previous next

[95] I hope the bridge is more substantial than it looks, for its fall would be an accident that would affect the whole army.

When the train arrived at the depot, (or rather the stopping-place,) opposite to Fredericksburgh, “the shades of night were falling fast,” as when Prof. Longfellow's young friend who had such an unaccountable proclivity for remarking “Excelsior,” reached an “Alpine village.” I was a stranger in a strange land and in a strange army. A journalist of my acquaintance, I had been informed, was enjoying the hospitalities of one of the generals of division, and I thought to inquire my way to him. An army of the dimensions of that of the Potomac, is as difficult to learn as a great city. One might think that every body in an army could tell where a certain major-general might be found. But the individual who would depend upon inquiries made under such a mistake, would speedily discover his unhappiness. The army of the Potomac is composed of three grand divisions, commanded by Sumner, Franklin, and Hooker. Each grand division is divided into corps; each corps into divisions; each division into brigades; the brigades, of course, into regiments. 1 knew the grand division in which the division commanded by the general I sought was absorbed, and was fortunate to stumble upon an officer, who knew that his camp was in a north-westerly course from the spot where I landed, distant about a mile and three quarters, up a big hill and in a thick wood. Upon this, I started, and was soon several inches in mud, and toiled along, certainly without any fences to obstruct my course. It was presently dark, but the camp-fires were numberless, and I found my way from point to point, generally going in the right direction. The little valleys (as they are more properly than ravines) near the river, were lined with our field-batteries. The horses were munching their corn and hay, and the men frying bacon and making coffee. Once, while in a depression that occurs between the river-bank and the first range of considerable hills, I noticed the big earthen zig-zags of one of the batteries prepared for the bombardment of the city over the river. The picket-fires of the rebels were distinctly visible, red specks on the hill-sides, and beyond there could be seen a light on the sky, glowing but dimly in the smoky atmosphere, that told of the presence of the army of the enemy. Our own camp-fires glared far and wide, and the smoke from them hung low and so dense as painfully to affect the eyes.

After walking about three times the distance from the depot to the quarters of the officer of whom I proposed to make inquiry for a friend, I found myself in his tent, but the individual sought was not there, but was in a place where I was advised not to be in the morning, the little town of Falmouth, as it was supposed the rebels would give it their attention in the form of bomb-shells. The general was just about to start to meet the commander of his grand division, relative to the operations .impending. (This was Wednesday night, December tenth.) The determination had been reached to force the passage of the Rappahannock the next day. The troops had already three days rations prepared, and sixty rounds of cartridges had been given out. The day had been spent in making preparations for battle. I had been under the impression that no attempt would be made to cross the river at Fredericksburgh, as the strength of the position of the enemy was known to be immense; but was then assured that the bull was to be taken directly by the horns, and that “Old Bull Sumner” was going to do it with his division. The idea entertained at Washington had been, that Burnside would force the passage of the river some twenty miles below Fredericksburgh, and thus turn the enemy's position. The enemy thought that was the game, and when the bombardment of Fredericksburgh commenced they had only just learned their mistake, and were hurrying up their masses with all possible rapidity. Our army, instead of being scattered for twenty miles along the river, was concentrated, coiled up, within a space of six or seven miles.

The men in our camps knew the task that was before them. There are certain indications that the old soldier well knows mean movements and battle. The orders issued had not told the men in so many words that they were going to fight without delay, but they knew it. They were in good spirits, too. The army of the Potomac never felt better than when, on the evening of Wednesday of last week, the men cooked their three days rations and took the sixty rounds of cartridges. The smell of frying bacon and roasting coffee filled the air, and the men were jolly about their fires, full of the confidence, as I heard many of them express it, that “we'll whip them this time, sure.”

I happened to inquire of the general, whose uninvited guest I had found myself, whether he knew the location of a certain regiment, whose colonel was one of my old personal friends. It was as surprising as agreeable to learn that he knew the colonel very well, and that his regiment was camped not more than a quarter of a mile distant. An orderly was despatched to con duct me to the colonel, and I surprised him in his tent, writing a few lines giving direction as to the disposition of his effects if he should be killed in the impending conflict. His duties for the day were over — every thing was in order for next day — the rations cooked, the cartridges distributed. The colonel was in complete winter quarters. He had a neat and spacious brick chimney, in which a cheerful fire crackled, and the walls of his tent were slender pines; the roof composed of his shelter-tent. Over the fire-place, pinned against the hut, was Vanity Fair's cartoon, representing Gen. McClellan as “The modern Belisarius,” sitting by the roadside and waiting for his country to do him justice. I asked the colonel whether the stories of the attachment of the army of the Potomac to McClellan were true; and he said they certainly were true — that the army loved McClellan and longed to have him again for their commander, and that there was a positive

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.
George B. McClellan (3)
Old Bull Sumner (2)
Longfellow (1)
Hooker (1)
John Franklin (1)
A. E. Burnside (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
December 10th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: