Reminiscences of the war.
Skirmish at Fairfax C. H., May 31st 1861.
[None who knew him could fail to admire the enthusiastic courage with which Governor Wm. Smith
, of Virginia
, threw himself into the thickest of the fight for Southern independence, and gave an example of patience under hardships which younger men might well have emulated.
Now in his eighty fifth year; but with the clear intellect and retentive memory of his vigorous manhood, he proposes to write us some of his personal reminiscences of the great struggle.
The following paper on the skirmish at Fairfax Courthouse, will be followed by one on the first battle of Manassas
We are sure our readers will thank us for these interesting sketches by this gallant old hero.]
On the night of the 31st of May, 1861, Lieutenant-Colonel Ewell
(subsequently General Ewell
), just out of the Federal
lines, in which he was Captain
of cavalry, was in command, and had been for two weeks, of the Confederate forces at Fairfax Courthouse.
This was a small village of some 800 inhabitants, and was the county seat of the noted county of Fairfax
The village was built, principally, on the Little River turnpike
, and at a point thereon fourteen miles from the city of Alexandria
The turnpike was used as the main street of the village, and was its only avenue to the west.
The most important buildings of the village were the court-house and its appurtenances, including a lot of several acres, well enclosed, and on the northern side, with a high-boarded fence; and the hotel and its appurtenances and enclosure.
These buildings were opposite each other — the court-house on the south and the hotel on the north side of the turnpike.
The court-house lot was not only well enclosed, but was also surrounded with streets--first, the turnpike, on the north side, as before stated; second, a street on the west side, leading from the turnpike into Stevenson
's farm and there, at an intersecting point, running due east with the court-house lot to its intersection with the street, binding said lot in its eastern side and running from the hotel south 230 steps to the Methodist
church, and thence to Fairfax station.
I mention these facts with more particularity, as it will assist the reader to understand what follows.
I proceed now to add, for the same purpose, that Lieutenant-Colonel Ewell
's quarters were at the hotel; that Captain Thornton
's company of cavalry, of about sixty men, were on the same side of the street with the hotel, the horses in the stable of the hotel, and the men in a church a short distance further west.
's cavalry company, also about sixty strong, was quartered in the courthouse lot, the horses picketed in the lot, and the men sleeping in the court-house.
's company of rifles, about ninety strong, was quartered in the Methodist church, which, as I have said, was 230 steps from the hotel.
This company had only arrived that day (the 31st), and had not seen Colonel Ewell
, nor been seen by him, he being out on a scout.
, after making his company comfortable in their new quarters, sent out a picket of two men on the Falls Church
road, the only approach it was deemed necessary to guard.
I arrived at Fairfax Courthouse about 5 P. M. of the same day, on a visit to Marr
's company, which being raised in my neighborhood, although known as the Warrenton Rifles, I designated as “my boys.”
After seeing them at their quarters, and spending a pleasant hour with them, and after a gratifying interview with Colonel Ewell
(whom I knew well, but had not seen for many years,) and many other friends, for the little village was quite crowded, I retired with Joshua Gunnell
, to the comfortable quarters he had kindly tendered me at his house.
This brought me within about one hundred yards of Marr
I shall be pardoned, I trust, for introducing my name into this statement of the situation, but the circumstances will excuse, if not make it necessary, I should have done so. The only companies then at Fairfax Courthouse, on the night of the 31st of May, were those I have mentioned.
They had seen no service, and were entirely undisciplined.
The cavalry companies were badly armed, and Colonel Ewell
, in his official account of the affairs which subsequently occurred, says: “The two cavalry companies (Rappahannock
and Prince William) had very few fire arms and no ammunition, and took no part in the affair.”
So here is the number and character of our entire force on the 31st of May, 1861, and the only force in any way concerned in the affair of the next morning
In this state of things, the enemy having determined on a scout, I have concluded to let Lieutenant Tompkins
, commanding, speak for himself by publishing his official report:
(The concluding paragraph of Lieutenant Tompkins
's official report is omitted as unnecessary.)
The following report by General McDowell
, commanding, had been previously made to the Adjutant-General