Testimony of Gen. Erasmus D. Keyes
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 149-152
WASHINGTON, January 8, 1862.
General E. D. KEYES sworn and examined.
By Mr. Gooch:
Question. Were you in the battle of Bull Run as brigadier general?
Answer. Yes, sir; I was acting brigadier; I was then a colonel.
Question. Will you tell us in what part of the field you were; and, in short, what you saw—what came under your own observation on that day?
Answer. I crossed Bull Run, directly following Sherman. I was in Tyler’s division and followed Sherman, and came into action on the left of our line, and my line of operations was down Bull Run, across the Warrenton turnpike. I crossed about half a mile above Stone Bridge and came into action a little before 11 o’clock, and passed to the left, and moved down a little parallel to Bull Run; and when I received orders to retire, I was nearly a mile in advance’ of the position where I had commenced. When I started into the action I was close up with Sherman’s brigade; but as I advanced forward, and got along a line of heights that overlooked Bull Run, Sherman’s brigade diverged from me, and I found myself separated from them, so that I saw nothing up there, except at a distance, beyond what related to my own brigade. I continued to advance, and was continually under fire until about 4 o’clock, when I received orders that our troops were retiring. I came off in perfect order, and was in perfect order all the day.
Question. You were on the left?
Answer. Yes, sir; opposed to the right of the enemy.
Question. Then, so far as you saw in your immediate vicinity, there was no rout?
Answer. No, sir; there was no confusion. I retired in just the same order nearly as I went into the fight; but when the masses mingled together as they came to cross Bull Run, there was confusion.
Question. What proportion of our troops reached the run without rout?
Answer. I being on the extreme left, of course all our people who withdrew before the enemy had to go a much longer distance than I had to go to reach Bull Run, because I was near to it at the time I received orders to retire. I moved up almost perpendicularly to the line of retreat of the balance of the army. As I approached the line of men in retreat they were all walking; I saw nobody run or trot even until coming down to Bull Run. In coming down there a great many wounded men were carried along, and I was detained so that the whole of my brigade got past me. I saw the quartermaster when I crossed Bull Run, and asked him where the teams were, and he said they were ahead; he saved them all but one, and got them back to camp. I then inquired of some ten or twelve squads of men to find out if they belonged to my brigade, and I found but one that did. Shortly after that a staff officer of mine came up and told me that my brigade was all ahead. I increased my pace, and got back to Centreville a little after dark, and found nearly all my brigade there. I did not come to the Potomac until Tuesday evening. There was no confusion at all in the whole affair, so far as my brigade was concerned, except very slightly in the retreat from Bull Run to the camp at Centreville; that I considered a perfect rout.
Question. You were in Tyler’s division, and you moved first on the field in the morning?
Answer. Our division started first; but I received orders to make way for Hunter’s and Heintzelman’s divisions to pass through, as they had to go further to the right. So that before I got into action it was nearly eleven o’clock.
Question. Do you know why your division was stopped for the other divisions to pass through?
Answer. I thought it very obvious. Hunter had to go furthest up Bull Run to cross; then Heintzelman had to go next; and the next lower down was Tyler’s division. To enable the several divisions to arrive about simultaneous against the enemy, Hunter should go first and Heintzelman next. The reason we started first was, because our division was encamped ahead of the others mostly.
Question. How far from where you started did Hunter’s and Heintzelman’s divisions turn off?
Answer. Heintzelman’s division passed through mine in the neighborhood of Cub Run.
Question. How far did they go on the same route you were going?
Answer. About a half or three-quarters of a mile beyond Cub Run, I think. I was not with them, but that is my impression.
Question. Do you know from whom the order proceeded for you to let the other divisions pass through your division?
Answer. My first order was from General Tyler, and then I received another order from General McDowell to remain where I was. When I sent word forward to know if I should go forward, General McDowell sent orders to remain where I was.
Question. Could you not have have passed on to the point where the other divisions turned off without bringing you in immediate contact with the enemy?
Answer. I think I could; yes, sir. But I did not know that at the time, and I do not know whether it was known to others or not.
By the chairman:
Question. To what did you attribute the disaster of that day?
Answer. To the want of 10,000 more troops—that is, I think if we had had 10,000 more troops than we had to go into action, say at eleven o’clock in the morning, we should certainly have beaten them. I followed along down the stream, and Sherman’s battery diverged from me, so that it left a wide gap between us, and 10,000 more men could have come in between me and Sherman, which was the weak point in our line, and before Johnston’s reserves came up it would have been won. I thought the day was won about two o’clock; but about half past three o’clock a sudden change in the firing took place, which, to my ear, was very ominous. I sent up my aide-de-camp to find out about the matter, but he did not come back.
Question. What time was it that you ascertained on the field of battle that Patterson had not detained Johnston’s column, but that it would probably be down there? Was it before the fight commenced?
Answer. There were rumors about the camp, to which I attached no particular importance. I supposed that Patterson was engaged up the river there, and would hold Johnston in check or follow him up if he should retreat. That was my impression at the time.
Question. Was that so understood at the time the battle was planned?
Answer. We had a council of war the night before the battle, but it was a very short one. It was not a council of war exactly; it was a mere specification of the line in which we should all proceed the next day. The plans appeared to have been digested and matured before that meeting was called. Whether anything was said about Johnston and Patterson at that meeting, I am not sure. I think not. That subject was discussed about the camp; but I know my own impression was that Patterson was opposed to Johnston, and would certainly follow him up if he should attempt to come and molest us. I know I conversed with some persons about it; but I do not think a word was said about it at the meeting the night before the battle.
Question. Had it been known that Patterson had not detained Johnston, would it not have been imprudent to hazard a battle there any how?
Answer. If it had been known that the 30,000 to 40,000 men that Johnston was said to have had, would have been upon us, it would have been impolitic to have made the attack on Sunday.
Question. If Johnston had not come down to the aid of Beauregard’s army, what, in your opinion, would have been the result of that battle?
Answer. My impression is that we should have won it. I know that the moment the shout went up from the other side, there appeared to be an instantaneous change in the whole sound of the battle, so much so that I sent my aid at the top of his speed to find out what was the matter. That, as far as I can learn, was the shout that went up from the enemy’s line when they found out for certain that it was Johnston and not Patterson that had come.
Question. Even after the disaster, what prevented your making a stand at Centreville, and sending for re-enforcements and renewing the fight there?
Answer. I was not the commander-in-chief.
Question. I know that; I only ask your opinion of what might have been done there.
Answer. If we .had had troops that were thoroughly disciplined it would have been the greatest military mistake in the world to have retreated further than Centreville. But as our troops were raw, and this capital appeared to be the point in issue, I think men of decided military ability might have been in doubt as to the policy of remaining there. There was a striking want of generalship on the other side for not following us. If they had followed us they might have come pell-mell into the capital.
Question. Was it not as likely that you could defend the capital on Centreville Heights as well as after the rout here?
Answer. I will simply tell you what I did myself. I came back to my old camp at Fall’s Church, and remained there until five o’clock on the afternoon of Tuesday, with my whole command. Then I marched them in good order, and passed three or four miles before I saw any of our own people. My impression then was that I could rally them there better than here. I acted upon that impulse myself. I did not bring my troops into town, which was the worst place in the world to restore order, but kept them in my camp at Fall’s Church.
Question. Was there not a strong brigade on Centreville Heights that had not been in the engagement at all on that day?
Answer. There was a division there—three brigades.
Question. Could.not a stand have been made there; and if it had been made, would our troops have been so demoralized as they were by running further?
Answer. It was a complicated question, and required, in my opinion, a first-rate head to decide; and if you have not a first-rate head of course you must guess a little. In my opinion it is a question that involves many considerations; first, the want of absolute command of the troops. The troops then were not in a sufficient state of discipline to enable any man living to have had an absolute command of them. The next point was to balance all the probabilities in regard to this capital; that is, was it more probable that the capital would fall into the hands of the enemy by retreating than by remaining there t I confess it was a question so complicated that I cannot answer it very definitely.
Question. If you had had knowledge on the ground, before the battle, of the condition of things with Patterson and Johnston, it seems to me that battle should not have been fought that day at all.
Answer. I should not have done it myself, certainly, if I had had that knowledge.
By Mr. Gooch:
Question. I suppose there was no such absolute knowledge as that?
Answer. No, sir; I do not think there was.
By the chairman:
Question. Ought not military men to have been informed of that important and decisive fact before we made a movement?
Answer. It is certainly one of the axioms of the art of war to know what the columns are going to do, and where they are.
Question. Could not the railroad have been broken so as to prevent Johnston from coming down?
Answer. I suppose that Hunter’s column intended to push forward and disable that railroad, but he found work enough to do before he could undertake that. And in the heat of the day, after marching some fifteen miles, and being called upon to fight, they could not very easily have torn up a bridge.