July 21, 1861.
“It’s bad. It’s damned bad.”
-Abraham Lincoln, after hearing of the defeat at the Battle of Bull Run.
“Fall back!” yelled Lieutenant General Winfield Scott. Brigadier General Irvin McDowell had been forced to lead their army to destroy the Rebel army just south of Washington. They lost, and fled after artillery destroyed a supply wagon.
If we’d just won, thought the Lieutenant General, the Rebs’d be crushed here. There’d be no war. But now there will be. He cursed under his breath. They’d better know that after this, they’re gonna have Hell to pay.
The disorganized survivors, of whom there were many, ran or rode to Centreville, screaming, “Turn back, turn back, we’re whipped!” Almost half of their horses had collapsed by the time they realized that they should flee. Many rich citizens of Washington came to watch the easy victory, but when that victory was less easy, or, in layman’s terms, not a victory at all, they (along with many civilians) escaped, making travel to the capital impossible. Several senators, who’d been watching at the battlefield, tried to block the fleeing army, but nobody can resist fear, especially if the fear is in the heart of a charging horde.
At Centreville, the soldiers regrouped. They waited several hours for the roads to clear, watching for Rebel attacks. None came. When returning to Washington was possible, the Union Army did so immediately.
Washington, D.C., Washington D.C.
To call President Lincoln unhappy at that moment would be akin to calling a raging wildfire “not too chilly, pretty nice actually.” One of the Executive Mansion’s windows was already broken, and Brigadier General McDowell was a likely culprit. More accurately, Lincoln put his fighting skills to use when McDowell suggested surrendering to the Rebels after a single battle. McDowell was in great… pane, one could say. Also fired. No pun there, just fired. Though, from the look in Lincoln’s eyes, fire may not be too far off. He wasn’t happy, if that wasn’t already mentioned.
“Surrender? What kind of a dope does he think I am?” asked the President.
“One with no knowledge of military strategy, I reckon,” guessed Simon Cameron, the Secretary of War.
Lincoln nodded. “What do you suggest we do about the Rebels, then?”
“We could try to isolate them from trade by blockading them.”
“I’d suggest Port Royal first.”
Attacking that sound sounded like a good idea to the President, so he agreed. “Send as many ships as we have in the area there. And-” Lincoln thought for a moment. “-Hislop, the Fawnses, and Beckham.”
“Yes. Send people out to find them.”