of them were crowded with men, or were followed by others, who clung to them. The ambulances were crowded with soldiers, but it did not look as if there were many wounded. Negro servants on led horses dashed frantically past; men in uniform, whom it were a disgrace to the profession of arms to call “soldiers,” swarmed by on mules, chargers, and even draught horses, which had been cut out of carts or wagons, and went on with harness clinging to their heels, as frightened as their riders. Men literally screamed with rage and fright when their way was blocked up. On I rode, asking all, “What is all this about?” and now and then, but rarely, receiving the answer, “We're whipped;” or, “We're repulsed.” Faces black and dusty, tongues out in the heat, eyes staring — it was a most wonderful sight. On they came, like him,
Who, having once turned round, goes on,But where was the fiend? I looked in vain. There was, indeed, some cannonading in front of me and in their rear, but still the firing was comparatively distant, and the runaways were far out of range. As I advanced, the number of carts diminished, but the mounted men increased, and the column of fugitives became denser. A few buggies and light wagons filled with men, whose faces would have made up “a great Leporello” in the ghost scene, tried to pierce the rear of the mass of carts, which were now solidified and moving on like a glacier. I crossed a small ditch by the roadside, got out on the road to escape some snake fences, and, looking before me, saw there was still a crowd of men in uniforms coming along. The road was strewn with articles of clothing — firelocks, waist-belts, cartouch-boxes, caps, greatcoats, mess-tins, musical instruments, cartridges, bayonets and sheaths, swords and pistols — even biscuits, water-bottles, and pieces of meat. Passing a white house by the roadside, I saw, for the first time, a body of infantry with sloped arms marching regularly and rapidly towards me. Their faces were not blackened by powder, and it was evident they had not been engaged. In reply to a question, a non-commissioned officer told me in broken English, “We fell back to our lines. The attack did not quite succeed.” This was assuring to one who had come through such a scene as I had been witnessing. I had ridden, I suppose, about three or three and a-half miles from the hill, though it is not possible to be sure of the distance; when, having passed the white house, I came out on an open piece of ground, beyond and circling which was forest. Two field-pieces were unlimbered and guarding the road; the panting and jaded horses in the rear looked as though they had been hard worked, and the gunners and drivers looked worn and dejected. Dropping shots sounded close in front through the woods; but the guns on the left no longer maintained their fire. I was just about to ask one of the men for a light, when a sputtering fire on my right attracted my attention, and out of the forest or along the road rushed a number of men. The gunners seized the trail of the nearest piece to wheel it round upon them; others made for the tumbrils and horses as if to fly, when a shout was raised, “Don't fire; they're our own men;” and in a few minutes on came pell-mell a whole regiment in disorder. I rode across one, and stopped him. “We're pursued by cavalry,” he gasped, “they've cut us all to pieces.” As he spoke, a shell burst over the column; another dropped on the road, and out streamed another column of men, keeping together with their arms, and closing up the stragglers of the first regiment. I turned, and to my surprise saw the artillerymen had gone off, leaving one gun standing by itself. They had retreated with their horses. While we were on the hill, I had observed and pointed out to my companions a cloud of dust which rose through the trees on our right front. In my present position that place must have been on the right rear, and it occurred to me that after all there really might be a body of cavalry in that direction; but Murat himself would not have charged these wagons in that deep, well-fenced lane. If the dust came, as I believe it did, from field-artillery, that would be a different matter. Any way it was now well established that the retreat had really commenced, though I saw but few wounded men, and the regiments which were falling back had not suffered much loss. No one seemed to know any thing for certain. Even the cavalry charge was a rumor. Several officers said they had carried guns and lines, but then they drifted into the nonsense which one reads and hears everywhere about “masked batteries.” One or two talked more sensibly about the strong positions of the enemy, the fatigue of their men, the want of a reserve, severe losses, and the bad conduct of certain regiments. Not one spoke as if he thought of retiring beyond Centreville. The clouds of dust rising above the woods marked the retreat of the whole army, and the crowds of fugitives continued to steal away along the road. The sun was declining, and some thirty miles yet remained to be accomplished ere I could hope to gain the shelter of Washington. No one knew whither any corps or regiment was marching, but there were rumors of all. kinds--“The 69th are cut to pieces,” “The fire Zouaves are destroyed,” and so on. Presently a tremor ran through the men by whom I was riding, as the sharp reports of some field-pieces rattled through the wood close at hand. A sort of subdued roar, like the voice of distant breakers, rose in front of us, and the soldiers, who were, I think, Germans, broke into a double, looking now and then over their shoulders. There was no choice for me but to resign any further researches. The mail from Washington for the Wednesday steamer at Boston
And turns no more his head,
For he knoweth that a fearful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.