18th.—Left camp this morning at 6 o’clock, on the Williamsburg road, and at 12 to 1, passed in retreat over the scenes of our first hard fight, where my regiment, by its firm and unyielding bravery, won the promise that it “should have Williamsburg inscribed on its banner;” a promise richly merited but never fulfilled.
When passing through Williamsburg I, in company with Surgeon Frank H. Hamilton, stepped aside to take a stroll through the halls and rooms of old William and Mary, the oldest college, I believe, except Yale, on this continent. There still stood the students’ desks and seats, at which Virgil and Ovid and Horace had kindled whatever spark they possessed of poetic fire, and Livy had evoked many a curse at his dry detail. There were the black-boards on which the mysteries of Euclid were solved into the unwavering language of distance and of measure, and there was the old chapel, with the benches still in situ, from which for more than a century, hopeful youths had sat and listened to prayers for their usefulness and prosperity, whilst they laid plans of mischief against the supplicators for their good. But the places of the Professors were now filled with the inevitable Commissary and his aids, with their barrels and their boxes, whilst the benches of the students were crowded with clamors for their bacon, beef and beans. I mused for awhile over thoughts of the learned men who had passed forever from these ancient halls, and of the influences they have left behind them.
“Their heads may sodden in the sun,
Their limbs be strung to city gates and walls;
But still their spirits walk Abroad.”
They certainly do not walk here. The sight would be too painful for sensitive and sensible spirits to bear. But these thoughts were dissipated as I looked again on the places where for the first time any number of our regiment had met death on the battle field, and on which it won laurels which shall be green forever!
At 2 o’clock we encamped on the east bank of King’s Creek, a small stream about three miles from Williamsburg, on the banks of which repose the bodies of thousands of the Federal army—of those brave men, who, flushed with hope and patriotic enthusiasm, rushed boldly to the contest, and were permitted to be swept away by hundreds, unsupported by commanders, who, with their hosts unengaged, stood calmly watching the slaughter.