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[80] well. The events speak for them. Steady and watchful, he held his line throughout the evening, advancing his skirmishers at every token of attack, and spreading a sure protection over the multitudes who fled disordered through his columns. With three regiments he stood to fight against an outnumbering enemy already flashed with victory, and eager to complete its triumph. As the darkness increased his post became more perilous and more honorable. At 11 o'clock the attack came upon the advance company of Col. Stahel's Rifles, not in force, but from a body of cavalry whose successful passage would have been followed by a full force, and the consequent destruction of our broken host. The rebel cavalry was driven back, and never returned, and at 2 in the morning, the great body of our troops having passed and found their road to safety, the command was given to retreat in order, and the brigade fell slowly and regularly back, with the same precision as if on parade, and as thoroughly at the will of their leader as if no danger had ever come near them. Over and over again Blenker begged permission to maintain his post, or even to advance. “Retreat!” said he to McDowell's messenger; “bring me the word to go on, sir!” --but the command was peremptory, and he was left no alternative.

Notwithstanding all that I had seen, it seemed incredible that our whole army should melt away in a night, and so I remained at Centreville, trusting that by the morning a sort of reorganization should have taken place, and that our front should still oppose the enemy. At 7 o'clock I started towards the battle-field, but, on reaching a considerable acclivity, was amazed to find that no vestige of our troops remained, excepting a score or two of straggling fugitives who followed the tracks of those who had gone before. While returning to Centreville a group of rebel cavalry passed, who looked inquiringly, but did not question. Their conversation turned upon the chances of cutting off the retreat at Fairfax Court House. After seeking Mr. Waud, an artist of New York, who also lingered, I went straight to Fairfax. As we passed the church used as a hospital, the doctors came out, and finding what was the condition of affairs, walked rapidly away. I do not wish to say that they deserted the wounded. They may have returned for aught that I know. The road leading from Centreville to Germantown was filled with marks of the ruinous retreat. At the outskirts of the village thousands of dollars' worth of property lay wrecked and abandoned. In one field a quantity of powder had been thrown. A woman of apparently humble condition stopped us and asked us if we meant to leave it for the use of the enemy. We explained that we could not well take it with us, upon which she vehemently insisted that it should be blown up before we left. But the experiment of blowing up a thousand pounds of powder was not an agreeable task to set ourselves, and we trusted rather to the rain, which fell heavily, for its destruction. Another woman stood by the roadside with the tears running down her brown cheeks, asking all who passed if they were hungry, and offering them food. “God help you all,” she said, as some of the wounded limped by her. We passed now and then groups of disabled men, who had forgotten their injuries in their fear, and had striven to drag themselves along by their companions. Some of them still streamed with blood, and yet would wrench themselves forward with all the power they could command. The destruction of property seemed to have increased at every mile. Baggage wagons were overturned, ambulances broken in pieces, weapons of every kind cast off. Horses lay dead and dying. Food was heaped about the wayside. Bags of corn and oats were trodden into the ground. Piles of clothing were scattered at all sides. In many places the discarded goods and equipments were ranged breast high, and stood like monuments erected by our own hands to our own shame.

At Fairfax I had hoped to find a rallying place, and could hardly believe that the flight had gone even beyond this. But the village was deserted, excepting by native prowlers, who were ransacking the emptied contents of our baggage wagons, and who scowled savagely enough at the fugitives who sought among them a temporary shelter from the storm. Beyond Fairfax the marks of destruction were less frequent, though the stream of the retreat grew even stronger. Along the main road the flying kept their way in something like a continuous line, dividing only at the turnpike which leads to Arlington, into which some diverged, while others moved on to Alexandria. Three miles from the Long Bridge I came upon the rear of Blenker's brigade, Stahel's German Rifles still holding the hindmost position, and the other two regiments, Steinwehr's and the Garibaldi Guard, moving in order before them. Still in advance of these was the DeKalb regiment, also intact. But beyond all was tumult again, and even to the city itself the wretched disorder and confusion had reached.

I was told that a few regiments, beside the three faithful ones of Blenker's brigade, had come in in fair order; and that they were the 2d and 3d Michigan, and the Massachusetts 1st, of Richardson's brigade. I should be glad if it were so. The Massachusetts men won more honor on Thursday than should have been recklessly sacrificed so soon after. But this is their own statement. I did not see them arrayed upon the field to resist the tempest that swept through our ranks, and I am still unaware that any part of the army evaded that dreadful panic, excepting the three regiments whose honest claims to the gratitude of the country I have endeavored to assert.

Apart from the panic, we lost the battle in a perfectly legitimate way. In numbers and

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Louis Blenker (3)
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