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Chapter 40:

  • Movements in Virginia and preparation for the fall campaign
  • -- Pope, and the New Federal army on the Rappahannock -- combinations of the enemy developing by McClellan on our right and Pope on the left -- preparations and dispositions of General Lee -- Jackson is sent in the van -- what he does, and the manner of doing it -- he breaks the advance corps of his old friend Banks -- battle of Cedar Mountain.

Despite the manoeuvring of McClellan's forces south of the James River, and the threatened advance of Burnside from Suffolk and Norfolk, as if to form a junction and cooperate with him, the true state of the case was soon perceived by our corps of observation at Petersburgh. Either indecision prevailed in the councils of the two generals, or all their movements near the seaboard were intended to hold us in check upon the James, while the large forces of Pope, on the Rappahannock and Rapidan, should obtain eligible positions, and perhaps advance so far as to be beyond our power to arrest them. It is possible that conflicting opinions existed between McClellan and Burnside, as was also known to be the case between the first-named and Pope. Burnside was ambitious-he was considered “a successful man,” from his capture of Roanoke Island, and “full of promise;” McClellan had yet to win his spurs, and was now bullied by a brutal press for being unsuccessful. Burnside was politically allied to the Government; McClellan was not. Burnside was desirous of superseding McClellan in command of the “Grand army,” or what remained of it, while the latter was actuated by pure military feeling, and perhaps scarcely cared who commanded, if only success could be insured. Thus, although it seemed probable at one time that a junction of their forces might ensue, McClellan's desires were thwarted, and Burnside was ordered round to reenforce Pope.

Finding that the expected reenforcement of Burnside was hopeless, McClellan withdrew his troops from the south side, [424] and quietly prepared to leave the peninsula, which he now considered untenable. But before this final movement of the much-abused McClellan took place, General Lee perceived the scene of action was rapidly changing from the James to the Rappahannock, and that every available man at the North was being despatched with all haste to Pope. Banks, with a strong corps of New-England troops, was stationed within a short distance of Culpeper Court-House, while strong detachments of cavalry and artillery had penetrated even so far southward as Gordonsville, but did not retain possession of that all-important point. They were merely feeling the way to its ultimate occupation. This was perfectly known to us and the value of Gordonsville fully appreciated; for the only two routes to Richmond and the South united there, and, if. once strongly garrisoned by the enemy, they would circumscribe all our operations, and cause the fall of Richmond without the absolute necessity of losing a man.

Secrecy has been the characteristic of all our movements; civilians are seldom allowed admission to our camps under any pretence; strong guards always encircle our lines, so that it is almost an impossibility to gain entrance. Thus, until the latest moment, none know the destination of troops, or the object in view, and even then brigadiers are frequently no better informed than the humblest patriot in the ranks. If this is true of movements generally, it is peculiarly so in regard to the rapid marches of “Stonewall ;” for a person might as reasonably “whistle jigs to a mile-stone” as attempt to gleam information from the sharp-eyed, tart, sarcastic, crabbed-spoken Jackson. When his corps received orders to move, some imagined merely “a change of camps,” or some such indifferent movement; yet when Richmond was left far to the south, and the column proceeded rapidly in a north-western direction, many old campaigners began to whistle ominously, and with a mysterious wink in the direction of the Shenandoah Valley, would sarcastically observe, “Lee's short of rations again! Jackson's detailed to go to the commissary!” in allusion to the immense supplies more than once captured by Jackson from the unfortunate Banks.

While our columns were toiling along the dusty roads, in a [425] westward course, cavalry had been pushed ahead several days before, and were scouring the country in all directions southwest, driving small detachments of the enemy before them. No action or combat of importance, however, had occurred save in the neighborhood of Gordonsville, where a sharp cavalry encounter took place, with loss on both sides; yet the enemy rapidly fell back towards the Rapidan, and seemed disinclined to operate in the fine open country south of it. This was generalship. They knew not what force was approaching; by crossing the stream and destroying the bridges, a deep unfordable river was left in our front, which would occasion much delay; and as Culpeper was as a pivot-point by which the enemy could keep open the communication with their main army under Pope, approaching east by north; with Miles advancing from the west through the Valley with a heavy force, and with Washington nearly due north; Banks had massed his troops in a wooded plain near Cedar Mountain. Pope was not more than thirty miles to his left, with large masses advancing; while Miles, with fourteen thousand of all arms, was midway up the Valley, distant some forty or more miles to his right. The passage of the Rapidan, it was well known, would be hotly disputed, and particularly at the railroad-bridge, for all the best roads to Culpeper cross and recross in the neighborhood. When, therefore, our advance appeared on the south bank, fierce and heavy cannonading ensued, which lasted several hours, and was so obstinately maintained on our part as to attract the attention of Banks himself, inland and farther up the stream.

It was confidently expected we should cross at this point, but Jackson had made other arrangements, and unexpectedly crossed over much higher up, north-westward, without the loss of a man. Our movements were evidently too rapid for Banks; indeed, no possible despatch could save him, for if we were so inclined, it was in our power to force a general engagement before any of the other divisions could arrive to his succor.

Once across the river, our order of march was changed; so that at any given moment the columns could deploy and not be subjected to confusion or surprise. With strong detachments of cavalry to the front, fanned out in skirmishing order, the [426] enemy's movements were closely watched; light-armed, well-tried infantry followed at intervals, supported by light and active batteries, and, last of all, the main army which, in separate columns, pushed along roads and through the fields with elastic step, expecting every moment to be thrown into line.

While standing on a hill which overlooks the railroad-bridge, the panorama of this beautiful grass country was presented to my view in a charming prospect. At my feet ran the Rapidan, flowing north-eastwardly, and debouching in the Rappahannock many miles away. All the landscape, north and east, was an undulating plain, plentifully timbered at intervals, while to the north-west and west rose parallel chains of hills and mountains, which, farther inland, inclose the beautiful Valley of the Shenandoah. In the gorgeous sunset of an Indian summer, with its varied tints of blue, gold, purple, and orange, the face of the country was one indescribable vista of sunlight and shade. In the distance various streams pursued their devious course, now lost in the forest, now sparkling in the open-only the pen or pencil of one inspired could give the faintest conception of this verdant, fruitful, and delightful region. Far away in the distance, white and red brick houses dotted the undulating farms; yet not a sign of life was discernible, no flocks, no cattle, no horses; the country was deserted-the young in the army, the old ruthlessly driven from their homesteads.

When the sun was sinking, distant reports of musketry, far in advance, informed us that our vanguard were already skirmishing with the enemy, and driving in their outposts. Most of the firing seemed to be in the direction of Cedar Run, or Cedar Mountain, about seven miles from Culpeper, where the enemy were drawn up in order of battle, with an effective strength of more than thirty thousand men, well supplied with artillery. The day was too far advanced for an engagement and as their precise position could not be ascertained, Jackson was busily engaged along our lines, making — every disposition for the morrow.

From dusty and weary scouts who arrived during night, we ascertained something regarding the true position of Banks's army. A few of these adventurous spirits had been prowling [427] about the enemy's encampments in different parts of the country, and had discovered the following facts: One of the enemy's army corps, under Sigel, was on their right among the hills at Sperryville, watching the roads and all direct communication with their rear at Mount Washington, Warrenton, and Manassas Junction; a heavy force was stationed on Pope's left, at or near Waterloo on the Rappahannock, while somewhat to the rear of Banks and Pope was McDowell's corps. It was concluded with reason that these various bodies would be unable to appear upon the field to assist Banks, should Jackson force him to engage on the following day, (Saturday, August ninth.)

During the night, pickets, in our extreme front, were popping away at each other occasionally, and early in the morning our advance was resumed, cautiously and slowly. As the country was admirably adapted for concealment, our strength and position were never truly ascertained by the enemy's cavalry outposts, so that although our cavalry on the right were enjoying a merry time with those of Pope, our artillery gradually approached Cedar Mountain, and took up a strong position on the north side of it, unknown to the enemy. As this mountain-side commanded the sloping corn-fields and woods, stretching away at its base and sweeping the Federal advance, Jackson ordered to advance large bodies of skirmishers in order to draw the enemy forward.

Desultory picket-firing occupied most of the morning; and when noon had passed, many imagined that old “Stonewall” would defer an attack till the morrow; but those who had served with him, knowing well his mode of warfare, laughed at the idea. “Jackson is too wise to defer an engagement,” said they; “and is fully aware that, by to-morrow, Sigel and others will be up within supporting distance and may overwhelm him. Besides, when our general commences late in the day, he can soon beat his enemy if both, are equal in force; but if he gets badly handled, he can still fight on until dark, and if need be, receive reenforcements or retreat during night.” Such in truth had been Jackson's method in many engagements; for, nearly always outnumbered, he had either vanquished the enemy before nightfall after a few hours' engagement, or had securely retreated after severely punishing them. So on this occasion, when [428] skirmishing became more brisk during the afternoon, and our advance posts gradually fell back towards the mountain, it was evident that Banks was determined to push us hard, and begin the engagement. This exactly suited Jackson, who had posted a heavy force of artillery on the hill-side, which at a given signal would open upon the enemy's flanks and finish the work.

It was now about five o'clock in the evening, the infantry fire had become more regular and sustained; regiments could be plainly seen advancing or retreating through the fields, but what precise order of battle was maintained upon our side could not be well ascertained on account of the broken character of the country. Clearly, Banks was ignorant of the existence of a flanking force ready to assail him from the hill, or he would not have advanced his infantry so close under it. His immediate object was to capture or displace some few pieces of artillery which, posted in the edge of a wood, caused much destruction among his advancing columns, which pieces also he foolishly imagined were unsupported. The infantry thus far had been hotly engaged on both sides, and it rather appeared as if ours were falling back. But this was a ruse.

Gathering together several brigades in which he had most confidence, Banks ordered them to charge the guns before mentioned, and Crawford's brigade gallantly rushed forward in fulfilment of the order. Our gunners seeing the intended movement, slackened fire, and reserved their strength until the proper moment; while several regiments of infantry, in support, cocked their rifles and lay on their faces concealed in the timber. As soon as the attacking column had emerged into open ground and deployed, advancing with shouts to the charge, grape, canister, and shell assailed them from several pieces, and broke them in a moment.

Banks was angry, and determined to force our position. Other brigades were quickly brought to the front and advanced over the dead bodies of their comrades, our gunners watching their approach, and at the right moment discharging their pieces with such accuracy that the attacking force seemed literally to melt away. Then our infantry suddenly rose from their ambush, and giving a withering volley at short distance, yelled and charged. Broken and demoralized as they undoubtedly [429] were after this short but bloody engagement, it required but little more effort to rout the enemy's right wing. This was accomplished by suddenly throwing forward our left, which threw the enemy into such confusion that one whole brigade, under General Prince, was reduced to a crowd of fugitives, running they knew not whither.

The attack of Banks had evidently failed, his centre and left were irreparably broken; while, to add to his confusion and dismay, our cannon on the hill-side, immediately commanding the field, opened rapidly upon his broken forces, as they retreated in the wildest confusion from the scene. The advance was now taken up, and we drove the remnants of their army before us a considerable distance; but they retired so rapidly that was impossible to overtake them. From causes, then unknown to me, we were suddenly halted, and took up positions originally occupied when the action opened two hours before. Finding us disinclined to pursue, Banks halted his men also, not far from the battle-field, and the smoke of their camp-fires was soon seen ascending over the trees.

While our weary soldiers were seeking rest after this brief but bloody battle, parties of horsemen moved from point to point, apparently to guard against any attempt on the part of the enemy to occupy the battle-field and despoil it of our valuable booty. This was our first surmise; but when it was ascertained that squadrons of Stuart's cavalry were also in motion, it was certain that some dashing achievement was in contemplation. It was like watching a succession of scenes on the stage. As the evening grew dark a party of horsemen appeared on the field as if to take notes; several of them dismounted, and appeared to be conversing angrily and gesticulating wildly, when suddenly a party of our men dashed from the thicket and madly spurred towards them. The enemy were annoyed, but evidently were not to be surprised, for, the distance being considerable, they hastily remounted and galloped off. Our troopers boldly plunged forward after them, and frequent shots were heard in the direction they had taken. After some time our men returned with a few prisoners, who informed us that the Federal horsemen pursued were none other than General Pope and other officers of distinction, who, it seems, had the [430] impudence to ride upon the ground in order to make it appear that the field was theirs I Every one thought it a pity that Pope had not been captured; our men heartily hated him for his ruthless cruelty1 to the inhabitants of the country, and his extraordinary amount of vanity and bombast. It was ascertained from these prisoners, also, that General McDowell's forces had arrived, and that Sigel was rapidly approaching, so that by the morrow there would be two full corps before us, irrespective of Banks, who was still in front. It was well, therefore, that Jackson had not pushed forward too far, or it must have precipitated an engagement on the morrow, in which he could not reasonably have expected to be successful. The commands of McDowell, Sigel, and Banks, amounted originally to sixty thousand men, with a heavy force of artillery; while the most that Jackson could muster numbered from twenty thousand to twenty-five thousand. Posted as we were, our position could have made a [431] strong defence, if attacked in force by Pope on the morrow; but of this there were no indications.

Perceiving that his old friend Banks was unwilling to leave the vicinity of the battle-field, and positive that he would, as usual, claim it as his own, Jackson determined to put the disputed question beyond all doubt by forcing him, in a rough sort of way, to change his camps at an inconvenient and uncomfortable time. About midnight, therefore, while the beaten and prostrate enemy were fast asleep round their smouldering camp-fires, our artillery on the hill-side suddenly opened, and, with a deafening roar, threw shot and shell among them with great rapidity and precision. In truth, it was a pretty sight to see this dark hill-side, in bold relief against a pale blue sky, suddenly illuminated by a semi-circular sheet of flame, hurling death and destruction upon the numberless flickering camp-fires that dotted the plain. It was sad, at the same time, to reflect upon the fate of men thus aroused from sleep to be hurried into eternity. Such, however, are the stern necessities of war.

The noise and confusion among the awakened slumberers were indescribable, and pickets at the outposts informed us that they could distinctly hear field-officers shouting and galloping about in the darkness, vainly endeavoring to rally their commands. Wagons and guns, infantry and cavalry, were suddenly put in motion, and the receding noise did not subside for several hours. The loss to the enemy by this unexpected cannonade must have been great, yet, whatever it might have been, their,generals never openly confessed to it. All that we could subsequently gather amounted to this — that large masses of men were so panic-stricken, that, with or without officers, they rushed to the rear, and did not stop running until they reached Culpeper.

While all had reason enough to rejoice in the signal discomfiture of a foe who had been laying waste the land with fire and sword, many mourned the untimely end of Brigadier-General Winder, who had fallen during the day while gallantly leading his command into action upon the enemy's flank. The event was particularly memorable; and the more to be lamented from. the fact that it occurred while extricating the original Stonewall brigade from an awkward position to which it [432] had been forced by the superior numbers of the enemy. Our men, however, had amply revenged his fall. General Prince, together with thirty commissioned officers, and upwards of three hundred other prisoners, had been marched to the rear and sent to Richmond. The officers, indeed, were handcuffed and treated in the exact manner prescribed for the rebels by Pope and his inhuman subordinates, who had been ruling with a rod of iron among a peaceable and inoffensive rural population. The number of arms found upon the field I never ascertained, but knew that the booty was considerable.

All expected that hostilities would recommence on the morrow, but from ignorance of our true position and strength, Pope deferred all operations for that day. The enemy, however, were so anxious that the field should be regarded as their own, that when our burying parties were set to work they made a pretence of performing the same duty. They did not, however, confine themselves to the removal of the dead, but began to gather up the scattered arms, leaving the dead to our charge. Perceiving this, our artillery opened with such effect as to completely disperse them. Next day, however, Jackson sent forward a flag of truce, giving Banks permission to bury his dead, which was readily accepted; provision was of course taken to prevent the Yankees from prying too closely into our position and number. During the truce many officers of both armies met and conversed upon the field, and all seemed animated with the best of feeling. General Stuart was among the first to mount his horse to trot over the field; and while engaged in conversation, up rode his old companion in arms, Brigadier-General Hartsuff, of the Federal cavalry, and politely saluting him, jocularly remarked: “Hallo Stuart, my boy, how goes it? who'd a thought of such changes within so short a time? I was over you once, you know; now you're a full major-general, and I but a simple brigadier.”

It cannot be denied that much bravery had been displayed by both armies in this brief encounter, and the brigades led forward against our batteries behaved wonderfully well. This did not surprise us when we learned that they were for the most part composed of New-York and Pennsylvania troops. Many [433] of our own officers, indeed, had shown unexampled pluck and endurance; one instance of which particularly struck me. A major in command of his regiment (the colonel being disabled) had led it into a rather “hot” place, and was obliged to retire, with part of his nose shot off, his left arm shot through and through, the toe, of his boot shot away, and he had a flesh wound in his thigh. Having had his nose bandaged and his arm put in a sling, while the regiment was re-forming, he mounted his horse again and shouted out, “Come on, boys, for; ward! we'll pay 'em off for that last trick of theirs;” and pushed forward into battle again. I was also informed of a brave colonel, who, being shot, had fallen from his horse and injured, himself much internally. His sole thought, however, was of his regiment, and though unable to ride, begged two men on foot to support him in the rear, so that he might superintend the movements of his men, just as the enemy were in full flight from the field.

Jackson's inactivity surprised all who knew him. None could imagine why he remained so long before a powerful enemy, and made no movements of any kind. It seemed, however, that he was waiting for some demonstration from the foe, and this not being vouchsafed, he was content to fall back again at his leisure over the Rapidan, and there await the main army, which all knew was now rapidly marching from Richmond to cooperate with him. McClellan, we were informed, had effected his — escape from Harrison's Landing, and was doubtless transporting his troops to Washington. It was possibly Lee's plan to overwhelm Pope and his Army of Virginia ere the remains of McClellan's Army of the Potomac could come to his assistance. This, however, was only the gossiping surmise of subordinate officers, for generals of divisions never opened their lips, nor even deigned to smile. It seemed to be the ambition of those mysterious individuals, now in particular, to exhibit a cold and reserved demeanor; to be active, and at the same time solemn in their deportment.

1 I think it unnecessary to dwell at length upon the brutality practised by Pope's troops upon the poor people of Virginia, but annex one instance as an example of their ruffianism and cowardice. The facts are derived from a private and confidential letter:

Federal atrocities in Virginia far outstrip all tales of fiction. Rape, arson, and theft seem to be the constant attendants of an army professing to fight for the Union. A recital of the horrible murders that mark its bloody attack, one might suppose, would appall the doomed of Hades. Mrs. Fitzhugh, of Ravensworth — mother of the late Andrew Fitzhugh, of the Navy-a lady of distinguished position, and one singularly embodying the graces and virtues of her sex, was brutally murdered in front of her house. Ravensworth, the family-seat of the Fitzhughs, you know, is one of the oldest estates in Virginia; it has been in the, family since the reign of Charles the Second, from whom it was received as a grant, and has ever been noted as a place where a profuse hospitality was dispensed by as gentle and refined a people as live.

The old lady, who was over eighty years of age, infirm and blind, leaning on the arm of her maid, was taking a little exercise in front of her mansion, when the girl suddenly cried out, “0 mistress there come the Yankees!” and in terror ran to the house. Mrs. Fitzhugh called out to her, “ Don't leave me alone with these vile Yankees!” when one of them approached, and, with the butt of his gun, killed her! Shortly after, two of her daughters, who had been visiting a neighbor, returned. One of them was seized and sent to Washington a prisoner — the other, so appalled at seeing her mother weltering in blood, became speechless! The latter was left by the soldiers, who, on retiring, laughingly remarked: “ Well, you can now bury the old hag--God b-t her!”

Instances like this could be multiplied, but their recital is too revolting. Indeed, none would ever credit the atrocities of Pope's army were they not upon the spot and eye-witness to them.

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John Pope (19)
N. P. Banks (18)
Stonewall Jackson (13)
George B. McClellan (11)
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Franz Sigel (4)
Fitz-Hugh Lee (4)
J. E. B. Stuart (3)
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Stonewall (2)
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August 9th (1)
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