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[362] Word was also received by General Meade that the rebel corps that had moved down the valley was returning, leaving the impression that it was their intention to make the desperate stand and give us the decisive battle at that point. Acting upon this information General Meade directed General French to suspend his main operations for the present and mass his troops in rear of the points already gained, and ordered up the bulk of his army, in anticipation of a battle on the following morning. The narrow gap was crowded all night with bodies of troops, packed in dense masses so thick as scarcely to be able to lie down. What sleeping was done was done under arms and in battle array.

The dispositions for battle were all made as the troops arrived during the evening, and at early daylight we had a line of battle which, if it was not very extensive, was certainly most formidable. It stretched, however, from mountain to mountain across the mouth of the pass, and would have defied assault. But no assault came. When daylight appeared the fact was revealed that the enemy had wholly disappeared.

From prisoners captured during the morning more exact information of the enemy's movements was obtained. It appeared then that the information brought in by our scouts was entirely erroneous; that the column of troops seen by Colonel Hayden was the rear of their whole line, and was a portion of Rhodes's division; that the forces met in the gap were some of Ewell's corps, who merely wished to hold the gap long enough to allow their column to cross the Shenandoah and move by on its way down the valley.

A detachment from the Third corps was ordered forward early in the morning, and passed unopposed into Front Royal, arriving there only in time to see the dust of the rear of the enemy's column moving away southward. The returning force of the rebels that our scouts had reported, and on which information General Meade had based his calculations for a great battle, proved to be simply a battery sent back by Longstreet to aid in holding the mouth of the gap during the night.

Thus it is seen on how small a circumstance a whole campaign may turn. General Meade, by moving into Manassas Gap and preparing for battle there — for which he certainly was justifiable, having such positive information to guide him — lost two days and a half of time in his southerly march, thus fully enabling Lee to reach the south of the Rappahannock before General Meade could possibly do so.

The brilliant affair in the Manassas Gap receives the title of the battle of Wapping Heights from the name of the system of hills upon which it occurred. There were a number of interesting incidents that occurred during the engagement, of which I have time to give but a few.

The old Excelsior brigade never behaved with greater credit to itself and the army than on this occasion. Officers and men vied with each other in deeds of heroism.

Color-Sergeant Dodds, of the Fifth regiment, carried his colors in front of the regiment unti. exhausted with fatigue, the enemy's bullets perforating the old flag at every step, and flying about the gallant color-bearer like hail. When too much exhausted to lead the. regiment, Colonel Hall took the flag himself and bore it before the command on horseback, making himself a target for the enemy's shots. Color-Sergeant Smith, of the First, was wounded in the arm while bearing the flag of his regiment in front of the line. Although severely wounded, he simply changed hands and continued to bear the national emblem, waving it before the men to encourage them to press forward.

Colonel Farnum, of the First, was shot in his foot, and his horse was badly wounded; but be refused to leave the field.

Major Mehan, of the First, and Major Burns of the Fourth, both had horses shot from under them, the former also suffering a severe contusion by his fall.

Captain Price, of the First, who was killed, was the author of the famous Homestead bill, and has a wide reputation in the country as the champion of homestead exemptions. He was a brave and gallant soldier, much beloved by his command.

Lieutenant Preston, of the Fifth, who was also killed, was wounded at Chancellorsville. He had just returned to his command, his former wounds having but recently healed.

General Prince, commanding the Second division, accompanied the Excelsior brigade in its charge, assuming the general direction of its movements. He would have pressed the noble brigade forward into Front Royal had he not been overtaken by a staff-officer, with orders to him to halt in his pursuit. He showed himself a most gallant and brave soldier, as he has done on former occasions.

General French handled his corps most efficiently, winning the highest encomiums from his superiors and from the commanders of corps in his rear, who were watching his movements. He fully demonstrated that, in his hands, the old Third corps would lose none of its nown.

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