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ORIGIN OF DUTCH GAP.
The canal was there, - a short, deep channel connecting the river with the river again. The James here describes a long loop, seven miles in extent, doubling back upon itself, so that you may stand on this high bank, and throw a stone either into the southward-flowing or the northward-returning stream.
The canal, which cuts off these seven miles, is four hundred and eighty-six feet in length and fifty in depth from the summit of the bank. It is one hundred and twenty-two feet broad at the top, forty at the bottom, and sixty-five at the highwater level. On the lower side the channel is deep enough for ships. Not so at the upper end, — the head that was blown out having fallen back and filled up the canal. At high water, however, small vessels sometimes get through. The tide had just turned, and we found a considerable body of water pouring through the Gap.
Different accounts are given of the origin of the name of Dutch Gap. It is said that a Dutch company was once formed for digging a ship-canal at that place. But a better story is told of a Dutchman who made a bet with a Virginian, that he could beat him in a skiff-race between Richmond and City Point. The Virginian was ahead when they reached the Gap; what then was his astonishment, on arriving at City Point, to find the Dutchman there before him. The latter had saved the roundabout seven miles by dragging his canoe across the peninsula and launching it on the other side.
Riding up the Richmond road, we stopped at the first human habitation we had seen since leaving Laurel Hill. We had been several hours in the saddle, and stood greatly in need of refreshments. The sight of a calf and a churn gave us a promise of milk, and we tied our horses at the door. The house had been a goodly mansion in its day, but now everything about it showed the ruin and dilapidation of war. The windows were broken, and the garden, out-houses, and fences destroyed. This proved to be Cox's house, and belonged to a plantation of twenty-three hundred acres which included Dutch Gap. Looking at the desolation which surrounded it, I could hardly believe that this had formerly been one of the
finest farms in Virginia, worked by a hundred negroes, and furnished with reapers, threshers, a grist-mill, and saw-mill, all of which had been swept away as if they had never been.
We found lying on a bed in a dilapidated room a poor man sick with the prevailing chills. He had some bread and milk brought for us, and gave us some useful hints about avoiding the torpedoes when we should reach Fort Harrison. He described to us the depredations committed on the place by “Old Butler”; and related how he himself was once taken prisoner by the Yankee marines on the river. “They gave me my choice, — to be carried before the admiral, or robbed of my horse and all the money I had about me. I preferred the robbing ; so they cleared me out and set me free."
I said, “ If you had been taken before the admiral, you would have got your liberty and saved your property.”
His voice became deep and tremulous as he replied: “But I did n't consider horse nor money ; I considered my wife. I'd sooner anything than that she should be distressed. She knew I was a prisoner, and all I thought of was to hurry home to her with the news that I was safe.” Thus in every human breast, even though wrapped in rags, and guilty of crimes against country and kindred, abides the eternal spark of tenderness which atones in the sight of God for all.
Taking leave of the sick man, we paid a brief visit to the casemates of Fort Harrison, then spurred back to Richmond, which we reached at sunset, having been nine hours in the saddle and ridden upwards of forty miles.
Another morning, with two gentlemen of General Terry's staff, and an orderly to take care of our horses, I rode out of the city on the Nine Mile Road, which crosses the Chickahominy at New Bridge ; purposing to visit some of the scenes of McClellan's Richmond campaign.
Passing the fortifications, and traversing a level, scarcely inhabited country, shorn of its forests by the sickle of war, we reached, by a cross-road, the line of the Richmond and York River Railroad. But no railroad was there ; the iron of the track having been taken up to be used elsewhere.
Near by was Fair Oaks Station, surrounded by old fields, woods, and tracts of underbrush. Here was formerly a yard, in which stood a group of oaks, the lower trunks of which had been rendered conspicuous, if not beautiful, by whitewash : hence, “ fair oaks."
It was a wild, windy, dusty day. A tempest was roaring through the pines over our heads as we rode on to the scene of General Casey's disaster. I asked an inhabitant why the place was called “Seven Pines.” “I don't know, unless it's because there's about seven hundred.”
He was living in a little wooden house, close by a negro hut. “The Yankees took me up, and carried me away, and destroyed all I had. My place don't look like it did before, and never will, I reckon. They come again last October; Old Butler's devils ; all colors ; heap of black troops; they did n't leave me anything.”
He spoke with no more respect of the Confederates. “We had in our own army some of the durn’dest scapegalluses ! The difference 'twixt them and the Yankees was, the Yankees would steal before our eyes, and laugh at us; but the Rebels would steal behind our backs." .
On the south, we found the woods on fire, with a furious north wind fanning the flames. The only human being we saw was a man digging sweet potatoes. We rode eastward, along the lines of intrenchments thrown up by our troops after the battle ; passed through a low, level tract of woods, on the borders of the Chickahominy swamps; and, pressing northward, struck the Williamsburg Road.
Colonel G , of our party, was in the Fair Oaks' fight. He came up with the victorious columns that turned back the tide of defeat.
“I never saw a handsomer sight than Sickles's brigade advancing up that road, Sunday morning, the second day of the battle. The enemy fired upon them from these woods, but never a man flinched. They came up in column, magnificently, to that house yonder ; then formed in line of battle across these felds, and went in with flags flying and bayonets
shining, and drove the Rebels. After that we might have walked straight into Richmond, but McClellan had to stop and go to digging.”
We dismounted in a sheltered spot, to examine our maps, then passed through the woods by a cross-road to Savage's Station, coming out upon a large undulating field. Of Savage's house only the foundations were left, surrounded by a grove of locust-trees. My companions described to me the scene of McClellan's retreat from this place, the hurry, the confusion, the flames of government property abandoned and destroyed. Sutlers forsook their goods. Even the officers' baggage was devoted to the torch. A single pile of hard tack, measuring forty cubic feet, was set on fire, and burned. Then came the battle of Savage's Station, in which the corps of Franklin and Sumner, by determined fighting, saved our army from being overwhelmed by the entire Rebel force. This was Sunday again, the twenty-ninth of June : so great had been the change wrought by four short weeks! On that other Sunday the Rebels were routed, and the campaign, as some aver, might have been gloriously ended by the capture of Richmond. Now nothing was left for us but ignominious retreat and failure, which proved all the more humiliating, falling so suddenly upon the hopes with which real or fancied successes had inspired the nation.
IN AND ABOUT PETERSBURG.
On Wednesday, September 27th, I left Richmond for Petersburg. The railroad bridge having been burned, I crossed the river in a coach, and took the cars at Manchester. A ride of twenty miles through tracts of weeds and undergrowth, pine barrens and oaken woods, passing occasionally a drearylooking house and field of "sorry” corn, brought us within sight of the “ Cockade City.” 1
It was evening when I arrived. Having a letter from Governor Pierpoint to a prominent citizen, I sallied out by moonlight from my hotel, and picked my way, along the streets sloping up from the river bank, to his house.
Judge — received me in his library, and kept me until a late hour listening to him. His conversation was of the war, and the condition in which it had left the country. He portrayed the ruin of the once proud and prosperous State, and the sufferings of the people. “ Yet, when all is told,” said he, " you cannot realize their sufferings, more than if you had never heard of them.” His remarks touching the freedmen were refreshing, after the abundance of cant on the subject to which I had been treated. He thought they were destined to be crowded out of Virginia, which was adapted to white labor, but that they would occupy the more southern States, and become a useful class of citizens. Many were leaving their homes, with the idea that they must do so in order fully to assert their freedom; but the majority of them were still at work for their old masters. He was already convinced that the new system would prove more profitable to employers
"The title given to it by President Madison, in speaking of the gallantry of the Petersburg Volunteers, in the war of 1812.