L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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timber lay on top of the earth- work, raised a little above
it, thus leaving a space through which the whole region
beyond was visible. " You'll be safe there, if you don't
forget and raise your head too high," he said ; then left
me and returned to his company.

I lay there and watched the movements of the Con-
federates for half an hour. They were all under cover,
and nothing could be seen of them but the smoke from
their guns. In the early morning, when they had in-


tended to storm the forts, they had occupied the oppo-
site hill, and had filled the clusters of buildings of which
I have spoken. There had been a sharp-shooter behind
every stump and log and boulder, up to within a hun-
dred yards of our lines. From all these places they
were firing at every man exposed on our side. The
captain said that before the Sixth Corps came their fire
had been effective, and the loss on our side heavy.

I was interested in watching our own men. Only a
few of them were firing, and after each shot they
dropped back into the ditch to reload their rifles. One
of them had a target-rifle which would weigh thirty
pounds, and a field-glass. How he contrived to bring
such a piece of heavy artillery into action, I do not know.
He was as deliberate as if firing at a mark. After one
discharge he continued looking through his glass for a
long time. He then dropped back into the ditch and
quietly remarked, " I winged him that time !" He pointed
to a fallen tree, behind which, he said, a particularly
dexterous sharp-shooter had been firing all the morning,
killing two men and wounding others. He had borrowed
the target-rifle to stop him, and thought he had done it,
" for he didn't show up any more !"

Leaving the ditch, my pass carried me into the fort,
where, to my surprise, I found the President, Secretary
Stanton, and other civilians. A young colonel of artil-
lery, who appeared to be the officer of the day, was in
great distress because the President would expose him-
self, and paid little attention to his warnings. He was
satisfied the Confederates had recognized him, for they
were firing at him very hotly, and a soldier near him
had just fallen with a broken thigh. He asked my ad-
vice, for he said the President was in great danger.

"What would you do with me under like circum-
stances ?" I asked.


" I would civilly ask you to take a position where you
were not exposed."

" And if I refused to obey ?"

" I would send a sergeant and a file of men, and make
you obey."

" Then treat the President just as you would me or
any civilian."

" I dare not. He is my superior officer ; I have taken
an oath to obey his orders."

"He has given you no orders. Follow my advice,
and you will not regret it."

" I will," he said. " I may as well die for one thing
as another. If he were shot, I should hold myself re-

He walked to where the President was looking over
the parapet. " Mr. President," he said, " you are stand-
ing within range of five hundred rebel rifles. Please
come down to a safer place. If you do not, it will be
my duty to call a file of men, and make you."

" And you would do quite right, my boy !" said the
President, coming down at once. " You are in command
of this fort. I should be the last man to set an example
of disobedience !"

He was shown to a place where the view was less
extended, but where there was almost no exposure.

It was three o'clock. General D. D. Bidwell's brig-
ade of five veteran regiments now marched through Fort
Stevens out upon the open space in front, where they
were extended into two lines, threw out skirmishers, and
then all lay flat upon the ground. The Confederate fire
was so hot that in the little time required for this ma-
noeuvre one third of the men of this brigade were
killed or wounded. I had supposed that a battle-
field was filled with the shrieks and groans of the


wounded and the dying. There was nothing of the
kind, scarcely a spasmodic action, and in the majority
of cases those who had been struck by the enemy's
balls seemed rather to be lying quietly down. These
veterans, under this heavy fire, went about their work
as coolly as though on parade.

There was a flag raised, and thirty guns from four
forts opened fire at the same instant. Six guns from
Fort Stevens simultaneously hurled their shells against
the clusters of buildings in the valley. "We heard the
shells strike, and saw them explode, throwing up a mass
of dust and lime. A body of Sixth Corps men came out
from the rear of the fort and poured their fire at short
range into the crowd of rebels that rushed from the
buildings like bees from a hive, across the open space
to the bushes. In less time than is required to write
the fact, there was a winrow of fallen men heaped en-
tirely across this space. Now thick and fast the shells
dropped into the bushes on the hillside. Hurrying
crowds of Confederates rushed from either side into
the highway and packed it full. Into these living
masses the artillerymen now directed their galling fire.
They had just returned into a fort which they had pre-
viously garrisoned for a year, and knew the range of
every tree and object. One could follow the course of
the shells by their burning fuses. They rose in long,
graceful curves, screaming like demons of the pit, then
descending with like curves into the crowds of running
men, they appeared to explode as they touched the
ground. The men swayed outward with the explosion,
but many fell, and did not rise again. After the retreat
of the last Confederates, the bodies lay so near each
other that they almost touched. It was beautiful artil-
lery work, but its results were horrible.


The shelling ceased. Instantly, the brigade lying
on the ground was up and away. Over fences and
other obstructions, dashing through the bushes, here
and there halting a moment to re-form their broken
lines, they went over the hillside, clearing away every
Confederate, until they reached the summit of the ridge,
where were buildings in which many of the enemy were
captured. They then halted and formed in line of bat-
tle at right angles to the highway.

Every Confederate not captured, killed, or wounded,
had now retreated over the hill, out of our view. I sup-
posed the battle was over, when one of the officers stand-
ing near me exclaimed, "There they come!" and a
squadron of cavalry, appearing over the crest of the hill,
charged upon what seemed to be our doomed line of
battle. They were dashing onward to the sound of the
famous rebel yell. It looked as though that rushing
mass of men and horses would brush away that thinned
line of men like the dew. But now the jets of smoke
darted from them in rapid succession, and riderless horses
dashed out from the cavalry. Slower and slower still
became its advance, more frequent were the jets of smoke
from the line of infantry, until the horsemen came to
an actual halt, seemed to quiver for a moment, then
wheeled and disappeared over the hill to be seen no
more. Again had a charge of cavalry been resisted and
defeated by infantry in line of battle, and the last armed
rebel who was ever to look upon the figure of liberty
on the dome of the Capitol had disappeared forever.

The fighting was over, but the experiences of the day
were not yet ended. I went back to my horses, found
them well cared for, and then went on to the field of bat-
tle. Men with stretchers were already carrying off the
wounded and collecting the dead. A few yards beyond


our works I met two men. One, tall and powerful,
was leaning heavily upon the other, a boy who was car-
rying the guns of both. The former asked me if I knew
where the field-hospital was? After directing him to
it I inquired where he was hurt. He replied by open-
ing his shirt and exposing the path of a minie-bullet
directly through his chest. I took his name, and after-
wards traced him, found that he recovered, and was,
when last heard from, a healthy man. His surgeon
said that the wound was received during the exhalation
of the air from his lungs. Had the ball entered the
lungs during inhalation, the wound must have been fatal.

The buildings in the valley, which had been fired by
the shells, burned very slowly, and were only now fully
aflame. On all the floors, on the roofs, in the yards,
within reach of the heat, were many bodies of the dead
or dying, who could not move, and had been left behind
by their comrades. The odor of burning flesh filled the
air ; it was a sickening spectacle !

Near a large fallen tree lay one in the uniform of an
officer. His sword was by his side, but his hand grasped
a rifle. What could have sent an officer here to act as
a sharp-shooter ? I placed my hand on his chest to de-
tect any sign of life. It encountered a metallic sub-
stance. I opened his clothing, and took from beneath
it a shield of boiler-iron, moulded to fit the anterior por-
tion of his body, and fastened at the back by straps and
buckles. Trusting to this protection, he had gone out
that morning gunning for Yankees. In the language of
a quaint epitaph in Vernon, Vt., upon one who died from

" The means employed his life to save,
Hurried him headlong to the grave I"

Directly over his heart, through the shield and through


his body, was a hole large enough to permit the escape
of a score of human lives.

I had not forgotten the sharp-shooter "winged" by
the target-rifle. There, behind the log, he lay, on his
back, his open eyes gazing upwards, with a peaceful ex-
pression on his rugged face. In the middle of his fore-
head was the small wound which had ended his career.
A single crimson line led from it, along his face, to where
the blood dropped upon the ground. A minie-rifle, dis-
charged, was grasped in his right hand ; a box, with a
single remaining cartridge, was fast to his side. The
rifle and cartridge-box were of English make, and the
only things about him which did not indicate extreme
destitution. His feet, wrapped in rags, had coarse shoes
upon them, so worn and full of holes that they were only
held together by many pieces of thick twine. Ragged
trousers, a jacket, and a shirt of what used to be called
" tow-cloth," a straw hat, which had lost a large portion
of both crown and rim, completed his attire. His hair
was a mat of dust and grime ; his face and body were
thickly coated with dust and dirt, which gave him the
color of the red Virginia clay.

A haversack hung from his shoulder. Its contents
were a jack-knife, a plug of twisted tobacco, a tin cup,
and about two quarts of coarsely cracked corn, with,
perhaps, an ounce of salt, tied in a rag. My notes, made
the next day, say that this corn had been ground upon
the cob, making the provender which the Western farmer
feeds to his cattle. This was a complete inventory of the
belongings of one Confederate soldier.

How long he had been defending Richmond I do not
know. But it was apparent that he, with Early 's army,
during the past six weeks had entered the valley at
Staunton, and had marched more than three hundred


miles, ready to fight every day, until now, when in the
front, he was acting as a sharp-shooter before Washing-
ton. He was evidently from the poorest class of South-
ern whites. I detached his haversack and its contents
from his body and carried them away.

I noticed many of the Confederate dead who were
clothed in blue, and had it not been for the hats, which
were of many shapes and sizes, they would have closely
resembled our own men. Where the brigade had formed
which afterwards charged the Confederates and drove
them over the hill, there were many Federal dead. It
was subsequently reported that our loss here exceeded
two hundred and fifty. The time could not have been
longer than ten minutes before they were all lying flat
on the ground.

It was after nightfall when we started to return to
the city. The soldiers on their way to the front, having
been notified that the fight was ended, had bivouacked
in the fields, and left the road clear, so that we made
rapid progress. On our left, a single heavy gun from a
fort at intervals sent a shell, with a screaming rush, in
the direction of the retreating Confederates, like some
wild animal growling his anger at the escape of his
prey. It was the last gun of the attack upon "Washing-
ton. We carried the news of the retreat of the Confed-
erates to the city, and that night its inhabitants slept
soundly, free from alarm or anxiety.

In order to show the disparity between his own and
the Union forces on the 12th of July, General Early has
made a singular combination of figures. It is said that
figures never lie, but sometimes they come closer to a
false impression than the Confederate general did to the
capture of Washington. Although such was not the
fact, let it be assumed, as he claims, that within the cir-


cle of the defences of the capital there were about 20,000
men quartermasters ; laborers, who had never had a
gun in their hands; district militia, of doubtful alle-
giance ; department clerks, and soldiers only half cured
of their wounds. No one then familiar with the state
of affairs in Washiagton will doubt that the condition
and forces of the defences were accurately known to
General Lee. It was upon that knowledge that Early's
campaign was projected and executed; that he came
before the city ; that he had disposed his forces ; that
he had ordered the assault at dawn on Tuesday morn-
ing. We must believe this, for General Early so wrote
down the facts only two days afterwards. Of what
avail, then, to take the census of males in the city?
General Early intended to strike the capital before
Grant could reinforce it, and to that end he had made
a march of almost incredible swiftness and severity.
When he ordered the assault, he believed he had reached
Washington with its situation unchanged, and so had
accomplished his object. Such facts cannot be refuted.
They establish the ultimate fact by circumstantial proof,
which is declared by the common law to be more satis-
factory than the positive evidence of witnesses, who may
be mistaken, while circumstances are always consistent
with each other. It must therefore be accepted as a fact
of history that the capture of Washington and the re-
lease of the Confederate prisoners at Point Lookout were
the objectives of Early's campaign.

Nor is the exact hour of his arrival before Washington
any more important. At Frederick he was only thirty-
five miles from the capital. In his report of July 14th
he says, " On the morning of the 10th, I moved towards
Washington, taking the route via Rockville, and then
turning to the left to get on the Seventh Street Pike.


The day was very hot, and the roads exceedingly dusty,
but we marched thirty miles." He passed the night of
the 10th within five miles of Washington. Presump-
tively, he could have attacked next morning, when a
considerable portion of his force was at Silver Spring
and above Georgetown, within two miles of the defences.
His own statement of the positions of his force on the
llth is very indefinite. The first detachment of the Sixth
Corps did not reach the defences until after four in the
afternoon. Had he made the attack on the morning of
the llth, he would have found the city in the condition
supposed by General Lee when the campaign was pro-
jected. The Confederate army would have met with
no resistance except from raw and undisciplined forces,
which, in the opinion of General Grant, and it was sup-
posed of General Lee also, would have been altogether
inadequate to its defence. Its capture and possession for
a day would have been disastrous to the cause of the
Union. Early would have seized the money in the
Treasury, the archives of the departments, the immense
supplies of clothing, arms, and ammunition in store ; he
would have compelled General Grant to raise the siege
of Richmond ; he would have destroyed uncounted mill-
ions in value of property, and he would have had the
same opportunity to retreat of which he availed himself
next day.

But with his veterans behind the defences, he would
have had no occasion to retreat. The released prisoners
at Point Lookout in two days would have added 20,000
to the strength of his army. The Confederates of Mary-
land would have swarmed to his assistance, and he could
certainly have held the capital long enough to give Great
Britain the excuse she so much desired, to recognize the
Confederacy and break the blockade. After the danger


had passed, when its magnitude became apparent, there
was but one opinion among the friends of the Union.
It was that we had escaped a loss of prestige and prop-
erty, compared with which previous disasters would have
been trifling, and probably a blow fatally destructive to
the Union cause.

And there is another record which will be held in
honor so long as and wherever courage is held to be a
virtue among men. It is the page which is filled with
the story of Monocacy, where the streams ran blood, in-
experienced men fought like veterans, and veterans like
the legionaries of Caesar. When the children of the re-
public are asked what it was that brought Early 's cam-
paign to naught and saved the capital, let them be taught
to answer, " General Wallace and his command at the
battle of Monocacy, and the arrival of the Sixth Corps
within the defences of the capital."

As promised, I proceed to compare other statements
of General Early with facts which no one has ever ques-
tioned. Possibly they may have a bearing upon the
credibility of other statements of his which are contro-
verted. In his report of July 14th, after stating that he
had " moved his force up to the vicinity of the fortifica-
tions" (of the capital), he says : " Late in the afternoon
of the 12th, the enemy advanced in line of battle against
my skirmishers (of Rode's division), and the latter being
reinforced, repulsed the enemy three times"

No other account of the proceedings of that day makes
any mention of any repulse of Federal troops, nor of any
advance by them " in line of battle." In his article pub-
lished long after the war, General Early referred to this
advance as an affair which occurred late in the after-
noon of the 12th, between some troops sent out from the
works and " a portion of the troops in my front line."


General Long has omitted all mention of such an event.
The account which I have given of the fighting before
the works on that afternoon could be confirmed by two
thousand witnesses. The only line of battle that after-
noon was formed by Bidwell's brigade, after they had
charged over the valley and up to the crest of the hill,
opposite the fort, and driven every Confederate over the
hill and out of sight of "Washington. And this brigade
was not repulsed ; on the contrary, it went up the hill at
a speed scarcely outstripped by the pursued Confederates.
On the top of the hill these veterans did form in line of
battle, and were charged upon by the Confederate cavalry.
But it was the cavalry, and not the Union force, which
was repulsed and retreated. If the subject were open to
argument, it might be asked for what possible purpose
a force, attacked when it was behind breastworks, went
out to form a line of battle in front of them ! No, this
is a statement that cannot possibly be true.

General Early frankly confesses that some of his men
who were captured before Washington " did some very
tall talking about my (his) strength and purposes." He
says that he himself told a "sympathizer" that he
" would not mind so small a force as 20,000 in the earth-
works of Washington." Such observations are so very
difficult to explain, that we may leave them with the
comment that they do not increase our confidence in the
evidence of the witness who made them.

Both General Early and General Long have asserted
frequently, and with great apparent satisfaction, that the
Confederate advance " threw the authorities, civil and
military, at the Federal capital, as well as the whole pop-
ulation of Washington, into a wild state of alarm and
consternation." Similar statements have been so fre-
quently made that they have been countenanced by some


Union writers since the war, who have no personal knowl-
edge on the subject. General Early even claims that the
universal " wild dismay " so upset the Northern judg-
ment as to disqualify it from forming any reliable con-
clusions, and that it led to the most exaggerated esti-
mates of the Confederate forces.

These statements are destitute of the least shadow of
foundation, for a reason which is conclusive. The Union
men in "Washington had not the slightest knowledge of
the existence of the danger. No confidence was placed
in the press, which as often contradicted as it asserted the
fact of Early's advance, and all its statements were upon
rumor. It may be assumed that those who had the cus-
tody of the money and securities would have been in-
formed as early as others, but until the Sixth Corps was
in sight of the capital on Monday, neither the treasurer
nor the register had any knowledge on the subject. Had
I supposed there was even danger of possible delay on
the railroads, I should have sent away my family, who
were staying with me at a hotel. When they finally
left the city on Monday, I offered to a party of acquaint-
ances the opportunity of going by the same train, and
told them what I had seen above Georgetown. But they
were so confident that only cavalry raiders were around
the city that they declined, and consequently Major Gil-
mor relieved them of their luggage at the Gunpowder
River the next morning.

There was indignation in "Washington when the facts
were known, but there was no scare and no fear. And
the indignation was directed against our own authori-
ties, and not against the Confederates, the former being
charged with the defence of the city. It was claimed
that they should not have permitted its exposure to any
danger. Even now, when we learn from the Memoirs


of General Lee that, within four hours after the de-
spatch of the Sixth Corps by General Grant to the de-
fence of Washington, a courier was on his way from
General Lee to General Early with a letter giving its
numbers and destination, we may consider it somewhat
remarkable that one third of Lee's army could have been
detached on the 13th of June, and marched over two
hundred miles into Maryland, and no knowledge of the
movement have reached Grant until the 5th of July,
when he sent the first reinforcement of a part of the
Sixth Corps to Baltimore.

The effect produced by the mere presence of this corps
was a grand tribute to the reputation of its soldiers. No
one asked what its numbers were. They had come, and
the capital was saved. The friends of the Union at once
assumed that the city must have been in danger, or Gen-
eral Grant would not have sent the Sixth Corps to its
defence. The inhabitants resumed their ordinary avoca-
tions : one went to his field, another to his merchandise,
with perfect confidence that the Sixth Corps would take
care of Washington ; and from his instant and precipitate
retreat the belief was universal that General Early was
of the same opinion.



THOSE who were with the President upon the three
occasions when the capital was supposed to be in danger
of capture know that in neither of them did he exhibit
any evidence of excitement or apprehension. The loss
of the capital he regarded as a disaster that would prob-
ably be fatal, because it would give Great Britain a pre-
text for intervening in our affairs, of which she would
certainly avail herself. For that reason he did not be-
lieve it would happen. He made no parade of his faith,
but upon proper occasions he spoke of our ultimate suc-
cess as one of the designs of the Almighty, and that he
would protect the country against any disaster from
which it could not recover. He kept General McClellan
in command in the campaign which ended at Antietam,

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 30 of 35)