McCall's Report on Battle of Dranesville

 

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Civil War Harper's Weekly, January 11, 1862

We have posted our extensive collection of Harper's Weekly newspapers from the Civil War to this WEB site. They contain fascinating images of the war, and incredible stories of the war. Study of these old newspapers to gain a completely new perspective on the key events and people of the war.

(Scroll Down to See Entire Page, or Newspaper Thumbnails below will take you to a specific page of interest)

 

Charleston

Charleston Harbor

Trent

The Trent Controversy

Mason Slidell

Release of Mason and Slidell

Mississippi River

Mississippi River Map

Louisville

Louisville, Kentucky

McCall Report

McCall's Report on Dranesville

Stone Fleet in Charleston Harbor

Stone Fleet Sunk in Charleston Harbor

Brother Jonathan

Brother Jonathan

Dranesville

The Battle of Dranesville

Port Royal

Port Royal, South Carolina

Washington Defenses

Green River

Battle of Green River

 

 

HARPER'S WEEKLY.

[JANUARY 11, 1862.

30

guided the wand toward the space, opening boundless and blue from the casement that let in the skies. The wand no longer resisted my hand.

In a few moments I felt the floors of the room vibrate; the air was darkened ; a vaporous, hazy cloud seemed to rise from the ground without the casement ; an awe, infinitely more deep and solemn than that which the Scin-Laeca had caused in its earliest apparition, curdled through my veins, and stilled the very beat of my heart.

At that moment I heard without the voice of Lilian, singing a simple sacred song which I had learned at my mother's knees, and taught to her the day before ; singing low, and as with a warning angel's voice. By an irresistible impulse I dashed the wand to the ground, and bowed my head as I had bowed it when my infant mind comprehended, without an effort, mysteries more solemn than those which perplexed me now. Slowly I raised my eyes, and looked round : the vaporous, hazy cloud had passed away, or melted into the ambient rose tints amidst which the sun had sunk.

Then, by one of those common reactions from a period of overstrained excitement, there succeeded to that sentiment of arrogance and daring with which these wild, half-conscious invocations had been fostered and sustained, a profound humility, a warning fear.

"What!" said I, inly, "have all those sound resolutions, which my reason founded on the wise talk of Julius Faber, melted away in the wrack of haggard, dissolving fancies ? Is this my boasted intellect, my vaunted science ? I—I, Allen Fenwick, not only the credulous believer, but the blundering practitioner, of an evil magic ! Grant what may be possible, however uncomprehended—grant that in this accursed instrument of antique superstition there be some real powers —chemical, magnetic, no matter what—by which the imagination can be aroused, inflamed, deluded, so that it shapes the things I have seen, speaks in the tones I have heard—grant this, shall I keep ever ready, at the caprice of will, a constant tempter to steal away my reason and fool my senses?—or if, on the other hand, I force my sense to admit what all sober men must reject —if I unschool myself to believe that in what I have just experienced there is no mental illusion, that sorcery is a fact, and a demon world has gates which open to a key that a mortal can forge —who but a saint would not shrink from the practice of powers by which each passing thought of ill might find in a fiend its abettor? In either case—in any case—while I keep this direful relic of obsolete arts, I am haunted—cheated out of my senses—unfitted for the uses of life. If, as my ear or my fancy informs me, grief—human grief—is about to befall me, shall I, in the sting of impatient sorrow, have recourse to an aid which, the same voice declares, will reduce me to a tool and a slave ?—tool and slave to a being I dread as a foe ! Out on these nightmares ! and away with the thing that bewitches the brain to conceive them!"

I rose; I took up the wand, holding it so that its hollow should not rest on the palm of the hand. I stole from the house by the back way, in order to avoid Lilian, whose voice I still heard, singing low, on the lawn in front. I came to a creek, to the bank of which a boat was moored, undid its chain, rowed on to a deep part of the lake, and dropped the wand into its waves. It sank at once ; scarcely a ripple furrowed the surface, not a bubble arose from the deep. And, as the boat glided on, the star mirrored itself on the spot where the placid waters had closed over the tempter to evil.

Light at heart I sprang again on the shore, and hastening to Lilian, where she stood on the silvered shining sward, clasped her to my breast.

"Spirit of my life !" I murmured, "no enchantments for me but thine ! Thine are the spells by which creation is beautified, and in that beauty hallowed. What though we can see not into the measureless future from the verge of the moment—what though sorrow may smite us while we are dreaming of bliss, let the future not rob me of thee, and a balm will be found for each wound. Love me ever as now, oh my Lilian ; troth to troth, side by side, till the grave!"

" And beyond the grave," answered Lilian, softly.

JOHN SPENCER'S CHRISTMAS
DINNER.

CHRISTMAS-DAY dawned clear and frosty. The snow lay deep in the city streets, but deeper still on the country roads and in rustic lanes, filling them up to a level with the stone walls. Feathery flakes weighed down the branches of the trees, and gave to the whole landscape that aspect of dazzling white with which a New England winter makes us so familiar. Ricks of hay were so completely invested that they might easily be mistaken for mounds of snow. The ruddy-cheeked farmers' boys, with their trowsers tucked into their boots, manfully attacked the large drifts, and with gleaming shovels cut a way through their centre. Now and then the jingling of bells announced the approach of a sleigh or pung making its slow way through the encumbered roads, the horses floundering and smoking with the exertion they were compelled to make.

In a two-story house, accessible from the main street by a narrow lane and full half a mile from any other dwelling, lived John Spencer. There was nothing remarkable about the house. It was a plain building of two stories, built with the usual want of taste which distinguishes the farm-houses of New England. In the main part of the house there were two rooms on a floor, one on each side of the front door, while an L part of later date contained a kitchen, and overhead a bedroom. It

may appear singular that this L part was the' only portion of the house which its owner chose to occupy. The other rooms, though furnished and ready for occupancy, had not been used for years. No fire had been kindled in the old-fashioned fire-places since the last female occupant had been borne out in a coffin fifteen years before.

For fifteen years John Spencer had occupied the house alone. Such had been his choice, since at various times he had been invited to let the remaining portion, but had invariably refused. This was the more singular, as in his solitude he had developed a strong passion for money, and in his own expenses had shown himself penurious to a degree. Little was known of his housekeeping, but his purchases in the village were so scanty, that conjectures could readily be formed as to his style of living, which, so far as could be judged, would hardly have proved tempting to an epicurean.

In the farmers' houses in the neighborhood Christmas received a noisy welcome. Young children danced with delight as they took from the nails to which they had suspended them the well-filled Christmas stockings, and vied with each other in being the first to offer the good wishes of the season. Wherever there are children Christmas is a festive season, and is greeted with joyful acclamations. The hospitable board groans with the weight of dainties, and for once the careful mother throws to the wind prudential considerations, and puts no check upon the vigorous appetites of her offspring. But in John Spencer's dwelling Christmas dawned quite like any other day. It is doubtful if he would have known of its arrival, had not some adventurous urchin in the joy of his heart so far forgotten his usual awe of the taciturn farmer as to greet him with "Merry Christmas!" that very morning. John Spencer eyed the little fellow with some surprise, and muttering that he did not know that it was Christmas-day, to the great amazement of the boy, who regarded St. Nicholas as the greatest saint in the calendar, and the day consecrated to him the most important of the year.

Quite regardless of the character of the day, John Spencer had seated himself in the room which served him alike as kitchen and sitting-room. He was seated on a three-legged stool, such as is sometimes used in milking. Before him was a large pile of corn, which he was busily engaged in husking. A bushel basket at his side received the ears of corn, while the husks were crowded into another to serve for fuel. While he is at work let us glance at him. His figure, which is spare, is tall and somewhat stooping. His age is forty-five, but time has not spared him, and his strongly-marked features give the impression of a more advanced age. Like most who are more accustomed to solitude than society he has an abstracted look. You can read in the rigid lines of his face that he is one who lives for himself, and is seldom called to sympathize with the joys and griefs of others.

For two hours he worked steadily at his self-imposed task ; but when the last ear had been husked he rose from the stool and set about preparing dinner. This was too frugal to be quite in keeping with the day. A couple of sausages were placed over the fire to fry, and the same number of slices of bread were cut for toasting. These preparations completed, John Spencer was about to resume his seat when he was prevented from doing so by an unusual circumstance.

A faint knock was heard at the door, and an indistinct sound, something like a moan, seemed to blend with it.

In great surprise John Spencer advanced to the door and opened it cautiously. He had hardly done so when a woman, leading a boy of eleven by the hand, staggered in,, and, sinking upon the nearest chair, murmured," Help us, in Heaven's name ! We are perishing with cold!"

The unexpected host started in astonishment. He had lived so long in solitude that it was a novel feeling for him—that of having guests under his roof.

" What is the matter?" he asked, awkwardly. "We are very cold," said the boy, shivering. John Spencer's eye rested upon him as he spoke.

He was a handsome boy, with dark chestnut curls, a broad brow, and features that would have been very attractive but that his cheeks were pale and emaciated. His clothing was very scant for the season. Overcoat he had none, nor gloves, and his hands seemed numb with cold as he stretched them over the fire. There was something in the boy's looks that seemed to fix John Spencer's attention. He gazed intently upon his face, and passed his hand over his brow as if to recall some vague memory. With a degree of excitement remarkable in one usually so grave and self-contained, he advanced, and placing his hand on the boy's shoulder, said, hurriedly, " Quick, boy, your name?"

The boy looked up in surprise.

" My name is Charles Evans," he answered. John Spencer started back as if the touch had stung him, and turned hastily to the woman, who was regarding him with a kind of mournful earnestness.

" It is true," she said, anticipating his question. "You see before you, John Spencer, one against whom you have had just cause of complaint. I am Margaret Evans."

" You have darkened my life, Margaret," said John Spencer, gloomily. You have cut me off from joys I might have known. You have made me to differ from other men. Here for fifteen years I have lived in solitude, finding little joy in my own companionship, yet averse to that of others. You have much to answer for, Margaret."

" I have suffered much, John," said the woman, sadly. " Too late I discovered the mistake I had made in giving you up. I do not wish to speak harshly of his father" —she pointed to the boy as she spoke—" but he did not make me happy."

" Where is he now?" asked John Spencer, in a constrained tone.

" He is dead."

"Dead ! How long ?"

"A year since. Do not ask me to describe his

death. It was terrible — his habits were not good."

" And since then?"

" I have submitted to much privation and much suffering. My husband left me nothing. I was in a great city, with no friends to care for me or help me. I tasked my strength to the utmost, but the world is a hard step-mother to her needy daughters. In my despair I at last bethought myself of you. I scarcely dared meet you, for I knew how cruelly I had flung away your heart, but I knew that you used to be generous, and I thought the sight of my distress might lead you to think pityingly of one whom you once professed to esteem."

John Spencer listened with downcast eyes and varying color. At length he looked up.

"You do not know the change that has been wrought in me, Margaret," he said. " I was once generous—at least I think so—but later years have made me selfish. I had no one to care for, and for me what are called life's pleasures moved me little. So for fifteen years I have lived as you see."

He glanced as he spoke around the rudely furnished room.

"Do you know what they call me in the neighborhood, Margaret ?"

She looked at him, half inquiringly, half timidly.

" They call me miserly ; and though at first it made me angry, I soon came to feel that they were right. Yet you have come to me, thinking me generous."

" I have been greatly to blame, John," said Margaret, in a subdued tone. "I am the guilty cause of this great change in you. I feel that I have no right to burden you. As soon as we have warmed ourselves we will go."

" Where?" demanded John Spencer, abruptly.

" I know not," said Margaret, turning pale. " But I think God will not suffer us to perish."

" Neither will I. For to-day at least you shall be welcome in this house. Stay, you must be hungry; is it not so ?"

" We have eaten nothing since yesterday."

" Nothing since yesterday! And this is Christmas-day. No one should go hungry to-day. I must attend to that. But in the mean time you shall not wait. Here are some sausages and toast which I had just cooked for myself. I will take them from the stove, and you and the boy shall eat them."

"But you cooked them for yourself."

" Do not mind me. I can wait a little longer. Besides, I may require a service of you which you can not perform if you are faint."

The boy watched the plain viands with eager eyes while they were being taken from the fire, and needed no second command to partake.

While they were eating John Spencer left the house.

It was half an hour before he returned. There was a heavy basket hanging from his arm. He came in stamping the snow from his boots, and set the basket on the floor.

Margaret and her son looked at him inquiringly. They were seated before the stove. They were already looking more comfortable, now that they were relieved alike from the pangs of hunger and the nipping torture of cold.

" Did you relish your luncheon ?" asked John Spencer of the boy.

" Yes," was the prompt reply.

"And you are no longer hungry ?"

The boy hesitated. In truth the little he had eaten had done little more than stimulate his appetite.

" Come," said John Spencer, his features brightening into an unwonted smile, " I see that you will be able to eat something more."

" Yes, Sir, I think so," said the boy. "Margaret," he continued, turning to the mother, "I must devolve my duties upon you. I have been accustomed to cook for myself, but not for others. I have something in my basket which goes beyond my skill. Can you help me ?"

He lifted the cover and displayed a plump turkey and a variety of groceries.

" It is a long time ago, but I think I remember what my mother used to have for dinner on Christmas-day. If you will help I think for this day at least we will revive the old custom. What say you, Margaret ?"

Margaret was already on her feet, ready to set about the preparation of the Christmas dinner. The boy's eyes sparkled with delight at the prospect before him. Truly a brilliant prospect for one who, an hour since, had been a homeless wayfarer !

It was two hours after the usual time before the dinner was served. It was wonderful to see what interest John Spencer took in its preparation—how he assisted to the extent of his ability ; and when he could no longer be of service, how he watched Margaret as she bustled about.

Suddenly he left the house and returned with a large armful of wood. Half an hour later be threw open the door of the old sitting-room, which for fifteen years had been unoccupied. There was a bright fire blazing in the fire-place.

" We will have dinner here, Margaret," he said, quietly.

In due time the dinner was ready. The turkey was done to a turn, and for the pudding nothing could be more delicious. As John Spencer sat at the head of the table it seemed to him like a dream the life of solitude which he had spent, and the unforgotten past became a reality. His heart was stirred by feelings long dormant, and the thought of returning to the long monotony, now so strangely interrupted, made him shudder.

" Margaret," he said, abruptly, "why should not this continue ?"

"I do not understand you," she said, timidly. "I mean to ask if you will be my wife. You need a home which I can give, and I shall be the happier for companionship."

" You are very kind, John, but I can not let you sacrifice yourself out of pity for me."

" Listen to me, Margaret. I loved you many years since, and I find that in spite of all that has passed I love you still. Will you be my wife?"

" Yes, John."

That was all she said, but it was enough. So it was all arranged as they sat over the Christmas dinner.

The marriage took place on New-Year's Day. There seemed no good reason for delay, since John Spencer had already waited twenty years for his bride. Of course the neighbors indulged largely in gossip, but this concerned John and Margaret little. After long tossing on the restless ocean they had at length found a quiet haven.

May they be happy, and all others who sit beside the Christmas fire!

STOCKINGS AND MITTENS.

THE summer's grain is harvested,

The yellow corn is housed ;

The meadows now are tenantless,

Where late the cattle browsed.

The rustling of the autumn leaves,

That flutter on the ground,

Proclaims the coming season

With a melancholy sound.

In the horror of the battle,

In the hearing of the rattle

Of the hissing rifle-ball;

In the toiling of the marching,

Ere our gallant soldiers fall-

There is pleading for the needing

Of the feet so sorely bleeding,

And the chapped and blistered hands.

Of the hands so true and ready,

Of the feet so strong and steady

Of our gallant UNION bands.

 

A thousand needles glancing

In the sparkling, crackling blaze

Of a host of social hearth-stones,

Twist a thousand different ways ;

Now in, now out they're moving,

Like a thousand rays of light;

And they glisten with the loving

Of remembering eyes to-night.

And the nights grow colder, colder,

As the year is getting older,

On the bloody battle-ground;

And a demon, fierce, unyielding,

In his hand, the night-damp wielding,

Walks his silent, deadly round.

Tortured, tried, but nothing fearing,

For they know the love endearing

Them to kindred hearts at home:

There they stand, still patient waiting

For the future's earnest freighting

Soon from those true hearts to come.

 

Still the thousand needles ringing

Make a music all their own,

Seeming like a low, sad singing—

Retrospective in its tone;

And the little Maltese kitten,

Gently playing with the ball,

Wonders if the sock and mitten

Mean to confiscate it all.

Now the cloud is rising slowly,

For a mission true and holy

From a thousand loving hearts;

Winds among the tangled mazes,

Where the soldier's camp-fire blazes,

Past the grimy powder-carts-

Past the danger of the rifles,

Past the smoke that nearly stifles,

Through the guarded picket stakes.

There they stand, worn out with labor,

Father, Brother, Husband, Neighbor,

" Take and wear them for our sakes !"

THE BATTLE OF DRANESVILLE.

WE publish on page 20 an illustration of the BATTLE OF DRANESVILLE, from a sketch by an officer who was an eye-witness. The following is the official dispatch from General McCall to General Marcy, recounting the facts :

OFFICIAL REPORT FROM GENERAL McCALL.

DRANESVILLE, December 20—4 P.M.

General Ord's brigade, with the First Regiment of Pennsylvannia Rifles and Easton's battery of artillery, had a brisk affair with the enemy, consisting of fair regiments and a battery of artillery, near this place at 12 M. today. I arrived during the action, and sent for General Reynolds, who was left at Difficult Run. The enemy was defeated, and fled before General Reynolds arrived. We have found forty killed of the enemy and ten wounded on the field. Our loss is two killed and three wounded. We have taken two caissons, with the harnesses, the horses having been killed.

The regiment of rifles behaved finely. Lieutenant-Colonel Kane was very slightly wounded, but is still in the field. I have collected the dead and wounded, and am about to move back to camp.

GEORGE A. McCALL, Brig.-Gen. Commanding.

A correspondent of the Herald adds the following :

Meantime General Ord advanced to Thornton's House, near Dranesville, when his command was suddenly fired upon by a force lying in ambush in dense woods adjacent. This was the signal of battle, and a brisk engagement promptly ensued.

General McCall, who arrived a few minutes previously, took command. In a moment's time Easton's battery was planted alongside the Thornton House, and fired rapidly and with terrible effect in the enemy's ambush. Colonel Kane's "Bucktail Riflemen" were placed in advance, and fired upon the enemy wherever they made their appearance. The rebels, who had a battery of six pieces, returned the cannonading, and replied to the rifles with musketry. The firing was kept up some three-quarters of an hour, when the enemy retreated rapidly, the fire of the whole brigade, rifles and battery, being too hot for them. Our troops stood up bravely under the sharp volleys of the rebels. Their steadiness was praised by General McCall and his officers.

The rebels took the direction of Fairfax Court House, (Next Page)


 

 

  

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