An Abolitionist Finds Revolutionary-War Precedent for a March by Union Troops, 1862

[Edward Everett Hale, “’Solid Operations in Virginia’: Or, ‘T is Eighty Years Since,” Atlantic Monthly 9 (June 1862): 781-782, 787, 789:]

“Have ye traveled in Virginia...?” said the President [John Tyler, Jr.] to me.

“Ye’ll not see the appearance of a large population, to which ye’re used in Massachusetts,—the customs,—the arrangements,—the habits—of—our—laboring people—are such—that—that—their residences—are—are—more distant—from the highway than with you [in Massachusetts]….

…when the President spoke again with some depreciation of their [Virginians’] productions, I made up my mouth to say, in courtly vein, “Man is the nobler growth your realms supply,” when I recollected that that remark was too literally true to be complimentary to a State which made its chief business the growing of men and women for a distant market. So I…said nothing.

How strangely history repeats itself,—that, after eighty-one years, we should be looking out on the map…just as our fathers did in 1781,—that the grandchildren of the men who marched under Lafayette…should be marching now….

In all these movements…the character of the “laboring people,” of which, as I have said, President Tyler spoke to me, was illustrated. These people swarmed to Cornwallis with information, with horses and supplies. “He took away thirty thousand of our slaves,” says Mr. Jefferson. “Many of your negroes joined the enemy,” says Lafayette to Washington…. The English forces never marched a day’s march inland in the Northern states, excepting the three marches of two days or three, when they came to Bennington, to Saratoga, and to Trenton…. But in a country where the “laboring people” did not bear arms, they [British troops] went to and fro, for months….

Lord Cornwallis reunited all his forces…. He proposed another blow, on the stores collected in Old Albemarle Court-House…. [T]he road by which he supposed Lafayette must come down…to protect Albemarle would expose him to a flank attack…. [I]n a dispatch which was intercepted he [Cornwallis] wrote, “The boy cannot escape me.” Lafayette tells the story with great gusto. “The boy” found a mountain-road which crossed farther west than that which he was expected to march upon. It had been long disused, but he pressed through it….

On the 15th of September [1781,] Washington and Rochambeau joined Lafayette; on the 18th of October Cornwallis capitulated, and for eighty years the Virginian campaigns were over.

There is not one subdivision of them but is touched by the [Civil War] movements of today. Everything is changed, indeed, except Virginia [geography]…. Raccoon Ford and Bottom’s Bridge are where they were then. The [Union] division which marches on Gordonsville may send a party down the “Marquis’s Road,” as the people still call the wood-road which Lafayette opened; and all the battles of the next month [May 1862]…will be fought on the ground familiar to the soldiers of eighty years ago.

[abstract selection and notation by Noel G. Harrison, NPS]

Last updated: September 26, 2019

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