August 29, 1862, The New York Herald
OUR SPECIAL ARMY CORRESPONDENCE.
NEAR MANASSAS JUNCTION, August 27, 1862.
We have had an exciting day of it, as I will relate. The guard at Manassas consisted of about one thousand men, which, with the army a long way in advance, would be considered sufficient to hold it and look out for everything in the neighborhood. We fancied ourselves secure enough, but had not neglected the usual precautions to prevent a surprise.
At ten o’clock this forenoon the random firing of our pickets gave warning that something was wrong, and but a few minutes elapsed before they came running in, closely followed by cavalry, which we at once recognized to be anything but friends. Not knowing the force we were attacked by, and having no means of discovering, retreat became the order of the day, and excellent time was made on our side.
The surprise, or rather the approach, was so sudden that no defence could be made. As it was, our retreat was not quick enough; for the rebel cavalry succeeded in capturing a number of men, and committing any amount of depredations. Our force was composed of new recruits, and it could be hardly expected they should show front to an enemy that were unknown in force. Our people fell back some seven miles, where another guard was stationed, who succeeded in stopping the retreat until the enemy’s force was known.
It was afterwards discovered that the force which attacked us was a regiment of Stuart’s cavalry, under Fitzhugh Lee, about eight hundred strong. After they had driven us from our position, they proceeded to destroy three or four trains of empty cars which were at the junction, and they succeeded in accomplishing their object, besides which they destroyed everything of value they could find in the neighborhood.
As soon as their work was completed they proceeded to enjoy themselves, the secession females of the neighborhood having provided an entertainment for them. While they were discussing the good things, many of our men who had been taken prisoners managed to escape, and from them we learned the force and character of the enemy.
Now that the horse is out of the stable, General Halleck proceeds to lock the door, by ordering a force to Manassas that will be able to protect the point and prevent in future any more visits of a similar nature.
The rebel cavalry are smart fellows — great on the dash — here to-day and there to-morrow. One never knows where to expect them next. They are teaching us lessons in energy and what can be accomplished by rapid movements. Being apt scholars, we shall soon learn, and their lessons will not be thrown away; for we shall play the same game ere long, when they least expect it.
It is impossible to describe all the particulars of this affair. That it was disgraceful no one can gainsay. Further information from the field by those who have seen more of it may better the affair; but we think not.
Our men who retreated say that there were fully five thousand rebels making the attack; but this is all say—nothing more. Those who were in the enemy’s hands, and afterwards escaped, are the best able to judge, and they all declare that the force was all cavalry, and did not exceed eight hundred or a thousand men.
The only mystery is how they got there. No one appears to be able to solve the question. With our army in advance, how did this band of marauders manage to get between it and Washington? If affairs of this kind can be managed by the rebels two or three times a week, we may indeed feel shaky as to the final result. We cannot afford, as Yankees, to be outwitted in this manner more than two or three times.
It can hardly be possible that the rebels are in force beyond Warrenton. They may be, however, for they possess the means to move large masses of men, and subsist them quicker and better than we do. Can this cavalry attack be the forerunner of an attack in force from that direction? We hardly know what to think, much less say, and must quietly wait for something else to turn up before we can form an opinion.
We had news from the front prior to this raid up to last evening, and some very interesting intelligence. On the night of the 25th Colonel Rosse, of California, not yet assigned a command, but who led the Twenty-eighth regiment after the death of Colonel Donelly, swam the Rappahannock with a small party of men, and penetrated the enemy’s lines to within a hundred yards of General Lee’s headquarters. He was compelled to cut his way back, without any killed, but had several wounded, himself among the number. He reports several batteries of light artillery in position, having passed them as he forced his way to the river. At the point at which he crossed the enemy were in force, say from six to ten thousand.
We occupy the north bank of the Rappahannock, and the enemy may attempt to cross it, if he chooses; but we doubt, from all that we learn, if he will make the attempt. It is said that he does not appear in any great force on the south side, and that the opinion prevails he has retreated on Gordonsville. Does this report sound well? Is it a good omen that no enemy is to be seen in front? Is it possible that he has retreated when we have a strong cavalry attack in the rear? Does it not seem more probable that we may hear of him next on our flank or in our rear?
After the affair of this morning we may expect a visit from the devils in any direction. If they were to drop from the skies it would not surprise us, even if they came without wings.
It is hoped among us that some movement will be made before long whereby the current can be turned that is now running against us. We must have a victory soon, and without the aid of gunboats, that will have a telling effect, or European opinion will be stronger than ever against us, and the rebels will have it all their own way with foreign governments.
I had almost forgotten to mention the dashing affair of General Sigel the other day, whereby he bagged eight hundred rebels. Two hundred escaped, however, on account of heavy reinforcements coming up for the rebels, preventing sufficient guard being placed over them. The General waited very quietly until they ran into the trap, when he sprang it, securing the lot.
It cannot be many days before news of the most important character will be forwarded from about this point. A tremendous battle is about to be fought, exactly where no one can tell; but it cannot be many miles distant from the point at which I am penning this letter. It will be a battle that all others fought on this continent will sink into insignificance in comparison with, and may decide the war. I am hopeful. I know our strength, the spirit of our troops, the capacity of our leaders; and I believe that we are to be successful. The army we have not far from where I stand is second to none in the world, and, man for man, they cannot be whipped, nor do I believe they can with three to two against them.
Our veteran troops are now in the van. The new troops and those who have been a few months in the field occupy a less important position. A front such as we have cannot be broken, and when the enemy find this out, and move the other way, I am confident there will be no stop until we are in Richmond.