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Chapter 12:

  • Effects of the battle of Leesburgh, or Ball's Bluff, on public opinion in the country, North and South
  • -- the Yankees claim a victory as usual -- General Stone arrested and sent to Fort Warren -- remarkable incidents of the war -- a Fraternal Rencontre -- the negroes with either army -- Humorous incidents -- Evans is sent to defend his native State, South-Carolina -- General D. D. Hill assumes command -- fortifications are erected -- we prepare for winter quarters.

From two or three weeks previous to the battle of Leesburgh, the Northern papers overflowed with joyful expectations regarding the movements then in preparation. The Administration organ at Washington predicted that “in a few days the rebels would suddenly drop out of Leesburgh ;” others said, “We shall begin to make history next week;” “let all prepare for a succession of Union victories that shall eclipse all the doings of the Old World!” It may well be supposed that enough had occurred to disenchant them of these bombastic ideas; but no, the Federal generals, to cover up their defeat by misrepresentation, acknowledged having met with reverses at Ball's Bluff, but triumphantly rejoined-: “We have captured Harrison's Island, and hold it against all efforts of the rebels 1” The fact is, they had always held undisputed possession of the island; yet the mainland was so much higher as to command it, and had our artillery been present in the battle, not twenty men of their whole force could have escaped.

When at length the story was truthfully told by the New-York Times and Tribune, the whole North was thrown into consternation and mourning over “the massacre,” as they termed it, and began reviling each other for urging McClellan to advance at all against Richmond. Massachusetts was particularly affected by the direful news, for two of its “pet” regiments (the Fifteenth and Twenty-third) had suffered fearfully, and many young men of the first families had fallen, including the promising son of the poet, Oliver Wendell [108] Holmes, most of the men having been enrolled in Boston and Worcester. New-York also felt very much humbled on account of the decimation of the Forty-fourth, one of its crack regiments, which boasted of more professional pugilists and blackguards than any other from that State, except the red-legged Fire Zouaves. Pennsylvania was in mourning for the rout of the First California Regiment, (fifteen companies strong,) which had been raised by Baker in Philadelphia, and which was petted and feasted, and paraded at Washington by Lincoln himself, and called the “Invincibles.” Other States had each its special reason for mourning, and so, from one reason or another, the entire press howled over the disaster for a full month.

In the South, however, our success was not regarded with proportionate admiration; the people expected the “boys” to do well, and when their victory was recorded, it only excited smiles and modest comment. As far as our brigade was concerned, scarcely a man spoke of it, save to show how much more might have been gained by the presence of artillery, or if the preliminary movements in which they had been engaged during the previous week had been less fatiguing. General Evans, indeed, was much lauded in the newspapers, biographical sketches appearing from different pens, tending to prove that the General was an extraordinary soldier; the men, however, could not help believing that his plans were faulty, and that had it not been for the ferocity of the troops, the affair would have ended very differently. Be that as it may, the South-Carolinians claimed the battle as theirs, since Evans was of that State; while the gallant Mississippians thought all the honor belonged to them, as they had done all the fighting; and in truth, the Virginians did very little. Poor Stone, the Federal commander, was bullied unmercifully by the Northern press, and being in Washington on business, where he dined with McClellan, he was on the following morning arrested and sent to Fort Warren, without a word of explanation.

Among the numerous incidents that fell under my notice illustrative of the sometimes tragical, sometimes laughable, occurrences of civil war, the following may be mentioned as properly pertaining to the battle of Leesburgh. Two young men, brothers, acquaintances of mine in Kentucky, had always [109] differed in politics, and when the war broke out, Howard, the younger, sought the Southern army, and Alfred that of the North. They shook hands at parting, and said it was probable they should meet again on some field or other. Alfred obtained a captain's commission; Howard, with many fellow-statesmen, shouldered a musket in our regiment. When the battle was over, Howard was searching for the bodies of friends who had fallen by his side, and stumbled over something. “Halloa!” said the object, in a hoarse voice, “who are you?” “I'm a Southerner,” replied Howard; “you are one of the enemy, if I'm not mistaken, and know, of course, that the field is ours.” “Well, yes, I have some faint recollection of a fight; but all I remember is much smoke, a great noise of musketry, and of some active fellow in a white cap knocking me down with a musket, and then I fell asleep.” When they advanced to one of the camp-fires, Howard recognized his brother Alfred, and he himself was the man who had knocked him down with the butt of his musket in the confusion of the battle!

By the next incident I shall relate we were much amused. One of our best soldiers was a rough Scotchman named Black, who had relatives in the South, and, desiring to g6t to them, joined the Northern army, with the intention of deserting at the first opportunity. When on picket guard at the river, he pretended to bathe, and, being a good swimmer, manfully struck out for the Virginia shore. When midway, he turned and shouted: “Good-by, boys; I'm bound for Dixie!” “Come back, or we'll shoot!” answered the guard. “Shoot, and be d-d, you white-livered nigger-thieves,” shouted Black, and in the midst of a shower of Minie balls; he safely landed among us. He willingly entered our service, and proved an admirable soldier. During the battle he performed. many feats of daring, and at night formed one of a corporal's guard who escorted a full company of Federals off the ground. As Black was laughing and joking, the captain of the Federals remarked to him: “I ought to know that voice!-is that you, black?” “That's me!” jocosely replied the Scotchman. “I hope you're well, captain, you and all the boys! I couldn't stay with you, you see; it wasn't because I feared to fight, but I like to fight in the right cause always.” It is needless to say Black was escorting his old company, officers and all. [110] At the commencement of the action our men perceived among the enemy several negroes, who seemed to take great care of themselves, and could not be induced to leave the trees behind which they fought. Many of us took a “pop” at the darkies, but always missed. When the fact became known to our colored boys, who always persisted in going to battle with us, they dropped the wounded they were carrying off, and immediately formed plans for capturing “de black ‘Bolition teeves.” It was very amusing to see their display of generalship. “Go back to the rear, boys,” said the officers, “this is no place for you!” But the darkies would not go back, and lurking behind their masters picked off the enemy's officers at a rapid rate. At last the regiment made a sudden charge, when, to our surprise, we found that not less than half a dozen black fellows had preceded us, and were each bringing out a prisoner of the same color, abusing them roundly, and kicking them unmercifully. “You black rascal you!-does you mean to fight agin white folks, you ugly niggers, you? Suppose you tinks yourself no ‘small taters’ wid dat blue jacket on and dem striped pants. You'll oblige dis Missippi darkey by pulling dem off right smart, if yer doesn't want dat head oa yourn broke.” “You are a mighty smart nigger, you is!” said one. of our cooks to his captive; “comin‘ down Souf to whip de whites! You couldn't stay ‘t home and let us fight de Yanks, but you must come along too, eh I You took putty good care o‘ yourself, you did, behind dat old oak! I was a lookin‘ at yer; and if you hadn't dodged so much, you was a gone chicken long ago, you ugly ole Abe Lincolnite, you!”

Some of our servants were fortunate enough to pick up many valuables, including diamond-pins, watches, rings, and money, and as at Manassas, they selected the finest Federal uniforms they could discover, in which they dressed themselves, and then promenaded round town with their sweethearts. I discovered my servant one morning making coffee, completely dressed in the grandest style, from boots to the gilded shoulder. straps, of some unfortunate Federal officer. In their conversation, they seemed to look upon the Yankees with contempt, and especially because they didn't fight to suit them. “Talk of dem Yanks comin‘ down to whip us! Dey must be sick! Why, massa can whale a dozen of 'em ‘fore coffee is hot, fair [111] fight. Dem Nordon darkies is no ‘count, and yet dey puts on all de airs in the worle. If eber I ketch any of dern darkies comin‘ in my way, or foolin‘ wid me, dis chile is goin‘ to make somebody holler, sure!”

General Evans had received command of all the forces in South-Carolina; and as that State was threatened with invasion, he now hurried forward to perfect arrangements; his successor in our command was General D. H. Hill, (brother-in-law to “StonewallJackson,) and a very superior officer. General Griffith (cousin of the President) commanded the brigade. From the moment of his arrival, Hill was continually in the saddle, and, nearly always alone, soon made himself master of every acre in Loudon County. I shall have to speak of this officer again. He had already achieved fame at Little Bethel as colonel of the Carolina Volunteers, and greatly emulated Jackson in all his doings. Having selected fine sites near the river, he commenced fortifying with great vigor, much to the annoyance of the enemy, who had meditated crossing the ice during heavy winter, and surprising us before reenforcements could march up from Centreville. The mud-work at Fort Evans was also enlarged, covered, made bomb-proof, and pierced for six thirty-two pounders; long lines of rifle-pits were dug during night close to the river and elsewhere; a hill was fortified to the south, commanding Fort Evans; and another, more import. ant still, north of the town, which commanded every approach. Figuratively, our fortifications were lions without teeth; for guns could not be spared at Manassas; and the roads were in such bad order that it required twenty-four oxen to draw one thirty-two-pounder a distance of twenty-five miles, and taking not less than three days to do it. Hill worked hard, however, and placed six heavy pieces in position, and astonished the enemy by shelling them out of their battery behind Edwards's Ferry.

In the mean time it had become apparent to all that some grand move was planning in Maryland; for heavy masses of troops were continually seen moving from point to point. Our cavalry force was therefore increased, and guarded the Upper Potomac; and now all being prepared as far as our means permitted, we committed the event to fortune, and in November received the joyful order to go into winter quarters.

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