despair reached by few of those around him. The Union, the Republic, had appealed to him as the most glorious of experiments. He could not bear to see it broken up for any cause whatever. It had been founded with too much blood and suffering and labor to be dissolved in a day on a Virginia battlefield.
But the army that had almost grasped victory was retreating, and the camp followers, the spectators who had come out to see an easy triumph, and some of the raw recruits were running. A youth near Dick cried that the rebels fifty thousand strong with a hundred guns were hot upon their heels. A short, powerful man, with a voice like the roar of thunder, bade him hush or he would feel a rifle barrel across his back. Dick had noticed this man, a sergeant named Whitley, who had shown singular courage and coolness throughout the battle, and he crowded closer to him for companionship. The man observed the action and looked at him with blue eyes that twinkled out of a face almost black with the sun.
“Don’t take it so hard, my boy,” he said. “This battle’s lost, but there are others that won’t be. Most of the men were raw, but they did some mighty good fightin’, while the regulars an’ the cavalry are coverin’ the retreat. Beauregard’s army is not goin’ to sweep us off the face of the earth.”
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