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Chapter 6: the Army of the Potomac.--the Trent affair.--capture of Roanoke Island.

  • Immobility of the Grand Army of the Potomac, 150.
  • -- Confederate incursions -- a battle near Drainsville, 151. -- feeling in Europe in favor of the conspirators -- expression of leading men in great Britain, 152. -- departure of Mason and Slidell for Europe as “Embassadors” of the “Confederate States,” 153. -- their cordial reception at Havana -- they embark for England in the steamer Trent, and are captured by Captain Wilkes, 154. -- Mason and Slidell in Fort Warren -- Wilkes's act applauded by all loyal men, 155. -- approval of the Secretary of the Navy -- the wisdom of President Lincoln, 156. -- British Theory and practice concerning neutrals, 157. -- the British demand the release of the “Embassadors” -- abuse of the American people by the British press and Orators, 158. -- the liberal mind of England represented by John Bright and a few others, 159. -- the British Government demands the release of Mason and Slidell, 160. -- conciliatory action of the American Government met by duplicity and Truculence, 161. -- American principles concerning the rights of neutrals vindicated, 162. -- arguments of the Secretary of State, 163. -- surrender of the “Embassadors” to British custody, 164. -- enemies of the Republic hopeful, 165. -- the Government strengthened, 166. -- the “Burnside expedition” -- a terrible storm, 167. -- the expedition at Hatteras Inlet, 168. -- the Confederates on Roanoke Island, 169. -- attack on the Confederate works there by the National fleet -- Landing of National troops, 170. -- battle of Roanoke Island, 171. -- capture of the Island and the Confederate Army, 173. -- Elizabeth City taken, 174. -- Medals of honor bestowed, 175. -- the Nationals control Albemarle Sound, 176. -- appeals to the North Carolinians, 177. -- spirit of the loyal and the disloyal, 178.

For the space of nearly two months after the disaster at Ball's Bluff, the public ear was daily teased with the unsatisfactory report, “All is quiet on the Potomac!” The roads leading toward the Confederate camps, near Bull's Run, were never in better condition. The weather was perfect in serenity. The entire autumn in Virginia was unusually magnificent in all its features. Much of the time, until near Christmas,. the atmosphere was very much like that of the soft Indian summer time. Regiment after regiment was rapidly swelling the ranks of the Army of the Potomac to the number of two hundred thousand men, thoroughly equipped and fairly disciplined; while at no time did any reliable report make that of the Confederates in front of it over sixty thousand. Plain people wondered why so few, whom politicians called “ragamuffins” and “a mob,” could so tightly hold the National Capital in a state of siege, while the “bravest and best men of the North,” fully armed and provisioned, were in and around it, and Nature and Patriotism invited them. to walk out and disperse the besiegers, lying not two days march from that Capital. But what did plain people know about war? Therefore so it was that they were satisfied, or tried to be satisfied, with a very little of it from time to time, though paying at enormous rates in gold and muscle for that little. And so it was that when, just before Christmas, the “quiet on the Potomac” was slightly broken by an event we are about to consider,, the people, having learned to expect little, were greatly delighted by it. Let us see what happened.

When McCall fell back from Drainsville, the Confederates reoccupied it. His main encampment was at Langley, and Prospect Hill, near the Leesburg road, and only a few miles above the Chain Bridon men, on the Virginia side. The Confederates became very bold after their victory at the Bluff, and pushing their picket-guards far up toward the National lines, they made many incursions in search of

Foragers at work.

forage, despoiling Union men, and distressing the country in general. With [151] McClellan's permission, McCall prepared to strike these Confederates a blow that should make them more circumspect, and stop their incursions. He had observed that on such occasions they generally left a strong reserve at Drainsville, and he determined to attempt their capture when an opportunity should offer. Later in December the opportunity occurred, and he ordered Brigadier-General E. O. C. Ord to attempt the achievement; and at the same time to gather forage from the farms of the secessionists.

Ord, with his brigade,1 undertook the enterprise on the 20th.

Dec., 1861.
McCall ordered Brigadier-General Reynolds to move forward with his brigade toward Leesburg, as far as Difficult Creek, to support Ord, if required. When the force of the latter was within two miles of Drainsville, and his foragers were loading their wagons, the troops were attacked by twentyfive hundred Confederates, under

E. O. C. Ord.

General J. E. B. Stuart,2 who came up the road from the direction of Centreville. A severe fight ensued. The Confederates were greatly outnumbered, and were soon so beaten that they fled in haste, carrying in their wagons little else than their wounded men. The brunt of the battle had fallen on the Sixth and Ninth Pennsylvania, the Rifles, and Easton's Battery. The National loss consisted of seven killed and sixty wounded; and their gain was a victory, and “sixteen wagon-loads of excellent hay, and twenty-two of corn.” Stuart reported his loss at forty-three killed and one hundred and forty-three wounded.3 He had been induced to attack superior numbers by the foolish boast of Evans, that he had encountered and whipped four to his one; and he tried to console his followers by calling this affair a victory for them, because McCall did not choose to hold the battle-field, but leisurely withdrew to his encampment. This little victory greatly inspired the loyal people, for it gave them the assurance that the troops of the Army of the Potomac were ready and able to fight bravely, whenever they were allowed the privilege.

While the friends of the Government were anxiously waiting for the almost daily promised movement of the Grand Army toward Richmond, as the year was drawing to a close, and hearts were growing sick with hopes deferred, two events, each having an important bearing on the war, were in [152] progress; one directly affecting the issue, and the other affecting it incidentally, but powerfully. One was the expedition that made a permanent lodgment of the National power on the coast of North Carolina; and the other was intimately connected with the foreign relations of the Government. Let us first consider the latter event. The incidents were few and simple, but they concerned the law and the policy of nations.

We have already noticed the fact that the conspirators, at an early period of their confederation against the Government, had sent representatives to Europe, for the purpose of obtaining from foreign powers a recognition of the league as an actual government.4 These men were active, and found swarms of sympathizers among the ruling and privileged classes of Europe, and especially in Great Britain. There was an evident anxiety among those classes in the latter country to give all possible aid to the conspirators, so that the power of the Republic of the West, the hated nursery of democratic ideas, might be destroyed by disintegration resulting from civil dissensions.5

Fortunately for the Republic, the men who had been sent abroad by the conspirators were not such as the diplomats of Europe could feel a profound [153] respect for;6 and at the beginning of the autumn of 1861 it was pain-fully evident to their employers that they were making no progress toward obtaining the coveted good of recognition. It was therefore determined to send men of more ability to vindicate and advocate their cause at the two most powerful Courts of Europe, namely, Great Britain and France. For these missions, James Murray Mason7 and John Slidell8 were appointed. They were original conspirators. The former was a native of

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