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XXXVIII. the Potomac—Ball's Bluff—Dranesville.

  • Scott a failure
  • -- Gen. McClellan called to Washington -- brings order out of Chaos -- great increase of our army -- no advance -- Ball's Bluff -- Drauesville--“all quiet” -- the Hutchinsons expelled -- Whittier's Lyric.

the disaster at Bull Run, and the amazing imbecility betrayed in allowing several of the regiments there routed to continue their panic-stricken, disorderly flight over the bridges into Washington, whence many soldiers, and even officers, dispersed to their respective homes, had dispelled all lingering illusions as to the capacity of Gen. Scott for the conduct of a great war. Though it was still deemed a military necessity to conceal the failure of his faculties, to excuse his blunders, and even, in some instances, to eulogize his abilities as well as magnify his services, the urgent, imperative need of replacing him by a younger and more vigorous commander was felt by every intelligent Unionist. It was he, Winfield Scott, and none other, who had precipitated a third of our forces, on or near the line of the Potomac, into a decisive conflict with seven-eighths of the Rebel strength in Virginia, in defiance of every dictate of prudence and of common sense. Neither the President, nor the Secretary of War, nor Gen. McDowell, nor the maligned and detested Radicals — who were naturally anxious that our 75,000 three-months' men should not be disbanded and sent home without having been of the least positive service — had ever desired or expected any such conflict as this. It was Gen. Scott who had given the orders under which Gen. McDowell advanced and fought on Sunday, the 21st of July. Gen. Cameron, the Secretary of War, who was at Centerville during the preceding day, saw plainly that our regiments at the front were not so many as they should be, and returned hastily that evening to Washington to procure a countermand of the order for battle; but arrived too late to see Gen. Scott and obtain it. Badly as Patterson had behaved, he had reported, on the 18th, by telegraph to Scott, his flank movement to Charlestown; which, any one could see, left Gen. Johnston at perfect liberty to hasten, with all his available force, to the aid of Beauregard at Manassas. And, on the 20th--the day before Bull Run — he had telegraphed to Scott that Johnston had actually departed on that errand.1 Though Gen. Scott remained nominally in chief command until the last day of October, he was practically superseded [619] forthwith by the formation of a new military department of Washington and of north-eastern Virginia, which Gen. George B. McClellan was summoned, by telegraph, from that of Western Virginia to preside over. This change was officially announced on the 25th of July; on which day Gen. McClellan arrived at Philadelphia, and there received a most enthusiastic ovation. He proceeded next morning to Washington.

Gen. McClellan found the army intrusted with the defense of the capital reduced, by defeat, desertions, and the mustering out of most of the three-months' men, to 50,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry, and 650 artillery, with 30 field-guns. The city was protected, on the Virginia side of the Potomac, by hastily-constructed but substantial earthworks, on which some heavy guns were mounted. But, if the Rebels had chosen to ford the Potomac a few miles above, either Washington or Baltimore lay at their mercy, provided they could defeat this army in the open field. They did not, however, see fit to risk so bold a movement; though military critics believe that, for the two weeks succeeding their victory at Bull Run, it might have been attempted with reasonable prospect of success. They could probably have thrown across the river a force nearly or quite equal in numbers to that which defended Washington, whereof at least 5,000 would necessarily have been retained in the earthworks on the Virginia side; while the prestige of their recent victory, and the consequent demoralization of our troops, secured to the Rebels decided advantages, which each succeeding week was morally certain to diminish. They did not, however, attempt to cross the Potomac in force, nor even to provoke another battle on its south bank; but, having advanced their lines, soon after their victory, to Munson's Hill, a few miles from Alexandria, they only remained there until a night attack had been planned on our side; when, promptly forewarned by traitors, they hastily withdrew to Fairfax. It does not appear that the main body of their army ever deliberately took position this side of Centerville.

Gen. McClellan commenced2 by ordering the officers and men of his army out of Washington, where too many, especially of the former, had hitherto been indulged in idling away their time, to the neglect of their duties and the damage of their morals. Col. Andrew Porter, of the 16th regulars, was appointed Provost Marshal to carry this order into effect. The organization of the Army into brigades was soon afterward3 effected; and these brigades were ultimately4 formed into divisions. But the formation of army corps was, for some reason, postponed and delayed, until finally5 it was peremptorily directed by the President.

Meantime, the patient, loyal, earnest North, soon recovering from the shock of its astounding discomfiture, had been soberly but resolutely raising new regiments and new batteries for a more determined and more energetic prosecution of the struggle forced upon it by slaveholding treason. Every State, county, and township, addressed itself zealously to the work of recruiting and equipping; so that, [620] by the middle6 of October, Gen. McClellan found himself at the head of fully 150,000 men — an army superior in numbers, in intelligence, and in the essential quality of its material, to any ever led into battle by Napoleon, and by far the largest and most effective which had ever been seen on this continent. It was not only far better drilled and fitted for service than that with which Gen. McDowell had advanced to Centerville and Bull Run, but it was better constituted, in that its members — not one of them a conscript — had enlisted for a term of years, after all sixty-day hallucinations had been dispelled, and with a full knowledge that they were to encounter the hardships, the perils and the privations of protracted and inexorable war.

Gen. McClellan held his first grand parade at the close of September, when 70,000 men of all arms were assembled, maneuvered, and reviewed; a larger army than had ever before been concentrated on any field in America. Apprehensions were expressed that the Rebels would improve this opportunity to attack some portion of our lines; but they were not strong enough to warrant such a venture. Still, regiment after regiment, battery after battery,was poured from the North into Washington, and thence distributed to the several camps assigned them on either side of the Potomac, until the mere bulk of our quiescent forces, the necessity for ground whereon to station them, compelled an advance of our lines — the light troops covering the Rebel front retiring whenever pressed. Lewinsville was reoccupied by our army on the 9th, Vienna on the 16th, and Fairfax Court House on the 17th of October; the Confederates recoiling without firing a shot to Centerville and Manassas. On the 16th, Gen. Geary, under orders from Gen. Banks, in Maryland, advanced to and captured Bolivar Hights, overlooking Harper's Ferry. Leesburg, the capital of Loudoun county, Va., was mistakenly reported evacuated by the Confederates on the 17th; Gen. McCall, with a considerable Union force, moving up the right bank of the Potomac to Dranesville, whence his scouts were pushed forward to Goose Creek, four miles from Leesburg. On the 19th and 20th, McCall made two reconnoissances in the direction of Leesburg, encountering no enemy, and being assured by those he met that the Rebels had abandoned that town some days before. Thus advised, Gen. McClellan, on the 20th, directed the following dispatch to be sent to Gen. Stone, at Poolesville, Md., where he was watching and guarding the line of the Potomac from the Maryland side of the river:

Received October 20, 1861, from Camp Griffin.
Gen. McClellan desires me to inform you that Gen. McCall occupied Dranesville yesterday, and is still there; will send out heavy reconnoissances to-day in all directions from that point. The General desires that you keep a good lookout on Leesburg, to see if this movement has the effect to drive them away. Perhaps a slight demonstration on [621] your part would have the effect to move them.

Gen. Stone at once ordered Col. Devens, of the 15th Massachusetts, to transfer two flat-boats from the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, opposite Harrison's Island, to the river at that point, and therewith to ferry over his regiment to the island; which was promptly done. About dark, in obedience to a verbal order, Devens sent Capt. Philbrick, with fifteen or twenty men, across to the Virginia shore, which he ascertained was not picketed by the enemy, and ascended the steep bank known as Ball's Bluff, which here rises about one hundred and fifty feet to the level of the adjacent country. Pushing out a small distance from the Bluff, Philbrick returned and reported that he had discovered a small camp of the enemy, which did not appear to be well guarded. This report was sent by Col. Devens to Gen. Stone, who thereupon issued the following order:

Headquarters Corps of observation, Poolesville, Oct. 20, 1861-10 1/2 P. M.
Special order no.--.
Col. Devens will land opposite Harrison's Island, with five companies of his regiment, and proceed to surprise the camp of the enemy discovered by Capt. Philbrick in the direction of Leesburg. The landing and march will be effected with silence and rapidity.

Col. Lee, 20th Massachusetts volunteers, will, immediately after Col. Devens's departure, occupy Harrison's Island with four companies of his regiment, and will cause the four-oared boat to be taken across the island to the point of departure of Col. Devens. One company will be thrown across to occupy the rights on the Virginia shore, after Col. Devens's departure, to cover his return.

Two mountain howitzers will be taken silently up the tow-path, and carried to the opposite side of the island, under the orders of Col. Lee.

Col. Devens will attack the camp of the enemy at daybreak, and, having routed, will pursue them as far as he deems prudent, and will destroy the camp, if practicable, before returning. He will make all the observations possible on the country; will, under all circumstances, keep his command well in hand, and not sacrifice them to any supposed advantage of rapid pursuit.

Having accomplished this duty, Col. Devens will return to his present position, unless he shall see one on the Virginia side, near the river, which he can undoubtedly hold until reenforced, and one which can be successfully held against largely superior numbers. In such case, he will hold on and report.

Chas. P. Stone, Brig.-General.
Great care will be used by Col. Devens to prevent any unnecessary injury of private property; and any officer or soldier straggling from the command, for curiosity or plunder, will be instantly shot.

Chas. P. Stone, Brig.-General.

Col. Devens accordingly commenced crossing his force a little after midnight, and had his five companies formed on the top of the bluff so soon as it was light enough to find his way thither. Col. Lee likewise crossed about a hundred men, and took position this side of him. Scouts, dispatched right and left, returned and reported that they could find no enemy. Advancing, so soon as it was light, to the supposed Rebel camp reported to him the night before, Col. D. found it no camp at all, but an optical illusion, created by moonlight glimmering through a row of trees and presenting the appearance of a row of tents. Having advanced to within a mile of Leesburg without discovering a trace of an enemy, Col. D. halted in a wood, unperceived, as he supposed, by any foe, sent a messenger to Gen. Stone, and awaited further orders.

At 7 A. M., a body of riflemen appeared on his right, but fell back when approached; when Rebel cavalry became visible on the road to Leesburg. Col. Devens hereupon, [622] about 8 A. M., fell back to the bluff, in perfect order and unmolested, and there soon received a message from Gen. Stone to remain, and he would be supported. He now counted his force, and ascertained that it numbered 28 officers and 625 men.

At noon, or a little after, he was attacked by musketry from the woods surrounding on three sides the field of barely six acres, in which his men were formed, and at once fell back some sixty yards to obtain a better position. An hour later, being still

Battle of Ball's Bluff. A Path by which the Rebels tried to enter the open field. B. Flank movement attempted by the Rebels; defeated by the California Regiment.

unsupported, he fell back again nearly to the edge of the bluff, where he was soon after reenforced, as he had been promised, by the California regiment, Col. E. D. Baker,7 who, being the ranking officer, assumed command — having received from Gen. Stone an order to support Col. Devens, or withdraw his force to the Maryland shore, at his discretion. It seems that Col. Baker had doubts, on reaching the river, whether [623] to reenforce or withdraw Col. Devens's men; but, hearing that the enemy were already upon Col. D., he decided that he had no choice but to reenforce.

The main current of the Potomac passes Harrison's Island on the Maryland side, where three flat-boats or scows, with a joint capacity of 125 persons, were used by our men; while only a life-boat and two small skiffs, together carrying from 25 to 30 men, were employed on the Virginia side of the island. Finally, one of the scows or flat-boats was taken around to that side. But the crossing of the river, here quite rapid, was still difficult and tedious; while it does not seem that competent persons had been detailed to supervise and effect it. A narrow, winding path led up from the immediate brink of the river to the open field on which our troops were formed, with the enemy swarming in the woods belting that field on three sides, within musket-shot. Col. Baker reached it between 1 and 2 o'clock, P. M. His entire force consisted of the New York Tammany regiment, Col. Milton Cogswell, the California regiment, Lieut.-Col. Wistar, and portions of the 15th Massachusetts, Col. Devens, and 20th, Col. Lee--in all, 1,900 men.8 The Rebels by whom they were assailed comprised the 8th Virginia, 13th, 17th, and 18th Mississippi, forming the brigade of Gen. Evans.9 Col. Baker had barely completed the formation of his men, when his right was heavily assailed by the enemy; the attack gradually proceeding to the center and left, and the struggle thus continuing for two hours with desperate energy on both sides, but with far greater loss on ours, because of the uncovered position of our men. Col. Baker insisted on exposing himself with the most reckless bravery, and fell, shot through the head, a little before 5 o'clock. As our men, falling fast, began to waver, and some portions of the line to give way, in view of this calamity, Col. Cogswell, who succeeded to the command, resolved to charge the enemy on his left, and cut his way through to Edwards's Ferry, two or three miles, where Gen. Stone was known to be in force; but, upon attempting this movement, it was met by a fresh Mississippi regiment advancing from the direction of the Ferry, under whose destructive fire our decimated, discouraged troops gave way, and retreated in disorder down the bluff, just as darkness was drawing on. The triumphant Rebels now advanced from all sides to the bluff, and fired with impunity on the disorderly, straggling mass below. Meantime, the flat-boat on that side of the island, being overloaded, was soon riddled and sunk; the life-boat and skiffs were upset and lost; and the work of unresisted slaughter went on. Some were shot on the bank; others while attempting to swim to the island; while a number were carried down by the current and drowned. A few escaped in the darkness, by stealing along the bank of the river unobserved, and finally reached our lines in safety. But our actual loss by that bloody disaster [624] was not less than 1,000 men; of whom nearly 300 were killed outright, and more than 500, including the wounded, taken prisoners.10

Meantime, Gen. Stone had directed Gen. Gorman to throw across the river at Edwards's Ferry a small force, which made a cautious reconnoissance for about three miles on the road to Leesburg, when, coming suddenly upon a Mississippi regiment, it exchanged volleys and returned. Gen. Gorman's entire brigade was thrown over at this point during the day; but, as it did not advance, its mere presence on the Virginia side of the Potomac, so far from the scene of actual combat, subserved no purpose. After the disaster was complete, Gen. Stone, about 10 P. M., arrived on the ground from which our ill-starred advance was made; as did Gen. Banks at 3 next morning, and Gen. McClellan on the evening of that day. But it was now too late. No relief was sent while relief could have availed. Even McCall retired from Dranesville southward on the day of the fatal fight.

Col. Baker has been widely blamed for rashness in this conflict, and even for disregard of orders — it would seem most unjustly. The following orders, found in his hat after his death, deeply stained with his life-blood, are all the foundation for this charge:

Edwards's Ferry, Oct. 21st, 1861.
Col. E. D. Baker, Commander of brigade:
Colonel: In case of heavy firing in front of Harrison's Island, you will advance the California regiment of your brigade, or retire the regiments under Cols. Lee and Devens, now on the [almost rendered illegible with blood] Virginia side of the river, at your discretion — assuming command on arrival.

Very respectfully, Colonel, your most obedient servant,

Charles P. Stone, Brig.-General Commanding.

The second order was received on the battle-field, by the hand of Col. Cogswell, an hour before the death of Col. Baker, who had put it in his hat without reading it. It is as follows:

Headquarters Corps of observation, Edwards's Ferry, Oct. 22d, 11.50.
E. D. Baker, Commanding brigade:
Colonel: I am informed that the force of the enemy is about 4,000, all told. If you can push them, you may do so as far as to have a strong position near Leesburg, if you can keep them before you, avoiding their batteries. If they pass Leesburg and take the Gum Spring road, you will not follow far, but seize the first good position to cover that road.

Their desire is to draw us on, if they are obliged to retreat, as far as Goose Creek, where they can be reenforced from Manassas, and have a strong position.

Report frequently, so that, when they are pushed, Gorman can come up on their flank. Yours, respectfully and truly,

Charles P. Stone, Brig.-General Commanding.

How Stone expected Baker to “push” 4,000 men with 1,900, in an advanced and unsupported position, where the 4,000 might at any moment be increased to 10,000 or to 20,000, is not obvious. And why was not Gorman sent forward to come up on their flank, at any rate; without waiting for 1,900 men to “push” 4,000 beyond Leesburg to a good point for covering that place?

As to Col. Baker's reading or not reading this dispatch, it must be considered that he was at that moment engaged with a superior force, and [625] that retreat on his part was simple ruin. He must repulse the enemy assailing him then and there, or be destroyed; for no force that Stone might now send to his relief could be brought up in time to save him.

The Ball's Bluff tragedy, grossly misrepresented as it was in Rebel bulletins and exulting narratives, tended to confirm and extend the vain-glorious delusion which was already sapping the foundations, if not of Rebel strength, at least of Rebel energy. Gen. Evans officially reported that he had fought and beaten 8,000 men,commanded by Gen. Stone--his troops using the musket alone; while the Unionists employed artillery, and fired on him with long-range guns from the Maryland shore! and that his brigade had driven “an enemy four times their number from the soil of Virginia, killing and taking prisoners a greater number than our whole force engaged.” These fables were repeated in general orders, with the necessary effect of inflating the whole Confederate people with an inordinate conceit of their own prowess, and misleading them into an intense contempt for Yankee cowardice and inefficiency. The natural consequences of this delusive swagger were evinced in the encounters of the ensuing Spring.

On the other hand, Ball's Bluff dispelled, though at a terrible cost, some of the aspersions which had been sedulously propagated with regard to the spirit and morale of the Union rank and file. Whoever asked of any champion of the prevailing strategy why our armies stood idle, and as if paralyzed, in the presence of inferior forces of Rebels, were assured, in a confidential whisper, that our men had been so demoralized and spirit-broken by their rout at Bull Run, that there was no fight in them — that a whole brigade would take to their heels at the sight of a Rebel regiment advancing to the charge. Ball's Bluff repelled and dissipated this unworthy calumny — by showing that our soldiers, though most unskillfully handled, precipitated into needless perils, entrapped, surrounded, hopeless, had still the courage to fight and the manhood to die.


At 6. A. M., of Dec. 20th, Gen. E. O. C. Ord, commanding the 3d Pennsylvania brigade, in pursuance of orders from Gen. George A. McCall, commanding the division holding the right of Gen. McClellan's army, moved forward from Camp Pierpont toward Dranesville, Loudoun County, Va., instructed to drive back the enemy's pickets, procure a supply of forage, and capture, [626] if possible, a small cavalry force scouting betwixt Dranesville and the Potomac. Gen. Ord's brigade consisted of the 9th, Col. C. F. Jackson, 10th, Col. J. S. McCalmont, 12th, Col. John H. Taggart, the Bucktail Rifles, Lt.-Col. T. L. Kane, a part of the 6th, with Easton's battery and two squadrons of cavalry; in all, about 4,000 men. While halting to load forage just east of Dranesville, he was attacked by a Rebel brigade, led by Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, composed of the 11th Virginia, the 6th South Carolina, 10th Alabama, 1st Kentucky, the Sumter Flying Artillery, and detachments from two cavalry regiments — the whole force numbering, according to Rebel accounts, only 2,500. Stuart appears to have been likewise on a foraging excursion; as he had with him about 200 wagons, which probably returned empty of aught but wounded men. They came up the road leading southwardly from Dranesville to Centerville, some fifteen miles distant, and were foolishly pushed on to attack, though the advantage in numbers, in position, and even in artillery, appears to have been decidedly on our side. They were, of course, easily and badly beaten; the Pennsylvanians fighting with cool intrepidity and entire confidence of success. Our aggregate loss was but 9 killed and 60 wounded--among the latter, Lieut.-Col. Kane, who led his men with signal gallantry. The Rebels lost, by their own account, 230; among them, Col. Forney, of the 10th Alabama, wounded, and Lieut. Col. Martin, killed. They left 25 horses dead on the field, with two caissons--one of them exploded,--running off their guns by hand; the 6th South Carolina, out of 315 present, losing 65--in part, by the fire of the 1st Kentucky (Rebel), which, mistaking them for Unionists, poured a murderous volley into them at forty yards' distance. It was a foolish affair on the part of Stuart, who was palpably misled by the gas-conade of Evans, with regard to his meeting and beating more than four to one at Ball's Bluff. When he found himself overmatched, losing heavily, and in danger of being outflanked and destroyed, the Rebel General withdrew rapidly, but in tolerable order, from the field; and Gen. McCall, who came up at this moment, wisely decided not to pursue; since a Rebel force thrice his own might at any moment be interposed between him and his camp. Each party returned to its quarters that night.

The victory of Dranesville, unimportant as it may now seem, diffused an immense exhilaration throughout the Union ranks. It was a fitting and conclusive answer to every open assertion or whispered insinuation impeaching the courage or the steadiness of our raw Northern volunteers. The encounter was purely fortuitous, at least on our side; two strong foraging parties, believed by our men to be about equal in numbers, had met on fair, open ground; had fought a brief but spirited duel, which had ended in the confessed defeat and flight of the Rebels, whose loss was at least twice that they inflicted on us. Admit that they were but 2,500 to our 4,000; the Army of the Potomac, now nearly 200,00011 strong, and able to advance on the enemy [627] with not less than 150,000 sabers and bayonets, eagerly awaited the long-expected permission to prove itself but fairly represented in that casual detachment which had fought and won at Dranesville.

In every other quarter, our arms were in the ascendant. The blow well struck by Butler and Stringham at Hatteras, had never been retaliated. The Rebels' attempt to cut off Brown's regiment at Chicamicomico had resulted in more loss to them than to us. Du Pont's triumph at Port Royal had dealt a damaging blow to our foes, and inflicted signal injury on the original plotters of treason, without loss to our side. In West Virginia, the campaign was closing with the prestige of success and superiority gilding our standards, and with at least nine-tenths of the whole region securely in our hands. In Missouri, Gen. Fremont-though vehemently reproached for not advancing and fighting sooner, and though never enjoying facilities for obtaining arms, munitions, or any material of war, at all comparable to those at all times eagerly accorded to McClellan — had collected, organized, armed, and provided, a movable column of nearly 40,000 men, at whose head he had pushed Price--one of the very ablest of the Rebel chieftains — to the furthest corner of the State, and was on the point of hunting him thence into Arkansas or eternity, when the order which deprived him of his command was received at Springfield on the 2d of November. Yet then and throughout the Winter, Gen. McClellan, who had been called to command at Washington on the same day that Fremont left New York for St. Louis, stood cooped up and virtually besieged in the defenses of Washington, holding barely ground enough in Virginia to encamp and maneuver his army; while the Rebels impudently obstructed the navigation of the lower Potomac, on one hand, by batteries erected at commanding points on the Virginia shore, while the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was dismantled and obstructed by them at Harper's Ferry and further west on the other; leaving the city of Washington, as well as his vast army, dependent on the single track of the Branch Rail-road for all their subsistence and supplies, throughout the tedious Winter that followed.

The Confederates had not yet enforced a general Conscription; and, though volunteering was widely stimulated by Police discipline and Lynch law, while the more ignorant and ill-informed young women of many slaveholding localities were envenomed Secessionists, refusing to give any but the most furious countenance to young men who hesitated to enlist, yet the white population of the States actually controlled by the Rebels was so very far inferior in numbers to that of the loyal North and West, that the Rebel armies were necessarily and vastly the less numerous likewise.

Gen. McClellan, indeed, appears to have estimated their numbers in Eastern Virginia at 150,000; but the information on which he acted differed [628] widely from that of his subordinates who spent the Winter in camp in Virginia, while he remained snugly housed in Washington. Gen. Wadsworth, who saw and (until forbidden) questioned the ‘contrabands’ and other deserters who came within our lines from Centerville and vicinity that Autumn and Winter, was confident that 60,000 was the highest number they ever had encamped in our front; and these we might have assailed at a day's notice with 120,000; and, by taking three days for preparation, with 150,000. Why not?

The weather was magnificent; the roads hard and dry, till far into Winter. An artillery officer wonderingly inquired: “What is such weather for, if not fighting?.”

The loyal masses — awed by the obloquy heaped on those falsely accused of having caused the disaster at Bull Run by their ignorant impatience and precipitancy — stood in silent expectation. They still kept raising regiment after regiment, battery after battery, and hurrying them forward to the allingulfing Army of the Potomac, to be in time for the decided movement that must be just at hand — but the torrent was there drowned in a lake of Lethean stagnation. First, we were waiting for reenforcements — which was most reasonable; then, for the requisite drilling and fitting for service — which was just as helpful to the Rebels as to us; then, for the leaves to fall — so as to facilitate military movements in a country so wooded and broken as Virginia; then, for cannon — whereof we had already more than 200 first-rate field-guns in Virginia, ready for instant service: and so the long, bright Autumn, and the colder but still favorable December, wore heavily away, and saw nothing of moment attempted. Even the Rebel batteries obstructing the lower Potomac were not so much as menaced — the Navy laying the blame on the Army; the Army throwing it back on the Navy — probably both right, or, rather, both wrong: but the net result was nothing done; until the daily repetition of the stereotyped telegraphic bulletin, “All quiet on the Potomac” --which had at first been received with satisfaction; afterward with complacency; at length evoked a broad and general roar of disdainful merriment.

And so, Winter at last settled down upon that vast, gallant, most effective army, Two Hundred Thousand strong, able and ready, on any fair field, to bear down at a charge all the Rebels in their front without coming to a stand; yet lying thus beleaguered and paralyzed, shivering and dying in the tents to which they had been so suddenly transferred from their comfortable homes — not allowed to build themselves huts, such as the Rebels had, because that would reveal to the country the fact that nothing was to be attempted till Spring or later; expecting, hoping every day to receive the long-awaited order to advance; but seeing night after night close in without it; and sinking into homesickness and disease, which employment for body and mind would readily have repelled and dissipated.

Is this obstinate fixity, this rooted neglect and waste of the grandest opportunities, explicable? Not by the hypothesis of a constitutional aversion to the shedding of blood — that is, of other men's — on the part of our “Young Napoleon;” for he was at that moment among the most eager [629] to have our country involved in still another great war, by a refusal, on the part of our Government, to surrender Mason and Slidell. Not even Vallandigham was more belligerent in that direction. Constitutional timidity and irresolution — an overwhelming sense of responsibility and inadequacy to so stupendous a trust — were probably not without their influence in the premises. But, beyond and above all these, there was doubtless a slowly awakened consciousness that Slavery was the real assailant of our National existence, and that to put down the Rebellion by a positive, determined exertion of force, was to seal the doom of its inciting cause, which had so recently transformed into downright traitors so many high officers who once honored and loved our Union and its flag. It was hard for one who had long been arguing and voting that, in our current politics, Slavery was not the aggressor, but the innocent victim, to unlearn this gross error in a year; and Gen. McClellan is essentially slow. But, in the high position to which he had been so suddenly exalted, it was hard also not to see that, in order to save both Slavery and the Union, there must be little fighting and a speedy compromise — that fighting must be postponed, and put off, and avoided, in the hope that financial embarrassment, a foreign war, or some other complication, would compel the mutual adoption of some sort of Crittenden Compromise, or kindred “adjustment,” whereby the Slave Power would graciously condescend to take the Union afresh into its keeping, and consent to a reunion, which would be, in effect, an extension of the empire of Jefferson Davis to the Canada frontier, and a perpetual interdict of all Anti-Slavery discussion and effort throughout the Republic. On this hypothesis, and on this alone, Gen. McClellan's course while in high command, but especially during that long Autumn and Winter, becomes coherent and comprehensible.

The Rebels, so vastly outnumbered and overmatched in every thing but leadership, were, of course, too glad to be allowed to maintain a virtual siege of Washington, with all but one of its lines of communication with the loyal States obstructed, to make any offensive movement; and the only assault made that Winter upon our General-in-Chief's main position, was repelled with prompt, decided energy. The circumstances were as follows:

A portion of the melodious Hutchinson family, having been attracted to Washington by the novelty of finding the public halls of that city no longer barricaded against the utterance of humane and generous sentiments, had there solicited of the Secretary of War permission to visit the camps across the Potomac, in order to break the monotony and cheer the ruggedness of Winter with the spontaneous, unbought carol of some of their simple, heartfelt songs. Gen. Cameron gave their project not merely his cordial assent, but his emphatic commendation; and, thus endorsed, they received Gen. McClellan's gracious permission. So they passed over to the camps, and were singing to delighted crowds of soldiers, when an officer's quick ear caught the drift of what sounded like Abolition! Forthwith, there were commotion, and effervescence, and indignation, rising from circle to circle of the military aristocracy, until they reached the [630] very highest, drawing thence the following order:

By direction of Maj.-Gen. McClellan, the permit given to the Hutchinson Family to sing in the camps, and their pass to cross the Potomac, are revoked, and they will not be allowed to sing to the troops.

As the then freshly uttered stanzas of John G. Whittier, which thus caused the peremptory, ignominious suppression and expulsion of the Hutchinsons, are of themselves a memorable and stirring portion of the history of our time, they may fitly — as they will most worthily — close this volume:

Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott.12 (Luther's Hymn.)

we wait beneath the furnace-blast
The pangs of transformation:
Not painlessly doth God recast
And mold anew the nation.
Hot burns the fire
Where wrongs expire;
Nor spares the hand
That from the land
Uproots the ancient evil.

The hand-breadth cloud the sages feared
Its bloody rain is dropping;
The poison-plant the fathers spared
All else is overtopping.
East, West, South, North,
It curses earth;
All justice dies,
And fraud and lies
Live only in its shadow.

What gives the wheat-field blades of steel?
What points the rebel cannon?
What sets the roaring rabble's heel
On th' old star-spangled pennon?
What breaks the oath
Of th' men oa tha South?
What whets the knife
For the Union's life?--
Hark to the answer: Slavery!

Then waste no blows on lesser foes,
In strife unworthy freemen:
God lifts to-day the vail, and shows
The features of the demon!
O North and South,
Its victims both,
Can ye not cry,
“Let Slavery die!”
And Union find in Freedom?

What though the cast-out spirit tear
The nation in his going?
We, who have shared the guilt, must share
The pang of his o'erthrowing!
Whate'er the loss,
Whate'er the cross,
Shall they complain
Of present pain
Who trust in God's hereafter?

For who that leans on His right arm
Was ever yet forsaken?
What righteous cause can suffer harm
If He its part has taken?
Though wild and loud
And dark the cloud,
Behind its folds
His hand upholds
The calm sky of To-Morrow!

Above the madd'ning cry for blood,
Above the wild war-drumming,
Let Freedom's voice be heard, with good
The evil overcoming.
Give prayer and purse
To stay the Curse
Whose wrong we share,
Whose shame we bear,
Whose end shall gladden Heaven

In vain the bells of war shall ring
Of triumphs and revenges,
While still is spared the evil thing
That severs and estranges.
But blest the ear
That yet shall hear
The jubilant bell
That rings the knell
Of Slavery forever!

Then let the selfish lip be dumb,
And hushed the breath of sighing:
Before the joy of peace must come
The pains of purifying.
God give us grace,
Each in his place,
To bear his lot.
And, murmuring not,
Endure and wait and labor!

1 Gen. Scott, in commenting on Gen. Patterson's testimony in a deliberately written statement, made to the Committee on the Conduct of the War, says:

As connected with this subject, I hope I may be permitted to notice the charge made against me, on the floor of Congress, that I did not stop Brig. Gen. McDowell's movement upon Manassas Junction after I had been informed of the reenforcement sent thither from Winchester, though urged to do so by one or more members of the Cabinet. Now, it was, at the reception of that news, too late to call off the troops from the attack; and, beside, though opposed to the movement at first, we had all become animated and sanguine of success; and it is not true that I was urged by anybody in authority to stop the attack; which was commenced as early, I think, as the 18th of July.

2 July 30th, 1861.

3 Aug. 4th.

4 Oct. 15th.

5 March 8th, 1862.

6 Gen. McClellan, in his carefully elaborated “Report,” says:

By the 15th of October, the number of troops in and about Washington, inclusive of the garrison of the city and Alexandria, the city guard, and the forces on the Maryland shore of the Potomac below Washington, and as far as Cumberland above, the troops under the command of Gen. Dix at Baltimore and its dependencies, were as follows:

Total present for duty133,201
Total sick9,290
Total in confinement1,156
Aggregate present143,647
Aggregate absent8,404

7 U. S. Senator from Oregon; formerly in Congress from Illinois, and a Colonel in the Mexican War.

8 California regiment, 570; Tammany, 360; 15th Massachusetts, 653; 20th Massachusetts, 318: total, 1,901.

9 Gen. Evans's official report states his forces in the engagement at 1,709; which evidently does not include the 13th Miississippi, with six guns, held in reserve, and so posted as to repel aid to our side from Edwards's Ferry.

10 Gen. Evans, in his report, claims 710 prisoners, including wounded, and guesses that we had “1,300 killed, wounded, and drowned.” He thus makes our loss exceed by over 100 all our force engaged in the battle! He reports his own loss at 155 only, including Col. E. R. Burt, 18th Mississippi, killed. Gen. Evans says he had no cannon in the fight — which is true; for his artillery was where it could serve him best — by blocking the road from Edwards's Ferry.

11 Gen. McClellan, in his deliberately prepared, loudly trumpeted, and widely circulated Report, states the force under his more immediate command on the 1st of December--that is, the force then in the Federal District, Maryland, Delaware, and the small patch of Eastern Virginia opposite Washington held by him — at 198,213; whereof 169,452 were “fit for duty.” This does not in. elude Gen. Wool's command at and near Fortress Monroe. On the 1st of January following, he makes his total 219,707; on the 1st of February, 222,196.

12 “our God is a strong fortress,” (or castle.)

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