Thursday, March 23, 2017

Brigadier-General William F. Bartlett to Francis W. Palfrey, December 14, 1865

Brighton, December 14, 1865.

Here we are at the Newport of England, in the height of the season, in comfortable apartments fronting on the Parade, where the world is continually passing and repassing. We are on the ground floor, have a parlor and dining-room in front, dressing-room and large bed-room in rear. We have been trying for rooms for two weeks, but everything is full. The Adamses have been staying down here, but went to town this week. We had a very kind note from Mrs. Adams yesterday, asking us to go there Friday, but we had taken these rooms and did not like to lose them. She had been expecting us down here, as I told Mr. Adams that we were coming as soon as we could get suitable apartments. Charlie Adams is with them now, and we shall see him when we return to town.

Yesterday, Frank, was the best day I have had in England. We went down to Aldershott, under charge of Conolly, on invitation of Lieutenant-general Sir James Scarlett. We found his carriage, etc., waiting at the station, and were soon at his house, where we received a cordial welcome from the old General. He is a fine looking old fellow, white whiskers and moustache, tall and stout. He won his K. C. B. in the Crimea. His staff were fine looking men, well decorated. The troops were all out in line, awaiting our arrival, so we started for the field at once. The General rode a stunning big thorough-bred, and we went in his carriage with two of Lady Abinger's nieces. The field of Aldershott extends for miles without a tree or fence, nothing but barren heath, with a fair division of hilly and level ground. Of course at this season of the year the ground was wet and soft in some places. The old General showed me his morning report before we went out, where I saw that out of 7,000 men he could only get out for work about 4,500, and he asked me if I had not experienced the same annoyance. We know just how to sympathize, don't we, Frank? You see our army is not the only one where your effective men are consumed by furloughs, details, extra duty, etc., etc. Sir James's carriage was allowed to drive inside the line of sentinels, and stand just in rear of the reviewing officers' post. The day, you must know, was perfect, the first sunny day I have seen in England. This long line of cavalry, horse and foot artillery, engineers, and infantry, all in their brilliant uniform, was no common sight to an American soldier. There were two regiments of Highlanders, which added color and effect to the picture. The General and staff started around the line, and the bands began each in turn, as with us, but, also, the commander of each brigade, with his staff, accompanied the General along the front of his own line, the commander of each regiment and troop and battery the same, which I think is a good plan, don't you? for a regimental or brigade commander likes to see how his men look and stand just as well as the commanding general. The engineers had their whole pontoon train out with them, the Division ambulances and wagons were drawn up, — in short, the Division was in perfect marching order, ready for a campaign. In marching past, the cavalry and artillery came first, alternating, then the engineers, then infantry. They marched by divisions, company officers on the flanks; only mounted officers saluted, and I noticed that the General returned the salute of each, but did not salute the colors as every other officer in the group did. The Highlanders did the best marching. I have seen as good in America. The bands of each brigade were massed in one, which stood opposite us while its brigade passed, and, as you can imagine, made great music. The cavalry band, which merely fell back a little while the infantry was passing, now came forward, as the cavalry was to pass again at trot. This was very good, the horses actually keeping step with the quick staccato movement. The saddles of the hussars and the harnesses of the artillery were beautiful to behold, the chains of steel were burnished so that they looked like silver. The guns were “browned” breach-loading Armstrong, three-inch. The pontoons and wagons went by, also, at trot, their equipments as perfect and the uniforms of the drivers as handsome as in the artillery. It was something that I wished many times that you were by my side to see with me. The General now gave his brigadiers and chiefs of artillery and cavalry a general idea of what he wanted done, and then, telling us how we could best see the movements, left us in charge of the provost marshal, who had a guard to keep spectators from interfering with the troops. Sir James's carriage, with our party, was inside this guard, and privileged to move about at will, so as not to be in the way of the troops. If I had known how it was to be, I should have gone prepared to ride, as the General had a horse ready for me. But we saw very well from the carriage. Front was changed to the rear, the cavalry sent off to the left to harass the flank of the enemy, a heavy skirmish line sent forward which opened fire at once, advancing in beautiful order, taking the different crests, which were quickly capped with artillery, opening as soon as it was in position, the first line and supports moving up, keeping their distances well, now moving to the right or left as imagined necessity required.

It was all so natural and so real, that I expected every minute to hear a bullet whiz by my ear, or a shell go screeching over my head. I saw one flaw, which of course I held my tongue about (but which the General himself spoke about and condemned afterwards); the pontoons were sent forward, ready to throw across a canal that intersects the field, and they were right up with the skirmish line without any support, and being very large and heavy and conspicuous, they would have been an easy mark for a good gunner, or have fallen an easy prey to a determined dash of cavalry, which could easily have broken through the skirmish line. The pontoons are unlike ours, — open wooden boats, — but are cylindrical buoys, about twenty feet long and four feet diameter, on which the timbers are laid, and being made of iron, air-tight, would be transformed into pepper-boxes by a clever gunner in no time in such an open country as that. However, the skirmishers cleared the way, and the pontoons were got into the water in safety, and the bridge very quickly laid, over which part of the infantry passed; the rest, and the artillery, which was all this time firing over our heads from the crests in our rear, crossed by a stone bridge farther to the right, the cavalry by one on the left. We went over the pontoon, which was very solid, sending the carriage around by the stone bridge on account of the horses. It took them about twenty-five minutes, I should think, to get the bridge ready for troops. The enemy (?) now was in full retreat, and a general advance was made, while the cavalry charged from the flank.

We drove around through the barracks, which were the picture of neatness, back to Sir James's to lunch. Lady Scarlett we found a nice, dignified old lady. We also found that after an early breakfast and a long morning, we were quite ready for the substantial lunch to which I presently handed in “my lady.” After lunch, Sir James spoke of the mistake of having those pontoons in such an exposed position, and I was pleased to find that I had seen it. He said I must go down there again in the spring, when he will have twice as many troops, and I shall only be too glad to do so. They were all very cordial and kind, and I don't remember a more enjoyable day. It only needed an enemy and ball cartridges, without the lunch and ladies, to make it like many disagreeable ones that we have seen. We had to go back to London to take the Brighton train, and got here very comfortably.

SOURCE: Francis Winthrop Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett, p. 166-70

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