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[22]

Almost every man we tallied with belonged to a different regiment from the last. They were chiefly from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin--I did not see any soldiers from Maine--New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, or Pennsylvania; but of course I speak only of our part of the road. Their accounts seemed to harmonize, especially in two points, namely, that our men held their ground sturdily until three o'clock; and whenever they came in actual contact with the rebels, they drove them back; and secondly, that many of our officers were grossly inefficient, and some evidently showed the white feather. Orders seemed to be scarce; “the men fought on their own hook.” Several, however, spoke of the gallant young Governor Sprague, of Rhode Island, and said he behaved heroically. “It was the movement of a Rhode Island battery from the range of shells, to a new position, yet in perfect order, which started at least a part of the false panic and cry of ‘ Retreat.’ The Fire Zouaves had made some terrific charges; but as they would rush headlong on one masked battery, and capture it, they were decimated by another battery concealed in the rear. Late in the day, these sturdy fellows received a charge of the famous Black Horse Cavalry of Virginia, who were sent reeling back with half their saddles vacant. The greatest mistake on our side was want of cavalry ; the next was, making us fight on empty stomachs, tired out, and without any water to taste except mud-puddles. As it was, the rebels were beaten and were falling back, when that panic was started at the last moment.” Such, almost literally, were the words of these men from different parts of the field, and before they could have compared notes among themselves. Toward daybreak, we came up with a drove of forty cattle, belonging to the army, which had been driven back with the returning wagons all the way; and we took some extra exercise, chasing a bullock or two, straying off into the woods. I think we saved our Uncle Samuel one stout animal, and fairly earned a beefsteak, which is hereby freely waived in behalf of privates A and B, who are probably as hungry as we. As day dawned, we caine up with a female equestrian, probably a nurse, who walked her horse leisurely by the wagons. Soon we observed camps near the road, over which waved the Stars and Stripes; the ramparts of Fort Ellsworth on a hill commanding the road into Alexandria, were occupied by men, busy apparently in placing their guns in range; and at the outer picket near the town, another platoon from the garrison were “arguing the point” with fugitive soldiers who were asking admittance. Even at this time only the wagons and the disabled men seemed to be allowed to pass: able-bodied soldiers were very properly stopped outside. Our pass was promptly honored as usual. At the first chance for a cup of coffee — a decent negro family in a barnish-looking house, where cakes were spread to tempt stray pennies from soldier-boys and others — we had a nice hot breakfast, without a single allusion to the event of the day. As we walked down the long dull streets of Alexandria, still almost vacant and cheerless, we began to see the people, male and female, looking out with expressions, as I imagined, of no very great grief at the news of the morning. Probably they had heard the worst story of the loyal side; and not a few appeared to be actually rejoicing. As we passed a group of four, a man, of some position apparently, was saying: “Has the world ever seen a worse whipping!” Pleasant, this. Their preferences, at least, were not very doubtful. Strangely deluded people! * * * * Rain commenced just as we reached the seven o'clock (the first) boat for Washington. So we were not only among the last from the regulated panic, but were with the first soldiers who reached Washington by this route. (The Arlington and Long Bridge road diverges some miles from Alexandria. Of the current that way — this side of Fairfax — we could not testify; but this is the nearest way.)

We had thus walked between thirty-five and forty miles in the course of twenty-one hours; and Mr. T----seemed to feel so. In the boat I conversed with a New York gentleman and his wife, who had been on the field near the battle, all day. His later expectations were connected with an involuntary trip to Richmond; but Madame didn't feel the least apprehension. Is female courage founded most on calm wisdom and steady nerve, or on a more limited appreciation of all the points of “the situation” ? Shall we say, “Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise” ?

Two omnibuses at the Washington dock were quickly filled with fugitive soldiers from the boat, some of them slightly disabled. On the top of one of them we rumbled up the avenue, and were soon enveloped in the eager circles at Willard's on that dismal morning; for a steady rain, as well as the news, was dampening the ardor of the excited people. The early stampeders had made the most of their sudden flight, and exaggerating tale-bearers and worse rumor-mongers had done their utmost. Here an idea that had more than once been suggested by what I had heard and seen, was greatly strengthened; namely, that the panic had been deliberately started, or at least accelerated by secessionists on the ground, among the Washington visitors. This may be wholly absurd and untrue; but how easily such a thing could have been done!

My loyal Washington friend's suggestion of the good moral effect which our Seventh Regiment would produce by their return to the capital while people's minds were thus disturbed, was duly noted. As the cars were to leave at two, and our flags now waved over both wings of the noble Capitol, I had the curiosity to “take a turn” in the Senate, where gallant Audy Johnson had promised to speak on the bill approving the doings of the President. About thirty Senators were present, looking as calm as if the battle of New Orleans had been the last on the continent. The scene here was a notable afterpiece to the drama of yesterday.

Breckinridge sat at his desk, reading in a morning paper the news of our disaster. Could one mistake which was lie? or misinterpret his expression of entire satisfaction with what he is reading? Is he naturally so cool and so dignified, and self-complacent, or does he affect a calmness and assume a virtue, though he has it not? Is he disloyal or really patriotic under difficulties?

What, of all things on this day, is under discussion? The Bill forbidding the return of fugitive slaves by our troops to disloyal owners.

“What!” said Senator Wilson; “shall we take these men who have been used to dig intrenchments. for masked batteries, behind which their traitorous masters are posted to murder our true loyal defenders — shall we force these poor men back to those traitorous masters, to be used behind ”


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