FIRST REGIMENT VIRGINIA INFANTRY.
BY this time full information concerning the battle at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, had been received, and the result was found to be a repulse to Johnston and Beauregard's army, and, while causing an immense loss to the Union forces, was a terrible blow to the rebellion. Important events had followed this: Fort Pulaski, near Savannah, Georgia, was taken by General Hunter; General Burnside and the navy had met with success along the North Carolina coast; Admiral Farragut had passed the forts above the mouth of the Mississippi, and General Butler's forces were in possession of New Orleans. This was the most important success as yet gained by the Union forces, and at first the value of it would hardly be estimated. The population of New Orleans, as well as the leading men of the rebellion, felt entire confidence in the ability of Fort Jackson and St. Philip to repel any attempt of the kind; and when the news was carried to the city that Farragut had passed them, such was the firm trust in the power of these defences, indeed, in their impregnability, entertained by the people of that city, that they wou1d not believe it until confronted by the admiral's flag-ship anchoring at the foot of Canal Street, with her guns run out, fully prepared to destroy the town if need
be. General Lovell gave up the city and beat a retreat, powerless to resist the land and naval forces under Butler and Farragut. General McClellan had moved the Army of the Potomac to the Yorktown Peninsula to begin his operations where those in the Revolution ended about eighty years before, and in an action there had driven the enemy to his intrenchments about Richmond. Finally it may be noted that Norfolk had been occupied by the Union forces; millions of dollars' worth of property at the navy-yard had been destroyed by the enemy upon evacuating. The sudden appearance of the little "Monitor," and the fight between that vessel and the ironclad ram "Virginia" in Hampton Roads, and the destruction of the latter shortly afterwards, was occasion for general joy throughout the North; and while it ended the hopes of the rebels of destroying New York and Boston, or at least placing these cities at the mercy of their ironclad, it completely revolutionized naval warfare, and was the cause of astonishment, not to say consternation, to the naval powers of Europe.
On the 12th, the regiment being on picket, marching orders were received, and at noon the men packed up, fell into line, and marched for - where was the question that none could answer. The direction, however, was down the river, and, having marched ten miles, they bivouacked at White House bridge. The following day the men were in line at six A.M., marched through the town of Luray, the county-seat of Page County, containing probably four or five hundred inhabitants, and bivouacked nine miles north of it at nine P.M. Annoying delays occur on these marches, the rear brigade generally suffering by getting to the place selected for the night's rest at a late hour. Twelve miles were marched, and, judging by the sun, the direction was north. On the 14th marched again at six A.M., the roads being quite muddy in consequence of the rainfall the day before, passed through the town of Front Royal, which is in Warren County, and bivouacked in the mud just north of it, having marched seventeen miles. The next day the regiment passed through Chester Gap in the Blue Ridge, and, being in the advance of the column at this time, was the first to tread the soil of what might be called the tide-water, or eastern, District of the State. Eleven miles was the distance travelled this day. There was some skirmishing with the cavalry of the enemy during the latter part of the day, annoying the column some, but doing no serious damage. The weather was fine and the men in good spirits.
On the 16th a troop of the First Virginia (Union) Cavalry skirmished along the road (Springville pike). At times the firing of carbines was quite lively. The cavalry had several men wounded. Finally two or three companies of the First Infantry were thrown forward in support, but the enemy did not stay for a close acquaintance. It was ascertained that this was Mumford's cavalry, and were reported to have several men killed, and some lost some of their equipments in addition in this affair. The progress made was ten miles.
This day, Major Duval, in his search for forage for the animals, which was running short, rode down a lane or narrow road towards a promising-looking barn, not observing, or at least not heeding the fact that another lane ran at right angles to the one he was on. Upon his return at the junction of the two lanes he was confronted by four or five of the enemy's cavalry. Major Duval, who at first was startled, immediately made up his mind as to his plan of procedure. He was riding a very powerful horse, full of life; advancing coolly, and, to all appearances, quite indifferent about the matter, when within eight or ten paces of the squad two or three of them aimed their carbines at him and demanded his surrender. The major saluted them, lifting his cap, and at the same instant plunged the spurs into his horse, which sprang forward madly, literally knocking them out of the road and nearly unseating two of them, which action, unlooked for, so completely disconcerted the whole party that he got far enough away to render their aim very uncertain; though they fired several shots at him, he escaped without a scratch, leaving a trophy in the hands of the enemy to re-mind them of the adventure a blanket that had been torn from its fastenings.
The land in the country the command was now traversing (Fauquier County) lies as pretty for cultivation as ever the sun shone on, gently undulating, with small streams cutting it up, affording the necessary water for pasture, etc., but, alas, everywhere shows the blight of slave-labor, the soil being wholly exhausted, the Canada thistle flourishing, and, to all appearances, beans planted would not yield the seed sown. This applies to large tracts in Stafford, Culpepper, Rappahannock, and Fauquier Counties, and probably to some of the adjoining counties. Evidently the great need of this country is the location of small farmers, a class of men who have the industry, the thrift, and the knowledge to restore the soil, - not a difficult task, having so good an assistant as Nature. The following day the march was resumed at 7 A.M., passing through Warrenton, a town apparently of about one thousand inhabitants, to one mile beyond. Bivouacked at five P.M., having marched twenty miles. The lesson of the day before satisfied Mumford's cavalry, as they attempted no interference on this day.
In passing through Warrenton the First attracted a great deal of attention from the ladies; as for men, there were none to be seen, except, occasionally, a very old one. The ladies, doubtless, were attracted by the music, the bright flags, and the fine appearance of the men marching with cadence step. The First never looked better, though the clothing of the men was considerably worn, the wear and tear having been great on the Shenandoah. One young lady remarked, "Oh, look, grandma; there goes a Virginia regiment!" The elderly lady, after adjusting her glasses and taking a good look, replied, "Oh, yes; they are those Western Virginians," laying a strong emphasis on the Western, which, doubtless explained it all to the younger lady. The chief hostlery of the place bore the novel name or "Warren Green," and gave evidence, such as a much-worn door-step, polished seats made smooth by long and frequent use, that it had been a popular resort, and could it speak would undoubtedly be able to tell many stories, like the Boar's Head Tavern of Dame Quickly, of bout and carousal, perhaps with tragic end. However, no stop was made to inquire concerning this, as it was evident that the command has business farther along.
The next day being Sunday there was a general wash, followed with preaching by the chaplain of the First Virginia and Seventh Ohio, who had a large, and it may be said, attentive and interested, audience, and probably very few more in need of such services could be found. The First and Second Brigades passed this afternoon on the way to Catlett's Station, which is on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, for which point, it was rumored, the Third was to take up the march in the morning. Accordingly, on the next day marched at seven A.M., arriving at Catlett's at four P.M. Duryea's brigade was encamped here, being drilled, and an admirable place it was for the purpose. The men of the Third Brigade being rather badly clad were the object of considerable ridicule from these well-dressed men, and the majority of them being from the West, were not devoid of interest to them, as Duryea's men were from the East. After several encounters they became more respectful in language and deportment, as they found the Western men would not stand the "chaffing."
The regiment remained here until the 21st, when the line of march was taken up at nine A.M., facing south in the direction of Fredericksburg. Camped at ten P.M., the men very tired, and annoyed with delays which they could not account for, - all the marching nearly being done in afternoon and night, - and when turned into a rocky field for rest, the majority of the men, hence lay down among the rocks supperless, but to sleep, nevertheless. They were in Stafford County at the time. Throughout this section of the State a very pleasant feature was observed along the thoroughfares, first noticed after getting east of the Blue Ridge, which was the number of cherry-trees lining the sides of the roads. So large is their growth and so dense their foliage that they afford a delightful shade to the traveller, and during the season abundance of fruit to the wayfarer, which is greatly enjoyed by the men.
The next day marched two miles beyond Falmouth, on the Rappahannock River, immediately opposite Fredericksburg, and bivouacked early in the evening, having marched eighteen miles. There were many new troops here, all apparently from New York and the New England States. The First was a curiosity to these men, they not knowing that there were any Virginia troops in the Union army. Of course their approbation of the brigade and General Shields took the form of cheers and offers of service, which warmed the hearts of Shield's men and almost made them forget their rags, though reminded of them at first by very unpleasant remarks from some of their indiscreet comrades, who, it may be observed, were taught a lesson in good manners by some of these rather ragged fellows, and the latter, by an event the next day, were further forcibly reminded of them. The following day General McDowell's division and two brigades of Shields's division were reviewed by President Lincoln and Secretary Stanton. The Third Brigade, being so badly clothed, was not included in the review. This was the only time that the majority of the men ever saw the President. Care and thought had already begun their work on his features; lines of wrinkles furrowed his brow, cheeks were hollow, and body appeared to have shrunk from his clothing. His coat hung from his gaunt form, and appeared to have been made for a larger man. His appearance was in striking contrast to the bluff and hearty looking Secretary at his side. His appearance will never be forgotten by the men. The kindly-beaming smile which lit up his face for the boys of Shields's division has left a lasting impression on those boys.