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Our Illustrations The District of Columbia

The Illustrated London News, vol. 39, no. 1102, p. 145.

August 10, 1861

The interest which at the beginning of the civil war in America centred chiefly in Washington has latterly shifted from the capital on account of the onward march of the Federal troops. But the battle at Bull's Run, so disastrous to their arms, and the flight consequent thereon, make it a question whether Washington itself will not have to stand the brunt of an attack from the Secessionist troops, flushed by their late victory. Our map, therefore, of the District of Columbia, given on the preceding page, cannot fail to be of interest at the present juncture. The western and south-eastern boundaries of Washington are formed by the main and eastern branches of the River Potomac. It is situated upon a plain, rising into gentle eminences here and there, and fringed by a distant range of hills. The streets point directly to the four quarters of the compass, and are diagonally intersected by spacious avenues, which converge from every direction upon Capitol hill as a focus. The northern and western boundary of the city is an undulating plain, upon the verge of which the blue hills of Montgomery county, Maryland, are distinctly visible. Toward the north-east the topographical features present nothing of more efficient aid to defensive operations than a succession of slopes and undulations. At the western verge of the city the ground rises almost abruptly, affording an excellent site for a battery, whose guns or mortars could sweep half the horizon. Upon the spit of land jutting into the main branch of the Potomac stands the half-finished Washington monument. Around it is a span of many acres, commanding the western bank of the river, the bridge of the Washington and Alexandria Railroad, the only approach to the city from that direction. Along the south-west boundary of the city lie three commanding elevations, which, occupied with men and artillery, would render the approach of a storming force from any point of the compass a matter of great difficulty. All that part of the town having a land boundary is inclosed by similar elevations, rendering it quite possible to surround the city with batteries, advantageously planted, commanding the entire plain. The northern boundary of the city is the one from which assault is most to be apprehended. The rivers which protect it on the west and south-west form an impregnable barrier, and, guarded as they are, a land attack from either of those directions need not be feared. Seven miles above the city, at a place called Little Falls, the fordage of the Potomac is regarded as practicable, unless the east bank is well protected. The approach to the city in that direction would bring a storming force within range of a row of batteries commanding the northern limit of the city. The openness of the surrounding plain leaves such a storming party but little chance of effective strategic operations. The assailants would encounter first the fires of the batteries, and next a hand-to-hand conflict with the forces behind them.

Respecting the apprehended danger of the capital the New York Herald of the 23rd says:—

The danger which now menaces Washington is positive and formidable, and all the troops from all quarters that can be spared for the capital of our country should be sent forward at once. The army, too, should instantly be supplied with educated officers to the fullest possible extent, and Mr. Lincoln should lose no time in strengthening the weak places of his Cabinet. We had hoped that this war would be finished in a short triumphal Union campaign. We were mistaken. But we have been misled by the misplaced confidence of our Government in the strength of its army, and by the fatal delusion of the army itself in regard to the retreating stratagems of the enemy. The war now ceases to be an uninterrupted onward march of our forces southward. The Government, in a single day, and at the capital of the nation, is thrown upon the defensive, and under circumstances demanding the most prompt and generous efforts to strengthen our forces at that point. Every other question, all other issues, and all other business, among all parties and all classes of our loyal people, should be now made subordinate to the paramount object of securing Washington. The loyal States within three days may dispatch 20,000 men to that point; and if we hold the capital for twenty days we may have by that time an army of 200,000 men intrenched around it. Action, action, action! Let our Governor and State and city authorities, and the State and city authorities of every loyal State, come at once to the rescua [sic], and move forward their reinforcement, without waiting for instructions from Washington.


Our Special Artist in America, writing from the Federal Camp, on the 7th ult., says he managed to pay a flying visit to Patterson's division at Martinsburg, getting up in time to witness his gallant and successful dash at the Confederate troops, on the 2nd ult., at Hainsville on the Upper Potomac. In reference to this brisk encounter he has forwarded a Sketch (engraved on page 143) showing the advance of the Wisconsin men through the wheatfields, after fording the river, to attack the enemy's position. Their behaviour (he says), considering it was the first time they were under fire, was admirable; they went on very steadily, poured in two or three volleys, and then, making a rush with bowie-knife and revolver, sent the Disunionists flying towards Winchester, leaving behind them many dead, wounded, and prisoners. The building burning in the distance is a barn in which a strong body of the enemy had intrenched themselves, and near which they had planted some guns. A few shells sent into it by the Federal artillery soon dislodged them, and completed the discomfiture of their already wavering troops.

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