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Doc. 98.-Occupation of Fairfax Court House, Va.


General McDowell's despatch.

Fairfax Court House, July 17, 1861.
Colonel E. D. Townsend, Headquarters of the Army at Washington:--
we have occupied Fairfax Court House, and driven the enemy towards Centreville and Manassas. We have an officer and three men slightly wounded. The enemy's flight was so precipitate that he left in our hands a quantity of flour, fresh beef, intrenching tools, hospital furniture, and baggage. I endeavored to pursue beyond Centreville, but the men were too much exhausted to do so.

Most respectfully yours,

Irwin McDowell, Brigadier-GeneraL


New York times narratives.

Fairfax Court House, Va., Wednesday, July 17, 1861.
Here we are — in peaceable possession of Fairfax Court House, without a fight and in hot pursuit of a flying foe. The column will move on as soon as the others come up, and probably encamp at Centreville to-night, within eight miles of Manassas Junction, at which point the rebels can be accommodated with a fight tomorrow, if they feel inclined.

I came on with the centre column, under Col. Hunter--Gen. McDowell commanding in person. I drove over last night to the General's Headquarters at Arlington House, and although he was absent, the whole appearance of things was exceedingly symptomatic of a forward move. The servants were mysterious. The [328] General's horses, with those of his aids, stood saddled in the yard, with baskets of provisions slung across the saddles. Regiments were blockading the roads — moving outwards without knapsacks or baggage. Capt. Griffin's West Point battery stopped our carriage for half an hour. All these things, with sundry others which it is not necessary to mention, coupled with hints and wise nods I had received from those whose position forbid them from doing more, satisfied me that the advance of the great army was close at hand. I made up my mind, indeed, that the great body of our troops would encamp for the night at about eight miles from the Potomac — and that in the morning the first thing they would do would be to pay their respects to the rebels at Fairfax Court House.

I made all needful preparations, hired a conveyance by the day for an indefinite period, packed it with such edibles as our hosts of the National and “Leo's” better half could comfortably provide, and at 4 o'clock this morning took my departure for the sacred soil of Virginia. We crossed the Long Bridge in the gray of the morning, and pushed on for some eight miles without meeting any further evidence of an army than a body of New Jerseymen left to guard the railroad and telegraph where they are crossed by the turnpike. Soon after we came to a point where the road puzzled us by dividing; and we were fain to inquire of a small boy standing at the gate of a neighboring house which of the two would lead us to Fairfax. He told us both — but said the right hand one came first into the main turnpike, but that the troops had taken the other. We took the right, and after driving about a mile saw at our left, half a mile off, glittering among the trees the bright bayonets of our long line of troops,--while the artillery was just crossing the road by which we were approaching. We pushed our carriage into the front, and very soon overtook Gen. McDowell and his staff, Major Wadsworth and Major Brown, accompanied by Capt. Whipple of the Topographical Engineers. We learned that this was one of four columns on their march under orders to converge at Fairfax Court House. It consisted of about 6,000 men, and was led by the Second Rhode Island regiment, under Gov. Sprague. The right column, which had taken the upper road, and under Col. Tyler was to enter Fairfax from the direction of Germantown, consisted of about 12,000. To the south of us were Col. Miles with 5,700, and Col. Heintzelman with 10,000 men. We had thus a force of about 35,000 advancing from this point towards Manassas Junction. It is understood also that Gen. Patterson was to commence his advance towards Winchester yesterday, and to push Gen. Johnston, so as to prevent him from augmenting the forces in front of this wing of the army.

At half past 9 o'clock we came to a point at which the road, bordered with trees on each side, had been obstructed by trees felled across it. The axemen were ordered forward, and soon cleared the path. Passing on, the way led by an open wood, at the end of which rose what appeared to be a high square bank, on top of which we could see two or three horsemen riding backward and forward. A little further onward trees had been again felled across the road. Skirmishers were thrown out on either side, and the column moved on slowly, stopping now and then to feel its way, and being especially on its guard against surprises. Half a mile further we came to another blockade of trees, one of which had been very ingeniously turned exactly bottom upwards, so as to completely block the passage. The axemen soon took away the fence, cut down trees that were in the way, and made a side road through the adjoining field. We soon rose to the top of the hill, which proved to be what, in the distance, we had mistaken for an embankment. The house of Maj. Howard, who had gone with the confederate army, stood there, and the negroes left there told us the secession scouts had been there not half an hour before. The column stopped ten or fifteen minutes and then pushed on, coming, in half an hour, to a long embankment thrown across the road and the adjoining fields, with embrasures for cannon, and the huts of a camp in the rear, which had been abandoned with so much haste by the rebels only two hours before, that they left great quantities of meat, rice, clothes, blankets, &c., as spoils for our troops, who followed so close upon their heels. The works were extensive but not strong, and it was not very clear that any cannon had ever been mounted upon them. The embrasures were lined by sand-bags, each marked “The Confederate States,” one of which inscriptions I cut out for a trophy. Our men raised the Star-Spangled Banner on the ramparts, and greeted it with three hearty cheers. Just then we caught sight, at some three miles distant, of the long line of Col. Tyler's column, marching along the upper road, with its whitetopped baggage wagons in the rear, and the glorious Stars and Stripes flying in the van. Our column advanced rapidly, and in twenty minutes, at a quarter before twelve, raised the national flag on the Fairfax Court House, a small brick building on the left of the street. The place was entirely deserted by the rebel troops, and, indeed, by the whole male population. The rebel quartermaster's office had been abandoned in as much haste as the works we had passed, and great quantities of letters, papers, &c., were found strewn over the floor and the adjacent ground. I picked up a letter from a mother to her son, begging him if possible, to come and see them before he should be ordered off, and inclosing a lock of her hair, neatly braided and tied with white ribbon. I shall take that as a memento to one who will appreciate and sympathize with the sentiment which prompted the gift. We are told here that the rebels intend to make a stand at Centreville, seven miles further on. This I do not believe. They have unquestionably fallen [329] back to Manassas Junction, and whether they make fight there or not, I consider a little doubtful, though the chances are that they will.

Gen. McDowell intends, I believe, to stop at Centreville to-night, and push on to Manassas in the morning. The whole army will be with him, and it will sweep before it all the forces that may oppose its progress. The onward movement has fairly commenced and it will not stop this side of Richmond.

H. J. R.


From another correspondent.

Fairfax Court House, Wednesday--12 o'clock.
In company with some friends, we started out at sunrise this morning to accompany the advance of the Grand Army into Virginia. It was understood that Patterson had commenced a forward movement towards Winchester, and that this was to be in combination with his. Our ride in the morning was through a beautiful wooded country, with gentle slopes, and in some places hills of considerable size. We avoided the marching columns and by a cross-road struck upon the line near the front. Here we left our carriage and marched along by the side of the troops. It was one of the most inspiring sights I ever witnessed: the long line of glittering bayonets marching up hill and down, as far as the eye could see, the cavalry, (a few companies of regulars,) and the rumbling artillery, with here and there a white-covered artillery wagon.

The men were in fine spirits, and marched along in the loose style of a regular march, but with quick step. We had some pleasant words with Col. Hunter, and Gen. McDowell, and then walked quickly to the front. On either side, the skirmishers spread out, the bayonets glistening through the corn-fields, the line advancing very carefully, though occasionally nothing could prevent the men stopping for the delicious blackberries that filled the fields.

Gen. McDowell informed us that he was concentrating four columns at Fairfax Court House--one on the right, under Gen. Tyler, of about 12,000 men, through Falls Village and Germantown; one on the left, of about 5,700 under Miles, and the left wing, under Heintzelman, with about 6,000. Suddenly, as we were picking berries by the road-side, came the word “Halt!” An orderly rode up and said, “General, we are in a trap; trees are cut down in front of us; there seems to be a masked battery beyond!” The General took it calmly, and ordered the skirmishers to advance, while we poor civilians were expecting every instant to hear the whistling of the balls over our heads. As we approached the long line of earthwork, we could see our skirmishers slowly approach it, while our pioneers were clearing out the trees cut down in the road. At length the bayonets can be seen shining on the mounds, and we breathe freer, and hurry on. It is a line perhaps 50 rods long, with embrasures, lined with sand-bags, very poorly built, all say. We mount it, and shout, and then proceed to cut the name from the sand-bags, “Confederate States,” as a trophy. Soon the glorious old stars wave from it, with a cheer from the tramping columns, that shook the trees. Behind it was the camp of the enemy, apparently just deserted — a very fairly-constructed camp with drains systematically made. Every tent had had a little bower of leaves near it. Our men rushed in with “Hooray! Took the seceshers' camp!” and poked over the rubbish, finding some meat and eggs and other little matters, which showed that the enemy were not starving. One of the Rhode Islanders captured a little raccoon, which he tried to store in his knapsack, but did not find an agreeable prisoner. There seemed to have been some two or three regiments there, and as we learned soon after from the negroes, they had only left about two hours before. We stopped beyond, and had a talk at an old farm-house with the negro women. They said the people had all run, and told them they would be murdered, but, as one old woman said, she thought she would stay, “for she might see the salvation of the Lord!” In the next house, a white woman stood at the door very pale and weeping, as the column thundered by. She said she had a husband in the secession army. Soon after, we passed a nice house abandoned. Our men had entered it, and were searching every nook and corner. I looked over the books. They showed an intelligent family, with interest in scientific and agricultural matters. One man picked up a letter with the following passage: “Give my love to Susey and to Aunt M., and tell John to shoot a Yankee for me!” At precisely 12 o'clock, the advance-guard of the Grand Army entered Fairfax Court House with tremendous cheers, and a kind of a rush that for a moment looked as if they might go to plundering. But there was nothing of the kind, except the searching for papers in the Town Clerk's office, and some little pickings from the deserted workshops.

Soon a man climbs up into the Court House and hauls down the secession flag amid groans and cheers, and up goes the bright Union banner. I am writing in the office of the tavern where the secession officers have left some of their luggage, and the Rhode Island Second are marching by with wild cries, their battery in the van. They sleep and bivouac in the yards of the houses. The handsome figure and face of Col. Burnside can be seen everywhere. Col. Hunter, with his quiet, gentlemanly manner, is directing the lines, and Gen. McDowell, with Maj. Brown and Maj. Wadsworth, are sitting their horses, and watching with their glasses the very dark lines on the hills about a mile to the south, which show that Gen. Tyler is approaching. Now the Rhode Island First goes by, and the New Hampshire Second, (a New Hampshire pioneer comes in and boasts that he was the first New Hampshire man on Virginia soil.) A lady comes out of a house near, [330] and swings a Union flag, “the first,” she says, “she has dared to for months.”

Our landlady comes in and deplores, with tears, that all her forks and spoons have been carried off! The regiments now march by so quickly that we do not catch their names. They will all concentrate at Centreville. All are in fine spirits, and only fear that the seceshers will run too fast to be caught.

Gen. McDowell seems to manage every thing excellently. He is evidently a thorough gentleman and soldier. We are very sorry to hear that, through some mistake, the Garibaldians at the left have only five rounds of ammunition. All is quiet now, and the men are eating their lunch.

A civilian.

--N. Y. Times.

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July 17th, 1861 AD (2)
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