A BAFFLED AMBUSCADE
by Ambrose Bierce
Connecting Readyville and Woodbury was a good,
hard turnpike nine or ten miles long. Readyville
was an outpost of the Federal army at Murfreesboro;
Woodbury had the same relation to the Confederate
army at Tullahoma. For months after the big battle
at Stone River these outposts were in constant
quarrel, most of the trouble occurring, naturally,
on the turnpike mentioned, between detachments
of cavalry. Sometimes the infantry and artillery
took a hand in the game by way of showing their
One night a squadron of Federal horse commanded
by Major Seidel, a gallant and skillful officer,
moved out from Readyville on an uncommonly hazardous
enterprise requiring secrecy, caution and silence.
Passing the infantry pickets, the detachment soon
afterward approached two cavalry videttes staring
hard into the darkness ahead. There should have
"Where is your other man?" said the major. "I
ordered Dunning to be here tonight."
"He rode forward, sir," the man replied. "There
was a little firing afterward, but it was a long
way to the front."
"It was against orders and against sense for
Dunning to do that," said the officer, obviously
vexed. "Why did he ride forward?"
"Don't know, sir; he seemed mighty restless.
Guess he was skeered."
When this remarkable reasoner and his companion
had been absorbed into the expeditionary force,
it resumed its advance. Conversation was forbidden;
arms and accouterments were denied the right to
rattle. The horses' tramping was all that could
be heard and the movement was slow in order to
have as little as possible of that. It was after
midnight and pretty dark, although there was a
bit of moon somewhere behind the masses of cloud.
Two or three miles along, the head of the column
approached a dense forest of cedars bordering the
road on both sides. The major commanded a halt by
merely halting, and, evidently himself a bit
"skeered," rode on alone to reconnoiter. He was
followed, however, by his adjutant and three
troopers, who remained a little distance behind
and, unseen by him, saw all that occurred.
After riding about a hundred yards toward the
forest, the major suddenly and sharply reined
in his horse and sat motionless in the saddle.
Near the side of the road, in a little open
space and hardly ten paces away, stood the
figure of a man, dimly visible and as motionless
as he. The major's first feeling was that of
satisfaction in having left his cavalcade behind;
if this were an enemy and should escape he would
have little to report. The expedition was as yet
Some dark object was dimly discernible at the
man's feet; the officer could not make it out.
With the instinct of the true cavalryman and a
particular indisposition to the discharge of
firearms, he drew his saber. The man on foot
made no movement in answer to the challenge.
The situation was tense and a bit dramatic.
Suddenly the moon burst through a rift in the
clouds and, himself in the shadow of a group
of great oaks, the horseman saw the footman
clearly, in a patch of white light. It was
Trooper Dunning, unarmed and bareheaded. The
object at his feet resolved itself into a dead
horse, and at a right angle across the animal's
neck lay a dead man, face upward in the moonlight.
"Dunning has had the fight of his life," thought
the major, and was about to ride forward. Dunning
raised his hand, motioning him back with a gesture
of warning; then, lowering the arm, he pointed
to the place where the road lost itself in the
blackness of the cedar forest.
The major understood, and turning his horse
rode back to the little group that had followed
him and was already moving to the rear in fear
of his displeasure, and so returned to the head
of his command.
"Dunning is just ahead there," he said to the
captain of his leading company. "He has killed
his man and will have something to report."
Right patiently they waited, sabers drawn, but
Dunning did not come. In an hour the day broke
and the whole force moved cautiously forward,
its commander not altogether satisfied with his
faith in Private Dunning. The expedition had
failed, but something remained to be done.
In the little open space off the road they
found the fallen horse. At a right angle
across the animal's neck face upward, a bullet
in the brain, lay the body of Trooper Dunning,
stiff as a statue, hours
Examination disclosed abundant evidence that
within a half-hour the cedar forest had been
occupied by a strong force of Confederate
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~