Virginia and its commanding general? That army, as he seems to have been aware, was sent forth not to capture Richmond or to occupy the South, but simply to harass and baffle the march of the advancing masses of the enemy, which the Army of the Potomac was being extricated from the perils that surrounded it on the Peninsula - a service which should not have provoked a sneer from the accused. It cannot be improper to add, what the record will sustain me in saying, that so far as light is shed upon the subject by the testimony, the Army of Virginia appears to have nobly performed the arduous and perilous work committed to its hands. Its campaign was brief, marked by signal vigor and ability, and animated by a spirit which, shrinking from neither toil nor exposure nor danger, bravely struck the enemy whenever and wherever he could be found.
The accused presents two general grounds of defense, which apply to all the accusations against him. They are, first, his general reputation for zeal and loyalty; and, secondly, the expression of satisfaction with his conduct which General Pope is alleged to have made at Fairfax Court-House on the 2nd of September.
In reference to the first, the testimony is full and earnest as to his former services and character for faithfulness and efficiency as an officer. The law admits such proof in criminal prosecutions, because a presumption of innocence arises from former good conduct, as evidence, by general reputation. The presumption, however, is held to be entitled to little weight except in doubtful cases. Where it comes into conflict with evidence that is both positive and reliable, it at once gives way.
In regard to the second, Colonel Ruggles testified that at the close of a conversation on the 2nd September, at Fairfax Court-House, between General Pope and the accused, the general expressed himself satisfied with his conduct, referring, as the witness believed, to the transactions on which the present charges are based. Colonel Ruggles admits, however, that he was not a party to the conversation; that he heard it only in scraps, and endeavored not to hear it at all. General Pope, on the other hand, deposed that he was not satisfied, and could not have been, and that the expression heard by Colonel Ruggles related to explanations made by the accused as to certain disparaging telegrams which he was understood to have sent to General Burnside. In view of the relation of these two officers to the conversation, the court, of course, could not hesitate to accept the version of General Pope as the true one. Even if General Pope had declared himself satisfied, it would not have affected the status of the accused before the law. His responsibility was to his Government and country, and not to the commanding general. Nor can any presumption arise against this proceeding from the failure of General Pope to prefer charges against the accused. It was his privilege to prefer them, but he was not bound to do so. He discharged his whole duty when, in his official report, he laid these transactions before his Government for its consideration.
This case has been most patiently investigated. If, in war, and in the midst of active hostilities, any Government has ever devoted so long a period of time - some forty-five days - to the examination of a military charge, it hat not come to my knowledge. The court was not only patient and just, but liberal, and in the end everything was received in evidence which could possibly tend to place the conduct of the accused in its true light. It is not believed that there remains upon the record a single ruling of the court to which exception could be seriously taken.