G.F. R. Henderson.

Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War online

. (page 51 of 85)
Online LibraryG.F. R. HendersonStonewall Jackson and the American Civil War → online text (page 51 of 85)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Catlett's Station without the Federals receiving the least notice of
their approach.

A moment's halt, a short consultation, a silent movement forward, and
the astonished sentinels were overpowered. Beyond were the
encampments and the trains, guarded by 1500 infantry and 500
horsemen. The night was dark - the darkest, said Stuart, that he had
ever known. Without a guide concerted action seemed impossible. The
rain still fell in torrents, and the raiders, soaked to the skin,
could only grope aimlessly in the gloom. But just at this moment a
negro was captured who recognised Stuart, and who knew where Pope's
baggage and horses were to be found. He was told to lead the way, and
Colonel W. H. F. Lee, a son of the Commander-in-Chief, was ordered to
follow with his regiment. The guide led the column towards the
headquarter tents. "Then there mingled with the noise of the rain
upon the canvas and the roar of the wind in the forest the rushing
sound of many horsemen, of loud voices, and clashing sabres." One of
Pope's staff officers, together with the uniform and horses of the
Federal commander, his treasure chest, and his personal effects, fell
into the hands of the Confederates, and the greater part of the
enemy's troops, suddenly alarmed in the deep darkness, dispersed into
the woods. Another camp was quickly looted, and the 1st and 5th
Virginia Cavalry were sent across the railway, riding without
accident, notwithstanding the darkness, over a high embankment with
deep ditches on either side. But the Federal guards had now rallied
under cover, and the attack on the railway waggons had to be
abandoned. Another party had taken in hand the main object of the
expedition, the destruction of the railway bridge over Cedar Run. The
force which should have defended it was surprised and scattered. The
timbers, however, were by this time thoroughly saturated, and only a
few axes had been discovered. Some Federal skirmishers maintained a
heavy fire from the opposite bank, and it was impossible to complete
the work. The telegraph was more easily dealt with; and shortly
before daylight on the 23rd, carrying with him 300 prisoners,
including many officers, Stuart withdrew by the light of the blazing
camp, and after a march of sixty miles in six-and-twenty hours,
reached the Sulphur Springs before evening.

The most important result of this raid was the capture of Pope's
dispatch book, containing most detailed information as to his
strength, dispositions, and designs; referring to the reinforcements
he expected, and disclosing his belief that the line of the
Rappahannock was no longer tenable. But the enterprise had an
indirect it upon the enemy's calculations, which was not without
bearing on the campaign. Pope believed that Stuart's advance on
Catlett's Station had been made in connection with Jackson's attempt
to cross at Sulphur Springs; and the retreat of the cavalry, combined
with that of Early, seemed to indicate that the movement to turn his
right had been definitely abandoned.

The Federal commander was soon to be undeceived. Thrice had General
Lee been baulked. The enemy, who should have been annihilated on
August 19, had gained six days' respite. On the 20th he had placed
himself behind the Rappahannock. On the 22nd the rising waters
forbade Jackson's passage at the Sulphur Springs; and now, on the
afternoon of the 24th, the situation was still unchanged.
Disregarding Longstreet's demonstrations, Pope had marched northward,
keeping pace with Jackson, and his whole force was concentrated on
the great road which runs from the Sulphur Springs through Warrenton
and Gainesville to Washington and Alexandria. He had answered move by
countermove. Hitherto, except in permitting Early to recross the
river, he had made no mistake, and he had gained time. He had marched
over thirty miles, and executed complicated manoeuvres, without
offering the Confederates an opening. His position near the Sulphur
Springs was as strong as that which he had left on the lower reaches
near the railway bridge. Moreover, the correspondence in his dispatch
book disclosed the fact that a portion at least of McClellan's army
had landed at Aquia Creek, and was marching to Bealtown;* [* Between
August 21 and 25 Pope received the following reinforcements for the
Army of the Potomac, raising his strength to over 80,000 men:
Third Corps: Heintzleman (Hooker's Division, Kearney's Division)
10,000
Fifth Corps: Porter (Morell's Division, Sykes' Division) 10,000
Pennsylvania Reserves: Reynolds 8000] that a strong force, drawn from
the Kanawha Valley and elsewhere, was assembling at Washington; and
that 150,000 men might be concentrated within a few days on the
Rappahannock. Lee, on learning McClellan's destination, immediately
asked that the troops which had been retained at Richmond should be
sent to join him. Mr. Davis assented, but it was not till the request
had been repeated and time lost that the divisions of D.H. Hill and
McLaws', two brigades of infantry, under J.G. Walker, and Hampton's
cavalry brigade were ordered up. Yet these reinforcements only raised
Lee's numbers to 75,000 men, and they were from eighty to a hundred
miles distant by an indifferent railroad.

Nor was it possible to await their arrival. Instant action was
imperative. But what action was possible? A defensive attitude could
only result in the Confederate army being forced back by superior
strength; and retreat on Richmond would be difficult, for the
Federals held the interior lines. The offensive seemed out of the
question. Pope's position was more favourable than before. His army
was massed, and reinforcements were close at hand. His right flank
was well secured. The ford at Sulphur Springs and the Waterloo Bridge
were both in his possession; north of the Springs rose the Bull Run
Mountains, a range covered with thick forest, and crossed by few
roads; and his left was protected by the march of McClellan's army
corps from Aquia Creek. Even the genius of a Napoleon might well have
been baffled by the difficulties in the way of attack. But there were
men in the Confederate army to whom overwhelming numbers and strong
positions were merely obstacles to be overcome.

On August 24 Lee removed his headquarters to Jefferson, where Jackson
was already encamped, and on the same evening, with Pope's captured
correspondence before them, the two generals discussed the problem.
What occurred at this council of war was never made public. To use
Lee's words: "A plan of operations was determined on;" but by whom it
was suggested there is none to tell us. "Jackson was so reticent,"
writes Dr. McGuire, "that it was only by accident that we ever found
out what he proposed to do, and there is no staff officer living
(1897) who could throw any light on this matter. The day before we
started to march round Pope's army I saw Lee and Jackson conferring
together. Jackson - for him - was very much excited, drawing with the
toe of his boot a map in the sand, and gesticulating in a much more
earnest way than he was in the habit of doing. General Lee was simply
listening, and after Jackson had got through, he nodded his head, as
if acceding to some proposal. I believe, from what occurred
afterwards, that Jackson suggested the movement as it was made, but I
have no further proof than the incident I have just mentioned."* (*
Letter to the author.) It is only certain that we have record of few
enterprises of greater daring than that which was then decided on;
and no matter from whose brain it emanated, on Lee fell the burden of
the responsibility; on his shoulders, and on his alone, rested the
honour of the Confederate arms, the fate of Richmond, the
independence of the South; and if we may suppose, so consonant was
the design proposed with the strategy which Jackson had already
practised, that it was to him its inception was due, it is still to
Lee that we must assign the higher merit. It is easy to conceive. It
is less easy to execute. But to risk cause and country, name and
reputation, on a single throw, and to abide the issue with
unflinching heart, is the supreme exhibition of the soldier's
fortitude.

Lee's decision was to divide his army. Jackson, marching northwards,
was to cross the Bull Run Mountains at Thoroughfare Gap, ten miles as
the crow flies from the enemy's right, and strike the railway which
formed Pope's line of supply. The Federal commander, who would
meanwhile be held in play by Longstreet, would be compelled to fall
back in a north-easterly direction to save his communications, and
thus be drawn away from McClellan. Longstreet would then follow
Jackson, and it was hoped that the Federals, disconcerted by these
movements, might be attacked in detail or forced to fight at a
disadvantage. The risk, however, was very great.

An army of 55,000 men was about to march into a region occupied by
100,000,* (* Pope, 80,000; Washington and Aquia Creek, 20,000. Lee
was well aware, from the correspondence which Stuart had captured, if
indeed he had not already inferred it, that Pope had been strictly
enjoined to cover Washington, and that he was dependent on the
railway for supplies. There was not the slightest fear of his falling
back towards Aquia Creek to join McClellan.) who might easily be
reinforced to 150,000; and it was to march in two wings, separated
from each other by two days' march. If Pope were to receive early
warning of Jackson's march, he might hurl his whole force on one or
the other. Moreover, defeat, with both Pope and McClellan between the
Confederates and Richmond, spelt ruin and nothing less. But as Lee
said after the war, referring to the criticism evoked by manoeuvres,
in this as in other of his campaigns, which were daring even to
rashness, "Such criticism is obvious, but the disparity of force
between the contending forces rendered the risks unavoidable."* (*
The Army of Northern Virginia, Colonel Allan page 200.) In the
present case the only alternative was an immediate retreat; and
retreat, so long as the enemy was not fully concentrated, and there
was a chance of dealing with him in detail, was a measure which
neither Lee nor Jackson was ever willing to advise.

On the evening of the 24th Jackson began his preparations for the
most famous of his marches. His troops were quietly withdrawn from
before the Sulphur Springs, and Longstreet's division, unobserved by
the Federals, took their place. Captain Boswell was ordered to report
on the most direct and hidden route to Manassas Junction, and the
three divisions - Ewell's, Hill's, and the Stonewall, now commanded by
Taliaferro - assembled near Jefferson. Three days' cooked rations were
to be carried in the haversacks, and a herd of cattle, together with
the green corn standing in the fields, was relied upon for
subsistence until requisition could be made on the Federal magazines.
The troops marched light. Knapsacks were left behind. Tin cans and a
few frying-pans formed the only camp equipment, and many an officer's
outfit consisted of a few badly baked biscuits and a handful of salt.

August 26.

Long before dawn the divisions were afoot. The men were hungry, and
their rest had been short; but they were old acquaintances of the
morning star, and to march while the east was still grey had become a
matter of routine. But as their guides led northward, and the sound
of the guns, opening along the Rappahannock, grew fainter and
fainter, a certain excitement began to pervade the column. Something
mysterious was in the air. What their movement portended not the
shrewdest of the soldiers could divine; but they recalled their
marches in the Valley and their inevitable results, and they knew
instinctively that a surprise on a still larger scale was in
contemplation. The thought was enough. Asking no questions, and full
of enthusiasm, they followed with quick step the leader in whom their
confidence had become so absolute. The flood had subsided on the
Upper Rappahannock, and the divisions forded it at Hinson's Mill,
unmolested and apparently unobserved. Without halting it pressed on,
Boswell with a small escort of cavalry leading the way. The march led
first by Amissville, thence north to Orleans, beyond Hedgeman's
River, and thence to Salem, a village on the Manassas Gap Railroad.
Where the roads diverged from the shortest line the troops took to
the fields. Guides were stationed by the advanced guard at each gap
and gate which marked the route. Every precaution was taken to
conceal the movement. The roads in the direction of the enemy were
watched by cavalry, and so far as possible the column was directed
through woods and valleys. The men, although they knew nothing of
their destination, whether Winchester, or Harper's Ferry, or even
Washington itself, strode on mile after mile, through field and ford,
in the fierce heat of the August noon, without question or complaint.
"Old Jack" had asked them to do their best, and that was enough to
command their most strenuous efforts.

Near the end of the day Jackson rode to the head of the leading
brigade, and complimented the officers on the fine condition of the
troops and the regularity of the march. They had made more than
twenty miles, and were still moving briskly, well closed up, and
without stragglers. Then, standing by the wayside, he watched his
army pass. The sun was setting, and the rays struck full on his
familiar face, brown with exposure, and his dusty uniform. Ewell's
division led the way, and when the men saw their general, they
prepared to salute him with their usual greeting. But as they began
to cheer he raised his hand to stop them, and the word passed down
the column, "Don't shout, boys, the Yankees will hear us;" and the
soldiers contented themselves with swinging their caps in mute
acclamation. When the next division passed a deeper flush spread over
Jackson's face. Here were the men he had so often led to triumph, the
men he had trained himself, the men of the Valley, of the First
Manassas, of Kernstown, and M'Dowell. The Stonewall regiments were
before him, and he was unable to restrain them; devotion such as
theirs was not to be silenced at such a moment, and the wild
battle-yell of his own brigade set his pulses tingling. For once a
breach of discipline was condoned. "It is of no use," said Jackson,
turning to his staff, "you see I can't stop them;" and then, with a
sudden access of intense pride in his gallant veterans, he added,
half to himself, "Who could fail to win battles with such men as
these?"

It was midnight before the column halted near Salem village, and the
men, wearied outright with their march of six-and-twenty miles, threw
themselves on the ground by the piles of muskets, without even
troubling to unroll their blankets. So far the movement had been
entirely successful. Not a Federal had been seen, and none appeared
during the warm midsummer night. Yet the soldiers were permitted
scant time for rest. Once more they were aroused while the stars were
bright; and, half awake, snatching what food they could, they
stumbled forward through the darkness.

August 26.

As the cool breath of the morning rose about them, the dark forests
of the Bull Run Mountains became gradually visible in the faint light
of the eastern sky, and the men at last discovered whither their
general was leading them. With the knowledge, which spread quickly
through the ranks, that they were making for the communications of
the boaster Pope, the regiments stepped out with renewed energy.
"There was no need for speech, no breath to spare if there had
been - only the shuffling tramp of marching feet, the rumbling of
wheels, the creak and clank of harness and accoutrements, with an
occasional order, uttered under the breath, and always the same:
"Close up, men! Close up!""* (* "Battles and Leaders volume 2 page
533.)

Through Thoroughfare Gap, a narrow gorge in the Bull Run range, with
high cliffs, covered with creepers and crowned with pines on either
hand, the column wound steadily upwards; and, gaining the higher
level, the troops looked down on the open country to the eastward.
Over a vast area of alternate field and forest, bounded by distant
uplands, the shadows of the clouds were slowly sailing. Issuing from
the mouth of the pass, and trending a little to the south-east, ran
the broad high-road, passing through two tiny hamlets, Haymarket and
Gainesville, and climbing by gentle gradients to a great bare
plateau, familiar to the soldiers of Bull Run under the name of
Manassas Plains. At Gainesville this road was crossed by another,
which, lost in dense woods, appeared once more on the open heights to
the far north-east, where the white buildings of Centreville
glistened in the sunshine. The second road was the Warrenton and
Alexandria highway, the direct line of communication between Pope's
army and Washington, and it is not difficult to divine the anxiety
with which it was scrutinised by Jackson. If his march had been
detected, a far superior force might already be moving to intercept
him. At any moment the news might come in that the Federal army was
rapidly approaching; and even were that not the case, it seemed
hardly possible that the Confederate column, betrayed by the dust,
could escape the observation of passing patrols or orderlies. But not
a solitary scout was visible; no movement was reported from the
direction of Warrenton; and the troops pressed on, further and
further round the Federal rear, further and further from Lee and
Longstreet. The cooked rations which they carried had been consumed
or thrown away; there was no time for the slaughter and distribution
of the cattle; but the men took tribute from the fields and orchards,
and green corn and green apples were all the morning meal that many
of them enjoyed. At Gainesville the column was joined by Stuart, who
had maintained a fierce artillery fight at Waterloo Bridge the
previous day; and then, slipping quietly away under cover of the
darkness, had marched at two in the morning to cover Jackson's flank.
The sun was high in the heavens, and still the enemy made no sign.
Munford's horsemen, forming the advanced guard, had long since
reached the Alexandria turnpike, sweeping up all before them, and
neither patrols nor orderlies had escaped to carry the news to
Warrenton.

So the point of danger was safely passed, and thirteen miles in rear
of Pope's headquarters, right across the communications he had told
his troops to disregard, the long column swung swiftly forward in the
noonday heat. Not a sound, save the muffled roll of many wheels,
broke the stillness of the tranquil valley; only the great dust
cloud, rolling always eastward up the slopes of the Manassas plateau,
betrayed the presence of war.

Beyond Gainesville Jackson took the road which led to Bristoe
Station, some seven miles south of Manassas Junction. Neither the
success which had hitherto accompanied his movement, nor the
excitement incident on his situation, had overbalanced his judgment.
From Gainesville the Junction might have been reached in little more
than an hour's march; and prudence would have recommended a swift
dash at the supply depot, swift destruction, and swift escape. But it
was always possible that Pope might have been alarmed, and the
railroad from Warrenton Junction supplied him with the means of
throwing a strong force of infantry rapidly to his rear. In order to
obstruct such a movement Jackson had determined to seize Bristoe
Station. Here, breaking down the railway bridge over Broad Run, and
establishing his main body in an almost impregnable position behind
the stream, he could proceed at his leisure with the destruction of
the stores at Manassas Junction. The advantages promised by this
manoeuvre more than compensated for the increased length of the march.

The sun had not yet set when the advanced guard arrived within
striking distance of Bristoe Station. Munford's squadrons, still
leading the way, dashed upon the village. Ewell followed in hot
haste, and a large portion of the guard, consisting of two companies,
one of cavalry and one of infantry, was immediately captured. A train
returning empty from Warrenton Junction to Alexandria darted through
the station under a heavy fire.* (* The report received at Alexandria
from Manassas Junction ran as follows: "No. 6 train, engine
Secretary, was fired into at Bristoe by a party of cavalry, some 500
strong. They had piled ties on the track, but the engine threw them
off. Secretary is completely riddled by bullets.") The line was then
torn up, and two trains which followed in the same direction as the
first were thrown down a high embankment. A fourth, scenting danger
ahead, moved back before it reached the break in the road. The column
had now closed up, and it was already dark. The escape of the two
trains was most unfortunate. It would soon be known, both at
Alexandria and Warrenton, that Manassas Junction was in danger. The
troops had marched nearly five-and-twenty miles, but if the object of
the expedition was to be accomplished, further exertions were
absolutely necessary. Trimble, energetic as ever, volunteered with
two regiments, the 21st Georgia and 21st North Carolina, to move on
Manassas Junction. Stuart was placed in command, and without a
moment's delay the detachment moved northward through the woods. The
night was hot and moonless. The infantry moved in order of battle,
the skirmishers in advance; and pushing slowly forward over a broken
country, it was nearly midnight before they reached the Junction.
Half a mile from the depot their advance was greeted by a salvo of
shells. The Federal garrison, warned by the fugitives from Bristoe
Station, were on the alert; but so harmless was their fire that
Trimble's men swept on without a check. The two regiments, one on
either side of the railroad, halted within a hundred yards of the
Federal guns. The countersign was passed down the ranks, and the
bugles sounded the charge. The Northern gunners, without waiting for
the onset, fled through the darkness, and two batteries, each with
its full complement of guns and waggons, became the prize of the
Confederate infantry. Stuart, coming up on the flank, rode down the
fugitives. Over 300 prisoners were taken, and the remainder of the
garrison streamed northward through the deserted camps. The results
of this attack more than compensated for the exertions the troops had
undergone. Only 15 Confederates had been wounded, and the supplies on
which Pope's army, whether it was intended to move against Longstreet
or merely to hold the line of the Rappahannock, depended both for
food and ammunition were in Jackson's hands.

August 27.

The next morning Hill's and Taliaferro's divisions joined Trimble.
Ewell remained at Bristoe; cavalry patrols were sent out in every
direction, and Jackson, riding to Manassas, saw before him the reward
of his splendid march. Streets of warehouses, stored to overflowing,
had sprung up round the Junction. A line of freight cars, two miles
in length, stood upon the railway. Thousands of barrels, containing
flour, pork, and biscuit, covered the neighbouring fields. Brand-new
ambulances were packed in regular rows. Field-ovens, with the fires
still smouldering, and all the paraphernalia of a large bakery,
attracted the wondering gaze of the Confederate soldiery; while great
pyramids of shot and shell, piled with the symmetry of an arsenal,
testified to the profusion with which the enemy's artillery was
supplied.

It was a strange commentary on war. Washington was but a long day's
march to the north; Warrenton, Pope's headquarters, but twelve miles
distant to the south-west; and along the Rappahannock, between
Jackson and Lee, stood the tents of a host which outnumbered the
whole Confederate army. No thought of danger had entered the minds of
those who selected Manassas Junction as the depot of the Federal
forces. Pope had been content to leave a small guard as a protection
against raiding cavalry. Halleck, concerned only with massing the
whole army on the Rappahannock, had used every effort to fill the
storehouses. If, he thought, there was one place in Virginia where
the Stars and Stripes might be displayed in full security, that place
was Manassas Junction; and here, as nowhere else, the wealth of the
North had been poured out with a prodigality such as had never been
seen in war. To feed, clothe, and equip the Union armies no
expenditure was deemed extravagant. For the comfort and well-being of
the individual soldier the purse-strings of the nation were freely
loosed. No demand, however preposterous, was disregarded. The markets



Online LibraryG.F. R. HendersonStonewall Jackson and the American Civil War → online text (page 51 of 85)