The Advance and Retreat Two-Step

After the defeat at Bristoe Station on October 14th, Lee’s Confederates withdrew slowly southwestward toward the Rappahannock River. The men of Meade’s Army of the Potomac followed, also slowly and carefully. Cavalry skirmishes were frequent. Columns of Union troops would march a short distance, an alarm would be sounded, and the men would deploy in line of battle. When nothing developed, the column formed again and the men marched forward another short distance.

At times during this slow dance of retreat and advance, particularly at night, the armies were within a few hundred yards of one another and did not know it. How could this be? They employed techniques for moving large bodies of men with a certain degree of stealth not unlike the “silent running” procedures of modern day submariners. Anyone that has seen one of the many submarine movies knows that a surefire giveaway of the sub’s presence is the dreaded metal on metal clank. It was the same with a column of troops during the Civil War. No fires could be lit on the wayside to make coffee to sustain the weary men during a long march on a cold night. Not even a match could be struck to light a cigar or pipe. And the men were ordered to march with their hands sandwiched awkwardly between their canteens and their tin cups, thus eliminating the constant clanking that usually accompanied the column whenever it moved out.

On October 23rd, the men of the Fourteenth marched only about four miles and encamped on good ground near Warrenton, Virginia. They were told that they would remain at this camp indefinitely, so the troops began to build log huts for winter quarters. Regular activities included daily drilling and rotating stints on picket duty. Sometime during the last few days of October or the first few days of November, Lieutenant Colonel Stanford Perkins arrived in camp. He had been seriously wounded at Fredericksburg and had been discharged because of medical disability. (See my post for Dec. 13, 2012.) What mixed emotions he must have experienced, gladness to be with his old regiment and visit with friends, but profound sadness when he saw how few of the soldiers he had commanded were still in the ranks.

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