From the Boston Evening Transcript, 1/11/1865, p. 1, c. 4
[From the London Star, Dec. 24.]
ARMY OF THE POTOMAC.
What a British officer says of that army – his description of General Grant – the North “inexhaustible in men and money.”
The following letter, addressed to a member of Parliament by a British field officer in active service, who has recently visited the Army of the Potomac, will be found to contain some valuable information and many interesting criticisms from a professional point of view:
…The following day, one of the most lovely mornings I ever beheld, and just the weather for exercise, a cool breeze with a warm sun, I proceeded to visit General Butler’s army and lines of the James River. Accompanied by Captain ____, Aid-de-Camp to General Grant, with two orderly dragoons and four horses, I embarked in a large steamer and proceeded up the river, passing Bermuda Hundred, where I saw some Monitors at anchor. These queer little vessels, showing only a few inches above water, are picketed on lookout duty at different points of the James River, and I was told that changes take place occasionally, for that, like salmon, they require to be removed from salt to fresh water. I passed by Malvern Hill and Strawberry Plains, near where McClellan’s struggle for seven days in 1862 occurred. Our steamer passed through two pontoon bridges, and disembarked ourselves and horses at Aiken’s Landing, below the Dutch Gap, not above it, as in the maps. As we approached the working party engaged in this huge excavation we found that they were being shelled by the enemy’s batteries.
We therefore left our orderlies and horses at a safe distance, and Capt. ___ and I crept along the river’s bank, and a shell burst in the river, throwing up a column of water. Curiously enough, Frank Leslie (the Illustrated News of the States) has, in his paper of the 19th November and the 26th of November, given two sketches, which I inclose, as affording a far better elucidation of what I witnessed than is possible by any description of the pen. The interior of the cutting was in such a state of forwardness that it seemed to me as if a week would complete the work, and it was rumored that General Grant was only waiting till the required gunboats were ready to act with the assaulting force. I saw none but colored troops in or near the Gap. These men relieve the white troops from fatigue duties and other work which is distasteful, and thus render the volunteer soldier’s life comparatively comfortable. I understand the engineers propose to blow out the end of the Gap whenever the time comes to use the canal. If so, I shall not be surprised if so much of the earth is blown from the sides into the channel as to choke it, and thus prevent its immediate or early use. However, it is possible that this idea of a grand feu d’artifice and consequent blaze and shaking, may be abandoned.
We mounted our horses and proceeded through an open country to General Butler’s head-quarters. We passed near a planter’s house apparently in perfect preservation. I had likewise observed along the river’s bank, in steaming up, some houses apparently untouched, and others razed to the ground, and I was given to understand that wherever the proprietors had remained, even as neutrals, their houses and property had been respected. If so the discipline must be marvelous; nay more, it is difficult to imagine that white or colored ruffians, from one army or the other, would not have played the part of robbers and incendiaries. However, the fact remains that I saw the houses, and rode within fifty yards of one mansion which was apparently intact.
General Butler was in New York, and so, having partaken of the hospitality of his Adjutant-General, I rode off about six miles further, to the nearest point to Richmond in possession of the Federal army. This place I understood to be called Fort Harrison. But if I am right in the name (and certainly in speaking of it to General Grant and his staff I used no other name) the maps are wrong, including the one issued by our War Office.
It is about six miles and a quarter from Richmond, a strong earthen fort, and so placed that the taking of it is quite unaccountable. It is on a hill with a natural glacis of six or seven hundred yards, and which good gunners should sweep against all comers, taking into account an extensive abates, which is constructed by merely felling the trees and pointing them outwards. It should have been toilsome, dangerous work to have traversed that long slope. However, there is the fort in the hands of the Federals be it attributable to pluck, luck, surprise, treachery, scare, or whatever other explanation. Then comes nearly as strange an affair. The enemy are raising a somewhat similar work within six hundred yards, on a slightly lower level. The pickets standing in the open ground are only about one hundred and fifty yards apart. I could see the men working in one fort while standing in the other. Near this fort I saw several squads of men at drill, and certainly some of them were novices. Being so close to the enemy it struck me as somewhat strange not to have older hands.
The Colonel commanding at this fort kindly gave me three Richmond papers of that morning’s issue. …
…We rode from this point to a pontoon bridge little below Aiken’s Landing, then proceeded about two miles and a half along a not over-well defined path, through a forest to a hill on which was erected a crow’s nest, reached by about one hundred and twenty-five feet of roughish ladder. This exploit, after riding so many miles in a military saddle, I found stiltish work. I was, however, amply repaid. The day was wonderfully clear, and with my own race-glass I saw the steeples of Richmond, and the fleet in the James. While at this elevated lookout I may remark that ballooning, as a military resource, has been abandoned, and is considered quite useless, except for ascertaining the interior works of a beleaguered city. As we rode back through the wood to the pontoon bridge my companion observed, “Well, you have been fortunate in the weather, and in finding us disengaged, and I really think you have seen everything of interest that we could possibly show you.” I laughed, and said I thought I had seen everything but a torpedo, which he was so good as to set about explaining to me; but just as we reached the bridge a boat was landing seven torpedoes which had been fished up out of the river. …