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Touched with fire
One: Lieutenant Holmes believed himself a dying man...
Two: Charles Carleton Coffin rode into camp in the immediate aftermath of a battle lost, when visible evidence of the disaster included corpses laid out in line awaiting burial, and the memory of their first defeat at the hands of Johnny Reb was still fresh in the minds of the young men who'd fought it.
Three: "...Lt Putnam is dead Capt. Putnam lost his right arm. Hallowell fought like a brick but wasn't hurt Schmidt badly wounded Lowell wounded Colonel Major & Adjutant probably prisoners Babo & Wesselhoeft probably dead Dreher shot through the head Serg Merchant shot dead (in the head) From a third to a half of our company killed wounded & prisoners..."
Hours of Darkness
One: Major Paul Joseph Revere found himself a prisoner. Captured - along with several hundred of his fellow Union soldiers - by the secessionists (no true son of Massachusetts would call them "rebels" then) in his first battle; his war was seemingly over almost before it had begun. His grandfather had been in a similar fix decades before...
Two: 18 April, 1775: Two men stood in the moonlit darkness on the shore of the Charles River, gazing across the water towards Boston, their eyes searching for a boat... 21 October, 1861: Two men stood in the pre-dawn darkness on the Virginia side of the Potomac, their eyes turned back across the water, looking for boats. Today there could be battle... 18 April, 1775: Tomorrow there could be battle...
Julia Cutler's Journal: ...Confederate armies didn't march into Ohio, but early in May the war took a different route to her back yard - her nephew wrote of his intention to serve. "Lucy has just received a letter from her brother Rufus in Wisconsin," Julia recorded. "He has raised a company of seventy-eight men and received every vote for captain."
The Long Roll
One: ...But exchanging bullets and blood for real estate was not the only way to win or lose a war, and now Morse was confronted with something that, while potentially explosive, was a situation no tactics manual addressed. He was entertaining a visitor that day, a local slave owner who'd come on an unpleasant task...
Two: ...However, Dawes concluded, "Lieut. Kellogg was of quick blood and it was not always safe to congratulate him as the only man wounded in the Battle of Patterson Park."
Three: Clarissa, along with those other residents of Washington D.C. whose sympathies didn't lie with the South, was glad to hear the first regiments of troops called for by President Lincoln had arrived.
Four: After hearing musket fire all day the men of the 19th Massachusetts were finally going to war...
Five: Perhaps he was too small to be seen - perhaps he was an unremarkable sight, or perhaps the bloody corpse carried on a stretcher he was accompanying drew the full attention of the men going the opposite way - toward the battle. Whatever the case, when John Adams wrote of his experience at Ball's Bluff he didn't mention Ithiel Johnson of Oxford, Massachusetts.
Six: The drum sounded the long roll. It was just a drill - but the men stopped what they were otherwise doing and hurried into formation.
Seven: As Colonel Augustus Morse waited with his esteemed guest, the Honorable Thomas Holliday Hicks, Governor of Maryland, he took the opportunity to thank him once again for his efforts on behalf of the regiment. That very day an expedition was departing Annapolis for Hampton Roads, thence to South Carolina (though destination officially unknown) for purpose accurately supposed to be actual battle. Morse's 21st Massachusetts had been selected to go, too...
A Slight Demonstration
One: "Look lively, boys," someone called out, "we're about to get a visit from the rightful King o' France."
Two: The men of the 15th Massachusetts could proudly claim their regiment had the finest band in their division of the Army of the Potomac.
Three: Major General George Brinton McClellan commanded the largest military force assembled in modern history. Approaching 150,000 men strong (with additional regiments still arriving) he had at his disposal in the area around Washington DC an army that outnumbered Napoleon's and Wellington's at Waterloo combined.
Four: The Honorable Francis Boardman Crowninshield of Boston arrived in London after transiting from New York to Liverpool via the steamer Persia...
Five: Colonel Eppa Hunton was a Virginian, sir. One who would cut a dashing figure in the uniform of the Confederacy, mounted or on foot, leading fellow Virginians into battle. At this moment, however, he was bedridden...
Six: "Rebel Accounts of the Leesburgh Affair" read the headline in the New York Times. It had taken a few days for the news to travel from behind enemy lines, but New Yorkers could now read the story as presented in the October 29th issue of the Richmond (Virginia) Examiner.
Seven: "What do you think I received as a present yesterday?" He'd written his wife Ellen (Nell, he called her) the previous week. "Some poor woman away up in the middle of New York sent me half a dozen pair of woollen socks..."
Eight: Lieutenant Henry Livermore Abbott was writing an urgent letter home from camp. One of his previous messages had not been received in the manner intended - or rather, had gone beyond its author's intent.
Nine: Hard times were upon them. "John Brown, on the day of his capture, prophesied the destruction of Harper's Ferry, to take place in a short time," Barry claimed - and whether the fiery abolitionist had made such a prophesy or not, no one could deny it had come to pass.
Ten: McClellan had written his wife the previous day of his intent to frighten the rebels away from Leesburg, but to have any hope of actually doing so he'd have to let Stone in on the plan, too, and thus far he hadn't done that...
"Message from General McClellan, sir." Stone accepted the paper, once again pondering briefly his good fortune to be in such close communication with headquarters via telegraph.
News From Stone's: "The Ball Bluff affair is pregnant with trouble," reported the New York Times "special correspondent" on the scene, "and Courts-martial innumerable may be discerned in the distance."
Roads to Leesburg
One: Robert Augustus Moore knew where the Confederate soldiers were. But as he was one that wasn't surprising.
Two: The legend of Captain Henry Alden began to grow immediately after his death at Ball's Bluff.
Three: John White Geary began a letter to his wife. Following his heartfelt appreciation of news of her continued health and well being -and assurances that he himself was "never better" ("God has blessed me with an excellent constitution," the six-six, 240-pound colonel wrote) - he offered a mild complaint:
The Voyage of the Enchantress: Jacob Garrick's adventure had begun in early July, when the schooner Enchantress set sail. Little did the ship's cook expect he'd serve three crews before returning to port.
Thanksgiving on the Potomac: "The month which followed the battle of Ball's Bluff ... was a period of much discussion concerning the events and conduct of the battle. Each one had his own story to tell, his own inquiries to make. It was clearly realized that the sacrifice had been needless and that some one had blundered. Was it General McClellan? Was it General Stone? Was it Colonel Baker? Was it Colonel Cogswell? It was a period of many visitors from the North, who came to find out the condition of the men of the different companies, in order that they might report to their friends at home... But we could not get along without Thanksgiving in some shape; and considering our circumstances, the celebration came very nearly up to the Puritan standard... There was one feature of the day that I take especial pride in mentioning, as indicating the material of which the regiment is composed. It is that not a man was intoxicated during the whole day."
Four: From all indications battle was imminent, and barring some miracle its outcome predictable. "General Evans and Colonel Featherstone both gave us a short speech," Private Robert Augustus Moore of the 17th Mississippi noted in his diary that day... "The General said if we died here he would die with us." Commanders didn't always deliver on promises... but it seemed likely Evans would fulfill that one.
(More to follow...)
Thanksgiving in America, and in Iraq the Parliament approved the Status of Forces Agreement. The news was scarcely noted on our shores as coverage of our national day of plenty gave way to that of the busiest shopping day of the year...
All United States combat Forces shall withdraw from Iraqi cities, villages, and localities ... no later than June 30, 2009.... And the total withdrawal (also Article 24) must indeed be accomplished "no later than December 31, 2011"
Through a coincidence of timing, it was President Bush's last Thanksgiving gift to the troops - one that was unwrapped for Thanksgiving this year.
US soldiers have gathered for an early Thanksgiving dinner due to an impending switch to field rations at a base near Baghdad, saying they are glad they will soon be going home.
The official Thanksgiving holiday in the United States is later this week, but the last "dining facility", or DFAC, at the sprawling Victory Base Complex (VBC) on Baghdad's outskirts closed on Sunday, as US forces prepare to depart.
"We're going to do the Thanksgiving meal here today instead of on Thursday, because we're closing out," said 38-year-old Staff Sergeant Christopher Quimbly, the DFAC manager.
"Today on the menu, we have crab legs, turkey, ham, dressing, yams, green beans, rolls, corn bread, mashed potatoes, (and) a variety of deserts," he said.
"Over 2000 pounds (almost 900 kg) of turkey, over 2000 pounds of ham" and "probably about 3000 pounds of mashed potatoes" are being served, he said.
But starting with dinner on Sunday, soldiers will have to make do with bagged field rations, Quimbly said.
President Obama didn't forget the troops this year:
With that, we'll take a look back at Thanksgivings past in Iraq.
And one from Mrs Greyhawk (and Russ Vaughn) in 2004 (one of my Thanksgivings in Baghdad...):
As always, this year and every year, near and far, wherever your travels take you - we're wishing a Happy Thanksgiving from our house to yours.
"There was one feature of the day that I take especial pride in mentioning, as indicating the material of which the regiment is composed. It is that not a man was intoxicated during the whole day. What other regiment of eight hundred men, with pockets full of money, and plenty of whiskey within reach, can boast of so much self-respect and regard for their officers as not to yield in a single instance?"
Thanksgiving on the Potomac, November, 1861:
The month which followed the battle of Ball's Bluff was a period of hard work for the survivors of that contest. The wounded demanded care. The knapsacks of the missing had to be examined and the property of the government accounted for. The duties of the absent devolved upon those who were present. The lack of officers, both commissioned and non-commissioned, was most seriously felt. Lance sergeants and corporals were appointed to fill vacancies, but the few line officers on duty were obliged to do, as far as it was possible, the work of the whole number. It was a period of much discussion concerning the events and conduct of the battle. Each one had his own story to tell, his own inquiries to make. It was clearly realized that the sacrifice had been needless and that some one had blundered. Was it General McClellan? Was it General Stone? Was it Colonel Baker? Was it Colonel Cogswell? It was a period of many visitors from the North, who came to find out the condition of the men of the different companies, in order that they might report to their friends at home. Many and long were the letters written and messages sent by those who had escaped from the battle. It was a period of great inconvenience and sometimes of considerable suffering from the loss of personal effects, especially of clothing. E. J. Russell writes: "Every plate, cup, knife and fork which the boys took with them was lost, and the quartermaster has been unable to get them any more. Blankets are short, also. While I am writing it rains, and the wind blows from the northeast like a hurricane, and some of the tents have blown down. Such times as this make me a little homesick -- a cold rain and no fire. Some of the folks who stay at home, when they ought to be at the front, would think it rather tough to get up in the morning when it rains in torrents, cold, northeast wind, mud six inches deep, impossible to make a fire outdoors, no hot coffee or tea, hard bread, teeth worn down to the gums, overcoat wet, everybody cross, perhaps the order comes to turn out for some inspection, get your gun wet, take three hours to clean it up, go on guard, no sleep for twenty-four hours. See what it is to serve your country." An appeal from Colonel Devens for relief was promptly answered by the various towns of Worcester County, and through boxes sent from home in addition to the stores the government provided, by the middle of November the men had "everything they needed."
A letter of Lieutenant Derby's gives us an account of Thanksgiving Day (November 21) in camp: " The past week, although undisturbed by any warlike movement, has been one of considerable animation in 'Camp Foster.' On Monday evening Colonel Devens returned from a fortnight's furlough spent in Washington and Massachusetts. The gratified eagerness with which the word was passed that 'the Colonel had got back,' even without his own confession, proves that this is in reality his home. One of the fruits of his labors while absent is before us already -- four hundred good rifles, to take the place of our miserable smooth-bores.
"Tuesday evening brought another welcome arrival, the paymaster, with brass-bound chests, little but weighty. A number of the wounded, who had been waiting for their two months' wages, were immediately paid off, and next morning set out, a happy party, for their homes in Massachusetts. Their furloughs range from two to six weeks; and as the four wagon loads rattled off toward Adamstown, many a man regretted that he too did not get a bullet, so that he could spend Thanksgiving at the homestead. But we could not get along without Thanksgiving in some shape; and considering our circumstances, the celebration came very nearly up to the Puritan standard. Colonel Devens manifested his fatherly interest in the happiness of his men by presenting them fifty dollars toward buying a good dinner, and the all-important roast turkey was not wanting. There was one feature of the day that I take especial pride in mentioning, as indicating the material of which the regiment is composed. It is that not a man was intoxicated during the whole day. What other regiment of eight hundred men, with pockets full of money, and plenty of whiskey within reach, can boast of so much self-respect and regard for their officers as not to yield in a single instance? You can depend on such men everywhere. We have enjoyed another week of Indian summer, which ended last night, with heavy rain."
E. J. Russell, who was on picket duty Thanksgiving day -- for the picket line along the Potomac had been renewed shortly after the battle -- wrote: "We are quartered in a barn without any roof, in which we have a fire and are allowed to cook our own tea and coffee, and so long as it is fair weather we are all right. Some are building thatched shanties to keep off the rain. To-day is fair and tolerably warm, so we are going to have a Thanksgiving in earnest. Just this minute they have shot two pigs. We are going to have roast pig for dinner and they are getting up a hard-bread plum pudding."
Source: Andrew Elmer Ford, The Story of the Fifteenth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, 1861-1864, (1898).
(For more, see The story thus far.)
November 21, 1861: The editors of the New York Times had some difficulty deciphering the handwritten letter they'd received (and the forwarded letter included with it), but as the contents were highly newsworthy they published the best interpretation they could manage. "Our Prisoners in Richmond," read the headline. "LETTER FROM A LIEUTENANT OF THE SIXTY-NINTH."
In his letter to his brother, Lieutenant Gannon initially explained that prison life offered little to write home about: "I have nothing of any importance to [???] the dull and [???] of a [???] life would be a somewhat [???] tale..." was the Times interpretation. No news would be welcome news under the circumstances - but a few days earlier an exception had occurred. Their captors made the senior ranking prisoners draw lots; the losers were removed to another location to await death by hanging.
The paper's readers would already be familiar with the essential background facts, as coverage of a recent (and now-related) courtroom drama in Philadelphia had been something of a sensation in the North. The same New York Times article that had announced the Union victory at Ball's Bluff ("THE FIGHT NEAR LEESBURGH.; The National Troops Successful at all Points") had also briefly noted the start of the trial.
The United States Circuit Court has commenced the trial of WALKER W. SMITH, of the pirate Jeff Davis, who was captured on board the schooner Enchantress. Six of the jury have been selected.
In the days since, both stories had been followed closely in the pages of the Times - with news of Ball's Bluff eliciting mounting anger and frustration among readers, and progress of the piracy trial considerably more satisfaction. (Though responses of those readers whose sympathies were with the South were reversed.)
Jacob Garrick's adventure had begun in early July, when the schooner Enchantress set sail. Little did the ship's cook expect he'd serve three crews before returning to port. The first change came on July 6th, when the Confederate ship Jeff Davis captured the Enchantress off the coast of Delaware. Five members of the Jeff Davis crew transferred to the Enchantress to bring her to Charleston, while the civilian crew of the Enchantress were taken as prisoners aboard the Jeff Davis - with one exception. Jacob Garrick was a black man; he was to be taken to port with the ship, and sold into slavery. ("He'll bring $1,500 when we get him into Charleston" was the estimate made by Smith - the new captain of the Enchantress, according to the trial testimony of her original First Officer.)
From the prosecution's opening statement at Smith's trial:
Aboard the captured ship there was a heart as brave as Caesar's, one Jacob Garrick, a poor black man, who was to become, in the hands of Providence, the instrument for the safe deliverance of this captured ship, and whose devotion to the right has brought this prisoner to the bar of his country for the punishment he deserves. Jacob Garrick will tell you the story of the voyage of the Enchantress after the 6th of July. He is the solitary witness of what transpired on board the schooner after the capture, and what he saw he will tell you simply but truthfully. On the morning of the 22d of July, the Enchantress made the light-house at Cape Hatteras; but about two o'clock in the afternoon of that day, the United States gun-boat Albatross came in sight. Gentlemen of the jury, you can picture, better than I can describe it, the scene of consternation and dismay upon the deck of the Enchantress, created by the appearance of our national vessel. The men had agreed that if a United States war ship crossed their path they would impersonate the captain and crew of the schooner, if they found it impossible to escape, and that in the event of capture, they would either burn or scuttle her.
Garrick, the cook, was ordered to go below, as the Albatross came down upon them, but he ran to the galley, prepared and ready to frustrate the plans of the pirates when the moment should come for him to act. As the gun-boat approached, Garrick leaped from the vessel's side into the sea. exclaiming as he jumped, "She is a prize of the privateer Jeff Davis, and they are taking us to Charleston."
A boat was sent from the Albatross to his relief, and he was taken breathless and exhausted from the water. The Enchantress was immediately boarded by officers of the Albatross, the prisoner and the rest of the prize crew were soon safely in irons...
Smith's trial was not a lengthy one. On the 25th of October,
He'd been charged with piracy and found guilty; the punishment for piracy was death. His trial was followed by those of the remaining Jeff Davis crew members. All but one were found guilty, and more captured Confederate privateers were awaiting trial...
Lieutenant William Harris of Baker's "California" Regiment was among the hundreds of Union soldiers captured at Ball's Bluff and confined in Richmond. Years later he described the Confederate response to the piracy trials.
On Sunday, November 10, 1861, General John H. Winder, commanding the Department of Richmond, accompanied by his staff, was observed to alight at the prison-office. It being an unusual occurrence for his visits to be attended with such ceremony, much surmise arose as to its cause and consequences; but we readily believed that it portended evil, as his visits invariably curtailed our restricted prison-privileges. A few moments elapsed, and he entered the building, attended by the staff, in full-dress uniform. Directing one of them to clear the room of all persons excepting the Federal officers, he took a position in the centre of the floor and announced that he had a most unpleasant duty to perform. He then read the following order from the Confederate War Department :
" C. S. War Department,
"RICHMOND, November 8, 1861.
"Sir : -- You are hereby instructed to choose by lot, from among the prisoners of war of the highest rank, one who is to be confined in a cell appropriated to convicted felons, and who is to be treated in all respects as if such convict, and to be held for execution in the same manner as may be adopted by the enemy for the execution of the prisoner of war Smith, recently condemned to death in Philadelphia. You will also select thirteen other prisoners of war, the highest in rank of those captured by our forces, to be confined in the cells reserved for prisoners accused of infamous crimes, and will treat them as such so long as the enemy shall continue so to treat the like number of prisoners of war captured by them at sea and now for trial in New York as pirates. As these measures are intended to repress the infamous attempt now made by the enemy to commit judicial murder on prisoners of war, you will execute them strictly, as the mode best calculated to prevent the commission of so heinous a crime.
"Your obedient servant,
"J. P. Benjamin,
"Acting Sec. of War.
"To Brig.-Gen. John H. Winder, Richmond, Va."
Announcing that it was necessary to draw by lot five of the Federal colonels and prisoners of war to be held as hostages for Smith, General Winder caused the names of the officers to be written on separate slips of paper, which were placed in a tin case, from which Hon. Mr. Ely was requested to draw one of the names. It proved to be that of Colonel Michael Corcoran, of the 69th Regiment New York State Militia.
General Winder then stated that, as only ten Federal field officers were held as prisoners of war, the captains would be chosen by lot, to complete the required quota of hostages.
Once the process was completed, several of the captured officers from Ball's Bluff found themselves among those selected. Colonel Cogswell of the (Tammany Hall) New York 42nd, Colonel Lee and Major Paul Revere of the (Harvard) 20th Massachusetts, Captains Henry Bowman and George Rockwood from the 15th Massachusetts and Captain Francis Keffer of Senator (deceased) Baker's Regiment were now condemned to share whatever fate was suffered by the privateers.
Harris' first-hand account would not be published until after the war. For now New Yorkers would have to make do with the version provided by Lieutenant Gannon. "That if SMITH be hanged so shall [???]," Times readers were told.
A month after it was fought and lost, the battle at Ball's Bluff had become an even bigger disaster for the North.
"All but one were found guilty..." from the trial transcript:
"A little surprise was manifested at finding LANE, of Massachusetts, in such company," the Philadelphia Ledger reported when the prisoners (the Times used the term "pirates" - arguably accurate but definitely the point of a trial) were brought to the city, "and he seemed to be ashamed of it."
In explanation, he said that he sailed from Liverpool for Charleston last Spring, arriving there on the 16th of May. The port was soon after blockaded, and he could not get away. Being without means, he was compelled to accept any kind of service that offered. He was the navigator; none of the others, though two of them were pilots, having any knowledge of navigation. LANE is twenty-seven years old. He has friends in this city.
October 20 1861: John White Geary began a letter to his wife. Following his heartfelt appreciation of news of her continued health and well being - and assurances that he himself was "never better" ("God has blessed me with an excellent constitution," the six-six, 240-pound colonel wrote) - he offered a mild complaint: "Our fight of the 16th inst has not yet had justice done to it in the papers."
He didn't specify his exact charges as to the nature of their failure, but from that phrase alone it didn't appear he was in any way upset or embarrassed by their overly enthusiastic descriptions of his great victory - which the press certainly hadn't ignored. Lacking details, the first notice that a battle had been fought at Harper's Ferry had appeared in papers at least as far away as New York within a day of the clash; details - some of which were accurate and all of which were flattering to the Union forces (and their commander) had been published each and every day since.
Among the first words provided the public were those written by Geary himself - his own first dispatch from the scene. It was brief - and written using a newly-captured rebel cannon ("1 - 32 pounder columbiad, on which I wrote my first dispatch to Genl Banks" he informed his wife) now multi-purposed as both a desk and a mount for his triumphant victory march: "I have just ridden into camp on a 32-pounder captured from the enemy at Bolivar. JOHN W. GEARY." (Depending on who you asked, this particular cannon might or might not have been usable for firing lethal projectiles into enemy ranks, too.)
More details came right along with that leak. "Last night, at half past ten, the War Department received per telegraph a copy of a modest dispatch from Col. GEARY to Gen. BANKS, announcing that he had just routed a large body of the enemy," the Washington Star had reported the next day, adding that Geary had halted his pursuit of the fleeing rebels only long enough to compose and send his modest report. But "At a subsequent hour," the Star account continued, "the following dispatch, descriptive of the battle, was received by the Government here, from Gen. BANKS' headquarters."
The battle-field was at Bolivar Heights, near Harper's Ferry, where 450 of Col. GEARY's force, with three pieces of artillery, were attacked by the rebels, 3,000 strong, including 500 cavalry...
It described a remarkable victory. Besides being outnumbered 7-1, Geary had no cavalry, and the rebels had seven pieces of artillery to his three. The truth alone would thrill the hearts of any true Union men - and major newspapers throughout the north were reporting the truth and more, just as fast as they possibly could.
Against overwhelming odds, "Col. GEARY not only repulsed the enemy, and held his position in spite of a tremendous cannonade from flank and front, and well-directed attacks of infantry and cavalry, but drove them by impetuous bayonet charges for three miles, and took a 32-pounder columbiad and considerable ammunition, at the point of the bayonet."
Union losses were just four killed, one mortally wounded and eight slightly. Tragic losses - but the completeness of the victory they'd purchased with their blood was obvious in the enemy casualty figures Geary provided: at least one hundred and fifty killed and wounded (rebel corpses were being hauled from the battlefield by the wagonload, later reports explained), and three Confederate prisoners captured. (An unusual ratio - but perhaps explainable by a rebel penchant to fight to the death rather than surrender...) Among the enemy dead, none other than the notorious rebel cavalry commander Colonel Turner Ashby himself, whose forces had plagued Geary's (and those of other Union commanders) along the upper Potomac since the onset of hostilities.
Details of Ashby's death would emerge soon after, via letters written by Geary's men and appearing in the newspapers. It seemed Corporal Marshall, of the Massachusetts Thirteenth, had been attempting to help one of the Union wounded off the field of battle. Apparently Ashby had spied the soldier thus engaged (and seemingly helpless), and had launched his own personal and cowardly attack - a one-man mounted charge, sword upraised to deliver the death blow. But Marshall "turned and shot his pursuer through the breast" according to one account. ("Turned" meaning Ashby was attacking him from behind.) An even more dramatically written version had it that Marshall's "trusty rifle saved his life a second time," (earlier a minie ball had struck the barrel and deflected through his cap) "by bringing the rebel officer to the ground, a corpse."
Miraculous events - but though he'd shortened the odds a bit in his own letter home ("I had only 600 men, and the enemy over 3,000" and "I had 4 cannon - They had 7"), the fight, as Geary now described it to his wife, "was one of those in which the finger of God was visible for our deliverance."
October 17, 1861: Turner Ashby didn't often provide official reports of his battles, but he deemed yesterday's fight worthy of one - or at least believed the Confederate government's war department might appreciate one - so having paper, pen and time on hand he began to write.
If he was aware that he himself had been killed in the fight - or even wounded - he made no mention of it in his casualty figures: "My loss is 1 killed and 9 wounded. Report from the Ferry states the loss of the enemy at 25 killed and a number wounded. We have 2 Yankee prisoners and 8 Union men co-operating with them. We took a large number of blankets, overcoats, and about one dozen guns."
Not bad for an attack against multiple Union regiments launched by nominally "regular" Confederate cavalry forces joined with a few hundred local militia members backed with a couple of cannon mounted on decrepit wagons - which (though Ashby wouldn't describe it as such) was certainly what the Harper's Ferry battle was. Ashby wouldn't insult the honor of such men as his volunteers by claiming they'd been defeated, but his report left no doubt that while they put up a good fight it had not ended as he'd hoped.
"My force upon the morning of the attack consisted of 300 militia," he wrote. Along with that group he had about 230 cavalry troops - scarcely more than "mounted militia" themselves. (In fact, some lacked horses.) Some were armed with rifles; most brought whatever they could from home, primarily muskets or flintlocks. Ashby also reported "I had one rifled 4-pounder gun, one 24-pounder gun badly mounted, which broke an axle in Bolivar, and I had to spike it."
If his troops lacked organization and equipment, they had no shortage of courage or enthusiasm, and were led by a man fast becoming legendary in Virginia and notorious in the North. He'd developed a bold plan using combined arms - infantry, cavalry and artillery - in what would certainly be the largest engagement of his military career thus far. The Yankees had been in Harper's Ferry for several days, emptying Abraham Herr's flour mill of 20-30,000 bushels of wheat otherwise rotting there. (In Ashby's report: "The enemy occupying that position have for several days been committing depredations in the vicinity of their camp.") Ashby had determined to use the irregular forces at his disposal in an overland attack from the west against the like-number of Union troops on the Harper's Ferry side of the Potomac. While that might prove to be a fair fight, he could also count on being overwhelmed when enemy reinforcements flooded the town from the Maryland side.
So he'd contacted Colonel Evans, (or "General" Evans - as both his and Geary's official reports promoted him even though the Confederate government had not) whose area of responsibility was Loudoun County. Loudoun's western border was just across the Shenandoah from Harper's Ferry, and from a commanding position on Loudoun Heights a few pieces of artillery and as much infantry as Evans could spare might be able to prevent those reinforcements from crossing from Maryland. Evans obliged, and on the second anniversary of John Brown's raid his troops were in place above the town, and Ashby's militia struck.
Something of a see-saw battle ensued. Ashby's forces met with initial success, driving enemy pickets from Bolivar Heights in their first strike. "I made the attack in three divisions, and drove the enemy from their breastworks without loss of a man, and took position upon the hill," Ashby reported. But while moving forward from that point his first setback occurred. The axle on the old wagon used to transport his largest gun broke. It was out of the fight, "and this materially affected the result."
Captain Henry Bertram, commanding Company A of the Third Wisconsin Infantry gave additional details of the first Union counter-attack in his official report:
As we commenced, the enemy attempted to haul off their gun, but in their hasty attempt broke the axle-tree. As we approached the gun we saw one of the men spiking it and the others left it and sought cover, when a tremendous fire upon us from a masked breastwork compelled us to seek cover. We sustained and answered the fire for some fifteen minutes, saw our men falling, and were obliged to retreat, closely pursued by the enemy's cavalry. We rallied, after falling back some 50 rods, and fired upon the enemy's cavalry, driving them back and covering the retreat of our wounded and those who were aiding them off the field; then slowly retreated to the main body.
The rebel's immediate goal had become the rescue of their cannon, but as the Union troops were soon reinforced with more infantry and artillery pieces of their own they would not succeed.
Evan's detached forces on Loudoun Heights - led by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Griffin, second-ranking officer of the 18th Mississippi under Colonel Erasmus Burt - had given all they could, but ultimately the position itself was less effective than Ashby had hoped; their most significant contribution to the fight would be that their mere presence offered some validity to Geary's claim to have confronted Evans' Mississippians and Virginians in battle. "The position which Colonel Griffin held upon Loudoun was such as to be of very little assistance to us," Ashby wrote, "not being so elevated as to prevent them [Union forces] from controlling the crossing." Thus Union reinforcements - including their own field artillery - arrived.
The infantry on Loudoun Heights might have briefly been more effective than the artillery there. In his official report Maj. J. P. Gould of the Thirteenth Massachusetts wrote that while the reinforcements were crossing from Maryland "the rebels fired upon them from the Loudoun Heights by rifle shots." However, "I ordered one of our iron guns to fire upon them with canister; two shots silenced them." Still, Griffin's soldiers were sufficiently threatening for Geary to declare in his own official report that "Lieutenant Martin, by my order, joined me with one rifled cannon... he having crossed the river with it under a galling fire of rifleman from Loudoun Heights."
As for the Loudoun artillery, unable to bring their fire to bear on the crossing they instead aimed for Union forces already engaged. Their effectiveness was described in a letter home from a Massachusetts soldier (that soon appeared in a Boston newspaper): "...we didn't mind the shot and shells, for we could hear and see them coming, and dodge them, especially the round shot, which were fired at us from Loudon Heights - for the guns from which they were fired were about a mile off, and the force of the balls was nearly spent when they reached us. And we could see, by the same which hung to them, about where they would strike."
Another soldier, whose report appeared in a competing Boston paper, declared "They then began to shell us, the missiles skipping down the street. We only laughed at them. They fired some twenty rounds at us, which were harmless, when were heard the rattling of chains coming up the street. It was our cannon and reinforcements."
Still, the threat of the Loudoun artillery had not gone unnoticed by the Union troops on the Maryland side. "I ordered one iron gun to play upon the guns on Loudoun Heights, from which they were throwing shells on to and over the mill, with slugs, and I learn that it seemed to have some good effect," Gould reported. Such statements are open to interpretation - but Union artillerymen were certainly kept busy that day, though not all their efforts had some good effect. "At one time," wrote the Boston Saturday Evening Gazette's correspondent (he who had laughed at rebel cannon fire), "our own artillery on Maryland Heights shelled us, as we were falling back, thinking we were the enemy."
The rest of the battle, from Captain Betram's report:
Company H, Third Regiment Wisconsin, having joined us, we formed a complete line of skirmishers from Bolivar main street to the Shenandoah, and awaited the arrival of artillery. At 1 o'clock p.m., the artillery having arrived, we moved the line slowly forward, by command of Colonel Geary, firing as we advanced, at the enemy slowly falling back. On our arrival at the outskirts of Bolivar we advanced rapidly, the enemy having retreated behind the hill; and passing in our advance the gun which had been disabled, we established our line on Bolivar Heights, the enemy having retreated to a belt of wood about three-quarters of a mile away in the direction of Halltown.
Five more companies of fresh Union troops from the Maryland side soon joined them there. Presumably their numbers (or the numbers of troops he'd had placed along the Potomac in Maryland and the Shenandoah in Harper's Ferry to prevent any additional rebels crossing over from Loudoun) didn't factor in to Geary's preferred outnumbered 7 to 1 narrative - but whether any of the new arrivals fired a shot at the now outnumbered (and departing, unpursued) rebels or not, their arrival effectively ended the great Harper's Ferry Battle of 16 October 1861.
Though prior to his own retreat back to Maryland, Geary did have at least one last act of war to perform. He'd "ascertained" that a local iron foundry "was used by the rebels for casting shot and shell of all kinds," he stated in his official report. So "I ordered it to be burned, which was done the same night."
Individual participants in the battle would no doubt have experienced moments of terror comparable to that of any individuals engaged in battle throughout the war, but Chester G. Hearn, in a recent history of Harper's Ferry in the Civil War, effectively summed one aspect of the fight with an observation that likely had to wait well over a century to be made: "With roughly eleven hundred men involved in a skirmish lasting four hours, where total casualties added up to five killed and twenty wounded, enough cannot be said about poor marksmanship."
In his own history of the town, Joseph Barry (who was there that day - one of the residents pressed into the service of the Union troops emptying Herr's Mill) described the fight as "a very sharp skirmish" in which "Both sides claimed the victory, though both retreated." As for what it meant to the town, "Many young men of the neighborhood of Harper's Ferry, who were serving in the confederate army, were wounded..."
Unarmed residents had the misfortune of finding themselves involved in the fight, too:
The federal soldiers were very much excited on this occasion, in consequence of a malicious report spread among them that some citizens of Bolivar were harboring the enemy in their houses and giving them them an opportunity to pick off the unionists from the windows. Mr. Patrick Hagan was arrested on this charge and hurried away to Maryland without his getting time to put on his coat of which he had divested himself for work around his house. This gentleman was one of the most peaceable men of the place, and no citizen of either party in Harper's Ferry or Bolivar believed that he was guilty. Notwithstanding his high character, however, he was taken away in the condition mentioned and kept in confinement for several months in a government fort.
Per Ashby's report ("We have 2 Yankee prisoners and 8 Union men co-operating with them") the Confederates had also hauled off their own selection of "undesirables" from the town.
But Harper's Ferry still hadn't suffered enough. Shortly after the battle, the rebels rode back into town and, finding no Union troops present to oppose them, promptly set fire to Herr's Mill. In his official report Geary explained that "a great portion of the wheat had been taken" from the site already (many accounts claimed the Union forces had "captured" the wheat in a "raid") - he deemed its loss no great tragedy.
Its ruined shell remained a prominent feature on the Harper's Ferry shoreline for years after the war.
Apparently the rebels did score some near misses. In his letter to his wife Geary revealed one bit of information from the battle that had not yet appeared in the newspapers - he himself had been wounded. "I was struck with a piece of shell in the early part of the action just below the knee in the front of the leg, which cut to the bone," he wrote. "I did not let it be known until after the victory was won, it is healing rapidly and will soon be well."
In the days after he wrote his own letter, those from Geary's troops began appearing in the papers. Though by this point editors would acknowledge that reports of Ashby's death were premature (and forgivable; with rebel corpses being hauled off by the wagon load, who could fault someone for misidentifying one?) these stories likely provided the "justice" Geary believed the earlier versions lacked.
New York and Washington readers were told that "Col. GEARY displayed much skill and great bravery during the whole of the engagement" - and if any were uncertain how this fight compared to other battles (or with what battles it should be compared), "This was not a 'Bull Run,' but a rebel-run affair."
Philadelphia Inquirer readers (Geary was born in Pennsylvania and at the beginning of the war commanded infantry units he'd raised there) were assured that the rebels "fear Geary like they do the----" and that "Geary said it was a glorious victory, and the hardest battle he was ever in." His toughness was highlighted, too - along with the degree to which his men loved him: "Our Colonel was slightly wounded in the leg in the fore part of the engagement," the corespondent wrote. "The boys would not be satisfied until he took off his boot and showed us where it was. We thought it was worse than he wanted to let on." (After the war, Geary - a Mexican War veteran who'd already served as mayor of San Francisco and territorial governor of Kansas, was twice elected Governor of Pennsylvania.)
The report delivered to Boston readers, via published letters from the Massachusetts troops in the fight, included no such glowing praise of the field commander (Massachusetts men knew who to credit for the victory: "We have heard there were 150 of them [the rebels] killed and wounded," wrote the Boston Saturday Evening Gazette corespondent. "The Enfield rifle is the piece that tells. I heard one of the rebels exclaim, 'I wish to God we had their guns!'"), but did provide an oblique reference to Geary's experience and qualification as such: "The Colonel said he had been in fifteen battles and never saw so hot as one before."
He was certainly destined to see others that would make the Harper's Ferry skirmish pale in comparison, but for the time being "justice" was still denied John White Geary. By the time those reports appeared, Ball's Bluff had captured the public's attention, and whatever had happened at Harper's Ferry somehow just didn't seem so important any more.
New York Times readers had gotten a hint of what was coming on October 19th, the day before Geary had written home to his wife. The same "Great Rebellion" round-up of news items that included "IMPORTANT FROM HARPER'S FERRY Renewal of the Fighting at Bolivar" (an exaggerated report of the rebel's return to burn Herr's Mill) in its headline actually led with this item from the paper's Washington correspondent:
I telegraphed you yesterday that the rebels had sent away their sick and disabled and baggage from Leesburgh, and that the six regiments yet encamped there were preparing to retire. Information is received to-day that the entire force has been withdrawn, even to the scouts and pickets...
Closer to Washington, the modern miracle of manned flight was being applied to war: "A balloon reconnoissance was made this afternoon, the balloon going up from Cloud's Mills, and coming down near Hunter's Chapel. It reached an altitude of about two miles, giving an extended view of the country. Nothing could be seen of the rebels anywhere this side of Fairfax, and but few traces of them there."
With the rebels pulling back, more long-awaited Union advances along the Potomac were anticipated soon...
Epilogue: Major J. P. Gould of the Thirteenth Massachusetts - who had actually arranged (and for days been in command of) the effort to "harvest" wheat from Herr's Mill - was late delivering his official report. He couldn't resist appending an "apology" for his tardiness, explaining that "besides being quite unwell, there was much necessary and pressing business connected wither the closing up of this adventure, every part of which needed my personal attention."
However, as he further explained, he thought there might be no need for a report from him anyway, because...
...from the accounts I see in the papers, I infer that there is no Major Gould at this post, and, if here, he is only an intruder; nor had he anything to do with getting the wheat. Indeed, his name does not occur in a long whole-column article of to-day's Baltimore paper.
One could almost hear a distant sigh when reading his final words: "Let Ceasar have his own."
Reports on the 16 October 1861 Harper's Ferry battle in the Official Records begin here.
Rebellion Record documents (including news stories) on the fight are here.
The New York Times archive of stories on Colonel Geary at Harper's Ferry from October 1861 is here.
Geary's letter to his wife is among those compiled by William A. Blair in A Politician Goes to War: The Civil War Letters of John White Geary
A web site for the Thirteenth Massachusetts provides an expanded look at their time in the vicinity of Harper's Ferry here.
The legend of Captain Henry Alden began to grow immediately after his death at Ball's Bluff. Before the year was over John Gilmary Shea published Alden's life story, with this version of its conclusion, in his salute to 1861's Union war dead, The Fallen Brave.
When General Stone received the order to make a demonstration on Leesburg, on the 20th of October, the Tammany Regiment was one of those sent by him to Conrad's Ferry, opposite Harrison's Island, to be in readiness for action. ... Colonel Cogswell wished Alden to remain with the reserve, but he came up asking to lead the advance or, if his company did not go, to be in the advance even as a private His enthusiasm was not to be resisted; he led the advance of the regiment, and, being officer of the day, was in full uniform, with his scarf over his shoulder. Before crossing, he addressed his men, telling then that they were going into action for the first time,--to behave like men: "Keep cool," said he, "obey my orders, follow me, and follow that"-- drawing the elegant sword just presented to him by his company.
After reaching the Virginia shore, he again addressed those who had been able to cross,--not more than fifty in all,--repeating his former admonitions, and bidding them avenge him, if he fell. Colonel Cogswell led his men up the hill, and on, past the Fifteenth Massachusetts, who cheered them as they went through the open field, encircled by woods, where the enemy were posted. A body of troops appeared coming from the Leesburg road: the officer in advance calling out, "Baker's Brigade," misled the Forty-Second, who supposed them Americans, but when they were within a hundred yards, they saw their error. A regiment of rebel Mississippi rifles were upon them. The Forty Second gave a volley, and when it was returned, Captain Alden fell dead, shot by a sharp-shooter in a tree, the ball striking him on his right breast, severing the main artery, and passing out at the left hip. His men, led by R. M. Seabury, second lieutenant, dashed on to avenge him, charging at the point of the bayonet; while a well-directed shot from the Nineteenth Massachusetts, sent his murderer plunging down in death from his elevated post.
The Americans were, however, outnumbered and surrounded, and Colonel Cogswell ordered the retreat. The men fell back, fighting steadily, but compelled to leave the body of their gallant captain on the ground. The disasters of that retreat, from the insufficient transportation, are too well known. Many were drowned by the sinking of the boats, or were shot in the water by the enemy.
"On the day after the battle, Colonel McGurk, of Mississippi, appeared on the shore, and asked why the Americans did not cross to bury their dead. Captain Vaughn, of the Third Rhode Island Battery, immediately went over, with ten men of the Twentieth Massachusetts, and began the pious task, although first tempted, and then detained by the rebels. He found Captain Alden's body where he fell; but his lifeless remains showed the cruelty and rapacity of the foe. He had been killed on the spot, yet his right side showed three bayonet thrusts, which had been dealt upon his lifeless body. His cap, sword, sash, buttons, belt, and shoulder-straps were gone, his pockets rifled: the lining of his waist coat, marked with his name, alone enabled Captain Vaughn to ascertain who he was.
On hearing of his death, Mr. W. K. Comstock, a devoted friend and fellow-member of the Seventh, hastened to the camp of General Stone to endeavor to obtain Captain Alden's body. The permission of the War Department was needed to send a flag of truce. This obtained, General Stone, on the 30th, sent a flag of truce to General Evans to obtain permission to remove the body of Captain Alden, and also to send letters and refreshments to the sick and wounded prisoners. After a delay caused by his consulting his superiors, General Evans, on the 6th of November, dispatched Colonel Jenifer to signify his permission for a party to cross on the following morning. Mr. Comstock accordingly went over the river, with a coffin and men, and in a heavy rain proceeded to the grave where Alden had been hastily placed, in the bed of a ravine, and disinterred his remains. The body was received at the camp with honor, and, after a funeral service, escorted towards Washington. After being embalmed, it was brought to the city of New York, and laid out at the armory of the Seventh Regiment, in Tompkins Market, and on the 16th of November the regiment paid the last honors to their gallant associate. The funeral service was read by the Rev. Mr. Weston, the chaplain of the regiment, and the body was then escorted to the boat by Company B, Captain Emmons Clark, with the full regimental band, the colonel attending, and two officers of the Forty-Second, Captain Graham and Lieutenant Paine, acting as pall-bearers.
Shea's work also gave the public his accounts of other Union soldiers who fell at Ball's Bluff, including Lieutenant John Grout of the 15th Massachusetts.
The book also included a eulogy delivered at Willie Putnam's funeral service by the Reverend James Freeman Clarke.
His coolness and self-possession, his precision and courage, were astonishing, and of great effect upon the courage and efficiency of his men. In the terrific showers of leaden hail, Providence shielded him from harm. The spontaneous metaphor in which the testimony is borne, is that he fought like a tiger. Sometimes his sword anticipated the muskets of his men. Upon the foe who would bayonet a wounded soldier, he executed summary and seasonable wrath. When a muzzle was at his breast and a hand upon the trigger, his right arm parried the weapon and pierced the assassin to the heart. "Every blow of his sword told." He verified the promise, that he would never surrender. But victory was hopeless. To continue on the field, was to increase the sacrifice of loyal blood. Yet with unflinching firmness the residue of the regiment withstood the foe till they heard the order to retreat. But when they obeyed that order, they knew that they had done the utmost in the power of men, and that "Massachusetts had reason to be proud of the conduct of her sons on that field of carnage."
But his coolness and discretion and generosity did not forsake him. Driven to the bank of the river, he still forgot himself in the services he rendered to others. With inadequate means for transportation, he crossed the stream with the wounded, and returned. Again the frail boat was filled to its utmost capacity, and he remained upon the shore. But the eagerness for self-preservation hazarded too much, and many who escaped the enemy on the field, found another beneath the waves of the Potomac. The remainder were now reduced to the last extremity. And when the young lieutenant went up to his superior with the calm but heroic inquiry, "Is there any thing more that I can do?" the reply of Colonel Devens, to whom no epithets of commendation can do justice, was: "Nothing, but take care of yourself." And when the colonel cried to his brave but sorely tried men, "I shall never surrender!" and with the benediction, "God be with you all," gave the final order, "Every man for himself," Lieutenant Grout had done his duty, and nobly justified the highest expectations of his numerous friends and enthusiastic admirers.
After waiting for the first faint light of the rising moon, he threw his incumbrances beyond recovery, and, with a few companions, plunged into the stream. But before he could reach the opposite shore, the fatal ball of the barbarous assassin left him only time and strength to exclaim: "Tell Company D that I should have escaped, but I am shot!"
The sad tidings were aggravated by the ineffectual search for his remains. But at length the Potomac yielded up the treasure, which in due time was borne, with military and municipal honors, and under the flag of his heroic love, from the paternal mansion "to the house appointed for all living." He is truly lamented; and the mourning circle includes at least his native city and the honored Fifteenth Regiment.
"...Brave and beautiful child!--was it for this that you had inherited the best results of past culture, and had been so wisely educated and carefully trained? Was it for this, to be struck down by a ruffian's bullet, in a hopeless struggle against overwhelming numbers? How hard to consent to let these precious lives be thus wasted, apparently for naught--through the ignorance or the carelessness of those whose duty it was to make due preparation, before sending them to the field! How can we bear it?..."
Those questions regarding precious lives wasted for naught - through the ignorance or the carelessness of those who'd failed in their duty to make due preparation were being asked (and answered) throughout the North (including in the many clubs, salons and saloons of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston). Action must be taken; all that was lacking was a specific name for "those" - or at least enough information that reasonable and well-informed men - who of course already knew those names - could speak them in public.
The names of the valiant dead of Ball's Bluff did not vanish immediately from American memory; in 1872 Shea determined the stories of those fallen heroes were worthy of including (as written) in his work A Child's History of the United States.
Robert Augustus Moore knew where the Confederate soldiers were. But as he was one that wasn't surprising. As a private in the 17th Mississippi who'd done a lot of marching in a very few days he wondered where they'd be tomorrow.
For months he'd kept track of his travels in his diary, one page dedicated to each day. At the top he'd enter the date and his location, then fill in that day's events. If he ran out of room at the bottom he'd rotate the book and continue up the side rather than move to the next page. If he still needed more space he'd put a line or two upside down when he got back up to the top.
That didn't happen too often, though. For weeks he'd been "in camp west of Leesburg" day after day, and a single small page was sufficient for most every one of them. Camp life had become routine - even picket duty along the Potomac was mostly uneventful. So in the pages of his diary he'd note the weather, or mention letters he'd sent or received... sometimes he'd provide news he'd heard of the war as it was being fought near and far. Sometimes the news was good (he'd heard that his fellow Confederates had soundly whipped Union General Rosencrans in western Virginia - and the General himself had been wounded and taken prisoner), sometimes bad (he'd heard the Yankees had burned Falls Church), and sometimes true (but not in those examples) - and sometimes he heard sounds of distant battle with his own ears.
But mostly things were routine, though on Sunday 13 October he stood guard in town, and was able to attend church there. And once when the girls of the town came out to visit camp he observed that "Leesburg can boast of as fair daughters as any other town in the state." (A wise description that made no mention of Mississippi's belles...)
Democracy was alive and well among the soldiers far from home, too. On September 23rd they'd had a meeting "for the purpose of recommending to the voters of Marshall Co [Marshall County, Mississippi] a candidate from the army for state senator" (they picked Captain W.P. Jones of Company B, the Mississippi Rangers, for the honor) - then a committee was formed "to draft resolutions embodying an address to the voters of Marshall on the subject." Captain Jones "came forth and acknowledged the compliment," Moore wrote, "& said he would serve the soldiers as best he could if elected."
The next day Moore's company had its own election - for a new first lieutenant. Thomas Gatewood defeated his two opponents on the first ballot. On the following day elections were held for a new second lieutenant. There were seven candidates on the first ballot, and none received a majority. So they'd had another, also inconclusive. After two more rounds of voting the next day they'd narrowed the contest down to two candidates, and on the final ballot had a winner by vote of 46 - 40.
There were several such elections in those days. "I believe all our commissioned officers will leave us soon," Moore had predicted on September 20th, "some of them are giving up." But whether they were giving up on the army lifestyle or the future of the Confederacy he didn't say.
There were occasional contentious issues within the unit. (Company G of the 17th Mississippi, though when they'd formed and mustered in back in Holly Springs, Mississippi the previous April they'd called themselves the Confederate Guards, and still did.) "Capt Sears refuses to drill our company today," Moore wrote on October 3rd, "saying that he would not have anything more to do with it as they would not obey him." The problem centered on the captain's planned "new arrangement" for cooking. He wanted to "make the negroes of the co. cook for the whole co. and cook it all together." In response, "The boys say they will send their negroes home" - and the company had "held a meeting to draw up resolutions asking the cpt to let the cooking go on as before." And now Captain Sears, Moore wrote, "was pouting like an old granma."
The resolution of the problem was left unexplained - but the dull routine (and the luxury of time to prepare meals) came to an end in the middle of October, and it likely just no longer seemed important. On the 16th Moore found his friend T.A. (Thomas) Nelms had used two pages of his diary to leave him a brief note.
I'm trying to get Lt Gatewood to get the pass word from the officer of the guard and go out and git some whiskey as I think we will leave this place by 8 o'clock tomorrow AM. Fighting is going on at Fairfax Court House do not know how it may end but suppose it will be all right on our side. We can whip them all the time.
Moore had suspected something was coming. Most everyone had - at least since the first part of October when rumors to that effect had increased in frequency. Then on the 14th Moore reported the Eighth Virginia had marched out towards Harper's Ferry, adding to his entry that "some think they will have a fight up in that section." (A few days earlier the Virginians had relocated themselves from Waterford to a camp site closer to Leesburg - and Moore noted that "Gen. Evans was a little bit fretted about them leaving Waterford & coming down here without orders.")
"Cpt Sears says it is thought there will be a general engagement up and down the river tomorrow" Moore wrote on the day after the Virginians marched back out. Also that "several companies of the 18th [Mississippi Regiment] passed here early this morning going toward Harper's Ferry," too. And even more ominously, Moore's regiment "received orders to hold ourselves in readiness to march on the shortest notice."
They didn't march on the sixteenth - though that day Moore wrote "there is still a good deal of excitement about leaving" - and drill was cut short when yet another hold in readiness to march order came. That was also the day he'd discovered T.A. Nelms' whiskey message in his diary.
Nelms' information - at least the part about leaving this place - was correct. On the 17th Moore began his diary entry as he had on so many days past - from "camp west of Leesburg" - but then scribbled that out and entered his new location. They had indeed marched away from Leesburg that day.
(Part two is here...)
November 13, 1861: "The Ball Bluff affair is pregnant with trouble," reported the New York Times "special correspondent" on the scene, "and Courts-martial innumerable may be discerned in the distance."
Among other troubles, Colonel Hincks, commander of the Nineteenth Massachusetts, had accused the Tammany Regiment of deserting their posts during the battle. General Stone himself had defended the New Yorkers, declaring them innocent of any such charges, and adding a none-too subtle rebuke to Hincks as well: "Commanding officers are cautioned against making unnecessary and rash statements in their reports, especially in cases where the honor and reputation of other regiments may be involved." But Hincks, rather than recanting his complaint or even simply letting the matter drop, had doubled down. He'd promptly sent Stone a lengthy memorandum detailing Tammany's cowardly and criminal misconduct, which he called "a matter of unquestioned fact."
"In the meantime," the Times correspondent now reported, "the injudicious "friends" of Col. HINKS and Major BOWE are rapidly urging them into a fight."
The Major has demanded an explanation, the Colonel has replied that he intended nothing personally offensive to the Major, but that what he said about his men deserting their posts was true and can not be denied, and nothing now remains but for the Major (who is expected from Washington to-day) to challenge the Colonel, and in that amiable manner settle the hash at the mouth of the pistol.
Wilder Dwight was with the Second Massachusetts. His regiment had been sent as reinforcement to the area across from Ball's Bluff immediately after the battle. He took time to compile his experiences and observations in a letter home to his mother on October 24th. Nearing their destination, he wrote, "we began to meet the flying and scattered soldiers. One with only an overcoat. Another with only a blanket. Another with even less. They all told one story, of flight, and death and despair."
He set out to locate some of the more prominent of his fellow Bostonians.
As soon as I could get away, I galloped down to the place of crossing. I saw them letting down a wounded man on a stretcher into the canal-boat. It was Captain John Putnam, a clever fellow, of the New England Guards. I turned and went down to the river, meeting on my way a dead one, and, as I passed, one of the soldiers who carried him turned up the face, and said, Yes, this is one of the Tammany boys. I went to the river, to a flat-boat full of wounded ; found Dr. Hayward, of the Twentieth. He said that Lieutenant Putnam, Mrs. Sam Putnam's son, was in the boat, badly wounded. I spoke to him; he was bright, but evidently sinking. I asked him if I could do anything for him, telling him who I was. He said, eagerly, "I should like to see Lieutenant Higginson." I said I would bring him. Then I asked about Caspar Crowninshield, Abbott, Lowell, Holmes. Caspar, they thought, was wounded. Abbott, safe. Lowell and Holmes, both wounded. A little while after Caspar turned up. He was in the primitive costume of his over coat and drawers, but full of cheery pluck, calm, clear, and a young hero in bearing and aspect. He gave a clear account of himself. I was compelled to go back to the regiment. I sent Lieutenant Higginson down, and did what I could for the men...
November 13, 1861: "As I intimated in my last," continued the Times correspondent, "it has been my pleasure to visit the scene of the recent battle, and under the protection of what is technically known as a flag of truce' but which, in reality, was nothing but a pocket-handkerchief tied to a stick, observe many matters of interest..."
The object of the visiting party was to disinter and bring home the body of Capt. ALDEN, of the Tammany Regiment which had been placed in a marked grave by Capt. VAUGHN, of VAUGHN's Battery, and for the recovery of which Capt. ALDEN's friends were very anxious. The preliminary permissions and regulations had been arranged the day before by officers of either army, and it was decided that, at an early hour on Friday morning, the "flag" should cross the Potomac. At 7 1/2 o'clock in the morning I started for the rendezvous; it was dark and chilly, the road was muddy, and a rain, ominous even in its persistent gentleness, fell penetratingly upon me.
The way of the transgressor is undoubtedly hard, but I think even he would gladly have kept on his way, comforted, had he seen me, with the reflection that some people had a harder way yet. On I went, splash, splash, chilled and wet, but determined to see "secesh," and, if possible, obtain the material of some gossip for the comfortable readers of the TIMES at home. On the bank of the Potomac I found the party, all of whom were damp and moldy from the effects of a long ride through the mud and under the rain, which party consisted of Lieut.-Col. PALFREY, acting Colonel of the Twentieth Massachusetts and flag-officer for the day; Quartermaster GARLAND, of the Tammany; WM. K. COMSTOCK, Esq., of the Seventh New-York (City;) an undertaker, with two assistants and a coffin; the soldiers for escort, and one or two others, who went out of curiosity, and had no business there any more than I.
Just as I reached the bank, a party appeared on the opposite shore, up towards the bluff, one of whom waved a flag, which was respected by a similar performance on our side. In a metallic life-boat we crossed the swollen current of the dirty-watered Potomac to Harrison's Island, over which the boat had to be carried by hand. From the further side of the island we could see the secesh flag party distinctly, and between them and Col. PALFREY a conversation took place, which resulted in the untying and pocketing of the mouchoir, and the speedy embarkation of our party. Great guns, how it did rain! The boat was half filled with water, the Potomac was full and the heavens were black with it. An umbrella would have been decidedly unmilitary and de trop, but I must say I longed for one, though the others, who "would be soldiers," of course despised such an idea, and rather enjoyed the streams that trickled down their face and neck, and reveled in their soaked coat and trousers that stuck to them closer than any brother, and made one and all look like so many muskrats. We are a pleasant party, however, even the undertakers, who, by the way, in private life, seem to be very jolly fellows, and who, though constantly surrounded by emblems of mortality, are by no means morose or melancholy --even they, I say, seemed cheerful and gay, telling in their turn the pleasant story and the jolly joke, while none seemed disposed to neglect the creature comforts that had been thoughtfully provided by the Quartermaster.
When we reached the Virginia shore we were greeted by Lieutenants CLARK and SMOOT, of the Fourth Virginia Cavalry, who were accompanied by fifteen or twenty cavalry, the entire party being well mounted on very desirable horses. Each officer, and several of the men, were clad in overcoats belonging to the Massachusetts Fifteenth, and there was not a man in the party who didn't have some one article or another that had been taken from the Union troops...
Though he was a late arrival, Dwight was able to quickly determine who was to blame for the disaster at Ball's Bluff: "First it was a criminal blunder of Col. Bakers," he explained. "Does it awaken you to the fact that politicians are not generals?"
That was an intemperate statement for Dwight to make anywhere but in a letter to his mother. His regiment was part of Nathaniel Bank's Division. Banks had completed his term as Governor of Massachusetts just prior to the war; immediately before that he'd been Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
But Dwight could be confident that other soldiers shared his opinion; if they weren't the source of his wisdom they certainly reinforced it. He'd met Banks' commander that day, too - and "I enjoyed hearing McLellan talk for 1/2 an hour," he wrote. "I will tell you all about it bye t' bye."
"The officers were bright, clean, keen-looking fellows," the Times correspondent said of the Confederates, "with heavy black beards, and most gentlemanly address."
All hands were introduced; and a somewhat constrained conversation was going on, when Col. JENIFER, who seems to be the Alexander Selkirk of the Leesburgh district, mounted on the identical gray horse which attracted so much attention at the battle, rode up and saluted the party. He was formerly a captain in the Second Cavalry, U.S.A., and still wears the United States uniform, even to the figure 2 on the front of his cap.
Col. PALFREY delivered his credentials to Col. JENIFER, who at once offered our party horses, and preceeded us to the Bluff. As we road forward, Col. JENIFER kindly explained the locale, giving incidents connected with the fight, the disposition of troops, and so on, which are quite interesting, but which did not succeed in eliciting any response from Col. PALPREY, or others, which could in any way enlighten him as to the numbers or condition of our force. Having led the way to a little ravine, in which Capt. ALDIN was buried, Col. JENIFER courteously bade us good morning, saying he hoped we might all meet again, and under less embarrassing circumstances. He requested Col. PALFREY to attend to the delivery of a small amount of money and several letters to prisoners on this side, and kindly undertook the distribution of a large quantity of medical stores, drawers, undershirts, blankets, salt, coffee, sugar, $100 in money, and several packages of letters. Permission to visit our wounded at Leesburgh was not granted, though he stated they were all well cared for and doing very nicely. A Miss -----, the acknowledged belle of the county, had been there attending upon the wants of the sick at the hospital, ever since the battle, and had finally been placed in charge of the nursing department.
So severe had been the rain, that the dirt was very greatly washed away from ALDEN's grave, and the body was found after only some eighteen inches of soil had been removed. Over the face Capt. VAUGHN had thoughtfully placed a quantity of leaves, so that none of the dirt had fallen in it. The body was soon gotten out, and upon examination was found to be but slightly altered, and not offensive in the least. The sword, sash, buttons, shoulder-straps and belt had been taken away, but all else was as it was when he fell. While the necessary preparations were going on I strolled about the mud-covered field, going, however, but a few rods in the direction of Leesburgh, as it was expressly understood that no violation of the rebel courtesy should be attempted.
The limbs of trees all around are marked by bullets, the decaying and odorous carcases of dead horses lay in frequent and unpleasant proximity to us, tattered hats, pieces of coming, bits of equipments, rooting hogs, and browsing cows were scattered here and there in all directions, while the hoarse "cawing" of the ill-omened crow formed a fitting accompaniment to to the dismal panoramic view. No troops were visible, and if they had been I shouldn't mention them, nor were there any indications of life anywhere save as above mentioned. Returning to the party, I found all were ready to retire from the field. The hospitable canteen was passed around, one and all drinking, but with how different a meaning, "Success to the right;" the exchange of daily papers was refused by Col. PALFREY, and farewell was said.
An after-examination of Capt. ALDEN's body disclosed a bullet-hole through his neck, a similar one at his right breast, with an exit at his left hip, and three bayonet-wounds in the left side and hip. An impressive funeral ceremony was performed at the Tammany camp, and the body, in charge of Mr. COMSTOCK, was sent to Washington, where it is to be embalmed, and from thence to be sent to New-York.
(Next: Roads to Leesburg)
20 Oct 1861: General George McClellan found Colonel Geary's official report on the recent skirmish at Harper's Ferry a lengthy read - but this bit was certainly of interest:
I am informed by authority deemed reliable that the enemy's forces consisted of the following troops, viz: The Thirteenth and Nineteenth Mississippi Regiment, the Eight Virginia Regiment of Infantry, Colonel Ashby's regiment of cavalry, and Rogers' Richmond battery of six pieces and one 32-pounder columbiad, all commanded by General Evans in person.
Evans was in command of troops at Leesburg - so if he'd just fought and lost a battle at Harper's Ferry, well, that could mean something. Of course, that little fracas took place four days ago - so even assuming Geary's information was reliable, Evans had had more than enough time to return to Leesburg if he'd wanted to...
But McClellan now had two reports from Stone and another from the observation point on Sugarloaf Mountain - along with further confirmation from citizens of Virginia McCall had encountered on his mission - that the Confederates had abandoned the town. Like the area immediately in front of Washington a few weeks back, it could be empty of enemy forces and ready for him to move in. Better, it could be almost empty - enough so that resistance beyond some token level would be futile - and he could capture a few prisoners when he moved in. That would certainly satisfy the reporters, who in turn could feed the hunger of that ill-informed portion of the civilian population in the North who didn't appreciate his recent overwhelming (and bloodless) triumph right in front of the nation's capital.
But he wasn't going to be rushed into any precipitous action - and he also had reports indicating Leesburg was anything but empty of Confederate troops. "The forces at Leesburg have been kept up to nearly 27,000" was the word he'd gotten from a potentially reliable source just two weeks ago. (Also that Johnston himself was in charge of them.) "Buxton" was the name this particular spy signed on his report. Frank Lacy Buxton was the name he'd used when reporting for the New York Tribune from Charleston the previous winter. He was an Englishman, and apparently that non-Yankee status helped keep some doors open to him down South, even after the war had begun in earnest. He could travel freely throughout northern Virginia, and did so - and passed his reports of what he learned on his travels to McClellan.
Though he'd described a large force at Leesburg, he'd also declared them ill-equipped.
I believe there is no intention to cross the river except on the Upper Potomac, where they make sure they could recross, before being interrupted. There is very little ammunition at Leesburg. A messenger was sent there for some for the troops near Winchester; he was told to go farther south, as they had only 24 rounds for each man.
If Buxton was right in believing they intended to cross somewhere on the upper Potomac they would certainly correct those shortages before doing so. But for now thousands of soldiers with little ammunition meant an opportunity existed that would soon be lost, and Buxton seemed aware of that. "Pardon my suggesting that if the national army advance shortly, and Occoquan Creek could be threatened at the same moment, there would be a general falling back upon Manassas," Buxton wrote, "and that by a prompt movement via Falls Church, and a simultaneous one on the part of General Stone, the whole force at Leesburg might be captured."
Buxton had since lowered his estimation of forces there - to 11,000. And now - though it certainly wasn't because of a suggestion from some spy, of course - McClellan had indeed moved McCall westward as far as Dranesville.
Of course, this put McCall at risk. The Confederates could strike him from the south, directly or by cutting off his return. If McClellan responded by moving Smith to support McCall the enemy could then cross the Potomac in force south of Washington. If McClellan didn't send additional troops in McCall's direction Beauregard could - and even if the enemy didn't follow up the destruction of McCall's Division with a crossing into Maryland above Washington the loss would do irreparable damage to Union morale - military and civilian. (Not to mention General McClellan's future as commander - which was the Union's last hope.) Given that he was woefully outnumbered, McClellan was playing a dangerous game, and he could not dare leave McCall exposed for very long...
Which brought him to the next item on his agenda - a just-received message from McCall. His original orders were to complete his mission and return today - but via courier this morning he'd sent word that he would not be able to complete his survey work in time. This was disappointing but hardly surprising; they'd likely gotten a late start after having the Commander of the Army of the Potomac himself relocate them to a proper camp site the previous evening. A near-disaster, that was - but on reflection, this delay could prove advantageous. McClellan had written his wife the previous day of his intent to frighten the rebels away from Leesburg, but to have any hope of actually doing so (assuming they hadn't already left - and either way he'd want to verify their departure) he'd have to let Stone in on the plan, too, and thus far he hadn't done that.
He turned to Colburn. "Tell McCall if he has to finish Monday to do so and return. And send a message to Stone. Tell him I've sent McCall to Dranesville, and this might give us a chance to drive the rebels from Leesburg. Suggest a demonstration on his part might accomplish that." He paused a moment for thought. He'd like to give more specific orders, but there was too much uncertainty for that. "It doesn't have to be anything big," he added. He hoped Stone would understand his intent (capture Leesburg...) and appreciate the danger posed by the 170,000-man strong Confederate Army south of the Potomac better than the reckless McCall had.
Once his adjutant had left he turned his attention back to the issue of Harper's. The cover was fine, depicting a blacksmith at work in an army camp. The text of his "Sabbath" order was a welcome inclusion, and the report on the rapid manufacture of rifles at Springfield was an excellent addition, too. But here in the very center of it all was a picture of the man who was indeed at the very center of it all.
A flattering likeness... and full page, big enough for subscribers to clip out and frame and hang on their walls. But it was almost embarrassing to see yet another example of how much his country idolized him. He'd have to be careful not to let this sort of thing go to his head.
"Message from General McClellan, sir." Stone accepted the paper, once again pondering briefly his good fortune to be in such close communication with headquarters via telegraph.
The day was already half gone, but it seemed the remainder of this Sabbath would not be devoted to rest after all.
(Next: News from Stone's)
A Mudville Veterans Day tradition, I first posted this one from Baghdad in 2004. My grandfather (whose grandfather fought for Ohio in the Civil War) was a medic on the battlefields in WWI, the letter reproduced below was to the girl back home who would become his wife.
Note: Veterans Day, 2007, and I'm in Iraq. And in November, 2004 I was also in Iraq. On that tour my mother sent me a copy of the following letter, written by her father from "somewhere in France" on November 11, 1918. His war was over - but a very few years later his sons would find themselves completing the mission. Take from that what lesson you would - for now, from two combat zones, from my family to yours, a safe and happy Armistice Day...
The following is transcribed from my grandfather's letter home from the front to my grandmother.
Somewhere in France
Nov 11, 1918
My dear ____
A few lines to you dear one to let you know that I am still on top and getting along O.K. Thank the good Lord for that.
I have not received any mail or had any chance to write any for about a week but the best of all is the war is over or just about so. The guns are on the q.t. now, thank God for that, and we hope and pray that they do not start again. We were almost blown of the map last night by shell fire but none of us were hurt but believe me we had some narrow escape. Though everything looks good today and we all expect to be home before many months. Unless the war starts up again in full blast, but we do not think it will start again for everything looks to be in our favor at present. The yanks sure have given the Huns a good whipping so I do not think they will be very anxious to start the ball to rolling again. And if they do the thing will not last very long so I hope to be back in the good old U.S.A. with my girl before so very long. Then I can tell you all about it. If possible I will send a message to you in the near future. That is if I find out just how things turn out over here and I can get any dope on how soon I will be starting back to the U.S.A. So do not be alarmed if you get a message from over here. But I would like if you will please let father and my grandparents know in case you do get a message from me. I have not had a chance to do much writing to any one for a few days, for we sure have been some busy over here. We are or have been cited by the general H.Q. of the A.E.F. for our work in the div. If possible to do so I will send you a copy of it soon. I am sending a German gas mask and a shoulder strap also a button off a Hun's coat. And I will send a helmet soon. In this letter I am sending a piece of paper gauze that the Huns must use in place of cotton for the wounded.
I must close this for tonight. We expect to be pretty busy for some time yet but I think I will have more time to write in the future than I have had. Please excuse the scribbling and the pen.
I remain as ever yours, hoping to be with you soon -
Love and best wishes to you and all,
Interesting that they were shelled on the day before the war ended - when everyone knew it was going to end the next day.
(Original post: 2004-11-11 18:19:51)
October 16, 1861 was the second anniversary of John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia - the intervening years had not been good ones for the town. Once a center of industry (the Shenandoah flowed rapidly downhill to meet the even more rapid Potomac there, providing abundant water power) Harper's Ferry was fast becoming a ghost town in more ways than one.
But Joseph Barry, one of the remaining citizens, found himself "employed" that day. By that point in the war "The baking of pies and the smuggling of whiskey" - mostly to soldiers of whichever army was the easiest to reach on any given day - "were the principal employments" of those citizens who hadn't abandoned their homes for safer climates North or South, Barry later recalled. "The whiskey business was exceedingly profitable and it was embraced by all who were willing to run the risks attending it (for it was strictly interdicted by the military commanders of both sides) and who were regardless of the disgraceful nature of the employment" - but he himself was performing more honest labor today.
Unfortunately, he wouldn't be paid for it.
Early in October Mr. A. H. Herr, proprietor of the Island of Virginius and the large flour mill on it, having a large quantity of wheat which he could not grind into flour -- his mill having been partially destroyed by some federal troops under Lieutenant Colonel Andrew, brother of the governor of Massachusetts, in order to prevent the confederates from using it -- and being a union man at heart, invited the government troops to remove the grain to Maryland. There being no bridge across the Potomac at the time, a large boat was procured and a company of the 3rd Wisconsin regiment impressed the few able-bodied men then at the place into the service of the government to take the wheat from the mill to the boat and ferry it across with the aid of the soldiers. The citizens were promised a liberal per diem, but that, like many other good promises and intentions, forms a part of the pavement of a certain region where it never freezes.
Hard times were upon them. "John Brown, on the day of his capture, prophesied the destruction of Harper's Ferry, to take place in a short time," Barry claimed - and whether the fiery abolitionist had made such a prophesy or not, no one could deny it had come to pass.
The destruction of the arsenal had been the first blow. Alerted to the approach of Virginia militia immediately following the state's secession, the federal troops had burned it before departing. Though the Confederates had salvaged much of the machinery from the flames, all of that had been sent off elsewhere, as it was correctly determined that more than a river should separate one nation's weapons manufacturing facilities from an enemy nation's army.
The county, like most in western Virginia, had sent Union men to the secession convention, and there was no shortage of Union sympathizers in the town. Leaders of the Confederate forces who'd moved in from elsewhere in the state - and soon enough from several other states - decided to correct that perceived deficiency. Barry recalled the first example - "a gigantic Irishman named Jeremiah Donovan, who immediately shouldered a musket and stood guard at the armory gate" when the commander of the federal troops there called on local citizens for aid. But after the soldiers had left and the militia arrived, Donovan was still in town...
Just at 12 o'clock on the night of April 18th, 1861, the southern forces marched into Harper's Ferry. Poor Donovan was seized and it is said that a rope was put 'round his neck by some citizens of the place who held secession views, and who threatened to hang him instanter. A better feeling, however, prevailed and Donovan was permitted to move north and seek employment under the government of his choice. The forces that first took possession of Harper's Ferry were all of Virginia and this was lucky for Donovan, for the soldiers of that state were the most tolerant of the confederates, which is not giving them extravagant praise.The remaining Union men of the town would not be so foolish as to display their sentiments so obviously in the future, so someone soon came up with another method to identify the unfaithful:
One evening the mail train was detained and the mail bags were taken away from the government agent by an armed posse. The letters were sent to headquarters and many of the townspeople to whom friends in the north and west had written freely denouncing secession, were put under arrest and some were in imminent danger of being subjected to the utmost rigor of military law.
As if the attention of their fellow Southerners wasn't enough, large numbers of Lincoln's "90 day men" were beginning to gather on the opposite side of the Potomac - most of them had no idea of the subtle political currents flowing on the south bank. The Fourth of July was celebrated that year with a minor skirmish across the river about a mile east of town. Barry gave the casualty figures as "Two men were killed on the Maryland bank and at least one was wounded on the Virginia side" - in a brief exchange of long-range gunfire that "effected little beyond putting the few old people who still clung to their homes at the place into a most uncomfortable state of alarm."
In the evening when the fight was over a sad occurrence took place whereby the community lost one of its very best citizens. When the confederates had retired Mr. F. A. Roeder walked towards the railroad office and, while he was sauntering about, a shot was fired from the Maryland side of the Potomac, which inflicted a mortal wound on him, of which he died in half an hour. It is known that the bullet was discharged at Mr. Ambrose Cross who, also, was on the railroad at the time. The man who thus deprived the place of a valuable citizen was an old bummer belonging to a Pennsylvania regiment, who had straggled from his command in Pleasant Valley and had become drunk, celebrating the "glorious Fourth" at Sandy Hook. Hearing of the skirmish at Harper's Ferry, he staggered towards that place and arrived after the end of the fight, and, when the enemy had retired. Seeing Mr. Cross on the railroad he fired off his gun at him, swearing that he would kill some d -- rebel anyway. The shot missed the object at which it was directed and, striking the end of Fouke's hotel, it glanced and hit Mr. Roeder, who, unfortunately, happened to be then coming 'round the corner of that building. The bullet tore a ghastly hole in his groin through which his intestines protruded. He managed to reach his home unassisted -- for there was scarcely an able-bodied man then at the place -- when death soon released him from his sufferings. Little did the slayer know and little, perhaps, would he care if he knew -- that the man he shot at -- Mr. Cross -- was one of the sternest Union men in the whole land and that his bullet proved fatal to one of the first men in the State of Virginia who dared to express sympathy with the Republican party.
And so things went for Harper's Ferry. Before they left for Manassas, (taking a few of the town's more notable "Union men" away with them as prisoners) the Confederates destroyed the railroad bridge across the Potomac. Shortly thereafter they sent a small force back to destroy the Shenandoah bridge, too - along with a few railroad cars and a rifle factory.
The Yankees passed through shortly after that, and likely noticed the town was no longer worth keeping. Still, "Patterson's army occupied Harper's Ferry for several days," Barry wrote, "and helped themselves to most of what was left by the rebels. Whatever may be said of their exploits on the field of battle their achievements in the foraging line are certainly worthy of mention in this and all other impartial histories of that period."
There followed a brief period of quiet for the town - or rather, what was left of it. But that ended soon enough when men in blue began appearing once again across the Potomac. Joseph Barry could never bring himself to appreciate the men of the 13th Massachusetts who now camped on the opposite shore.
These men were uncommonly zealous in shooting at rebels as long as they -- the 13th -- were on the Maryland side of the river with the broad Potomac between them and the enemy, or rather between them and Virginia for, now, it rarely happened that a Confederate soldier appeared anywhere within gun shot of them. Crouching under the buttresses of the ruined bridge on the Maryland side of the river in the now dry bed of the canal, or among the thickets and rocks of the Maryland Heights, the gallant 13th kept up a constant fire on the few inhabitants of Harper's Ferry, suspecting or affecting to suspect them of being rebels. Everything that moved about the streets they shot at vindictively. The appearance of even a mullein leaf swaying in the wind elicited a volley from these ever vigilant guardians of the nation, and it was lucky for the place that they were indifferent marksmen, else it would have been wholly depopulated. They had field glasses through which they watched the motions of the inhabitants and there is no exaggeration in saying that they shot at weeds set in motion by the wind, for it frequently occurred that volleys were fired at bushes which in no way could hide an enemy and which were noteworthy only because they were set in motion by the breeze.
"The writer is not prone to saying harsh things," Barry added, "but he cannot forget the many bullets shot at him by the above regiment and that a whole platoon of them once opened fire on him and a young lady in whose company he was at the time, actually cutting off with their balls portions of the lady's headgear."
By 16 October the federals and their new friends in Harper's Ferry had been busy for several days emptying Herr's Mill of several thousand pounds of wheat, and boating it across the river. (Abraham Herr had been one of those Harper's Ferry residents hauled off to Richmond for being a Unionist after having his mail examined a few months before, but had been paroled shortly thereafter.) Joseph Barry - who years later would compose a history of his town - participated in the great effort.
Even the sacred person of the future historian of the town was not spared, and many a heavy sack did he tote during several days, under the eye of a grim Wisconsin sergeant who appeared to enjoy immensely the author's indignation at his being put to this servile employment. Like the recreant soldier at Sing-Sing, the historian derived no benefit on this occasion from the smattering of different languages with which he is credited, while the sergeant was indifferent as to the tongue in which the writer chose to swear or to the number of anathemas he thought proper to vent against the world in general and soldiers in particular, he took care that the hapless author did his full complement of the work.
"Suddenly, on the 16th of October -- the second anniversary of the Brown raid -- while the citizens and soldiers were busy working at the wheat, a report reached them that Colonel Ashby, at the head of the Virginia militia, was approaching from Charlestown to put a stop to their work," Barry wrote. "The news turned out to be true..."
(Part ten is here...)
Barry, Joseph, The Strange Story of Harper's Ferry, with Legends of the Surrounding Country (1903)
November 7, 1861:
Lieutenant Henry Livermore Abbott was writing an urgent letter home from camp. One of his previous messages had not been received in the manner intended - or rather, had gone beyond its author's intent. In a just-received reply his father wrote him that it had been "circulated extensively" - this was not good. He needed to undo some potential damage... he'd simply dashed off a few lines, he now confessed, "I never dreamed of it going outside the family circle, when so many other better ones I supposed would reach home at the same time."
Abbott's ancestors had come to Massachusetts in the 1640s, and had served in the Revolution at least as early as Bunker Hill. Though by no means a military family Henry had two brothers also serving in the Union Army - all three had joined before the battle at Bull Run. Their father was Josiah Gardner Abbott, a successful lawyer (he'd declined an appointment to the Massachusetts Supreme Court the year before) and a most influential and respected member of the Massachusetts Democratic Party (Republicans had recently attempted to recruit him as state Attorney General on a "Union Party" ticket; he'd declined that offer, too) so the people "outside the family circle" among whom he would have circulated it extensively were people whose opinions mattered.
Abbott's first letter home after Ball's Bluff had been just a few quick lines dated the day of the battle, simply to assure his family he had survived unharmed. As brief and hurried as it was he'd still had the presence of mind to warn his father to "read to yourself" before he'd listed the names of those less fortunate young friends and neighbors who'd been killed, wounded or captured (along with "half of the men" of the regiment). It wouldn't do for Papa to read that sort of thing aloud before Mamma and the younger children at home.
Apparently his subsequent letters - one written from camp and dated the day after the fighting - had stirred things up. By that point the young lieutenant had already determined who was at fault (General Stone - though he didn't name him he left no doubt who he meant) and which units had displayed cowardice in the face of the enemy (the California - this he had seen for himself). What he'd compiled was actually a combination of fact, opinion, rumor and gossip passed through the filter of a nineteen-year old with a commission and a scant six months of military experience who'd just survived his first very bloody battle. Which of the tidbits he'd provided belonged in each category would be impossible for anyone else to sort out, but as with all such information each item was plausible, and all had the added weight of coming from someone who was actually there.
Some things he'd written were fair enough, and identified as what they were. For instance, his brigade commander's assessment (he'd been absent during the unplanned catastrophe) of the battle: "Gen Lander has just got back from Washington & is in a horrible rage, swearing that the thing is nothing less than murder." And while a matter of his own opinion, Henry Abbott certainly gave an apt description of the field on which it was fought: "It was in fact one of the most complete slaughter pens ever devised."
But several days had passed - even while Lieutenant Abbott was hearing more about what had really happened (or not happened), his first impressions were being distributed far and wide, and now he had to set some of those earlier misperceptions to right. So beginning with "Dear Papa" he tried his best to correct the record. The most egregious (in his opinion) mistake he confessed to was "to call the men who were placed in front of us & who ran away, California, they being in reality Tammany..." - he'd since become more familiar with the uniforms worn by the other regiments, he explained. In fact, he now admitted, his original description of the battle was "full, too, of other inaccuracies" - and there were certainly others who gave better, more informed accounts than his.
As for General Stone - he'd already defended the man in a letter to his mother three days before, so Papa would need no additional reassurance on that topic. Yes, Stone was certainly responsible for the massacre, but "I don't think he will be careless again," he'd assured her. In fact, it was the further considered opinion of her son the lieutenant that "the service would suffer in losing him" - thus "the public will have to rest in ignorance" of General Stone's "stupendous mistake." He hoped that such a staunch defense of his division commander would suffice; her letter prompting his response had a certain angry tone to it (though a "very natural indignation" was the phrase he'd used to describe her opinion to her in explaining why she was wrong)...
He signed off his letter to his father, re-read it and remembered something he'd meant to say - so he added it in a postscript. His friend George Perry "is reported by Southern papers a prisoner, unwounded." George was 'unofficially engaged' to Henry's sister Caroline (the main reason he'd urged his father not to read his first letter aloud), his fate had been uncertain, and the family had been dreadfully worried about him. It was always best to close with good news, he thought, then he hurried his letter off to the mail.
Other accounts (and partial accounts) from survivors of the battle were appearing in the papers. But in at least one case, the mere receipt of a letter was deemed newsworthy in its own right:
Recovering from his own wound, Lieutenant Oliver Wendell Holmes clipped the item from the paper. He was fairly certain he'd seen Putnam's amputated arm the day of the battle - in the field hospital on Harrison's Island, when Holmes was convinced he himself was dying. At least, he'd seen "a red blanket with an arm lying on it in a pool of blood - it seems as if instinct told me it was John Putnam's."
He also remembered "poor Willy Putnam's groans and his refusing to let the Dr. operate on him, saying he knew the wound was mortal and it would only be more pain for nothing." William Lowell Putnam - everyone called him Willy. Or lieutenant - as in "Poor Lieutenant Putnam," the surgeon recalled, "lying near the fireplace with his intestines projecting from a wound in his abdomen."
Just a terrible thing for the family, as Holmes - being Willy's cousin - well knew. The Putnams and Lowells were among the finest first families of Massachusetts...
He jotted "Boston Journal, Oct 31st" on the clipping and added it to his scrapbook.
Henry Abbott wrote home again on the 12th of November. This missive included no corrections about the nature of the battle - but he did include a request. "Poor Sergeant Riddle," he wrote, "has just had his arm taken off." (The surgeons had at first believed amputation might not be necessary, even though "the elbow was all knocked to pieces" - but now "after 3 weeks suffering, the arm is cut off, just above the elbow, & he is now, I think, much better.") Though not of the Harvard class, he was nonetheless "a very nice respectable fellow," and unfortunately "the first man shot in our regt." at Ball's Bluff. Apparently he had few people writing him - or at least, Henry believed he could benefit from more.
"Mrs Bartlett wrote him a letter a while ago. He was very much delighted to get it... I think Mamma might take advantage of his being in my company to consider him an acquaintance & write a letter to him. At any rate I should be very much obliged to her if she would, when she has a spare moment."
"Another of our men will have his right arm cut off in a day or two," he added in closing - before once again signing off on a positive note: "They all bear their wounds with remarkable fortitude."
(Part nine is here...)
Sunday, October 20, 1861: Major General George McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, had a pile of paper requiring his attention. Such was the price paid for spending time in the field. But here among the more urgent documents was a September issue of Harper's Weekly - one of his favorites. He'd already seen it, of course, but whoever had included it in this stack - doubtless for review at his leisure after reducing the rest of the pile - didn't know that. It was probably sent by one of his many admirers.
"What do you think I received as a present yesterday?" He'd written his wife Ellen (Nell, he called her) the previous week. "Some poor woman away up in the middle of New York sent me half a dozen pair of woollen socks--I beg pardon, I see it is from Pennsylvania, not New York. I enclose the note." From Pennsylvania to New York and beyond, America loved him... he picked up the issue of Harper's to see if it contained a note from a sender tucked somewhere in the pages. It did not.
Here on an early page, though, was one of his orders printed for all the world to see, under the headline "GENERAL McCLELLAN ON THE SABBATH."
The following order has been promulgated:
SPECIAL ORDER NO. 7.
HEAD-QUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, WASHINGTON, Sept. 6, 1861.
The Major-General Commanding desires and requests that in future there may be a more perfect respect for the Sabbath on the part of his command. We are fighting in a holy cause, and should endeavor to deserve the benign favor of the Creator. Unless in the case of an attack by the enemy, or some other extreme military necessity, it is commended to commanding officers that all work shall be suspended on the Sabbath; that no unnecessary movements shall be made on that day; that the men shall, as far as possible, be permitted to rest from their labors; that they shall attend Divine service after the customary morning inspection, and that officers and men alike use their influence to insure the utmost decorum and quiet on that day. The General Commanding regards this as no idle form. One day's rest is necessary for man and animals. More than this, the observance of the holy day of the God of Mercy and of Battles is our sacred duty.
Geo. B. McCLELLAN, Major-General Commanding.
S. WILLIAMS, Assistant Adjutant-General.
He, of course, would not need the Lord's forgiveness for working on this Sabbath - the Lord had chosen him for this task in the first place. He would give thanks that this particular Special Order had seen print somewhere it was likely to do some good. The public needed to know their General was looking out for their boys.
And he was busy enough this Sabbath that he didn't have time for further review of Harper's Weekly. The question of the day was Leesburg - specifically, should he take it or not? Or could he take it or not? How many of Beauregard's 170,000 (at least!) troops were there?
It began with a message from Stone a few days before.
Yesterday - the 19th - he'd sent McCall on his survey mission to Dranesville - and he himself had ridden out to join that division in the field. (There was a fine example of the sorts of troubles confronting McClellan as he tried to build an army from whatever components might be available. Old McCall had pitched camp two or three miles beyond Dranesville, and had to be recalled to the proper location by McClellan himself... and McCall was one of his most experienced division commanders!) The people in Dranesville had also claimed the rebel army had abandoned Leesburg. Their information was questionable, of course - it could be what Beauregard wanted him to believe, but while he was out with McCall another report had come from Stone.
It all sounded plausible, but on the other hand the entire thing might be a load of pickled pork. Information McClellan had just received from another valued source indicated 11,000 rebel soldiers remained in place at Leesburg...
Here was another pleasing story in Harper's - a look at the effort underway at the Springfield Armory to manufacture rifled muskets. "The army rifle, which is known as the Springfield pattern, is now used by the bulk of our volunteers, many regiments having been supplied from the armory since the war began."
"It is very similar in its principles and construction to the long Enfield rifle, which is considered the best piece in existence by British riflemen."
Numerous reports - public and otherwise - indicated the "Confederates" were well-equipped with Enfields. Soon enough the men of McClellan's Army of the Potomac would recognize the Springfield as more desirable. Regardless of which might be the "better" weapon - and they were close in that regard - the superiority of the Springfield would be established beyond all argument by the availability of spare parts. The real weapon was what one might call American know-how, and now Americans could read all about it - complete with illustrations (the production and delivery of such illustrated news being yet another modern technological wonder) - with American pride. (Down South, of course, they could read all about it with entirely different emotions...)
It consists of forty-seven separate pieces, all put together with the aid of screws and springs ; in the manufacture of these forty-seven pieces no less than 396 separate operations are performed by different workmen. The welding, boring, smoothing, rifling, stocking, proving, etc., will all be best understood from the illustrations. Each operation is conducted by experienced men, under the general direction of the commanding officer ; the system of individual responsibility is so thoroughly carried out that every workman accounts to the Government for the value of each piece of work which may prove to be defective through his carelessness or unskillfulness. Thus, one out of every sixty gun-barrels is said to burst when proved. The bursted barrel is instantly examined, the cause of the accident detected by the nature of the rent, and the cost of the barrel charged to the man who had charge of that part of the work.
It really was an advanced process they were using there, resulting in manufacture of unprecedented quantities at an unprecedented pace. Besides facilitating such mass production, in the end any rifle could operate with parts from any other rifle - "Interchangeable Parts" they called it, meaning that if any part of any rifle failed later it could be replaced easily enough. Loyal Americans would appreciate learning of this, and would appreciate this point even more: "So many rifles and bayonets are now being turned out of the Springfield Armory, that if our armies lost theirs in every battle they could be replaced in a very short time."
Nothing was too good for our boys - and that extended well beyond weapons. Clothing, food, gear, and transportation to the front for all of it - Northern industry was hard at work supplying George McClellan's Army of the Potomac; the world's largest army would also be its best-equipped. Soon enough - and to the glory of the nation capable of raising and equipping such a force - it would be unbeatable. Its commander would reap the benefit of that...
For now such thoughts must be banished. There was other business immediately at hand. He turned his attention to a map.
McCall was out even now, with 10,000-odd soldiers spending their Sunday on what amounted to practice movement - but also to gather information that would lead to better maps. Some of Smith's troops were out on a similar mission, but closer to their current flag pole. Across the Potomac, Generals Banks and Stone had another 20,000 or so troops practically in sight (or at least a few hours march) of Leesburg.
But where was the enemy?
(Part eight is here...)
November 5, 1861:
"Rebel Accounts of the Leesburgh Affair" read the headline in the New York Times. It had taken a few days for the news to travel from behind enemy lines, but New Yorkers could now read the story as presented in the October 29th issue of the Richmond (Virginia) Examiner.
The 42nd New York Volunteer Infantry - the Tammany Regiment - had been heavily involved in the fight, so there was more than passing interest in the battle here in their "home town." The story from Richmond was substantially different from the earliest reports New Yorkers had gotten from loyal Union sources immediately after the battle, and tragically - as subsequent reports from correspondents on the scene in Maryland and Washington revealed - more accurate, too.
News from the day of the battle, printed in the Times the day after, had included the tragic report of the death of Colonel Baker ("at the head of his brigade, while gallantly cheering on his men to the conflict"), but indicated confidence on the part of his superior, General Stone.
Sources for the Times report included a "telegram from Gen. STONE's command ... received at headquarters here" - meaning General McClellan's headquarters, so clearly its author had the inside information.
Rumors that the battle had been a disaster for the Union were also flying, but the Times headline on October 23rd read "THE FIGHT NEAR LEESBURGH; The National Troops Successful at all Points".
Furthermore, though the vastly outnumbered Northern forces on the right wing of the battle had fallen back, they had done so "in good order, carrying off all the dead and wounded." Earlier efforts had resulted in "the enemy repulsed whenever he appeared" - and even the fall back was merely a movement to a position of strength. "On reaching the position selected, the right wing turned, though under fire of the enemy, which gradually slackened until midnight, when it ceased."
However, on the heels of that report came word that no - the battle had indeed been a disaster.
Now, on the 5th of November, New Yorkers could read about what the people of Richmond had been doing while they'd been reading about the great Union triumph.
"There are now nearly 2,000 prisoners in Richmond," concluded the report, "and the sooner some hundreds are sent South the better. We are in a situation not unlike the man who got the elephant as a prize in a lottery -- he didn't know what to do with it."
Most New Yorkers would not be amused.
(Part seven is here...)
"About the 17th or 18th of October I became satisfied that there was a movement on foot in the army, and a fight impending. I announced my determination to return to my regiment. It was violently opposed, but I felt it to be my duty to make an effort to go with the brave boys who had stood so nobly by me at Manassas..."
Colonel Eppa Hunton was a Virginian, sir. One who would cut a dashing figure in the uniform of the Confederacy, mounted or on foot, leading fellow Virginians into battle. At this moment, however, he was bedridden, in his brother's home 25 miles - as the crow flies - from Leesburg and the regiment he commanded. But if his sense of a pending fight was correct then his regiment was threatened, and Virginia was in danger. Ailing or well, there was only one place for a true Virginian at such a time, and it was not in a sickbed.
Certain things were expected of a Virginian, after all, and Huntons had been Virginians for over 150 years. Eppa was thirty-eight years old, married with a young son (Eppa Hunton III) at the outset of the Civil War. After starting out as a school teacher, he had established a home - and a law practice - in Brentsville, the county seat of Prince William County. He had made something of himself there, and as was common with Virginians of his day, was well versed and deeply involved in politics. "I was a Democrat from my earliest youth," he could say with pride. "My father before me was a Democrat. All of the Hunton name were Democrats. I took an active interest in politics from the time I was grown, and was put upon the stump by my party in every presidential canvass from 1840."
In 1856 I was one of the delegates to the National Convention at Cincinnati. Franklin Pierce was President, and I favored his renomination, though my ultimate choice was R. M. T. Hunter, of Virginia. Mr. James Buchanan, of Pennsylvania, was nominated and elected.
Mr. Buchanan of Pennsylvania would prove himself a disappointment to many Virginians. "He was a good man, but timid," was Eppa's judgment.
"After the 'Cotton States' had all withdrawn from the Union they formed the Confederate States government at Montgomery, Alabama, with Jefferson Davis as President, and sent Commissioners to Washington to treat with the Buchanan administration for recognition as a nation. Mr. Buchanan promised time and again that he would recognize them, but his timidity interfered, and he postponed it until his term as President expired."This, unfortunately, left things in the hands of President Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, who in the opinion of any true Virginian (and most certainly that of Eppa Hunton) was "a rough man." In fact, "He was one of the most vulgar men that ever attained high position in the United States," Hunton declared forty years later. After his election a rift was certain; where Virginia stood on this most critical divide - with the vulgar northerners or with their sister states of the glorious South - was to be determined by a convention in Richmond. The voters of Prince William County elected Eppa Hunton as a delegate.
The morning I went to the convention, which was held in the Mechanics' Institute, a building on Ninth Street near Main, I found the lower room crowded with ladies. We had to pass through this room to get to the convention hall above. We found it impossible to pass. I made an appeal to the ladies to let me get by, explaining that unless the members of the convention could get upstairs there could be no convention. One of these ladies said to me, "Are you a secessionist?" I replied, "If I had my way I would vote the State out of the Union tomorrow morning before breakfast." She exclaimed, "Ladies, let him pass; he'll do!" They made a way for me to pass, and I went up to the convention.
Most of what followed amounted to what Hunton called "useless debate up to the time the ordinance was passed" - though the chivalrous Hunton would recall that those who delivered stirring speeches calling for secession would be favored with "beautiful flowers" from the fine ladies of Richmond, while an opponent would discover "There wasn't a lady of Virginia who sent him a flower."
Still, the result was uncertain until Lincoln called for troops in response to the taking of Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The ordinance then passed by a vote of 88 to 55. However, it was signed by all the delegates in a show of solidarity - except for "a few from the northwestern part of the State" (hardly the behavior of true Virginians) who departed the convention rather than add their names to the instrument of secession, and were of no account. ("These ... became violent Unionists in the war," Hunton added. Actions by certain other individuals from his state were more worthy of his condemnation. For example, "The command of the Union forces organizing to make war on the Confederacy in Virginia, was given to General Winfield Scott." Decades later, Hunton, perhaps with a hint of pride that the Yankees could find no one better suited to the task, declared General Scott to be "a renegade Virginian" and "degenerate son of Virginia.")
Though without any real military experience, since 1857 Hunton had also held the position (elected by the Virginia legislature) of Brigadier-General of Militia. But having affixed his name to one important document he immediately did so to another, resigning that commission. In the war he foresaw, Colonels would lead regiments of men in battle, and that was the place for him. "The Governor sent word to me that he would have plenty of work for me as Brigadier-General of Militia, and refused to accept my resignation," Hunton recalled - but he was persistent. "I sent again a peremptory resignation, informing him that if he would not appoint me a Colonel, I intended to resign as Brigadier-General of Militia and go into the ranks as a private."
The governor relented, and appointed him Colonel, with command of the Eighth Virginia Infantry Regiment. Before the delegates to the secession convention had rightly completed dotting I's and crossing T's he'd left Richmond to organize that regiment at Leesburg, in Loudoun County, Virginia, along the Potomac. He found himself commanding six infantry companies from Loudoun County, one company from Prince William, two from Fauquier, and one from Fairfax - along with Loudoun's cavalry and a battery of artillery to boot.
They were soon joined by a unit from Maryland - that somewhat conflicted state having failed to secede prior to being overwhelmed by Yankee troops, its true patriot sons were crossing the Potomac to join the rebellion. Though not Virginians, "This was a very fine company of soldiers" in the opinion of Colonel Eppa Hunton.
Captain Gaither's Maryland company, was stationed at Edwards' Ferry to prevent any crossing from the other side on the part of the Union soldiers. One night in June about 12 o'clock I received a dispatch from Gaither that the enemy was preparing to cross the river at Edwards' Ferry in large force. I instructed him to keep a sharp lookout and advise me if there was any real effort made to cross the river. I received a sensational dispatch from him every half hour, in which he said that the force was very large and was prepared to embark across the river. At last he reported that the force was crossing the river in large numbers, and he was about to be surrounded and captured.
This would prove to be a false alarm. However, Hunton had responsibility for the only train cars in Confederate hands on the Alexandria to Leesburg railroad (the Alexandria end being in Union posession) and orders from General Lee himself (of Virginia, sir) to burn them if necessary to keep them from the Yankees. On receiving Captain Gaither's warning Hunton promptly carried out that order. However, shortly thereafter Captain Gaither appeared "with his company unhurt." On further examining the situation, Hunton concluded the Yankees had not invaded, and declared himself "deeply indignant and mortified" that valuable assets critical to the conduct of the war (and eventual peace-time commerce) had been reduced to embers and ashes at his hands.
I was criticized for this, especially by the "Fire-side Generals," who said that I had become panic-stricken in Leesburg and burnt up the cars."I had no reason to doubt Captain Gaither in any particular and up to this time had thought very highly of him," Hunton reflected. Now, however, he could see his subordinate was "absolutely worthless as a military man, being excitable, emotional and unreliable in his reports."
"I sent Gaither with his company away, and he reported to General Joseph E. Johnston at Harpers Ferry. I went back into camp and resumed my regular duties."
As a true Virginian, he would carry on. "I never heard that any military man criticized me" for that action, he added.
Shortly after this incident, a second regiment was sent to Leesburg - the 4th South Carolina, commanded by a Colonel J. B. E. Sloan. Along with them came Colonel N. G. Evans of South Carolina. By date of rank he was Hunton's junior, but Colonel Evans was a West Pointer - a professional military man who had been present at the bombardment of Sumter. He was sent to Leesburg to assume command of all forces in Loudoun. For a Virginian - further, one who had so strongly urged his state to come to the aid of her southern sisters, this would prove a somewhat trying situation. It seems the gentlemen from South Carolina had opposite ideas about which state had come to the aid of the other...
The South Carolinians boasted very strongly of what they were going to do. They said they had come there to fight the war and to conquer a peace. They did not want the Virginians to do any of the fighting, but just to stand back and look on and furnish them with bread and meat. They would win the independence of the Confederacy.As if this barely tolerable situation wasn't bad enough on its own merit (or rather lack thereof), these non-Virginians managed to attract the attention of the fairer portion of the local population...
This talk was very captivating to the outsiders -- especially to the young ladies who had up to that time been very attentive to the young men of my regiment, but they deserted us and went over to the South Carolina boys bodily. They went so far as to call mine the "Cornstalk Regiment," Our boys were "cast down, but not dismayed." They pursued the even tenor of their way, became very efficient in drill, and anxious to do their duty as soldiers of the Confederacy.Clearly Colonel Eppa Hunton was an officer and a gentleman, and would soldier on without complaint. This entirely unacceptable situation did not last long, however. The real Yankee invasion was soon underway, and the regiments were ordered to Manassas - a railroad junction just north of Colonel Hunton's home in Brentsville.
We left Leesburg on the 18th of July. One of my companies in passing through the town put corn-stalks in their muskets to remind the girls that they called us 'The Corn-stalk Regiment.' Everybody knew that we were going down to fight, and the girls were very sorry for what they had said and wept sorrowfully about it.
The Corn-stalk Regiment would certainly make a distinct impression on those who witnessed their march: "When we went down from Leesburg to the fight at Manassas, Major Norborne Berkley, afterwards Colonel of the Regiment, insisted upon taking a daguerrean saloon, an old-time photograph gallery on wheels, as my headquarters..."
Colonel Eppa Hunton was familiar with the territory through which his Eighth Virginia Infantry marched.
I had been a resident of Prince Willam County for eighteen years preceding the war, and knew of the blind-road that led from Centreville to Sudley, and concluded that McDowell might use that road in a flank movement on Beauregard's left. I sent a picket of five mounted men some distance on this road. On the morning of the 21st this picket was driven in, and reported to me the advance of McDowell's army by this blind-road. I immediately reported it to General Beauregard; and I believe that this was the first information he had of McDowell's flank movement.Still, Colonel Hunton was deeply mortified to discover that in spite of his extensive knowledge of the area his regiment was assigned to act as a mere reserve force for the battle - perhaps destined to be the only battle of the war, and one fought in his own back yard.
General Cocke ordered me to take a position in reserve. I felt that I was no manner of use, and was deeply mortified that I was held in sound of the fighting and not allowed to take part. I sent word to General Cocke three times to let me go to the front. He replied that I must hold my position at all hazards; that it was a very important one. I could not see the importance of it at the time. Colonel Smith, of the 49th Regiment, rode by and when he saw me said: "What on earth are you doing here?" I replied, "Nothing in the world, and I'm exceedingly anxious to go to the front, but General Cocke won't allow me. He ordered me to stay here and hold this position at every hazard." "Well," said Colonel Smith, "General Beauregard wants you at the front." I replied, "I want to go and will be a thousand times obliged if you will report me to General Beauregard and get him to give me orders to go to the front." He said he would do it, and off he went.
Meanwhile, the first blow struck by the Yankees fell on none other than Colonel N.G. Evans of South Carolina, who distinguished himself that day by fighting valiantly enough against overwhelming odds to slow the Union advance long enough for Generals Beauregard (who was from Louisiana, sir) and Johnston (by grace of God a Virginian) to adjust their plan and deliver troops to where they were most needed. Eventually, Hunton's men were needed for the final charge on Henry House - a piece of property that had changed hands multiple times throughout the day. Along with several other regiments, the gallant Virginians "charged upon the Federal forces, carried the place, drove them entirely from the field, and held possession there for the balance of the day."
Following the battle, Colonel Hunton returned to his field headquarters in the mobile daguerrean saloon.
After the fight was over and I moved my regiment to the little town of Manassas, I occupied the saloon as my headquarters. It rained heavily the next day after the fight, and the old saloon leaked dreadfully. It was supposed by the victorious army of Beauregard to be an enterprise of some daguerrean artist, and hundreds of soldiers came to my headquarters to have their pictures taken to be sent home to their wives, their sisters, their mothers or their sweethearts. I was very much annoyed by it, and on our return to Leesburg the old saloon gave out and broke down about every five miles, and we had to incur a delay to repair it; but we finally got it back, to my very great relief. I never fooled with a daguerrean saloon as headquarters during the balance of the war.
Once again they were quite a spectacle - but this time a cheerful one. "We made our march to Leesburg, the citizens all along the road greeting the victorious soldiers with tumultuous joy, and welcoming their safe return to the County of Loudoun."
"I was then again in command of that portion of the country embracing Loudoun County and the Potomac River from Harper's Ferry to Drainesville," Hunton could say with rightful pride.
We were all perfectly delighted to get back to dear old Loudoun, and the people were all delighted to see us. They were amongst the best people I ever saw. A portion of them were disloyal to the Confederacy, but these were Germans and Quakers. Their religious belief put them in opposition to the war, and finally put them on the other side in hostility to the Confederate forces. With the exception of these the people of Loudoun were a unit in support of the Confederate cause, and sent as many troops, in proportion to the population, as any other part of the State."I felt very proud of my dear boys," Hunton declared of his regiment's performance at Manassas, "and believe they felt proud of me. I hope so." He could also cite General Beauregard's official report of the battle with some satisfaction:
"Colonels Harper, Hunton and Hampton, commanding regiments of the reserve, attracted my notice by their soldierly ability, as with their gallant commands. They restored the fortunes of the day, at a time when the enemy by a last desperate onset, with heavy odds, had driven our forces from the fiercely contested ground around the Henry and Robinson houses. Veterans could not have behaved better than these well led regiments."
Still, shortly after Hunton's own return to Leesburg Colonel Evans - now an acknowledged hero of Manassas - followed, with three regiments of Mississippi infantry, "a portion of cavalry, and one battery of the Richmond Howitzers" in tow. Hunton noted that "many of the soldiers were laid up with the measles. They were sent to Leesburg to increase the force there, and to give the sick soldiers a chance to get well in that fine country."
There was talk of a promotion to General in the works for Evans (and some talk of his conspicuous whiskey consumption on the battlefield, too), and Colonel Eppa Hunton was now merely one of four regimental commanders serving below the valiant South Carolinian.
Soon after this I was taken with a violent attack of fistula. I suffered from this trouble during the entire war, and, although I was operated on several times, it never healed until after the war. I suffered intensely, and was laid up in Leesburg for some time while my regiment was six or eight miles to the west of the town. I was attended by Dr. Armistead Mott, of Leesburg. Under his advice, about the 10th of October I borrowed a spring wagon from Mrs. George Carter, of Oatlands, hitched my war horse, old "Morgan," to it, and went down to my brother's, Silas B. Hunton, at "Mt. Hope." I had to put my camp bed into this wagon, and was carried there on the bed.
He was reunited with his wife and son there. He had seen them only briefly following the battle at Manassas. Even though they were only five miles away from the field at that time, General Beauregard had "refused positively" Hunton's first request for leave to visit them, reminding the colonel that "There are no such things as wives now; you are wedded to the Confederate cause."
And so there he was, near New Baltimore in Fauquier County Virginia, about the 17th or 18th of October, when he "became satisfied that there was a movement on foot in the army, and a fight impending."
I announced my determination to return to my regiment. It was violently opposed, but I felt it to be my duty to make an effort to go with the brave boys who had stood so nobly by me at Manassas.
There was more war to be fought after all, and worse things than being held in reserve. The heroic image would be that of Colonel Hunton bidding farewell to his loving family (who could no more stop him than the Yankees could - but unlike the Yankees had at last accepted the fact), saddling his horse and riding off to battle. But from his own account (written solely for those very family members), "I put my bed in my wagon and took leave of them all, and lying down made my trip to Leesburg..."
(Part six is here...)
Autobiography of Eppa Hunton (1933)
General Beauregard's mention of Colonel Hunton in his report on Manassas: The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 - Volume 2 page 500.
See also Beauregard's account of the battle in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War vol 1. Excerpt: