Letter from Sergeant Major Philip Powers, 1st Virginia Cavalry
Camp at Fairfax Courthouse
July 23, 1861
MY DEAREST WIFE:
Several Clark men, among them Knelles, were in our camp for a short time this evening but I was so busy I had not time even to drop you a line, and fearing lest the same thing may occur again, I write tonight, though excessively fatigued.
Yesterday we had a drenching rain all day and most of last night, and being without our tents we could not escape the rain and mud. We broke our camp however about midnight and marched to this place accompanied by two regiments of infantry and one battery of artillery. I was glad to leave, for as I wrote you we were near by a hospital of the enemy where (there were) over three hundred of their wounded, dead and dying. Many of them necessarily left out in all the inclemency of weathers to die. To pass by it was enough to soften and sicken the hardest heart. I will not dwell upon the awful scene.
The battle was nothing to this after piece. The excitement of the contest, the cheering of the soldiers, the triumph of victory and the whole field of many of its terrors–nothing could lessen the horrors of the field by moonlight. Enough–I cannot, I will not describe it. May God, in his infinite mercy, avert a second such calamity. Our march after we got beyond the scenes of he fight was rather cheering than otherwise. For twelve miles the road was literally strewn with every description of baggage, wagons, ambulances, barrels of sugar, crackers, ground coffee and thousands of axes, spades, shovels, picks, arms by the thousands, clothing of every description, cooking utensils–in fact, everything–and all left behind to expedite their flight, which was never stopped until they reached Washington.
Our troops have been busily engaged in appropriating everything they might possibly need, from a pin cushion to the finest army tent. In this place we found in several houses clothing enough to fill every room in our house. Their army was splendidly equipped with every possible convenience and comfort. But I cannot account for their utter confusion and panic. Their own papers give our regiment the credit of turning the tide of victory on our side. The papers if you can see them will give you all the particulars…
I do not know what our next move will be but suppose it will be upon Alexandria. All I desire is to drive them from our soil and secure peace–I would not shed another drop…
I cannot write now. Farewell! I pray that my wife and little children may be protected and comforted at all times.
Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray. New York: Vintage Books, 1988.