Monday, Sept. 1st.—The defeat which we met with on Saturday, seems to have been a very decisive as well as a very destructive one. Our loss is heavy, though I am not without hopes that the official report will restore many of our lost men, and even place us in possession of the battle field. These official statements are powerful weapons, when well wielded.
We are under a flag of truce all day, removing the dead and wounded from the battle field. I have listened to more than a hundred funeral sermons to-day, each preached in a single second. A dozen muskets at a single volley, tell most impressively and laconically the last sad story, and the spirit of the departed soldier looks down with sad interest on the country which his body can no longer defend.
The enemy can be seen on the move, some eight miles away, and no doubt we shall soon be called to arms.
At 4 P. M. I went down to aid in the hospitals, worked for a short time, and was just prepared, with sleeves rolled up and knife in hand, to excise the shoulder of a poor fellow whose joint had been shattered, when a call to arms arrested further proceedings, and I returned to my regiment. Now, as I write, all is packed and ready, and we are ready to fight or run. The Lord knows which we shall be ordered to do, but presume we shall make another “strategic movement,” and “change our base of operations,” by falling back in the night on Washington. I was so severely reprimanded for saying that we were whipped at the battle of Mechanicsville and Gaines’ Mill, that I shall not venture to write that we are whipped now, but only think we are.
A tremendously heavy shower and hard wind set in about 5 o’clock, and continued till nearly dark, the men sitting in line and taking it as they best could. * * * At about 8 o’clock we took up our line of march towards Washington. The roads were terrible, the night very dark, yet it was a subject of frequent remark that, notwithstanding these embarrassments, we are led much faster from the enemy than towards him. After travelling about five miles, we found ourselves on the ground where a battle had been fought in the afternoon (Chantilly) between Gen. Stevens and the rebels who had got in our rear and were trying to cut off our retreat. The enemy was repulsed, but Gen. Stevens was killed, and his son wounded.
We marched through the rain during the night, and at 2 o’clock A. M. (when I dropped down and slept between my wet blankets for about three hours,) we had reached to within one and a half miles of Fairfax Court House. I now get no letters from home. This being deprived of regular mail matter from their homes, is one of the most cruel of all the impositions inflicted by government officials on the soldiers. If these office-holders could but know the deep interest with which the most illiterate soldier watches for the mails to hear something, anything from the dear home which he despairs of seeing again, it would move his heart, if he has one, not to throw out the soldiers mail to make room for the civilians.
12 o’clock.—More bad news. The dead body of General Philip Kearney has just been sent in by the enemy. He was killed yesterday, in the fight at Chantilly. This is a great loss. “He was the noblest Roman of them all.” If McClellan only possessed his dash, this war would not now be on our hands. Not an hour before his death, I saw him dashing along his lines, then quiet at Centreville, whilst his soldiers rent the air with shouts of gladness at the sight of him! How proud and happy he seemed at the huzzas of his “fighting division.” He little realized how short-lived the pleasure. He started for this place, (Fairfax,) fell in with the enemy, who had got in our rear, engaged and repulsed him, and lost his own life, and never fell a braver man or better fighter.
Our brigade is here, as on the Chickahominy, the rear guard of the army, to protect the rest from a pursuing foe. It seems strange that we should so long be exposed in this perilous position. After this defeat, I fear General Pope’s army will be demoralized. ‘Tis very sad to listen to the tales of bravery and destruction of his devoted troops at Bull Run, on Saturday. Again and again, whilst being borne down and pressed back by superior numbers, on being told that McClellan’s army was in sight and hurrying to their support, would they rally, cheer, and dash themselves against overpowering numbers, and struggle with almost superhuman effort, to hold the field till we could come up; and all this while we, the “Great Army of the Potomac,” were looking on, dallying with time, many, no doubt, praying for the very disaster which happened. Am I prejudiced that I think thus? Had I not written it in this journal, a week before it occurred, I might have hoped so.
10 P. M.—Again in the camp which we left to go to the rescue of General Pope. “Tis hard to write of what seems to me the infamous closing up of this short campaign; but it must be done. At 4 o’clock P. M., we left our camp, a mile below Fairfax, and before 10 o’clock, had accomplished a march which had occupied over a day and a half in our hurried march to save Pope’s army from destruction, our country from disgrace, our fellow-soldiers from slaughter! A day and a half towards the enemy, five hours to get back! There, it is written; it must tell its own story. I have no reflections to journalize. We are in camp, and the leading officers of our army are preparing for a good night’s rest. I do not think many of them will be disturbed by thinking of the groans of the wounded and dying whom they saw butchered, and reached forth no hand to save. God grant them sweet repose and clear consciences.