The Late Great Battle in Virginia.
A correspondent of the New York Tribune, who was with our army in the late battle in Virginia between Gens. Pope and Banks and the rebel General Jackson, writes as follows concerning the engagement:
Between Culpepper and the battle-field we had artillery enough to have blown Slaughter Mountain from its base, but by the superior skill of some one, only four batteries were brought into play. Indeed, so great an amount of artillery was constantly moving on the roads, that it seemed as if the army of Virginia was composed of artillery and nothing else. The position chosen by Jackson was an admirable one. The rising ground to the right of the mountain afforded perfect shelter to vast masses of infantry, which could be poured upon us at any moment.
The portion of our army on the battle-field could not have been worse. The enemy had every advantage, in position, and numbers, and were therefore successful. — Yes, I say successful, although official reports probably announce a victory. Gen. Banks, however, covered himself with glory. There is not a man living who could have managed his men with more skill under the same circumstances. He was constantly in the very thickest of the fight, and shared all the dangers of a common soldier. His brave little army was sacrificed for the want of reinforcements — nothing else.
The lowest estimate of our loss that I have heard is 1,500 — the highest, 3,000. The latter will probably prove correct — that is, in killed, wounded, prisoners and missing.
The army of Virginia is suffering terribly this morning from want of water. — If it is not moved in a few days, hundreds of horses will die of thirst, and men of disease, from drinking the thick mud.
In company with Division Surgeon Ball, of General Morgan's brigade, I rode down the road toward's Slaughter's Mountain, passing upwards of a score of fine battery horses slain in the traces by the splendid firing of our advance pieces on Saturday midnight. The noble animals whom thunder could not jar nor iron rain intimidate, lay close beside each other, the worms already making havoc in their flesh, their limbs stiffened and their ghastly hoofs extended. Here was a splendid wheel, with blood and hair upon its spokes, and a stain, like a rivulet, extending a little way down the clay. Beyond, I came upon the usual indications of retreat — jackets, bayonets, cartridge-boxes and knapsacks, thrown here and there confusedly, trampled, rent and bloody. These traces grew more numerous until I crossed Cedar Creek, where the stench of decaying flesh, men and horse, was plainly perceptible. The ground was trampled as if by the desperate foot of combatants, and off to the left, in the ruined corn-field, I saw a party of gravediggers engaged in their solemn but hasty task of shutting away the face of glory. — The first unburied corpse stared out from the shelter of an oak tree; but the resemblance to man had been well nigh obliterated. The armed were thrown clenchedly back, and the chin raised, with the tendons and thews of the throat bare and black. — The eyes had bulged through their apertures in the flesh, distended to the size of eggs and the hair lay long, tangled and matted with blood, over a forehead blue and yellow by exposure and hastening corruption. What may have been remarked is useless to say, save that no imagination of death was half so terrible. If such feelings were engendered by the glimpse of a single human body, what shall describe the horrible picture of the dead grouped, pay, heaped, upon each other, and withering under a fiery sun? — They lay by the margin of the tributary rivulet, half hidden in the stalks of corn — one with an arm drawn over the eye, another with arms fixedly folded upon the chest, and others sitting bolt upright, as if resurrected and about to speak. There was no speculation in the eyes that they did glare withal; the grave seemed to be open that I might see, and after glory the worm had come to hold high revel upon the good, the gallant and the gifted. A few officers were noted; but the tinsel shoulder straps were rusty and discolored, and they looked like common clay. I noticed one stalwart fellow who had fallen with his musket tightly gripped to his side as if he had fallen at shouldering arms. Some seemed to have died irresolutely, and the terror petrified in their visages; but the predominant expression was one of wrath, caused, perhaps, by the loss of some tried comrade who had fallen previously. A few looked pallid, though their features were so swollen that they compared in size with the dead horses adjacent.
The bodies of these are lifted by their comrades and deposited in trenches, without coffin or headstone. Occasionally the practical sexton discovers some old friend, honors him with a special grave, and quietly makes a note of his resting place for future exigency. All of our dead, so far as I saw or heard, had been plundered of their money, arms, and in some cases, of their clothing. I think that we may have had a hundred and fifty dead. I found them grouped in the edges of all the woods, in one case twenty-two together. Several of these appeared to be killed by fragments of shells, and one man's head was missing. — In curious juxtaposition to those ghastly objects I saw an old fashioned plow that had been struck by solid shot and broken in half. War had levelled the earliest and last industry. By the kindness of the rebel cavalry, Gen. Stewart, to whom I shall presently refer, I was permitted to ride with Lieut. Johnson across the rebel lines and examine the enemy's dead. As most of these had been buried, I could not tell with certainty the rebel loss; but it could scarcely have been less than ours. Eight North Carolinians lay in a row by a fragment of fence — stout, stalwart rustics in homespun clothes, who had perhaps been dragged as conscripts from their homes to perish in an unholy cause. A few of our gravediggers had mingled with the rebel gravediggers, and both had suspended their functions to hold an argument. The Lieutenant ordered the Federals into their own lines, and prevented, it may be, a miniature battle among the disputants. I must say for my conductor that he had a frank face and a fair manner, a goodly mingling of the polite citizen with the stern soldier. We rode into a piece of woods not half a mile from Slaughter's Mountain, where Union and rebel had tugged and tustled face to face, parrying and thrusting with cold steel. Some of the rebels seemed to have edged over to our lines and fell among our men, while some of the Unionists were quite turned around and lay in a bevy of their enemies. The rebels claim to have blown up several cassions left behind us on Saturday evening, and to have picked up more than 2,000 arms, with 60 horses. I saw what was previously undiscovered, about fifty muskets stacked against a piece of scrub timber, and within our lines as re-established.
A great number of our wounded were carted from the field by ambulances. They had lain two days upon the sites of their fall, and were nearly famished and perished. We took in perhaps four hundred on Monday, between nine o'clock and dark. — The enemy had charitably relieved the necessities of a few; but their provisions being limited they were obliged to desert some of the most helpless. Many men had merely broken limbs, upon which they could not stand. Several cases of amputation were undergone on the field, and by 2 o'clock no wounded man remained between our lines and the enemy's.
When the fight commenced we sent a shell directly through the roof of Mrs. Crittenden's house, when most of the family decamped. A Miss Crittenden, said to be comely and fair to look upon, refused, however, to absent herself, and insisted upon remaining with the wounded rebels, who were being rapidly carried to the house. — Directly a shell came hurling down through the roof and floors into the very apartment where the young lady was pouring on oil and wine. It did not burst, however, and she remained till the end, doing good. — The inhabitants of other domicils, and among them the reverend Slaughter, took to their heels at an early hour in the day.
Directly a hale, sober-sided old gentleman, somewhat sunburnt, and dressed in the homespun habit of a farmer, came upon the ground and saluted us silently. He wore a single star upon his back shoulder strap, in the manner of our brigadiers, and had no other symbol of rank. This was the North Carolina Gen. Garley, whose brigade fought so well and were so well slaughtered at Williamsburg. I noticed that his young staff followers had a wholesome respect for him, as indeed he did not look to be always of a May morning guise. With this and the other worthies, the Union Generals Hartsuf and Roberts engaged in conversation. I rode across the brook to a knoll, and proceeded to sketch on the back of an envelope the locality of the battle ground. While thus engaged a man in grayish suit, with grayish-blue pantaloons, and a quantity of fresco upon his arms, hat, belt, and shoulders, trotted up the ascent and saluted me. He was rather gaunt, as if worn down by constant exercise, a good deal grizzled, and hard featured, as if used either to tyrannize or command. His horse was a blooded one, and he rode easily, so that I saw at a glance his position of general of cavalry.
"Are you making a sketch of our position?" said the General to me, curtily.
"Not for any military purpose," said I; "merely for reference."
"Are you a reporter?"
"You may go on."
This was Gen. Stewart, whose achievements rival Ashby's and Morgan's. It was he who made the famous raid with four regiments around Gen. McClellan's army a week before the bloody battles of Richmond. Adverting to his insignias of office, the General, in casual conversation, spoke of his equipments:
"This bridle," said he boyishly, "was made in England and sent to me from my friends across the water. My saddle was shipped by underground from a rebel woman of Baltimore. We will make all these things ourselves after a while.
Referring to our cavalry, Gen. Stewart said that Virginia had the best cavalry in the world, as her men were born riders. — He complimented Rush's lancers, of our service, and the 5th regular Cavalry — the latter for a heroin charge at Gaines' Mill. He and Gen. Hartsuff had been old schoolmates, and accosted each other embarrassedly: "How are you, Hartsuff?" "Stewart, how do you do?" They rode off directly together to revive old times.
These rebels claimed to have seven regiments of Marylanders in their service.