Was cold. From the Duck River to the Tennessee, that December of 1864, all the marshes were frozen. Slumped forward in his saddle, Paris Griffin, who had ridden with Forrest's command for three full years now, could see the infantrymen swarming like buzzards over the carcass of a mule, while the wagons General Forrest had put them in, to save their poor feet from being cut to pieces by the flint-hard mud, waited. They weren't after meat, though mule steak could fill a belly mighty handily; what they wanted was the hide which made a fairly tolerable pair of moccasins. There wasn't a hat left among the infantry. Because, while a man's head could stand the sleet filled winds, a man's feet left bloody tracks across the mud turned black ice, unless he wrapped them in something and a felt hat made a fine warm covering for one foot. For every man who had both feet wrapped in felt, Paris knew you could count a comrade dead. Because Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga, had commanded the Union forces at Nashville, with Wilson, the one blueclad cavalry leader at least three-quarters as good as Nat Forrest himself, serving under him.
So now the Confederate Horse had slanted down from Murfreesboro to put itself between Hood's retreating army and Thomas' mighty paw. They were getting murdered piecemeal in a hundred brief, hopeless stands to hold off Thomas' army, Wilson's cavalry, long enough for the broken, tattered, bloody remnants of Hood's forces to get back across the Tennessee; and it was beginning to dawn on even the riders who boasted the highest esprit de corps in military history that a nation which had to send its infantry into battle barefooted in December, was on its last, distinctly wobbly legs.
But Paris Griffin wasn't thinking about that. To be precise, he wasn't thinking about anything. He no longer remembered when he had first succeeded in the difficult business of the complete suspension of thought, except that it had been a long time ago, certainly as far back as the summer of 1862, when they were driving Union General Buell crazy by raiding from their base at Murfreesboro over much of the same territory where they were now, two and a half years later; and maybe in those dim days of antiquity when he'd ridden out of Fort Donelson with the then Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest to go on fighting instead of staying and surrendering with the rest. There was a very simple formula for this easy evasion of the despair that was numbing his fellow troopers all around him; but it was a formula that couldn't be shared. It consisted of flight to regions of the spirit so far off that maybe it reached beyond the spirit itself into what was essentially a kind of death, since life is much more than the drawing of breath, which was all he was doing now.
It was cold, was cold. And the sleet came down in a grey hissing. He, Paris Griffin, listened to that hiss, letting it enter through his ears until all his mind was filled with it so that there was nothing insi