Friday, July 29, 2016

Major Wilder Dwight: Monday, March 28, 1862

Camp Four Miles Beyond Strasburg, March 28, 1862.

I had just finished my letter yesterday, and started to mail it, when I was turned back by a hurried order to “march at once.” Our long roll was beating as I got back near camp, and in a few minutes the line was formed and the brigade in motion through Strasburg. It was reported that our outposts were threatened by cavalry, infantry, and artillery of the enemy. As we passed out of the town we could hear the occasional sullen tone of a cannon. My incredulity was proof, however, against any faith in an attack in force; so I was not surprised when the brigade was halted a few miles from town, and ordered to go into camp, and send back for its train. It seems that the enterprising and clever Ashby, with his two light pieces of artillery, was amusing himself and exciting us by a slight demonstration. Ready for a rapid and elusive retreat at a moment's notice, he would like to continue his game which he has safely and pleasantly played so long. He is light, active, skilful, and we are tormented by him like a bull with a gad-fly. We chose a fine oak-wood for our camp, and at sunset were quietly in tents again. This morning the sun rose warm and glorious. The singing birds anticipated our reveillé, and we have the sunniest, happiest camp to-day possible.

I have had an opportunity to hear directly from Jackson's camp yesterday. He is a few miles beyond Woodstock. He has no tents, and his wagons carry only subsistence, and are ready to move at a moment's notice. His force is four or five thousand men. He says, “My men have no uniform, they wear multiform.” He keeps Ashby in his rear with his cavalry and two pieces of artillery. His game is a winning one even when he loses. With his small force he detains twenty thousand men in this valley. It seems probable that his attack on Winchester was in pursuance of a positive order from Johnson to make the attack at all hazards, to arrest and detain our force from its intended movement to Centreville. In this aspect it was a success. In my judgment our weakness was in turning back. The force left behind was large enough to take care of this valley. But, indeed, it seems as if we had no plan and no courage or decision. Vacillation is our name. We cannot take Jackson. If we mean to hold the valley, we should establish our force in position to do so, take the rest to Centreville, and thus perform our part in the campaign. The life that we have led for the week past is a waste of men and of energy. It quells the spirit of our troops, and destroys the prestige of our leaders. My admiration and sympathy go with the gallant Ashby, and the indefatigable and resolute Jackson. With an equal force, the latter would have beaten us at Winchester. Banks, in his general order, speaks of a “subtle” foe, a most unlucky word for a shrewd observer of our movements. As soon as we give him a chance by dividing our forces or exposing a detachment, Jackson may seize the occasion for an attack. While we remain strong in numbers or position, he will do neither, you may be sure. I hope in McClellan's generalship, and am very glad father gains faith in it. You will soon, as I know, hear of movements which show boldness, plan, and decisiveness. The campaign is not to be a timid waiting on the movements of the enemy. I hope events may soon take us to Centreville, where we can feel the direct grasp of McClellan's hand. But I try to be patient, and to feel that “they also serve who only stand and wait.” At present we are safe and comfortable enough. God bless you all at home.

SOURCE: Elizabeth Amelia Dwight, Editor, Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight: Lieut.-Col. Second Mass. Inf. Vols., p. 221-3

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