The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz/Volume Two/7 War
THREE days after the emancipation meeting of the 6th of March, I returned to Washington and made my report to Mr. Lincoln. He was in high spirits over the event which, on the preceding day, had taken place in Hampton Roads. It was the epoch-making naval battle between the "Merrimac" and the "Monitor" — the introduction of the ironclad war-vessel to the history of the world. There was, indeed, ample reason for congratulating ourselves upon a narrow escape from incalculable disaster. On March 8th, the famous "Merrimac," an old vessel which had been sunk in Norfolk Harbor and then raised by the rebels, and which had been covered with a thick coat of metal plates and armed with an iron ram and a formidable battery, steamed out of the mouth of Elizabeth River, sunk or destroyed a number of United States men-of-war assembled in Hampton Roads, without being harmed in the least by their artillery, and thus demonstrated her ability to overpower any war-ship in our navy then afloat. When the news reached Washington, the members of the Cabinet rushed to the White House in a state of utter consternation. Some of them already saw that dreadful monster, carrying an apparently invulnerable armament, easily break up our blockade of Southern ports, or lay our seaport cities under contribution, or ascend the Potomac, and, with its shells, drive the government out of the National Capital. The next morning the terrible dragon came forth from Norfolk Harbor again to continue the work of unimpeded ruin. Then, all of a sudden, an insignificant-looking thing, resembling a small "raft with a large iron cheese-box" upon it, appeared on the scene and bade defiance to the rebel demon. It was the celebrated "Monitor," which, under the orders of the government, had been built by the famous engineer, Ericsson, and which had been quietly towed from New York to Hampton Roads. The savior arrived in good time. The "Monitor" proved as invulnerable as the "Merrimac," and even more effective. After a duel between the two champions, lasting several hours, the "Merrimac" retreated into Elizabeth River, and the "Monitor" remained in undisturbed possession of the field.
When I saw Mr. Lincoln the next day, his mind was still so full of the great event that it gave him evident delight to tell me the whole story. He described so vividly the arrival of the first tidings of disaster, and his own and the several Cabinet members' dismay at the awful prospect thus opened, and their sighs of relief when the telegraph announced the appearance of "the little cheese-box" which drove the rebel Goliath off the field, that I have been for years under the impression of having been personally in the President's room when it all happened, and when the despatches successively arrived. A careful scrutiny of circumstances convinced me at last — to my regret, I must confess — that I was not at the White House that day, but the day following. This is one of the cases which have made me very anxious to verify my memory by all attainable outside evidence in writing this story.
Before leaving Mr. Lincoln, I gave him as good a report as I could of our emancipation meeting on the 6th of March, and of the general situation in New York. Mr. Lincoln expressed his satisfaction with what had been done, and trusted that the public discussion of the subject would go on so as to familiarize the public mind with what would inevitably come if the war continued. He was not altogether without hope that the proposition he had presented to the Southern States in his message of March 6th would find favorable consideration, at least in some of the Border States. He had made the proposition in perfect good faith; it was, perhaps, the last of the kind; and if they repelled it, theirs was the responsibility. I remember how grave he looked when he said this. The merry twinkle, which had glimmered in his deep-set eyes when he told the story of the little cheese-box, had altogether given way to an expression of deep melancholy, as he added: "An awful responsibility either way."
The conversation then turned upon my own personal situation. I repeated to Mr. Lincoln that I wished to resign my position as Minister to Spain; that it was an intolerable thought to me to lead a life of ease and luxury and comparative idleness while the Republic was fighting for its life, and most of the men of my age were in the field at the post of danger; and that now, our relations with Spain being in a satisfactory condition, and my business of reporting to him on the public sentiment in Europe, and of lending a helping hand in quickening the anti-slavery current being substantially accomplished, I was anxious to enter the army. Mr. Lincoln said that, remembering how reluctantly I had gone abroad last June, he had thought about this himself, and had talked with Mr. Seward about it. Seward had told him that he was very well satisfied with my services; that I had won for myself a good position with the Spanish Government, and that he wanted me to go back to Madrid. Would I not consider the matter further for a week or two, or as long as I liked, and see Mr. Seward myself? This, of course, I could not decline to do. Mr. Seward, when I called upon him, was very kind, even complimentary; invited me and Mrs. Schurz to dinner, and urged me strongly not to give up the mission — which was very gratifying to me, inasmuch as originally he had, for very good reasons, opposed my appointment. But in all our conversations he did not with a single word mention the subject of slavery, an omission which I could not but think significant and disquieting.
The more maturely I debated with myself the question of returning to Spain, the more firmly I became convinced that, in such times, the true place for a young and able-bodied man was in the field, and not in an easy chair. I waited a reasonable time, so as to avoid the appearance of treating Mr. Lincoln's kindly admonition lightly, and then I told him that my mind was made up. "Well," said he, "I hope you have not forgotten that you are giving up a large salary and a distinguished and comfortable place to take one that pays little and will bring you plenty of work and discomfort and danger. Have you talked the matter over with that handsome, dear wife of yours?" Mr. Lincoln had seen Mrs. Schurz several times, and had apparently been much pleased with her appearance and conversation. "Yes," I said, "she thought it was pretty hard, but she is a good patriot." "If she agrees," said Mr. Lincoln, "then I do. I expected you to come to this decision, and I shall send your name to the Senate with the next batch of brigadiers, and I trust we can find you a suitable command." I was delighted, and thanked him most sincerely.
To take a young man like myself from civil life and make him a brigadier general for immediate service would have been regarded as a very strange, if not foolish, thing under ordinary circumstances. It did not appear so under those then existing. The government had to create an army of several hundred thousand men to be put into the field without delay. The youth of the country responded with enthusiastic alacrity to the President's call. In an incredibly short time the ranks were filled with young men from every conceivable station in life and every grade of intelligence. What was the government to do to provide the military organizations so formed, with the necessary officers? Our regular army was very small, its officers few. A comparatively large number of these few, who had been educated at the West Point Academy, had gone over to the service of the Southern Confederacy. Of those who remained, some had to stay with their regiments, while others were given commands with the volunteer troops. A few graduates of West Point, who had left the service, re-entered it, and were put at the head of regiments, brigades, divisions, corps, or armies. There were also a few men who had served as officers in State militia organizations, and had thus acquired a smattering of infantry or cavalry tactics in most cases not going beyond the drill of a platoon or a company. But the vast majority of the officers' positions, from lieutenancies up to generalships, had to be filled with persons taken from civil life who had no schooling in military service at all, but were selected on account of their general intelligence and their position among their fellow-citizens, which seemed to fit them for leadership on a smaller or larger scale. They would be obliged to learn the military business as they went on, and it was expected that soon the real military capacity and fitness for command would show itself. This is the way the great volunteer army was created, and the only way it could have been created. On the side of the Southern Confederacy the method of organization was substantially the same.
[At the time he entered the Federal Army]
There was, therefore, nothing out of the common, nothing of unusual favoritism, in my appointment as a brigadier general of volunteers. I had, perhaps, even a little advantage over many of my colleagues who had been appointed to the same grade on the same principle, in the military studies I had constantly and arduously pursued ever since my short service in the revolutionary army of the Palatinate and Baden in 1849. All the great campaigns of modern times had become quite familiar to me from a tactical as well as a strategical point of view, and as, in addition, I knew from experience how I would feel "under fire," I entered upon my new duties with the hope, and certainly with the desire, of rendering some service.
The military situation in the spring of 1862 was one of great uncertainty. The Union arms had achieved some important successes in the West and on the Atlantic coast. General George H. Thomas, a Virginian by birth, but a faithful Union man, had defeated a superior force of Confederates at Mill Spring, Kentucky. General Grant had taken Forts Henry and Donelson. Our victory at Shiloh spread consternation throughout the South, and so encouraged the most sanguine optimists at the North that they confidently predicted the speedy end of the war. An expedition under General Burnside occupied Roanoke Island, and thereby opened a large part of the North Carolina coast. Our victory at Pea Ridge, under Curtis and Sigel, drove the forces of the Confederacy from Missouri. The capture of New Orleans followed in April.
GENERAL GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN
"He was the 'young Napoleon,' the pet of the nation."
But while the arms of the Union thus advanced in the West and the South, the Army of the Potomac, organized by General McClellan, lay idle in front of Washington. General McClellan was then 36 years old. He had passed through West Point, had served with credit in the Mexican War, had in time of peace been distinguished by various extraordinary public employments, had witnessed part of the Crimean War as a representative of the American army, and left the service with the rank of captain to take private employment as an engineer, and was president of a railroad when the President called for volunteers. Living at Cincinnati, he was regarded by prominent citizens of Ohio as the proper man to lead the State troops, and the National Government, advised by General Scott, who knew McClellan and esteemed him highly, promptly made him a major general, and entrusted him with a comprehensive command. He conducted some successful operations in West Virginia against rebel forces consisting of a few regiments, and was called to Washington, after our defeat at Bull Run, to be put in charge of the Army of the Potomac, and, eventually, of all the armies of the United States. The people fairly yearned for a hero, and were ready to ascribe to the one who appeared now on the scene, all possible attributes of genius and character. McClellan was a man of handsome appearance, winning manners, and fine, soldierly bearing. The government gave him its full confidence, and freedom of action. The railroads poured an abundance of volunteer regiments into Washington, and swelled the army forming there into a mighty host. In organizing that host and putting it into the best attainable state of discipline, the young general was in his element. Neither did he neglect the spectacular part of the business. People came from afar to see him at the head of a brilliant staff, to which princes and counts from abroad were attached, galloping from camp to camp, and holding reviews and inspections. He was the "young Napoleon," the pet of the nation. The soldiers adored him, and the commanding officers were attached to him with warm personal devotion. The army under McClellan's command was by far the strongest and finest that had ever been assembled on this continent.
When the work of preparation had been going on for two or three months, and the Army of the Potomac continued to lay idle within the forts and entrenched camps surrounding Washington, in the face of the fortified batteries which the Confederates had defiantly placed within sight of it, a murmur of impatience arose in the country. The newspapers, still unused to warlike conditions, went on, for a while, discussing military affairs as something governed by a mysterious science. Every little movement was treated as the offspring of a profound strategical combination, and McClellan's persistent inactivity was spoken of as a masterly Fabian policy which would soon be followed by a sudden, magnificent, and decisive blow. But when day after day, without variation, and seemingly without end, the news was issued: "All quiet on the Potomac," a suspicion spread that it was not "all right on the Potomac." In the light of subsequent events and historical disclosures, it has become evident what the mystery of that inactivity consisted in. McClellan was a splendid organizer and administrator. He knew perfectly how to construct the engine of war. But when that engine was constructed, he hesitated to set it in motion. He was a learned soldier, and knew what a perfectly appointed army was; but he shrank from taking any risk with an army that, in his opinion, was not quite perfectly appointed. He forgot that many a time great successes had been achieved by armies that were very imperfectly appointed; that great marches had been executed without an abundant supply of shoes; that magnificent operations had been carried through and decisive victories won with means of army transportation that left something to be desired; that our Western troops, which had accomplished such important results, were not nearly as well provided as the Army of the Potomac was, and, especially that, if the Army of the Potomac still wanted this and that desirable thing, the Confederate army in front of it must, in the very nature of the case, be far more in want of the same things.
As to the condition and strength of the Confederate forces opposing him, General McClellan labored under fairly incredible hallucinations. He actually believed that they greatly outnumbered him. Indeed, if his information service had been ever so inefficient, the simplest reflection should have convinced him that the Confederacy, owing to its great inferiority in population and material resources, could not possibly have concentrated at any one point an army as large as his, and that their army could not possibly be as well equipped with the necessaries of warfare. But his mind was morbidly set upon the theory that the enemy was far superior in strength; that an attack from the rebels, which it would be difficult to withstand, might be expected at any time, and that, if he, General McClellan, were to save the Republic, as he felt himself ordained by Providence to do, he must have large reinforcements in men and materials. In fact, while reinforcements in every shape were flowing into Washington in an almost uninterrupted stream, and the government lavished upon the Army of the Potomac everything it could command, McClellan, with petulant persistency, asked for more, and more, and more, and, as subsequently turned out, denounced in his correspondence the President and his Cabinet as "imbeciles" because they would not give him the means and the authority he asked for to execute his "plans."
The situation at last became actually inexplicable. The summer and autumn months, the season of healthful air and good roads, came and passed, but McClellan did not stir. The winter came, and in spite of snow and ice and bad roads, the Western armies marched and fought, but "all quiet on the Potomac." The impatience of public opinion rose to something akin to exasperation. Mr. Lincoln, whom I visited from time to time, did not speak to me of the vain efforts he had made to urge General McClellan into action, but, when military affairs were mentioned, I could clearly perceive that he was very much troubled. It was like an outburst of desperation when he issued his "General War Order No. 1," that "the 22d day of February, 1862, be the day for a general movement of the land and naval forces of the United States against the insurgent land and naval forces." There was an abundance of "movement," and of successful movement, too, in other parts of the country, even before the 22d day of February, but McClellan's splendid army continued to stand still for some time after that day as if rooted to the ground. McClellan persistently asserted that his force was lamentably inadequate to an attack on the enemy in his front, and pressed upon the President the transfer of his army to the lower Chesapeake, and an operation thence upon Richmond, a plan which Mr. Lincoln finally accepted. That he did not during that long period of hesitancy on the part of McClellan, which was full of contrarieties and disappointments, remove that General from command, is one of the most debatable points in Mr. Lincoln's conduct of the war. Perhaps he had no more promising officer to put in McClellan's place. Perhaps he felt himself restrained by important political considerations. McClellan was a Democrat. The Democratic party had taken up his defense, and it was thought desirable to avoid occasions for political jealousies and splits.
Suddenly, on the 9th of March, the startling news arrived that the Confederates, under command of General Johnston, had evacuated the position in front of the Army of the Potomac, and retired behind the Rappahannock. McClellan started his whole army in pursuit, but did not reach the rearguard of the Confederates, who had been preparing their retreat for some time and were well ahead. McClellan subsequently asserted that the Confederates had left their position for the reason that they had been informed of his design to attack Richmond by the "Peninsula" between the James and the York Rivers, and that Johnston had hastily removed his forces for the defense of the Capital of the Confederacy. But this fiction has been thoroughly exposed by the documents contained in the Confederate archives, which show conclusively that the rebel force in front of McClellan, instead of outnumbering the Union army opposed to it, was not even half as strong, was ill disciplined, and poorly provided; that it stood in constant dread of an attack by the overwhelmingly superior force of the Army of the Potomac, while McClellan apprehended the coming of an overwhelming attack from the Confederate army; and that, as, in spite of McClellan's hesitancy, he was bound to attack in the spring, it was deemed wise to evacuate a position considered untenable against McClellan's great host. There was a burst of grim laughter all over the country when it was reported that, in the fortifications abandoned by the Confederates, so-called "quaker-guns" were found — logs of wood that had been painted so as to resemble heavy cannon — and that our army had stood still, awed by that formidable artillery frowning down upon it from the hostile breastworks!
General McClellan had hardly started on his Peninsular campaign when he stopped again for weeks before a long line of rebel entrenchments defended by a small force which might have been easily broken through by a resolute attack. And then his morbid delusion began again that the enemy greatly outnumbered him on the field of operations, and he vociferously complained that he had not men enough; that the naval forces did not co-operate with him, and that the government withheld from him the necessary support — while in fact his forces were vastly superior in strength to those of the enemy in his front, and he might have triumphantly executed his plan, which originally was in itself not a bad one, had he made prompt, resolute, and vigorous use of his time and his means. And finally, after much heroic fighting on both sides, McClellan, at one time within sight of the steeples of Richmond, retreated before what he called the "superior forces" of the rebels, and congratulated himself upon "saving his army."
On the 11th of March, President Lincoln had issued an order creating three military departments, that of the Potomac, under the command of General McClellan; the Mountain Department, embracing the country west of the Department of the Potomac, and east of a north-and-south line drawn through Knoxville, Tennessee, to be commanded by General Frémont, and the Department of the Mississippi, west of the Mountain Department, under General Halleck. Soon after my nomination for a brigadier generalship had been confirmed by the Senate, I was ordered by the War Department to report to General Frémont for duty.
GENERAL JOHN C. FRÉMONT
Schurz' first commander in the Civil War
While I was waiting in Washington for my confirmation and assignment, I had again to undergo the tribulations of persons who are supposed to be men of "influence." The news had gone abroad that in America there was a great demand for officers of military training and experience. This demand could not fail to attract from all parts of the globe adventurous characters who had, or pretended to have, seen military service in one country or another, and who believed that there was a chance for prompt employment and rapid promotion. Washington at that period fairly swarmed with them. Some were very respectable persons, who came here well recommended, and subsequently made a praiseworthy record. Others belonged to the class of adventurers who traded on their good looks or on the fine stories they had concocted of their own virtues and achievements. Being myself of foreign birth, I was approached by many of those who came from Germany, or Austria, or France, with the expectation that I would naturally be disposed to make especial exertions in their behalf. In some cases, having satisfied myself as to their antecedents and qualifications, I willingly did so, and two of them, Major Hoffman, who had been an engineer officer in the Prussian army, which he had left for honorable cause, and who had then served with Garibaldi in his remarkable campaign for the liberation of Italy, and Captain Spraul, a former Bavarian officer, who had also joined Garibaldi, I caused to be appointed "additional aides-de-camp," a military grade especially created for such appointments, and took them upon my own staff, where they did excellent service. Hoffman remained in government employment as an engineer long after the close of the war. One of the best men that came here at that time was Captain Hubert Dilger, who had served in the artillery of the Grand Duchy of Baden. He greatly distinguished himself as one of the most brilliant artillery officers in our army, and I had the good fortune of having him in my command for a considerable time.
In other instances my experience was different. A young man, calling himself Count von Schweinitz, presented himself to me neatly attired in the uniform of an Austrian officer of Uhlans. He was very glib of tongue, and exhibited papers which had an authentic look, and seemed to sustain his pretensions. But there were occasional smartnesses in his conversation which made me suspicious. He may have noticed that I hesitated to trust him, for suddenly he ceased to press me with his suit. I learned afterwards that he had succeeded in obtaining some appointment, and also in borrowing considerable sums of money from two foreign Ministers. Finally it turned out that his mother was a washerwoman, that he had served an Austrian officer of Uhlans as a valet, and that as such he had possessed himself of his uniform and his master's papers.
Another foreign nobleman sought my intercession, of whose genuineness I soon became fully convinced. He was a young German count whose identity was vouched for by a member of the Prussian Legation. Moreover, there were no smartnesses at all in his talk. He had a long row of ancestors, whom he traced back for several hundred years. He was greatly impressed with the importance of this fact, and thought it would weigh heavily in securing him a position in our army. If he could only have an "audience" with the President, and lay his case before him, he believed the result could not be doubtful. He pursued me so arduously with the request for a personal introduction to Mr. Lincoln, that at last I succumbed and promised to introduce him, if the President permitted. The President did permit. The count spoke English moderately well, and in his ingenuous way he at once explained to Mr. Lincoln how high the nobility of his family was, and that they had been counts so-and-so many centuries. "Well," said Mr. Lincoln, interrupting him, "that need not trouble you. That will not be in your way, if you behave yourself as a soldier." The poor count looked puzzled, and when the audience was over, he asked me what in the world the President could have meant by so strange a remark.
Another saying of Mr. Lincoln, of a similar kind, made the rounds at the time, and was very much enjoyed. I cannot vouch for the truth of the anecdote, but it is so strikingly Lincolnesque that there is a strong probability in its favor. I have never seen it mentioned anywhere, and so I may be pardoned for inserting it here. It was to this effect: An Englishman, who had traveled far and wide over the United States, called upon Mr. Lincoln, and told him of the impressions he had received of various parts of the country. Speaking of social conditions and habits, he said, among other things, that to his astonishment he had heard that many gentlemen in America were in the habit of blacking their own boots. "That is true," said Mr. Lincoln, "but would gentlemen in your country not do that?" "No; certainly not," the Englishman replied with emphasis. "Well!" said Mr. Lincoln, quietly, "whose boots do they black?"
It is not my purpose to give in what now follows anything pretending to be a valuable contribution to the military history of the Civil War. I shall rather confine myself to the description of some personal experiences, with occasional glimpses of important historical events.
As soon as I had received my order to report for duty to General Frémont in the Shenandoah Valley, I called upon Mr. Lincoln to take leave. He was most kind, wished me "good luck," and said at parting — as he had done when I started for Spain — that he wished me to write to him freely whenever anything occurred to me that I thought he ought to know. This I had soon occasion to do.
After a somewhat adventurous journey, I joined General Frémont's army at Harrisonburg, Virginia, on June 10th, 1862, and reported myself for duty. When Frémont was a candidate for the presidency in 1856, his personality had appeared surrounded by a romantic halo as the great "Pathfinder" who had opened a large and mysterious part of the continent to the knowledge of his countrymen, and who was thought to possess abilities of an extraordinary order. At the beginning of the Civil War, I heard him spoken of in Washington as one of the coming heroes of the conflict, in almost extravagant terms. I remember especially Mr. Montgomery Blair, the Postmaster General in Mr. Lincoln's administration, insisting that Mr. Frémont must at once be given large and important military command, and predicting that the genius and energy of this remarkable man would soon astonish the country. Frémont was, indeed, promptly made a major general in the regular army, and entrusted with the command of the Department of the West, including the State of Illinois and all the country from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains, with headquarters at St. Louis. But he sorely disappointed the sanguine expectations of his friends. He displayed no genius for organization. There was much sluggishness and confusion in the assembling of troops, most of whom were wretchedly equipped for active duty. There was no unity of command. The administrative branches of the service were in a most unsatisfactory condition. Frémont's headquarters seemed to have a marked attraction for rascally speculators of all sorts, and there was much scandal caused by the awarding of profitable contracts to persons of bad repute. But Frémont won the favor of advanced and impatient anti-slavery men by the issue of an order looking to the emancipation of slaves within his department, which Mr. Lincoln found himself obliged to countermand, seeing in it an act of military usurpation, and a step especially inopportune at a time when the attitude of some of the Border States was still undetermined. But it gave Frémont a distinct political position which, when in consequence of the disorder in the Department of the West, his removal from that command had become necessary, may have induced the administration not to drop him altogether, for, under the circumstances then existing, this might have looked like a political punishment, and disaffected many good people. Thus he was given another chance of service at the head of the Mountain Department.
But in that sphere of action he was no more fortunate. He was operating in West Virginia, protecting railroads and putting down guerrillas, when the renowned rebel general, Stonewall Jackson, made his celebrated raid into the Shenandoah Valley, driving Banks before him to the Potomac, and apparently threatening to cross that river, and to make an attack upon Washington. This, however, Jackson did not attempt, but having succeeded in gathering up stores and in disturbing the plans of the Washington government, he turned back and rapidly retreated up the Shenandoah Valley. Frémont was ordered to intercept, and, with the co-operation of Banks' and McDowell's troops, to "bag" him. This required some forced marches, which Frémont failed to execute with the expected promptness, a failure which excited the dissatisfaction of the administration in a marked degree. Frémont, having failed to "bag" Jackson, followed him up the Shenandoah. He had a sharp but indecisive engagement with the enemy at Cross Keys, near Harrisonburg, whereupon Jackson went on to rejoin the main rebel army near Richmond, and Frémont fell back to Harrisonburg with the intention of retiring further down the Shenandoah Valley to Mount Jackson.
LIEUTENANT-GENERAL “STONEWALL” JACKSON
The most brilliant of Lee's lieutenants, whose vigorous flank movement against the Federal forces at Chancellorsville might have completely destroyed them and made a turning point in the War, if he had not been accidentally shot and mortally wounded by his own men in the very hour of victory.
I arrived at Harrisonburg late in the evening of June 9th, a day after the action at Cross Keys. There were confused reports about the result of the fight, some telling of a glorious victory, others of a bloody disaster. On the morning of the 10th, I started to join the army, but I soon met officers bringing the news that General Frémont had ordered a retrograde movement and would arrive in town in a few hours. Presently troops began to come in, marching in rather loose order. The men looked ragged, tired, and dejected. I heard a good deal of hard swearing in the ranks in various tongues, English, German, and Hungarian — signs of a sorry state of mind. A troop of neat-looking horsemen appeared, patiently making their way through the throng, and stopped at a house which, as I was informed, had been taken for General Frémont's headquarters. It was the General himself with his staff. As soon as they had dismounted, I presented myself with my order of assignment. To be admitted to General Frémont's presence was a matter attended with some ceremony. There had already been complaints at St. Louis, as I learned, that General Frémont was "difficult to be seen." He was surrounded by a body guard consisting mostly of Hungarians, brave soldiers who on occasion did excellent service, but who also contributed much to the somewhat unusual "style" which was kept up at Frémont's headquarters. As I afterwards observed, Frémont himself had a taste for that sort of thing. When I was finally introduced by Colonel Zagonyi, one of the Hungarian aides-de-camp, the General received me kindly, and at once promised to have a suitable command arranged for me without delay. It was my first meeting with Frémont. I saw before me a man of middle stature, elegant build, muscular and elastic, dark hair and beard slightly streaked with gray, a broad forehead, a keen eye, fine, regular features. It has been said that there was much of the charlatan in him, but his appearance at that time certainly betrayed nothing of the kind. There was an air of refinement in his bearing. His manners seemed perfectly natural, easy, and unaffected, without any attempt at posing. His conversation, carried on in a low, gentle tone of voice, had a suggestion of reticence and reserve in it, but not enough to cause a suspicion of insincerity. The whole personality appeared rather attractive — and yet, one did not feel quite sure.
Our first conversation was rather short and formal, but about an hour later he sent for me to give me an elaborate exposé of his recent operations and his present circumstances. He had received from Washington a telegraphic order to stay at Harrisonburg, while he thought it best to take his command further down the Shenandoah Valley into a more secure position. He considered himself still threatened by Stonewall Jackson, who was reported to have received heavy reinforcements, giving him a decided superiority in numbers. This report was incorrect, but it was credited by other Union commanders in that region. Frémont, therefore, thought it necessary to put his command in a position more easily defensible. Whether he knew or guessed that Mr. Lincoln wanted me to write to him, I do not know. At any rate I gave him no reason for thinking so. But he evidently wished me to form the most favorable judgment of his past action and of his purposes. What he told me of the miserable condition of his troops, I found to be but too true when I reviewed the regiments that were to constitute the two little brigades of my division — two regiments of New York Volunteers, the Fifty-fourth and the Fifty-eighth, two from Pennsylvania, the Seventy-fourth and the Seventy-fifth, one from Ohio, the Sixty-first, and one from West Virginia, the Eighth, besides two batteries of artillery, and a company of cavalry. Most of the infantry had belonged to Blenker's division, which, on the 1st of April, had been detached from the Army of the Potomac and ordered to join Frémont in the Mountain Department. For weeks it had wandered westward, most of the time over wretched roads, sometimes, it seems, without clearly defined direction, in districts of country where "you could not find forage enough for a mule," ill equipped and ill provisioned. In substantially the same condition they took part in Frémont's ineffective attempt to intercept Stonewall Jackson, and in the battle of Cross Keys, where they fought bravely. And in that condition some of them passed under my command. As soon as we were settled at Mount Jackson, and I had, as well as I could in a few days, satisfied myself by personal observation as to the actual state of things, I availed myself of the privilege given me by Mr. Lincoln to report to him what I had seen and what I thought of it. While I could not justify the lack of celerity in Frémont's movements, I could conscientiously say that, if Frémont had marched more rapidly and succeeded in placing his forces athwart Stonewall Jackson's line of retreat, he would probably not have been able to stop the enemy, very much superior numerically, commanded by the fiercest fighter of the South, but would have exposed himself to a disastrous defeat. To be sure, a very self-reliant and resolute commander would eagerly have taken the risk and strained every nerve to be on the decisive spot on time. Frémont evidently was not of that class. To him, the difficulties in the way were a matter of first interest. It must be owned that they might well have discouraged a man of no more than ordinary inspiration. I thought it my duty to give them due weight in my letter to Mr. Lincoln. I described the reduction of the regiments from the strength of 1000 men each to an average of not more than 400; their destitution in tents, knapsacks, clothing, and shoes, many of the men "marching barefooted through mud and over rocky ground"; the miserable condition of the horses, having fed for a considerable time on nothing but the grass around their camps; the artillery horses hardly able to drag their pieces; only one company of cavalry in the whole army tolerably mounted; the temper of discontent among officers and soldiers, who thought themselves neglected; the lack of properly organized and equipped pioneer companies. I actually observed that, when the march of the army was impeded by the breaking down of a little bridge, an axe had to be borrowed from a farmer to repair the damage, thus stopping the army for an hour, when the bridge might have been made serviceable in five minutes by a properly appointed pioneer company. I also ventured upon some general suggestions as to the necessity of more unity of command in this field of action to secure concert of purpose and movement, the "see-saw business," as it had for some time been going on there, wearing out the strength of the army for no useful end. Mr. Lincoln, in a telegraphic despatch, acknowledged the value of the information I had given him, but could not see why Frémont should not have been strong enough successfully to intercept Jackson in the Valley, when he was strong enough to fight Jackson creditably at Cross Keys. There was, however, this essential difference between the two occasions: that, being intercepted on his line of retreat in the Valley, Jackson would have fought him with might and main to break his way through Frémont's inferior force, while at Cross Keys, having actually effected the freedom of his retreat toward the main Confederate army, he fought merely to repel an attack upon his rear guard.
Two weeks later, unity of command on that field of operations was really effected. On June 26th, President Lincoln issued an order providing that "the forces under Generals Frémont, Banks, and McDowell, including the troops now under Brigadier General Sturgis at Washington, shall be consolidated and form one army, to be called the Army of Virginia," and to be under command of Major General Pope. Of this army the troops of the Mountain Department were to constitute the First Army Corps, to be commanded by Major General Frémont. Upon receipt of this order, General Frémont promptly asked the President to relieve him of his command, for the reason that the position assigned to him was "subordinate and inferior to those hitherto conceded" to him, and because the subordinate command to which he was now assigned would "virtually and largely reduce his rank and consideration in the service of the country." Secretary Stanton replied that the other Major Generals Banks and McDowell, had cheerfully consented to serve under the orders of a junior in rank, but Frémont's request was at once complied with, and, as no other command was conferred upon him, he disappeared from the scene of military action. Two years later he emerged again from retirement for a little while as a candidate for the presidency, nominated by a small conventicle of radicals dissatisfied with Mr. Lincoln's administration. And later, he was heard of only as a business speculator, leading a precarious existence, vibrating between that of a multi-millionaire and a pauper. Finally he died in obscurity, leaving behind him a dim, shadowy myth of quondam glory as the great "Pathfinder" and the first Republican color-bearer.
GENERAL FRANZ SIGEL
In the place of Frémont, the President appointed General Franz Sigel as the commander of the First Army Corps of the Army of Virginia. The German-American troops welcomed Sigel with great enthusiasm, which the rank and file of the native American regiments at least seemed to share. He brought a splendid military reputation with him. He had bravely fought for liberty in Germany, and conducted there the last operations of the revolutionary army in 1849. He had been one of the foremost to organize and lead that force of armed men, mostly Germans, that seemed suddenly to spring out of the pavements of St. Louis, and whose prompt action saved that city and the State of Missouri to the Union. On various fields, especially at Pea Ridge, he had distinguished himself by personal gallantry as well as by skillful leadership. The popular war-cry, "fighting mit Sigel," had given his name an extraordinary vogue.
Thus General Sigel seemed to enter upon his field of activity in the East under the most propitious circumstances. But in the course of events I have become convinced that, as regards his personal interests as well as his usefulness, he made a great mistake in leaving the West. The very prestige he had won in the West exposed him to peculiar troubles and dangers in the East. There is no less professional jealousy among military men than there is among musicians or actors. This is human nature. That the officers of the regular army, the West-Pointers, when they saw so many civilian volunteers appointed to high grades and commands, should have been stirred to a grudging discontents and that they should have clubbed together for the protection or advancement of the pretentions or claims of their class, may sometimes have been deplorably injurious to the public interest, but it was not surprising. On the whole, it must be admitted that, while the war developed not a few volunteer officers of great merit, the class of professional soldiers who had graduated at our great military school furnished by far the largest number and the most efficient of the superior commanders in the field. It was the same in the Confederate army. At the West there were comparatively few West-Pointers to take the larger commands. The volunteer element was overwhelmingly predominant, and the relations between the two classes of officers naturally assumed a more democratic character. At the East the number of West-Pointers in our army was much larger and their "esprit de corps" more pronounced and exclusive. They would tolerate with good grace the appointment to high grades or the promotion of civilian volunteers who were men of local importance or who had distinguished themselves. But when a volunteer general, and a "foreigner," too, was transferred from the West to the East as a man of superior qualities and military competency, who might perhaps teach them something, it went much against their grain, and that man was often looked upon as a pretentious intruder and obliged to encounter very watchful and sometimes even rancorous criticism.
Moreover, General Sigel was not well fitted to meet the difficulties of such a situation. He possessed in a small degree that amiability of humor which will disarm ill-will and make for friendly comradeship. His conversation lacked the sympathetic element. There was something reserved, even morose, in his mien, which, if it did not discourage cheerful approach, certainly did not invite it. That sort of temperament is rather a misfortune than a fault, but in Sigel's case it served to render the difficulties of his situation more difficult at critical periods. However, his prospects seemed to be bright enough when he began his career in the East.
As to myself, after I obtained my command, I was busy studying and performing my various duties and endeavoring to win the respect and confidence of my officers and men. Some of the colonels in the army corps, especially those who had, in one country or another, received some sort of regular military training, were little edified when they saw me put over their heads, and I had reason for believing that in private they occasionally gave vent to their feelings. Among the minor officers and the rank and file, I enjoyed a certain popularity, but it was not of the military kind. These things, however, did not trouble me seriously. First, I earnestly endeavored to provide for the wants of my troops, and as we had the good fortune of several weeks' rest, during which government supplies arrived, good cheer and contentment gradually returned to our camps. For this my men gave their new commander more credit than he deserved. At the same time I had occasion to let my officers know that I knew something of our business. I inspected our picket lines by day and by night, and corrected several mistakes in the placing of our outposts, which my colonels promptly recognized to be necessary. On the 9th of July, we marched from Mount Jackson across Thornton's Gap to Sperryville, and it was noticed by officers and men that the march of my command was conducted with more order and comfort than they had been accustomed to. At Sperryville, as soon as the troops were sufficiently rested, I began a series of division drills under my personal command, including the formation of my two brigades in column, deployment for action, formation for attack, changes of front, and similar evolutions. One of these drills was watched by General Sigel, who accidentally came by. He was unusually profuse in commendation, and remarked that he wished such things were more frequently done in the army. I was even more pleased by a visit from Colonel Alexander von Schimmelfennig, commanding the Seventy-fourth regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, in my first brigade — the same Prussian officer Schimmelfennig who, thirteen years before, had served in the revolutionary army of the Palatinate, and who, in the winter of 1849-50, at Zurich, in Switzerland, had given me military instruction. Now he was my subordinate. "Your division drill was very good," said he; "very good; where did you learn these things?" "First from you!" I replied, "and then from the books you recommended to me to study, at Zurich, you remember." "Very good," he repeated, evidently pleased. "You have studied well; now let us do as well when the bullets whistle."
I felt with great satisfaction that I had much advanced in the respect and confidence of my officers and men. But the severest and most essential trial was still to come; and it came before many days. On the 8th of August we received marching orders. Although the subordinate commanders knew little of the ulterior purposes of our movements, the general situation of affairs was understood to have become critical. McClellan's great Peninsular campaign dragged discouragingly on. The Army of the Potomac no longer threatened Richmond, and General Lee, who in the meantime had been advanced to the head of the Confederate army of Northern Virginia, felt himself free to enter with his main forces upon offensive operations menacing Washington, and to invade the North. General Halleck was put in the place of McClellan as General in Chief of the armies of the United States — an appointment which inspired the people and the troops with little confidence and no enthusiasm. The administration had selected for the command of the Army of Virginia General Pope, who, indeed, on some occasions had rendered fine service in the West, but whose elevation to so important a post caused much head-shaking among military men. Halleck resolved to withdraw the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula, and to bring it to Pope's aid. At the very start General Pope managed to make an unfavorable impression by one of those indiscretions which an untried leader should be most careful to avoid. He issued a proclamation "to the officers and soldiers of the Army of Virginia," in which he said such things as these: "I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary, and to beat him when he was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense. I presume that I have been called here to pursue the same system and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so, and that speedily. Meantime I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases which I am sorry to find so in vogue amongst you. I hear constantly of 'taking strong positions and holding them,' of 'lines of retreat,' and of 'bases of supplies.' Let us discard such ideas," and so on. There was in this a good deal of boasting not altogether well founded, and some almost contemptuous criticism of Eastern officers and soldiers not altogether merited, and likely to stir up among these a feeling of resentment. In less than two months the boaster was to repent of every word of it. In July, Pope, having three army corps, Sigel's, McDowell's, and Banks's, at his disposal, was aiming at Gordonsville and Stanton, and thus at the railroad forming the important artery of communication between Richmond, the Confederate Capital, and the West, and pushed some of his forces, under Banks, forward to Culpepper. But Stonewall Jackson, with 25,000 men, advanced against Banks, who had only a greatly inferior force on the ground, and met him near Cedar Mountain. Sigel was ordered to hurry to the support of Banks. We broke camp at Sperryville on the afternoon of August 8th, and marched all night. The night was hot, but the next day much hotter. After having rested a little while at Hazel River, we continued, in the morning, our march to Culpepper, where we arrived at 2 p. m. It was my first experience of a march with the thermometer up high in the nineties. It must have been well above eighty at the moment when the sun rose — like a huge, angry, red-hot ball. By nine o'clock his rays blazed down with inexorable fierceness. There was not a cloud in the sky, and no breath of air stirring. The dust raised up by the marching column hardly rose above the heads of the men, and enveloped them like a dense, dark, immovable fog bank, within which a black, almost indistinguishable mass struggled onward. As we expected to meet the enemy, I had instructed the commanding officers of brigades and of regiments to keep the marching column well closed up, and to prevent straggling as much as possible. No doubt, they did their best. But as the sun rose higher and the heat grew fiercer, discipline gave way. The men, burdened with their knapsacks and blankets, their guns, and their cartridge belts heavy with ammunition, their faces fairly streaming with sweat, their mouths and nostrils filled with an earthy slime, their breasts panting with almost convulsive gasps for breath, their eyes wide open with a sort of insane stare, dragged themselves along with painful effort. Each man feeling the heat increased by the nearness of his neighbor, and seeking to have the comfort of as much elbow room as possible, the army lost its orderly compactness and spread over the fields to an irregular breadth. Wherever there was a run of water, or a well, or a pool, hundreds would rush to it and tumble over one another to slake their ferocious thirst. Hundreds threw away their knapsacks, and even their blankets. Scores dropped by the wayside, utterly exhausted. Many of them lay there in fits of vomiting. I rode along the column to cheer up the marching men and to encourage those prostrate on the ground. Some of my German regiments had, early in the morning, been singing their native songs. I asked them to try again, and the attempt was actually made, but it failed dismally. Their throats were too much parched to have any music left in them. Among those who were lying down some had spirit enough to struggle up to their feet and salute and say: "Never mind, General, we shall get there somehow." Others were, as they said, about ready to give up and die, it might be here just as well as anywhere else; but march on, they could not. When about 2 o'clock p. m. we entered Culpepper, some of the regiments looked but little larger than mere color-guards. But during the short rest allowed us, those who had promised to "get there somehow" came bravely in, and even most of those who had been ready to give up and die rejoined their companies, so that when we resumed our march a short time later, we had almost fully regained the strength with which we had started from Sperryville the day before. The knapsacks and blankets that had been thrown away were picked up and brought on by the regimental train wagons following the column.
Between four and five o'clock we heard the booming of artillery in the direction of Cedar Mountain. It was the expected battle between Banks on our, and Stonewall Jackson on the Confederate side, and we were to hasten to the support of Banks. We had hardly marched two miles from our resting place when we met a number of straggling fugitives from the battlefield, who told us gruesome stories about "terrible slaughter," about "Banks's army having been all cut to pieces," and about the rebels being "close on their heels in hot pursuit." We tried to stop and rally the runaways, but with small success. A regiment with its colors and a number of officers came on in an evidently demoralized condition, but still maintaining something like order. There were, however, only some two or three hundred men in its ranks. The officer commanding it said that the battle was lost, that they had been overwhelmed and driven from the field by vastly superior numbers, and that he was without orders. Seeing our troops marching on in good shape, he seemed to take heart and stopped his hasty retreat. We learned that General Sigel, who was ahead of us with the advanced guard, General Milroy's brigade, had also succeeded in gathering up some of the dispersed troops and especially two batteries of artillery in full retreat, the commanders of which willingly placed themselves under General Sigel's orders. When we had caught up with General Sigel, the cannonading still going on, he put General Schenck's and my division in position, but the rebels ceased their attacks, and the fight stopped without our becoming actively engaged.
General Banks had indeed been badly beaten after a gallant struggle against a hostile army outnumbering him four to one, but the victorious Jackson, becoming aware of the strong reinforcements massing against him, withdrew across the Rapidan. On the 11th we had a day's truce between the two armies for the purpose of caring for the wounded and burying the dead. Confederate and Union officers met on the battlefield of Cedar Mountain and exchanged polite compliments. The famous cavalry general, "Jeb" Stuart, a figure of martial elegance, was one of the Confederate generals. I am sorry I did not have any conversation with him, for I could not help feeling myself attracted by that handsome young enemy, looking so gay and so brave.
GENERAL J. E. B. STUART
Stonewall Jackson having withdrawn his forces across the Rapidan, our army took position along the course of that river, Sigel's corps forming the right wing. Meanwhile General Lee brought up the bulk of the Confederate forces from Richmond to unite them with Jackson's and then to overwhelm Pope in his exposed position. It became known that he planned a grand attack on Pope's right, whereupon Pope ordered a general retreat to the line of the Rappahannock. This movement was begun on the 18th. Our corps marched northward and reached Sulphur Springs on the 20th, where we crossed the Rappahannock and marched southward on its eastern bank, reaching, about noon of the 21st, the neighborhood of Rappahannock Station, where McDowell's corps was camped. At the same time the Confederate forces under Jackson, and behind him Longstreet's, were marching up the river on its western bank. It was our business to observe them closely and to keep them from crossing. McDowell had a fight on the 21st with a part of Longstreet's corps which lasted several hours and kept the enemy on the western side of the river. On the 22d, our corps was at Freeman's Ford, and in order to inform himself about the enemy's strength and the movements on the other side of the river, and to disturb those movements if possible, Sigel ordered me to send a regiment of infantry across the river to reconnoiter. I selected Colonel Schimmelfennig's Seventy-fourth Pennsylvania. Schimmelfennig forthwith forded the river, the water reaching up to the belts of the men, ascended the rising open field on the other side, crossed a belt of timber, on top of it, and saw a large wagon train of the enemy moving northward with its flank apparently unguarded. He promptly captured eleven heavily laden pack-mules and several infantry soldiers, and also observed troops marching not far off. His booty he sent to me, with the request that the two other regiments of the brigade be thrown across to support him if he were to do anything further, and to secure his retreat in case the enemy should try to get between him and the river. The two regiments, the Sixty-first Ohio and the Eighth Virginia (loyalists), went over, led by General Bohlen, the brigade commander. Although, in the regular order of things, I was not required as commander of the division to accompany the brigade in person, I followed an instinctive impulse to do so, this being my first opportunity to be with troops of my command under fire. I placed a mountain howitzer battery on an eminence to sweep the open field and the roads on the other side in case of necessity, and then I crossed with some members of my staff. Colonel Schimmelfennig's foresight in asking for help proved well founded. When he proceeded to subject the rebel wagon train to further annoyance, Trimble's brigade of Stonewall Jackson's rear-guard suddenly turned about and fell upon our right flank, and the two regiments brought to Schimmelfennig's aid were at once hotly engaged. The onset was fierce, and my Eighth Virginia broke and ran. My first service on the battlefield thus consisted in stopping and rallying broken troops, which I and my staff officers did with drawn swords and lively language. But now Hood's Texas brigade of Longstreet's vanguard following closely Jackson's wagon train rushed upon our left flank and threatened our rear. The situation became serious. I then ordered the Seventy-ninth Pennsylvania and the Sixty-first Ohio, which had remained firm, to make a bayonet charge upon the enemy in front and toward the left, which was executed with drums beating and a great hurrah. The enemy recoiling a short distance, this gave us a little more freedom to extricate our regiments from the embrace of vastly superior numbers. Then we retreated. When our regiments were out of the woods they went down the field to the river at a somewhat accelerated pace. Forthwith our artillery opened to keep the enemy from venturing into the open, but they pushed a skirmish line to the edge of the woods to send their musket balls after us. General Bohlen fell dead from his horse, shot through the heart. I thought it would not do for the division commander and his staff officers to retreat in full view of his command at a gait faster than a walk. So we moved down the river in a leisurely way. I did not cross the ford until my regiments were all on the other side. When I rode up the bank the brigade drawn up there in line received me with a ringing cheer. I met General Sigel, who had watched the whole operation. His first word was: "Where is your hat?" I answered: "It must be somewhere in the woods yonder. Whether it was knocked from my head by a rebel bullet or the branch of a tree, I don't know. But let us say a rebel bullet. It sounds better." We had a merry laugh. "Well," said Sigel, "I am glad you are here again. When I saw you coming down that field at a walk under the fire from the woods, I feared to see you drop at any moment."
This occurrence itself served a good purpose as to my relations to my men. From that moment on they were fully convinced that wherever I might order them to go, I would be ready to go myself. My standing with them was now well established. And many years later I had the satisfaction of reading in General Sigel's reminiscences the following sentence referring to this incident: "This was General Schurz's first fight in the American Civil War, and he acquitted himself very bravely." I may be forgiven if this sounds like a little bit of bragging. Every soldier is apt to indulge in that weakness after his first affair, and he will be likely to continue so if that first affair remains the only one. Further experience usually has a sobering effect.
This Freeman's Ford fight amounted to very little as it was. But it might have become of importance had it been followed up by a vigorous push of our forces assembled at and near Freeman's Ford to break into the rebel column of march just at the point where Jackson's wagon train passed along and only his rearguard and Longstreet's vanguard were within immediate supporting distance. Sigel at once reported to General Pope what had happened, but no further orders came. I will not describe in detail all the marches and counter marches which followed. Suffice it to say that the troops were moving day and night with but slight interruptions for rest, and ill provided, the regimental wagons of the different corps as well as the ammunition and provision trains having become almost inextricably mired. I remember to have been at one time continually in the saddle for more than thirty hours, only changing occasionally from a tired mount to a fresh one. It was then that I learned to sleep on horseback.
The men were hungry and terribly fatigued, as repeated night marches almost without rest will always fatigue the soldier. Moreover, they were disquieted by strange rumors flying about — rumors which proved true — that Stonewall Jackson, with a force of 26,000 men, had worked his way through Thoroughfare Gap to the north of us, had swooped all around Pope's flank — his famous "foot-cavalry," as his infantry was called, having made a march of fifty miles in thirty-six hours — and pounced upon Manassas Junction, where Pope's supplies and ammunition were stored, helping himself to whatever he could use and carry off, and burning the rest. "Jeb" Stuart's troopers, accompanying Jackson, had even raided Pope's headquarters at Catlett's Station. It was a brilliant stroke, but at the same time most hazardous, for Pope's largely superior forces might have been rapidly concentrated against him, with Longstreet, his only support, still far away.
There was again a chance to "bag Jackson." Indeed, at nine o'clock of the evening of the 27th, Pope directed McDowell with Sigel "to march rapidly on Manassas Junction with their whole force." But that same night, Jackson left Manassas Junction and marched northward to the old battlefield of Bull Run, there to take position and to await the arrival of Longstreet, who was to join him by way of Thoroughfare Gap! After much confusion in the transmission of dispatches and orders, and a bloody collision between a part of Jackson's force and General King's division of McDowell's corps on the evening of the 28th, it was at last ascertained where Jackson was. He was far from being "bagged." With his three divisions he stood immediately west of Bull Run and north of the Gainsville-Centreville turnpike, expecting Longstreet, with a force of about equal strength coming from Thoroughfare Gap, to join his right wing within a few hours. The best we could do was to beat him before Longstreet's arrival. Immediately against him Sigel's corps drew up, about 9000 men strong, south of the Gainsville-Centreville turnpike; on its left Reynolds' division near New Market; King's division on the road from Gainsville to Manassas, near Bethlehem Church, and Rickett's division on the same road near Dawkin's Branch, under the command of General McDowell. Meantime some parts of the Army of the Potomac having come up from the Peninsula, had joined or were joining us. Of these Fitz-John Porter's corps, about 10,000 strong, stood further south on Dawkin's Branch, forming our extreme left. Heintzelman's corps, with the divisions of Hooker and Kearney, marching on from Centreville, was within supporting distance of our right. Reno's corps was also approaching and arrived on the 29th, while the corps of Sumner and Franklin were on their march toward Centreville. The corps of Banks was detached for the protection of our wagon trains. Not counting Banks, Franklin, and Sumner, Pope had about 60,000 men with at least 120 pieces of artillery at his disposal. His cavalry force had become well-nigh unserviceable by the operations of the preceding days.
The question whether a great battle should be fought by Pope at that time and on that spot, was open to two answers. One was in favor of falling back with his whole force to Centreville, where he would have found ample supplies of provisions and every other needful thing for his troops, as well as a reinforcement of two veteran army corps of about 10,000 men each. This would have greatly increased the fighting capacity of his troops and given us an almost overwhelming numerical superiority, obliging Lee either to abandon the field or to accept battle under very unfavorable conditions. On the other hand, there was the chance of catching and beating Jackson before Longstreet would arrive to reinforce him — a thing which might have been accomplished by a prompt, vigorous, and skillful use of the means at hand. Pope, who had bragged so lustily when he took command, may have thought that he could not afford to fall back upon the Army of the Potomac for help when the time for fighting had come, and the famous second battle of Bull Run was the result.
Will the reader be interested in the description of a Division Commander's personal experience in a battle?
It is about daybreak. My two little brigades are still in bivouac, finishing their scanty breakfast, crackers and thin coffee. This is all, for the regimental wagons are still mixed up with the general train. Then the troops fall into line, silently, without bugle signals, for we are in the immediate presence of the enemy. As the sun rises in a cloudless August sky, they are ready to march. Looking round, I see to the right and the left a considerable expanse of open ground with some slight elevations and a few scattered houses surrounded by trees, houses already famous from the first battle of Bull Run; in front of me a little affluent of Bull Run, called Young's Branch; beyond this, some patches of timber, and farther on a long stretch of forest. General Sigel's corps, about 9000 men strong, forms the right wing of our army, and my division, the right wing of Sigel's corps. I receive the order to advance and attack. Not the slightest sign of the enemy is to be seen. He is supposed to be posted in the woods yonder, but just where and in what strength, nobody knows. All is perfectly still. Neither do I hear anything stirring on my left, where I am to connect with Milroy's brigade, nor beyond, where Schenck's division of Sigel's corps stands, nor beyond that, where several divisions of other corps are supposed to be. However, my orders are positive and clear: "Advance at sunrise and attack." Evidently I am to open the proceedings of the day. My command quickly fords Young's Branch, and on the other side I promptly form it in order of battle, first line deployed, second line, 150 paces behind in column, skirmish line well ahead, flanking party on the right; right wing, Col. Schimmelfennig's brigade, left wing, Col. Krzyzanowski's, my artillery so placed as to command the edge of the forest before me. I gallop along the front to say a last word to the commanding officers. The troops begin to cheer, but are promptly stopped because we want no noise.
At a brisk pace the skirmishers pass the detached groups of timber and enter the forest. The line of battle follows at the proper distance. No sign of the enemy. A quarter of an hour elapses. Perfect stillness all around. Are the enemy there at all? But hark! — two musket shots in rapid succession, apparently near the spot where my skirmishers are to join Milroy's. I hear the clear ringing of those two shots now. Then a moment's silence, followed by a desultory rattle of musketry along the line. No more doubt; we have struck the enemy. The rattle is increasing in liveliness and volume, but the enemy's skirmishers seem to be falling back. "Seem to be" — for we can see very little. The woods are thick, permitting no outlook to the front nor to the right or left, beyond a few paces. Moreover, they are soon filled with white powder smoke. I am impatient to advance my line of battle with greater energy. But the troops, having marched forward through thick forest with tangled underbrush, the ranks are broken up into irregular little squads. The company officers, shouting and waving their swords, do their utmost to hold their men together. Still they press on. I cannot see anything except what is immediately around me. The troops are out of my hands. I am with Krzyzanowski's brigade, and conclude only from the firing I hear on my right, that Schimmelfennig's is in its place, hotly engaged. But lo! here is an aide-de-camp bringing me a message from Schimmelfennig: "All right so far, but the devil to pay ahead. Examine the two prisoners I send you." The prisoners stand before me — stalwart, wild-bearded, weather-beaten, ragged, simple-minded looking men. I examine them separately, and they tell the same story. Stonewall Jackson confronts us with two divisions, each about 8000 strong. This agrees with the reports we have received of his strength. Jackson expects Longstreet to join him inside of a few hours.
There is indeed "the devil to pay ahead." Stonewall Jackson, the most dashing rebel general, with at least 15,000 men of the best Confederate infantry, right before me, and I have, at best, 3000 muskets. What is to be done? Notify Sigel, and hope for reinforcements. Meanwhile, keep a cool head and a bold front. Perhaps Jackson does not know how weak I am. Meanwhile, my skirmishers have advanced well-nigh half a mile under the weird clatter of rebel bullets against leaves and tree trunks and branches. The line of battle, such as it is, is after them. But now the rattling fire of skirmishers changes into crashes of musketry, regular volleys, rapidly following each other. We have evidently struck Jackson's main position. Now, "Steady, men! Steady! Aim low; aim low!" My men still advance, although slowly. Another messenger from Schimmelfennig with ominous news. He has observed heavy bodies of troops in the open at some distance from his right, coming toward him. He does not know whether they are Confederate or Union troops. I send him the only regiment still unengaged of Krzyzanowski's brigade, to face the mysterious new-comers, and to find out who they are. The roar in my immediate front continues. Brave old Milroy, who commands on my left, startled by what he subsequently calls in his report the "tremendous fire of small arms" on my line, sends me two of his regiments to help me in what he considers my stress. At the same time, General Steinwehr, commanding the second division of Sigel's corps, hurries on with one of his regiments, the Twenty-ninth New York, which I can put in reserve. A third message from Schimmelfennig. The body of troops apparently threatening his right have disappeared again — no doubt a Union force coming from Centreville. I heave a deep sigh or relief, and call back the regiment I had sent to his aid. It comes none too soon. The rebels make a vicious dash against my center and throw it into confusion. But we succeed soon in restoring order, and with a vigorous countercharges we regain the ground we had won before.
It is now about ten o'clock — nearly five hours since we have gone into action. An officer announces to me that General Kearney of the Army of the Potomac has arrived in my rear and is looking for me. I find him in the open just outside of my woods — a strikingly fine, soldierly figure, one-armed, thin face, pointed beard, fiery eyes, his cap somewhat jauntily tipped on the left side of his head, looking much as we might expect a French general to look. He asks me about the state of the action and the position of my command, and requests me to shorten my front a little toward my left, so as to make room for his division on my right. I gladly promise this, and despatch orders to Schimmelfennig accordingly. Poor Kearney — he had not three days more to live.
Kearney has hardly left me when I hear a tremendous turmoil in the direction of my center — the rebel yell in its most savage form, and one crash of musketry after another. I conclude that the rebels are making another and more furious charge. I order the commander of the artillery to load his pieces with grape-shot, and the Twenty-ninth New York, held in reserve, to be ready for action. Not many minutes later, three of my regiments, completely broken, come tumbling out of the woods in utter confusion. A rebel force in hot pursuit, wildly yelling, gains the edge of the forest and is about to invade the open, when the artillery pours into them one discharge after another of grape, and the Twenty-ninth New York, volley after volley of musketry. The rebels are stopped, but still hold the edge of the woods. The Twenty-ninth advances, firing, and behind it, sword in hand, we rally the broken regiments. The routed men present a curious spectacle: some fierce and indignant at the conduct of their comrades; some ashamed of themselves, their faces distorted by a sort of idiotic grin; some staring at their officers with a look of helpless bewilderment, as if they did not understand what had happened, and the officers hauling them together with bursts of lively language, and an incidental slap with the flat of their blades. But the men are quickly rallied and reformed under their colors. A few encouraging words revive their spirits. "Never mind, boys! Such things may happen to the best of soldiers. Now, forward with a hurrah!" The hurrah is given, we rush upon the enemy, and the line we had occupied is promptly regained. On my right, Schimmelfennig's brigade remained perfectly firm, and Krzyzanowski's left had yielded but little.
Presently an officer of the corps staff comes at a gallop, he hands me a letter addressed by General Sigel to General Kearney, which I am to read and forward. Sigel requests Kearney to attack at once with his whole strength, as the rebel general, Longstreet, who is to join Jackson, has not yet reached the battlefield, and we have still a chance, the last, to beat Jackson alone. This is good sense. Instant action being necessary, I prepare at once for another charge, and hearken eagerly to hear Kearney's guns on my right. But I hear nothing. Probably Sigel's request conflicts with orders Kearney has received from his own immediate superiors. But construing Sigel's request as implying an instruction for myself, I order a general advance of my whole line, and put in every man I have. It is gallantly executed with a hurrah. The enemy yields everywhere. The brave Col. Soest of the Twenty-ninth New York falls at the head of his men, seriously wounded. On my left the fight comes to a stand at an old railroad embankment, nearly parallel with my front, which the enemy use as a breastwork, and from behind which they pour a galling fire. On my right, Schimmelfennig's brigade, by a splendid charge, gains possession of this embankment, and goes even beyond it, but is received there with so murderous a cross-fire of artillery and infantry that it has to fall back; but it holds the embankment firmly in its grip. General Sigel sends me two small mountain howitzers, which I put at once into the fire-line of my left brigade. With the aid of their effective short-range fire, that brigade, too, reaches the embankment and holds it. The enemy repeatedly dashes against it, but is hurled back each time with a bloody head.
But my hope that on my right the troops come from the Army of the Potomac under Kearney and Hooker, would attack at the same time, is sorely disappointed. Had their whole force been flung upon Jackson's left in conjunction with my attack in front, we might have seriously crippled Jackson before Longstreet's arrival. Now, if I have gained any advantage, I am far too weak to pursue it. The old story of the war — to be repeated again and again — time and strength and blood uselessly frittered away by separate and disconnected efforts of this and that body of troops, when well-concerted action of all of them together might have achieved great and perhaps decisive results.
While on my right all is quiet, I hear on my left, where Milroy, and, beyond him, Schenck's division stands, from time to time heavy firing, which sways forward and backward, from which I can only conclude that the fight is carried on with varying success.
It is about two o'clock of the afternoon, and the fight about my railroad embankment has dwindled into a mere exchange of shots between skirmishers, when I am advised by General Sigel that my division is to be relieved by the troops of Generals Kearney and Hooker, and that we are to be put into a reserve position. I cannot say that this news is entirely unwelcome on account of the condition of my regiments. They have been under fire for eight hours, almost without intermission. They have suffered the loss of a large number of officers and soldiers in killed and wounded. The men still in the ranks have well-nigh reached the point of utter exhaustion. Their stomachs are as empty as their cartridge boxes. The water in their tin flasks has long given out, and for hours they have been tortured by that agonizing thirst which nobody knows who has not, on a hot summer day, stood in the flaming fire-line of a battle without a drop of water to moisten his tongue.
Pursuant to General Sigel's order, I withdraw my regiments, one by one, as their places are filled by the men of the Army of the Potomac. I can truthfully say in my official report to my superiors: "Thus the possession of that part of the woods which my division had taken and held, was in good order delivered to the troops that relieved me." I had every reason to be proudly satisfied with the conduct of my officers and men.
My division being rallied in the open, a comfortable distance behind the line of battle, my first duty is to look after the wounded, of whom there are a great many. I have to confess that now, for the first time that day, I become conscious of a strong sympathetic emotion. While in action and absorbed by the duties of the moment, I had hardly noticed the falling of men near me, and their moans and exclamations. But now! The stretchers coming in dreadful procession from the bloody field, their blood-stained burdens to be unloaded at the places where the surgeons stand with their medicine chests and bandages, and their knives and uprolled sleeves and blood-smeared aprons, and by their sides ghastly heaps of cut-off legs and arms — and, oh! the shrieks and wailings of the wounded men as they are handled by the attendants, and the beseeching eyes of the dying boy who, recognizing me, says with his broken voice: "Oh, General! can you not do something for me?" — and I can do nothing but stroke his hands and utter some words of courage and hope, which I do not believe myself, and commend him to the special care of the surgeon and his men — and such scenes one after another — I feel a lump in my throat which almost chokes me.
Having seen my wounded cared for as well as I can, I visit my regiments bivouacking near by. The roar of the battle is still thundering hardly a mile away, but some of our supply wagons have found their way to our position and added, not much, indeed, but something in the way of more crackers and coffee and a little bacon to the bill of fare. And they have had a drink at the creek, and some had enjoyed the luxury of a dash of water in their faces. And now they are as gay as if the whole war were over and they might go home to-morrow. And their jokes about the gorgeousness of their meal, and the banterings about the "skedaddling" of some before the rebel yell, and their cheers when I praise their good conduct, which I most heartily do!
At last myself and my staff may sit down on the ground to a royal feast. And a royal feast it is. To-day's battle had its humorous incident. About noon, when the bullets were flying thick, I suddenly heard somebody shouting behind me with a stentorian voice: "Oh, General! Oh, General!" Looking round, I saw Schiele, my tent orderly, or body servant, brandishing a bulky object over his head. "What is it, Schiele?" I asked. "A ham, General! a ham! a ham!" cried Schiele jubilantly. "Where did you get it?" I asked. "I have found it, General!" he answered with a broad grin. I told him to go to the rear, and try not to get killed, and to hold on to the ham like grim death until we should have time to eat it. Schiele scampered off amid the laughter of the soldiers happening to be around. Schiele was "a character," and a great favorite with the whole division. When I first took command, I asked the Colonel of the Seventy-fifth Pennsylvania whether he had not a man in his regiment who was not good for much in the ranks, but might make a suitable attendant at headquarters. He furnished me Schiele, a Suabian, who was a little too old and too fat for field service, but might be good enough for blacking boots and brushing clothes and keeping my tent or hut in order, and waiting upon the mess-table. Schiele turned out to be not an ideal servant, not over-tidy, nor very clever at the duties he had to perform. Among other things, he used to darn my stockings with a thick, hard twine he had found somewhere, which he considered very strong, but which caused very unpleasant sensations to my feet. In spite of his defects, I could not think of exchanging him for a more suitable person, for he had become so warmly attached to me that it would have broken his heart. This, of course, I could not do. He was "an original," and gave us no end of amusement. His puffy face and corpulent figure might have served as an admirable model for a picture of Sancho Panza. To perfect the likeness, he rode in my headquarters train on a big donkey which he had "found" somewhere. He assumed great authority over the rest of the headquarters attendants. They would often gather around him, and it was "as good as a play" to hear him expound to them in his Suabian dialect the higher strategy of the war, or the strict measures he had to take to keep me in good health. On the present occasion he had certainly deserved well of myself and my staff, for we, too, had lived uncomfortably long on a diet of hardtack and coffee, and the ham was uncommonly welcome. In gratitude we abstained from pressing Schiele too closely as to the manner in which he had "found" the ham, and permitted him to tell us of the desperate fights he had had with stragglers who had tried to rob him of the precious object.
While we were thus feasting — ready, of course, at any moment to move wherever our help might be wanted — the battle was going on. The line taken by my small division of six regiments and those regiments sent to reinforce them, and held successfully during the day, was now occupied by two divisions of the Army of the Potomac, counting in all twenty-nine regiments, and commanded by two of the most renowned fighters of the army, Kearney and Hooker. They delivered during the afternoon various attacks upon the enemy, some of which were very brilliant, and actually succeeded in "doubling up" Stonewall Jackson's extreme left, without, however, producing decisive results. Toward evening they fell back into what had been substantially my position during the day. As to other parts of the field, the expected attack upon the enemy's right by Fitz John Porter, which subsequently caused so much bitter controversy, had not come off at all, and Longstreet's junction with Jackson, increasing more than two-fold the strength of the enemy in our front, had not been prevented.
We slept on the battlefield among dead bodies of men and horses and the tattered fragments of vehicles and clothes and accouterments.
On the next morning, April 30th, General Sigel did me the honor of adding to my command another brigade under Col. Koltes, with a battery commanded by Captain Hubert Dilger, one of the most brilliant artillery officers of the army. I was proud of this mark of confidence. About 9 o'clock I was ordered to put my three brigades in the rear of Schenck's division, front toward Groveton, in a sort of reserve position, from which we could overlook a large part of the battlefield — an undulating plain with some low hilltops and patches of timber; upon our right the stretch of forest in which my division had fought the previous day, now occupied by Hooker, Reno, Stevens, Ricketts, and Kearney; before us, Fitz John Porter's command, which had been brought up early in the morning, facing a belt of woods; upon our left, Reynold's division and part of McDowell's corps. Of the enemy we saw, from our position, nothing except thick clouds of dust, which indicated a movement of large masses of troops toward our left.
As we were told, it was believed at General Pope's headquarters that the enemy had been "badly cut up" the previous day and had begun his retreat during the night, and that to demoralize him still further, we had only to pursue him with vigor. At about two o'clock, Porter moved forward to attack. But he had hardly passed the belt of timber immediately before him when we heard a fearful roar of artillery and infantry, indicating that he had struck, not a mere rear guard, but the enemy in full force and in position to receive him. For half an hour we watched in anxious expectancy. Then we observed the signs of a disastrous repulse of the attack — disordered swarms of men coming out of the woods, first thin and scattered, then larger disbanded squads, some at a full run, others at a hurried walk; then shattered companies, or battalions, or skeleton regiments crowding around their colors and maintaining something like organization; and, finally, still larger bodies retreating in better order, and higher officers surrounded by their staffs, struggling to steady the retreat and to rally the straggling men. A sad spectacle, but not without some of those humorous incidents which, even amid the tragedies of battle, the hardened soldier is apt to enjoy. Among the retreating mass there was most conspicuous a regiment of Zouaves, wearing light-blue jackets and red, baggy trousers. As they were well dispersed, the whole field seemed to shine for a while with red trousers and light-blue jackets. Conspicuous among them were two men carrying a blanket between them which apparently contained a wounded comrade. When they were just passing by my column, a rebel shell happened to burst close over their heads. The two men promptly dropped their blanket and ran at the top of their speed, but the "wounded comrade" they had been carrying, jumped up with the greatest alacrity, and ran so much faster than his two friends that he soon overtook them. Whereupon the troops standing near broke out in a roar of laughter.
But the situation was serious indeed. As we afterward learned, that part of Porter's command which was repulsed by the Confederates had made its attack with great spirit and gallantry, but had been met by the cross-fire of a numerous and skillfully posted artillery, and a hail-storm of musketry from advantageous positions so murderous, that their charge was hopeless. Moreover, this was another of those efforts the chances of whose success were reduced to nothing by the lack of support and co-operation by other bodies of troops.
Having repulsed this charge, the enemy was expected to take the offensive. Sigel moved forward Schenck's division to a stronger position near Dugan's Farm, and ordered me to close up behind it. By four o'clock Porter's retreating troops had well uncovered our front, when McLean's and Stahel's brigades of Schenck's division, followed by my command, pushed bravely on under a heavy artillery fire of the enemy, which cost us many men. But, by five o'clock, the enemy disclosed his main attack on the left wing of our army, which could not hold its ground against the superior forces the enemy had massed at that point. I had to put in Koltes' and Krzyzanowski's brigades to protect Schenck's left. The contest grew extremely sharp. Koltes fell dead at the head of his regiments, Krzyzanowski's horse was shot under him, and Schenck had to be carried wounded from the field. The ground was thickly strewn with our dead. When Sigel observed that the left wing of the army was being constantly pressed back, and the left of his corps was uncovered and furiously assailed by the enemy's infantry in front, and enfiladed by his artillery so that, in our position, we were substantially fighting alone against overwhelming odds, he ordered me to withdraw my division to the next range of low hills near the "stone house." I had left Schimmelfennig's brigade with Dilger's battery on my right in reserve, and they now covered the retrograde movement, which was executed in perfect order. Especially Captain Dilger distinguished himself by receiving the pursuing enemy in several positions with grape shot at short range, obliging him twice to turn back, and then following his brigade unmolested. My command come out of the trial sadly thinned, but in a state of firm organization. I could say in my official report: "My men stood like trees until the instruction to retire reached them, and then they fell back slowly and in perfect order."
When I reached the rising ground indicated to me, a singular spectacle presented itself. I found General McDowell with his staff on horseback, standing still, and around them a confused mass of men, partly in an organized, partly in a disbanded state, and among them army wagons, ambulances, and pieces of artillery, streaming to the rear. Nobody seemed to make an effort to stem the current or to restore order. I noticed a fully equipped battery of six guns moving with the crowd, and succeeded in inducing the commanding officer, who told me that he had somehow become separated from his brigade and was without orders, to disentangle his pieces from the confusion and place them on a nearby knoll. He did this willingly, and opened upon the enemy's guns immediately opposite. On the left of the army the fighting was still going on, the enemy steadily gaining ground. Sigel ordered me to send a brigade to the aid of Milroy, who was still engaged there, hard pressed. I brought forward Schimmelfennig's brigade, which plunged resolutely into the ragged fire-line, and not finding Milroy, whose forces had become much scattered, did good service on the right of Sykes and Reno.
The enemy's artillery seemed to sweep the whole battlefield. For two hours we had been under a continuous shower of shot and shell, with only an irregular response from our side. As the dusk of evening came on, the enemy's fire, artillery as well as musketry, rapidly slackened, and soon ceased altogether. On the left of the army the fight came to a complete standstill. The enemy, although successful, had no doubt suffered not much less than we had, and got into that state of disorder resulting from the mixing up of different divisions, brigades, and regiments, which is almost always caused by the action of great masses on the battlefield. In a talk about the situation which, at that moment, I had with General Sigel, we agreed that the enemy, upon arriving at the foot of the rising ground which we were then occupying, were probably too exhausted to continue the assault, and would perhaps also be exhausted enough to yield to a vigorous offensive movement on our part. We might, indeed, have found enough bodies of troops in a good state of organization to execute such an attack. However, the arrival of General Pope's instruction ordering a general retreat, and the fact that a large portion of the army was already on its way to Centreville, put an end to the question. But it has since been held by military critics of high authority that General Pope might have remained on the battlefield without much danger, that he might have brought on, during the night, from Centreville, the 20,000 men of Sumner's and Franklin's corps, which would have given him a superiority of numbers, and that thus the formal confession of defeat and the consequent demoralization of the army and the injury to the Union cause might have been avoided. My personal experience of the condition of the battlefield that night seems to speak for this theory.
About eight o'clock General Sigel directed me to withdraw Schimmelfennig's brigade, and to march with my whole division to the hilly ground between Young's Branch and Bull Run, where I joined the rest of our army corps. There we waited in the dark for two hours, my first brigade furnishing the guards and pickets. The enemy did not molest us in the least. After having received a report that, as far as could be ascertained, the rest of the army, with their wagons and ambulances, had crossed Bull Run, General Sigel ordered the corps to take up its march to Centreville. We passed over the Stone Bridge between eleven o'clock and midnight. On the east side of the bridge we once more took position, General Stahel on the right of the road and I on the left, front towards the creek, with Dilger's guns to command the bridge. As we were forming, we discovered a small body of troops bivouacking there, a battalion of the Pennsylvania Bucktail Regiment, under Colonel Kane, who had become detached from his brigade, and had picked up and kept with him several stray pieces of artillery. He was delighted to meet us, and willingly reported to General Sigel for orders. One of General McDowell's officers coming that way told us that we were threatened by the enemy on our left, but no enemy made his appearance. General Sigel gave the order to march on toward Centreville, my first brigade, under Colonel Schimmelfennig, to form the rear guard, and to destroy the bridge. Some little time after one o'clock we set fire to the wooden part of the bridge and marched off. We rejoined General Sigel and the bulk of the corps, on the road at three o'clock, bivouacked until five, because the road before us was obstructed, reached Centreville about seven, and went into camp among the entrenchments built by the Confederates a year before.
Thus I may claim the honor of having, with my command, covered the retreat from the Bull Run battlefield of the main part of our army, which retired by way of the Stone Bridge — that is, as much as any "covering" was necessary. I am aware that General Sykes was charged with that business, but I have the best reason for believing that General Sykes, no doubt thinking that all other troops had left the battlefield before him, crossed Bull Run a considerable time before I did. My command was the last to arrive at Centreville, which fact, as no troops could have passed by it on the road, seems to be conclusive.
The rest at Centreville was short. The enemy, instead of molesting us on the Warrenton-Centreville turnpike, moved a strong column around our flank by way of the Little River turnpike, to strike us at Fairfax Court-House, and to cut off as large a part of our army as possible from the fortifications of Washington. The outcome was the fierce fight at Chantilly, in which two of our bravest Generals, Kearney and Stevens, lost their lives, but the Confederates were stopped.
The whole army was to be put under the protection of the fortifications of Washington, there to be reorganized, and to this end McClellan was set to work again — a kind of work for which he had proved himself well fitted. The night march of Sigel's corps from Centreville to Fairfax Court-House is like a nightmare in my recollection. By some blunder of the staff, two large bodies of troops were put on the same road at the same time, and that in the dark. In a moment they became inextricably mixed. All orderly command ceased. The road was so densely crowded with men and guns and caissons and wagons and ambulances, that those who were marching absolutely lost the freedom of their movements. One was simply pushed on from behind or stopped by some obstruction ahead. Nor was it possible to march alongside the road, for there the fields or woods were filled with all sorts of vehicles, a great many of them broken down, and by groups of soldiers, who had straggled from the edges of the column, had gathered around little fires and were frying their bacon or heating water for their coffee. I was on horseback in the midst of the column, with one of my staff-officers by my side, who, for a wonder, had succeeded in remaining with me. Our horses would walk on a few paces, half a dozen at the most, then would be forced to stand still, sometimes for minutes, by some stoppage in front. Having had my feet in the stirrups almost constantly for several days and nights, my heels began to ache almost insufferably. I tried to relieve the pain by letting my legs hang down, or by throwing one or the other across the pommel of the saddle, but it was of no avail. Neither could I dismount in order to walk, for the throng around me was too dense to permit it. Indeed, had I succeeded in getting off the horse, I could not have mounted again. So we crawled on, being alternately pushed and stopped, at the rate of a good deal less than a mile an hour, until finally we reached Fairfax Court-House long after sunrise. There we found soldiers stationed at the cross-roads and the street corners, crying out the numbers of regiments at the top of their voices — and the men belonging to those regiments struggled out of the column with many kicks and curses, to be directed to their colors. It required many hours thus to disentangle the confused mass, and then to give the sorely jaded troops a short rest.
The next day, about the dusk of evening, my command reached the spot within the circle of entrenchments surrounding Washington, where it was to go into camp. Riding at the head of my column, I met on the road an officer in general's uniform, attended, if I remember rightly, by only one aide-de-camp and one orderly. Although I had never before seen him, I recognized General McClellan. I observed with some surprise how trim and natty he looked in his uniform. Even the yellow sash around his waist was not wanting. There was a strange contrast between him and our weather-beaten, ragged, and grimy officers and soldiers. In a pleasant voice he asked me to what corps I belonged and what troops I commanded, and then directed me to my camping place. And thus ended my part in the campaign of the "Army of Virginia."
It is hard to describe the distress of mind which oppressed me when, in the comparative quiet of camp life, I thought over the calamity that had befallen us. How long would the people of the North endure such an accumulation of disappointments without any flagging of spirits? How long would the secretly hostile powers of Europe watch our repeated disasters without concluding that they could recognize the Southern Confederacy and interfere against us with impunity? The end of the war seemed further off than ever, and the prospects of its vicissitudes darker. The only consolation I could find was in the thought that the patriotic spirit of the North would not, after all, give way, and that the longer the war lasted, the more certainly it would bring about the utter destruction of slavery.
As to my personal situation, I had every reason to be content. To be sure, I had not played a very important part. I had done nothing particularly brilliant. I had simply performed my duty in camp, on the march, and in action, in a manner approved by my superiors. On the first day of the Bull Run battle I had attacked a vastly superior enemy with my little division, and even achieved some advantage. On the second day I had handled my troops as a reserve force as I was directed, and brought them out of the losing fight in a state of perfect organization, order, and efficiency. For all this I had an ample measure of credit. My men met me with smiling faces and cheers on every occasion. Some of my officers were very demonstrative in their expressions of confidence. Outside of my command, too, I had won some renown. Passing by the front of a regiment belonging to another division of our corps, drawn up in line, at rest, I was stopped by a captain, who, stepping forward, shouted: "Hats off to General Schurz!" whereupon the officers and men took off their hats and gave me three rousing cheers. An occurrence which gratified me especially was that Colonel von Gilsa, who had been an officer in the Prussian army, and now commanded a regiment of New York volunteers belonging to another division — a man full of professional military pride — one day visited me and said: "General, I owe you an apology. When you were appointed a brigadier, I regarded you as a mere civilian, and indulged in some hard language. I want to say that in the opinion of everybody you have fully earned your rank, and I have come to pay you my profound respects." A few days after our arrival near Washington, I received notice that Mr. Stanton, the Secretary of War, wished to see me. He asked me for some information, which, however, I could not give him. When we parted, he reached out his hand and said: "I have heard of your conduct in the recent battle, and I thank you for what you have done." This from the stern War Secretary, who was not at all given to soft speech, I have treasured up as something of special value.
The same day I called upon Mr. Lincoln, whom I found busily engaged with a room full of politicians; he had just time to shake hands and say: "I hear you have fought first rate. Good luck to you." And finally I had the satisfaction of finding in General Pope's official report my name among those of the division commanders whom he found himself prompted to mention "in high terms." Letters from friends, too, I received in considerable number, some praising me for astonishing feats of heroism I had performed (of which I myself, however, knew nothing). Even from far-away Madrid, my faithful Horatio Perry and his wife, Doña Carolina Coronado, congratulated me upon the honors I had won. All this made me feel very much at home in my uniform. I thought I had achieved a good name as a soldier at a small cost. But before long I was to learn something of the fickleness of fortune.
After the unfortunate issue of Pope's campaign, there was in the army, in the press, in government circles, in the clubs, in fact wherever public affairs were discussed, a restless buzzing of ugly rumors, of criminations and recriminations, charges of treachery and cowardice, and what not — in short, a general drag-net search for a scapegoat. The principal victims were Generals Fitz-John Porter and McDowell. General Porter was tried by a court martial, convicted of having willfully disobeyed General Pope's orders on August 29th, and cashiered. Under this disgrace he was to rest thirty years or more, when the proceedings were reviewed and the verdict reversed. At the time of the trial the sympathies of the Army of the Potomac were strongly in his favor, but the general drift of public opinion was no less strong against him. There was a widespread impression in the North that the Army of the Potomac, especially the West-Pointers in it, when called back from the Peninsula, were seriously disinclined to come to Pope's aid — in fact, that they secretly wished to see him beaten and humiliated. General Pope himself gave vehement expression to this belief on his part in a letter written by him immediately after the battle to General Halleck. It must, indeed, be said that the troops belonging to the Army of the Potomac which did join Pope on the Bull Run battlefield and became actually engaged, fought with admirable courage and heroic devotion. But it is unquestionably true that the current talk among certain officers of the Army of the Potomac, at that time, might well have raised a suspicion of positive disloyalty. I had personal experience of this. On our retreat on August 31st, we found the army corps of Sumner and Franklin encamped at Centreville, where we rested during the day. There we happened to fall into the company of some brigadiers, who expressed their pleasure at Pope's discomfiture without the slightest concealment, and spoke of our government in Washington with an affectation of supercilious contempt which disgusted and would have alarmed me, had I not ascribed it to the occasional recklessness of campfire gasconade, rather than to any serious motive. Some friends informed me that they had gone through similar experiences. No wonder that the suspicion of a disloyal spirit spread and remained firmly rooted with many good people even to this day.
The case of General McDowell was a very curious one. He came out of the campaign, without exaggeration it may be said, as the most unpopular general in the army. Why he should have become so unpopular it is hard to say. I had made his acquaintance in Washington during the preceding winter. He was, no doubt, a gentleman of high character, and a learned, and able, and thoroughly loyal soldier. He was a fluent conversationalist, and somewhat given to impulsive and sharp sayings, the effect of which he probably did not always foresee. His figure was of portly proportions, and his countenance not impressive — somewhat pudgy and puffy. When I saw him on the Bull Run battlefield, I heard men in the ranks making fun of his appearance and indulging in all sorts of remarks about him which were not complimentary. When the campaign was over, he became keenly, if not morbidly, sensitive to his unpopularity, and demanded a military court of inquiry to investigate his conduct. There was no definite charge against him. The reason he gave for demanding a court of inquiry was almost pathetic. He addressed a letter to the President, in which he said that, as he, McDowell, was informed, a Senator had seen a note, written in pencil, by a colonel of cavalry mortally wounded in the recent battle, stating, among other causes, that he was dying a victim to "McDowell's treachery," and that his last request was that this note might be shown to the President! Considering "that the colonel believed this charge, and felt his last act on earth was a great public service," and that "this solemn accusation from the grave of a gallant officer was entitled to great consideration," General McDowell demanded a thorough investigation of his conduct "without limitation." The court of inquiry was granted, sat over sixty days, heard a large number of witnesses, and finally come to the conclusion that General McDowell's loyalty was above question; that on the whole he had done his duty as a soldier with zeal and fidelity; but that he had once made a grievous mistake by absenting himself from his command to seek a conference with General Pope at a critical moment, when his absence caused the non-receipt and non-execution of very urgent and important orders. General Sigel was one of the witnesses, and his testimony showed that there was much unpleasant personal feeling between the two generals, partly caused by McDowell's sharp tongue, which done also mischief elsewhere.
With me, too, he came very near provoking a controversy. In my official report, describing a certain situation toward the end of the battle of the 30th of August, I had said: "I found Major-General McDowell with his staff, and around him troops of several different corps, and of all arms, in full retreat." General McDowell addressed a letter to me, saying that this sentence admitted of two constructions. Did I mean to say that I found General McDowell and his staff in full retreat? I promptly replied that such was not my meaning at all; that the words "in full retreat" referred to the troops, not to him and his staff; that I saw him and his staff for about half an hour near the place where I formed my division, and that if the language of my report had been misinterpreted, I was glad to avail myself of this opportunity to state its real meaning. But General McDowell was not satisfied. On came a second letter from him, in which he intimated that, by what I had not said, as well as by what I had said, I might have intended to misrepresent him; and to strengthen this intimation he quoted several circumstances which "must have been known to me." Finally he urged me to undo the "wrong" I had done him — unintentionally, as it now seemed — by a public declaration in the same newspaper in which my report had been published. I instantly replied that I did not see how my letter could leave any doubt as to my intentions; that, before giving him a more elaborate response to his demand for a fuller explanation as to the circumstances he described, I would endeavor to obtain all the information my aides and my field officers might be able to give me, and that all my statements were, and always would be, his property to be used as he might deem best. Even this did not satisfy General McDowell. He wrote again, telling me that he did not care for any further inquiry on my part. He merely appealed to my sense of justice, asking that I should correct — in all the papers in which my report had been published — the impression to his prejudice which that report had been calculated to produce. Then, I must confess, my patience began to be shaken. I replied that I had never thought the incriminated passage in my report to be liable to the construction he had given it; that I had never heard of anybody else having construed it as he did; that I was most willing to have our whole correspondence published; that, if he would send me copies of my letters, I not having kept any myself, I would be glad to send all the documents for publication to the New York Tribune, the only paper which had published my report; that, if he preferred, he might, to save time, send them there himself; but that some of the things he stated as facts rested on a mistake; that my troops, whom he had seen at the meeting-place in question, had not retreated to Bull Run, immediately after our meeting, but had gone to the assistance of our forces still fighting on our left; that two of my aides whom I had sent across Young's Branch, as well as one of my colonels, had seen him, General McDowell, about dusk, crossing the Stone Bridge over Bull Run, some of his officers crying out to the retreating soldiers, "Make room for the General!" and that I, with my division, had remained several hours longer on the battlefield. This closed our correspondence. As General McDowell did not return to me the copies of my letters I asked for, I did not send that correspondence to the New York Tribune. Whether General McDowell did, I do not know. I was sorry this controversy occurred, for I esteemed the General highly, and wished him no ill. He was, doubtless, a patriotic man without being a great soldier. But he deserved much sympathy, as he was made the scapegoat for two disastrous defeats on Bull Run battlefield, for neither of which was he wholly responsible. For the last defeat, the preponderance of responsibility unquestionably falls to General Pope, whose lack of judgment — it might almost be called confusion of mind — as to the movements of the enemy, and the chances they offered him at different times, have justly called forth professional criticism. But McDowell remained the more unpopular figure, partly, perhaps, because his motives were — very unjustly — called into question.