february 22, 1862
"Keep those men out of there! They will not pass!"
Seeley's words were harsh, loud, the men around him doing all they could to obey. The shotguns hung by each man's side, and the lieutenant felt a shaking nervousness, was not ready to give the order that would point the long guns at these civilians. Like him, most of these troopers had never fired their weapons at anything but crude targets. Now the targets were men, surging toward him through the darkness, pushing their way toward the gaping doorways of the supply depot, a massive warehouse close to the river. Seeley had positioned his six horsemen in an even line, to block the way of the crowd, but the crowd was a mob, desperate and mindless, their goal the precious food and bundles of supplies that lay in the warehouse. A few cavalry meant nothing at all, and quickly the mob pushed into them, some slipping past, between the horses. He felt his own frustration rising, could feel the tinderbox explosiveness of the mob, and he shouted out again, could not help the higher pitch, his voice betraying the fear.
"You will stand away! These are government stores!"
Close between him and the next man, a civilian shoved hard, jostling his horse, punching it.
"Get out of my way! Damn you!"
Seeley steadied the horse, his outrage more of instinct, protective of the animal. He drew his saber, but the man ignored him, punched the horse again, and the saber rose high, came down hard against the man's shoulder, flat-sided, the man collapsing right below him. The civilian rolled over, crying out, shielding himself with one hand above his face. There was no blood, not yet, the lieutenant trying to get control, the horse calmer, the man crawling out through the horse's legs. The lieutenant felt relief, did not want blood. He raised the saber again, mostly for show, but most of the mob ignored him, ignored all the horsemen, still pushed into the warehouse, spreading out in the dark. Behind him a lantern was lit, the glow filling the vast building with soft light reflecting off the mounds of boxes and barrels, bundles of cloth.
More cavalrymen galloped close, and he looked that way, hoped to see wagons, the army's own efforts to gather up the supplies, to move them out of this vulnerable place. But there were only men, a sergeant leading six more, and so Seeley was the only officer, was still in command, the sole authority. The horse jostled beneath him again, men still slipping by him in a rush, and he felt the saber in his hand, could not just assault these people, could not add to what was fast becoming a riot. But still . . . there were the orders, the strict need to guard what was piled up behind him. He steadied the animal with the reins, shouted toward the other horsemen, "Formation here! Beside us! No one is to pass! We must protect the depot!"
The other cavalrymen had already seen the futility of that, were as uncertain as he was. He wanted to shout again, but the mob was growing, more people coming down the side streets, noisy and energetic, women alongside men, shoving their way past, seeking anything they could carry. Some came past him the other way, from inside, weighed down by loot, by the very goods he was supposed to protect. He fought for it in his own mind, how to control these people, how to obey the orders he had been given, the responsibility for this one depot.
"Stop them! They must not pass!"
Seeley's anger was ripening into full fury,...