« PreviousContinue »
nation. Frivolous, worldly, imitating other nations; nourishing in the very bosom of the Republic the serpent of a barbarous despotism ; in our heedlessness and hurry giving no ear to the cries of the oppressed; we needed the baptism of blood and the awful lessons of loss to bring us back to sanity and soberness. The furnace of civil war was indispensable to fuse conflicting elements, and to pour the molten materials of the diverse States into the single mould of one mighty and masterful Nation. In order that it might take the lead of all the proud banners on the globe, our flag must first be humbled, and win its way through dust and battle-smoke to the eminence above all eminences of earthly power, where it is destined at last to float.
There seems to have been something fatal to our armies in the mere name of Bull Run. The visitor to the scene of the first disaster is already on the field of the second. The battles of the subsequent year, fought on a more stupendous scale, and sweeping over a vast area, included within their scope the hills on which we were standing.
To reach the scene of the principal contest in 1862, however, an advance of a mile or two had to be made. We rode on to a piece of woods, in the shade of which we halted, surrounded by marks of shot and shell in the timber, and by soldiers' graves lying lonely among the trees, with many a whitened bone scattered about or protruding. There, it being mid-day, we partook of luncheon sauced with Widow Henry's peaches.
On the west of us was a large stony field sloping up to a wood-crowned height, – a field strown thick with dead in those sanguinary days of ’62. The woods in which we were, extended around the north side of it also, forming a connection with the woods beyond. Making the circuit of this shady boundary, we reached the crest, which, strengthened greatly by an unfinished railroad track cut through it, afforded the enemy their most formidable position during the second Bull Run battle.
At the summit of the open field stands another monument, similar to that we had first seen, dedicated to the “ Memory of the Patriots who fell at Groverton, August 28th, 29th, and 30th, 1862.” This inscription had been mutilated by some Rebel band, and made to read “ Confederate Patriots”; but my tall friend, arming himself with a stone, stepped upon the pedestal, amid the black rows of shells surrounding it, anc. resolutely ground the offensive word out of the tablet.
Groverton, which has given the field its name, is a little cluster of three or four buildings lying out west of it on the turnpike.
There are two or three points of striking resemblance between the first and second battles of Bull Run. At one time almost a victory, this also proved at last a defeat; and again the North was filled with consternation at seeing the barrier of its armies broken, and the country laid open to the foe. After the first Bull Run, the Rebels might have entered Washington almost without opposition. After the second, they did invade Maryland, getting as far as Antietam. It is also a circumstance worthy of note, that in each fight the victory might have been rendered complete, but for the failure of an important command to perform the part assigned it. General Patterson remained inert at Winchester, while Johnston, whom it was his business to look after, hastened to reinforce Beauregard and turn the scale of battle. At the second Bull Run, General Porter's neglect to obey the orders of General Pope wrought incalculable mischief, and contributed similarly to change the opening successes into final discomfiture.
Lastly the lesson taught by both disasters is the same : that the triumph of a bad cause is but illusory and transient; while for the cause which moves duly in the divine currents of human progress there can be no failure, for, though tossed and buffeted, and seemingly wrecked, its keel is in the eternal waters, the winds of heaven fill its sails, and the hand of the Great Pilot is at the helm.
Returning, we stopped at the “stone house" near the first battle-field, in hopes of getting some personal information from the inhabitants. They were present during the fight, and the
outer walls show enduring marks of the destructive visits of cannon-shot. The house was formerly a tavern, and the man who kept it was one of those two-faced farmers, Secessionists at heart, but always loyal to the winning side. By working well his political weathercock, he had managed to get his house through the storm, although in a somewhat dismantled condition. The bar-room was as barren as the intellect of the owner. The only thing memorable we obtained there was some most extraordinary cider. This the proprietor was too proud to sell, or else the pretence that it belonged to the “old nigger” was nearer the truth than my tall friend was willing to admit. At all events, the cold nigger" brought it in, and received pay for it besides, evidently contrary to his expectations, and to the disappointment of the landlord.
“Uncle, what sort of cider is this? how did you make it?' For neither of us had ever tasted anything resembling it before, nor did we wish ever to taste its like again.
Uncle, standing in the door, with one foot on the threshold, ducking and grinning, one hand holding his old cap, and the other his knee, after earnest urging, told us the secret.
“ Dat cidah, sah, I made out o' peaches and apples mixed, 'bout half and half. Dat's what makes it taste cur’us.”
“Oh, but that's not all, uncle ; you put water in it! You meant to cheat us, I see, with your miscegenated cider and water!”
Uncle did not exactly understand the nature of this charge, but evidently thought it something serious.
“No, no, gentlemen, I did n't do it for roguishness! I put in de peaches 'case dar was n't apples enough. I pounded 'em up wid a pestle in a barrel. Den I put a stake under de house corner wid rocks on to it for a press. I put de water in to make de juice come easier, it was so dry!”
Having learned his method of manufacturing cider, we in quired his opinion of the war.
"Did n't you think, Uncle, the white folks were great fools to kill each other the way they did ?” said my friend.
“ 'T would n't do for me to say so; dey was old enough, and
ageable enough, to know best; but I could n't help tink'n sah!”
Returning to the Junction, I saw a very different type of the Virginia negro: an old man of seventy, who conversed intelligently, but in a strangely quiet and subdued tone, which bespoke long suffering and great patience. He had been a free man seven years, he told me; but he had a brother who still served the man he belonged to.
“But he, too, is free now,” I said. “Don't he receive wages ? ”
The old man shook his head sadly. “There's nothing said about wages to any of our people in this part of the country. They don't dare to ask for them, and their owners will hold them as they used to as long as they can. They are very sharp with us now. If a man of my color dared to say what he thought, it would be all his life was worth!”
On a day of exceeding sultriness (it was the fourth of September) I left the dusty, stifled streets of Washington, and went on board the excursion steamer Wawaset, bound for Mount Vernon.
Ten o'clock, the hour of starting, had nearly arrived. No breath of air was stirring. The sun beat down with torrid fervor upon the boat's awnings, which seemed scarce a protection against it, and upon the glassy water, which reflected it with equal intensity from below. Then suddenly the bell rang, the boat swung out in the river, the strong paddles rushed, and almost instantly a magical change took place. A delightful breeze appeared to have sprung up, increasing as the steamer's speed increased. I sat upon a stool by the wheelhouse, drinking in all the deliciousness of that cooling motion through the air, and watching compassionately the schooners with heavy and languid sails lying becalmed in the channel, indolent fellows, drifting with the tide, and dependent on influences from without to push them, — while our steamer, with flashing wake, flag gayly flying, and decks swept by wholesome, animating winds, resembled one of your energetic, original men, cutting the sluggish current, and overcoming the sultriness and stagnation of life by a refreshing activity.
On we sped, leaving far behind the Virginia long-boats, with their pointed sails on great poles swung aslant across the masts, - sails dingy in color and irregular in shape, looking, a little way off, like huge sweet potatoes. Our course was southward, leaving far on our right the Arlington estate embowered in foliage on the Virginia shore; and on our left