previous next

[61] “There's a fright among them,” I observed, in reply to his question respecting the commissariat drivers. “They're afraid of the enemy's cavalry.” “Are you an American?” said the man. “No, I am not.” “Well, then,” he said, “there will be cavalry on them soon enough. There's 20,000 of the best horsemen in the world in Virginia!” Washington was still 18 miles away. The road was rough and uncertain, and again my poor steed was under way, but it was of no use trying to outstrip the runaways. Once or twice I imagined I heard guns in the rear, but I could not be sure of it in consequence of the roar of the flight behind me. It was most surprising to see how far the foot soldiers had contrived to get on in advance. After sunset the moon rose, and amid other acquaintances, I jogged alongside an officer who was in charge of Col. Hunter, the commander of a brigade, I believe, who was shot through the neck, and was inside a cart, escorted by a few troopers. This officer was, as I understood, the major or second in command of Col. Hunter's regiment, yet he had considered it right to take charge of his chief, and to leave his battalion. He said they had driven back the enemy with ease, but had not been supported, and blamed — as bad officers and good ones will do — the conduct of the General: “So mean a fight I never saw.” I was reminded of a Crimean General, who made us all merry by saying, after the first bombardment, “In the whole course of my experience I never saw a siege conducted on such principles as these.” Our friend had been without food, but not, I suspect, without drink — and that, we know, affects empty stomachs very much — since two o'clock that morning. Now, what is to be thought of an officer — gallant, he may be, as steel — who says, as I heard this gentleman say to a picket who asked him how the day went in front, “Well, we've been licked into a cocked hat; knocked to----.” This was his cry to teamsters escorts, convoys, the officers and men on guard and detachment, while I, ignorant of the disaster behind, tried to mollify the effect of the news by adding, “Oh! it's a drawn battle. The troops are reoccupying the position from which they started in the morning.” Perhaps he knew his troops better than I did. It was a strange ride, through a country now still as death, the white road shining like a river in the moonlight, the trees black as ebony in the shade; now and then a figure flitting by into the forest or across the road — frightened friend or lurking foe, who could say? Then the anxious pickets and sentries all asking, “What's the news?” and evidently prepared for any amount of loss. Twice or thrice we lost our way, or our certainty about it, and shouted at isolated houses, and received no reply, except from angry watch-dogs. Then we were set right as we approached Washington, by teamsters. For an hour, however, we seemed to be travelling along a road which, in all its points, far and near, was “twelve miles from the Long Bridge.” Up hills, down into valleys, with the silent grim woods forever by our sides. Now and then, in the profound gloom, broken only by a spark from the horse's hoof, came a dull but familiar sound like the shutting of a distant door. As I approached Washington, having left the Colonel and his escort at some seven miles on the south side of the Long Bridge, I found the grand guards, pickets' posts, and individual sentries burning for news, and the word used to pass along, “What does that man say, Jack?” “Begorra, he tells me we're not bet at all — only retraiting to the ould lines for convaniency of fighting to-morrow again. Oh, that's illigant!” On getting to the tete de pont, however, the countersign was demanded; of course, I had not got it. But the officer passed me through on the production of Gen. Scott's safeguard. The lights of the city were in sight; and reflected by the waters of the Potomac, just glistened by the clouded moon, shone the gay lamps of the White House, where the President was probably entertaining some friends. In silence I passed over the Long Bridge. Some few hours later it quivered under the steps of a rabble of unarmed men. At the Washington end a regiment with piled arms were waiting to cross over into Virginia, singing and cheering. Before the morning they received orders, I believe, to assist in keeping Maryland quiet. For the hundredth time I repeated the cautious account, which to the best of my knowledge was true. There were men, women, and soldiers to hear it. The clocks had just struck 11 P. M. as I passed Willard's. The pavement in front of the hall was crowded. The rumors of defeat had come in, but few of the many who had been fed upon lies and the reports of complete victory which prevailed could credit the intelligence. Seven hours had not elapsed before the streets told the story. The “Grand army of the North,” as it was called, had representatives in every thoroughfare, without arms, orders, or officers, standing out in the drenching rain. When all these most unaccountable phenomena were occurring, I was fast asleep, but I could scarce credit my informant in the morning, when he told me that the Federalists, utterly routed, had fallen back upon Arlington to defend the capital, leaving nearly 5 batteries of artillery, 8,000 muskets, immense quantities of stores and baggage, and their wounded prisoners in the hands of the enemy!

Let the American journals tell the story their own way. I have told mine as I know it. It has rained incessantly and heavily since early morning, and the country is quite unfit for operations; otherwise, if Mr. Davis desired to press his advantage, he might be now very close to Arlington Heights. He has already proved that he has a fair right to be considered the head of a “belligerent power.” But, though the North may reel under the shock, I cannot think it will make her desist from the struggle,

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
David Hunter (2)
Willard (1)
Winfield Scott (1)
Jack (1)
Jefferson Davis (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: