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[67] Meantime our retreat was covered in a masterly manner. Five miles from town, after the rebels had made a dash into Winchester, our men formed in line of battle. The scene was exciting beyond description. We were stopped by a difficult fording-place, and where three or four roads diverged from the main street.

At any moment we expected the rebels might cut off our retreat. To the right the infantry filed off — and the artillery planted — to the left, two regiments of cavalry were forming, their officers dashing from point to point, while along the roads squads of soldiers rode out to reconnoitre. In six hours we entered Martinsburgh, our men fighting in the rear almost constantly, and keeping off the enemy at every point. Many a sick soldier wearily plodded along, animated by hopes of liberty on the Maryland side; now and then a wounded horse staggered by, the blood running where the ball entered. Our progress was necessarily slow, and men came dashing by with all kinds of reports. Still there was nothing like a panic.

At Martinsburgh the order was to press on to Williamsport, Md.; so, leaving a regiment of cavalry drawn up in battle-array, we continued our monotonous journey, arriving at the bank of the Potomac at five o'clock in the afternoon. The men and horses forded the river, and a rope ferryboat was soon arranged for the heavy train. I think there never was a more thankful company of human beings than those of us who stood upon the shores of Maryland last night.

To-day, at five o'clock, nearly all the train had crossed. Gen. Banks and staff came in about noon. I have been several hours among the wounded. It is a pitiful sight to see them brought in covered with blood. Poor fellows! they bear their misfortunes with heroism.

Few generals could, with a force so disproportionate, have been equal to Gen. Banks--fewer still would have had the bravery even to defend their supplies in so masterly a manner. There was no confusion, no flinching. The saddest part of the matter is the treatment we have reason to fear the Union people will experience from the hands of the rebels. They have no humanity. They kill our wounded soldiers, and even our women nurses are said to be shot. It is evident that they are too leniently dealt by. Several companies carried the black flag, and their cry was: “No quarter!” It is rumored that Shields is in their rear. If he is, farewell to the rebel army of the Valley. On this side of the river our artillery is planted — they are hemmed in as they never were before. Should Winchester be retaken soon, as we have reason to believe it will be, I shall return there.

Very truly yours,

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N. P. Banks (2)
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