previous next

The battle-field and the camp.
[Correspondence of the Richmond Dispatch.]

Fauquier Co., Va., Nov. 12 1861.
To travel over this part of the country may probably suggest to a very vivid imagination the character of the marches our troops in Western Virginia undergo, though comparatively the country here is smooth and the roads good. If a country is ‘"tolerably level"’ where you are no sooner down one hill than another appears before you, and if roads are ‘ "pretty good"’ where you are perpetually jolted and jumbled over rocks as big as cheeses, up and down natural steps, into deep mud holes, on one side the carriage, till your companion is unexpectedly jerked into your lap, then immediately pitched back again by a deep rut in the opposite direction — if this, at the rate of three miles an hour, is ‘ "pretty good traveling,"’ may Heaven preserve our poor men in their forced marches through the mountains where roads are really admitted to be bad — bad even to those whose fortitude, philosophy, and contentment render them uncomplaining in the midst of every hardship, and even cheerful in their endurance of it.

Thus we thought of them as we traversed these ‘"pretty good roads,"’ some half a score of miles, to the battle ground of Bull Run. Ah! what a scene of desolation meets the eye as you first catch sight of this memorable spot. On the brow of the hill the old woman's house in seen even in the distance to be a mere shell. The sky and the light shine through it, and every step you approach reveals the havoc of cannon ball and rifle bullet — prostrate fences, singed and blackened balls, and stems of trees broken short off, their branches lying near them, while scattered bones lie bleaching, and fragments of every kind even yet remain to point the places where the conflict was the deadliest. Autumn's winds are rapidly laying bare the few remaining boughs of the trees around poor old Mrs. Henry's house, where she was shot in her bed, and where her remains now die interred in the yard close by.

A dull and dreary day it was, befitting the harrowing scenes that presented themselves. The wind was sighing among the pine trees, and whistling through the perforated roof of the shattered dwelling. A marble shaft marks the spot where Col. Bartow received his mortal wound. The place where Gen. Bee fell is within a hundred yards, and not far off 250 of the enemy lie buried. In another spot on the opposite hill another heap of invaders were placed beneath the sod. The water all around has been so tainted by their mortal remains that it cannot be used by the occupants of the neighboring farm houses — a just retribution, if it is true that those same people were the means of guiding the invaders to the ground, as has been inferred.

Near this place the Fourth Alabama regiment encountered the enemy for an hour and forty minutes within 50 yards; the Eighth Georgia held them at bay in another part, and many of these brave men fell near by and are buried where they fell. A stone tablet marks the grave of Capt. Howard, beneath the pine trees, near where Keishaw's regiment, the 49th Virginia, the 7th and 18th Georgia, and a South Carolina regiment, kept the Northern forces back and held the space ‘"for life or for death,"’ as commanded, for forty minutes. There was the first position of Sherman's battery on the ridge of the hill by some persimmon trees, and its advance is told by broken fences and traces of cannon ball, past the old stone house and up the opposite hill, into the old woman's yard, where it was finally taken. Many other places we visited, all so frequently described that our readers need no repetition of the scenes.

Several parties were inspecting these historic grounds even on this dreary autumnal day, and we were informed that not a day has passed since the battle but a score or more of persons have visited those battle grounds; and we think if any one is inclined to enter on the speculation, that a comfort able tavern, with an inviting sitting room, and good cheer always ready, would be a very lucrative and welcome business on that road near the Stone Bridge.

Comfortable homes despoiled and deserted or half in ruins, affording a scanty protection to the teamsters who seem to spend their days in trudging to and fro between the camps and the nearest town and railroad depot; here and there pickets hovering near the heap of damp green logs that they vainly endeavor to kindle into a fire; a company on march, or a regiment just ordered off, with stray soldiers going and coming in little parties, and these are the passengers that greet you as you proceed mile after mile through that beautiful but desolate country.

Who that has once seen can ever forget the view that meets your eye on reaching the ridge of bills that overlook the valley around Centreville? This place has been chosen on account of its elevated and admirable position for defence. It seems, indeed, a natural fortification, commanding a wide, stretching valley on all sides, especially westward, which on gaining the hill as you approach from the Stone Bridge, lies spread before you dotted — nay, covered with camps. To the right and left, and on the slopes of the opposite hills, camps lie everywhere. Among the woods between and beyond them, on the open glades, glistening in contrast to the glowing tents of autumn, beautiful in the distance, yet sad to contemplate, we behold the winter dwellings of tens of thousands of our noble Southerners. As we passed among them we could but observe a vast difference in the arrangement of these camps. Some of them, standing back to back, with a broad road between each double row in front, all at right angles, with no rubbish or refuse, or any offensive sight or smell, wore a healthy and attractive appearance. Others, again, seemed ‘"pitched"’ down without law or order, heaps of rubbish and untidiness choking up the thoroughfares, engendering sickness faster than the hospitals can turn out the convalescent patients.

A variety of adventures befell the troops, and befell the tents, too, or beshrew them, during the gales of last week, for they were falling about in all directions ‘"The first thing I knew,"’ said one officer, ‘"was the camp tumbling about my ears, I inside of it; there was I, all in a heap, and could neither find my way out nor get any one to assist me, so I concluded to lie there till the rain was over."’ Several others shared a similar fate. One man, after calling in vain from beneath his superabundant covering, managed to slit a small aperture, through which he could peep at his neighbors, and beheld them, some dragged headlong while endeavoring to keep their tents together, some extricating themselves from the soaking folds, and others lying in a heap, tents and all, like himself.--‘"We were ordered off on picket in the midst of the storm,"’ said one company, ‘"our tents were falling and being blown away, but we could not stay to fix them, and found them all of a heap when we returned, three days afterwards."’ Those who were on picket duty at the time returned to find their tents blown to the breezes, or torn to shreds, and of course with a loss of many valuables besides. One gentleman assured us that his clothes were wet through for three days and nights, adding, good humoredly, ‘"It's nothing when you're used to it. "’ Another declared he could lie down to sleep in a pond without injury! Such are some of the incidents in the lives of our brave soldiers a kill or cure sort of training, and we heartily hope they will all ‘"get used to it"’ this winter.

The army does not appear to be in much danger of starving just yet. We were regaled with fresh beef, fried potatoes, delicious bread and biscuit, omelettes, good butter, and coffee. Who could desire a better supper or breakfast. The soldiers seem quite happy in dispensing their hospitalities, and have the not unfrequent opportunity of entertaining ladies, for the soldiers' wives and sisters are always welcome, and seem to adapt themselves to camp life with great zest.

We were favored with an inspection of the batteries and breast works, the contemplation of which, with the living scenes around them, cast us into a train of reflections that would extend far beyond the limits of this newspaper. One thought, however, we will impart to our readers which is that there is not much fear of our men ‘"rusting with idleness;" ’ and that not only the Yankees when they next favor us will have good reason to acknowledge the substantiality of these numerous fortifications, but that the future generations will visit these places of historic interest with pride and veneration for their ancestors whose works do honor to their hands and hearts.

To return from the sublime to the practical, we will venture in conclusion to make a suggestion which we hope may not be out of place, while at the same time we duly appreciate the courtesy and hospitality that rendered our visit to the camps in every way agreeable and gratifying. In these times of blockade, of enterprise, and self dependence, we would suggest that a contract should be made with the army butchers for all the hides, hoofs, horns and tallow we perceived, by two distinct organs, to be lying in corners and ditches much too near to humanity. Already candies, soap, glue, leather, rugs, combs and knives are in great request and exorbitantly dear, or not forthcoming. These, and what not, can be manufactured from this kind of refuse, and how soon we may be suffering from the want of them, who can predict?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
West Virginia (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Bull Run, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Sherman (1)
Keishaw (1)
Howard (1)
Henry (1)
Bee (1)
Bartow (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
November 12th, 1861 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: