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Chapter 4:

  • Confederate northward movement
  • -- retreat from Westover -- embarkation at Hampton road -- arrival at Alexandria -- last days of Pope's campaign

The first weeks of August found us still lingering here. Newspapers had given us Pope's somewhat grandiloquent address to the army of Virginia, and their version of the battle at Cedar Mountain, in Culpepper County; from which it would seem that the ubiquitous Jackson is again near his old stamping-ground. Where is Lee? It must have been as late as the 20th of the month when the Sixth Corps commenced its march across the peninsula towards Williamsburg. We made speed as if it were a forced march. To drop from the column was to be left behind; yet excessive thirst compelled men to hasten through wood or field to fill canteens. 'T was pitiful in the extreme to see some fever-stricken comrade from a wagon beckoning to the bearer of a canteen. So saw we oft during the day poor Knowles making the sign. We reached the lower Chickahominy in the afternoon, and crossed over the pontoon bridge two thousand feet long. As we design to describe the yet more famous bridge of bateaux thrown across the James two years later, we will simply remark that this surpassed in constructive skill and capacity anything of the kind that had been attempted in the annals of military bridge-building.

We passed through the melancholy village of Williamsburg, by the deserted halls of William and Mary, out through the dust of the dry waste plain, by the dismantled redoubts, the scene of carnage in May; by the western outlying fortifications, now relics of the past, of Yorktown; and halted for night and rest hard by the York, in front of the solitary hip-roofed old mansion, which stands upon the bluff overlooking the river, flanked by a peach orchard of a dozen acres. Though there was a super-abundance of that fruit, it must have been a late variety, since not a ripe peach could be found; all were as hard as military bread, and much more [68] unpalatable. But though we did not ‘see the folks and get some peaches,’ some of us who went down upon the beach during the evening, saw the waves of the York glistening with phosphorescent beams; a singular, and to the most of us then, an unaccountable, spectacle. So then it was away to blanket, to sleep, to dream of waves ignited and ablaze, and extinguished by the early bugle-call. Then in quick succession, stable, feed, and water calls, and southward, ho! along the swamps, now doubly historic, but perpetually miasmatic. Near mid-day we pass down to ill-fated Bethel; then up and on, now south, now east, to the shore of Hampton road.

A night upon the shore near Fortress Monroe, embarkation on the morrow, lying all that day in Hampton road, an inexplicable tarry of our transport fleet for another twenty-four hours, and 't is the eve of the 28th of August, 1862. Then, when the mind of the average private is as blank of conjecture as the white clapboards of Hygeia Hotel yonder, we sail up the Chesapeake. Our method of transportation is much the same as that employed last April to bring us to Ship Point. We were two days in reaching Alexandria, the weather during the voyage being fine.

The skill of the cooks on the schooner which carried the drivers and their horses and Lieut. Federhen, was exercised more than once in concocting a delectable mess called ‘scouse,’ which, on these occasions at least, was prepared by placing in the kettle layers of salt beef, potatoes and onions, and hard-tack, in the foregoing serial order. A cupful of this, smoking from the kettle, was indeed appetizing, for the air of the bay induces a keen relish for wholesome food. One of our cooks had made no little complaint of the meanness of the skipper's wife, who, he said, begrudged him a few minutes', use of the galley stove. And he further said that she was continually nagging the stable-guard because he was not sufficiently alert in keeping the heads of the horses which stood next the galley, out of its door; the guard, in walking his beat, being sometimes two-thirds the length of the schooner from the door. This account of the woman having been heard by one of the boys who was to go upon the third relief, the lad looked somewhat askance at the lady as she appeared at the door, when he turned at the farther end of his beat, and perceived her watching [69] him as he approached. Just then two nags thrust their heads toward the door and were repulsed by the woman, who then beckoned to the boy to approach, which he did, expecting to receive a rating. To his agreeable surprise, the good woman unfolded a clean towel, displayed a nice loaf of fresh bread, and handed it to him, asking if he had been to dinner, and remarking that he might share it with some of his comrades. We, who later enjoyed the loaf with him, could relate many an incident of woman's kindness in the District and in Secessia, to those soldiers who were civil and respectful to her as was her due.

We have seen a woman bestow a handkerchief upon some poor fellow who was wiping the perspiration from face and eyes with his blouse; and we have heard another cordially invite two soldiers to her board, scantily furnished as it was, and was likely to be for many a day, since her man was in Dixie. We suspect our friend the cook had been too officious, and mayhap too loquacious, while he was a tenant-at — will in the galley.

On the morning of the 30th we were lying beside the Mt. Vernon road, just outside of Alexandria, and not far from the bridge over Hunting Creek, having spent the night there after debarking from the transports. The death of Brother Knowles, which happened during the night, was reported to us. Our sorrow for him was mingled with heart-felt sympathy for his wife and daughter, whom we saw bide him farewell last October at Camp Cameron.

Just what was the status of Gen. McClellan at this moment, we knew not; a portion of his army, Porter's corps, which had preceded us from Fortress Monroe, had been sent to reinforce Gen. Pope, who had been for several days menaced by the larger part of the Confederate army of northern Virginia. Heintzelman's corps, weary and footsore, now numbering but 10,000, had also joined the forces of Pope, but their artillery, horses, and wagons could not yet have arrived. Where were the commands of Sumner and Keyes?

The Sixth Corps is here at Alexandria. To what army does it belong? Why was it not landed a week ago at Aquia Creek, and despatched to the plains of Manassas? Pope's army, at best, can number no more than half that of his adversary. Why do we not hasten to his aid? We cannot say. [70]

In the course of the forenoon, the corps moves along the Fairfax, C. H., road, but it seems to us very leisurely. After a long halt at Annandale, our ears betimes greeted with the sound of cannonading beyond Centreville, it was near sunset when we marched over the heights at that place, and pushed on toward Bull Run.

In the wooded plain beyond Cub Run, we met a most singularly mixed crowd of infantry, wagoners, ambulances and cavalry, moving helter skelter toward Centreville. ‘What's this?’ asked some one of us of a man in the throng. ‘Another Bull Run!’ he said.

It was growing dark as we pushed through this surging mass, and we now saw some cavalry forming in line across the plain, evidently endeavoring to stem and turn the disorderly tide setting northward. Now we heard a drummer say to a fifer, ‘Come, strike up, I'm going to sound a rally!’ and suiting his action to his words, he beat a lively call. It might have been twenty minutes later, during which time we had been steadily moving forward through an incongruous mass of humanity, when our column, probably in pursuance of orders, countermarched and moved back toward Cub Run. It was ludicrous, that crossing of the run. There was a bridge we had passed over, but on the return, some crowded upon it, some passed below, others above it; some struck the path, some insensibly deployed to the left, others strung along to the right of the road. Sometime in the night, we halted at the base of Centreville Heights, on the north side.

The 31st of August was a quiet day at Centreville. Our battery occupied one of the round forts on the heights, our guns being in position to sweep the road at the base, but the Confederates made no demonstration against this place. Their next movement would be an attempt to pass around our right. The result of this was the engagement at Chantilly on the morrow.


During the morning, men of the Fifteenth Massachusetts, and of other commands not belonging to the Sixth Corps, came in, who related that Heintzelman's corps had, on the morning of the 28th, forced Jackson to retreat across Bull Run, by the Centreville pike; that McDowell had succeeded in checking Lee at Thoroughfare Gap in the Bull Run mountains; but that Jackson, having [71] been attacked on the 29th, near the old battleground of 1861, was reinforced by the combined strength of Lee's army; that Porter's corps was for some reason not engaged, and that the battle was renewed on the 30th, lasting all day. It was further averred that, despite the appearance of the curious crowd which we encountered at Cub Run, Pope's force, that was engaged all day upon the 30th, retired in good order during the night, from before a foe doubly outnumbering them. While this conversation was occurring, Gen. Phil Kearney came riding down the north side of Centreville Hill; this was the last time that he was ever seen by other than his own troops or the enemy. He was killed the next day at Chantilly.

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