JCCW – Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman

17 05 2009

Testimony of Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman

Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 28-32

WASHINGTON, D. C., December 24, 1861

General SAMUEL P. HEINTZELMAN sworn and examined.

By the chairman:

Question. One item of the inquiry which we are commissioned to make is in regard to the occasion of the disaster at Bull Run, as near as we can ferret it out, by questioning military gentlemen who know. You will therefore please state in your own way, without much questioning, what you know about it; the time of starting, where you went, what you did, and what observations you made. State it in general, for we do not wish to descend to particulars at all. Just state your opinion of the causes of the disasters at Bull Run.

Answer. I cannot recollect when the other divisions started. My division marched on the morning of the 16th of July, which was Tuesday.

Question. You can give us a very rapid and general narrative, if you please, of what happened from the marching of your division. You need not be minute or particular in your statements.

Answer. The first brigade of my division started at 10 o’clock in the morning, and in the course of the day the whole division marched. We went as far as the Pohick the first night.

Question. How many men were in your division?

Answer. About 9,500. The last of the division did not get into camp until about one hour before daylight. We started the next morning soon after daylight, and found the road somewhat obstructed. When we got to Elzey’s, I sent Wilcox’s brigade on to Fairfax Station, and Franklin’s brigade towards Sangster’s, while I remained with ours at Elzey’s. Just before we got to Elzey’s we met some of the enemy’s pickets, and received information that they had batteries at Fairfax Station, as well as between us and Sangster’s. In about a half an hour I got word from Wilcox that the enemy were retreating from Fairfax Station. I immediately sent that information to General Franklin and followed on with the other brigade. I got to Sangster’s with my two brigades late in the afternoon, and sent out reconnoitring parties, but could hear nothing of the enemy, further than they had retreated, some two hours before we got to Sangster’s, along the railroad, and had burned the bridges. We saw the smoke of the burning bridges when we got there. We stayed there all the next day. General McDowell came there about 12 o’clock, and we had a conversation there. The intention was, when we started, to go by the left flank to Wolf Run Shoals, or to Brentsville, and endeavor to cut the railroad in rear of Manassas. But from information received at Sangster’s it was not considered feasible to follow up that plan. So he gave me orders to be at Centreville with my division between that time and daylight, and to get some provisions. Our three days’ rations were out that day.

By Mr. Chandler:

Question. That was on Thursday.

Answer. Yes, sir. We started on Tuesday and got to Pohick. On Wednesday we got to Sangster’s, and we stayed there until late in the afternoon of Thursday. About 5 o’clock, I think it must have been, I started. I had sent out to get beef, but could get nothing but an old cow; and we then went on without any provisions. We got to Centreville about dark, and found the rest of the army encamped about the place.

Question. That was Thursday night.

Answer. Yes, sir. We remained there until Sunday morning, when I advanced with the rest of the army.

By the chairman:

Question. What induced you to fight that battle on Sunday, and at that time, without knowing more particularly what Johnston and Patterson were about?

Answer. On Saturday we saw re-enforcements to the enemy arriving by the railroad, which we supposed were Johnston’s. And every day’s delay we knew was fatal to our success.

By Mr. Chandler:

Question. Can you tell us why you laid over at Centreville from Thursday until Sunday?

Answer. The day after we left Alexandria the provision train was to start. The wagons had not yet been collected, as I understood, and the consequence was that they did not start the next day, but the day after. On Thursday the provisions I had gave out. In fact, some of the men had got rid of their provisions the very first day; like volunteers, they did not take care of them, and as they got heavy they threw them away. I sent two or three times in the course of the morning, and finally I sent an officer to follow up until he found them. He went clear into Alexandria, and there he learned that the train had started the second day after we left, instead of the first, and had taken the road to Occoquan. As soon as I learned that, I pushed on towards Centreville, to try to get there before dark. At Centreville we the next day got some provisions. There was a reconnoissance made on Friday, or one attempted; but they met some of the enemy’s pickets, and had to come back. There was another attempt made the next day, but I do not think they learned much then. But the supposition was that the enemy was in force at the Stone Bridge; that they had a battery there, and an abatis, and that the bridge was ruined; and that they had a force further up Bull Run at another ford, probably about halfway between Centreville and Sudley’s Church. You asked me about the delay. The delay at Centreville, I suppose, was principally waiting for provisions, and for information of the position of the enemy.

Question. And during that delay Johnston’s army came down?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. And likewise re-enforcements from Richmond?

Answer. Yes, sir; I suppose from every quarter whence they could send them.

By the chairman:

Question. Your first idea was the best one to cut off that railroad, was it not?

Answer. Yes, sir; we supposed the creek was not fordable but at few places ; but at Sangster’s we got information that satisfied us that there were very slight obstructions, and it would make that operation a very dangerous one, and it was given up.

By Mr. Chandler:

Question. Will you give us, as succinctly as possible, the operations of your division on Sunday?

Answer. I perhaps had better state what occurred Saturday night.

Question. Very well.

Answer. Saturday night all the division commanders were directed to appear at General McDowell’s headquarters to receive instructions what to do the next day. The order had been given to march, first, at 6 o’clock the afternoon of Saturday; but afterwards it was put off till 2 o’clock the next morning. We went there and got our instructions. General Tyler’s division was to start first; then Hunter’s, and then mine. I asked a few questions about what I was to do, and had some little change made about the hour of starting, and went back to my tent. The next morning, precisely at the hour fixed, I left. The head of the column got to Centreville, and found the road obstructed with troops. General Tyler’s division had not passed yet. I waited there three hours for Tyler’s and Hunter’s division to pass. After crossing Cub Run a little ways we took the right-hand road. Major Wright, of the engineers, went with Hunter’s column. He was to stop with the guide, where the road turned off to this second ford I spoke of. He could not find the road, and of course we kept on and reached Sudley’s Church, or Bull Run, near the church, about 11 o’clock on the morning of Sunday. In the meantime we heard the firing on our left, across Bull Run, and could see the smoke, and could see two heavy clouds of dust, evidently caused by troops approaching from Manassas. A few minutes before we got to Bull Run General McDowell and his staff passed us, going on ahead. When we got to the run the last brigade of Hunter’s division had not yet crossed. I ordered the first brigade of my division to fill their canteens, while I went on to see with my glass what was going on. About this time the firing in front of Hunter’s division commenced. And in about a half an hour two of General McDowell’s staff rode up and asked me to send forward two regiments, that the enemy were outflanking him. I ordered forward two regiments. The Minnesota regiment was one, but I have forgotten the other. I followed on and left orders for the rest of the division to follow as soon as the road was clear. Major Wright led the Minnesota off to the left, and I followed the upper road on the right until we came on the field. I stopped and made inquiries as to what was going on. I saw General McDowell, and the batteries which were on this ground. Two of them were ordered forward; one of them flanking my division. I followed them for a little while, sending orders for the zouaves and first regiment to follow and support them. I went up, after the zouaves arrived, on the right of the batteries with them. As I rose to cross the ridge, I saw beyond a line of the enemy drawn up at a shoulder-arms, dressed in citizen’s clothes. It did not strike me at first who they were. But I just checked my horse and looked at them. I saw in an instant that they were a party of the enemy’s troops, and I turned to the zouaves and ordered them to charge them. They moved forward some 20 paces and they fired, and both parties broke and run. Just at this moment some 30 or 40 of the enemy’s cavalry came out through an old field and charged the rear of the zouaves. The zouaves turned upon them and emptied some five or six saddles, and the cavalry broke and run. Captain Colburn’s company of cavalry, belonging to the regular army, was close by and got a shot at them with their carbines, and emptied some more saddles. That was the last I saw of them. And that was the famous black horse cavalry who made the charge.

Question. Only thirty or forty of them?

Answer. That was all. I did not see that many, but I was told there were thirty or forty of them. There was not a black horse among them that I saw. And there was one solitary man killed of that regiment by that fire. There was also a man fell out of the leading company. One of them disappeared, and I supposed he crawled off.

By the chairman:

Question. How far apart were they when that firing took place?

Answer. Thirty or forty yards. ,

Question. And they all fired over each other’s heads?

Answer. The enemy were in the woods. As I was on horseback of course I saw them first. I stopped and ordered the zouaves to charge. By coming forward a few paces they could see over the ridge, and as soon as they saw each other they fired and then they both broke and run.

By Mr. Chandler:

Question. Did the zouaves rally after that during the day?

Answer. Not as a regiment. Many of the officers and men joined other regiments, or fought on their own hook.

By the chairman:

Question. What, in your opinion, really led to the disasters of that day?

Answer. It is hard to tell. There, were a number of causes. In the first place, the delay of Friday and Saturday at Centreville was one efficient cause. Another cause was the three hours lost at Centreville on Sunday morning.

Question. Did their troops outnumber ours, do you suppose?

Answer. O! yes, sir, largely. I have no definite information as to the number of men they had. General Tyler’s division went first, then General Hunter’s, then mine. Hunter had furthest to go; the distance I had to go was the next furthest, and the distance Tyler had to go was the least. I think if we had reversed it—let Hunter start first, then let me follow him, and then Tyler follow me—that delay at Centreville would not have occurred.

By Mr. Chandler:

Question. Suppose the battery at Blackburn’s Ford had been captured on Thursday night by Tyler’s division, and an advance had been ordered on Friday morning, do you think there would have been much of a battle any way?

Answer. That is a difficult question to answer; I do not know what force the enemy had there. I doubt whether Tyler could have captured that battery. From what I have learned, I do not think he had sufficient force to do it. And he had no authority to make such a strong demonstration as he did.

By the chairman:

Question. Why was not the reserve brought up to that field?

Answer. The reserve at Centreville?

Question. Yes, sir.

Answer. I suppose the only reason was that Centreville was such an important point. If the enemy should get possession of it we should be cut-off entirely. I think that when we found on Saturday that re-enforcements were coming in so strongly, the reserve at Alexandria, here on the Potomac, should have been brought forward. That would have left the reserve that remained at Centreville in a position to be used.

Question. There were a great many troops at Fortress Monroe that might have been brought up, I should think. What prevented that?

Answer. I do not think there were many at Fortress Monroe. I do not recollect. I think there were troops enough around Washington, if they had been pushed forward on Saturday.

By Mr. Chandler:

Question. And, probably, if the battle had been made on Thursday or Friday, before their re-enforcements came up, you had force enough?

Answer. Yes, sir. I believe we should have been successful, at least, in getting possession of and holding Bull Run, if we could have advanced Friday morning. I was perfectly confident, when I went there on Thursday night, that we should advance on Friday morning, and the consequence was that I camped my division in very close order.

By the chairman:

Question. It always seemed singular to me that you went into battle on Sunday morning, when you found Johnston had re-enforced them. I should have supposed that you would have remained at Centreville until you had got your re-enforcements up to meet the new state of things.

Answer. I did not think, when we started on Sunday morning, that there would be a general engagement. I supposed, from what we were informed at headquarters, that the enemy had a strong force at the Stone Bridge, as the rebels called it, and a small force at the ford I was to go to. I had orders not to cross until Hunter had crossed at Sudley’s Church and come down opposite to me on the other side of Bull Run. Then I was to cross, and we were to follow on down opposite the Stone Bridge, and turn that. Tyler had orders, I believe, not to attack with his infantry at all, but merely to make a demonstration with his artillery at the Stone Bridge, and to wait until we came down. But when we crossed over there, we soon got engaged with a heavy force of the enemy.

Question. There was really no necessity for fighting on Sunday rather than on any other day. You chose your own time, I suppose?

Answer. It is reported that they had given their orders to attack us on Sunday morning at eight o’clock.

Question. Then I would have remained on the heights at Centreville and let them attack us there, and then they would have lost the benefit of their batteries.

Answer. The principal difficulty was the want of provisions in kind. I think that was one grand cause of the disaster. And the troops were not brigaded in time. And then we had a great many three months men.

By Mr. Chandler:

Question. You have been in command of the extreme left wing of this army for some time, I believe?

Answer. Yes, sir; between two and three months. I was on the left all last summer; but the day, or two days, before the battle my position was changed. I was to follow out on the Little River turnpike; and then they changed me further to the left, to go up the Fairfax road.


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