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Civil War Harper's Weekly, January 25, 1862

This WEB site features the Harper's Weekly newspapers that were published during the Civil War. These newspapers are a great source of original Civil War illustrations, and incredible stories on the key battles and people of the War. We hope that you find this collection useful. Check back often as we add new material each day.


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General George B. McClellan

Slavery Question

The Slavery Question

The Battle of Blue's Gap

Pamlico and Albemarle

Pamlico and Albemarle

Mississippi Expedition

Mississippi Expedition

Civil War Execution

Civil War Execution

Mississippi Civil War Map

Mississippi Civil War Map


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British Cartoon

British Cartoon

Fort Holt

Fort Holt

Fortress Monroe

Fortress Monroe

Bowling Green

Bowling Green, Kentucky

President Lincoln's White House Reception

White House Reception




[JANUARY 25, 1862.




IN the year '49 I was major in the dragoon regiment of which I have now the honor to be colonel; but, owing to the great loss of officers in the early part of the Hungarian campaign, was virtually then in command. The rebels knew our weak point. They were aware that men could be supplied to the Austrian army in any number; but that to cripple us effectually they had only to pick off the officers, and we were at their mercy. This plan they accordingly carried out. None of us ever expected to see nightfall when we went into action. Thus it happened that, though but a young man at the time, I was senior officer of the Lichtenstein regiment, as fine a body of men, I venture to say, as are to be found in the service.

We had suffered a good deal since the beginning of the war, and our force was reduced from its original strength of one thousand to about seven hundred and fifty sabres; but the men were true as steel, and eager to revenge the death of their comrades. The time of which I am going to speak was the latter end of March, immediately after the battle of Szolnok, a town upon the right bank of the Theiss, before which we had just sustained a tremendous defeat. Prince Windischgratz, the Austrian commander, was falling back as rapidly as possible upon the river, and the Hungarians, under Gorgei, were in hot pursuit. Though much cut up, our fellows did not lose heart, and the retreat was conducted with tolerable order.

My Lichtensteins led the advance. With us marched a corps of engineers and the wagons carrying pontoons, upon which it was intended to cross the river. Behind us we could hear the distant thunder of the guns, which told of the stubborn resistance still offered by our comrades to the Hungarian pursuit. We had arrived upon the bank, and were making every preparation to construct the bridge, when an orderly with dispatches dashed up to the front and inquired for use. He was the

bearer of an order to lead the cavalry immediately across the river, as the Prince had received information that Szentes, a petty market town of purely local importance, separated by a small wood from left bank of the Theiss, was held by a considerable force of the enemy, who might embarrass the passage of the army next morning, or at any rate keep us in check until Gorgei came up, when, taken between two fires, our utter annihilation seemed certain. If, on the contrary, we could manage to put the river between us and our pursuers, we should be secure, for their hastily-raised levies were unprovided with the means of crossing its rapid stream. I was therefore to reconnoitre Szentes, and carry it at all hazards before the arrival of the Prince.

To read was to obey. Leaving the engineers to construct the bridge, I summoned my men, and as there was no time to look for a ford, they were compelled to swim the river. Some loss was experienced in the transit ; a few were carried away by the violence of the current, but nearly all finally reached the left bank in safety. It was now dusk. Parties were sent out instantly to reconnoitre the town, pickets were thrown into the wood, and we got ready for immediate action if the report of the scouts should render it advisable.

Now I should state that, though the majority of the Lichtensteiners were men upon whom I could implicitly depend, there were some few Hungarians in the regiment in whose fidelity to their oath I did not place perfect trust. I had had no particular reason for this doubt ; all the men had fought well and bravely in the actions which had occurred, and no signs of disaffection to the Emperor had been noted. Still I thought it best to be upon my guard, and had, therefore, come days back, privately desired the captains to see that none of those whom I distrusted were appointed to any important charge. They were especially forbidden to place them on pickets. The arrangement had worked well; none of the Hungarians were told off for outpost

duty; or, if they were, always in company with others whose fidelity was unimpeachable; and the men were believed not to have perceived the precaution. In accordance with this rule I was justified in supposing that the pickets now in the wood between its and Szentes were all well-affected men.

Toward nine o'clock our scouts returned. They brought with them a couple of peasants whom they had found gathering twigs and fallen branches in the wood. Two active Bohemians, well acquainted with the language, had changed clothes with the prisoners, and by this means penetrated without trouble into the town. They reported it occupied by about one thousand men, mostly peasants, armed with scythes and flails. The news of our defeat at Szolnok had apparently not yet reached them ; but although no suspicion of our vicinity appeared to be entertained, too many were about to render an immediate attack prudent. I called the officers together, and we agreed to assault at midnight. The men were dismissed for a couple of hours to get their suppers and obtain a little rest after their laborious day's march. A very short time elapsed before the troops had their fires lighted and the camp-kettles swinging over the cheerful blaze. Some superintended the cooking, while others picketed the horses, and refreshed the poor brutes with water and such scanty forage as was at hand.

I have seldom seen a more picturesque scene than our little bivouac presented to me as I lay wrapped in my cloak by the fire, enjoying my after-supper pipe. The night, though cold, was fine but dark. As there was no moon, all the light afforded by the sky was given by the stars, which seemed to shine out with unusual brilliancy. Before me rolled the rapid waters of the Theiss, across which came the clink of the pontoniers' hammers, as the bridge grew beneath their practiced hands. Around us the men were mostly sleeping, for the poor fellows were tired with the forty-mile march from Szolnok. The flickering blaze of the fires

was thrown up against the dark back-ground of wood and thicket, and brought out here and there in strong relief the figure of some energetic spirit, who, too excited to rest, was pacing to and fro, and meditating, perhaps, whether the next hour or two might not see the close of his earthly career. I felt convinced that the peasants with whom we should have to deal in attacking Szentes would fight desperately enough, and that no easy task lay before us ; but I had great confidence in the terrors of a night surprise, and little fear as to the result.

It might have been about half past ten, and, with the exception of the sounds of which I have spoken, quiet reigned around the fires. My pipe had dropped from my lips, and I was lapsing into slumber, when a loud shout from the wood—the well-known "Eljen!" of the Hungarians—started every one of us to his feet in an instant. A rush was made to the horses, but long before one-half of the force were in their saddles the Philistines were upon us.

From three parts of the wood at once a column of dark forms, dimly seen by the light of the expiring watch-fires, broke with shouts and cries upon the Lichtensteiners nearest to them, and the work of death began. Though taken thoroughly by surprise, and mostly roused from sleep, the conduct of officers and men, I may be excused for saying, could not have been surpassed. Those who had not yet mounted fell rapidly into formation, and opposed a front to the assailants, which the desperate rush of the latter found it impossible to break; while gathering quickly together the portion of the force which had gained the saddle, we swept down upon the enemy, charging through their uneven line again and again as if it had been so much pasteboard. A quarter of an hour decided the struggle. The daring valor of the ill-armed peasants was no match for the disciplined intelligence of the perfectly-accoutred Lichtensteiners, and the assailants withdrew into the wood, leaving fully half their number upon the field, with the pursuing cavalry adding every moment to the roll of the slain.

As it would have been rash to follow up the pursuit without some further knowledge of the enemy we were encountering, I gave orders to sound the recall. The required information was soon gained from a wounded Hungarian, of whom we learned that our assailants were the Szentes men, who, having become aware of our vicinity—though from what source our informant could not, or would not, say—had entertained the same opinion as I had done of the efficacy of a night surprise, and had hoped to drive us into the Theiss.

As there was now no reason for delaying the assault of the town, and we might hope for easy victory after the advantage we had gained, I ordered instant advance. During the march I ascertained that our loss had been severe. Upward of eighty of the Lichtensteiners were hors de combat, and, although the Hungarian dead could be counted by hundreds, the latter fact in no degree lessened our exasperation. What seemed most unaccountable was the completeness of the surprise. The Hungarian "Eljen!" had been the first notification of an enemy's approach. Neither of the outposts stationed in the wood—one indeed almost within gun-shot of the town—had given the least sign of alarm. Unless treachery had been at work, how was this to be explained ? The reason for the silence of the two sentinels nearest to the Theiss was cleared up as we reached the spots where the poor fellows had been posted. Both had fallen, having probably been taken unawares by peasants gliding through the brush-wood. This I afterward ascertained to have been the case. Here, at any rate, were two of the men, both slain at their posts ; but where was the third ? His horse was found tied to a tree; his pistols, undischarged, were in the holsters ; but the sentinel himself was not to be found. One inference only could be drawn. He must have deserted, and it was to the information given by him that we were indebted for the Hungarian attack.

Further inquiry, as rapidly pursued as the circumstances would admit, brought out the suspicious fact that the missing sentinel was one of the men upon whom I had given orders to keep a watchful eye. He was a Hungarian, named Michael Szelady, a smart soldier, and, saving his nationality, a man with whom no possible fault could be found. He had been three years in the regiment, and was never suspected of political leanings toward his countrymen. Except upon this ground, however, no reason could be assigned for his desertion. Time would not allow of investigating the cause for infringing my orders, that no important charge was to be intrusted to this man, for by the time I fully ascertained these facts we were already emerging from the wood and sighted the town.

Half the men were ordered to dismount and advance at once to the attack, while a squadron was sent round to assault the other side of the town. The loss which the insurgents had sustained upon the bank of the Theiss had, however, been so severe that little resistance was offered. A feeble barricade of carts, and similar materials had been thrown up in the main street, but it was easily surmounted by the active assailants, who swarmed over it lilts cats, and sabred the defenders where they stood. The few who did oppose our entrance fought well enough, but their number was small, and when our comrades charged upon their rear a hasty flight dispersed even this scanty hand. The Lichtensteiners were so irritated at the disturbance of their bivouac that they gave little quarter. The officers had difficulty in dissuading them from firing the town; but not even the most positive orders could prevent their pillaging the houses, and destroying every valuable too unwieldly to be carried away. I must confess that I took little pains to enforce strict discipline, for the loss of so large a number of my men had aroused in me also some spirit of revenge.

An hour perhaps had passed in plundering the town when I gave orders to sound the assembly in the market-place. The men came straggling in, a few bringing prisoners, from whom it was thought important information might be gained, but all (Next Page)

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