Testimony of Maj. William F. Barry
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 142-149
WASHINGTON, January 7, 1862.
General WILLIAM F. BARRY sworn and examined.
By Mr. Gooch:
Question. Were you at the battle of Bull Run, as it is called?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. In what capacity?
Answer. As chief of artillery.
Question. Can you state to us what led to the rout of our army on the field that day?
Answer. There were a great many causes.
Question. We want to get at the causes, the most obvious causes?
Answer. I think the principal cause was the uninstructed state of our troops. The troops were raw; many of the officers were indolent, and they did not all behave themselves as they should have done on that day. I think that was one cause. All troops are liable to panics. But the great fault I found with our men was that after they had fallen back some distance, and were out of the enemy’s fire, they could not be rallied. I look upon that as a difficulty inseparable from green troops. And in rallying men we need the assistance of the regimental and company officers very much, and that assistance was not rendered in many cases.
Question. Can you tell us at what time of the day and at what point the panic first showed itself?
Answer. On the right of our line was the place that I thought the panic first took place.
Question. In whose division?
Answer. The troops were very much scattered. They had been moved from point to point. They had been successful on the left of us, and the enemy had been driven back pretty nearly a mile, and having nothing to do, several of the regiments had been brought up towards the right. I had been with the army but three days. I had just arrived from Fort Pickens with my battery of artillery, and found that I was promoted to be a major. I gave up my battery to my successor, and General McDowell appointed me chief of artillery. I joined them the second day of the march, and was not very familiar with the organization of the troops.
Question. Were you present near the place where Ricketts’s and Griffin’s batteries were when they were captured?
Answer. Yes, sir; I was there at that very spot.
Question. What led to the capture of those batteries by the enemy?
Answer. The infantry support abandoned them, and that enabled the enemy to advance and capture the guns, or a portion of them; they did not capture them all. Nearly all the horses were shot down, and it was nearly impossible for the moment to remove the guns.
Question. Were those batteries ordered forward immediately preceding their capture?
Answer. Yes, sir; I suppose a half an hour before.
Question. Did you convey the order?
Answer. I gave the order in person to Captain Perkins and Captain Griffin; and not only that, I superintended the movement.
Question. Were those batteries supported?
Answer. Yes, sir; two entire regiments were procured at my request; the 11th New York, commonly called the Fire Zouaves, and the 14th New York militia.
Question. This was about three o’clock, was it?
Answer. I did not look at my watch during the entire day. I should suppose it was about half past two o’clock, for I think we left the field about four o’clock.
Question. In what condition were the Fire Zouaves at that time?
Answer. In what order, do you mean?
Question. Were they then an efficient regiment?
Answer. I thought so. I knew very little of them, except by newspaper reports. I knew what New York firemen were, and I supposed there was fight and pluck in them. I was struck with the manner they marched forward, very handsomely in line of battle. I rode with the major of the regiment—now colonel of the regiment. They marched up very handsomely in line of battle, passed the various obstacles they met in the usual tactical manner. I thought they did very well, and was very much disappointed and surprised when they broke.
Question. How many men should you think there were in the regiment at that time?
Answer. It looked to me as though there were about seven hundred.
Question. They supported which battery?
Answer. Both. The two regiments went up together, one just after the other. They had to go down a declivity, cross a little stream, and then go up a sharp acclivity. The ground was a little heavy in one or two places, and the artillery moved up in column of pieces, and formed the battery after they got on the ground.
Question. Did they take position on the hill indicated for them?
Answer. Yes, sir; and commenced firing, and fired some time.
Question. Was there any objection made by the officers of those batteries to advancing when the order was given to them?
Answer. Not the slightest that I heard.
Question. Was there any complaint that they were not properly supported?
Answer. I never heard of such a thing.
Question. How many guns were there in Griffin’s battery?
Answer. Six guns in Griffin’s battery, and six in Ricketts’s battery.
Question. Twelve guns in all?
Answer. Yes, sir. However, I am under an impression that just at that moment one, if not two, of Griffin’s guns had been left behind. I think one of his guns had become choked by careless loading; the cartridge bag had become twisted, and it could not be got in or out. That gun, I think, was not brought forward; but I am not certain about that. I did not count the guns.
Question. How many infantry would be a proper support for the guns of those two batteries?
Answer. Two regiments, I suppose, would be amply sufficient. I think if those two regiments had stood firm and done their duty those guns would never have been captured.
Question. Is there not a rule, or an understanding. as to the number of infantry that should support a battery?
Answer. No, sir; that depends upon circumstances very much; upon the amount of force opposed. If they are opposed by a large force you must have a corresponding force. And in addition to these two regiments of infantry there was a squadron of cavalry sent up by General McDowell afterwards, but moving faster than the infantry they arrived almost at the same time.
Question. Were the enemy in position in front of those batteries?
Answer. We could not see them.
Question. When were they first seen?
Answer. After the firing commenced.
Question. How soon after the order to advance was given?
Answer. I should suppose twenty minutes or half an hour. It must have taken nearly fifteen minutes to get to the place, because after I had designated the place that had been designated to me by General McDowell, and had started the batteries there, I then went to this infantry support and moved up with it. While I was doing that both of the batteries mistook the place, came a little short of it. I went forward and corrected that mistake, which produced some little delay. So I suppose the batteries were fully fifteen minutes in getting in position where they finally opened fire, which was the position I first designated.
Question. When did you see the enemy first in front of these batteries?
Answer. I suppose it was fifteen or twenty minutes after the firing commenced. It is hard to mark the lapse of time under such circumstances. I had very much to do then, passing from one battery to another, and looking to the infantry regiments coming up.
Question. Was there any mistake as to the character of a regiment that appeared in front of these batteries?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. What was that mistake?
Answer. It was a mistake in reference to a regiment that came out of a piece of woods into which one of the infantry regiments that supported the batteries had gone a few minutes before—this fourteenth regiment from Brooklyn.
Question. What was that mistake?
Answer. This regiment came out in line of battle, and a few minutes after they came out they delivered their fire upon us.
Question. Was it supposed by any one that that was one of our regiments?
Answer. I supposed it was. They had no colors. I supposed it was this same regiment that had gone into the woods, as they disappeared in that direction. Whether they went into the woods or not I do not know. The ground was somewhat rolling, and they would disappear from sight for a few moments.
Question: Did Captain Griffin suppose it was one of the regiments supporting him?
Answer. I do not know what he supposed. He directed my attention to it.
Question. Did he propose to open fire on that regiment?
Answer. Not that I remember. If he had chosen to do it, he was competent to do it.
Question. Did you give him orders?
Answer. No, sir; I gave no orders to either captain. They were both competent men.
Question. You say you have no knowledge that he did not receive orders not to fire upon that regiment?
Answer. No, sir; I gave no orders not to fire.
Question. That regiment opened fire directly upon these batteries?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. They captured these batteries?
Answer. No, sir; after they had produced a great deal of havoc, the troops immediately in front advanced—not that regiment which was on one side. There was nothing left for it then, for the infantry support broke in confusion and scattered in all directions.
Question. Was not this the first indication of a panic manifested?
Answer. No, sir; because I had seen regiments in the first part of the day break and fall back, and we were afterwards very handsomely successful.
Question. Do you not consider that the capture of these two batteries had a very decided influence on the fate of the battle on that day?
Answer. I think it had an influence, but I do not know whether it was a very decided influence. I think the circumstance that had the most decided influence was the arrival of those fresh troops on our right flank, after the men had become wearied. Our men had had a long march; been moving back and forth, and became very tired.
Question. Were not those fresh troops those that appeared in front of these batteries?
Answer. No, sir; I think not, because after that there were troops that came up on our right flank, almost at right angles, and those were the troops that I always took to be the fresh ones. Those that advanced on the guns when they were no longer supported, I have always supposed were the enemy’s left that we had driven back.
Question. You do not suppose those troops that took the batteries were Johnston’s men that had just come?
Answer. No, sir; I do not think they were. I am sure they were not. I think they were the enemy’s right, which we had driven back two or three times. I saw very plainly their batteries limber up and go off to the rear and take up a new position. I saw that twice. Finally they went back so far that Captain Ricketts and Captain Griffin could see nothing of the men to fire at. You could not see the horses even; only a puff of smoke.
Question. When was this?
Answer. Before the two batteries moved forward.
Question. I mean after the two batteries moved forward. Did not some regiments appear in front of and capture these batteries within ten or fifteen minutes after they opened fire at this last position?
Answer. No, sir. The infantry support broke and abandoned the batteries. Then they of course felt emboldened to advance, because there was no opposition to them. There were a great many men killed and wounded, and a large number of horses knocked over by that single discharge of that one regiment, which was to our front and right—not really in front. It came out of this piece of woods. There was a very tall Virginia fence, eight or nine rails high, and I could just see the tops of their bayonets—not the clothes of the men, at all, but perhaps ten inches of their bayonets. They had no colors.
Question. What did you suppose that regiment to be?
Answer. I supposed it to be one of our regiments. But if I had known it to be one of their regiments, it would have been no time to do anything before they delivered their fire; that is, after I saw them. It was almost instantaneous after I saw them. I did not see them until my attention was directed to them by Captain Griffin, who said, “See there!” or “Look there!” I was then looking at the direction the guns were firing, and I could see nothing in front, even then. I had been with Captain Ricketts’s battery, and just as I came to Captain Griffin’s battery he called my attention to this regiment. It was all the work of a moment. There was a high, tall fence, and looking at it obliquely, as we did, it made a very close fence to us where we were. If we had been looking at it in front, we could have seen more plainly. But I could see nothing except this line of bayonets, and they delivered their fire almost instantaneously after I first saw them.
Question. Was their fire delivered from behind the fence?
Answer. Yes, sir; right through the fence. It made but a small obstacle to them, because they were close to the fence and the rails were of the usual width apart in that kind of fence, so that they could very readily see through it and fire through it. But even if we had known they were the enemy there would have been no time to have turned the guns upon them before their fire was delivered. If the infantry support had stood, the force in front of us would not have advanced.
Question. Did you consider the batteries were properly supported at that time?
Answer. I did. I think two entire regiments were ample support, and this squadron of cavalry was with them.
Question. How many cavalry?
Answer. Two troops of cavalry. They were commanded by Captain Colburn, who is now a lieutenant colonel upon General McClellan’s staff. There were two troops of cavalry, commonly called a squadron, perhaps 100 men.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. Did the cavalry stand?
Answer. Yes, sir; until General McDowell ordered them to fall back, for after the enemy advanced they were only too much exposed, as there was no opportunity for them to charge there. The enemy made a sort of charge down the road—30 or 40 men of them. The troops were very much exhausted, the fire zouaves called it the “black horse cavalry,” and spoke of the wonders they performed. But there were no black horses there or black uniformed men. They were ordinary bay and sorrel horses with single-rein snaffle-bits. I examined them very closely, because I had lost my pistol and wanted to get one of theirs, and I examined three or four very closely for that purpose. The fire zouaves fired upon them as they passed, for the cavalry could not be held, but ran by almost pell-mell.
Question. We never recovered the possession of Griffins’s battery, as I understand?
Answer. Yes, sir; the guns were retaken twice. The official report states that fully. They were taken the first time and the men tried to drag them off. But they were encumbered with dead horses, and there were no other horses to hitch to them. After dragging them some distance the enemy advanced in large force and drove us back. Then some other troops with those of the infantry support which could be rallied again came back once more, but there was a large force advancing, and they had nothing left but to fall back. The infantry fire had pretty much ceased towards the left. There were several regiments in the road and resting upon their arms, and they were ordered up. If those two regiments had held on a little while we would have had a strong force. It was impossible to rally the 11th regiment—the fire zouaves. I rode in among them and implored them to stand. I told them that the guns would never be captured if they would only stand. But they seemed to be paralyzed, standing with their eyes and mouths wide open, and did not seem to hear me. I then reminded them of all the oaths they had sworn at Alexandria, after the death of Ellsworth, and that that was the best chance they would ever have for vengeance. But they paid no attention to what I said at all.
Question. I suppose the mere fact that a panic had spread among the troops once should not create a distrust of those troops again?
Answer. O no, sir. General McDowell and myself took regimental flags which we saw and begged the troops to rally around them; and a few did, but not a sufficient number to warrant the hopes that we would have had with good troops.
Question. How many did you estimate the force in front, and this regiment on the right, together?
Answer. I could not tell. They covered themselves very well. That was a remarkable feature in that battle: they kept themselves remarkably well covered.
Question. The ground permitted them to do that?
Answer. Yes, sir; the ground they advanced over was not so level as that our troops went over. Our troops marched very handsomely in line of battle. One instance, I saw a whole brigade advance as handsomely as ever any troops did.
Question. So far as the whole fight was concerned, the enemy had infinitely the advantage of our troops in position?
Answer. Yes, sir; the ground was their own selection. I think if the battle had been fought at the hour it was expected to be fought at, 8 1/4 or 8 1/2 o’clock in the morning, we would have won it. There was a loss of three hours there, which I think had a very important effect upon the success of the day. It enabled those fresh troops to get up: it prevented our turning their flank so completely as we would have done by surprise; for when our columns halted, the enemy discovered the direction we were going to take, and prepared for it. And worse than that, the halting, the standing still, fatigued the men as much if not more than by marching that time.
Question. So that our men were really very much exhausted when they went into the field?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. But if the battle had been fought three or four hours earlier, then Johnston’s reserve would not have been up in time?
Answer. I think the fate of that day would have been decided before they got upon the ground. I look upon that delay as the most unfortunate thing that happened. The troops that ought to have been out of the way were in the way before we could get to the turning-off point of the road.
Question. You were to have marched at 6 o’clock on Saturday night under the first order?
Answer. No, sir; the only order I heard was to move at half-past 2 o’clock in the morning.
Question. Was not the first order to advance our troops on Saturday night at 6 o’clock, or a portion of them?
Answer. Not that I ever heard of.
Question. Was it not proposed—I do not know that the order was issued— that the troops should march at 6 o’clock on Saturday night?
Answer. Never that I heard of.
Question. Was not there some delay on account of rations—of provisions?
Answer. I never heard of any.
Question. I will ask you, as you were in General McDowell’s staff, whether the battle was not fought a day or two later than was first proposed?
Answer. I think not. The intervening time, from our arrival at Centreville and the time of advancing, was occupied by the engineers in observation. The affair of the 18th showed that the enemy was in great force at that position. I presume General McDowell’s next idea was to discover some place to cross Bull Run without this opposition and turn their flank. I know the time was taken up by reconnoitring by a party of engineers, and a great deal of it was occupied at night to escape the observation of the enemy.
Question. I think it has been stated that there was a delay of one or two days for want of provisions?
Answer. I do not know about that. I joined General McDowell only a day or two before. I arrived here at 8 o’clock in the evening, and had to take my battery down to the arsenal, fill up with ammunition, get fresh horses, &c. General McDowell had marched the day before, and I made two marches in one and overtook him at Fairfax Court-House, and the next day he had me relieved because I was promoted, and assigned me to a position on his staff. So that what his views and intentions were previously to that I do not know. Half past two in the morning was the hour appointed. When he had the assembly of all his division commanders, and explained to them the movements and everything, he was very particular in giving directions about General Tyler’s division being out of the way, as his division was the first to take the road, so as not to stop up the road for the others.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. You spoke of the delay of two or three hours being in your judgment a very serious one upon the success of the day?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. What was the occasion of that delay?
Answer. I always heard that it was occasioned by General Tyler not getting his division out of the way of the troops that were to follow. He was to lead, and was to march down the road past the point where they were to turn off to go up to the place with the other divisions, and his division did not get past in time to prevent that delay.
Question. Were not the other divisions waiting for him to pass?
Answer. I always heard so; always supposed so. We had to take one common road at first, and after crossing the little stream called Cub Run, where so much baggage and guns were lost on the retreat by the bridge being broken down, after crossing the little run a short distance we came to this turning off point.
Question. Have you any knowledge of the occasion of his delay?
Answer. I have not. There was some little firing ahead; was firing slowly at long intervals. I went down to where he had a large Parrott gun in the middle of the road in position. I asked the officer what he was firing at. He said they saw some small parties of men. I told him not to waste the ammunition of a heavy gun like that in firing at little parties of men.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. Was there the same difficulty in rallying the 14th New York regiment as in rallying the 11th regiment?
Answer. No, sir. But they were under the disadvantage of having lost their colonel. But they were rallied to some extent afterwards by General Heintzelman.