Army of the Potomac.[our own correspondent.]
Outpost, near Fairfax, Dec. 4th.On the morning of December 1st an order was issued to Capt. T. L. Rosser, 2d company Washington Artillery, to proceed to the outposts with his battery, with a full complement of men and horses, to relieve Latham's Battery, there on duty. Although suffering from a recent illness he made hasty preparations, and in less than half an hour was on Fairfax road. Desiring to see something more of life on the advance posts, I gladly accepted his kind invitation to accompany the battery, and am now writing from the bivouac, about one and a half miles this side the town of Fairfax. Perhaps an idea of outpost duty may not be amiss at the beginning of my letter. In maintaining an army in the face of an enemy the general principles as well as the details are interesting. Some miles before, but still within supporting distance, a commander places his advance guard. From this guard the advance pickets, the sentinels, and the videttes are thrown out, and also flankers and patrols. To give a better idea of it, imagine a force encamped in the form of a rectangle, stretching out several miles, the distance in proportion to the size of the army, or it may be regulated by the character of the country to be attacked or defended. From this advanced guard the pickets, sentinels, videttes, and flankers are thrown out, upon a fan-shaped ground plan. Regiments are placed in the form of a semi-circle; these send out pickets in the same form, stationing them about eight hundred yards away; still farther on, gradually widening the semi-circle, is a line of sentinels, and fifteen hundred yards from these; are the cavalry pickets, or videttes. On either side of the advance guard the flankers are placed, and between it and the outpost, the sentinels and videttes, the patrols are in constant motion. The outer line of infantry sentinels are very close to each other, and form an impassable barrier to friend or foe, unless provided with the proper passes or signals. The videttes are stationed upon hills that overlook the roads and avenues leading to or from the lines, and are constantly occupied in watching the movements of the enemy, sending back couriers with any information, or at any signs of an advance of the enemy. If pressed by a superior force, the videttes fire their pieces and retire slowly, keeping the advancing force in view. The infantry pickets skirmish to the rear also, and retard the movements of the enemy until the long roll in the advanced guard has called a large force to arms. In our Army we have artillery upon the outposts, to retard still longer the motions of an advancing foe, and a large cavalry force to prevent its being cut off and captured.--Our videttes are now stationed about one hundred yards beyond Fairfax Court-House, and stretch from thence towards Vienna and Frying pan, to the north and southward, sweep around towards the Occoquan. Behind these come the infantry, and still further behind the artillery and cavalry. I may mention also that behind the main body of the Army is the rear guard, arranged very nearly the same as the advanced guard, maintaining all the time strict vigilance and careful attention to duty. In case of an advance upon our lines by the Yankee Army, it will not be made in a direct line, but an effort to flank the position will be attempted. When the pickets and the flankers on one side or the other are driven in, the two Armies will probably be in the shape of two right angels, one within the other. That may be the general plan, but of course the lines will vary and change form according to the circumstances of the case. Were the Yankees as confident of success as at Bull Run they might advance in solid column up on some point they supposed weaker than another. Theoretically we can make most beautiful plans for the advance of the enemy, and can imagine excellent ambuscades, strategies, and defeats, but when we come down to the matter of fact question, ‘"Will he come?"’ the splendid imagery is of little interest. Day by day the hope of a fight dwindles. The general principles upon which the belief of an advance was based now fail to produce the shadow of a hope, and it is generally conceded that if a fight occurs it will be purely accidental. Our Generals still say they believe there will be a fight within sixty hours, or three days, or ten days, as the case may be, but if I really thought they believed it would come upon this line, half my confidence in them would be gone. What may happen down on the river is more than I can tell, but as for this line — I give it up. As I have said in a former letter, the commander of the outpost is J. E. B. Stuart, the youngest Brigadier in the army. He now has charge of the cavalry brigade, and has headquarters but a few miles from where I am now writing. As the cavalry is constantly opposed to the enemy, and as Gen. Stuart is one of those energetic, brave spirits that are never idle, the enemy are kept in a constant state of alarm, and have their line harassed, their pickets captured, and their dreams disturbed by visions of flashing sabres and Black Horse cavalry. To one fond of reading tales of the border, the merry life in the green wood, the daring feats of Marion and his gallant band, or any of the stories of strategic warfare in the old world or the new, there is no better place for the realization of his dreams or the longings of his soul than in the camp of Gen. Stuart. Something exciting is constantly on the tapis; some scouting party or some dashing band of rangers constantly in the saddle. Would you like to see the record of the past month devoid of all the little episodes of spirited personal rencontres? Read the following spirited orders by Gen. Stuart:
Headq'rs cavalry Brigade,
Camp "Qui Vive," Dec. 3, 1861.General Orders No. 5. The General of Cavalry takes pleasure in announcing to the Brigade in orders, the signal success obtained by the cavalry of this army over the enemy in recent engagements. On the — ult., Col. W. E. Jones, 1st Virginia Cavalry, with a detachment of his regiment, made a descent upon the enemy near Falls Church, capturing seven, with their arms and equipments, and sustaining no loss. On the 16th ult., Major W. T. Martin, commanding Jeff. Davis Legion, with a detachment of his command, completely surprised a greater force of infantry than his own about Doolin's house and orchard, and charging upon them over fences and marshes, killed several and captured one Captain, one Lieutenant, and twenty-eight non-commissioned officers and privates, without receiving a scratch to a man or horse. On the 18th ult. Lt. Col. Fitzhugh Lee, 1st Virginia Cavalry, with a detachment of the regiment, while scouting near Falls Church, fell in with a party of the enemy's chosen infantry, and a sharp encounter ensued. The enemy occupying a sheltered position, behaved with unusual spirit, obliging Lt. Col. Lee, whose horse was killed under him early in the action, to dismount a portion of his command to dislodge him. This was done under fire with coolness, and resulted in the enemy's total rout--seven being killed on the spot, and ten captured, including a Lieut. and 1st Sergt., three of whom were wounded.--Col. Lee's loss was 1 killed, (private Tucker, Co. A,) and two wounded, one of the latter the lamented Chichester, having since died. This affair occurred in sight of the enemy's encampments, and caused alarm throughout their line. On the 26th ult., Col. R. Ransom, Jr., 1st North Carolina cavalry, with a portion of his regiment, came upon a column of the enemy's cavalry near Vienna; and although he had the disadvantage in numbers, charged him with so much spirit and skill as to put to ignominious flight the entire column — the officers leading. The difficulties of the road were, however, so great, that he captured only 26, together with their arms, equipments, and, for the most part, their horses, besides killing and wounding a number, and sustained himself no loss at all. This last is the first engagement with the enemy's cavalry — the result shows that he has not yet found the element of redemption from his manifest destiny. On the 2nd inst., Col. C. W. Field, 6th Va. Cavalry with a detachment of his regiment made a bold and successful dash into the enemy's infantry pickets stationed in the village of Anandale, killing 4, carrying off 15 captured, with their arms and equipments, sustaining a loss of two missing. To mention especially the conspicuous gallantry displayed on these various occasions would transcend the limits of their order.--Suffice it to say, the officers and men engaged here behaved in a manner mighty creditable and are entitled to the thanks of their countrymen. The other regiments of the Brigade while performing no less important and arduous services have not, within the period embraced in the foregoing, been so fortunate as to effect a meeting with the enemy. Comrades — If you continue to units skill with courage, and temper boldness with presi- dence, success will be yours on every field, and before this war ends, the world will have abundant proofs that the best blood of '76 flows in your veins. By command of Gen'l. Stuart. (Signed) L. Tierman Bries, A. A. G. A day or two ago one of our best scouts, Redmond Burke, who was captured at the battle of Lewensville, returned from Washington. His adventures, his capture, and escape, form quite an interesting story, and I will give it in my next letter from this point. Some days ago I suggested that it was folly to leave so much forage, corn, hay, wheat, and other grain, to be captured by the Yankees. I am glad to see that attention has been drawn to the matter, and that it is being taken by our men. Yesterday a train was sent out under a proper guard, and returned completely loaded with articles that we stand in need of. I learn that Gen. Stuart intends to get all the hay and corn in this vicinity, giving a receipt to the owners when they are loyal, and seizing such as found in the deserted barns and fields. That is as it should be, and I am glad an energetic man now has the matter in hand. While the train was loading below Fairfax Court-House, a young man, a member of Yancey's cavalry, got very much intoxicated, and rode outside our lines. Seeing the Yankee pickets, he dashed up to them and turned his horse towards a wagon in which were several sacks of corn. He grasped one of these, and managed to get it on his horse, and then started off. He was halted by the pickets, but refused to stop, when they fired upon him. Fortunately all missed their mark.-- ‘"Go to h--,"’ said he, and discharging his pistol at them rode rapidly back into our lines, bringing in the sack of corn. He was ordered under arrest for getting drunk, and slept last night in the cold, with the prospect of some days on bread and water. The feat was a daring and fool-hardy one, and none but a drunken man could have accomplished it. Yesterday there was a general review of Gen. G. W. Smith's division of the army, near Centreville. It exceeded, in splendor, any review that has yet taken place. All the Generals in the army of the Potomac were present, I believe, for the first time. The division is in a complete and satisfactory condition, and everybody was well pleased with the occasion. Bohemian.
Army of the Potomac,
Outpost near Fairfax, Dec. 6th.The weather during this week has been very fine, and the roads are in good condition for any movements. There has been no advance of the enemy in any direction, nor are there any indications going to show that one is contemplated. Undoubtedly the ‘"Grand Army"’ is awaiting some action of Congress, or the result of the Cabinet quarrels in regard to the prosecution of the war. On Wednesday night an unfortunate affair occurred near Acco nck, some five or six miles below Fairfax Station. Capt. Waring, of the ‘"Georgia Hussars,"’ while on picket duty, took a detachment of his company and started on a scout towards Annandale. About midnight the party reached a narrow place in the road, on each side of which were thick woods and a dense undergrowth of pine and alder. They were stopped here by wires across the road and immediately afterwards a volley from an ambuscade. The troop fell back a short distance, formed and fired in return, and then Capt. Waring gave the command ‘"charge"’ in a loud tone of voice, and the Federals ran. The ‘"Hussars"’ retired immediately, with the loss of one man killed and one captured, it is supposed badly wounded. The loss to the enemy, as has since been ascertained, was one killed, two wounded, and one prisoner, showing that after all the came out second best, with every advantage in their favor. Everything is very quiet in and around Fairfax, although nearly all the citizens have left. An arrangement, such as I suggested in a previous letter, has been made to supply them with provisions and other necessaries, and they are now in a comparatively comfortable condition, although by no means an agreeable one. The frequent passage of parties and wagons into the town gives facilities for sending in letters and papers. Capt. Rosser, with his battery, is still on picket duty about two miles this side of Fairfax C. H., and in the position held for some time by his and other batteries. He will be relieved to-morrow, I presume, by another company of the Washington Artillery. As I write a large party of cavalry is passing, accompanied by a train of wagons for forage. During the past two weeks several hundred loads have been driven away for the use of the army, the owner in every case receiving a receipt for the market value of his corn and hay. The Yankees have been foraging extensively near Annandale, but have not ventured far beyond their lines. It is to be hoped that the industry and energy displayed by Gen. Stuart in this particular, will be imitated by the commanders in the army. It is not only so much saved for the use of our army, but so much taken from the enemy, for they scour the country as fast as they can transport the forage to the rear. Deserters come in daily from the Lincoln army. A day or two ago a German Lieutenant rode into our lines in a state of decided inebriation. He had a fine horse and a new saddle, such as is used by the Yankee cavalry, the peculiarity of which consists in its having straps on each side to fasten a man on. These straps are buckled over each by binding the soldier securely to his horse. A good idea, perhaps, for Northern cavalry, but I should like to see the Southern boy who would consent to be tied to his horse to prevent his falling off. The saddle was presented to Gen. Stuart, the horse sold, and the Lieutenant sent on to Richmond. Yesterday, a small scouting party, headed by Gen. Stuart, accompanied by Capt. Pelham, of Alabama, and other officers, went several miles into the lines of the enemy and offered battle, within cannon range of one of their largest camps. Starting early in the morning we rode by Fairfax Station, thence down the railroad to Brooks's Station, and from there on to within two miles of Springfield. Seeing a number of horsemen in the distance, Gen. Stuart ordered the party to halt, and waited patiently for over three hours for the enemy to come out and meet him. The smoke of the camp fires in Springfield could be seen distinctly, and the music of their bands distinguished. If Capt. Pelham had taken along his fine English rifle cannon, he could have thrown shot directly into their camps. Seeing the Yankees would not accept his challenge, even when they had fifty men to his one, Gen. Stuart turned and took the Braddock road towards Annandale. Skirting along the Accotinck, we came out within sight of the enemy, and for some distance ran along their lines. The usual sounds of their camps could be plainly heard: the note of the fife and drum, the sound of the axe, and even the hum of voices mingled into a single key, like the distant noise of a city, fell upon the ear with unusual distinctness. As the small party of infantry, consisting of detachments from the 28th Virginia, the 8th South Carolina, and McRae's North Carolina, regiments were very much jaded by the severe march since early morning the Yankees were not disturbed, and were left to meditate over the alarm caused by the driving in of their videttes and pickets. About dark we came to the scene of the encounter of the night previous. It was in a narrow defile, with high banks on one side covered with pines, and on the other a swampy spot containing a dense growth of alder and other shrubs and trees. Here we were stopped by two wires stretched across the road, one about the height of a horse's breast and the other two feet above it. I forgot to mention that when we were going down in the morning a Yankee prisoner was taken. Corporal Hagan, Gen. Stuart's orderly, saw a man lying under a fence and rode up to him and asked who he was. He replied he belonged to the Third New Jersey regiment, which had been in the ambuscade of the previous night, and that he had lost his way. "Where is your gun?" said the Corporal. "Lost it," was the reply. "Your hat and blankets?" "I lost them all last night when they fired on us." The Corporal, who is every inch an old soldier, was perfectly astonished. ‘"How in the world,"’ said he, ‘"could a soldier lose all his equipments and his clothes unless somebody took them?"’ ‘"Well, you see they fired on us, and then I heard the command, 'charge!' and I'd no notion of having the 'Black Horse Cavalry' on top of me, so I ran, and lost my things in the woods."’ The Corporal thought that a man who would be such a coward ought to go bareheaded all the rest of his days, and he bagged his Yankee and sent him to the rear. To my story of wires were cut and the place of the fight. Everything showed the Federals did not advance a foot beyond their first position, but, on the contrary, ran immediately. Several caps belonging to the ‘"Hussars"’ were picked up, also a bowie-knife, and the Lieutenant's opera glass, which was shot from his shoulder the night previous. Several valuable articles had been dropped within three yards of the enemy, but they were so afraid of a cavalry charge that they dare not search the spot.--Near by the spot was a horse belonging to private Cuthbert, who was wounded, in the leg, the same charge injuring the horse. The saddle, bridle and equipments were complete, and were taken by Capt. Waring. The Yankees dropped a hatchet and a dirk knife, which fall into the hands of Burke, who recently escaped from the hands of the enemy, and whose story I shall give as soon as possible, With every advantage in their vor, the enemy came off second best in the affair. Near by Annandale I obtained a New York Herald of the 3rd, containing the reports in Congress, and a little later the Herald of the 4th, containing Lincoln's message. A singular occurrence is worthy of mention — we obtained the Herald of the 4th, and the Richmond papers of the 4th, on the same day, there being only about five hours difference in the time. This morning the 17th Virginia regiment, Col. Corse, came down on picket to relieve the 7th, whose time expires to-day at twelve.--The weather is delightful for outpost duty, and if it continues a few days longer the 17th will have as good time as one could wish. To one fond of excitement and adventure, this life in the face of the enemy is of incalculable interest Bohemian.