Doc. 97. Colonel Stahel's reconnoissance.
New York Tribune account.
Bailey's cross Roads, Fairfax Co., Va. October 18, 1861.Union troops have to-day advanced beyond Anandale upon the Little River Turnpike for the first time since the retreat from Bull Run. The roads to Fairfax Court House are no longer sealed, and their occupation by our forces at any moment is wholly at the discretion of General McClellan. Last night the report came in to Acting Brig.-Gen. Stahel's Headquarters that Colonel Wurtchel, of the New York Eighth, had proceeded without difficulty to Anandale, a point some distance beyond any previous advance, and found no indications of the enemy for miles beyond. In order to ascertain with more certainty the present position of the rebels, and to test the truth of recent reports announcing their withdrawal from Fairfax Court House, General Stahel determined upon a reconnoissance to be made this morning. He  accordingly started at about eight o'clock from Mason's Hill, hitherto our outpost in this direction, with seven companies of infantry. His staff was somewhat numerous, being augmented for the occasion by officers from other stations who were anxious to share the excitement, as well as the honors, in case of any rencounter, of the occasion. Colonel (Prince) Salm of Gen. Blenker's staff had caught a hint of the expedition last night, and came riding hastily in at three o'clock this morning, lest an early departure should deprive him of participation. Rittmeister Heintz, late of the Austrian service, and other foreign officers, many of them the possessors of decorations of various orders of military distinction, also joined. Their experience and skill were serviceably employed throughout the day. The absence of cavalry and artillery showed that the reconnoissance was not of a formidable character, and that no offensive demonstrations were intended. It was merely an expedition of inquiry and investigation. At Anandale the plan of operations was rapidly formed. Skirmishers were sent out to the right and left in due order; the necessary guards were stationed at the cross roads and upon elevations commanding distant views, and the body of the battalion was held compactly about one-eighth of a mile behind the foremost scouts. The swiftness and precision with which these details were arranged were sufficient to demonstrate that our German officers are perfect masters of at least this branch of warlike duty. Within the village of Anandale there was little to cause detention. The inhabitants were few, and had no information of value to offer, although bitter complaints of infamous treatment by the rebels were poured in from numerous families whose members had ventured to maintain their fidelity to the Union. These families had plainly suffered all sorts of depredations, and had, in some cases, been subjected to personal violence; while others, who had yielded their ready sympathies to the last occupiers, had apparently been shielded from molestation. One mile beyond Anandale, upon the brow of a considerable elevation, the first halt was ordered. The road having been untravelled for many weeks by our troops, and having been uninterruptedly in the hands of the rebels, it was necessary to take the most cautious observations. With the aid of glasses, a party of four horsemen was discovered about two miles in advance, riding slowly toward us, while our officers, grouped together in an open field, watched their movements. They appeared to catch sight of us, for they suddenly turned about, and rode back with great speed. A negro who had just walked in from the Court House, volunteered the information that they composed a scouting squad, which had been hovering about the road all the morning, and assured us there were no troops stationed anywhere this side of the Court House. Although the possessor of a private document, which he showed with great pride, attesting his services to Union soldiers at various times, his statements were received with the incredulous carelessness which every well-educated skirmishing officer considers it his first duty to manifest, and the reconnoissance proceeded with the same caution as before. On approaching the spot where the rebel scouts had shown themselves, the tops of rough wigwam huts were discovered, peeping suspiciously in rows above the crest of a hill. The presumption was, that they were deserted, but the same action was necessary as if their occupation was a matter of necessity. I was struck by the skill with which the German officers moved their skirmishers forward at this point, taking advantage of such inequality of the ground, and so disposing their men as not only to prevent surprises, but also to provide for their safe concentration in case of any sudden attack, But no such necessity arose. The huts had all been abandoned, although the position was exceedingly strong, and afforded great advantages for defence. Two aged inhabitants tottered forth in great terror while we examined this ground, and made deprecating gestures; but, being reassured, grew garrulous, and gave us a marvellous insight into the enemy's designs, by the statement that they had posted themselves just behind the top of the hill to draw us forward, and give us a second Bull Run affair; but when, two days ago, they heard of an impending attack, they retired without any ceremony, beyond that of abstracting one turkey and an assortment of chickens from the aviary of the aged couple. A little further on, we were met by a collection of chameleon-conscienced citizens, who, emerging from Coyle's Tavern, revealed the fact, that Union sentiments had long been secretly deposited in their hearts, and that they were, of all things, anxious to know whether we came in force, or, as they supposed, in a feeble body, for a casual purpose. The answers which these gentlemen received were not sufficiently lucid to be valuable, the statements as to our immediate force varying from ten to fifty thousand, according to the imaginative activity of the respondents. The Union gentlemen of Coyle's Tavern were confused, and withdrew in sorrow, if not in anger. From this point, Gen. Stahel pushed on about two miles further, and finally stopped at the house of Mrs. Goodwin, where vestiges of another deserted camp remained, a mile and a half this side of the Court House, beyond which he did not feel justified in advancing. The view ahead was, however, sufficiently clear to demonstrate that no force of any kind was stationed this side of Fairfax. As nearly as we could learn from the reports of inhabitants, two brigades still lingered there, but were preparing to depart, and were not expected to remain many hours. The General then turned back, after partaking of the bounty of a persimmon tree, in consequence of which, the fruit being unripe, he and his staff  rode for the space of one hour with wry faces, and enunciated orders with a puckered accent. The object of the reconnoissance was to inquire into the truth of the reports that the line of the country this side of the Court House had been abandoned. We are now assured that no obstacle exists to our approach in that direction, whenever we choose to move forward.