Army of the Potomac.[our own correspondent.]
Centreville, Oct. 18, 1861.As I informed you by telegraph, our army fell back from Fairfax on Tuesday night, between the hours of 12 and morning. Of course the first question that everybody asks is, why it was done? and to this I can only reply that our Generals, who have thus far conducted the campaign with entire success, deemed it expedient to do so. When we remember that our army is commanded by Johnston, the greatest General of the age, and by Beauregard, the most skillful engineer, and by Smith, a man of great ability and thorough training, we can well afford to accept expediency as a reason for any movement that may seem singular and uncalled for, by those who know nothing of the designs of the enemy. In saying this, I do not wish to be understood to say that the people should submit to be led blindly by these men, however skillful and great they may be, without having the privilege of criticising or discussing their acts. On the contrary, I hold that all our civil, as well as military officers, derive their powers from the people, and are, to a certain extent, amenable to them for their deeds. The people caused the movement which brought about this war; the people inaugurated the war; they sent their sons, brothers, and kinsmen to fight the battle; they furnish the means and are to derive the future benefits of the struggle, or share the disasters, should any occur. They are, therefore, entitled to know as much of the conduct of the war as prudence will permit. When it is necessary to carry out some piece of strategy, or attain some desired end where great secrecy is necessary to prevent furnishing information to the enemy, then the people should submit to the temporary inconvenience of being deprived of facts that will ordinarily be given them. Our country is over run with spies, who gather their information of our movements and designs from their duties, and then communicate it to the Lincoln Government. It will be seen, then, that it becomes necessary to act with the greatest caution, to withhold for a time all important movements, and to keep the secrets of the campaign from all, except the commanding Generals. If the people have confidence in their Generals, they will be perfectly willing to submit to anything that the good of the country requires — and who is there that does not have confidence in such men as Johnston, Beauregard, Smith, Longstreet, Van Dorn, Stuart, and their confreres? Some time ago, while speaking of the occupation of Munson's hill, I remarked that it, together with the neighboring eminences, could be made, by the erection of field fortifications, a good line for defensive operations, and that counter works could be made opposite those of the enemy that would be valuable to check his advance. The whole chain of hills from Lewinsville to Springfield would make an admirable base for defensive operations, but would be of little value as a base of offensive movements. They were untenable unless strongly fortified, and this would have necessitated a siege, which might have proved as long and as serious as the siege of Sebastopol. The good people grumbled considerably at the idea of giving up any territory once occupied, but at the same time they grumbled at the inactivity or delay of the army. They did not seem to consider that to hold a position immediately under the enemy's batteries, and within range of his cannon, it would be necessary to have fortifications, and that the construction of them would cost our men many months' of manual labor and of tedious garrison duty. Volunteers are of little value to garrison a fort, and soon get demoralized it kept inactive in camps. Hence we find a reason for old Scott's dislike for them as his system of tactics is based upon a fortification of the country over which his army advances. The system of Napoleon or of Mariborough is best suited to a volunteer army — long and rapid marches, frequent battles, and decisive movements. Although we have thus far stood entirely on the defensive, the time may come when it will be advisable to act on the offensive, and therefore a field suitable for both is what is needed for successful operations. It will be remembered, also, that we are fighting a subjugating army. Munson's hill was evacuated, and we fell back to Fairfax for a time, where a better field for a fair fight offered itself. This was a direct challenge to McClellan, which he refused to accept, and for a month every opportunity was offered, with the advantage of position and point of attack decidedly in his favor. For two weeks our force kept the ‘"grand army"’ within good running distance of their fortifications, never loosing an occasion to give them a showing for a right. If one looks at the map of Virginia, he will see that the Potomac, from Harper's Ferry to a point tar below this, makes a curve outward, sweeping in its course by the cities of Georgetown, Washington, and Alexandria. Our forces are scattered from Dumfries to the Shenandoah. Draw a line through between the two points and it will fall not far from where we now are. Washington and the right and left flank of our line will be about equidistant from each other. It can readily be seen that, were there no other advantages, the obcupation of this line brings our force in a position to be easily concentrated at either of the three places mentioned, should it become necessary to do so. There are also some admirable natural positions here whereon, to manœuvre troops, and positions where both armies could have an opportunity of crossing lances in an open field. The Yankees having once occupied the country, have made most elaborate surveys of the ground, and undoubtedly have the best possible topographical maps and drawings of every hill, wood, and valley, as well as the course and condition of every road and bye-way. If, then, they offer battle here, it will be with as good knowledge of the country as we have ourselves. Whether McClellan will accept this as the battle ground, or will choose some other, makes no difference; there is none, probably, that would offer his army of occupation better opportunities. These of course are mere speculations in regard to a movement, the success of which can only be determined in the future. For the present we must put what construction on it we please and await patiently the result, content to know that our men are ready to meet the enemy anyhow, anywhere and on any terms. Our Generals have confidence in their men; the men have confidence in their Generals. Whenever or wherever it comes, the next battle will be a decisive one, and will tell powerfully upon this country and this nation. Tuesday night an order was issued to the troops to prepare to march at a moment's notice. Some supposed that the great battle was beginning, and made all preparations for a fight and for a serious time of it. By 9 o'clock everything was ready, the tents were struck, the baggage trains started, and the whole army gotten in movable condition. Up to this time the real object of the change had not been known, but it became generally understood that it was not to be an immediate advance, and that, for the present, Fairfax was to be abandoned to the enemy. This, of course, caused great consternation among the citizens of the town, who flew hither and thither through the village half frantic with dismay. Carpet bags and trunks were hastily and closely packed; rooms and houses were stripped of their valuables; horses and cattle were driven from the farm-yards, and every vehicle that rolled on wheels was pressed into service. About ten o'clock the excitement was intense. For once the quiet old town, in whose streets the grass has grown since the time Lord Fairfax trod over them, was turned upside down. The trees seemed to dance about in the wildest manner, and to chatter up to the venerable brick piles, which kept time to the music of some imaginary ‘"Piper of Niecee."’ Regiment after regiment filed through the streets; long trains of transport wagons, droves of toiling and lowing beeves, cavalcades of horses, batteries of artillery companies and squads, of men and lines of stragglers, singing snatches of familiar songs, passed by in orderly march. Between the Court-House and the hotel, and far down the road beyond the town, beyond our lines, up and down, a wild scene presented itself. On every side huge bonfires were blazing, sending up masses of smoke which blackened the atmosphere, and spreading out like a funeral pall, half obscured the stars, which shone with unusual brilliancy. Heavy, black clouds gathered themselves overhead as if to prepare for an orderly retreat; and the gibbous moon, like the goddess Juno in her silver chariot, came out to chase the dark battalions from the sky. The country for miles around was blazing with lights, and far away on the distant hillsides, beyond the wood, across the valley, glimmered the campfires, through the dark. In the observatory, built upon the roof of the hotel, the signal men were telegraphing to the outpost, and the red glare of the torches waving to and fro, and falling upon their moving forms and faces, and upon the busy masses below, gave all the appearance of demons engaged in some sardonic orgies. The hillside upon which the First Virginia was encamped was brilliantly illuminated by fires kindled and fed by baggage, provisions, old tents, and other matter that could not be transported.--I recollect to have seen — in the Belvidere at Wiemar, I think — a picture of the occupation of a Polish town by the Austrian troops.--The streets were full of soldiers and terrified citizens. Camp-fires were kindled in every direction, and through it all ran a vein of busy, excited life, that pleased me well.-- ‘"Ah!"’ thought I, ‘"how much I should like to be a witness of such a scene."’ After years of wandering from that gallery which so delighted my boyhood, here, far across the Atlantic, was a picture as similar as one could wish. At twelve the army was put in motion, and in perfect silence, without the beat of a drum or the note of a bugle, the men marched out their forsaken encampments, and took the road to Centreville. The route was completely filled, and the halting of a single wagon caused the stoppage of men and the train for miles. The Generals superintended the march in person, and were riding here and there seemingly unconscious of danger or fatigue. Whole families were seen walking by the wayside, carrying such articles as they could hastily gather in their arms. Old women, maidens, and little children tramped through the weary night to a home of safety beyond the reach of a vandal foe. The individual cases of suffering were too numerous to be particularized. With feelings of intense sorrow and pain I rode by these unfortunate families, driven from their happy homes to seek shelter behind the line of our army. Leaning on the arm of an aged man the form of a sick girl, whose patient, pensive face comes to me more often than it ought, passed in the singular cortege. The sight was one that brought tears into eyes long unused to weeping. It was then I fully realized the sentiment of Queen Elizabeth's favorite, the chivalric and unhappy Essex, who said, ‘"Not for myself I smart, but I wolde I had in my hart the sorrow of all my friends."’ Many and many a band of exiles, footsore and weary, paced the tedious miles, tarrying occasionally to rest in the shadow of the dark pines, or in the forest where the moonlight fell through the foliage, laying out the greenwood in little plots as beautiful as the famous gardens of Stamboull Houseless, homeless, on they went, while I, with a heart to offer assistance, were it in my power, was forced to ride forward through the dusky shadows of the wood, with the words of the Gipsey song, in the Bohemian Girl, ringing continually in my ears: ‘ "He who's no home to call his own
Will find, will find a home somewhere."
’ Want of space forbids my giving in detail the march on the road. In six hours from the time of scurring the army was bivouacked at the point. When morning dawned the baggage had arrived, and before the mist cleared from the valley the white tents were pitched and the pots were boiling. As far as my knowledge of history goes, a march of this kind was never conducted more orderly, of with greater celerity, and I only wait to consult with educated army officers before giving my opinion of it as a military movement. Of the skirmishing in the vicinity of Harper's Ferry I cannot learn the particulars, and do not know to what extent the fight was carried. You will probably know more of it in Richmond than we do here. The batteries at Evansport and below are in fine condition, and have effectually blockaded the river.--Yesterday a large flotilla was below Dumfries waiting to be permitted to pass to Washington. Whenever a man of-war came within range she was fired on. Heavy guns were frequently heard during the day. I have heard that the Federals have advanced up to Flint Hill, two miles from Fairfax, and can be seen from that place and from Germantown. What their force is, of course we cannot say. Bohemian.