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Chapter 6:

General Lee had now decided not to attack the enemy in their strong fortifications around Alexandria, but boldly to carry the war into the enemy's territory, or at least into the fertile plains of Maryland. Many advantages, it was hoped, might be secured by this policy. For a considerable period he would be able there to subsist his army, relieved from the necessity of protecting his lines of communication for supplies. The confident belief was also entertained that our army would be increased by 20,000 to 25,000 recruits, who were supposed to be only awaiting the opportunity of taking up arms against the Federal Government. Being so reinforced, our commander-in-chief doubted not that he might easily strike a blow against Baltimore, or even Washington, or transfer the theatre of military operations across the border into the rich agricultural region of Pennsylvania. [128]

On the morning of the 5th September there was again presented throughout the Confederate camps a scene of bustling activity. Every regiment was preparing for the march, officers were riding to and fro, and the long artillerytrains were moving off along the turnpike, their rumbling noise combining with the rattle of the drums and the roll of the bugles to wake the echoes for miles around. Our direction was northward, and as we rode onward towards the little town of Leesburg, inspirited by this fact, our horses exhibiting new life from yesterday's repose, many a youthful hero looked forward to his triumphant entry into the Federal capital, or to a joyous reception at the hands of the fair women of Baltimore, whose irrepressible sympathies had been always with the South.

After a march of several hours the column reached Leesburg, and the streets of the village were at once so compactly filled with troops, artillery, and waggon-trains, that General Stuart determined to make a detour with his cavalry, which had been halted about a mile distant, in preference to proceeding through the place. It was necessary, however, for the General to repair for final instructions to the headquarters of General Lee in the town, and in this ride he was accompanied by his Staff.

Leesburg, the county seat of Loudoun, is a town or village of about 4000 inhabitants, some four miles from the Potomac river, and, as might be readily supposed from its proximity to the border, was alternately in the possession of the Yankees and the Confederates, having undergone a change of masters several times during the war. General Lee's headquarters was set up in the commodious dwelling of a prominent citizen. Jackson and Longstreet had both already arrived there, and our great commander was soon engaged in a council of war with his lieutenants.

While this conference was going on, I went across the [129] street, with several other members of the Staff, to partake of an early dinner at the invitation of an old gentleman who lived directly opposite headquarters. Our venerable host had some time before been paralysed, and now spent the greater part of every day in a cane chair of immense proportions, seated in which he received us. This chair-so big as to resemble rather a summer-house or a cottage-came, through the chances of war, to a violent comico-tragical end. Some months after our visit, during one of the numerous fights that took place around Leesburg, our excellent old friend was seated in his favourite fauteuil, patiently awaiting the result of the conflict, when suddenly a shell crashed through the ceiling of the apartment, and bursting immediately under the chair of cane, tore it to atoms. The attendants, after recovering from their fright, looked around for the mangled remains of its late occupant. Strange to relate, the old gentleman had sustained not the slightest injury, and could complain of nothing beyond the somewhat rude manner in which he had been tossed upon the floor.

About two o'clock in the afternoon we received orders to move on, and after a dusty and very much impeded march of two hours, winding through infantry columns, and compelled frequently to halt, we reached the Potomac at White's Ford, where the cavalry were to cross. The banks of this noble river, which is of great width at this point, rise to the height of about sixty feet above the bed of the stream, and are overshadowed by gigantic trees of primeval growth, the trunks and branches of which are enwrapped with luxuriant vines, that, after reaching the very top, fall in graceful streamers and festoons to the ground, thus presenting tangles of tender verdure rarely seen in the forests of Europe. At White's Ford the Potomac is divided into two streams by a sandy strip of island in the middle. This island is half a mile in length, and offered us a momentary resting-place half-way [130] in our passage of the river. It was, indeed, a magnificent sight as the long column of many thousand horsemen stretched across this beautiful Potomac. The evening sun slanted upon its clear placid waters, and burnished them with gold, while the arms of the soldiers glittered and blazed in its radiance. There were few moments, perhaps, from the beginning to the close of the war, of excitement more intense, of exhilaration more delightful, than when we ascended the opposite bank to the familiar but now strangely thrilling music of “Maryland, my Maryland.” As I gained the dry ground, I little thought that in a short time I should recross the river into Virginia, under circumstances far different and far less inspiring.

The passage of the Potomac by the column occupied about two hours, and was attended with some difficulty to our artillery, as the water in many places rose quite up to the middle of the horses' bodies. Having safely accomplished it, we continued our march towards the little town of Poolesville. The inhabitants of Maryland whom we met along the road, with some exceptions, did not greet us quite so cordially as we had expected, this portion of the state being less devoted than others to the Confederate cause. It was different, however, at Poolesville. We reached this place about nightfall, with Fitz Lee's brigade; but just before entering it, our advanced-guard had a brisk little engagement with a squadron of Federal cavalry stationed there, which they dispersed by a sudden attack, killing and wounding several, and capturing thirty prisoners, with an equal number of horses. We remained in Poolesville about an hour, and in this brief space the enthusiasm of the citizens rose to fever heat. The wildest and absurdest questions were eagerly asked by the honest burghers concerning the strength of our armies, our intended movements, &c. &c. A number of young men became so much excited that they immediately mounted their horses and insisted upon joining our ranks. Two young [131] merchants of the village, suddenly resolving to enlist in the cavalry, announced the peremptory sale of their extensive stock of groceries upon the spot for Confederate money. Our soldiers cleared out both establishments during the hour, to the last pin. Soldiers, on such occasions, are like children. They buy everything, and embarrass themselves with numberless articles which very soon afterwards are thrown away as useless. I myself could not resist the temptation of purchasing a box of cigars, a parcel of white crushed sugar, some lemons, and a pocket-knife, in the possession of which treasures I felt as happy as a king.

We bivouacked for the night about two miles from Poolesville, where we were fortunate enough to get an abundant supply of clover, hay, and Indian-corn for our horses. The following day we pushed on to the village of Urbana. On our march thither we saw, on the top of an isolated mountain of considerable height (known as the “Sugar Loaf” ), a Yankee signal-station, where a company in charge were making signals to some of their colleagues at a distance with great rapidity. A small detachment was immediately sent after these industrious fellows, and speedily returned, bringing with them several officers and men, and an entire apparatus of beautiful instruments. We entered Urbana about noon. Around this place the cavalry had orders to encamp. My own instructions from General Stuart were to establish his headquarters, and afterwards to seek him at the headquarters of Jackson, who had bivouacked near the town of Frederick, eight miles farther on, having crossed the Potomac at fords higher up than the point of our passage, and by a forced march outstripped us by this distance.

Urbana is a pretty village of neat white houses, situated half-way between Poolesville and Frederick, in the midst of a smiling and prosperous country. The simple arrangements for our headquarters were quickly made, a few tents were [132] pitched in the garden of a modest dwelling in the very centre of the village, the horses were picketed around, and in a few minutes the smoke rising from a dozen or more camp-fires gave pleasing assurance that the negroes were busy with their kettles in the occupation of all others most suited to their genius and temper — the preparation of dinner. Unfortunately, I could not wait to profit by the results of their culinary talent, and before my comrades of the Staff had commenced their meal I was trotting along the broad turnpike towards Frederick.

This town, which has a population of about 15,000, occupies a charming site in one of the most fertile valleys of Maryland, and is approached from Poolesville by a road lined on either side by rich estates, whose mansions are built round with the green verandahs of the South. At the point where the road sweeps suddenly down from a higher elevation to the vale of the Monocacy the view is really grand. Well-tilled fields stretch away for miles to purple ranges of mountains in the far distance; in the middle of the plain lies the city, with its domes and steeples, and in the intermediate space flows the brawling, limpid stream of the Monocacy, spanned by lofty bridges and the noble viaduct of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway. Frederick was a depot of supplies for the Federal army during the war, and in a strategetical point of view was a place of considerable importance.

Jackson's corps had taken the town completely by surprise, and a portion of the troops stationed there had been captured, besides two hospitals containing several hundred wounded men, and immense stores of medicines, provisions, and equipments. As General Stuart, always uncertain in his movements, was not at Jackson's headquarters, and was supposed to have gone into the town, I determined to ride there myself in the hope of finding him. Entering the good old [133] city of Frederick, I found it in a tremendous state of excitement. The Unionists living there had their houses closely shut up and barred; but the far greater number of the citizens, being favourably disposed to the Confederate cause, had thrown wide open their doors and windows, and welcomed our troops with the liveliest enthusiasm. Flags were floating from the houses, and garlands of flowers were hung across the streets. Everywhere a dense multitude was moving up and down, singing and shouting in a paroxysm of joy and patriotic emotion, in many cases partly superinduced by an abundant flow of strong liquors.

Every officer who wore a plume in his hat was immediately taken for Jackson or Stuart: all averments to the contrary, all remonstrances with the crowd, were utterly useless. The public would have it their own way. So it happened that I was very soon followed by a wild mob of people, of all ages, from the old greybeard down to the smallest boy, all insisting that I was Jackson, and venting their admiration in loud cheers and huzzas. Ladies rushed out of their houses with bouquets. In vain did I declare that I was not Jackson. This disclaimer, they said, was prompted by the well-known modesty of the great hero, and afforded them the surest means of recognising him. The complication grew worse every minute. To escape these annoying ovations I dismounted at last at a hotel, but here I was little better off. It was like jumping into the mill-pond to get out of the rain. The proprietor of the establishment being a German, many of Germania's sons were there assembled, immersed in beer and smoking like so many furnaces. I am quite sure that most of them were very decided Yankee sympathisers, but as a grey uniform was right among them, and many others were not far off, they talked the hottest secession, and nearly floored me with their questions. One who had seen Jackson's columns on the march, affirmed they numbered not a man less than 300,000. [134] Another was only in doubt as to the day and hour when we should victoriously enter Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. All were sure that 30,000 Marylanders were ready to follow in the next few days our invincible army, a large proportion of whom were at that moment in Frederick, waiting only for arms, &c. &c.

I was exceedingly glad to break away from all this and get back to Urbana, there to rest my weary limbs on the soft carpet of grass at headquarters. As it was evident that we should be stationed at Urbana for some days, General Stuart, in order to establish a regular line of outposts, separated the different brigades of his command. Fitz Lee's was sent to the little town of Newmarket, about ten miles off; Robertson's, under Colonel Munford, was ordered to the neighbourhood of Sugar Loaf Mountain; while Hampton's remained in the immediate vicinity of Urbana. The following morning we were waited upon by the dignitaries of the place, and received an invitation for dinner from a Mr C., with whom and his pleasant family we soon became intimately acquainted.

There were several very charming and pretty young ladies staying at Mr C. s house, and among them one from New York, a relation of the family, on a visit to Urbana, whom General Stuart, from her warm outspoken Confederate sympathies, jokingly called the New York Rebel. In the agreeable conversation of these ladies, in mirth and song, the afternoon of our dinner-party passed lightly and rapidly away; and then came night, queenly and beautiful, with a round moon, whose beams penetrating the windows suggested to our debonnair commander a promenade, which he at once proposed, and which was carried nem. con. Leaving to our fair friends the choice of their partners, we were guided by them to a large building, crowning the summit of a gentle hill on the edge of the village, from which a broad avenue of trees sloped downwards to the principal street. This building had [135] been occupied before the breaking out of the war as an academy, but was now entirely deserted and dismantled, and our footsteps echoed loudly as we walked through its wide, empty halls, once so noisy with human voices. Each storey of the house had its ample verandah running round it, and from the highest of these we had a magnificent view of the village and the surrounding country. The night was calm, the dark blue firmament was besprinkled with myriads of stars, and the moon poured over the landscape a misty bluish light that made it all look unreal. One might have thought it a magical scenic effect of the theatre, or been carried back in imagination to the Thousand and One Nights of Eastern fable, had not the camp-fires of our troops and the constant neighing of the horses reminded him of the realities by which he was surrounded.

We were indulging in the dreamy sentiment natural to the hour, when the gay voice of Stuart broke in-“Major, what a capital place for us to give a ball in honour of our arrival in Maryland! don't you think we could manage it?” To this there was a unanimous response in the affirmative, which was especially hearty on the part of the ladies. It was at once agreed that the ball should be given. I undertook to make all necessary arrangements for the illumination and decoration of the hall, the issuing the cards of invitation, &c., leaving to Stuart the matter of the music, which he gladly consented to provide.

A soldier's life is so uncertain, and his time is so little at his own disposal, that in affairs of this sort delays are always to be avoided; and so we determined on our way home, to the great joy of our fair companions, that the ball should come off on the following evening.

There was great stir of preparation at headquarters on the morning of the 8th. Invitations to the ball were sent out to all the families in Urbana and its neighbourhood, and to the [136] officers of Hampton's brigade. The large halls of the Academy were aired and swept and festooned with roses, and decorated with battle-flags borrowed from the different regiments. At seven in the evening all was complete, and already the broad avenue was filled with our fair guests, proceeding to the scene of festivity according to their social rank and fortune — some on foot, others in simple light “rockaways,” others again in stately family coaches, driven by fat negro coachmen who sat upon the box with great dignity. Very soon the sound of distant bugles announced the coming of the band of the 18th Mississippi Infantry, the Colonel and Staff of the regiment, who had been invited as an act of courtesy, leading the way, and the band playing in excellent style the well-known air of Dixie. Amid the loud applause of the numerous invited and uninvited guests, we now made our grand entree into the large hall, which was brilliantly lighted with tallow candles. As master of the ceremonies, it was my office to arrange the order of the different dances, and I had decided upon a polka as the best for an animated beginning. I had selected the New York Rebel as the queen of the festival, and had expected to open the ball with her as my partner, and my surprise was great indeed when my fair friend gracefully eluded my extended arms, and with some confusion explained that she did not join in round dances, thus making me uncomfortably acquainted for the first time with the fact that in America, and especially in the South, young ladies rarely waltz except with brothers or first cousins, and indulge only in reels and contre-dances with strangers. Not to be baffled, however, I at once ordered the time of the music to be changed, and had soon forgotten my disappointment as to the polka in a very lively quadrille. Louder and louder sounded the instruments, quicker and quicker moved the dancers, and the whole crowded room, with its many exceedingly pretty women and [137] its martial figures of officers in their best uniforms, presented a most striking spectacle of gaiety and enjoyment. Suddenly enters an orderly covered with dust, and reports in a loud voice to General Stuart that the enemy have surprised and driven in our pickets and are attacking our camp in force, while at the same moment the sound of shots in rapid succession is distinctly borne to us on the midnight air.

The excitement which followed this announcement I cannot undertake to describe. The music crashed into a concordia discors. The officers rushed to their weapons and called for their horses, panic-stricken fathers and mothers endeavoured in a frantic way to collect around them their bewildered children, while the young ladies ran to and fro in most admired despair. General Stuart maintained his accustomed coolness and composure. Our horses were immediately saddled, and in less than five minutes we were in rapid gallop to the front. Upon arriving there we found, as is usually the case in such sudden alarms, that things were by no means so desperate as they had been represented.

Colonel Baker, with the splendid 1st North Carolina regiment, had arrested the bold forward movement of the Yankees. Pelham, with his guns in favourable position, was soon pouring a rapid fire upon their columns. The other regiments of the command were speedily in the saddle. The line of battle having been formed, Stuart gave the order for a general attack, and with great rage and fury we precipitated ourselves upon the foe, who paid, with the loss of many killed and wounded, and a considerable number of prisoners, for their unmannerly interruption of our social amusement. They were pursued in their headlong flight for several miles by the 1st North Carolina, until, a little past midnight, they got quite out of reach, and all was quiet again.

It was about one o'clock in the morning when we got back to the Academy, where we found a great many of our fair [138] guests still assembled, awaiting with breathless anxiety the result of the conflict. As the musicians had never dispersed, General Stuart ordered them again to strike up; many of our pretty fugitives were brought back by young officers who eagerly volunteered for that commendable purpose; and as everybody was determined that the Yankees should not boast of having completely broken up our party, the dancing was resumed in less than half an hour, and kept up till the first glimmer of dawn. At this time the ambulances laden with the wounded of last night's engagement were slowly approaching the Academy, as the only building at Urbana that was at all suited to the purposes of an hospital. Of course the music was immediately stopped and the dancing ceased, and our lovely partners in the quadrille at once became “ministering angels” to the sufferers.

Captain Blackford and I went down with our New York Rebel to an ambulance in which there was a poor fellow fearfully wounded by a ball in the shoulder. His uniform jacket was quite saturated with blood, and the tender white hands of our charming friend had just become fairly employed in the compassionate office of staunching the wound and cooling the inflammation with applications of cold water, when her strength broke down and she fainted away. When after a few minutes she had recovered, we did our best to persuade her to go home; but with a courage equalling that of the warrior on the field of battle, she replied, “I must first do my duty.” This she did bravely and tenderly, until the wounded man, greatly relieved by her ministrations, expressed his gratitude with tears streaming from his eyes, and begged her now to take care of herself. Blackford and I accompanied the noble creature to the house of Mr C., and left her with the highest admiration for her tenderness and fortitude.

The sun was high in the heavens when we rose from our camp pallets the following day. The soldiers' slumber was [139] naturally profound after the fatigues and adventures of a night when the ball-room had been so quickly deserted for the battle-field, and sanguinary conflict had in a moment succeeded to the dance. My first duty was to send back to the respective regiments their battle-flags, and I made all haste to discharge it. For once our troops had been called into action without their colours, and already many anxious inquiries had been instituted as to their safety.

General Stuart and myself were invited to dine with the doctor of the place, at whose pleasant dwelling we passed a few hours most delightfully. The universal verandah looked out upon the same beautiful landscape that we had admired from other points, and afforded us a cool retreat for cigars and conversation. I became very much interested here with a young vagabond Indian about fourteen years of age, who was pertinacious in his efforts to sell me a pet grey squirrel which he had tamed. As the fellow seemed homeless and masterless, I had some idea of taking him along with me as a servant, and perhaps might have done so but for the earnest remonstrances of General Stuart, who, from his life in the prairie, was well acquainted with the Indian character, and knew only too well what incorrigible thieves the Redskins always prove.

At a late hour of the afternoon the air was startled by the thunder of distant cannon, and we soon received a report from General Fitz Lee that he had been engaged in a brisk skirmish with the enemy's cavalry near the village of Barnesville. This, however, did not prevent us from spending the evening with our fair friends at Mr C.‘s, nor from paying them the compliment of a serenade. But the time of inactivity for us was now soon to be over. Urbana was not to be our Capua, and the second day afterwards we bade adieu to what a punning member of the Staff called its Urbana-ties with regret.

One day more of rest at headquarters, the 10th, which gave [140] some occupation, however, to Robertson's brigade at Sugar Loaf Mountain, where Colonel Munford engaged the Yankees in a sharp but unimportant skirmish.

On the morning of the 11th we received marching orders. The aspect of military affairs had undergone a sudden but great change. General McClellan, who had again been intrusted by the Federal Government with the command of the Army of the Potomac, had collected together the remains of the army of the unfortunate Pope, and been largely reinforced by Burnside's corps from North Carolina, the troops around Washington, and the new levies. With a well-equipped and formidable force, he hurried forward to the relief of the garrison of Harper's Ferry, which stronghold had been closely invested by Jackson. General Lee, with Longstreet's corps, had left the vicinity of Frederick, and was slowly retreating in the direction of Middletown and Boonsboroa. The cavalry, as the rear-guard of our army, had orders to retard and embarrass as much as possible the forward movement of the enemy, and to follow slowly the road taken by General Lee. The fighting of the preceding two days had occurred with the cavalry of McClellan, which was a full day's march ahead of the main body of his army.

A steadily falling rain, which gave us some discomfort in the saddle, added much to the dejection of spirits with which we got in readiness to move away from Urbana. About 11 A. M. Fitz Lee's brigade passed through the village on its way to Frederick; Hampton's soon followed; and only Robertson's, under command of Colonel Munford, remained behind, covering the retreat, and holding in check, at a distance of about five miles from the place, the rapid advance of the Yankee cavalry. Meanwhile I was kept riding to and fro directing the retreat in the name of the General, who, with the other members of the Staff, to my intense disgust, still lingered in the verandah with the ladies. [141]

About 2 P. M. our brave horsemen were pressed back by overwhelming numbers, at a point not more than half a mile from the village. The crack of the carbines was distinctly audible, and several shells, aimed too high, exploding just around the mansion, made it clear that the final moment of separation had indeed arrived. Great excitement now prevailed among the ladies, so soon to be again in the power of the detested Yankees, who, they had too much reason to fear, would punish severely the kindness and hospitality they had shown us. As for Mr C., he at once determined to ride off with us, and so we galloped out of the village, in the direction of Frederick, amid the tears of women and children, who stood waving handkerchiefs to us as long as we were in sight. Ten minutes later, Urbana was in the hands of the enemy.

Having crossed the Monocacy, we took up a new position on the opposite bank of the river. As the enemy did not advance that day beyond Urbana, the greater part of our cavalry encamped between that point and Frederick. About half a mile from the latter place we fixed our headquarters at the farm-house of an old Irishman, who amused us very much with his “buthiful brogue,” and with whose pretty daughters-spirited Irish girls they were-we had a lively little dance at night. Early the next day (12th September) our scouts and patrols reported the enemy slowly advancing in strong force on the turnpike from Urbana, and we received orders to retreat through Frederick over the mountains to Middletown, but to retard the Federal column as long as possible at Monocacy bridge, which was to be burned at the last moment. As they were moving so slowly that at 2 P. M. their advance-guard was not yet in sight, General Stuart rode with his Staff into Frederick, where he had been invited by several prominent citizens to dine.

The appearance of the city had greatly changed since I had last seen it. The patriotic frenzy had completely subsided, and [142] given place to an oppressive anxiety; most of the houses were shut up, and the inhabitants, with sorrowful faces, were wandering about the streets, credulous of every idle rumour, and asking at every corner the most ridiculous questions. Such of them as sympathised with the enemy could ill conceal their satisfaction at his approach; and one of these, a Mr F., was impudent enough to hoist a Union flag from the flat roof of his three-storey house, where he might be seen making with it undeniable signals. Very much provoked at his treasonable conduct, I posted two of our best marksmen on the opposite side of the street, sending at the same time my best compliments to Mr E, with the message that I had given my men orders to shoot him if for a minute longer he continued his offensive course. Federal ensign and ardent Yankee sympathiser now disappeared very rapidly together, but I have every reason to believe that, later in the day, when we were compelled to leave the city in some haste, he expressed his thanks to me in a charge of buckshot, which rattled from the front door of his house around my head.

Towards evening the enemy arrived in the immediate neighbourhood of Monocacy bridge, and, observing only a small force at this point, advanced very carelessly. A sixpounder gun had been placed in position by them at a very short distance from the bridge, which fired from time to time a shot at our horsemen, while the foremost regiment marched along at their ease, as if they believed this small body of cavalry would soon wheel in flight. This favourable moment for an attack was seized in splendid style by Major Butler, who commanded the two squadrons of the 2d South Carolina cavalry, stationed at this point as our rear-guard. Like lightning he darted across the bridge, taking the piece of artillery, which had scarcely an opportunity of firing a shot, and falling upon the regiment of infantry, which was dispersed in a few seconds, many of them being shot down, and [143] many others, among whom was the colonel in command, captured. The colours of the regiment also fell into Major Butler's hands. The piece of artillery, in the hurry of the moment, could not be brought over to our side of the river, as the enemy instantly sent forward a large body of cavalry at a gallop, and our dashing men had only time to spike it, and trot with their prisoners across the bridge, which, having been already fully prepared for burning, was in a blaze when the infuriated Yankees arrived at the river's edge. The conflagration of the bridge, of course, checked their onward movement, and we quietly continued the retreat, which had been begun by the main column, under the annoyances only of a spirited shelling, which did us very little harm, and of an irregular fusillade kept up by bush-whackers and citizens from the houses.

The country between Frederick and Middletown is charming. The finest view of it is obtained from the Middletown Path, at the highest point of a wooded spur of the Blue Ridge Mountains that separates the two wide fertile valleys which are named from these towns. We could not resist stopping for a short time to look upon these beautiful and peaceful plains, which were so soon (in a few hours) to be the scene of an obstinate and sanguinary struggle. Our headquarters were now established at a farmhouse near Middletown, where that evening we very much enjoyed a plum-pudding, which had been hurled as a beneficent bomb at Captain Blackford by a philanthropic young lady of Frederick during our retreat through the streets of that city.

The boom of artillery summoned us to the saddle at an early hour of the 13th, and we rode as rapidly as possible to the front, where Hampton with his brigade had been gallantly defending the Middletown Path since daylight against vastly superior numbers of the enemy, and had, up to that moment, successfully repelled every attack. The position was [144] extremely favourable for defence. No other passage to the right or the left led across the mountain-spur, and our two batteries, posted to great advantage, played with telling effect upon the numerous guns of the enemy in the open flat below, which, not being able to get the necessary elevation, proved almost harmless to us. Nevertheless it was evident that our small body of men would be soon obliged to give way before the overwhelming odds of the Yankees, who, just at the time we reached the spot, were preparing for a renewal of the assault under cover of an energetic fire from five or six batteries. At this juncture I was ordered by General Stuart to take one of our mountain howitzers-very light guns, which often did excellent service upon difficult ground, and could easily be drawn by two horses-and try to find an eligible place on our extreme left from which we could open fire with it upon the dense columns of Yankee infantry. With a good deal of trouble, and after we had been obliged several times to cut our way through the thick undergrowth, I found a little plateau, of perhaps fifty feet in diameter, and in a few minutes the rapid discharges of our little gun announced to General Stuart that I was at work.

The extended view from this plateau, which was the loftiest point of the mountain, rising from 1500 to 2000 feet above the rolling country below, was strikingly beautiful under all favourable conditions of atmosphere, but was now animated in the extreme. Frederick lay before us, distinctly seen through the clear air of the morning. The valley beneath, stretching away from the immediate base of the mountain, was literally blue with the Yankees. All at once their long columns of infantry with a waving glitter of bayonets, their numerous bodies of cavalry with “many a flirt and flutter” of gay flags and pennons, their imposing artillery-trains with the sunlight reflected from the polished brass pieces, and their [145] interminable lines of waggons containing all the supplies for McClellan's army, broke upon my sight.

Directly beneath my feet the masses of the enemy were as busy as a swarm of bees. Two lines of sharpshooters were advancing in excellent style; the cavalry galloped hither and thither, seeking to get out of range of our cannon, while their numerous batteries, under the galling effect of our fire, were every moment changing position. The fire of my howitzer from a point hitherto regarded as inaccessible, plunging at this short range with fearful execution into the compact ranks of the enemy, greatly augmented the commotion. Several batteries at once opened upon us, but so far overshot their mark that at every fire my cannoneers threw their kepis into the air with loud yells of derision.

Meanwhile I had sent an orderly to General Stuart, reporting the state of affairs, and expressing my opinion that the time had come for our retreat. The General soon arrived upon the spot and gave orders for the withdrawal of the mountain howitzer; but as he had not seen the lines of the advancing infantry skirmishers, who had already disappeared in the thick underwood below us, he did not share in my opinion as to the danger of our situation. The firing of small-arms now became louder and louder on our right, and seemed to proceed from a point even a little to the rear of the place we occupied. Annoyed at my continued remonstrances, Stuart at last said-“Major, I am quite sure those shots come from our own men, who are firing at far too great a range; ride over there at once and order them to reserve their ammunition until they can see the whites of the Yankees' eyes.” I knew very well that it was rushing into a wasp's nest, but orders were to be obeyed, and, making my way as quickly as the nature of the ground would admit, I proceeded to the scene of action, giving my orders in a loud voice as I heard several men breaking down the tangled thicket near at hand. [146] In a moment the bushes before me parted, and a Yankee, as blue as ever I saw one, emerged from them. At the same instant a bullet tore the bark from a tree behind me at a very few inches from my head, and several other tirailleurs made their appearance; and I had just time to turn my horse and gallop back to General Stuart, who now fully credited my report, and made off with me as fast as our charges could carry us over the rocky surface of the mountain. The Yankees, knowing very well that there was a noble game afoot, now advanced their whole line at a run, and with loud cries of encouragement, towards an open space over which we must ride, and where a shower of bullets fell around us, fortunately without touching a rider or a horse. The order for our general retreat was now given, and executed at a quick trot. I expected every moment to hear the roar of the Yankee artillery, which from the heights behind us must have inflicted very serious loss upon our column; but General Hampton, with admirable foresight, had so well barricaded the roads that we were out of range before they had gained our former position. It was now two o'clock in the afternoon, and as the fighting had commenced at four in the morning, we had for ten hours, with a few thousand horse and ten pieces of artillery, resisted the advance of the whole Federal army, with considerable damage to them and little to ourselves.

Near Middletown we took up a new position. The 1st North Carolina regiment, under Colonel Baker, and two pieces of artillery, were placed in front of the village, the other regiments and guns on the opposite side, behind a little stream known as Kittochtan Creek. The covered wooden bridge which spanned the stream was prepared with combustibles for destruction. General Stuart and myself rode forward a short distance in the direction of the enemy, whom we saw winding down from the mountain and stretching out over the plain in a mighty moving mass of blue. The fight was [147] soon recommenced. The thunder of cannon roared incessantly, and as the enemy's guns had now the advantage of more favourable positions, which admitted of their being effectively employed in yet greater number, we suffered severely from their fire. At the same time the wings of the Yankee army, thrown rapidly forward, overlapped us on either flank, and our brave North Carolinians were thus subjected to a most destructive cross-fire before General Stuart gave the order for retreat, which, in consequence of the murderous tempest of shot and shell that raged around them, was not conducted in a very orderly manner. In my judgment our admirable General here betrayed a fault which was one of the few he had as a cavalry leader; and the repetition of the error on several occasions, at later periods of the war, did us material damage. His own personal gallantry would not permit him to abandon the field and retreat, even when sound military prudence made this clearly advisable. There was no necessity whatever, here, for the safety of the main body, to sacrifice a smaller command, for we might have withdrawn with honour long before the enemy's fire had so cruelly thinned our ranks.

I was one of the last horsemen that galloped through the town, and had a painfully accurate sight of the confusion and destruction that attended the retreat. The Yankee artillery threw a withering hail of shells along the main street of Middletown, from every by-street whistled the bullets of the sharpshooters, in our rear thundered the attack of the pursuing cavalry, while from the houses the Unionists fired at us with buck-shot and small-shot, and many fallen horses and riders impeded the road. The panic reached its height when we arrived at the bridge and found it blazing, through the premature execution of his orders by the officer in charge. Many of our horsemen leaped into the rapid stream and gained the opposite bank by swimming. For myself, with [148] many of my companions-in-arms, I forced my horse through fire and smoke across the burning bridge, which, very soon after we had passed over it, fell with a loud crash into the water.

The hotly-pursuing enemy were now received upon the opposite bank with a deadly fire from our well-posted sharpshooters, and showers of canister from our artillery, which brought them to a stop; and after a heavy cannonade that lasted for more than an hour, we continued our retreat quietly towards the South Mountain, in the direction of Boonsboroa. The Federal cavalry managed the crossing of the Kittochtan with commendable expedition, and were soon again on our tracks, but the two pieces detached to our rear-guard kept them at a respectful distance by occasional discharges of grape and canister. We reached the part of the South Mountain known as Bradlock's Gap in the evening, and, just as we were taking another new position, were relieved by our infantry, which soon afterwards became hotly engaged with the enemy in a serious conflict. The foremost brigade of troops that relieved us was commanded by a dear friend of mine, General Samuel Garland, whom I met riding to the front, in buoyant spirits and confident of success. Ten minutes later he fell a corpse while trying to rally his men, who had momentarily given way at the first assault of the enemy. He was killed instantly, a bullet having pierced his brain.

Hampton, with his brigade, was now sent in the direction of Harper's Ferry, and had several encounters on the way with the Federal cavalry, against which the Georgia regiment of his command made a most brilliant and successful charge near the little town of Burkettsville, led by the gallant Lieutenant-Colonel Young, who was unfortunately wounded. General Stuart and his Staff rode to Boonsboroa, which we reached at nightfall, and where we rejoined a portion of Fitz [149] Lee's brigade. Here we were greatly distressed at learning that the leader of our horse-artillery, Major Pelham, who had marched with Fitz Lee, had been cut off, and was a prisoner in the enemy's hands. He turned up, however, the next morning, having cut his way through the Yankee lines, and saved himself by his never-failing coolness and intrepidity. Our headquarters were established near Boonsboroa, and we were glad enough to rest our weary limbs and exhausted horses after the fatiguing work of the day.

We moved on the 14th, making an early start, in the direction of Harper's Ferry, to reunite with Hampton's and Robertson's brigades, the latter of which had been already two days on the march for that point. Harper's Ferry is a stronghold of no little importance, most picturesquely situated on the Virginia side of the Potomac, just where this noble river receives the bright waters of its tributary the Shenandoah, and, augmented in volume thereby, breaks through the Blue Ridge. Here the United States Government had, many years before the war, established a very large arsenal and manufactory of small-arms. The Baltimore and Ohio Railway runs along the Potomac past the place, crossing from the Maryland to the Virginia bank at the immediate point of confluence of the two rivers; and a railway, connecting Harper's Ferry with Winchester, skirts the margin of the Shenandoah, and reaches its terminus at the extensive wayside station of the great line of communication between the Chesapeake and the Ohio. Around the workshops of the arsenal and the sheds of the railways a little town had grown up, built partly upon a narrow tract of level ground but little elevated above the rocky bed of the Potomac, and partly upon a lofty hill looking down upon either stream. This eminence is itself commanded on the Maryland side by the towering cliffs of the Blue Ridge known as the Maryland Heights, a position which had been strongly fortified, for the [150] obvious reason that whoever became master of it might with little difficulty obtain possession of Harper's Ferry and all that it contained.

Jackson, after leaving Frederick with his corps, had crossed the Potomac with a large portion of it, and closely invested this stronghold, with its garrison of nearly 13,000 men, on three sides. A division of Longstreet's corps, under McLaws, had been sent to attack and shut it up on the Maryland side, and now occupied the fertile tract of country which is enclosed by the continuation of the Maryland Heights and the South Mountain spur of the Blue Ridge. The two ranges run nearly parallel for a little distance from the river, with an intervening space of about two miles in breadth, but the South Mountain branches off in the neighbourhood of Boonsboroa, forming what is called the “Pleasant valley.”

At Boonsboroa, General Lee found himself, with the remaining portion of his army under Longstreet, confronting the bulk of the army of McClellan, which was rapidly advancing to the succour of Harper's Ferry. The passes over the South Mountain were all held by us, and were easily defensible. General Stuart had orders with two of his brigades to unite with McLaws, and to reconnoitre and watch the enemy's movements, the other brigade, Fitz Lee's, having been detached from his command to the corps of Longstreet.

We reached Pleasant Valley in the afternoon, and our cavalry encamping there, General Stuart and I rode over to the headquarters of Brigadier-General Pryor, who commanded the left wing of McLaws's division nearest to Harper's Ferry. General Pryor was just starting on a little reconnaissance, and we very readily accepted his invitation to bear him company. A proper degree of caution compelled us to go on foot. Creeping through the tall grass, we climbed the mountain occupied by our farthest outpost, from the summit of which we had an unobstructed view of the whole fortification. We [151] could see the stir and bustle within the walls, mark the steps of each man, and even count the pieces of artillery. The look-out from this lofty perch would well have rewarded the toil of the ascent in the inactive time of peace; but the preparation and excitement of war, whose busy scenes we gazed in the distance, now combined with nature in her grandest mood to make the sight magnificent.

At a later hour of the evening Stuart rode off to the headquarters of General McLaws, leaving me to await his return as General Pryor's guest at dinner. Among General Pryor's orderlies there was a handsome young fellow of about fourteen years of age who greatly interested me. He was a midshipman in the navy, who, making a visit to our lines at this exciting period, had volunteered his services, and had behaved on several occasions, as I was informed, with great gallantry. He was now galloping about on a little pony, and seemed highly elated with his temporary position. Two days afterwards the brave boy was killed in the battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam).

About dusk we were joined again by General Stuart, and I was just about to ride away with him to select a convenient spot for our night's rest, when the thunder of cannon, which had been sounding all the evening from McLaws's right, grew fiercer and fiercer; and an orderly galloped up to us at full speed, reporting in a very excited manner that the enemy had repulsed our troops at Crampton's Gap, one of the passes of the South Mountain, broken through our lines, and already thrown several thousand men into the valley, thus cutting us off completely from Longstreet's corps. We started immediately, as fast as our horses could carry us, for the point where the disaster had occurred. In a very short time we were called upon to witness a scene of the most mortifying panic and confusion. Hundreds of soldiers, many of them wounded, were arriving in disorderly array from the fight, while guns 151 [152] and caissons, huddled together with waggons and ambulances, moving towards the rear, blocked up the road. We at once posted a strong guard along the road, with orders to arrest every man who was not too badly hurt to renew the conflict, and, taking the artillery with us, continued our ride. After about an hour's progress we reached the spot, where General C., an ex-politician and agriculturist, who had commanded the troops at Crampton's Gap, was vainly endeavouring to rally the remainder of his brigade. The poor General was in a state of the saddest excitement and disgust at the conduct of his men. As soon as he recognised us in the dusk of the evening, he cried out in heartbroken accents of alarm and despair, “Dismount, gentlemen, dismount, if your lives are dear to you! the enemy is within fifty yards of us; I am expecting their attack every moment; oh! my dear Stuart, that I should live to experience such a disaster! what can be done? what can save us?” General Stuart did his best to comfort and encourage his disconsolate friend, assisted him in rallying his scattered troops, and quickly placed in position all the artillery. Then turning to me, he said, “Major, I don't believe the Yankees are so near at hand, but we must be certain about it; take two couriers with you, and find out at once where the enemy is.” My General was very fond of sending me on these ticklish expeditions, and much as I appreciated the honour thus paid me, I did not feel greatly obliged to him on this particular occasion, as I rode forward into the darkness, feeling that I should run a narrow chance of being shot by our men on my return, if, indeed, I escaped the bullets of the Yankees. Cautiously I proceeded, fifty yards, a hundred, two hundred yards,--everything quiet; not a trace of the enemy: at last, after a ride of more than a mile, I discovered the long lines of the Federal camp-fires, where Messieurs the Yankees had halted, and were busily employed in cooking supper; and at sixty yards' distance I could see in [153] the road a cavalry picket, clearly defined against the glare of the fires, horse and trooper, who seemed to have no idea of our approach. Leaving the hostile sentry undisturbed, we rode quietly back to our lines, where the Generals awaited my return with the greatest interest and anxiety. In the mean time General McLaws had arrived with reinforcements, our line of battle was formed, and several batteries in favourable position were ready for action. As it was evident, however, that the enemy did not intend making any further forward movement until the next day, General Stuart and I soon galloped back to our cavalry, with whom we bivouacked during the remaining hours of the night.

The air was sultry when at daybreak of the 15th September we marched towards the front, with hearts oppressed by the uncertainty of the events of the next few hours. Our position was indeed a perilous one: shut up in a narrow gorge, the garrison of Harper's Ferry, 13,000 strong (which, should Jackson fail in his siege, a matter to be decided before sunset, would inevitably fall upon us), in our rear, an enemy vastly superior in numbers on our front, we must gain the doubtful victory or perish in Pleasant Valley, the very name of which might mock our ruin. Every man felt this, and our lines, generally hopeful and cheery before an engagement, looked glum and desperately resolute to-day. The heavy silence of the march was broken only by the measured tramp of the column, the rumbling of the artillery-waggons, and the booming of the heavy guns from Harper's Ferry, which reverberated like rolling thunder through the surrounding mountains.

General Stuart, who moved with the cavalry to the extreme left, ordered me to remain and establish myself with twelve of our couriers on an elevation near our centre, from this point to reconnoitre the enemy's movements as much as possible, and to send him information every five minutes. About 10 [154] o'clock the Federals commenced to move; their cavalry skirmishers advanced, and the lines of their infantry tirailleurs came in sight. The decisive moment had arrived, and every hand closed more firmly round its weapon. Already shots began to be exchanged, when suddenly a cry of joy, louder than the roar of cannon, commenced by our reserves and answered from one end of our lines to the other, brought delight to our hearts and carried despair to the foe, whose insolent advance it brought quickly to a halt-“Harper's Ferry has surrendered to Jackson!” In a few moments, an officer galloping towards us, his horse covered with foam and reeking with sweat, brought the official intelligence, which, passing from mouth to mouth with the rapidity of the wind, had already reached us by rumour. I at once sent a courier with the information to Stuart, and I had no occasion to enjoin upon him celerity in his movements. The faithful fellow speedily returned, and, with features lighted up by intense gratification, said to me, “Major, that was the quickest and the happiest ride of my life.”

The enemy seemed completely paralysed by the shouts of our troops, and as we soon received reinforcements from Jackson's corps, and began to assume the offensive, they retreated rapidly along the road by which they had advanced. Stuart now came back to us, and was so delighted that he threw his arms round my neck and said, “My dear Von, is not this glorious? you must immediately gallop over with me to congratulate old Stonewall on his splendid success.” Captain Farley, Captain Blackford, and Lieutenant Dabney joined us, and after a short and rapid ride we reached the magnificent scene of our magnificent victory, just in time to witness the formal ceremony of the surrender of the garrison, a sight which was certainly one of the grandest I ever saw in my life.

From what I have already said of Harper's Ferry, the reader who has never visited the spot may have learned that in [155] regard to natural beauty it is exceeded by few localities on the surface of the globe. From the bed of the two rivers which here mingle their sparkling currents, the mountains rise precipitously to the height of several thousand feet. Within the fortifications is an extensive plateau, from which these bold headlands are seen in all their magnitude and majesty. Here the entire garrison of 13,000 men was drawn up in imposing lines, presenting, with their well-kept equipments, their new uniforms and beautiful banners, a striking contrast to Jackson's gaunt and ragged soldiers, who formed opposite to them, and whose tattered garments and weather-beaten features showed only too plainly the hardships they had undergone. To the long roll of the drums, the two armies came to a “present arms,” and then the Federal troops laid down their standards and weapons, which were at once taken possession of by my men. The spoils captured at Harper's Ferry were enormous. Besides this large number of prisoners, there fell into our hands 70 pieces of artillery, about 30,000 small-arms, and an immense quantity of ammunition, provisions, tents, waggons, ambulances, machinery in machineshops, horses, and mules.

Colonel Miles, the commanding officer at Harper's Ferry, a short time before the surrender, had lost both his legs by a cannon-ball, and died soon after sustaining this severe injury. A strong regiment of cavalry, numbering about 1100 men, had made good its escape the previous night by a road along the river bank, very little known, which McLaws, against Stuart's urgent advice, had neglected to picket. General Jackson appeared quite satisfied with his success, but when I congratulated him upon it, he said, “Ah, this is all very well, Major, but we have yet much hard work before us.” And indeed we had. That same evening the troops were again on the march to Sharpsburg, where General Lee was rapidly concentrating his army, and where a great decisive battle was [156] expected to be fought during the next twenty-four hours. We had yet to learn how great a misfortune was the escape of the cavalry regiment the night before the surrender. During the night, under its bold leader, Colonel Davis, it came accidentally in contact with Longstreet's ordnance trains, capturing and destroying a great number of the waggons and stampeding the whole of the teams.

Riding over the plateau from point to point, I witnessed a ridiculous scene, which nearly proved tragical to a Yankee officer. Jackson had granted to the officers of the garrison permission to retain their side-arms and horses. Some of our men, ignorant of this fact, had just surrounded a Federal captain, summoning him to dismount and give up his arms. The captain, highly offended, had drawn his revolver from the holster, declaring, in a very excited manner, that he would kill anybody that approached him. He did not know with whom he had to deal, and did not see the uplifted musket of a wild-looking fellow from a Mississippi regiment who was just about to shoot him down. Fortunately I arrived just in time to save him by explaining to the soldiers the mistake they had committed.

What with riding about the fortifications and looking at this and that object of interest, the day wore quickly away, and it was five o'clock in the afternoon when I fell in with Captain Blackford and Lieutenant Dabney and some of our couriers, who told me that General Stuart had gone off some hours before with Hampton's and Robertson's brigades, proceeding along the tow-path of the canal on the Maryland side of the river to Sharpsburg, leaving orders for us to join him there during the night. We started immediately, and taking the shorter and more agreeable route on the Virginia side to Shepherdstown, where the river might be easily forded, and only a few miles from our destination, reached the ford after nightfall, where the scene presented to the eye [157] was wild and beautiful beyond description. On either bank of the noble stream, here half a mile in width, had bivouacked the troops of Jackson's corps, whose thousands of camp-fires were reflected in the water, and threw a bright glare over the fantastic figures of the soldiers, bringing also into strange and vivid relief the gigantic trees that edged the shore, with their swaying foliage and their gracefully pensile vines. In the ruins of a large mill which had belonged to a friend of mine, Col. A. R. Boteler, and which had been burned by the enemy, a Mississippi regiment had taken up its quarters, and I could not help being reminded by the wild-looking long-bearded men, with their slouch hats, their blankets thrown over their shoulders, and their polished arms glittering in the red glow of the bivouac-fire, of the rude robber and gipsy of the olden time.

We managed the fording of the Potomac without trouble or delay, and arrived late in the night at the little town of Sharpsburg. General Stuart had fixed his headquarters at the house of Dr G., where we stretched our weary limbs on the floor of the entrance-hall, using our saddles for pillows.

16th September.

General Lee was now in readiness to meet the mighty Federal host. Longstreet having retreated from Boonsboroa, where his corps had a severe engagement with the enemy's advance, towards Sharpsburg, had there united with Jackson's troops, which had come down during the night from Harper's Ferry; and our army was in line of battle on the morning of the 16th, about half a mile in front of the town towards Antietam Creek, the right wing extending about a mile in a north-easterly direction, the extreme left resting on the Potomac. McClellan, moving forward from Boonsboroa, [158] was still on the opposite side of the Creek, but his attempt to cross and the consequent battle were hourly expected. A mistake has been made here by several writers who had not the advantage of taking part in the events they describe, in stating that none of Jackson's forces had effected a junction with Lee before the battle of Antietam. Our great leader had been too cautious to neglect the concentration of his troops, which had been partially accomplished by forced marches. A portion of Jackson's corps had, indeed, been left by the main body at Harper's Ferry, but they arrived on the field the night preceding the general engagement. McLaws's division, which had also remained behind, did not join in the conflict, by reason of the slowness of its commander, until the latter part of the day. General Stuart started on the morning of the 16th, the day before the great battle, with a part of his cavalry, on a reconnaissance up the Potomac, leaving me with ten of our couriers at headquarters, with orders to receive and open all reports and despatches addressed to him, and to forward any important information to Generals Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet.

Sharpsburg is a pretty little village of perhaps two thousand inhabitants. It presented, during these memorable September days, a busy scene of military life. Waggon-trains blockaded its streets, artillery rattled over its pavements, orderlies were riding up and down at full speed. The house of Dr G., one of the largest in the place, was situated just opposite the principal church, and was still occupied by his hospitable family, who awaited with an indifference peculiarly American the momentous events that were so close upon them. About 11 A. M. the enemy began to throw shells into the town, which, being aimed at the church steeple, fell all around their dwelling in such perilous proximity that I felt it my duty to order the ladies into the cellar, as the safest place of refuge. This order they obeyed, but, impelled by feminine [159] curiosity, they were running up-stairs every five minutes to witness the effect of the cannonade. I had frequent occasion during the war to observe how much stronger is curiosity with women than the fear of danger. Accordingly, while the fire was every moment growing hotter, it was not long before the whole of Dr G.‘s family were again assembled in the room I occupied. All at once, while they were looking out of the windows at some wounded men carried by, a shell fell with a terrific crash through the top of the building, and sent them in precipitate flight to the security of the vaults. About noon the bombardment became really appalling, and the explosion of the innumerable projectiles stunned the ear. Still deeming it obligatory on me to remain at my post, I was seated on the sofa engaged in writing in my journal, when a shell, piercing the wall of the room a few feet above my head, covered me with the debris, and, exploding, scattered the furniture in every direction. At the same moment another missile, entering the upper part of the house, and passing directly through, burst in the courtyard, killing one of our horses, and rendering the others frantic with terror. Regarding further exposure of my own life and the lives of my couriers as now unnecessary, I gave orders for our immediate departure; but it was not easy, amid the blinding dust and smoke out of doors, to find my horse, nor, after I had found him, to get into the saddle, so furiously did he rear and plunge, as if fully conscious of the danger of his situation.

In the street there was the greatest confusion. Dead and wounded men and horses lay about in every direction, in the midst of waggons and ambulances overturned in the hurry and anxiety of everybody to get out of the village, where cannon-balls whizzed incessantly through the air, and pieces of bursting shells, splinters of wood, and scattered fragments of brick were whirled about in the dense cloud of powdersmoke that enveloped all things. After an exciting ride of a [160] quarter of an hour, during which my nerves were strained to the utmost, I gained an eminence beyond the town, and was happy to find that my followers, one and all, had, like myself, escaped death as by a miracle. My horse had been the only sufferer. A piece of shell had struck him in the right hind leg, and he went lame and bleeding.

Everybody was under the impression that this bombardment was the signal for a general battle; but after the batteries all along the lines had been engaged in a spirited artillery duel, and on our right even the roll of musketry had been heard for some time, the din of conflict gave way to a dull, drowsy silence, interrupted only at intervals by a random cannon-shot booming through the hot evening air. With great difficulty I at last found General Stuart, late in the evening, at the headquarters of General Lee. He appointed to meet Captain Blackford and myself in an hour's time, at a church about two miles from Sharpsburg, to which place of rendezvous we repaired; but the General came not. Having waited long for him, we finally rode off a short distance, and made our bivouac for the night on some stacks of straw, which seemed to offer the most comfortable spot for repose.

17th September.

We obtained but little sleep. Occasional shots were fired all night in our neighbourhood. To add to our discomfort, a fine drizzling rain, which began to fall about daybreak, wet us to the skin, and, chilled as we were, we had no breakfast to reinvigorate us for the field. In the morning we discovered General Stuart, who had bivouacked quite near us, and, at his request, I rode with him along our line of battle, which stretched out, nearly four miles in length, over several of the little hills so frequent in this rolling country, and sheltered 60 [161] from the enemy's view by many patches of wood and extensive corn-fields. The strength of Lee's army was always over-estimated throughout the war, but more so at Sharpsburg than in any other great battle that he fought. I have it from our great commander's own lips that he had less than forty thousand men with him in the conflict; and as McLaws's division, numbering 7000 men, and some other small detached bodies of troops, did not join in the action until a late period of the day, he commenced this tremendous struggle with not more than 30,000 men, the Federal army, according to General McClellan's own statement, amounting to not less than 90,000. Our force had been greatly reduced by the continuous fighting of the campaign, by the long and wearisome marches it had made, and the cruel hardships it had undergone. From these several causes it had happened that a great multitude of stragglers were left behind on the Virginia side of the Potomac, of whom thousands had been collected together in the immediate neighbourhood of Leesburg alone. I could not help expressing to General Stuart, as we passed the thin lines of our ragged, weather-beaten soldiers, many of them without shoes, that I did not think our army equal to the impeding contest, and that I felt great anxiety as to the result; but he was in good hope, and said, with his accustomed cheerfulness, “I am confident that, with God's assistance and good fighting, we shall whip these Yankees badly enough.”

Jackson commanded our left wing. General Lee himself had taken charge of the centre, and Longstreet commanded the right. Of our cavalry, Robertson's brigade, under Colonel Munford, was detached to the extreme right, Fitz Lee's and Hampton's were held in reserve on the extreme left, which, as before stated, rested on the Potomac. The fighting commenced soon after daybreak, and was raging in full fury on the left with Jackson's corps at seven o'clock in the morning. [162] From the nature of the ground, our cavalry could take but little part in the active operations of the day; but the indefatigable Stuart, always eager to be at the place of most imminent danger, had obtained from Jackson, who had unbounded confidence in him, the charge of the left wing of his corps, and having concentrated there about twenty-five pieces of cannon, consisting principally of our horse-artillery, pressed boldly forward with his guns, and, by a most effective flank fire, did great damage to the enemy. The Yankees soon responded fiercely to this cannonade, and with such terrible effect that I was in constant anxiety for the life of my general, who was always where the carnage was greatest, and at whose side two of our best couriers had already been killed.

The enemy concentrated the whole weight of his attack upon Jackson's centre, which for a time gave way, and was driven back through a large patch of forest that had been gallantly defended. But the grim Stonewall soon rallied his men, and, having been reinforced, drove back the Yankees in his turn for several miles with great slaughter. About mid-day I was sent by General Stuart to our cavalry with orders that they should press forward, in corresponding movement with the infantry, up the bank of the Potomac. At the moment of passing the 3d Virginia Cavalry, as I was exchanging some friendly words with its gallant commander, Colonel Thornton, a piece of a shell tore off his left arm very near to the shoulder, from which wound he died in great agony a few hours afterwards. By the time I had returned to my general, the fighting in Jackson's front had ceased a little, and both the combatants seemed to be taking breath after the terrible struggle that had been maintained with such resolution for hours; but on our right, where, up to this moment, all had been comparatively quiet, the firing grew louder and more continuous. Longstreet, hard pressed by the superior numbers of the enemy, had been giving way slowly, but defending [163] the ground, like a wounded lion, foot by foot, until, receiving reinforcements at the outskirts of Sharpsburg, he recovered his lost ground after a severe and sanguinary combat.

The little town of Sharpsburg was unfortunately set on fire by the Federal shells, and a portion of it utterly destroyed; and throughout the evening the sky was reddened by the glare of the conflagration. Our centre was much less engaged than the two wings, and the fighting there consisted mainly in a terrible connonade, during which our guns, advantageously posted, poured a most destructive fire into the enemy's ranks. In Jackson's front, the conflict was only moderately renewed during the later part of the day, and was carried on principally with artillery. Here, and elsewhere along the lines, all was going on so favourably for our arms, that we might well claim to be victors when the sunset streamed over the ensanguined field, and the rapidly-following darkness put an end to the fearful strife. Every inch of the ground lost by Longstreet at noon had been recovered. Our centre had greatly gained ground. On our left the enemy had been pushed back for nearly two miles. And we remained masters of the entire field of battle covered with the enemy's dead and wounded.

The victory would certainly have been more complete, had not General McLaws failed to obey orders in bringing his division of nearly 7000 men earlier into the fight, and by the tardiness of his movements to a considerable extent thwarted the combinations of his commander-in-chief. Our troops fought better than ever on this glorious day; and it was astonishing to see men without shoes, whose lacerated feet often stained their path with blood, limping to the front to conquer or fall with their comrades. The spoils of the victory were not great. A few prisoners and guns were taken. As for our loss, it had indeed been heavy, amounting to not less than 2000 killed and 6000 wounded; including among the former, [164] two general officers, Generals Branch and Starke. The Federals having been the assailants, their loss was yet more severe, reaching the terrible aggregate of 2,000 dead or disabled men. Their sacrifice of officers had been serious. Generals Mansfield and Reno were killed, and twelve other generals were among the wounded. Late in the evening, I received orders from General Stuart to take with me a regiment of infantry and some squadrons of cavalry, and establish a double line of pickets on our extreme left, along the margin of the Potomac, there to reconnoitre the position of the enemy, and await the arrival of fresh troops to relieve my command, upon whose coming I was to follow him to Sharpsburg. The night was far advanced when a brigade of infantry took the place of my weary soldiers, who had fought all day, and the “small hours” had succeeded when with two of my couriers I entered the village.

It was a sad spectacle of death and destruction, as seen by the light of the yet glowing embers of its habitations, the greater number of which had been swept away by the flames. The unburied corpses of men and horses lay on every side in the streets, while helpless women and children, who had lost their homesteads, were moving about amid the smouldering ruins seeking shelter for the night. The mansion of Dr G., after having been completely riddled by shells, had been consumed; but a small summer-house in the garden had escaped injury, and here the family found a temporary refuge. The Doctor himself was quite calm and composed. He congratulated me on my escape, and said that he derived consolation from the hope that we should whip the Yankees as badly the next day as we had done already. As usual, General Stuart, having once separated himself from his aides, was not to be found, so for the remainder of the night I rested with my couriers in a small cow-stable, on the top of which [165] we were fortunate enough to discover some hay for the horses.

Several shots fired in rapid succession about day-light, very near to our little dormitory, roused us from sleep with the idea that the fighting had been renewed in the streets of the village; but, on going out of the cow-stable, I found, to my surprise and relief, that they came from some of our men, who were amusing themselves with shooting the pigs and chickens, which, rendered homeless by the fire, were wandering about in a distracted condition. “Poor little things,” said our troopers, with a dry sort of humour, “they have nowhere to go, and we ought to take care of them.” Already, at several points among the ruins of the houses, commodious sheds had been hastily erected, and the savoury smell of roast meat, wafted to me on the fresh air of the morning, brought very forcibly to my mind and stomach the indisputable and melancholy fact that for more than forty-eight hours I had been wholly without food. This was indeed the case with the greater portion of our army, which, for several days preceding the battle, had been living on green apples and ears of Indian-corn picked up on the roadside and roasted. Nevertheless, I felt obliged to rebuke a Texan, who, only a few steps from me, had just rolled over, by a capital shot, a porker galloping across the street at sixty yards distance, for his wanton disregard of the rights of property. With a look of utter astonishment, he turned to me, and asked, “Major, did you have anything to eat yesterday?” and, upon my answering in the negative, said, “Then you know what it is to be hungry; I haven't tasted a morsel for several days.” I had nothing more to say, and mounting my horse, I rode forward to the front, where our army, in line of battle, was momentarily expecting the renewed attack of the enemy.

I found General Stuart much sooner than I had hoped for, on our left flank, and at his request rode with him over the [166] battle-field to reconnoitre the enemy's lines. It was a sickening sight. None of the corpses had yet been buried, and in Jackson's front the Federal dead lay around in great numbers, while many wounded men still remained untended in their agony in out-of-the-way spots of the woods and corn-fields. The outposts of the two armies were separated from each other by only a few hundred yards, and frequent shots were exchanged between them whenever an enterprising fellow went forward to pick up a gun or strip a dead body upon the intermediate ground. After having completed our reconnaissance, and when several Yankee sharpshooters had rewarded our curiosity with the whizzing of their bullets, we proceeded towards the point where Jackson was supposed to be, and found old Stonewall, near a battery of twenty-five guns, stretched out along a fence, and enjoying the luxury of a cup of coffee, quite hot, which his trusty servant had prepared from the contents of a Yankee haversack, and of which we were kindly invited to partake.

General Lee soon arrived upon the spot, and leaving these three great men to their council of war, I moved off a short distance, and, throwing myself at full length upon the soft turf, gave way to deep reverie. I had heard much and read much, in my own German and elsewhere, of the presentiment of approaching death, and had often speculated upon the matter, its verity, and the mental and physical conditions that might superinduce it, &c.; but this morning I was taken hold of, rather than oppressed, by the conviction that I should be killed before night in the coming battle, and I should have regarded any one as a profane sceptic who had tried to argue me out of it, and prove the foreboding nonsensical upon philosophical principles. Whether the famished state of my body, or the excitements of the last two days acting on the brain, had wrought the presentiment in the mind, it is not worth while to consider: certain it is that I made the most [167] mournful entry in my notebook, at which I cannot now look without laughing, and which is too absurd to be repeated here. I only revert to the fact to show that while in some instances presentiments of death are afterwards verified, in others that we do not hear of, probably the greater number, they have no subsequent realisation.

Hour after hour passed away in anxiety and watching for the enemy's attack, but the perfect quietude of the morning was interrupted only by a flag of truce sent in by the Yankees asking permission to bury their dead. This was of course granted, and the work occupied them until the afternoon, when it became evident that the battle would not be renewed, and that my misgivings for the day had been utterly idle. My annoyance at having indulged them was greatly mitigated when, with the evening, came my negro, William, mounted on my beautiful little grey mule “Kitt,” and, with a grin all over his black face, offered me tomatoes, apples, and roasted ears of corn, which he had promptly seized the earliest occasion of stealing from a neighbouring farm.

In the mean time our great commander-in-chief had decided to recross the Potomac, and transfer his weakened army again to the soil of Virginia. Nothing could be accomplished by remaining longer in Maryland. Even had the battle been renewed with the most satisfactory results for our arms, General Lee had not men enough for the continued occupation of the country. General Lee has often been censured for having fought the battle of Sharpsburg at all; but he was compelled to do so in order that he might save the immense booty taken by Jackson at Harper's Ferry, which was of the very greatest importance to us, and well worth a great sacrifice. Besides, it was not known how much the enemy had exhausted his strength in the conflict. Not until some time afterwards did we learn from General McClellan's own statement that there was but one single corps of the whole [168] numerous Federal army that could well have been brought into action again. The retreat of our army was in preparation throughout the day, was commenced at night, and was executed in a masterly manner when one considers that it was conducted along a single road, that, except three hundred men who were too severely wounded to bear transportation, nothing was left in the enemy's hands, and that they were wholly ignorant of our disappearance until the next morning, when our entire army was on the Virginia shore.

General Stuart started with his Staff about ten o'clock at night, and I can safely say that the ride to the Potomac was one of the most disagreeable of my life. A fine rain, which had been falling all the evening, had rendered the roads so deep with mud and so slippery that it was difficult to make any progress at all, and I fell with my horse not less than five times. The way was everywhere obstructed by waggon and artillery trains, and marching columns; and the darkness was so great that one knew not where to direct his doubtful steps. General Stuart made a narrow escape from being crushed to death. His horse fell with him directly under the wheels of a heavy army waggon, which must inevitably have gone over him had I not fortunately been able to arrest its motion. The General was in great haste, and was calling out continually to those in front of him in somewhat angry tones, which were often answered, to my great amusement, in a sufficiently rough manner by the soldiers and waggon-drivers, who did not recognise his voice. At last we reached the Potomac, crossed it in safety, and after moving about for some time in the darkness on the opposite bank, and being compelled to lead our horses over the rocky precipitous ground near Shepherdstown, came shortly before daylight to a halt, and sought on a wet but hard place in the open an hour's rest preparatory to starting upon a new enterprise-unlooked-for finale to the autumn campaign in Maryland.

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