The fight at Reams's station.
A correspondent of the Washington Chronicle
writes a curious letter in explanation of Hancock
's defeat on the Weldon railroad.
If the views of this writer may be accepted as correct, it requires but three years to annihilate an army corps, for we are told that the Second corps was composed of entirely new men, and hence the disaster.
Dating before Petersburg
, August 27th, the correspondent writes:
"Every man undergoes an organic change once in seven years. So we are informed by physiologists.
The disintegration of human particles must be very gradual and imperceptible, for, after the lapse of time specified, when it is presumed the last atom of the 'old man' has departed, the individual retains his identity, his friends appear the same, his name remains unchanged.
"So is it with the Army of the Potomac.
The different corps become new commands every three years. Hancock
is the leader of a corps, of which every member wears for his distinctive badge a club or trend.
This is the Second corps; but how changed since the time when commanded by General Sumner
! The old men of the Second corps are almost all gone.
Of those who twice assembled in bloody congress upon Manassas
' plains but a handful remain.
The men who covered Pope
's retreat from the Rapidan
and battled for us at Bristow station--all those who held the advance at Mine Run
, and emerged with their lives from the Wilderness
,--have been mustered out of service or slain at Spotsylvania
and Cold Harbor.
"The ranks of the old corps are filled with new men. All know that three years has been sufficient to change the army.
There is in some way a difference.
We cannot notice it any more than the physiologist can discern a change in his own body every seven years. There is no difference in the corps insignia.
The men are fed as well, and apparently march and fight as well as ever.
It is only under peculiar circumstances, like those in which Gibbon
's and Miles
's divisions were placed during Wednesday afternoon, that any difference can be observed.
Thrice the rebels charged, each time with augmented numbers and increased fury.
When our soldiers saw their backs for the third time, contempt for their foes was only equalled by the confidence they felt in themselves.
Many of the regiments in Miles
's division were composed of new men — substitutes; aliens, and drafted men. The Seventh New York had just received three hundred such.
Most of them were ignorant of company drill, and knew so little of the manual of arms they could scarcely load and fire.
The enthusiasm of these men was unbounded when the rebels were repulsed in their first charge.
When the enemy appeared before their works, and assaulted them the second time, they seemed the most fearless soldiers in the line.
Every man, in his eagerness to get a good chance to shoot, forgot he was not as invulnerable as Achilles
, and needlessly exposed himself.
This regiment and the Sixty-first New York, also refilled with new recruits, poured a perfect tempest of "buck and ball" into the line of rebels as they surged, a human wave, against the works.
"Then came the order for counter-charge.
The line of rebels had grown uneven; it swayed to and fro as in a drunken fit. Finally it broke and scattered.
These men, before so full of enthusiasm, now became wild and unmanageable.
They clambered over the parapet, leaped the ditch, and, with fixed bayonets, chased the fleeing foe through the woods and across the clearing beyond.
"Veterans would never become thus excited.
The victorious commander at Waterloo
was exceedingly wroth with his new recruits because they entered the conflict full of enthusiasm.
To make a long fight, calm courage is needed — the very thing these men never had the opportunity of acquiring.
The soldier can only learn this on the battle-field.
"The fourth assault robbed the combat of the last appearance of novelty.
Those same recruits, who but one hour ago seemed so careless of danger and were foremost in pursuit of the foe, now became terrified and ran. The old soldiers, firm and reliant, fell back slowly and steadily, frequently forming front to check the enemy, and again retiring.--It is this alone gives advantage to the rebels.
If none but the old Second corps had been at Reams's station that afternoon we would have left the field leisurely, although two divisions of Spartan heroes could have renamed there no longer contending against such odds.
's army is always the same.
His troops are old and tried.
Their term of service knows no expiration; death alone can discharge the rebel who fights in the ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia.
We are continually fighting one-half of our army and teaching the remainder.
"As the enemy failed to follow up their slight advantage, it is presumed they suffered severely.
We have been expecting them at Six Mile station every night and morning.
Yesterday they were reported massing in the neighborhood of the Avery House
, which is now near the centre of our line.
As yet there has been no demonstration save heavy cannonading and occasional outbursts of musketry."