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Marching on Manassas.

by W. Roy Mason, Major, C. S. A.
On the 23d of August, as our brigade (Field's, of Hill's division) was passing through an oak forest several miles from our starting-point in the morning, General Field and his staff riding leisurely at its head, we were hailed by General Fitzhugh Lee, who, with his staff, had alighted on one side of the road. He requested us to dismount, as he had something to show us. He then slipped behind a big oak-tree, and, in a moment or two, emerged dressed in the long blue cloak of a Federal general that reached nearly down to his feet, and wearing a Federal general's hat with its big plume. This masquerade was accompanied by a burst of jolly laughter from him that might have been heard for a hundred yards. We inquired as to what this meant, and he told us that the night before he had made a raid upon Pope's Headquarters, near Catlett's Station, with orders to capture him. He had surrounded his tent, but upon going in had found only the supper-table spread there, and near it a quartermaster [Major Charles N. Goulding] and one or two minor staff-officers, whom he took greatly by surprise.

Pope's cloak and hat were in the tent, and he was told that the general had taken them off on account of the heat, and had walked down through the woods to visit the headquarters of some other general,--where, they did not know. Being pressed for time, and anxious to retreat from a position that might soon become a dilemma, General Fitz Lee requested the quartermaster to open the military chest of his chief, which was found to contain (to the best of my recollection) $350,000 in green-backs, after which, mounting the Federal officers behind three of his men, he prepared to go.1 He did not forget to take the supper from the table, however, or the uniform coat and hat from the chair. [529]

Proceeding on our way, when we reached Manassas Plains on the morning of the 27th, a mile or a mile and a half from the Junction, our brigade in the van of Jackson's corps,--a staff-officer of General Fitz Lee's,--who had preceded us again after our late encounter,--rode back to explain the new situation.

He said that Fitz Lee had reached Manassas Junction at daybreak and made his appearance before the enemy. General George W. Taylor, of the U. S. army, commanding a brigade of Franklin's division advancing from Alexandria for the protection of the stores at Manassas Junction, supposing that Lee was making a mere cavalry reconnoissance, and not aware of the Confederate forces between General Pope and himself, had demanded Fitz Lee's unconditional surrender, adding that, as Pope was in the rear and his retreat was entirely cut off, there was no alternative. Lee returned him a facetious answer, requesting an hour to consider the question, supposing by that time that General Jackson would be up with him.

When we appeared from the woods which had concealed the infantry, General Taylor, still considering, when he saw us, that we were only a brigade of infantry that supported Lee's cavalry, advanced toward us in three lines of battle. We brought our batteries, four in number, to bear, the shot and shell from which began to plow through their ranks before we opened on them with our infantry. They closed up the gaps and marched toward us in the most perfect line of battle that I had seen during the war, and it was only when General Jackson's corps enveloped them front and flanks that they broke. General Taylor was mortally wounded, almost in the first onset, and his men were nearly all captured, or rendered hors de combat, as we chased them toward Washington for many miles.

That evening we took possession of the enormous commissary and quartermaster stores of the enemy.

The buildings that sheltered them were sheds reaching, as well as my memory serves me, for many hundred yards, and containing everything necessary to the equipment of an army, but, having only ambulances with us, we could carry away nothing but medical supplies, which we found in abundance. The first order that General Jackson issued was to knock out the heads of hundreds of barrels of whisky, wine, brandy, etc., intended for the army. I shall never forget the scene when this was done. Streams of spirits ran like water through the sands of Manassas, and the soldiers on hands and knees drank it greedily from the ground as it ran.

General C. W. Field and staff took possession of the Federal headquarters. When we reached them, we found spread upon the table, untouched, a breakfast of cold chicken, lamb, and biscuit, and coffee that by this time, had also grown cold. It had not been spread for us, but--“Telle est la fortune de la guerre.” There were also a barrel of cut sugar, a sack of Java coffee, and similar luxuries. There I found for the first time a bed with feather pillows and bolster, upon which I at once threw myself, begging to be allowed to rest, if but for ten minutes.

In a short time General A. P. Hill sent us an order to burn all the quartermaster and commissary stores with all the buildings, and requested me to superintend the execution of the order. It was with the greatest pain that I complied with this order, as there were so many things that we of the South absolutely required; but we [had no wagons to transfer them. It must be remembered that we were within twenty miles of Washington, with Pope's enormous army between us and Longstreet's corps, which we had left at the Fauquier White Sulphur Springs.

Before I executed my order in burning the commissary and quartermaster stores, however, I took the bolster-case from the headquarters tent, filled it with cut sugar, and tied it at one end, and filled the pillow-case with Java coffee, and succeeded in strapping both behind my horse, for which small act of providence I was amply praised by General Field. I had hoped to get an ambulance to carry these, but was unfortunate enough to miss it.

As I before remarked, the army was far from being happy about its position, of which we knew the really critical nature, and just below us, a few miles over the plains, we could hear a terrific artillery fire. I became uneasy as it continued, and seeing General Jackson, who stood in the porch of one of the commissary depots, I proposed to General Field to let me go over and ask him if General Longstreet had passed through Thoroughfare Gap. Through this he must necessarily pass to reach us, and it was known to have been held by the enemy, and was, besides, a sort of second. Pass of Thermopylae in its difficulties. When I made this proposition to General Field, who was an old army officer, he replied promptly: “No, sir,--you cannot carry any such message from me to General Jackson.”

“ Well, Field, then I am going over to ask on my own account,” I said.

“Then let it be distinctly understood”--was the answer--“that you don't go officially.”

Walking over to where General Jackson stood, and saluting him, I remarked: “General, we are all of us desperately uneasy about Longstreet and the situation, and I have come over on my own account to ask the question: Has Longstreet passed Thoroughfare Gap successfully?” With a smile General Jackson replied: “Go back to your command, and say, ‘Longstreet is through, and we are going to whip in the next battle.’ ”

1 General Stuart reports that Fitzhugh Lee's command “charged the camp, capturing a large number of prisoners, particularly officers, and securing public property to a fabulous amount.” Pope's uniform, his horses and equipments and money-chests were included in the enumeration of captures.--Editors.

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