Alarming symptoms of the enemy’s approach.
I know you will be anxious to see a portrait of the distinguished general who was first assigned to the defense of Washington during the siege. And here I have presented you with a very clever one. This general, McDowell McCook, chanced to be in the city, when the government, becoming alarmed, placed him in command, and sent him out to defend the capital. This was unfortunate for the poor gentleman, and he at once became alarmed at finding himself in such a position, and so near the War Department. The poor man knew nothing of the defenses, much less of the roads. And to make the matter worse he had no troops to command. What was a general to do under such circumstances? Although this distinguished general had seen some service, and served his country well in the West, he was in no way qualified to fill the position now assigned him. And I am inclined to accept this as a reason why the government selected him.
But before I proceed further, my son, I must instruct you as to what happened in the Shenandoah Valley just about this time, and which, of right, should constitute a part of the siege of Washington. The troops in the valley had been commanded by no less than four unfortunate generals. Patterson, Banks, Milroy, and Siegel, the last from Germany. Of the many misfortunes of these generals, the historian who comes after me will give you a more enlarged account than I have time or space to do at present. Heaven knows, they were manifold.
When, then, Grant moved against the enemy with the Army of the Potomac, General Franz Siegel was put at the head of a column at Winchester, and marched up the valley with a great flourish of trumpets. This German general was in high feather then, and declared he would drive the rebels before him, like so many chickens, and never stop until he got them all cooped up in Richmond. But the rebels were not inclined to submit to this cooping process. Indeed, they soon discovered that this General Franz Siegel was not so much of a general after all, and that he had an eccentric way of moving his troops. So when he had driven them, as he supposed, to Newmarket, they turned upon him in a very angry manner, gave him battle, defeated him, and forced him back in disorder. This was unfortunate for Siegel, and more unfortunate for his German admirers, who declared him to be the greatest general of modern times. But he had fought this battle so badly that the government for once made up its mind that it would be wisdom not to let him try his hand at another.