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Page) was seen in the direction of the
armory a flash, accompanied by a report like the discharge of a cannon, followed
by a number of other flashes in quick succession, and then the sky and
surrounding mountains were lighted with the steady- glare of ascending flames.
Captain Ashby, with his squad, immediately rode down into the town, and in a
short time returned with the report that the troops had fired the public
buildings and retreated across the Potomac bridge, taking the mountain road
toward Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania.
On our way down we met a long
line of men, women, and boys, carrying loads of
muskets, bayonets, and other
military equipments. The streets at the confluence of the two rivers were
brilliantly illuminated by the flames from, the Ola Arsenal, which burned like a
furnace. The inclosure around these buildings was covered with splintered glass,
which had been blown out by the explosion of the powder train. A few arm-boxes,
open and empty, lay near the entrance; but nearly all the muskets in this
building, fifteen thousand as stated, were destroyed.
Of the Armory buildings on
Potomac Street one large workshop was in a light blaze, and two others on fire.
Alarmed by the first explosion, the citizens hesitated to approach the
workshops, and warned the Virginia troops not to do so, supposing them to be
mined; but presently becoming reassured on that subject; they went to work with
the engines, extinguished some of the fires, and prevented its extension, to the
town and railroad bridges.
The total destruction of property
therefore, is confined to the old Arsenal, with its contents; the carpenter's
shop on Potomac Street totally destroyed; with slight injury to the
stock-turner's shop. All the remaining shops on Potomac Street, with their fine
machinery, and all the establishment on the Shenandoah, known as Hall's Rifle-
works, are uninjured and
complete. There were saved, also—complete and nearly completed—about two
thousand first-class Minie muskets in the shops and packing-rooms, together with
a quantity of material, iron and wood, in progress of manufacture. I have been
informed that a room full of packed arms, numbering five or six thousand, has
been discovered since by the troops in occupation.
There were very few persons about
the streets, and comparatively little excitement manifested during the
conflagration. Those seen were chiefly engaged in extinguishing the fire and
removing arms and provisions from the adjacent buildings. Some savage temper was
manifested against the Government which gave, and the officer who executed the
order for destruction; and some of the citizens talked of organizing parties to
pursue the retreating troops, but the more considerate advised against it. I do
not believe that any pursuit was undertaken, for soon after Lieutenaut Jones
left several deserters from his party returned to the town and reported no
firing; and it is to be hoped that he was mistaken in supposing his missing turn
to be killed.
Indeed, up to the date of the
burning the best feeling existed between the soldiers and the people; and even
after that event, all better-thinking people exculpated the instruments of the
devastation, and threw the responsibility where it properly belonged.
The estimate of the force
advancing upon the town was based upon information given as to the numbers
expected, and the report of videttes, who, in the darkness, could not tell the
weight of the column, or possibly thought it, only the avant-guard of a larger
force. The attacking party was only two hundred and fifty strong. The conduct of
the Virginians throughout was quiet and determined, there being no exhibition of
vindictiveness, triumph, or excitement of any kind.
THE RENDEZVOUS OF THE VIRGINIANS
AT HALLTOWN, VIRGINIA, 5 P.M. ON APRIL 18, 1861, TO MARCH ON
[SKETCHED BY D. H. STROTHER.]