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MANASSAS ABANDONED BY THE REBELS.
was very successful in driving before him a body of Mississippi troops, stationed at the town; these presently retired to Hillsborough. Leesburg was occupied on the 8th of March, the rebels under Hill having hastily evacuated it. Sixty-seven prisoners, over one hundred horses, and a quantity of stores were captured.
Jackson evacuated Winchester, March 11th; it was immediately taken possession of, the next day, by our troops, under Gens. Hamilton and Williams. The fortifications at this place, which had been supposed to be formidable, were found to be hastily constructed and of no importance. The brigade of Gen. Shields was now quartered at Winchester, where Gen. Banks also established his headquarters.
This movement, threatening as it did the left flank of the rebels, hastened their retirement along the entire line from Aquia Creek to the Shenandoah. Well advised of the progress of vast military preparations on the Potomac, and aware that one large force was before them; that another was fast gathering from Harper's Ferry, on their flank; and that probably speedy movement would be made by the Chesapeake in their rear, the rebel leaders resolved to decline a battle, which had been for months eagerly expected by the people of the loyal states. Retreat, at the present, was their policy, and retreat they accomplished in the coolest and most scientific manner. The heavy artillery at Manassas was leisurely removed, the railroad leading south answering the purpose of transporting men and munitions to any ex
tent; and so skilfully was all this performed, despite Gen. McClellan's " secret service force," to give information of the rebel doings, that, when our army reached Manassas, there was not a erun left to be captured, or hardly a straggler to betaken prisoner. On Sunday evening, March 9th, the last of the rebel force abandoned Centreville, retreating in perfect order, leaving the formidable line of fortifications on the ridge entirely empty, save a few wooden painted logs, which had been placed in the embrasures. The famous stone bridge over Bull Run, and another over Cob Run, were destroyed in the retreat.
Gen. McDowell, with the advance of the army, arrived at Centreville on the 10th of March, and dispatched a cavalry force the same evening to Manassas, whence the last of the rebel troops had departed in the morning. Nearly everything of value had been removed, and nothing remained but the refuse of the camp, the lines of rude huts. etc.
It was a mortifying confession, but it had to be made, that the rebels had got the better of us, and that their retreat on this occasion was equivalent to a victory. It required all the public confidence heretofore placed upon McClellan and his forthcoming victories, to escape the conviction that the number of the rebels had been greatly over-estimated, and that we had given them an advantage, especially in the way of preparing for defence against our advance, which was likely to protract the contest far longer than any one as yet had contemplated.
McClellan, having entered upon the active duties of commanding the advance movement of the army, did not expect certainly that any change would be made in his official position as general-in-chief. By the war order, however, which was issued on the 11th of March, it was ordered: "Major-General McClellan, having personally taken the field at the head of the Army of the Potomac, until otherwise ordered, he is relieved from the command of the other military departments, he retaining command of the Department of the Potomac." By the same order, Gen. Halleck was placed in command of the Department of the Mississippi, and Gen. Fremont in command of the Mountain Department, i. e., the region west of the Department of the Potomac. Each of these commanders was ordered to report directly and frequently to the secretary of war.*
Although not a little mortified at the course which had been pursued towards him, McClellan, three days afterwards, issued a spirited address to the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac, in which he declared, that, though he had held them back, it was to discipline them and fit them to "give the death-blow to the rebellion." He also assured them, that he was ready to share all dangers and trials with them, and that he held it an honor to belong to the Army of the Potomac, f
* McClellan, in his Report, states that the first knowledge ho had of this order was through tho newspapers. He addressed a note to the president, cheerfully acceding to the disposition thus made of his services, and declaring that no consideration of self would in any manner interfere with the discharge of his public duties.
f The rebel batteries on the Potomac at Cockpit Point and other stations were abandoned soon after the retreat from Manassas, and the river was once more free from annoying and vexatious obstructions.
At a council of the generals commanding army corps, held at headquarters, March 13th, it was deemed most expedient, Washington being properly secured against attack, and Manassas being occupied in force, to proceed tc the advance upon Richmond by way of Fortress Monroe. The president and war department approved this plan of operations, and urged immediate, energetic action.
Before proceeding further, however, with the narrative of military operations in Virginia, we must call the reader's attention to the celebrated encounter between the Merrimac and the Monitor, not only because of its general effect upon the progress of the great contest, but also because of its marked importance in the history of naval warfare in modern times. Certainly, nothing which has ever occurred in connec tion with ships of war, and with attempts to render them invulnerable, is j more remarkable and more significant in its results than this memorable encounter.
It will be remembered, that when | the rebels seized upon the navy yard j at Norfolk (see p. 24), the U. S. steamer j Merrimac was one of the vessels which \ was scuttled and abandoned by Capt. Macaulay. Subsequently, she was rais- | ed and placed in the dry dock, and special care was bestowed upon fitting her out in such wise as to be invincible I to all attack, and consequently able to ) act as a universal destroyer. Her hull was cut down, and a bomb-proof cover- I ing of wrought iron put over her main deck. Her bow and stern were sharp- j ened and clad in steel, with a projecting j
angle of iron to pierce any adversary in her path. Her engines were stated to be 510 horse-power, and all her machinery was below the water line. Armed with ten guns, 80-pounders, rifled; with a furnace for heating shot; manned by ten lieutenants and 350 picked men; and presenting the appearance of a submerged house, with the roof only above water, the Merrimac, or as the rebels re-named her, the Virginia, was a formidable antagonist indeed for the doomed vessels then blockading the entrance to Norfolk, and the mouth of the James River.* Buchanan, the commander, after forty-five years connection with the navy, had deserted the flag of his country, and was now ready to do all in his power for the new master whom he was serving.
On a pleasant sunshiny day, Saturday the 8th of March, the Merrimac left Norfolk, and about noon was seen coming round Craney Island, accompanied by two gun boats, and heading for Newport News. Several other armed steamers joined and followed in her train, and were prepared both to give aid and share in the confidently expected victory of the Merrimac. With aothing visible but her smoke-stack
* The navy department was quite freely censured for not being more attentive to the critical condition of affairs at Hampton Roads. It was well known that the Merrimac was all prepared to do her work ; Gen. Wool had stnt a carefully drawn up statement to the authorities at Washington respecting the monster ram, affirming as his conviction that nothing in the Roads could withstand her onset; and yet apparently no steps were taken to save the splendid vessels in the harbor, beyond ordering the Monitor to the scene of action. Providentially, the Monitor arrived before it was quite too late, and also proved equal to the fearful emergency. But •ee, for a defence of tho navy department, Boynton's "History of the Naty during O e Rebellion," vol. i., p. 817. etc
and the confederate flag flying from a staff, she steamed directly for the frigate Congress and the sloop-of-war Cumberland, which were stationed off James River to guard the blockade and protect the camp on the shore at Newport News. Both of these were sailing vessels, and had consequently no opportunity of manoeuvring in presence of so formidable an adversary as this massive steam ram. The other vessels in the Roads, at Fortress Monroe, were signaled to the aid of the Congress and Cumberland. They were the flag-ship Roanoke, the frigates Minnesota and St. Lawrence, and some half dozen gun boats, which were employed in towing the frigates into position,—the Minnesota not having full steam on at starting, and the Roanoke being disabled by a broken shaft.
Whilst these noble vessels were getting under way, the Merrimac moved slowly onward on her mission of destruction. The Congress and Cumberland, meantime, prepared to meet the assaults of the Merrimac. The former mounted fifty guns; the latter twentyfour of heavy calibre. The Cumberland opened fire at about a mile distant: but the iron roofed monster gave nc sign, until within 100 yards of the frigate. The broadsides of both the ships bounded harmlessly from the mailed sides of the Merrimac. Equally unavailing were the shots fired from the powerful battery at Newport News. Six or eight times* the Cumberland repeated these broadsides from her massive guns, but to no purpose; a single shot, however, from the Merrimac killed five of her men.