61. evacuation of Munson's Hill, Va.
A correspondent of the New York Tribune
, writes, September 29th, the following account of the appearance of the rebel lines after the evacuation:
I rode over this morning directly to Munson's Hill, from the recent post of observation, Bailey's Cross Roads. The appearance of the surrounding country had vastly changed since my last previous visit, only twenty-four hours earlier.
Then the fields were, to all appearance, clear of human presence, and the only tokens of life were given by the sharp ringing of the rifle-bullets here and there — oftener tokens of death.
The pickets held their lines, and our two little companies of infantry were grouped about the sheltered portions of the Cross Roads
There was not a sign of any sudden change.
Toward afternoon, I am informed, the rebel pickets were seen retiring.
Their flag tumbled from the perch, and even the slight activity which the Virginia
regiments had been accustomed to show was totally suspended.
It was evident that the place was deserted.
Soon after it was taken possession of by our troops.
I am embarrassed as to the particular regiment which achieved the somewhat empty honor of
first planting itself within the earth work, but I believe it must have been the Fifth Michigan, which, I am sure, would have been even more eager than it was, had the honors been more hazardous to attain and more noble to enjoy.
But I have heard it loudly claimed by members of about ten different regiments, always with a circumstantial positiveness that does credit to their inventive heads, rather than their elastic veracity.
Certainly, the Fifth Michigan, Colonel Terry
, hold the Hill
now, and I make no doubt that they first seized it. They, together with the New York Thirty-fifth, have been kept alert since the occupation, lest some adroit effort at resumption should be attempted by the enemy.
At the time I passed up the hill, the road was filled with troops passing and repassing, and with curious visitors, seeking for stray tokens of the absent, but not forgotten, Virginians
The little valley which separated the lines of the pickets was undergoing rigid exploration for bullets.
The line of the rebel pickets appeared to be less attractive, but it was assuredly interesting to observe with what a cautious instinct of self-preservation those fellows had constructed their little huts of shelter.
The number of logs that any bullet would have had to pierce, not to speak of the number of corners it must have turned before reaching them, ought to have made them perfectly at their ease while on duty.
There was no peril in their picketing.
Each of their posts was a sort of rough fort in itself, compared with which our slight breastworks were utterly insignificant.
I discovered what was never apparent from our own lines, that their picket position commanded ours absolutely, and that every movement made by our guards must have been perfectly apparent to them.
Hence, undoubtedly, their perpetual attempts to pick off our men. The temptation was too strong for them.
The scene at the top of the hill, in the earthwork itself, was, I think, one of the most inspiring to be imagined.
Everybody was laughing.
The utter absurdity of the works as means of defence, their smallness, meanness, insignificance, touched everybody's sense of the ludicrous.
The enclosure comprises about four acres, around which earth is roughly thrown up to a height of perhaps four feet. Of course there is no ditch, no glacis — nothing, in fact, to give it the character of a fortification of any kind.
It is not even regular in form, but coils loosely and waveringly about the ground, as a huge snake might enfold it. In every respect it looks a squirmy piece of work.
There are no embrasures for guns, but upon two of its projections are mounted — what!
guns? No, indeed, but old logs, with a black circle painted in the centre of the sawed part to represent a formidable armament.
At such a distance as that of Bailey
's Roads, the deception might very easily have remained undetected.
In the middle of this wretched “fort,” the remains of a hastily-constructed hut still stood; but, with the exception of a few tress, it contained nothing else.
Behind it, on the slope of the hill, were a group of irregular shanties, thrown together for the protection of troops.
Their number was sufficient for the accommodation of about one regiment, certainly not more.
A considerable quantity of straw, and a few forgotten rations lay about.
The usual offensive odors of a rebel Virginia
camp were heightened in this case by the stench from a dead and decaying horse, which the rebels apparently had not energy enough to remove, but left to rot among them.
Some six hundred yards to the rear of Munson's Hill, on the other side of the Leesburg turnpike
, there is another elevation, undistinguished by a name, upon which the Virginians had erected another characteristic work.
In appearance it was somewhat more imposing than the mud-mound on Munson
's, having embrasures, and something like a ditch.
A nearer approach, however, reduced its air of consequence.
It was undoubtedly erected as a place of refuge, in case Munson's Hill should be stormed, to be held with artillery.
It stands upon nearly a level with the other work, and is, consequently, not visible from any of our old positions.
It is not an enclosure, although its present incompleteness may mislead one as to what its ultimate aspect might have been.
Three sides are finished.
They are composed of barrels and hogsheads filled with loose sand and thinly overspread with sacred soil.
The everlasting helpless and toil-evading Virginia
spirit is prominent at every angle and embrasure.
I am astonished that the rebels were not ashamed to leave so slip-shod and contemptible a work behind them.
They might, at least, have spared themselves ridicule by destroying it — only that, too, would have compelled a certain amount of labor.
There is a ditch outside the “fortification,” which is positively comic — a ditch which, apart from its generally droll appearance, is calculated above all things to help an attacking party over the ramparts.
There are a dozen or more embrasures, which are so cut that they afford less protection than if the guns were used en barbette
. There is nothing like the incompetency of this “fort.”
The rear is entirely open, although there are indications of an intention to close it at some time, which was never carried out. A rifie-pit, eighteen inches high, straggles down for some distance at one side, and growing less at every yard, finally mingles with the ordinary dirt of the road.
The only agreeable object connected with the affair is the newly-raised flag of the Union
, which flaps salutations to its neighbor over upon Munson's Hill all the day long.
A short distance beyond this second intrenchment (I use the word intrenchment, fortification, &c., in a merely technical sense, and not because the rebel defences merit any such serious designation) are the cross-roads where the Connecticut
regiments under General Tyler
were formerly encamped.
It is pleasant to recognize
so familiar a place after having so long been impeded in the approach to it. Your correspondent was once taken into custody here by the Connecticut
men, after a long ride near the Confederate
lines, upon suspicion of being a rebel spy, so he naturally retains touching remembrances of the locality.
Just beyond is the old camping ground of Captain Harrison
and Lieutenant Tompkins
, famed leaders of cavalry charges, and the abiding place of Captain Varian
's battery, which did not
fight at Bull Run
But there is here an excitement more immediate than even these lively remembrances.
A turn in the road reveals the once welcome house of Webster
, the wholesale entertainer of Union regiments, the hearty loyalist in the midst of the perilous contaminations which surrounded him. Webster's house was, eight weeks ago, the surest haven for traveller or soldier, and now it is not only deserted, but the place is at the point of destruction.
Some reckless and wicked stragglers from our troops have penetrated every dwelling place they could find unoccupied, and set fire to each one.
's has not escaped.
Smoke and flame are pouring out of every door and window.
We must make at least an effort to save it. My companion runs into the first floor, and sweeps out piles of blazing straw.
Only one room has been seriously damaged; the others are merely scorched and stained with smoke.
of the Third Connecticut regiment would not recognize his old comfortable chamber, and my own is quite impenetrable from the blinding smoke.
But a little labor saves this house for the time, although it does not seem likely long to escape.
It is a shameful fact that, on Sunday afternoon, at least a score of houses in the neighborhood of Falls Church
were wantonly destroyed by wandering mischief-doers from our camps.
The whole air was red
, by turns, with their flame and. smoke.
Many residences of sound Union citizens were sacrificed with the rest.
Through little by-lanes, the modesty of which should have made them sacred from intrusion, these fellows had passed, levelling every thing on their way. The officers made no effort so far as I could see to check them, and the nearest approach to a remonstrance came from the lips of a gentleman in colonel's uniform who mildly “wondered what could be the object in setting fire to these buildings.”
Even under the very eyes and nose of authority, within twenty rods of the earthwork at Munson's Hill, the destruction was carried on, without any apparent objection.
Our forces extend through Falls Church
, beyond which no attempt to advance has been made.
The old toll-gate keeper is still at his post, at the entrance of the village.
He acknowledges that since Bull Run
he has been a good secessionist, and that he now proposes to be a sound Unionist, so long as interest demands.
“On both sides of the fence,” he says “that's the way to catch the fox.”
Beyond this point it is not possible to pass, but further back to the left of Munson's Hill, there is still something worthy of examination.
The Mason's Hill
works on the Columbia turnpike
, are odder specimens of Southern engineering than any of the rest.
They surround Murray Mason's house--one of those fine old Virginia
mansions of which the Old Dominion is vastly proud, one fine young New England
mansion being, as everybody knows, worth a dozen of the best of them.
The works are literally not more than two feet high at the most important points.
They extend for altogether about one hundred yards, being terminated by a dozen rods of rifle-pits precisely ten inches above the level sod. I do not exaggerate the ridiculousness of these defences one particle.
And it is not possible to suppose that, as many would wish to suppose, these works are mere shams and deceptions, never intended for use. Here at Mason
's there are pits within pits, and a series of interior works all of Liliputian dimensions, but all erected with a view to strategic retreats and gradual withdrawals.
If nothing more than a delusion were projected, this sort of thing would not have been done, since the interior works are invisible from the outside.
But no words can explain the utter absurdity of these long-talked — of “fortifications” as they now appear, without plan and entirely void.
There are miserable remains of a camp at Mason
's — a few boards, great piles of straw, and a hideous stencil, the traces which always mark a deserted Virginian position.
The huts have been set on fire, and were burning all Sunday, but Mason's house is yet untouched.
The Columbia turnpike
is held by the Twenty-first New York regiment, which captures cattle and feasts off them, and sometimes trifles with the younger and fairer inhabitants along the way. Numbers of other regiments are disposed about, but there seems to be no means of definitely ascertaining their numbers and designations.
At present they bivouac, and may either advance or establish themselves at any moment.
We are all kept in the dark as to the future, except that we know our movements depend, for the moment, exclusively upon those of the enemy.
--N. Y. Tribune
, Oct. 1, 1861.