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Washington under Banks.

by Richard B. Irwin, Lieutenant-Colonel and Assistant Adjutant-General, U. S. V.

Heintzelman's headquarters at Alexandria. From a sketch made September 3, 1862.

The 27th and 28th “[of August],” writes General F. A. Walker, in his admirable “History of the Second Army Corps,” “were almost days of panic in Washington.” These words mildly indicate the state into which affairs had fallen at the close of August and the opening of September, 1862, on the heels of General Pope's defeat in the Second Bull Run. Yet Washington was defended by not less than 110,000 men; for, in addition to the army which Pope was bringing back, beaten certainly, but by no means destroyed, there stood before the lines of Washington not less than 40,000 veterans who had not fired a shot in this campaign., and behind the lines 30,000 good men of the garrisons and the reserves of whom at least two-thirds were veterans in discipline, though all were untried in battle.

As General McClellan's staff rode in on the morning of the 2d of September, from their heart-rending exile on the Seminary heights, condemned there to hear in helpless idleness the awful thunder of Manassas and Chantilly, we made our way through the innumerable herd of stragglers,--mingled with an endless stream of wagons and [542] ambulances, urged on by uncontrollable teamsters,--which presently poured into Washington, overflowed it, took possession of its streets and public places, and held high orgie. Disorder reigned unchecked and confusion was everywhere. The clerks in the departments, many of whom had been hurried toward the front to do service as nurses, were now hastily formed into companies and battalions for defense; the Government ordered the arms and ammunition at the arsenal and the money in the Treasury to be shipped to New York, and the banks followed the example; a gun-boat, with steam up, lay in the river off the White House, as if to announce to the army and

Major-General W. F. Barry, chief-of-artillery of the defenses of Washington, September 1, 1862, to March 1, 1864. from a photograph.

the inhabitants the impending flight of the Administration. It was at this juncture that the President, on his own responsibility, once more charged General McClellan with the defense of the capital.

The next day, the 3d of September, the President further confided to General Halleck1 the duty of preparing an army to take the field; but since Lee did not wait for this, McClellan could not; even before the President's order reached General Halleck the Confederate army had disappeared from the front of Washington and General McClellan was putting his troops in march to meet it.

On the afternoon of the 7th, 87,000 men were in motion, and General McClellan set out for Rockville to put himself at their head. Almost at the last moment I was directed to remain in charge of the adjutant-general's department at his Headquarters in Washington, to issue orders in his name and “to prevent the tail of the army from being cut off,” and Lieutenant-Colonel Sawtelle was left in charge of the Quartermaster's Department, also with plenary authority, to see that the transportation and supplies went forward. On the same day, General Banks, who was reported confined to his bed, and unable to join his corps, was assigned to the immediate command of the defenses of Washington during McClellan's absence. The next day, General Banks assumed this command, having first obtained General McClellan's consent to my assignment as Assistant Adjutant-General, at the Headquarters of the Defenses, in addition to my other duties.2 I thought then that this was a difficult position for a young captain of twenty-two; I think now that it would have been difficult for a field-marshal of s ixty-two; certainly the arrangement could not have lasted an hour, but for the determination of all concerned to make it work, and to be deaf, blind, and dumb to everything not distinctly in front of us.

Everything was at once put in motion to carry out General McClellan's orders, of which the first point was to restore order.

The forces included the Third, Fifth, and Eleventh Army Corps, commanded respectively by Heintzelman, Fitz John Porter, and Sigel, covering the fortified line on the Virginia side and numbering about 47,000 for duty; the garrisons of the works, 15,000; Casey's provisional brigades of newly arriving regiments and the town guards, 1.1,000,--in all, 73,000,3 with 120 field-pieces and about 500 heavy guns in position; in brief, nearly one half of McClellan's entire army; a force a fourth or a third larger than Lee's; indeed, to all appearance, the identical command designed for General McClellan himself, before the defense of the capital had made it necessary for him to resume operations in the field by the pursuit of Lee.

The improvised staff-officers were at once sent out to establish the picket lines, so broken and disconnected that virtually there were none. The troops were rapidly inspected, and their numbers, positions, and wants ascertained. With the three corps and the organized divisions this was simple enough, since their commanders had them in hand. For a few days the discoveries of scattered detachments were numerous and surprising; some only turned up after a check had been put on the commissary issues, and about ten days later, in the [543]

The defenses of Washington during the Antietam campaign, September 1--20, 1862. Extensive additions to the defenses of the west bank of the Potomac were made subsequently; these will be indicated hereafter on another map. Forts Alexander, Franklin, and Ripley were afterward united and calledredoubts Davis, Kirby, and Cross, receiving later the name of Fort Sumner. Forts De Kalb, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Blenker were afterward changed respectively to Strong, Stevens, Reno, and Reynolds.--Editors.

most insalubrious part of “the slashes” (now the fashionable quarter of the capital) I came upon a squadron of cavalry comfortably “waiting orders”--from anybody.

The stragglers were promptly gathered in, the hotels and bar-rooms were swept of officers of all grades “absent without leave,” while heavy details of cavalry reduced to obedience even the unruly teamsters whose unbroken trains blocked the streets, and checked the reckless and senseless galloping of orderlies and other horsemen, who kept the foot-passengers in terror. Thus in two days order was restored, and it was afterward maintained.

There was quite an army of officers and men who had somehow become separated from their regiments. This happened often without any fault of their own, or with less than the frequent scoldings in general orders would have one believe. The number continued to be so enormous4 as to be quite unmanageable by any existing method. There was already a convalescent camp near Alexandria, in charge of Colonel J. S. Belknap, of the 85th New York. Under the [544] pressure of the moment, the name and place were made use of for the collection and organization of this army of the lost and strayed. Between the 17th of September, when the organization was completed, and the 30th, 17,343 convalescent stragglers, recruits, and paroled prisoners were thus taken care of; in October, 10,345; in November, 11,844, and in December, 12,238. The larger number were, of course, stragglers. At least one-third of the whole were unfit for duty, yet 16,176 were returned to the ranks during the first six weeks, 8226 in November, and 16,660 in December. The paroled and exchanged prisoners were afterward encamped separately, to the number of 3500 at one time, under Colonel Gabriel De Korponay, of the 28th Pennsylvania. As this camp was a clear innovation, the truly intolerable evils which it was intended to mitigate were forgotten the moment they ceased to press, and complaints came pouring in from every quarter. The reasonable ones were assiduously attended to, but of the other kind I recall two which came in company: one from a senator, saying that his constituents were so badly treated at the convalescent camp that they were driven to desert the service rather than remain there; the other from a corps commander, saying that his men were so well treated ( “coddled” was the word) that they were deserting the colors in order to return. When it was seen that the camp must outlast the first emergency, arrangements were made to reorganize and remove it to a better place and to provide shelter against the coming winter, but these well-matured plans being set aside after General Banks left the department, such suffering ensued that in December the War Office gave peremptory orders to break up the camp; yet, as General Hunt aptly remarks of his Artillery Reserve, “such is the force of ideas'” that these orders could never be carried out, and the camp remained, as it had begun, the offspring of necessity, a target for criticism, and a model for reluctant imitation.

General Casey was continued in the duty of receiving, organizing, and instructing the new regiments, forming them into “provisional brigades” and divisions; a service for which he was exactly fitted and in which he was ably assisted by Captain (afterward Lieutenant-Colonel) Robert N. Seott,5 as assistant adjutant-general. At this period not far from one hundred thousand men must have passed through this “dry nursery,” as it was called.

General Barnard, as chief engineer of the defenses, with the full support of the Government (although Congress had, in a strange freak, forbidden it), set vigorously to work to complete and extend the fortifications, particularly on the north side and beyond the eastern branch, and to clear their front by felling the timber. Heavy details of new troops were furnished daily, and the men, carefully selected, easily and cheerfully got through an immense amount of work in an incredibly short time.6

With the aid of General Barry as chief of artillery, and, among others, of Colonel R. O. Tyler, 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery, the artillerists were instructed in their duties, and with the approval of the Government a permanent garrison was provided, formed of those splendid regiments of heavy artillery, each of twelve large companies, afterward known as the “heavies” of Grant's Virginia campaigns.

In the last three weeks of September there were sent to the Army of the Potomac in the field 36,000 men, in October, 29,000; in all, 65,000.7

Frequent reconnoissances to the gaps of the Blue Ridge and to the Rapidan served to disturb the Confederate communications a little, to save us from needless “alarums and excursions,” and incidentally to throw some strange lights on the dark ways of the Secret Service, whose reports we thus learned to believe in if possible less than ever.

Especially during General McClellan's active operations,we used to see the President rather often of an evening, when, as in earlier days, he would “just drop in” to ask, sometimes through a half-opened doorway, “Well, how does it look now?” One day in October, shortly after Stuart's raid into Maryland and Pennsylvania, on returning on board the Martha Washington from a review near Alexandria, when the President seemed in unusually high spirits and was conversing freely, some one (I think DeKay) suddenly asked: “Mr. President, what about McClellan?” Without looking at his questioner the President drew a ring on the deck with a stick or umbrella and said quietly: “When I was a boy we used to play a game, three times round and out. Stuart has been round him twice; if he goes round him once more, gentlemen, McClellan will be out!”

General Banks kept the President, as well as the Secretary of War, and, of course, the General-in-Chief and General McClellan, constantly and fully advised of everything, and managed by his tact, good judgment, and experience to retain the confidence of his superiors, without which, in the remarkable state of feeling and of faction then prevailing, no one could have done anything. The President felt that the capital was safe, that the forces in its front were in hand, ready for any service at any notice; that order had quietly replaced confusion, and was maintained without fuss or excitement. In his own words, he was not bothered all day and could sleep all night if he wanted to; and this it was that toward the end of October, when it had been decided to make a change in the Department of the Gulf, led him to offer the command to General Banks.

1 General McClellan seems never to have known of this order.--R. B. I.

2 At this time General Banks was without a staff-officer. Colonel John S. Clark, A. D. C., Lieutenant-Colonel D. H. Strother, A. D. C. (the genial “Porte Crayon” ), and others of his staff joined him presently. General Halleck also sent down many officers, as they happened to report to him for orders, and thus a curious yet very useful staff was soon collected, including several officers who afterward won deserved distinction; among them I recall Captains (afterward Major-General) Wesley Merritt and A. J. Alexander (afterward Brigadier-General) of the Cavalry; Captain (afterward Brevet Major-General) George W. Mindil, who had been Kearny's adjutant-general, one of the most gallant and accomplished officers of our (or any) branch of the volunteer service; Lieutenant (now Colonel) G. Norman Lieber, at present Acting Judge Advocate-General, and Drake DeKay, from Pope's staff.--R. B. I.

3 Rapidly augmented by new levies, these forces must have exceeded 80,000 before the dispatch of Porter's corps to Antietam, September 12th.. The return for October 10th shows 79,535; for November 10th, 80,989. The lowest point was about 60,000 after Whipple's division left, October 17th. The actual effective strength would, as always, be a fifth or a sixth less.

4 General McClellan estimated the number of stragglers he met on the Centreville road on the 2d at 20,000; Colonel Kelton those on the 1st at 30,000. Colonel Belknap estimates the number that passed through his hands before September 17th at 20,000.--R. B. I.

5 Distinguished after the war by his invaluable public services in the organization and editing of the “Official Records of the Rebellion.”--Editors.

6 It was before these lines that, two years later, in his raid on Washington, Early brought up one evening; it was behind them that the dawn revealed to him the familiar Greek cross of the Sixth Army Corps, and also the four-pointed star of the Nineteenth.--R. B. I.

7 Porter's corps (Morell and Humphreys), 15,.500; 20 new regiments in a body, 18,500; Stoneman and Whipple, 15,000; together, 49,000; add convalescents and stragglers, 16,000.--R. B. I.

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