On the 17th, Merritt put Alfred Gibbs in command of a detachment: Gibbs was to take the Dragoons and two regiments of U.S. cavalry** and reconnoiter the vicinity. It so happens that the road took the Dragoons onto the very grounds where they'd received their cavalry training. This time, though, was not a drill. The Dragoons found a line of Confederate horsemen waiting for them. The graybacks opened fire, sending bullets flying: tiny leaden demons screaming through the air. The horses hadn't been in battle before, and they started shying. The men had been in battle before, as infantry. But now, up on horseback, they felt much more exposed, and many of the boys ducked.
Colonel Gibbs shouted, "Here, you men! Stop that ducking!"
Nathan's horse shied just as Nathan turned to see if one of his boys was ducking, and the saddle hit Nathan's scrotum at just the wrong angle, dealing a solid sharp crush to his testicle. The one that had given him trouble before. Nathan cried out. One of his boys asked, "You been hit, Sarge?"
Nathan managed to groan, "No."
One of the other companies charged; Company I. The lieutenant took a bullet through the groin. That stopped the charge -- his men wanted to bring him back to safety. So, having beaten off Company I, the Confederates let out with a rebel yell. It so happens that the sun was setting just then. It seemed to many of the Dragoons that the enemy was about to charge in the dimming light. But not Colonel Gibbs. He thought the Confederates were going to get away in the coming dark, and he didn't want that. Gibbs ordered the U.S. regiments into line, then ordered the brigade to advance. "Forward... guide right... charge!"
The Dragoons let out a mighty and manly yell, following Gibbs towards the enemy.
Nathan told his squadron, "Ready carbines!" The Confederates fired volleys, the Yanks fired volleys, and as the darkness grew, it became hard to tell where the enemy was, except by the flash of fire from their muzzles.
Nathan heard the next order and passed it on to his men: "Draw sabers!" The Dragoons rushed in, without much support from the United States regulars, and charged, hacking and slashing at the enemy. Now the Confederates started to fall back. And fell back. And fell back some more. Things got very confusing among the trees. Unfortunately, too confusing. Nathan dimly saw some rebel horsemen ahead and said, "This way, boys!"
The voice that responded came from the wrong direction, and extremely close. "There ain't no boys here, Yank. Just us Rebs. Drop the saber and put your hands up!"
Nathan didn't act fast enough. A rebel horseman on one side struck Nathan's saber with his own, but Nathan managed to maintain his grip.
A horseman on his other side snarled, "I'll learn you to drop it!" The reb swung his pistol, hitting Nathan in the ear and nearly knocking Nathan off his horse.
"Do you surrender now, Yank?"
"All right, all right! You got me, Johnny."
Nathan raised his hands. His horse's reigns were taken.
"Let's take him to the Major."
Nathan had a suspicion, and he figured it couldn't hurt to ask. "Major who?"
"Major John Mosby, Yank. The Gray Ghost himself. Now you just hush up until he asks you a question, y'hear?"
Nathan sighed. His head hurt. His crotch hurt. And now he was going to be interrogated by the most notorious guerrilla in the state of Virginia. Ain't war a grand adventure.
Nathan got a few passing stares from rebs they passed. And some catcalls.
"Well look what we got here!"
"Ain't that a purty blue uniform!"
"You're in for it now, Billy Yank!"
"Shoulda stayed up north where you belong!"
After being let in by the pickets, Nathan's new friends brought him into a clearing lit by lanterns. Among the partisan fighters, he could see uniforms of various shades of gray and butternut. One fellow wore a Yankee overcoat, another a civilian coat and tie, and another fellow wore Zouave trousers.
Nathan's captors stopped near a bunch of officers. The officers were paying attention to one officer, who wore a Yankee overcoat over a Confederate officer's uniform with a plume in his hat. When he turned to see the approaching party, all the officers turned, following his lead. This, apparently, was John Singleton Mosby himself.
One of Nathan's captors dismounted, ordering, "Get off yer horse, Yank. And stand at attention."
Mosby stepped forward, exhibiting a limp from a bullet wound he'd received the month before. Mosby struck an authoritative stance, even with his wound. By the lanternlight, Nathan could see that Mosby looked thin, with piercing gray eyes that matched his uniform. His dress was impressive, military, and heroically dashing in a D'Artagnan sort of way. Mosby held himself erect and looked down his nose at Nathan.
"What's your regiment?"
They didn't have "name, rank, and serial number" as a pre-arranged required answer in those days; there had been no training for post-capture expectations. It was for every man to decide for himself how to respond to questioning from the enemy. Nathan knew resistance was futile; his bleeding head wound was the proof. And he was proud to say his regiment's name. "First New York Dragoons."
His captor poked his back with a revolver muzzle. "Sir!"
"So, not a Wolverine. Where's the cavalry headed?"
"I don't know. Sir."
"Like hell you don't. You're a sergeant. You hear things. Where's Pleasonton?"
"I don't know, sir."
"I don't know, sir."
"Where are the trains?" Meaning, of course, the Federal supply wagons.
"I don't know, sir."
"What's your regiment again? New Jersey?"
"New York." Nathan had reacted unthinkingly to Mosby's intentional mistake. The revolver muzzle reminded him to add, "... sir."
Mosby could clearly see the shiny brass "1" on Nathan's cap.
"First New York Cavalry? Lincoln?"
"No, sir. First Dragoons."
Mosby scanned Nathan's uniform. "I see, you're new. Your colonel?"
"Buford, you old devil. What brigade?"
"Reserve Brigade, sir."
Nathan needed to be prodded. "General... Merritt? I think."
"Wesley Merritt." Mosby stared Nathan in the eye for a while. Then, "I ask you for the last time. And I will hang you if you do not tell me. Where is the cavalry headed?"
"I honestly do not know, sir."
Mosby sighed. Nathan's captor asked eagerly, "Can we string him up now, Major?"
"Never mind. Put him with the others, to be sent to Richmond."
* * *