Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 35.djvu/84

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Southern Historical Society Papers.

turnpike traffic an unbroken quiet settled upon the village until the stillness was rudely broken on a memorable winter afternoon of 1861. The roar of cannon and the rattle of musketry announced to the village and the surrounding country that the tide of war, which had rolled at a distance, was now right at hand.


Compared with the mighty engagements of the after conflict, this so-called "battle" of Dranesville is but an insignificant incident in the War Between the States. Measured by the slaughter of such conflicts as Antietam, Gettysburg or Spotsylvania, it assumes little more than the dimensions of a hotly contested skirmish. Yet in that first year of the war it was called a "battle," and to it, at the time, there was attached an importance that at this day scarcely justified.

The press of the North proudly pointed to it as "the first Federal victory south of the Potomac." Secretary of War Simon Cameron wrote General McCall a few days after the battle: "It (the battle of Dranesville) is one of the bright spots that give assurance of the success of coming events, and its effects must be to inspire confidence in the belief that hereafter, as heretofore, the cause of our country will triumph... Other portions of the army will be stimulated by their brave deeds, and men will be proud to say that at Dranesville they served under McCall and Ord."

Small was the victory if victory it was at all yet the semblance of success went far towards relieving the gloom of the disastrous rout at Manassas and the bloody repulse at Ball's Bluff, which had occurred earlier in the year. The collision of five regiments of Federal with four of Confederate Infantry December 20, 1861, constitutes this battle.

The first Christmas of the war was approaching, and the joyous memories of this happiest festival of Christendom but emphasized the sorrow in countless homes, North and South, where anxious hearts awaited its coming oppressed by the lengthening shadow of the great national tragedy which had already begun. Already two deadly engagements had claimed their victims, and many a hearth was desolate.