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[378] neutralized any attempt at open hostility. The people were sullen, or reluctantly civil, and the hotel keepers extended their hospitality in a most niggardly spirit. I put up at a small inn, which was filled with soldiers, senators, officers of the army, members of the House of Representatives, and citizens, who had visited the scene of battle much after the manner in which we are accustomed in the North to patronize trotting matches and agricultural fairs.

It was the impression at Fairfax, where I arrived about dusk, that we had obtained a victory, but in about an hour the news of a retreat was obtained in a despatch from General Tyler. The receipt of the news created a commotion among the temporary residents of the place, although the hope was expressed and entertained that the brigade of Colonel Miles would make a stand at Centreville, and hold that position as an advanced post for future operations, or as a stand-point around which to rally our retreating forces. Numerous bodies of troops, however, began to come into Fairfax, some of them mounted on artillery horses, some in transportation wagons, and a few in ambulances, having been wounded. A rumor obtained currency that a body of the rebels had taken one of the roads leading to a point below Fairfax, with the intention of cutting off the retreat of our army and capturing the town. This announcement created a panic among the Union men, and a rush was made for Washington by all who could, for either love or money, obtain the means of conveyance to the capital. A number of distinguished representatives of the New York press took this occasion to leave the scene of danger, and they left at an early hour. So anxious were some of them to leave, that I saw one offer a traveller his gold watch and his purse if he would drive him to Arlington. The offer was refused, and the anxious and excited civilian remained.

Finding it impracticable to return to Centreville, I determined to remain at Fairfax until morning, in the hope of learning that our forces had occupied Centreville, and maintained the communications open by which we could return. The only accommodations to be found was a small mattress in the corner of a parlor, where I soon fell into a deep sleep. The floor was covered with mattresses, and my bed companions were soldiers weary from the field, and civilians of all conditions. About 1 o'clock in the morning, I was awakened by a soldier of a New York regiment, who informed me that there was a regular retreat of the army; that our forces had been completely routed; that Beauregard was in full pursuit, and that our army was falling back upon Washington. I arose at the alarming intelligence, and on looking from the window saw that, so far as our army being in retreat was concerned, his information was correct. The broad street was filled with large bodies of troops, many of them on foot, and trains for the transportation of the wounded and weary. I hastily dressed, and in company with those who had been our companions of the night, took up the line of march.

As we left the inn and joined in the line the scene was most exciting. The night was gloomy. Large black clouds rolled over the sky, while big drops of rain were occasionally falling. The weary soldiers had just come from the field, with torn uniforms, empty canteens, and many of them without either muskets or haversacks. The utmost confusion existed. No dozen of the soldiers seemed to belong to the same regiment. There were men from Rhode Island, from New York, from Ohio, and from Michigan. Every soldier had a dozen rumors; every rumor was of the most conflicting and animating character. There were tales of death and daring; of havoc and desolation. Each particular act of bravery was recorded, and every soldier had a tale to tell of a comrade who had fought bravely and died gallantly. In one thing they were agreed, and that was, that a regiment of rebels had outflanked the army in retreat, and intended to intercept the march at a point below Fairfax. There were the most gloomy and desperate speculations upon the result of any such a conflict. About one-half of our men were armed, and it was the determination to oppose any attempt at capture by a fierce resistance. I am confident, if we had met the enemy at the point anticipated, there would have been a fearful conflict and terrible slaughter.

The road from Fairfax was hard and rough. On each side there were deep gulleys or ravines, and for a great portion of the way our path was between woods, which would have afforded a splendid opportunity for an ambuscade, and through hills where, on either side, a company of soldiers with a battery could have repulsed almost any body of men. Many of the volunteers fell away from sheer exhaustion. Along the sides of the road small bodies of men might be seen lying, wrapped in the deep sleep which answers the demand of exhausted nature. Some of the soldiers endeavored to march by regiment, and for a mile or two I could see a dozen or a score of men seated at different points of the road, and hear such cries as “This way, Ninth!” “Come over here, Rhode Island!” “Here you are, Seventy-Ninth!” “All together, Zouaves!” “Fall in, Ohio!” “This way, Massachusetts!” and so on, as the different regiments happened to be designated. The attempt, however, was not very successful, and the men marched wearily onward, sad and silent.

We passed the point of danger, and no signs of the enemy were manifest. There was a constant cry for water. “For God's sake, give us a drink!” “Can't you help a sick man?” “I'm thirsty and almost dead,” were the cries we heard constantly and appealingly from the weary soldiers as they lay on the roadside.

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