I’ve added a Time Line of the campaign in the Bull Run Resources section. I wanted to do this for awhile, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. I want the Resources section to be free of modern interpretation, so I was a little leery of putting up something that was a reflection of modern opinion. But Ted Ballard’s Chronology from his U. S. Army Center of Military History Staff Ride Guide for the Battle of First Bull Run seems to be pretty neutral. As a government publication, I think it’s OK to reproduce it here under fair use (thanks to Craig Swain for the legal opinion).
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Categories : Articles, Digital History, The Battle, The Project
Testimony of Col. Stephen G. Champlin
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, p. 49
WASHINGTON, December 30, 1861.
Colonel STEPHEN G. CHAMPLIN sworn and examined.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. You were in the fight at Blackburn’s Ford on the Thursday before Bull Run, were you not?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. What was your opinion in regard to the capture of that battery, if you had been supported?
Answer. I think with one brigade in addition to prevent them from out-flanking us we could have taken it.
Question. Without heavy loss?
Answer. Yes, sir; we could have taken it at the point of the bayonet easy enough if we had had another brigade there. That was the way to have taken it.
Question. Then would you have had a severe battle on Friday morning, do you think?
Answer. My opinion is that that was the key of the position at that time.
Question. Would that have ended the matter?
Answer. Yes, sir; I think so. There would have been no battle at Stone Bridge, for we would have been in a position to have out-flanked them at Manassas. Every body of troops they threw up to the Stone Bridge would have been too far on their left.
By Mr. Gooch:
Question. You think those batteries should have been taken before pressing further on?
Answer. I think so. If we attacked the batteries at all at Blackburn’s Ford we should have taken them and held them, for that was their centre at that time. They never could then have fought the battle at Stone Bridge, for we could have marched over the bridge and captured every man there. I think that on Thursday their forces in those batteries were light compared with what they were on Sunday. They saw there were demonstrations made at it, and they were apparently prepared to meet them.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. Were you in the Bull Run fight?
Answer. No, sir; we remained at the hill overlooking Blackburn’s Ford to hold those batteries. If we had not held them they would have crossed over there and cut General McDowell’s army all to pieces.
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Categories : Joint Committee Testimony, Resources, The Battle
I’m back from a long, hot, tiring day on the First Bull Run battlefield. I’m old, fat, and way out of shape.
I got to the park Friday afternoon and managed to get a few of the photos I needed before a series of heavy thunderstorms rolled in. Fellow blogger and FOBR Craig Swain fought his way through traffic and arrived in time to join me for dinner and good conversation. I got up early this morning and visited a couple of sites outside the park boundaries, then met Craig on Matthews Hill at 8:00 AM for some stomping. It’s always better to tour in the company of a knowledgeable companion with a good sense of humor. Thanks Craig!
Too tired to write more or download photos now. I’ll get to it in a few days.
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Categories : Articles, Field Trips
Testimony of Gen. James S. Wadsworth
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, p. 48
WASHINGTON, D. C., December 26, 1861.
General JAMES S. WADSWORTH sworn and examined.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. You were an aid to General Mansfield at the battle of Bull Run, were you not?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. Did you consider the victory won from one to two o’clock in the afternoon of that day?
Answer. Yes, sir; and the reason we thought so was that we had driven the enemy from a large open battle-field some mile and a half back.
By the chairman:
Question. Suppose that Johnston had not come down, but had been kept back, what would have been the result?
Answer. Take out the whole of Johnston’s command, and the victory would have been very easily won. But take out the portion of his command that came down under General Elger about three o’clock in the afternoon, and I still think the battle would have been won by us, but we could not say exactly. But we were holding our own, and had other troops to bring up. It is not certain that we should have won the battle, but General McDowell thought we should. I was where that re-enforcement arrived. I happened to be where the first discharge of musketry from that re-enforcement came in. It was very severe, and then they followed it up immediately with a very bold charge right on the field. They came through a piece of woods on to the battle-field. We had driven the enemy entirely out of the battle-field, which covered an area of 400 or 500 acres, and they were in the woods offering a very sturdy resistance, and it is impossible to say that we should certainly have overcome that resistance. Their last re-enforcement came up on their extreme left, and on our extreme right, so that they pretty nearly outflanked us. Their first discharge was upon some cavalry which had been withdrawn back to a point of comparative safety, as they were not of much importance to us. That killed several of them, and then they retired immediately, or rather stampeded in a very disorderly manner.
Question. At what time was it known among the officers that Patterson had failed to keep Johnston in check?
Answer. It was not known generally until the time of the action. I did not know it. I think it had been a matter of conversation before. I think General McDowell the day before expressed some apprehensions that Patterson had not kept Johnston occupied. I understand that General Cameron, who was out there on Saturday, reported something which led them to believe that Johnston might be there. What the extent of that information was, however, I have no means of knowing.
Question. What is your opinion as to the result of that battle had the provisions and transportation been brought up on Thursday, and the battle fought on Friday morning, instead of Sunday?
Answer. On Friday morning it would have been with no portion of Johnston’s command there. I think there would have been no battle at all then; that we would have walked over the field. Johnston is regarded by our officers as much superior to Beauregard; as much the ablest officer in their army. All the reports show that he had a great deal to do with the disposition of the enemy on that day.
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Categories : Joint Committee Testimony, Resources, The Battlefield
Testimony of Gen. Irvin McDowell
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 41-47
WASHINGTON, January 23, 1862.
General IRVIN McDOWELL recalled and examined.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. There are one or two points in relation to the battle of Bull Run upon which the committee desire you to make some further explanation. You state in your official report, under date of August 4, 1861, that there was delay in the first division in getting on the road on the morning of the battle, and that this was a great misfortune. Will you please state more fully in relation to that delay?
Answer. In my general order, No. 22, of July 20, 1861, providing for the movement of the several divisions to attack the enemy, it was arranged that General Tyler’s division should move at half past two a. m., precisely, on the Warrenton turnpike to threaten the possession of the bridge. General Tyler’s division consisted of four brigades, three only of which moved at this time, as directed in the order referred to. Schenck’s and Sherman’s brigades were one mile from Centreville on the road from Centreville to the Stone Bridge—on the right and left of the road; Keyes’s brigade was about a half a mile to the east of Centreville, on the right of the same road going west; the second division—Hunter’s—was about two miles from Centreville, and to the east of it. This division was ordered to move at two o’clock a. m. precisely. Heintzelman’s division was two miles distant from Centreville, and east of it, on what is called the old Braddock road. This division was to move at half past two a. m. precisely. Heintzelman’s division consisted of the brigades of Wilcox, Franklin, and Howard. Hunter’s division consisted of the brigades of Burnside and General Andrew Porter. All these divisions had the road in common, from the encampment of Sherman’s and Schenck’s brigades to the point where the road to Sudley’s Springs turned off to to the right—at a blacksmith’s shop—a little over a mile. Tyler was to move at half past two a. m., and Hunter was to move half an hour earlier, so that he might close up on Tyler’s division. Heintzelman was to move at half past two a. m., so as to fall in the rear of Hunter’s division. Tyler was expected to get over the ground, between the encampment of his advanced brigade and where the road turned off to the right at the blacksmith shop, in time to offer no obstructions to the road, which was to be used in common by all the divisions. I was sick during the night and morning, and did not leave my headquarters—a little over a mile, perhaps a mile and a quarter, east of Centreville—until I thought all the divisions were fully in motion, so as to give myself as much rest as possible. When I had got beyond Centreville about a mile, I passed the troops lying down and sitting down on the wayside. Upon asking why they did not move forward, the reply came to me that the road was blocked up. I saw some men coming from the left of the road through a cornfield into the road. When I asked to what regiment they belonged, they said the 2d New York, which formed a part of Schenck’s brigade. I went forward, urging the troops to move on, until I got to the blacksmith’s shop, where the road turned off to Sudley’s Springs. I was making every effort, personally and by my aides, to have the road cleared, in order that Hunter’s and Heintzelman’s divisions might take up their march to the right by way of Sudley’s Springs, to carry out the plan of battle.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. Whose division blocked up the road?
Answer. The first division, General Tyler’s division. Major, now General, Barnard, who was the chief of engineers on my staff, in his report to me, dated July 29, 1861, says as follows: “You are aware of the unexpected delay. The two leading brigades of Tyler’s did not clear the road for Hunter to this point (blacksmith shop, where the road turned to the right) until half past five.” That was three hours after the time fixed to start.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. What was the distance from the encampment of Tyler’s leading brigades to the blacksmith shop?
Answer. About a mile. I directed one of my staff to notice when General Tyler commenced firing. It was six o’clock. Colonel, now General Heintzelman, in his report to me of July 31, states as follows:
“At Centreville we found the road filled with the troops, and were detained three hours to allow the divisions of Generals Tyler and Hunter, to pass. I followed them with my division immediately in rear of the latter.”
I will mention that General Tyler in moving forward as the troops were then moving forward—some 18,000 men—was so supported that it was felt that he might move with confidence and promptness upon the road. I have been thus particular in making this explanation because General Tyler has written me a letter, complaining that my report does him injustice, and asking me to set him right in reference to this matter of delay. Under the circumstances I did not feel that I could make any change. He also stated that he received no orders from me during the day.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. I notice in your report that you state that you sent an aide-de-camp to General Tyler to direct him to press forward his attack, as large bodies of the enemy were passing in front of him to attack the division which had crossed over. Will you state what this order was, and by whom it was sent?
Answer. I sent an order to General Tyler to press forward the attack from a point near where this road that turns off at the blacksmith shop crosses Bull Run, near Sudley’s Springs. I sent Lieutenant Kingsbury, my aide-de-camp, to General Tyler to press forward his attack, because I saw columns of dust, indicating large bodies of troops, moving up in front of General Tyler’s division, and as but a small part of Hunter’s division had, at that time, crossed Bull Run, I was afraid he would be crushed before we could get a sufficient body of troops forward to support him. Lieutenant Kingsbury reported to me that he had gone to General Tyler, and found General Tyler, with his aide-de-camp, near a tree, in the branches of which he had some men observing the troops of the enemy coming up on the opposite side. Lieutenant Kingsbury reported to me that he had told General Tyler it was my order he should press forward his attack, and General Tyler replied, “What does he mean? Does he mean that I shall cross the stream?” Lieutenant Kingsbury said : “I give you the message exactly as it was given to me;” to which General Tyler returned answer, “I have a great mind to send some” regiment, or brigade, or something, “across the stream ” Lieutenant Kingsbury made me a written report of this, which ,I mislaid. And while I was waiting at the blacksmith shop to see which direction the battle was to take I also sent an order to General Tyler by my then aide-de-camp, Major Wadsworth, now General Wadsworth.
By Mr. Gooch :
Question. When was Keyes’s brigade ordered to move?
Answer. General Tyler states, in his report, that it was ordered to move at two o’clock in the morning. I did not give any orders to General Keyes, but to Tyler. General Tyler was ordered to move at 2 1/2 a. m. He must have given the order to bring up his rear brigade at two o’clock. General Keyes says: “In compliance with the orders of Brigadier General Tyler, I have the honor to report my operations, leaving my camp at Centreville at two o’clock a. m.”
Question. You were aware, when you gave the order to General Tyler, that Keyes’s brigade was encamped at Centreville?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. Was there anything between Keyes’s brigade and the remainder of General Tyler’s division?
Question. Was there anything to prevent Keyes’s brigade from moving up and joining the rest of the division?
Answer. There ought to have been nothing. There was, because I believe Hunter’s division got into the road before him.
Question. Then if he was interrupted or obstructed in moving up and joining the remainder of Tyler’s division, whose fault was it?
Answer. It must either have been his fault in getting off so late, if he was ordered to move at 2 o’clock by General Tyler, or the fault of some of Hunter’s division in going too soon.
Question. The intention was that the whole of General Tyler’s division should move from the point where Sherman and Schenck were encamped, and on the Warrenton turnpike, at 2 1/2 o’clock?
Answer. Yes, sir. This brigade of Keyes’s had, in consequence of previous movements, become dislocated from the other two, but that, practically, had no effect upon the march of Sunday morning. What I wished to do was to post this force of Tyler’s at or near the Stone Bridge, and under the cover of his force make this flank movement to the right.
Question. Can you state whether or not Schenck’s and Sherman’s brigades had moved forward past the point where the road turns off at the blacksmith shop in time to give the road to the other divisions as they came up ?
Answer. They had not; that is just the point.
Question. Then the other divisions of the army were held back, not only by Keyes’s brigade, but by the other brigades of Tyler’s division?
Answer. Keyes did not hold them back; he went into the field and they came up.
Question. Then they were held back by Schenck’s and Sherman’s brigades?
Answer. Yes, sir; by the slow movement of that part of the force.
Question. It has been said that General Tyler ordered Keyes’s brigade up to join him prior to the day of the battle, and that order was countermanded by you, and the brigade remained back where it was.
Answer. That may have been, but it is a matter of no sort of consequence whatever. I do not know whether that was so or not. But it was of no consequence, because General Tyler and the whole of his forces were ahead; the others were behind.
Question. Would there have been any advantage in stationing the several divisions differently; that is, having some divisions which had further to march stationed where Tyler’s was?
Answer. No, sir; Tyler got his position there logically from the way the force marched to Centreville. Tyler was to throw himself between Fairfax Court-House and Centreville. Hunter started from Anandale, and behind Tyler; Miles was below, and Heintzelman further below still. When Tyler moved forward to Centreville and commenced the fight at Blackburn’s Ford the other divisions were behind. Now to have changed them around would simply have made an unnecessary inversion; there would have been no particular object in it. I should have ordered forward first whichever division might have occupied Tyler’s position, so that, under cover of that, I might have made my flank movement to the right with the other divisions.
Question. It was desirable, then, that a force should be at Stone Bridge before any force passed up toward Sudley’s Springs ?
Answer. I think so. I wanted a strength there, and then, under cover of that, I could move my other divisions up. Had that not been done, there was danger that the other divisions going up to Sudley’s church, having the longest distance to go, might be attacked and cut off.
Question. It was necessary that that division of the army which was to move to Stone Bridge should have the road, and reach and pass the point where the blacksmith shop stands, before the remaining portion of the army should turn off towards Sudley’s Springs?
Answer. That was part of my well determined plan. I thought that was the better way. I do not think any other would have been a safe movement.
Question. I wish to ask you whether the force you left at Centreville was regarded by you as a reserve, or whether they were stationed as they were posted at the different points that day because it was necessary to have troops there to protect the rear of your army?
Answer. More the latter than the former, though partly both; to act as a reserve and, at the same time, to guard against an attack on our left or right. I remained at the turn-off by the blacksmith shop for nearly an hour, in doubt whether there would be an attack above at all. I was inclined to look for it at the left. And I have learned since that General Beauregard intended to attack me at eight o’clock, at Blackburn’s Ford; and when General Tyler commenced firing at Stone Bridge and received no response, I was in doubt. In my order for the battle I say: “The enemy has planted a battery on the Warrenton turnpike to defend the approach to Bull Run, has mined the Stone Bridge,” &c. I wanted to commence the attack on that point, which I was afraid I could not turn, and under cover of that attack to throw a large force up to the right. We expected the Stone Bridge to be a strong point, with batteries in position, regular works, &c. We expected the bridge would be blown up so that we could not use it, and I had made preparations so that the engineer should have another bridge to be used there. We were to make our move to the right and attack them under cover of this attack at the bridge.
Question. If it had not been for the disposition of the forces of Miles’s division which you made on the day of the battle, would not your whole army have been exposed and liable to be cut off?
Answer. Yes, sir; by a movement of the enemy on my left.
Question. That is, by a movement from the enemy’s right on your left?
Answer. Yes, sir; I can show you how I felt on that subject by referring you to my general order No. 22, in which I say : “The fifth division (Miles’s) will take position at the Centreville Heights ; Richardson’s brigade will, for the time, become part of his (Miles’s) division, and will continue in its present position. One brigade will be in the village, and one near the present station of Richardson’s brigade. This division will threaten Blackburn’s Ford, and remain in reserve at Centreville. The commander will open fire with artillery only, and will bear in mind that it is a demonstration only that he is to make. He will cause such defensive works, abattis, earthworks, &c., to be thrown up as will strengthen his position. Lieutenant Prime, of the engineers, will be charged with this duty.” I will also further, in relation to this same matter, give an extract from my report: “I had also felt anxious about the road from Manassas by Blackburn’s Ford to Centreville, along the ridge, fearing that while we should be in force to the front, endeavoring to turn the enemy’s position, we ourselves should be turned by him by this road; for if he should once obtain possession of this ridge, which overlooks all the country to the west to the foot of the spurs of the Blue Ridge, we should have been irretrievably cut off and destroyed. I had, therefore, directed this point to be held in force, and sent an engineer to extemporise some field-works to strengthen their position.”
Question. And you say now that you understand it was the intention of Beauregard to attack you at that point?
Answer. I have understood since that General Beauregard intended in the first place to attack me at 8 o’clock on the morning of the battle, and to attack me on my left, at this Blackburn’s Ford, or in its vicinity; and I have also understood that during the battle he did order a heavy attack to be made in that direction. An attack was made there, but not in the force he intended. It failed on account of an order which he gave one of the commanders having miscarried.
Question. Would it, in your opinion, have been judicious, at any time prior to the rout of our army, to have ordered the force, or any portion of it, stationed at Centreville on to the field of action?
Answer. I do not think it would have been judicious to have sent them one moment earlier than they were sent for. A reference to the reports of Colonel Davies, Colonel Richardson, and Hunt, of the artillery, I think, will show this. They were there having a heavy attack on the left, which would have been heavier but for the failure I have referred to. General Barnard, in his report of July 29, says:
“It will be seen from the above that the combination, though thwarted by different circumstances, was actually successful in uniting three entire brigades, (excepting the brigade of Schenck, which had just opened its way to fall on the enemy’s right at the moment when our lines finally gave way in front,) upon the decisive point.
“A fault, perhaps, it was that it did not provide earlier for bringing the two brigades of Miles (in reserve at Centreville) into action. One of his brigades (Richardson’s) actually did participate, though not on the battle-field; and in its affair on Blackburn’s Ford probably did neutralize the attack of the enemy.”
General Barnard did not then know the extent of that affair on the left. He thought that only Richardson was engaged in it. A reference to the reports of Colonel Davies, commanding a brigade under Colonel Miles, Colonel Hunt, commanding a battery of artillery, and of Colonel Miles, will show why only one brigade from Centreville was sent forward to the front. And it will show that the affair on the left was a matter of much greater importance than General Barnard seems at that time to have supposed it to be. Davies’s brigade was actually engaged, as was also that of Richardson, in repelling the attack of the enemy on the left. Colonel Miles, in his report, says that he received an order to put two brigades on the Warrenton turnpike at the bridge, and a staff officer was sent to order forward Davies’s brigade; that whilst this staff officer was executing his instructions, Davies sent word that he wanted the reserve forward where he was, as he was attacked by 3,000 of the enemy; that the staff officer, therefore, properly suspended the giving of the order, and reported immediately to Colonel Miles, and this caused him to advance with only one brigade, Blenker’s, to the position on the Warrenton turnpike.
Question. The shortest road from Manassas to Centreville was by Blackburn’s Ford?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. When the retreat of our army took place, had the way by Blackburn’s Ford not have been obstructed by the force you had placed there or near there, could not the enemy have moved forward immediately upon Centreville and cut off the retreat of your whole army?
Answer. Yes, sir; and I refer again to my report in answer to that question.
“At the time of our retreat, seeing great activity in this direction, (Blackburn’s Ford,) also firing and columns of dust, I became anxious for this place, fearing if it were turned or forced the whole stream of our retreating mass would be captured or destroyed. After providing for the protection of the retreat by Porter’s or Blenker’s brigade, I repaired to Richardson, and found the whole force ordered to be stationed for the holding of the road from Manassas by Blackburn’s Ford to Centreville on the march for Centreville under orders from the division commanders. I immediately halted it and ordered it to take up the best line of defence across the ridge that their position admitted of, and subsequently taking in person the command of this part of the army. I caused such disposition of the force as would best serve to check the enemy.”
By Mr. Odell:
Question. Was the attack on Blackburn’s Ford on Thursday, the 18th of July, made by your order?
Answer. No, sir, it was not. On July the 18th I was between Germantown and Centreville, General Tyler’s division being between my then position and Centreville. I wrote him the following note, which was carried to him by General, then Colonel, Wadsworth, my aide-de-camp:
“BETWEEN GERMANTOWN AND CENTREVILLE,
“July 18, 1861—8.15 a. m.
“BRIGADIER GENERAL TYLER—General: I have information which leads me to believe you will find no force at Centreville, and will meet with no resistance in getting there. Observe well the roads to Bull Run and to Warrenton. Do not bring on any engagement, but keep up the impression that we are moving on Manassas. I go to Heintzelman to arrange about the plan we have talked over.”
The plan was for the army to go around and attack the enemy’s right. I will give an extract from General Tyler’s report of July 27 as bearing on this question:
HEADQUARTERS FIRST DIVISION DEPARTMENT NE. VIRGINIA,
Washington City, July 27, 1861.
“General McDOWELL, Commanding Department:
“SIR : On the 18th instant you ordered me to take my division, with the two 20-pounder rifled guns, and move against Centreville, to carry that position. My division moved from its encampment at 7 a. m. At 9 a. m. Richardson’s brigade reached Centreville, and found that the enemy had retreated the night before; one division on the Warrenton turnpike, in the direction of Gainesville, and the other, and by far the largest division, towards Blackburn’s Ford, on Bull Run.”
This order of mine that I have referred to was given to him in person by then Major Wadsworth, who also cautioned him verbally from me not to do too much in the way of keeping up the impression that we were moving on Manassas.
I will now read from General Barnard’s report of July 29. He was the chief of engineers on my staff:
“It should be borne in mind that the plan of campaign had been to turn the position and turn Manassas by the left; that is to say, that from Fairfax Court- House and Centreville we were to make a flank movement toward Sangster’s and Fairfax Station, and thence to Wolf Run Shoals, or in that direction.
“In my interview with the commanding general he said nothing to indicate any change of plan; but, on the contrary, his remarks carried the impression that he was more than ever confirmed in his plan, and spoke of the advance on Centreville as a ‘demonstration.’
“In proposing therefore to reconnoitre the enemy’s position at Blackburn’s Ford, it was not with the slightest idea that this point would be attacked; but a reconnoissance would be the carrying out of a ‘ demonstration.’
“Whilst I was awaiting Captain Alexander, l encountered Matthew C. Mitchell, who was secured as a guide. Representing himself as a Union man and a resident of that vicinity, I was engaged questioning him, when intelligence was received that General Tyler had sent back for artillery and infantry, and that the enemy was in sight before him. Riding to the front, I joined General Tyler and Colonel Richardson. Proceeding with them a short distance further, we emerged from the woods, and found ourselves at a point at which the road commences its descent to Blackburn’s Ford. The run makes here a curve or bow towards us, which the road bisects. The slopes from us towards it were gentle and mostly open. On the other side the banks of the run rise more abruptly, and are wooded down to the very edge of the run. Higher up a clear spot could be seen here and there; and still higher, higher than our own point of view, and only visible from its gently sloping towards us, an elevated plateau, comparatively open, in which Manassas Junction is situated.
“Although, owing to the thickness of the wood, little could be seen along the edge of the run, it was quite evident from such glimpses as we could obtain that the enemy was in force behind us. I represented to General Tyler that this point was the enemy’s strong position, on the direct road to Manassas Junction; that it was no part of the plan to assail it. I did not, however, object to a “demonstration,” believing that it would favor what I supposed still to be the commanding general’s plan of campaign.
“The two 20-pounders, of Parrott’s, had been ordered up. They were opened upon the enemy’s position, firing in various directions, without our being able to perceive the degree of effect they produced. They had fired perhaps a dozen rounds, when they were answered by a rapid discharge from a battery apparently close down to the run and at the crossing of the road. The 20-pounders continued their fire, directing at this battery, and Ayre’s battery was brought up and stationed on the left. The enemy’s batteries soon ceased answering. After ours had continued playing for about a half an hour, I felt it a useless expenditure of ammunition, and so stated to you, (Captain Fry, who arrived on the spot shortly before this,) and presumed General Tyler concurred in this opinion, as the firing soon ceased.
“I supposed this would be an end of the affair. But perceiving troops filing down towards the run, I thought it necessary to impress General Tyler with the fact that it was no part of the plan of the commanding general to bring on a serious engagement. I directed Captain Alexander (engineers) to state this fact to him, which he did in writing, having stated the same verbally before.”
My own order was not to bring on an engagement, and here was the chief of my engineers, and my adjutant general besides, urging the same thing on General Tyler.
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Categories : Joint Committee Testimony, Resources, The Battle
So there you have it. In his testimony before the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, Irvin McDowell laid the failure at Bull Run squarely on the shoulders of Winfield Scott and Robert Patterson for their inability to hold the force of Joe Johnston in the Valley. And he made a convincing case, one that has held up to the present day. McDowell asserted that he was assurred by Scott that Johnston’s force would not join with Beauregard; McDowell planned accordingly; and his plans were only foiled by the arrival of Johnston’s men on the plains of Manassas, or rather the failure of Scott to live up to his part of the bargain.
On the surface, it seems to make sense. That is what happened. Beauregard would have been very hard pressed to defeat McDowell without the help of the Army of the Shenandoah. But look at what McDowell was saying – his plans were fine. He outlined the plan in his testimony, but he didn’t delve into one specific: how many of the enemy did he anticipate he would face? If we work backwards, and say he actually faced 35,000 (a round estimate), and Johnston added 8,000 to 12,000, then Beauregard without Johnston was 23,000 to 27,000. So if McDowell anticipated facing 27,000 or so, his argument holds water. But as noted in his plan, McDowell estimated the Confederate strength would equal (after reinforcements from all available quarters except those occupied by Patterson and by Butler at Fortress Monroe) about 35,000, or about the number with which he in fact did have to contend.
For me, the argument that Johnston’s arrival won the battle is sound, but the conclusion that it was all that upset McDowell’s plans does not pass the smell test. It’s spin, double-talk, newspeak, whatever you want to call it. And it’s firmly entrenched.
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Categories : Articles, Joint Committee Testimony, The Battle
Testimony of Gen. Irvin McDowell
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 35-41
WASHINGTON, D. C., December 26, 1861.
General IRVIN McDOWELL sworn and examined.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. We were instructed to make some inquiry in regard to the battle of last July. In the first place, was that battle of Bull Run decided upon in a council of war?
Answer. No, sir. I will give you in a few words the way that was done. There is much that precedes the battle that would be interesting to you gentlemen to know. Not to be too long, I will say that the general-in-chief, General Scott, called upon me verbally to submit a plan of operations to go against Manassas,and to estimate the force necessary to carry out that plan. I cannot tell the day when this was done. I could give you a copy of the plan I submitted, but unfortunately the copy I kept has not, I think, the date to it. The one I sent to him has, I think. I sent the plan to General Scott, and he read it and approved of it. I was then summoned before the cabinet. There were some general officers there : General Sandford, General Tyler, General Mansfield, and General Meigs were there. I think those were all but I am not certain. I was then called upon to read my plan of operations, and I read it. No persons had any suggestions to make in reference to it except General Mansfield. He made some remarks, but said he had not thought about the matter, and did not know anything about it, and was not prepared to say anything in relation to it. As the plan was all approved of, without any alteration, and, I think, without any suggestion, except a slight one from General Mansfield, I then called the engineers to assist me, and gave the paper to them to discuss. They discussed it, and made no alterations, and had no suggestions to make except one. Captain Woodbury, now Major Woodbury, suggested that I should go by the right instead of by the left. I told him the reasons why I preferred to go by the left; that to go by the left was a conclusive movement, and to go by the right might not be.
Question. That is, to cut off the railroad?
Answer. Yes, sir. It was to go down by our left on their right and cut the railroad there. Your first question was as to whether there was any council of war on the plan. In reply, I said the plan was one that I submitted in compliance with verbal instructions from General Scott, and which plan received no modification either from the cabinet or from General Scott, except a mere verbal correction, changing “communications” to “communication.” Nor did any of the engineers make any suggestion, except the one I have mentioned, to go by the right instead of the left. I told him why I did not want to go in that direction, but said I was the last man in the world pledged to my own views, and if any one could tell me anything better than I could myself, I would accept it, and give him the full credit of it. Now, in regard to my plan, I had, in the first place, to assume what the enemy had in front of me. I next assumed that there would be no secret of my preparing to go against them. They would know it, and as a consequence of that they would bring up whatever disposable force they had. Therefore, it was not so much what they had here, but what they would bring here, that I was to go against. I assumed that if General Butler would keep them engaged below, and General Patterson would keep Johnson engaged above, I would then have so much to go against. To do that I asked for a certain force. They agreed to it, and gave me the force, but very late in the day. But they did not fulfil the condition with me so far as General Johnson was concerned. I had a part to play in the matter. It was but a part in a whole; it was a large part, still only a part. I had no control over the whole; that was controlled by General Scott. On several occasions I mentioned to the general that I felt tender on the subject of General Patterson and General Johnson. In reply to some suggestion once made about bringing Patterson over to Leesburg, I said if he went there Johnson might escape and join Beauregard, and I was not in a condition to meet all their forces combined. I said that I went over there with everything green. That was admitted; but they said that the other side was equally green. I said that the chances of accident were much more with green troops than with veterans, and I could not undertake to meet all their forces together. General Scott assured me—I use his own words—”if Johnson joins Beauregard he shall have Patterson on his heels.” He gave me this assurance, that there should be no question in regard to keeping Johnson’s troops engaged in the valley of Virginia. I estimated to go from Vienna with the largest force, and get in behind Fairfax Court-House; go with one force down the Little River turnpike upon Fairfax Court-House; go with one force by way of Anandale, and then go off to the south by the old Braddock road, as it is called, and then have the fourth column go south of the railroad. The railroad was then blocked up and obstructed. They had broken down the bridges and torn up the track where they could, filled in the deep cuts with earth and trees, and obstructed the road as effectually as they could. I could not at first use that railroad, though I threw the largest part of the force called reserve upon the railroad to make the communications good. The largest part of the 30,000 men were in front. I moved down Tuesday evening. When General Scott was called upon, or when the question was asked in the cabinet, when he would be ready to carry out this plan, General Scott fixed for me that day week. Up to that time General Scott never wished anything done on the other side of the river further than to merely fortify Arlington Heights. General Scott was exceedingly displeased that I should go over there. He had other plans in view, and personal plans, so far as I was concerned. And he was piqued and irritated that I was sent over there, and the more so that General Sandford was here in somewhat an equivocal position. He was here for three months, a major general of troops in New York. General Scott did not wish to give him the command here in Washington; at least I infer so because he did not put him in command, and he put him in command on the other side of the river. But General Scott was told that he must put either General Mansfield or myself over there. He wished to keep General Mansfield here, and he put me over there. The general had opposed my somewhat rapid promotion, because he thought it was doing a hurt to General Mansfield, and when I was promoted he insisted that General Mansfield should also be promoted, and date back a week before my own promotion. When I was ordered to the other side General Scott sent me two messages by his aide-de-camp and military secretary, to make a personal request of the Secretary of War not to be sent on the other side. I said I could not do that. Just appointed a general officer, it was not for me to make a personal request not to take the command which I had been ordered upon. I could not stand upon it. I had no reputation, as he had, and I refused to make any such application. So I went on the other side, and the general was cool for a great while. He did not like that I did not comply with his suggestion and ask not to be sent there. I was on the other side a long while without anything. No additions were made to the force at all. With difficulty could I get any officers. I had begged of the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Treasury, who at that time was connected with the Secretary of War in many of the plans and organizations going forward, that I should not be obliged to organize and discipline and march and fight all at the same time. I said that it was too much for any person to do. But they could not help it, or did not help it, and the thing went on until this project was broached. General Scott at the same time took occasion to say to the cabinet that he was never in favor of going over into Virginia. He did not believe in a little war by piecemeal. But he believed in a war of large bodies. He was in favor of moving down the Mississippi river with 80,000 men, of which I was to command the advance. We were to go down, fight all the battles that were necessary, take all the positions we could find, and garrison them, fight a battle at New Orleans and win it, and thus end the war. I did not think well of that plan, and was obliged to speak against it in the cabinet. I felt that it was beyond everything a hazardous thing for our paper steamboats, as you might term them, to try to go down the river on such an expedition. They have some considerable difficulty to get down safely in the most peaceable times and with all the precautions possible, and it would be exceedingly hazardous for them to undertake to go down there with a large army, with all their machinery above water and exposed, and obliged to attack works opposed to them all the way down. Here is the case of the Potomac now blockaded; we do not venture to land and attack the batteries here, though this is a wide river with a broad channel, one well known and which does not change. We attempt nothing of the sort here, and yet we were expected to go down the Mississippi a thousand miles, supply our force all the way down, attack the batteries, and be diminishing our force all the while by leaving garrisons in all the places we should deem of sufficient importance to retain. I thought the plan was full of most serious and vital objections. I would rather go to New Orleans the way that Packenham attempted to go there. I went over the river, as I have told you. General Mansfield felt hurt, I have no doubt, in seeing the command he had divided in two and a portion sent over there. I got everything with great difficulty. Some of my regiments came over very late; some of them not till the very day I was to move the army. I had difficulty in getting transportation. In fact, I started out with no baggage train, with nothing at all for the tents, simply transportation for the sick and wounded and the munitions. The supplies were to go on afterwards. I expected the men to carry supplies for three days in their haversacks. If I went to General Mansfield for troops, he said: “I have no transportation.” I went to General Meigs and he said he had transportation, but General Mansfield did not want any to be given until the troops should move. I said: “I agree to that, but between you two I get nothing.” The quartermaster begged of me not to move, because he was not ready. I said: “We must move on Tuesday;” which was one week after the time General Scott had fixed. All my force had not come over by the time he fixed. A large part came over on Sunday, and some on the very Tuesday I moved. I told the general I was not ready to go. Said I to him : “So far as transportation is concerned, I must look to you behind me to send it forward.” I had no opportunity to test my machinery; to move it around and see whether it would work smoothly or not. In fact, such was the feeling,that when I had one body of eight regiments of troops reviewed together, the general censured me for it, as if I was trying to make some show. I did not think so. There was not a man there who had ever manoeuvred troops in large bodies. There was not one in the army; I did not believe there was one in the whole country; at least, I knew there was no one there who had ever handled 30,000 troops. I had seen them handled abroad in reviews and marches, but I had never handled that number, and no one here had. I wanted very much a little time; all of us wanted it. We did not have a bit of it. The answer was: “You are green, it is true; but they are green, also; you are all green alike.” We went on in that way. But there is one thing clear beyond any doubt. If the movements which had been ordered had been carried out, we should have had no difficulty at all. My plan was simply this: It was to move out this force upon these four lines. I had to move them on four lines that had no communication with each other from the very nature of the country. But I thought I made each column strong enough to hold its own. If it could not penetrate it could stand still, and if attacked it could hold its own, while the other columns were pressing forward and trying to get behind the enemy. The roads from Alexandria radiate. One goes out to Vienna, one goes to Fairfax Court-House, one to Fairfax Station, and one further south to Pohick church. My orders were, that those on the right should go the first day—Tuesday—out to Vienna. I had taken the precaution before to send General Richardson, who commanded a brigade I had organized at Chain Bridge, out to examine the road he afterwards moved over. Generals Keyes, Schenck, Richardson, and Sherman, in all four brigades, were to be at Vienna that night. General Hunter, who commanded what I intended to be a sort of reserve, composed of General Burnside’s command and General Porter’s command, were to go on the Little River turnpike to Anandale. General Miles was to go to Anandale a little before and turn down on the Braddock road. General Heintzelman was to go out also from Alexandria on the railroad, and send up some force to Vienna to hold that point after our troops left it. The next morning General Tyler was to march from Vienna and go down upon the road towards Fairfax Court-House. General Hunter was to go forward to Fairfax Court-House direct. General Miles was to come down on the Braddock road to another road that crossed it, going from Fairfax Court-House to Fairfax Station, while Heintzelman went down below. They were to be there early in the morning, I think at 8 o’clock. At Fairfax Court-House was the South Carolina brigade. And I do not suppose anything would have had a greater cheering effect upon the troops, and perhaps upon the country, than the capture of that brigade. And if General Tyler could have got down there any time in the forenoon instead of in the afternoon the capture of that brigade was beyond question. It was but 5,000 or 6,000 men, and Tyler had 12,000, at the same time that we were pressing on in front. He did not get down there until in the afternoon; none of us got forward in time. That was due to two things, perhaps. The affair of Big Bethel and Vienna had created a great outcry against rushing into places that people did not know anything about. I think the idea of everyone was that we were to go into no such things as that; that we were to feel our way. That, perhaps, caused the march to be very, slow; because, from Vienna across the march was not more than five or six miles, and if they started by 4 o’clock in the morning they should get there by 8 o’clock. They did not get there until 3 o’clock, and the South Carolina brigade marched at 11 o’clock, so that it slipped through our hands. Then, too, the men were not used to marching; they stopped every moment to pick blackberries or to get water. They would not keep in the ranks, order as much as you pleased. When they came where water was fresh they would pour the old water out of their canteens and fill them with fresh water; they were not used to denying themselves much. They were not used to journeys on foot; the men of the north no more than the men of the south were used to going on foot much. While the men of the south were accustomed to riding horseback, those of the north rode in wagons for the shortest journeys, and they were pretty well broken down with this short march; therefore, when I wanted them to push on to Centreville, they were so broken down that they could not get more than half way there. The subsistence was to come on the next morning. Thursday morning I went off to see about making this march off to the left. That day General Tyler got involved at Blackburn’s Ford, which made it necessary to move the whole of the troops forward that day, instead of keeping them behind to draw their rations. The attack at Blackburn’s Ford had a bad effect upon our men. They were all in high spirits before that, but had not succeeded in their first attack. That attack made all wish to know what we were going to do, and where we were going to go, so that the next two days were employed by General Barnard and those under him in trying to discover where we could penetrate this line. They went out and were unsuccessful. They went out again at night, and were again unsuccessful. On Saturday about noon they reported that they had found a place. I at once gave orders to march at 6 o’clock that night, going part of the distance and stopping, and then move on early in the morning; but General Burnside, who was the furthest off, said that it would be much less fatiguing for his men to make one march instead of two, and that if we started early enough in the morning we could reach there in time. I yielded to it at once, as it was only on account of the men that I wanted to stop. I started in the morning. We got around late, it is true; there were delays about getting into the road. General Tyler was late, and General Hunter was slow in getting around; still, we substantially carried out the plan. We got over there and met the enemy; and there I found that, in addition to General Beauregard, I had General Johnston—how much of him I did not know. I learned afterwards that some 7,000 or 8,000, the bulk of his force, had arrived. Still, we were successful against both until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when the remainder of his force came upon us upon our right when our men were tired and exhausted, and that caused the day to turn against us.
I have learned since, in relation to that movement of General Johnston, which was the fatal thing in the whole of this battle, and which General Scott assured me should not take place, or if it did General Patterson should be driving him in, that General Patterson was before General Johnston on Wednesday, and on Thursday morning, at 4 o’clock, he ordered his troops to march. I learned from General Morell—now in General Fitz-John Porter’s division, but who was then on the staff of General Sandford, who commanded under General Patterson— that they all expected that they were going right down to Winchester on Thursday, and that all the men were in the highest possible spirits at the idea of going there.and that General Sandford believed they were superior to Johnston’s force. But instead of going down to Winchester, after they got down to a place called Bunker Hill, they turned off to the left and went off towards Harper’s Ferry. Then the men became so dissatisfied that they demanded their discharge. Up to that time there had been no indications of turbulence. General Johnston, on that same day—Thursday—when he found out that Patterson had gone away, left in the afternoon between 2 and 3 o’clock, and pushed down in a masterly manner as hard as he could to join Beauregard. General Patterson in the meantime was, I am told, under the greatest possible alarm, and telegraphed all the time, and sent an officer down, who arrived on Sunday, to General Scott for re-enforcements against General Johnston, General Johnston at that very time being before me here; and General Scott was so impressed with this, that a large part of the force in Washington was ordered to go up there to join General Patterson. So completely was General Patterson outwitted that he thought General Johnston had 40,000 men there. One who was on his staff, and his adjutant general, told me that they had got records, reports, and returns to the effect that Johnston had something like 40,000 men. All I can say is, that if he had 40,000 men, I had the whole of them on me.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. Do you believe he had 10,000?
Answer. I think he had from 12,000 to 15,000, and General Patterson had in the vicinity of 20,000. If he had 40,000, then I had them all. But I assume that he joined Beauregard in the first place with 8,000, and that his last re-enforcement was about 4,000.
By the chairman:
Question. When did you first learn that Johnston was released from Patterson and down here?
Answer. I first learned it in a way beyond all doubt on the field of battle. About 11 o’clock in the day I made some prisoners.
Question. Did no one tell you before?
Answer. A man came to me before. But, great God! I heard every rumor in the world, and I put them all aside unless a man spoke of his own personal knowledge. Some person came to me; I did not know who he was. I had people coming to me all the time, each one with something different. All that I paid no attention to. This person came to me and said, I think, “The news is that Johnston has joined Beauregard.” He might have said that somebody else had joined Beauregard. He did not know it himself; had heard it from others. Some one said: ” We heard the cars coming in last night.” Well, I expected that. I expected they would bring into Manassas every available man they could find. All I did expect was that General Butler would keep them engaged at Fortress Monroe, and Patterson would keep them engaged in the valley of Virginia. That was the condition they accepted from me to go out and do this work. I hold that I more than fulfilled my part of the compact because I was victorious against Beauregard and 8,000 of Johnston’s troops also. Up to 3 o’clock in the afternoon I had done all and more than all that I had promised or agreed to do; and it was this last straw that broke the camel’s back—if you can call 4,000 men a straw, who came upon me from behind fresh from the cars.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. Has it not been a fact, all through this war, that our generals in front of the enemy—as was General Patterson in front of General Johnston— have been deceived as to the force of the enemy? General Patterson says that he had positive information that General Johnston had over 35,000 men, while he had only 20,000. Has this not been a bragging, lying force that they have been exhibiting along our lines all the time?
Answer. There is one thing: In war the object is to deceive the enemy as to your force and make him believe that you are stronger than you really are. I have taken the evidence of negro.men and found it very good myself. But that is a matter of judgment; you may get yourself overreached.
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Tags: Irvin McDowell, JCCW, Resources
Categories : Joint Committee Testimony, Resources, The Battle