Testimony of Gen. Louis Blenker
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 75-77
WASHINGTON, January 6, 1862
General Louis BLENKER sworn and examined.
By the chairman:
Question. Were you at the Bull Run fight?
Answer. Not a great fighter, but I did what I could. I was present from the first until the last hour.
Question. To what do you attribute the defeat of that day particularly?
Answer. My idea is that the general-in-chief, General McDowell—an honorable officer, a very well-educated officer—at that time had not prepared enough his staff officers, and all the other plans were spoiled by the baggage wagons which he had ordered to be there not coming as he ordered. The whole trouble was in going in so risky a way that any general—even the greatest in the world—would be beaten that day, if the enemy was strongest. But the enemy were losing a great deal more than we. They were retreating. But still I do not think it is a blame for anybody to lose that battle. It was a panic, all at once. There was a panic which nobody can explain. The colonels there, a great many of them, never have a command. They look around and say: What shall we do? That is strange music—the bullet—and strange feeling to be killed. But what to do is the question. They are running. Some begin to retreat, and it is not possible to give orders to keep them together. If one regiment runs, the others go too. That has been the case in every army— French army, Austrian army, and every good army in the world. I would not blame any officer for that. The regiment I had three times ordered, was ordered to retreat; and then I see I can do a little more if I stay. And then I think I advance two miles further against the enemy. I see the spirit was good in my troops. I see a great deal there that I shall never forget in my life. It is the most interesting matter for me, indeed, in my military experience—that battle. I never had a chance to study a great deal. I am only a brigade officer, but if the moment comes I know what to do. The enemy only risk a little attack of cavalry, and if that was a good attack they would go further. But General McDowell, he was so much hurt that I feel the greatest sympathy for him to-day. I would not allow anybody to blame him to-day. He was not assisted enough. I was, in the evening, at the council where the plan was discussed. Of course Colonel Miles was in the best spirits with him, and he said: “We have but little anxiety to be in the reserve.” But the general said: “‘Colonel, you can be sure there is great danger if we do not have that reserve there, and so we make our preparations.” The next day they fight; and the orderly came with the message that the battle is lost. There were a great many around me, and it would have curious effect. They asked: “What is the matter?” I said, we are victorious. And they hurra. At once I make my preparation for an advance. After one mile we pass the troops retreating. My troops said: “What the devil is that?” I said, it is a mistake; go on. Not even my adjutant understand what I want. So I went to the front, and we make a good effect, because the enemy could see us. That was all I wanted at that time. I never expected to see anything else. I do not speak good enough English to express myself. But if the time comes I hope I may make good the honor conferred upon me.
Question. You understood, I suppose, at that time, the position of Patterson and Johnston to be about Winchester?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. Was it understood by you on the field that Patterson was to engage Johnston, or to prevent his going down to that battle?
Answer. I am very much informed now, because I had a conversation with General Sanford, who was with General Patterson’s division.
Question. What did you understand about the matter on that day?
Answer. I knew it just the same as General Sanford told me from what I have seen in the papers.
Question. What I mean is, not what General Sanford or the papers have said, but what was the understanding on the battle-field when you had the council?
Answer. The understanding was that Johnston was to be kept back there; there is no doubt that is so, and every one who knows anything about the operations would know that Johnston should never have had the chance to come to Manassas.
Question. Had Patterson held Johnston back, what would have been the result at Manassas?
Answer. There is no doubt we should have taken Manassas, because they were so much knocked down that they were just ready in a moment to retreat; both parties retreated. And because we are not a despotic educated army, we are here a peaceful nation, and we could not do better at first; but we will repair that the next time.
By Mr. Gooch:
Question. Your division was stationed at Centreville?
Answer. My brigade was, under the division of Colonel Miles.
Question. Was that a reserve stationed at Centreville, because it was necessary that that point should be protected?
Answer. It was both. It was stationed there as a reserve for the army engaged in the battle, and at the same time we made our position stronger, so that we should not be flanked by the right wing of the enemy. First, we were to be in reserve ready, for if we were not there they would come straight down to Alexandria and Washington.
Question. You would not have considered it a good plan for the commander- in-chief not to have left any force at Centreville on that day?
Answer. No commander-in-chief would do that.
Question. That was a point it was necessary to protect?
Answer. Necessary for all eventualities, and for all circumstances; that was the point.
Question. That force was only to be moved forward from that point in case it should be absolutely necessary to support the army already on the field?
Answer. Exactly; it was a reserve to be ready if they were called on, or be careful that no enemy should flank us; that is a disposition which must be taken under such circumstances.
By the chairman:
Question. We have had some testimony in relation to the condition of Colonel Miles that day, and I deem it but justice to him, as you were there and must know his condition, to ask you what was the condition of Colonel Miles that day, whether he was intoxicated at all, or partially so, or not?
Answer. I will tell you as a man of honor. Every word I say is truth and fact. I was with him the whole day till about two or three o’clock. There was nothing like intoxication. He took, once in awhile, a drop. Never mind, that is nothing. I never saw him intoxicated. From that time he was out observing. When I received that message that the battle was lost, I was the first man who sent an officer of the general staff to report to Washington, and I told him I would go right away with my brigade. He took my hand and said: ” Go and die on the ground.” I go then. The whole question about his intoxication was in the evening about five or six or seven o’clock. I did not see him then; but if I had seen him I would just as soon say he was drunk as to say he was not.
Question. Then I understand you to say that you saw him during the day down to three o’clock?
Answer. Yes, sir; and then he was in a fit condition to give every order as an officer, when I saw him last.
Question. What time was that?
Answer. Between three and four o’clock, or a little earlier, perhaps.