Ed Cade quietly hurried through Virginia forest undergrowth into his first ambush position, touch-checking to make sure that all eight of the Colt .44 revolvers belted to his hips and shoulders had arrived with him. They had.
He drew two of them, cocked them, and settled into a reasonably comfortable position as he watched two others of his ambush team settle into positions of their own.
Perhaps fifteen minutes passed before a long line of grey-uniformed men, their rifles at the ready, advanced cautiously northward and slightly upward along the mountainside through the early morning mists of the forest.
Because of the morning mist, Cade couldn't tell how far the line extended, but it seemed that there were a helluva lot more rebel soldiers than he'd been told to expect. Oh, well. Too late now to cancel the damned party.
Some ten to fifteen paces behind the first line, a second line of men also moved forward, following almost in the footsteps of the those ahead.
Cade silently watched the first line of Confederate soldiers pass his position and hoped that none of them would stumble onto one of his men and start the shooting too soon.
As the second line neared, he saw that one of the first-line soldiers was dangerously near Clarke's position. That didn't necessarily mean that Clarke would break cover by shooting, but it can be damned difficult to sit still when someone who'd cheerfully shoot you is about to step on you.
Corporal Higgins knew what to do. A pistol hammer cocked well away down the western end of the lines, briefly halting nearly all of the soldiers and calling their attention that direction. Some dropped to one knee to aim that direction. The really smart ones dropped flat.
A Confederate lieutenant hurried behind the first line to hold a short conference with a sergeant about halfway to Higgins' position. After some moments of whispering, the sergeant raised an arm and motioned forward.
Men began breathing and moving again; some stepping forward carefully through the damp vegetation and some getting back to their feet with muttered cursings about being soaked with dew.
The first line of men had completely passed Cade's position. It was time.
Cade quickly fired each of his revolvers at nearby soldiers, shifted his aim slightly and fired at two more, and then he dove to his left and fired upward at two more from behind his secondary position's covering foliage.
As most of the other Confederate soldiers pivoted toward Cade, Clarke and fourteen other Union men opened fire in the same manner as Cade, each of them taking down as many as six rebels with their first volleys and ducking fast for their secondary covers.
Although most of the nearest enemy soldiers fell, others began blindly returning fire through the billowing gunsmoke that filled the air and thickened the morning mist.
Perhaps half a dozen enemy rounds tore through foliage where Cade had been. Only two of the remaining soldiers in his immediate vicinity were still clearly visible and aiming his way.
Cade's next two shots took them down before he stepped behind a tree, stood up, and chose two new targets among those who'd dropped flat to frantically reload their rifles.
From well behind Cade's victims came shouts and the sound of men crashing rapidly through the forest toward them. The main body of troops had begun a charging advance.
Cade whistled two tones, then repeated them; the signal to fall back. A few more rounds were fired here and there and Cade saw vague shadows running through the misty haze.
One of the soldiers lying on the ground near Cade raised his rifle and aimed at one of the shadows. Cade quickly put a round through the man's head, ducked low, backed away from his tree, and hurried to his next preselected position.
Covering each others' rapid retreats through the forest for about another fifty yards, Cade's men reached a treeless area. A soft, two-toned whistle sounded ahead them.
Cade returned the whistle, then stopped behind one of the last big trees at the edge of the clearing and kept an eye out for rebel soldiers as some of his men dashed past. When no more runners crossed the open area, Cade hunkered a bit and tried to keep the big tree directly behind him as he also ran toward the first line of Union riflemen.
Jumping an overgrown culvert where the first rank of riflemen were waiting, Cade continued twenty yards or so and dropped into another, equally overgrown culvert as he looked for Lieutenant Davis and found him.
Cade's men took positions among the riflemen as Lieutenant Ephraim Davis whispered, "Things went well, I take it?"
"Oh, hell, yeah," replied Cade, "Just fucking fine, LT. There were quite a few more than we were told to expect, but we dropped damned near all of their first two ranks. I heard the men behind them start forward when the firing stopped. They ought to make it at least this far before they realize something's not right."
Lieutenant Davis's mouth was open to say something, but a sentry's hand descended twice to enforce silence. Almost as Cade had finished speaking, the front lines of the advancing rebel soldiers came crashing through the mist to the open area.
Some of them weren't very far at all from the concealed riflemen when Davis yelled, "Fire!" and the Union rifles erupted.
Many of the rebs at the front of the charge fell immediately, but by no means all of them. Almost none of the surprised rebs returned fire instantly, but as some of them spotted and aimed at Union soldiers, Cade's men opened fire on them.
As quickly as he fired the last rounds from his revolvers, Cade dropped them and drew two more without taking his eyes off the action beyond the culvert.
Behind Cade's culvert, the third rank of Union rifles had sent another volley of lead into the rebel charge and again Cade's men picked off those who'd remained on their feet.
The rebel charge broke apart and the remaining rebel soldiers dove for any cover they could find, some even using the bodies of their fallen comrades as shelter from Union fire.
Firing was sporadic for a time, then it ceased altogether as men from both sides watched and waited for valid targets. Cade used the lull to begin reloading his revolvers.
Lieutenant Davis used hand signals to direct and reposition some of his men as he approached, then he said softly, "All appears to be going according to plan, Sergeant."
Gunshots from some distance to the west caused Cade to chuckle and glance up after ramming a load into a revolver's cylinder. He spoke as he powdered the next chamber.
"LT, I love a good plan as well as anyone, but I've never really been able to put my complete faith in them, y'know? The rebs've already started investigating their cage. You've got a few dozen men at each end, right?"
Lifting an eyebrow, Davis replied archly, "Indeed I have, Sergeant."
"And our boys are already closing in from a hundred yards out on both sides of 'em, also right?"
Davis nodded. "Yes. Of course."
"What's the signal to bring them in faster?"
"There's no such signal, Sergeant. They aren't supposed to come in 'faster'. They're intended to securely cover each side as others begin closing the trap at the other end." With an impatient sigh, he added, "And you well know that, so why did you even ask?"