Testimony of Gen. John G. Barnard
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 160-162
WASHINGTON, January 11, 1862.
General JOHN G. BARNARD sworn and examined.
By the chairman:
Question. Were you at the battle of Bull Run?
Answer Yes, sir.
Question. In what capacity?
Answer I was the chief of the engineer corps of General McDowell’s army.
Question. Without going minutely into the matter, will you state concisely to what you attribute the disaster to our army in that battle?
Answer. One of the influential causes was, I think, the loss of time in getting under way the morning of the fight. The fact that the repulse turned into a disastrous defeat I attribute to the fact that our troops were all raw. General McDowell had not even time to see all his troops They were brigaded only for the march, and put under officers whom the troops had not time to know, and who had no time to know the troops; and they had not been under military training long enough to be thoroughly educated as to what they had to do. With every disposition to fight well, they had not acquired the knowledge and experience they should have had, and when they were driven back on the narrow roads, in small bodies, they became so mixed up that it was almost impossible to recognize them.
Question. You attribute the first bad phase of that battle to the fact that our troops did not get on the ground in time?
Answer. Yes, sir. I think an hour’s difference would have gained the battle. We had almost gained it as it was.
Question. What caused that delay?
Answer. There were two cause distinct from each other. One was that in the plan of attack General Tyler’s division was to move first on the Warrenton turnpike to Stone Bridge, while the really attacking column which was to turn the enemy’s left flank, and which consisted of Hunter’s and Heintzelman’s divisions, had to follow Tyler until they reached the road where they were to turn off to make this detour. The road into which they were to turn was not a beaten, travelled road, but a mere country path. And Tyler’s division was not out of the way so that they could get up to that turn-off for an hour and a half later than was expected. So that, instead of getting at that point at four o’clock, the head of Hunter’s column was not able to get there until, say about half-past five. That was the first cause.
Question. What delayed Tyler’s division; did you ever know?
Answer. When General McDowell and his staff rode along after waiting for the columns to get in motion—this was at four or half past four o’clock— we found the columns standing in the road waiting for one of Tyler’s brigades to get out of camp and under motion. Perhaps there was some fault in planning it, in overlooking the fact that Tyler’s division was so large, including three brigades, and the want of experience that we all had in moving large bodies of men. But whether it was General Tyler’s fault in not getting his troops under way in time, I am not competent enough to decide. I think that after we had waited for some time General McDowell had to stop the last brigade of Tyler’s division until Hunter’s division filed past.
I said there were two causes for that delay. The second was the much longer time it took for the column of Hunter’s to get around to Sudley’s Ford than we calculated for. In going over the ground as far as we could the day before, we fell upon the enemy’s patrol, and, not liking to attract their attention that way, we did not explore the ground up to the ford. We found that the ground was perfectly free; that there was nothing to obstruct cavalry or artillery; and the guide took them by a detour, saying that we would be exposed to the enemy’s batteries if we took the shorter road. So that we were three or four hours making that march through the woods. We did not get to the ford until half past nine or ten o’clock, and we ought to have been there at six o’clock. We succeeded in our operations. We deceived the enemy as to the point we were going to attack. We turned his left flank. He actually did not know the point of attack until twelve o’clock, when he commenced accumulating his forces at that point. If we had been earlier, we should have got on the Warrenton turnpike, in the rear of Stone Bridge, before he could have got there We should have concentrated three divisions there.
Question. There was a strong brigade on Centreville Heights after the retreat began?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. What would have been the effect of ordering up that force to support the retreating columns?
Answer. When I saw that there was danger of losing the battle—when I saw the first charge, the first repulse of the Zouave regiment, the first capture of Ricketts’s battery—I began to fear that we would be beaten. I had felt confident of a victory up to that time, but then I began to see the possibility of a repulse. We supposed that the Stone Bridge was unguarded, and if we were beaten, and the enemy should cross there, we would be cut off. I had got separated from General McDowell, and I hunted up the adjutant, who was behind attending to some duty, and requested him to order up the brigade at Centreville to the Stone Bridge, in order to support us there, as we supposed the division of Tyler had entirely got across the bridge. General McDowell left that brigade at Centreville as a reserve at a central point, as he was afraid that while we were operating on the enemy’s left, making this long detour to do so, the enemy would pass Blackburn’s Ford and manoeuvre up by Centreville on our left flank. I had rather overlooked that until I saw it in General McDowell’s report. And General Beauregard says that if we had not anticipated him, he would have attacked us. He actually did send an order to General Ewell to move up and attack our communication that way; and the reason it was not done was because the order miscarried in some way, so that that part of his plan failed. If they had attacked and carried that position at the same time that we were repulsed on our left, we would have been worse off than we were.
Question. But would not have been defeated, would you, if that strong division at Centreville had been at the fight? They would have gone right through them, would they not?
Answer. If our line had held out for a half an hour longer, we would have beaten the enemy as it was, because Schenck’s brigade at the Stone Bridge was at that moment just ready to act. The enemy had made an abattis on the other side; cut down the woods for some two hundred yards back from the bridge. Two of Tyler’s brigades had crossed over to join our left. Schenck’s brigade had remained at the bridge, and Captain Alexander had cut through the abattis and was ready to move on the enemy’s right just at the moment that they received news that our men were retreating. I believe if we had held out a half an hour, or even but a quarter of an hour, longer, we should have beaten them.
Question. If Patterson had held Johnston back, what would have been the effect?
Answer. We should have beaten them. That was the only thing that saved them.
Question. At what time before the battle commenced was it understood that Patterson was not holding Johnston back?
Answer. All that I knew about it, and all, I believe, that was distinctly known in the army about it, was that we heard the railroad cars running all night long. We were near enough at Centreville to hear the locomotives at Manassas.
Question. Suppose that when Patterson turned off from Bunker Hill to Charlestown, the moment that he knew he was no longer able to hold Johnston back, he had given notice to General Scott, and that notice had come to you, what would have been the effect of it upon your councils, had you heard it the day before the battle?
Answer. I think we should have fought any way. We could not have delayed any longer; that would have done us no good. The time of the three months’ volunteers was expiring. We had made that march to fight, and I think we would have fought.
Question. Suppose you had held your own there until Patterson had followed Johnston down?
Answer. If we had received something definite—a communication of that kind—I think it is likely the determination would have been altered.
Question. I mean if that communication had been given directly from Patterson to General Scott, and from General Scott had been sent immediately to you, I suppose the effect upon your council would have been at least to wait until Patterson had followed Johnston down?
Answer. If we had received the information in a distinct form, we might have acted differently. I know that, with what information we had, it was uncertain. The question was discussed, “Shall we defer the attack?” and it was concluded that we better fight as soon as we could. We heard the railroad cars running all night, and presumed that Johnston’s forces were coming in. But the moral effect of a delay would have been bad, and that action at Blackburn’s Ford had a bad effect on the army.
Answer. Could you not have brought up 10,000 or 15,000 more troops from Washington by a little delay?
Answer. By stripping Washington entirely of all its troops we might have done so, I suppose. I do not recollect what the whole force was here then.
Question. General Tyler was sent around to make a reconnoissance merely, as we have been told, not to make an attack, on the 18th?
Answer. He was not expected to go further than Centreville, I think. I think he was not expected to make any attack at all.
Question. Seeing that he did make an attack, he should have carried those batteries, should he not, if he could have done so? And if he had, would it not have cleared the way for the next battle, so that you could have turned their left?
Answer. He ought not to have made the attack at all without knowing that he could do something. He ought to have made the attack with the intention of carrying the position, or not have made it at all. I was on the spot, and warned him twice that it was not intended to fight a battle there; that it was on the straight road to Manassas, at one of the strongest crossings on Bull Run, and that it was evident the enemy was moving up his force to meet us there. And as he had no orders to fight, and as there was no plan to fight there, I did all I could to get him to desist. I had no objection to his opening his artillery fire, for that was a sort of reconnoissance, to make them show just what they were. But I had no idea that they were going to march down to the Run and fight as they did.