Yes, my son, they could have marched almost unmolested between any two of the forts, entered the city, seized the Arsenal, the Capitol, the Treasury, and other public buildings, and enjoyed a bounteous breakfast at the expense of our citizens. And when they had done this, they might have enforced a legitimate surrender of the city, together with the defenses on both sides of the river.
But General Jubal A. Early was not the man for such an enterprise. Washington was at his mercy, but fortunately for us he did not know it, and let the opportunity slip. Even had he known it, I am of opinion that he lacked the nerve to grasp the advantages of the opportunity. On that Tuesday morning, Early was at Silver Springs, enjoying the luxuries of a spacious headquarters, and within sight of the grand old dome of the Capitol. What strange emotions the sight of this dome must have excited in his bosom, what reminiscences of happier days passed under its shadow must have seared his thoughts as they passed in review, he alone can describe. Perhaps it was the contemplation of those happier days that stayed his hand and made him hesitate to grasp the prize at his feet.
No, my son, Jubal A. Early was of too phlegmatic a temperament for such an undertaking. He was slow in every thing but name. And, as I have informed you before, so notoriously cautious and slow was he to act, even when a youth at West Point, that he gained the sobriquet of “The Late Early,” by which he is known at this day by his intimate friends.
How sad it is for us, to-day, to contemplate that the safety of Washington, the capital of this great country, should have depended on the temperament of a general. Let the future historian do this subject justice and elaborate it as it deserves. And let him portray, if he can, the consequences of the rebel flag greeting the rays of the rising sun on that morning victoriously from the dome of the Capitol.
How the rebel generals deported themselves.
This history would not be complete, my son, without a portrait of General John C. Breckinridge. This general accompanied General Early, in command of a division, and was extremely useful as a subordinate, since he knew Washington and all its surroundings, and had many friends in the city, whose respect and hospitality he had enjoyed. What curious emotions must have excited his breast when he saw the dome of that building where he had sat as a Senator, and by his talents and deportment secured the respect and confidence of the nation, I will leave the reader to imagine. Who but himself can describe his thoughts when he recurred to that scene in the Senate Chamber, when he raised the voice of prophecy and foreshadowed the traitor’s reward? Was there a pang in the thought that he was himself reaping the bitterest fruit of that reward?