The publisher of Dave Powell’s recent The Maps of Chickamauga asked if I would be good enough to post a trailer for the book here on Bull Runnings. As Dave is a friend of mine and his book is an excellent and important work, I hereby comply.
The publisher of Dave Powell’s recent The Maps of Chickamauga asked if I would be good enough to post a trailer for the book here on Bull Runnings. As Dave is a friend of mine and his book is an excellent and important work, I hereby comply.
FROM WASHINGTON TO BULL RUN AND BACK AGAIN
BY LIEUTENANT H. B. JACKSON, 2nd Wis. Infantry, Read April 6, 1910
THE first real battle of the Great War came as a shock to the people and stirred the country from center to circumference as no later engagement ever did. Moreover the first battle of Bull Run, in dramatic incident and tragic termination, was unique, and so altogether, it has taken a prominent place in our military history. The writer’s purpose now is to take you from Washington to Bull Run and back again, within a half hour. The distance between the Capitol and the battle field is about thirty miles.
The battle was fought on the 21st day of July, 1861. On the 8th (thirteen days before), the raw and comparatively undrilled Federal troops destined for the conflict, were camping in and around Washington, on either side of the Potomac. They had been organized, it is true, into five divisions; all to be commanded by General McDowell. The first division, under the command of General Tyler, consisted of four brigades; the second, under General Hunter, of two; the third, under General Heintzelman, of three; the fourth, under General Runyon, as a reserve, of seven New Jersey regiments; the fifth division, under Col. Miles, of two brigades.
The writer was a lieutenant in the Second Wisconsin Infantry, a part of the third brigade of Tyler’s Division, commanded by W. T. Sherman, then acting brigadier general.
While this army, before the order to advance, had been organized into divisions and brigades, each having its own commander, such organization was only on paper. The regiments composing the different brigades were, in point of fact, scattered hither and yon, and had not been assembled in actual brigades before the advance began.
The third brigade, with which we are more particularly concerned, included the Second Wisconsin Infantry (which afterwards became a part of another, which achieved the name of “The Iron Brigade”), came together for the first time, and had its first brigade drill on July 11th, and two days later had marching orders. With knapsacks packed, and three days’ cooked rations in haversacks, on July 16th, at two o’clock in the afternoon, this brigade started from Camp Peck, a few miles from Washington just south of the Potomac.
The brigade marched, without knowing where we were going—just marching under orders, following file leaders; yet having a dim perception, amounting to almost conviction, that we were going somewhere to meet the enemy, wipe them out, and then “on to Richmond.”
The first day was hard on the men, they were unused to marching, and the weather was hot. After passing many deserted farms we arrived on the evening of the first day at Vienna, a small village about twelve miles west from Washington. Besides our brigade, other forces were concentrated at that village, making a total strength at that point of fully 12,000, the remainder of the army was not far away advancing on other roads in the same general direction toward Centerville.
Our twelve thousand were bunched for the night’s bivouac quite compactly in columns of regimental lines, and lay down on the grass under heaven’s high dome illuminated by as bright a moon as ever shone.
Every soldier had in his haversack cooked rations of bread and meat, and upon halting and stacking arms, every man stretched himself on the ground, munched his rations, and went to sleep without ceremony or delay.
With your permission I would like to sketch a picture of that “first night out,” as it is indelibly impressed upon memory. Soon after midnight I awoke with a strange sensation— due to being a raw recruit, a part of a great army, advancing through an unknown country, to meet an unknown foe. Arising to a sitting posture the raw recruit glanced about and noted critically the situation. There was the moon at the zenith in full splendor. Of the 12,000 soldiers, apparently not another soul was awake. The silence was impressive. What thoughts flitted through the boy’s mind out there on the sacred soil of old Virginia, a thousand miles from home, surrounded by scenes and circumstances so new and strange, I leave to your imagination.
The boy lay down with the 12,000 youthful sleepers until the blare of a bugle awoke the whole army at 3:00 in the morning. They ate again from haversacks, folded blankets strapped on the knapsacks, and were ready for the start. Yet history must record that it was nearly 6:00 o’clock before the army got under way, so true is it that “large bodies move slowly.”
From Vienna we marched to Germantown, about eight miles on the way to Bull Run. Owing to obstructions, such as fallen trees, and the like, with which the enemy had blocked the way, we did not arrive until 2:30 p.m. Here at Germantown, were found quite pretentious earth-works bearing marks of recent occupation and hasty abandonment, such as smouldering fires, and partially cooked food, all telling plainly that the enemy were falling back.
We planted the “Stars and Stripes” on their deserted earthworks, cheered a bloodless victory, and, resting awhile, proceeded a few miles further and bivouacked for the second night.
Here an amusing episode recurs to memory after the intervention of all these years.
Accompanying the army were many civilians, a condition not permitted later. These civilians included men who would readily admit that they were eminent citizens, members of Congress, newspaper correspondents, etc. Some were going along with the army “just for fun,” others had a pretense of business.
The night had passed quietly until about 3:00 o’clock when there was heard the trampling of many horses, as though a cavalry force were thundering down in a deadly charge.
The noise awakened the army. To complete the din, the long roll sounded the signal for every man to fall in. Seizing his gun from where he had stacked it, every man took his place in line. It is the conduct of these civilians that furnishes the amusing incident. When the clatter began some of them were sleeping on the ground near the writer. They were under no obligations to be brave as soldiers were. Self-preservation was the law that appealed to them and produced a vigorous scramble for life. Each soul possessed a single thought which was “to climb a tree” in double quick. While climbing they believed the cavalry charge was upon them which stimulated haste. Scarcely had they reached their coveted positions at the top of the trees, when it was known that the commotion was only the stampede of friendly horses engaged in the pastime of running away. Sheepishly these civilians came off their perch, amidst laughter and jeers, not enjoyed so much by them as others.
Quiet was again restored, guns restacked, the newspaper man and congressmen, and the army slept till morn.
March was resumed at 7:30 and at about 10:00 o’clock our brigade arrived before Centerville. Here we came in sight of earthworks formidable in appearance, but in appearance only. These were on the brow of the quite imposing hill which sloped toward us from Centerville, for a distance of nearly a quarter of a mile, to the spot where we were halting. They had been abandoned to be occupied by our division. Centerville, a modest little hamlet, stands at the summit of this hill, back of the earthworks just referred to. We remained at the halting place until summoned by the stirring events of the afternoon, which was not to pass without considerable loss of life to both armies, although three days intervened before the battle of Bull Run. This was the 18th day of July.
I am not attempting to give a history of the battle of Bull Run; this is for abler pens, and the literature of the War, it is rather my purpose to have you understand the condition of our army, at and before the time the battle was fought, and of what the troops did and suffered during the days immediately preceding the battle, in order that those who have been inclined to criticise those troops, because they retired from the field on which they had fought so bravely, may come to see that what some have charged to want of pluck, was nothing more or less than the absolute exhaustion of the human endurance these men possessed.
Our brigade tarried at the foot of the hill, quietly resting under the shade of bush and tree, as best it could, from 10 a.m. until nearly noon. In the meantime a brigade of our army, with a battery of artillery, had passed to and beyond Centerville, along Warrenton turn-pike, which leads directly west to the battle field of Bull Run. Just beyond Centerville, but out of our sight on account of the intervening hills and earthworks, the advanced forces marched obliquely to the left, taking a road diverging from Warrenton turn-pike, at an angle of about forty degrees, in a southwesterly direction toward Manassas Junction, through a country quite densely wooded. They advanced on this road or narrow lane until they came to a small stream, known as Bull Run.
Here they had encountered a confederate force of considerable strength and a rapid interchange of volleys ensued until four o’clock. When the booming of cannon first broke upon our ears as we lay in the valley, telling plainer than words that a conflict was on, every man became alert.
The firing continued. We have read in story books of the foaming steed ridden in hot haste, bearing a rider with message of great moment, etc. Now this veritable foaming steed appeared, and bore his rider to where our brigade was halted and up to the tree where Sherman sat.
After a short parley with the rider, General Sherman issued orders to fall in, and our brigade ascended the hill, passed through Centerville and then down the road taken by the preceding forces, going the distance of about a mile and a half at double quick. Before we had gone far, more impressive evidence than the noise of cannon told us that we were indeed nearing the scene of real conflict, for out from the woods, and slowly to the rear, was borne many a wounded and dying soldier.
Still pushing on we arrived at the spot where our artillery was engaged. Our brigade moved by its right flank into the woods and there took a position in line at right angles with the road over which we marched, with orders to support the artillery.
This engagement, known as the “Battle of Blackburn’s Ford,” was, after our arrival, for the most part a duel of artillery, carried on at so great a distance between the contending forces in the woods, that no enemy could be seen by either side. While thus in line, we had abundant opportunity to speculate upon probabilities and to observe the movements of rifled cannon shot fired from a distance.
The artillery firing at our forces was perhaps a mile and a half away. To cover that distance it was necessary to elevate the pieces so that the projectile would describe an elliptic, rather than a straight line. These rifled cannon shot were constantly heard screeching through the air as they plunged in our direction. Sometimes they would strike a tree and land in an unexpected place. At other times they would come whizzing on without interruption to their destination, striking down a man here and there as if by chance. While standing thus, I well remember, my attention was absorbed in listening to individual cannon shot, that is, to the whizzing noise they made in the air, rather than to the report of the guns. The danger contemplated was not that from the general crash or volley, but rather from the individual cannon shot whose wild whistle in the air would from time to time attract attention. All along the line the troops appeared to be listening and looking intently. For my part I could hear the whizzing noise in the air plainly enough in many cases to decide where the bolt was likely to fall, whether to the right or to the left. But in one instance it was impossible to decide where that particular shot was going to strike. I was seized with an impression that my time had come and involuntarily threw myself upon the ground. Getting up a moment later it was discovered that the shot had burrowed only a few feet behind me, and I have always believed that if I had remained standing that shot would have effectually done the work for me. Some of the soldiers with better eyes asserted they could see the balls, but I could not. This experience lasted until about 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, when the cannonading gradually lessened and finally ceased after considerable loss had been sustained of killed and wounded. Then our brigade counter-marched toward Centerville by the same road we come on, till it intersected the turn-pike. Then taking the turn-pike we marched westward about a mile toward what was to be the battlefield of Bull Run, and took our position on an eminence to camp for the night. The experiences of the men were identical in this, that the fatigue which comes from mere exposure to imminent danger continuously for hours, especially when the troops so exposed are not actively engaged, is far more exhausting than physical exertion. All agreed after reaching camp in feeling complete fatigue.
The battle of Bull Run was still two days in the future. Yet a considerable tax, as you see, had been put upon the endurance of raw and inexperienced troops, although they had only been engaged in getting into position for the ensuing battle. There was to be no rest for the army the coming night. It was about sun down when we went into camp. Near by was a meadow dotted with newly made hay-cocks, which were picked up by the men as if there had been but one instead of a thousand and carried into camp. It was a sight to see those acres of hay-cocks disappear. The boys wanted the hay for beds and they got it in one trip.
Soon after sun down the commissary wagons came in view, and were very welcome, for they bore the precious freight of coffee and much needed rations.
Immediately the rails from neighboring fences were brought in, fires kindled, and coffee put to boil. The air was soon filled with delicious aroma, but the sadness of it all is that this coffee was never to cheer the tired soldiers. Just as the pot had fairly boiled a malicious force of sneaking confederates who had crawled up stealthily in the bushes, discharged several volleys over camp, luckily with too high aim.
The cry went up: “Put out the fires! Put out the fires!” It was a fearful sacrifice and the precious coffee was wholly lost. Then in darkness the long roll beat to arms, the tired troops fell in line, while skirmishers went out in fruitless endeavor to find what forces had been shooting at us. After they had fired their vicious volleys the confederates stole away unseen, leaving the troops in a condition quite forlorn, not knowing what would come next. Weary and worn and nearly exhausted, they stood in the darkness and rain as marks to be shot at by a hidden foe, or as one of my comrades said at the time, “To be shot at for $13 a month with no chance to return the fire.” One can imagine this little tableau vivant, or enough of it, and to see that the night was no picnic.
To cap the climax of discomfort, as darkness settled down it began to rain. The hay which had promised so much for our comfort was thoroughly wet.
Through the long, rainy night there was plenty of hunger, but no slumber, for it was passed in watchful expectation of another attack. Everything however has an ending, so did that night. With the morning came sunshine, and such cheer as men in their condition could muster.
The day was spent in getting dry, being fed and rested. At sundown the customary dress parade was held in fairly good form, considering the circumstances, and with the usual promulgation of orders.
Among other orders read that evening, was one directing the writer to report immediately at brigade headquarters, where he had been assigned for duty on the staff of General Sherman.
This order took the writer from his regiment and he was provided with a horse and equipments, and became established at brigade headquarters.
The next day Saturday, July 20th, was “the day before the battle” with all that the phrase implies. The plan on our side which contemplated an attack, had been most fully matured at a council of all the commanders, including our brigadier general. The precise work of each commander had been mapped out. If you are curious to know the details of these plans, you may read them at your leisure for they have become history.
On this 20th day of July every man in the army once again filled his haversack and at the early hour of 2:00 o’clock Sunday morning, July 21st, the entire combative force took up the march toward Bull Run by divers routes assigned to the different divisions.
From that early hour the troops were destined not to rest again until they had passed through the bloody battle, achieved a great victory over a superior force, and then later on, by the arrival of Johnston’s fresh army, were compelled to abandon a field they had fairly won, and retreat the succeeding night the entire distance from Bull Run to Washington. But we must not anticipate.
General Tyler’s division of which our brigade was a part, was on the the right of the army. The duty assigned to the writer by General Sherman was to care for all the vehicles belonging to the regiments of our brigade and organize them into a single train.
Just before the advance there was imparted to me as much of the plan of battle as it was thought necessary for me to know in order to govern my actions. I was directed to keep the train where it was, at the camp, until the combative force of the army had passed that point, and then to fall in with the other trains at the first opportunity and advance toward Bull Run until a certain blacksmith shop, which was about a half a mile east of Cub Run, had been reached; to post the train there and immediately report in person to the general wherever he could be found at the front.
In giving these instructions he said, “You will hear plenty of cannonading immediately in front. Pay no attention to it, for this will only be a feint; the real attack will be in another quarter.”
It is a matter of history how Hunter’s and Heintzelman’s divisions turned to the right from Warrenton turn-pike at the old blacksmith shop just mentioned, taking a road which led northerly and nearly parallel with Bull Run, east of the stream, and proceeded in that direction far enough to reach a point where no rebel forces were present to interfere with their crossing; and how, when they had arrived there, at an hour much later than had been planned, that is to say, about noon instead of early morning, these troops under General Hunter, taking only a few moments to refresh themselves, passed over to the west side of Bull Run, and pushed down upon the enemy, who all this time had been entertained by the furious cannonading directly in their front, east of the Stone Bridge, where Sherman’s Brigade waited for the time to come to cross over.
Hunter’s force attacked the enemy’s left flank with vigor and later was joined by Heintzelman, when they drove the confederate forces down the west bank of Bull Run, past the point where Tyler’s division, including our brigade, was waiting, thus giving them the expected opportunity to pass over and join in the general attack, which was gallantly made with a rush.
While Hunter’s movement was being executed, as has been told, the writer had abundant time to obey instructions and post his train as directed, and then to ride down amid the smoke and roar of artillery, according to directions, until he reached the spot where a thirty pounder, attached to Carlisle’s Battery, was posted on the turn-pike, with Ayre’s Battery somewhat in the rear. A little to the right of this gun he found General Sherman with his brigade in line at right angles to the turn-pike in a dense wood on the easterly side of Bull Run. There Sherman remained awaiting the appearance of Hunter and Heintzelman. At the proper time Sherman’s brigade crossed over and became actively engaged, and met their full share of the fearful loss of the day, and did their full share of the work resulting in driving the over confident confederates from the stronghold they had taken and determined to keep at all hazards.
Up to three o’clock in the afternoon everything went our way, and indicated a complete victory for the Union Arms. Indeed at that time a great victory had been won.
Then it was that a genuinely dramatic incident occurred. General McDowell came riding along the line, joyously swinging his hat aloft, responding to the cheers of the soldiers on every hand. As he came near our position he drew rein to exchange salutes with General Sherman, and with a cheerful voice and mein, he directed him “to join in the general pursuit,” and rode away.
How well I remember the proud bearing of McDowell. His every action told, more plainly than any words, that he then believed himself a victorious captain whose brow was wreathed with laurels of success. But alas, too soon he learned that the fates of war are fickle.
Not more than twenty minutes intervened after McDowell departed before he came again our way. A fearful change had come over the spirit of his dream during those moments. The transformation was forlorn and complete. We need not discuss here the causes that led up to, and made necessary the retreat of which an account follows. Suffice it to say, that soon after McDowell rode away, a large force of rebel troops from Johnston’s army arrived fresh on the field, just in time to turn our glorious victory into black defeat.
Within that twenty minutes the Union army saw itself confronted by the arrival of a fresh and formidable army, saw that the battle just successfully finished must be fought anew, if the field was to be held, and recognized the fact, as fact it was, that the limit of human endurance had been fully reached and that they were actually incapable of another fight. Thereupon the whole army began as it were, upon their own motion, and as it would seem without orders to fall slowly to the rear, and thus reluctantly leave their hard fought field. Not indeed because of the troops they had been fighting all day and had fairly whipped, not because their valor had departed, but because their power to endure had been exhausted.
When General McDowell returned, it was as clearly certain that the day had been lost, as that a few minutes earlier victory had been shouted by all hands. No one more keenly realized this than McDowell himself. If it dazed and blunted his faculties for the moment, who shall wonder and who shall blame? It seemed that General Sherman expected some decisive movement to be ordered by the commanding general for he inquired of him, “What is to be done?”
To this General McDowell replied, “Wait awhile,” and rode away, looking for all the world the picture of despair.
In reading the memoirs of General Sherman you will see no mention of this meeting between himself and General McDowell at the very turn and crisis of the battle. But the writer has excellent reason for remembering it well because it was followed by an incident of peculiar interest to himself.
After “Waiting a while,” in obedience to McDowell’s command, and seeing the whole army moving to the rear, the writer ventured to ask General Sherman what should be done with the train in the rear for which I was responsible. This inquiry was deemed proper, seeing that the entire army was giving up the field. And yet its propriety was immediately doubted, for General Sherman, looking squarely in the face of the writer, in a voice that was stern if not savage, said; “I give you no orders at all, sir.”
This at the time was interpreted to mean that when he had orders he would let it be known without being asked. But later on the writer was informed by General Sherman what was really in his mind. He himself had received no orders from the commanding general, therefore he declined to give any orders. He had been told to “wait awhile,” and was doing it.
The writer seeing that the army was in actual retreat spurred away without orders to where his train was posted just east of Bull Run. Here indeed was pandemonium reigning supreme. Whenever there is a panic in an army it is generally in the rear rather than in front, and here was no exception to the rule. There was no panic at the front at Bull Run, but at the rear the quarter-masters of the several regiments composing our brigade at least, were found in a state of extreme excitement as though expecting momentarily to be gobbled up by the notorious Black Horse Cavalry, which by the way existed only in imagination. The riders they saw galloping in all directions, were none other than our cavalry, and no doubt in some instances, our own mounted officers going to the rear. It was a white horse that carried the writer to the rear, otherwise—perhaps he might have been taken for a Black Horse Cavalryman and not permitted to approach.
When he arrived the quarter-masters were not slow in condemnation of what they regarded inexcusable negligence, in not having previously moved the train to a place of safety. Steps were taken to allay their needless fears by assuring them there was not a rebel in sight, and that our entire army would have to be slaughtered or captured before any danger could come to them, a ceremony that would consume much more time than would be required to make a safe retreat. At first they seemed satisfied with such assurance, agreeing to help take the train toward Washington in an orderly way. Had they held to that purpose there would have been no trouble in doing so.
But it was not so to be. Panic took full sway among these people who had not been on the field. The brigade train was nearly half a mile in length, and so it was impossible to personally supervise the whole of it. It soon became apparent that no one was in a state of mind to assist in preserving the orderly retreat of the wagons. A start to the rear was begun on a decent walk but it was not long before some of the drivers had pushed their teams to a trot, and others to a gallop.
Then it was that the soldiers who were there to guard the train found it impossible to keep pace with the teams, and early reached the conclusion that it was their duty to ride, and so mounted the wagons. To make room for himself a man would roll a barrel of vinegar out of the back end of the wagon to be run over by the next, which would be overturned. What with barrels of vinegar and molasses, boxes of crackers, bags of oats, and other such stores thus thrown out, it was not long before the road was literally paved with these things. When a wagon was overturned it afforded an excellent excuse for cutting loose the horses and riding away, and the drivers were not slow in doing this. The road was thus blockaded by abandoned wagons.
Within a short time the brigade train was a thing of the past. It had destroyed itself. The occupation of the writer so far as the train was concerned was therefore gone, and he turned and rode to the front slowly against the retreating torrent.
In passing through the retiring crowds, made up in part of civilians as well as soldiers, many sights and scenes worth telling were observed but are omitted for want of time.
Darkness was now setting in, when however, many of those who had been engaged in the battle were met and recognized.
What had been the army, was the army no longer. It was a mere 4th of July crowd, a World’s Fair crowd on a Chicago Day, wholly without organization. The whole roadway was compactly filled from side to side with one solid mass, which within a rod or two, might have among its members the representatives of many regiments. In such a crowd as this, strange as it may seem, the writer met the orderly sergeant of his own company. He was uninjured, and carrying his gun.
His worn out condition was recognized and he was put in the saddle. We agreed not to part, as the writer now resolved to turn about and go along with him and the rest to the rear, walking by the side of the horse. Unfortunately for the orderly, but luckily for another, we presently came upon a corporal of our company who had been shot through the leg, limping along with many others in similar condition. The corporal had lost his gun, but showed no other evidence of demoralization. The sergeant upon request gave up the horse to the wounded corporal. They compromised, the corporal taking the sergeant’s gun and the horse, and we moved on together.
As the crowd advanced along the road the most important matter was to get a drink of water. So whenever and where-ever a well was found, it became the nucleus for a contending crowd, like boys surrounding the ticket wagon of a circus, but to a vaster extent, more like swarming bees bunched upon an overhanging limb.
The trend was ever toward Washington. The night grew darker. Now and then one would hear a cry out of the darkness of the number and name of a regiment, as for instance, “13th New York.” If a man of that regiment was within hearing he would respond “13th New York.” Comrades would thus come together but to be soon parted. So in the case of the writer. Having resolved to stay by his comrades and horse, he soon found that all had disappeared and he was alone in the struggling crowd. Considering that he had been mounted all day, his condition was so much better than the mass around him that he had no cause to complain.
On and on we kept tramping the weary way to Washington. Sometimes struggling for a drink by the wayside well but not daring to rest for a moment; because to sit down even for a single instant was to sleep, and to sleep at that time meant capture.
Past midnight the rain began to pour. This was not so much a misfortune as a discomfort. It is even possible that the drenching rain cooled the fevered soldiers and in that way was beneficial. Knowing how dusty and how besmeared they were before, one can imagine the appearance presented after the rain. The rain had said to the dust, “I am on to you, your name is Mud!”
Time went on while this motley retreat continued until about four o’clock in the morning when the writer met for the first time the captain of his company, Captain Bouck of Company E, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, son of Ex-Governor Bouck of New York, ex-Attorney General of Wisconsin, and a lawyer of high standing and ability. We were old friends; he was lame, foot-sore, weary, and nearly exhausted, but trudging on toward Washington the same as the writer. He reached out his hand in a mechanical way, we clasped, but neither spoke a word. Thus we went on together for a short time, only to separate, as in many cases before. Can you see the picture? It is like ten thousand others on the weary way.
Soon thereafter several soldiers were seen coming from a farm house where they got coffee and corn-cakes. The writer made his way to the house and while there made a bargain with the farmer to hitch up his horse and carry him and three others into Washington four or five miles distant. This was a happy thought, but not to be realized. Rosinante was tackled to a farm wagon with two boards for seats stretched from side to side of the wagon box.
We finally got aboard and started. It was daylight and Monday morning. Scarcely had we gone a mile when we discovered moving along with the rest, a lieutenant of my regiment who had been wounded by a musket shot in his left shoulder. The picture of this soldier was the picture of death. He had every appearance of a moving corpse. Nothing indicated that he was alive except that he was moving. He was scarcely alive. Automatically he kept on going. The writer spoke to him to arouse attention, but he did not hear. Finally to make certain of his identity the writer jumped from the wagon, shook him up, and told him his name and insisted that he should take the vacant seat in the wagon. Mechanically he obeyed and we started along, the writer hanging on to the end board of the wagon box.
So we went to Washington.
At last we arrived at the southern end of the Long Bridge, by which you cross over to the capital.
There fires had been built, large caldrons of pork and coffee were boiling, hard-tack was abundant, and the soldiers having been fed, were lying on the ground in the midst of a pelting rain, sleeping like infants on a mother’s breast.
But let us return to the lieutenant, for his case is typical of a thousand others.
Sheds had been thrown up for the wounded, and all the surgeons, good, bad or indifferent, that Washington and the neighboring cities could supply, were on hand to dress the wounded, and treat the sick as best as they could. The lieutenant was taken to one of these sheds and supplied with coffee, hard-tack and salt pork, of which he partook sparingly, and then he was turned over to a young surgeon who probed and dressed his wound, and laid him away to sleep. The writer did not see him again for several days, and when we next met he declared upon his honor that he did not remember meeting me at all, nor know how he got to Washington.
His case was a fair sample by which to judge of the many others of which we have not time to speak.
Not all of the troops went to Long Bridge where we did, but many reached Fort Corcoran, near Georgetown, and others made their way to Alexandria, all resting on the south bank of the Potomac.
None were permitted to cross over, except such as for good reason obtained passes.
I have now fulfilled my promise of taking you from Washington to Bull Run and back again, but I cannot consent to leave you there to pass as I did the doleful days which succeeded the battle of Bull Run.
In conclusion let me lay before you a brighter page of history, whereon is recorded that later, on the selfsame battlefield, the same army of the Potomac achieved an abiding victory for the Union cause. And on still other pages are recorded the Herculean achievements of our glorious armies which paved the way for their victorious return in strong and serried ranks to march into Washington not as we did, but bearing aloft the redeemed and consecrated Flag of the Union, amid the plaudits of an admiring country whose integrity and existence they had preserved for all future generations, by a soldierly constancy, and valor, unmatched and unmatchable, in the annals of all the Nations of the World.
Last Thursday I was privileged to spend about 35 minutes on the phone with NPS Historian Emeritus Edwin C. Bearss. Our discussion centered on the upcoming release of his new book, Receding Tide: Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the Campaigns that Changed the Civil War, but it naturally strayed to other topics. I’ll be arranging our talk in the form of an interview and posting it here soon. If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, Mr. Bearss will be speaking to the Greater Pittsburgh Civil War Roundtable on April 26. You can find details here. The photo above is Mr. Bearss signing my copies of his three-volume The Vicksburg Campaign in Carnegie, PA after his appearance there on February 9, 2009.
THE SECOND WISCONSIN AT THE FIRST BATTLE OF BULL RUN
BY BREVET BRIG. GEN. THOMAS S. ALLEN, USV October 1, 1890
WHEN the shot fired at Fort Sumter “was heard around the world,” an uprising of the loyal people of the country took place, which for numbers and unanimity of purpose had never been equalled since the time when Peter the Hermit issued his call upon the faithful to rise in their majesty and wrest the scepter of tyranny in the Holy Land from the grasp of Moslem usurpers. Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers touched the chords of patriotism, which for years had been lying dormant, as the appeals of Peter waked up the religious sensibilities of the faithful of the middle ages. The one, addressed to uneducated masses of the old world, was tinctured more or less with fanaticism; the other, addressed to the masses of an intelligent nation, was an “appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity and the existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of popular government, and to redress wrongs already long enough endured.” As is well known the famous Crusades were doomed to ignominious failure, although attended with wonderful acts of heroism, leaving the fields of Eastern Europe and Western Asia strewn with the bodies of millions of warlike but deluded knights and peasants; while the proclamation of President Lincoln resulted in military organizations of a peaceful people, which, after a terrible four years’ contest, established “Liberty and Union” on a foundation so firm that nothing less than the degeneration of a race of patriots can cause or permit its destruction.
Wisconsin responded to the call of the War Department for a single regiment, by the tender, in less than seven days, of thirty-six full companies. The 1st Regiment, enlisted for three months, and the 2d Regiment, organized as a three years regiment, went into camp—one at Milwaukee and the other at Madison—at about the same time. The former was sent to the Shenandoah Valley and the latter to Washington, it being the only Wisconsin regiment present at the first Bull Run. Although I had enlisted and drilled with company “H” of the 2d, and intended to serve in said company, having been asked by the Miners’ Guards, of Mineral Point, to take command, I accepted, and left the state with the regiment as captain of company “I,” reaching Washington on the 25th day of June, 1861. It is safe to say that not a man in the regiment knew anything of actual warfare, although nine companies, including mine, were organized from as many independent companies of state militia, actuated by a common motive and by similar patriotic impulses, yet differing as to policies and parties. And yet, perhaps, some of us had felt somewhat of the martial ardor of the old cripple, who, after a long service, “hobbled home on crutches,” singing as he drew near the old homestead:
“My father was a farmer good,
With corn and beef in plenty;
I mowed, and hoed, and held the plow,
And longed for one-and-twenty.
“For I had quite a martial turn,
And scorned the lowing cattle;
I longed to wear a uniform.
Hear drums, and see a battle.”
As was the ease with the first regiments to respond in other states, so our ranks were filled with the best young blood of Wisconsin, and officered by men, many of whom subsequently, in their present and higher stations, made their mark on various fields of action. Among them, without disparagement to others, may be named Capt. George H. Stevens, promoted to lieutenant colonel, and killed at Gettysburg; Capt. Wilson Colwell, killed at South Mountain; Capt. David McKee, promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 15th Wisconsin, killed at Perryville; Capt. Gabe Bouck, promoted to colonel of the 18th Wisconsin, commanding that regiment through the Vicksburg and other campaigns; Capt. Wm. E. Strong, promoted brigadier general, by brevet, served on staff of Gen. McPherson; Capt. Randolph, killed at second Bull Run; Capt. John Mansfield, promoted to colonel of the 2d Wisconsin, and brevet brigadier general, commanded the Iron Brigade, and was subsequently lieutenant governor of California; Lieut. John Hancock, promoted to colonel of the 14th Wisconsin. The regiment numbered a trifle over one thousand men. Our field officers were Col. S. Park Coon, Lieut. Col. Peck, and Maj. Duncan McDonald.
On our way to Washington we drew seven hundred and fifty muskets at Harrisburg, and marched through Baltimore at about ten o’clock at night. A howling mob of rebels and their sympathizers crowded the streets, uttering the wildest imprecations on the men who dared to desecrate the soil of “My Maryland.” It was with difficulty that our men were restrained from opening fire. During the march I walked for several blocks on the flank of my company with City Marshal Kane, who was a good conversationalist, and pretended to be a loyal citizen. He certainly performed his duty that night. Shortly afterwards, however, his sympathies drove him into the ranks of the rebel army. Arriving at Washington we went into camp on Seventh Street, next to the 5th New Hampshire, whose leading fifer used to charm us with his wonderful rendering of the reveille (our drum corps couldn’t play). Besides, our brass band afforded us daily exhibitions of tunes of excruciating melody, and of marching time, to which no man, excepting a broken-legged cripple, could possibly keep step. It was here that we had our first experience of regular army inspection. All our field officers, including the adjutant, had gone down to the city early one morning to see that the Capital was properly protected, and that the President and other officials were performing their duty. I was officer of the day in camp. All went on swimmingly during the day. Pie-women, and smugglers of the army fluid which sometimes inebriates, had been duly examined, and passed or bounced, as the case might be, while the several companies had been through their regular drills, and the camp guards been scientifically relieved. It had been ascertained that for one day at least a regiment could be run without a colonel or adjutant. But about twelve o’clock at night, a call was heard ringing out on the night air: “Officer of the Day! Post Number One! ” Supposing, of course, that our out-posts had been attacked by a force of rebels from the other side of the Potomac, the officer of the day, who was making his rounds on the opposite side of the camp, clad in all the habiliments and trappings of war, including sash, hastened to the post designated. There he found the sentinel and officer of the guard contending with Gen. Mansfield, the old veteran who commanded the Department of Washington, who, accompanied by his staff, demanded admittance to our camp. He was making the “Grand Rounds.” The General appeared to be very angry at the refusal to admit him. He said that on demand of the sentinel he had given the password, but was still refused at the point of the bayonet, and he had threatened to put the sentinel under arrest—all to no effect. I saw the situation at once, and informed him that owing to the absence of the field officers and adjutant, I had received no password for the day, and was compelled to use that of the preceding day; that I presumed his password was correct, but that, as I did not know either himself or the password, he could not be admitted. Assuming to be indignant, he rode along the whole line of sentinels, trying his password on each one, without success. What passed between him and the field officers was never confided to me; but that was the last time we were ever without the proper password.
Gen. Mansfield, his hair already silvered, as he sat on his horse that night, was an officer of distinguished appearance, and being the first general officer we had ever seen, for the time he became our beau-ideal of a soldier. He was killed at Antietam while bravely pushing the 12th Corps into action. Having displayed our prowess in conquering the rebellion in Washington, we moved on the 2d day of July across the Potomac, and planted ourselves on the sacred soil of Virginia, some two miles in front of Fort Corcoran, doubtless for the protection of that fortress. That this movement was a success, is proved by the fact that the fort was never captured by either rebel cavalry or infantry, even though Beauregard’s whole army was within thirty to forty miles of it at the time, and never dared to come much nearer so long as they knew the 2d Wisconsin was there. Such is the respect shown by an honorable enemy to an invincible foe.
We remained in this camp two weeks, learning camp duty, tactics and field movements, under our lieutenant colonel, who had studied at West Point for two years, varied by an occasional drill under two young lieutenants of the regular army. How the boys wished they had one of them for colonel! for the recent defeat of Gen. Butler at Big Bethel and the ambush of Gen.Schenck near Vienna, had already filled their heads with imaginary “masked batteries,” and their own observations suggested the advantage of having educated officers. They had not, however, learned that with a little hard work, natural capacity, and study and pluck, the volunteer officer soon became as successful a regimental commander as the most cultured graduate of our military academy.
Under pressure of public opinion, voiced by Brigadier Generals Horace Greeley, Murat Halstead, and other generals of the editorial profession who laid out all the great campaigns of the war in their dingy sanctums, Gen. Scott, with the sanction of President Lincoln, ordered Gen. McDowell to move “on to Richmond by way of Manassas with such forces as were present in front of Washington,” guaranteeing that Gen. Patterson should prevent any junction of Gen. J. E. Johnston with Beauregard; assuring him that “if Johnston joins Beauregard he shall have Patterson at his heels.” McDowell showed great energy, and a week later, on the morning of July 16th, ordered a general movement of his army to the front, to begin that afternoon. Without going into details, it is enough to say that that part of the army which marched towards and reached the front amounted to less than 28,000 men with 49 guns, to encounter an army at Manassas of over 32,000 men and 57 guns. (See Nicolay’s “Outbreak of the Rebellion,” page 174.)
At about two o’clock P. M. of the same day we were moved out of camp on the road to Vienna, leaving behind us about one hundred men unfit for duty, under Lieut. Hunt, whose obesity was a guarantee of his inability to march. Recognizing the at-that-time uncontrollable habit of the men to fall out of the ranks for water, I had caused the canteen of every man in the company to be filled with strong, cold tea, which greatly lessened their temptation. After a march of twelve miles, at sundown we bivouacked for the first time without tents. Our march was resumed early the next morning, under strict orders from the War Department against foraging, issued to us by Gen. Wm. Tecumseh Sherman, our brigade commander, subsequently the commander of the “March to the Sea,” now one of the few great generals living, whose name is a household word in almost every family of this country, and whose fame is wide as the world. General orders had also been issued forbidding the harboring of fugitive slaves in our camps, and ordaining that all such as might escape into our lines should be returned to their masters. This was a concession made with the vain hope that the rebels of the South and pro-slavery copperheads of the North might be induced—the one to lay down its arms, and the other to stand by the Union as patriots. Both orders met with the disapproval of the men in the Union army, who declared that they did not propose to go hungry with provisions in sight, nor to become “nigger-hunters” to placate those who were fighting to destroy the government.
It was not very late in the afternoon when one of my men, Budlong, who stood six feet four inches in his shoes, and who had been missing for an hour or so, came to me and said: “Captain, Gen. Sherman orders me to report to you under arrest.” “Why? what have you been doing?” “Oh, nothing but helping myself to rations. You see our meat is so salt I cannot eat it, and I thought fresh mutton would taste better. I had a quarter on my shoulders, making my way to the regiment, when the General happened to ride along with his staff, and caught me.” “Didn’t you know the orders against foraging?” said I. “Yes, but I was hungry, and it was rebel mutton, anyhow.” “Well, what became of the mutton?” “Why, the General told one of his orderlies to have it cooked for his (the General’s) supper. He then said he would attend to my case after we had whipped the rebels at Bull Run.” This was the last ever heard of the matter officially. I never doubted that Gen. Sherman sympathized with the men then as always on this question.
We bivouacked the next night near the old Fairfax plantation. About dark the same culprit came to me, saying: “Captain, there is a nice lot of sheep up on the plantation. Our boys are terrible hungry, and as our muskets are all stacked under orders not to let them go out, I don’t see what I am to do.” “Have you forgotten the orders?” “No, but it is too bad that we should fare worse than the d—d rebs who are trying to destroy the government we came down here to save.” “Well, Bud, it is against orders to shoot anything but rebs. My pistol hangs on my belt on one of the stacks, but you must not touch it.” I walked off, and what was my surprise and indignation, an hour or two later, to find that my whole company were feasting on the sacred mutton of one of the F. F. V.’s of Virginia.
The march to Centerville was a delightful one, although many, unaccustomed to marching, and especially to carrying knapsacks and “forty rounds,” fell to the rear to come up later in the day. It seems almost like yesterday that, on reaching the crest of a hill, the long column of troops with its batteries of artillery in advance of us, could be seen for a mile or two, colors flying, arms glistening, drums beating, bands playing, and war putting on a holiday attire. The thought then arose—can it be possible that such an array of brave men, so well armed and equipped, and so enthusiastic, should suffer the disgrace of defeat, and ever be compelled to halt on its way to the rebel capital? The idea was preposterous, and the thought that such a result was one of the uncertainties of war was not without its pain. The experience was new, and doubtless many besides myself were reflecting on the possibilities and impossibilities. That most of our regimental officers possessed confidence in the result was attested by the fact that they had hired a private wagon to carry their trunks containing their best uniforms and clothing; for we were all dressed in the dilapidated gray with which we left our state, while the officers had provided themselves with the regulation blue, to be used only on dress occasions. For myself, some bird had whispered into my ear that it would be just as well to leave baggage in camp. The result will be seen hereafter. But the spirits of all were gay, as is usual with men in the presence of novelty, especially when cheered by hope, and the feeling that they are serving a cause just in the sight of Heaven.
During the day a young mounted officer rode past us, who attracted general notice. He wore long, flowing locks, a hat and plume, a la Murat, and was uniformed in a royal purple silk velvet jacket, brilliant with gold trimmings. His cavalier style caused admiration and wonder, being so different from anything we had ever seen. “Who is it?” was the universal interrogation. It was soon known that it was young Custer, fresh from West Point, who had been sent forward by Gen. Scott with dispatches for Gen. McDowell. From that time forward his course was watched with peculiar interest. It was his cavalry that came up to us just after my regiment, the 5th Wisconsin, had captured Maj. Gen. Ewell at Sailor’s Creek, April 6th, 1865, three days before Lee’s surrender.
On the evening of the 18th, Gen. Tyler, commanding 1st Division, was ordered to make a reconnoissance towards Blackburn’s Ford, some three miles south of Centerville, on the road to Manassas, and not to bring on an engagement. Taking Col. Richardson’s brigade and a light battery he pushed forward, attacked and drove back a division of Longstreet, who, being reinforced by Early’s brigade, in turn advanced, driving in and disorganizing the 12th New York. An order by Tyler to fall back, was executed. Sherman’s brigade, with the 2d Wisconsin, had been sent for, with orders by some ignoramus to double-quick to the field, only a short three miles from our camp. The day being excessively hot, it may be easily imagined that green men with knapsacks tried the experiment for a few rods, and then eased off into a rapid march. As we approached the top of the hill overlooking the ford, we were met by a stream of fugitives, who were subjected to a storm of raillery by our boys. “Where are you going?” “What is the matter?” The invariable reply was: “We are all cut to pieces! ” Considering the fact that the total loss of that regiment was only five men killed and nineteen wounded, the nature of the terrible tragedy may be surmised. However, we pushed on, and in a short time filed off into the woods on the right, forming line of battle. The fight continued for some time, being simply an artillery duel. Shell and solid shot crashed through the trees over our heads, and frequently close enough to keep the men dodging long after danger was past.
This was our first experience under fire, and our “first baptism of blood,” but not a man left the ranks. Only one man was killed and two wounded by the bursting of a shell in our left company. The total losses of the day were: Union, 56 killed and wounded; Rebels, 63 killed and wounded.
As to the particular feelings or impressions of being under fire for the first time without an opportunity of returning it, each man has his own. I can only remember that a sense of my responsibility as captain of a company overpowered whatever feelings I might have had of personal danger, even though the sound of the shrieking shells was anything but agreeable. This first lesson taught us, as did the lessons of four years afterwards, that while the sound of big guns was more terriffic, the real danger in battle was the whistling “minnie,” which reached one without note or warning.
Gen. McDowell was anxious to make his attack on Beauregard on Saturday, the 20th, before assistance could reach him from Johnston’s army. But it was not until Saturday evening that he and his engineer officers could find a ford, which was not strongly entrenched and guarded, by means of which he could surprise and attack the rebel army in flank and rear. To attack in front would have been a useless massacre. On that evening he issued his orders for the forward movement at two o’clock Sunday morning. The divisions of Hunter and Heintzelman were to move to the right and cross Sudley Springs Ford, attack the rebel flank and rear, driving Evans’ brigade from the Stone Bridge, while Tyler’s division was to demonstrate in front. Sherman’s and other brigades, were to cross at or above the Stone Bridge as soon as the road was clear, or the enemy driven from our front. McDowell’s strategy was perfect. Gen. Sherman afterwards said it was “one of the best-planned battles of the war, but one of the worst-fought.” Gen. Johnston, who was in command of the rebel army during the fight, said: “If the tactics of the Federals had been equal to their strategy, we should have been beaten.”
But, leaving details of the battle behind, simply stating that, owing to the lack of promptness on the part of one division, the attack was necessarily delayed for two hours, the loss of which was one of the prime causes of our final defeat.
At two o’clock on the morning of Sunday, the 21st, we moved out of camp, marching and halting, mostly halting, as usual on night marches, for somebody to get out of the way, until after daylight, when we crossed Cub Run, and, ascending a hill overlooking the Bull Run valley and the Stone Bridge, we filed to the right of the road, and formed line of battle. Ayres’ battery was with us, and kept up a random firing on the batteries defending the bridge. We had a magnificent view of the historic stream and of the battle grounds beyond, which was a high plain, steep bluffs along the bank, the plain broken by ravines. Here we waited for several hours, momentarily expecting to see the smoke and hear the guns of our attacking divisions. It was not until eleven o’clock that the ball opened, and the sun was pouring down its fiercest rays. Hunter and Heintzelman had crossed the ford, and rattling musketry and puffs of smoke indicated that the skirmishers were at work. Soon the advancing lines came into view; our lines, preceded by the skirmish line, pushing forward, and the rebels as rapidly falling back. What a shout went up from our brigade! It meant, “Hurrah, boys; we have got ‘em!” On and on press our troops, who continued to draw nearer to the bridge and to us, in perfect lines of battle. Soon the rebels took to their heels and Stone Bridge was ours. It looked then as though the whole rebellion was conquered. Now was our time. Knapsacks were thrown into a heap, and guard placed over them. Gen. Sherman had discovered a ford half a mile above the bridge, passable for infantry, but not for artillery. To this he directed his brigade, the 2d Wisconsin leading. Marching to the ford under fire from a rebel battery, we waded through, climbed the precipitous ascent to the field above, and pushed forward in pursuit. How different was the scene presented to us, thus far, from that of a few hours later!
Having crossed the Warrenton pike, we were halted and ordered to lie down. The rebels had been driven across the pike and had made a stand on a hill running from the Henry house northeast to Bull Run. What happened there, not being all within the range of my view, I quote from Nicolay’s account, the briefest as well as one of the best written, as follows:
“When, at about half past two o’clock, the batteries of Ricketts and Griffin were ordered to move forward from the Dogan Heights across the valley to the top of Henry Hill, they did so with the feeling that the two regiments ordered to follow and support them were tardy, inadequate and unreliable. Other regiments, moving forward to the flank attack, could not well be observed because of the uneven ground and the intervening woods and bushes. The rebels had disappeared; there was a complete lull in the battle. But danger was no less at hand. Hardly had Ricketts taken his post before his cannoneers and horses began to fall under the accurate fire of near and well-concealed rebel sharpshooters. Death puffed from bushes, fences, buildings, and yet the jets of flame and wreaths of smoke were the only visible enemy to assail. Officers and cannoneers held on with desperate courage; some moved to new positions to foil the rebel range. Griffin’s battery came and took place alongside; eleven Union guns and thirteen Confederate guns were confronted at short range in a stubborn and exciting duel. But now the rebel regiments, seeing the dangerous exposure of the Union batteries, were tempted to swarm out of their cover. They pressed cautiously but tenaciously upon Ricketts. Griffin, absorbed in directing the fire of his guns against the rebel batteries, was suddenly startled at seeing a regiment advancing boldly on his right, in open view. Their very audacity puzzled him. They could hardly be friends, he thought; yet was it possible that foes were so near and would take such a risk? Instinctively he ordered his guns to be charged with canister and trained upon them. Yet at the dreadful thought of pouring such a volley upon a Union regiment, he once more hesitated and held a brief colloquy with Major Barry, chief of support. ‘They are Confederates,’ replied Griffin in intense excitement; ‘as certain as the world they are Confederates.’ ‘No,’ answered Barry, ‘I know they are your battery support.’ Griffin spurred forward and told his officers not to fire. The mistake proved fatal. During this interval of doubt the Confederate regiment had approached to point-blank range and levelled their muskets just as Griffin gave his order to desist. Griffin’s canister would have annihilated the regiment; but now the tables were turned, and in an instant the regiment’s volley had annihilated Griffin’s and Ricketts’ batteries. Officers and men fell, smitten with death and wounds, and horses and caissons went tearing in wild disorder down the hill, breaking and scattering the ascending line of battle. Under this sudden catastrophe the supporting regiments stood a while, spellbound with mingled astonishment and terror. They were urged forward to repel the advance on the guns, but the unexpected disaster overawed them; under the continued and still advancing volleys of the same rebel regiment, they fired their muskets, turned and fled.
“These disabled batteries, visible to both armies, now became the center and coveted prize of an irregular contest, which surged back and forth over the plateau of the Henry hill; but, whether because of confusion of orders, or the broken surface of the ground, or more probably the mere reciprocal eagerness of capture and rescue, the contest was carried on, not by the whole line, but by single regiments, or at most by two or three regiments moving accidentally rather than designedly in concert. Several times the fight raged past and over the prostrate body of Ricketts, lying wounded among his guns, and who was finally carried away a prisoner to Richmond. The rebels would dash forward, capture the batteries, and endeavor to turn the pieces on the Union lines; then a Union regiment would sweep up the hill, drive them back, and essay to drag the guns down into safe possession. And a similar shifting and intermitting fight went on, not merely on this single spot, but also among the low concealing pines of the middle ground in front, as well as in the oak woods on the Union right, where at times friend became intermingled with foe, and where both sides took occasional prisoners near the same place.
“In this prolonged and wasteful struggle the Union strength was slowly and steadily consumed. Arnold’s battery crossed the valley to the support of Griffin and Ricketts, but found itself obliged to again withdraw. The Rhode Island battery took part in the contest as well as it might from the hill north of Young’s Branch. Brigade after brigade—Sherman’s, Franklin’s, Wilcox’s, and finally Howard’s reserve, were brought forward—regiment after regiment was sent up the hill—three times the batteries were recovered and again lost.”
The above corresponds with my own observations, excepting that we were the last on the right of the line to make the charge. As we moved forward I distinctly saw two pieces of Ricketts’ battery, over which the forces on each side were contending, hauled to the rear. Men from some of the repulsed regiments, which had charged before us, straggled through our ranks, while others remained with us. Just then, too, on the hill, beyond range of our guns, we saw the famous but somewhat mythical Black Horse Cavalry rushing across our front, after a futile attack on the New York Zouaves to our left. This cavalry consisted of only a few companies raised in the vicinity of Warrenton, and was valuable only as scouts, or for the purpose of picking up stragglers. Its success in the latter direction was demonstrated before the day ended.
The crest of the hill in front of us, upon which the rebels had massed their infantry and artillery, was of a semi-circular form, so that when our regiment pushed on to the summit our left and center was facing south, while the four right companies faced east and south-east, our flank not far from the Sudley Springs road. This was an obstacle in the way of any concerted action, since no command could be heard along the whole line, nor was more than half the regiment visible at the same time. Col. Coon had been temporarily transferred to Sherman’s staff, leaving Lieut. Col. Peck in command. For some reason known to himself, the latter had dismounted and sent his horse to the rear, thus rendering it impossible for him to command so large a regiment, especially in such a position. Capt. Stevens’, Ely’s and my company were on the extreme right of the line; at least no troops were visible on our right, nor was any firing heard in that direction.
As we mounted the crest we were met by distinctive volleys of musketry, which were promptly returned, but it was impossible to push our line forward against the evidently superior forces massed in our front. The fire had continued for some time, when an officer on foot, dressed in blue uniform, ran down the rear of our line exclaimingly wildly: “For God’s sake, stop firing; you are shooting your friends.” Fearing this might be true, many of our men hesitated to continue firing, until by orders and appeals they were induced to begin again. Not long afterwards the same, or another, officer repeated the performance, with precisely the same exclamations. Whether this was a ruse on the part of the rebel officer, or whether he really supposed from our being dressed in gray that we were also rebels, may be a matter of doubt. But taking into consideration the ruse by which our batteries had just been captured, and subsequent attempts to deceive our troops by hoisting the Union flag, I am satisfied that it was a premeditated piece of iniquity. Whatever may be thought of it, the effect on our men was the same. They were certainly confused by doubt. To satisfy them, I picked up the musket of a wounded man, advanced to the front, saw distinctly a rebel flag, fired at the color-bearer, and induced my men to re-open fire. I continued to fire for some minutes, or longer, until my attention was called to an enfilading fire from the woods on our right. The fact that Johnston’s troops from Winchester were expected, and that this was in the direction of the railroad by which they would arrive, explained our view of the situation. About this time Col. Peck appeared on foot and asked me what I thought of this flank fire. My answer was that we could not maintain ourselves very long unless we were reinforced in that direction. He replied that that was his opinion, and left. Not very long after this, but how long I do not know, as the flight of time in a fight is a matter of conjecture, the Colonel appeared again in our rear and gave the order: “Fall back to re-form!” This was an indication that the left and center of our line, which we had neither seen nor heard from since the fight began, had met with no better success than the right, which turned out to be the fact.
An extract from Gen. Sherman’s report is as follows: “This regiment (the 2d Wisconsin) ascended to the brow of the hill steadily, received the fire of the enemy, returned it with spirit, and advanced delivering its fire. This regiment is uniformed in gray cloth, almost identical with that of the great bulk of the secession army, and when the regiment fell into confusion, and retreated toward the road, there was a universal cry that they were being fired upon by their own men. The regiment rallied again, passed the brow of the hill a second time, but was repulsed in disorder.”
Whether Col. Peck’s order to fall back was given to the whole regiment or not, I cannot say. But, so far as the right companies were concerned, they began to fall back without waiting for orders from their company officers. It was then the confusion began, and owing to the mixture of men of the different companies it was impossible to maintain order or discipline. The result was that the whole regiment fell back across the turnpike, where there was a rally around the colors and a movement with nobody in command toward the ford by which we had crossed. This must have taken place about four o’clock, as it was dark when we reached Centerville some five or six miles away, every man on his own account, owing to confusion and strife in crossing the fords, Stone Bridge and the bridge at Cub Run, which were blockaded by broken-down teams. On reaching Centerville I was informed by our hospital steward, in charge of the field hospital at that place, that Gen. Sherman had just passed through towards Washington, giving him orders to tell such of the 2d Wisconsin as passed, to make their way back to their old camp on the Potomac at once.
The general description of the retreat is too well known to be repeated. Members of congress, newspaper reporters, soldiers and spectators of the fight formed a confused mass of humanity. Just at the rear of Centerville, at the camp we had left at 2 o’clock in the morning, Capt. McKee and myself gathered together some two or three hundred men, and under the command of the former, marched in good order to our camp near Fort Corcoran, arriving there about twelve o’clock the following day, having marched and fought some thirty-six hours without rest or sleep, probably not less than fifty miles, the last twelve hours in a soaking rain.
Here we found Lieut. Hunt had orders from Gen. Sherman to burn our tents and move immediately to the fort. After consulting together, we concluded to have some dinner, and take a rest; and finally moved to the fort, shortly before dark. The wagon containing the officers’ baggage never returned.
The loss of the 2d Wisconsin in this campaign was 24 killed and 103 wounded, a total of 127. The loss of Sherman’s brigade was 317, killed and wounded. Our army lost an aggregate of 1496, killed and wounded. The loss of the rebel army was 1969, killed and wounded.
The first great battle of the war was fought and lost. The reasons need not be repeated. They are fairly stated in the report of Gen. McDowell, and in the various histories of the war.
I cannot refrain from saying that, in my humble opinion, Gen. McDowell was among the most capable of our army officers. His failure at Bull Run, however, aroused the ghouls of the press to charge him with incapacity, with disloyalty, and with drunkenness—three as baseless charges as were ever aimed at the reputation of a capable, loyal and temperate man. But for these vile slanders he might have had command of the Army of the Potomac, which under him would not have fought only to be repulsed or defeated through all its campaigns until it held its own at Gettysburg. His brilliant strategy was imitated by Gen. Hooker at Chancellorsville, who, with ten times the odds in his favor, failed in his tactical movements. Three days before the opening of the second Bull Run fight, in 1862, while we were camped near Warrenton, Gen. McDowell rode along our front. Acknowledging my salute, and after a short conversation in which he referred to the charges against his loyalty, he asked: “Well, Major, how would your boys like to have another fight on the old Bull Run battle ground?” To this I replied that they would appreciate highly a chance to pay off old scores. He then remarked very decisively: “We will meet the rebels on the same ground within a week and we shall win.” It was not his fault that the prediction was not fulfilled.
RECOLLECTIONS OF THE BULL RUN CAMPAIGN AFTER TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS
A PAPER READ BEFORE MICHIGAN COMMANDERY OF THE MILITARY ORDER OF THE LOYAL LEGION OF THE UNITED STATES, FEBRUARY 1st, 1887
BY COMPANION HENRY F. LYSTER, M. D., formerly Ass’t. Surgeon, 2nd. Regt. Michigan Infantry, and Surgeon 5th Michigan Infantry, and Acting Med. Director 3rd. Corps, Army of the Potomac
The 2nd regiment of Michigan infantry had been encamped below the Chain bridge on the Maryland side of the Potomac since the 12th of July, 1861. Col. Israel B. Richardson was in command, although Mrs. Richardson, his wife, who accompanied him, was the power behind the throne. It was not until the Colonel had become a general of division, that he outgrew his better half and bossed things generally himself.
Lt. Col. Henry L. Chipman had accepted a captaincy in the 11th Regiment U. S. infantry, Adjutant Wm. J. Lyster had gone to the 19th U. S. infantry.
Major Adolphus W. Williams, who later to the surprise of many of us, became the colonel of a high number Michigan regiment, and was breveted a brigadier general of volunteers was with us at this memorable time. The major had invited the adjutant and myself to join his mess, which had been organized by purchasing through Higby and Stearns, a mess-chest duly furnished with stores, and by obtaining the services of the major’s nephew and brother-in-law as cooks and skirmishers. We were soon reduced to the point of starvation, although in camp. When a polite inquiry would be made as to whether dinner was ready: “Well it aint, you know,” would be the somewhat unmilitary reply. Any ordinary cook would have been dismissed, or sent to the guard house, but from a nephew of the major it had to be condoned. At last after a few weeks experience, Harve, the cook, was noticed kneading some flour and water upon the head of a barrel, and was asked by the Adjutant what these preparations meant, replied, “I’m building up some pies that will make your eyes stick out.” And they did.
About this time the Regimental Quartermaster used to spend the greater part of the day in Washington, nominally on business, but he too frequently neglected to order up the wagons with the soft bread and fresh beef; and when night came on apace, and he was warned to return to the command, his short comings began to loom up before his anxious mind and lie heavily upon his conscience. He would approach cautiously the outer boundaries of the camp, and preserving a strict incognito, with faltering accents and disguised voice would enquire whether the bread wagons had arrived. If they had, he rode gaily into camp, but if they had not, he faded from view, and did not return to meet those who were hungrily lying in wait for him. It was while in camp at the Chain bridge that we made out our first muster rolls. Those who have been engaged in this work will appreciate the service so kindly and politely rendered by Major Brooks, U. S. army, now retired, and living on second avenue in this city. Verily in these matters “a soft answer turneth away wrath and pleasant words are of more value than pearls and rubies.” The recollections of Major Brooks and of the very agreeable and courteous Capt. Charles Gibson, ass’t com. of subsistence on duty in Washington at that time, have remained as pleasant memories with those volunteers who came in official contact with them.
The soldiers of the 2nd regiment were greatly interested in a resident near the camp known as Bull Frizzel. He kept himself saturated with a country liquor called peach brandy, which rendered him very inflammable and caused him to give utterance to a good deal of “secesh” sentiment, and kept him in the guard house most of the time. As he was the only rebel in sight it was frequently proposed that we begin our work by shooting him, but calmer counsels prevailed, and we left him to the slower, but not less sure course, marked out by himself, and the worm of the still.
On the 4th of July the non-commissioned officers obtained permission to drill the regiment in battalion drill— 4th Sergt. Wm. B. McCreery acted as colonel. Col. Richardson watched the manoeuvres from the front of his tent with much pleasure and interest. Turning to me he enquired the name of the sergeant commanding, and said in his peculiar drawl, “Dr. Lyster these non commissioned officers drill the battalion better than the commissioned officers can do it.” He made McCreery 1st Lieut, and Quartermaster in less than a month from that date.
Our first march to meet the enemy began July 16, 1861, when we crossed over the Chain bridge to the sacred soil of Virginia. We were brigaded with the 3d Michigan infantry, the 1st Massachusetts infantry and the 12th New York infantry. Col. Richardson was put in command of this brigade, and Surgeon A. B. Palmer was acting brigade surgeon. We had marched five or six miles towards Vienna Court House where Gen. Schenck of Ohio had not long before run a railroad train into a masked battery, and we were all on the qui vive regarding masked batteries, and unusual things of that sort.
The sun was yet in the meridian when I heard a commotion near the head of the brigade and upon riding up was astonished to find that Dr. C, acting at that time as hospital steward of the 2d, was chasing a small rebel pig and firing his revolver at it while in pursuit. The soldiers cheered lustily and the doctor hotly followed the squalling porker intent upon having a spare-rib for supper. All this unfortunately attracted the attention of Dr. Palmer, who was riding with the Colonel at the head of the brigade. Dr. Palmer, with an eye to the preservation of good order and discipline in his department, drew his sword, and galloped after Dr. C. and the pig. The soldiers cheered down the whole brigade still more vigorously appreciating the added comic element in the affair, and warning Dr. C. of his danger watched the unequal chase with increasing interest. The pig escaped for the moment, and Dr. C. mixed up with the column somewhat crest-fallen, but was later restored to his usual equanimity when a hind quarter of the pig was sent him in the evening.
Nearly a year later, after the battle of Charles City crossroads, June 29th, 1862, on McClellan’s retreat, Dr. C. remained with the wounded and was taken prisoner, and went to Richmond. In this he showed the highest appreciation of the professional relation, but as a non-commissioned officer at the time, he ran an undue risk of being detained indefinitely in the military prisons; almost equivalent to a death sentence.
To the surprise of everyone, he was almost immediately exchanged. His long deserved commission of ass’t surgeon, came to him soon after, and when he resigned to accept a desirable professional alliance in Detroit, in April, 1864, the regiment lost one of its most efficient and highly respected officers.
Dear Dr. Palmer, who only a month ago covered with professional honors, went over to be mustered into that growing army of veterans in the silent land, was so elated with his success in this first march, that he confidently assured me as we lay in bivouac that evening, that he felt within him those martial qualities which would give him command of troops in case he should determine to substitute the sword for the lancet.
That night the stars were out, and the uncertain moon was low in the western horizon, the darkest hour just before the dawn was on us, when the nervous strain of the pickets post could hardly be expected to resist the extreme tension of the first night out. The imagination turned some unoffending object into the stealthily approaching foe, and the musketry began to rattle with a liveliness that seemed very like active work. I shall never forget how long it seemed to take to lace up those balmoral shoes, to don my uniform, and get the horse unpicketed and saddled, so as to be able either to pursue or fly as might seem most sensible. The next night I slept with my shoes and hat on, and with old Dan tied to the wheel of the ambulance.
It was about this period of the march that the star of the regimental Quartermaster began to wane. It was all about some honey. Mrs. Richardson had gone up to the command of the brigade at the same time that the Colonel had, and a hive of honey had been added to the headquarters stores. Most of us had had some of it, but it had been expected to last like the widow’s cruise of oil through the campaign. It was observed that the Quartermaster had some honey after it had suddenly disappeared at headquarters. Nothing that he had failed to do hitherto was equal to this new offence. The next day the men began to get out of rations and the wagons were slow in getting up. The Quartermaster was found late at night asleep in the train. Dr. Palmer again drew his sword and pricked around with it into a wagon in the dark, and roused him. He fled before the wrath of the command and never stopped until he had reached Battle Creek, Mich.; and McCreery reigned in his stead.
On the 18th of July we were halted about half a mile beyond Centreville, having a nooning, when the enemy were reported a mile and a half in front of us at Blackburn’s ford. We fell in at once, and marched forward through some intervening woods, formed in line behind Lieut. Ayres’ regular battery, which opened upon the woods across Bull Run to the west of us about a quarter of a mile. We soon drew the fire of a rebel battery, which turned out to be the Washington Light Artillery from New Orleans. The first shot fired at the army, afterwards known as the Army of the Potomac, was at this time, and it took the leg off of a sergeant of artillery in Ayres’ battery on our front, and knocked a log out of a house in the yard of which the battery was stationed. The effect of this shot was not observed by the enemy, and the range was altered, and the other shots were not so effective.
It fell to my lot to attend the first Michigan soldier wounded by the enemy in the war. We were moving down as a support to the 1st Massachusetts and 12th New York, who had been sent down to the ford to “feel the enemy,” which they succeeded in doing to the extent of losing 40 wounded and 12 killed. The bullets and solid shots were passing over us, when a rifle bullet struck Mathias Wollenweber of company A, 2d Mich. infantry, in the left side, and he fell upon the sod. I tried to probe the wound with my little finger, and held my horse with the bridle rein thrown over my left arm. Every time a shot passed over us, old Dan would toss up his head and pull my finger out of the wound, and I concluded that while like Mercutio’s wound, “it was not as deep as a well, or as wide as a church door, it was enough;” and so it proved, for it finally “let out his sweet life” twenty years afterwards. Vickery came over with a four wheeled ambulance and picked him up and carried him back to Centreville, where he was afterwards captured by the enemy.
Vickery was a tall, raw-boned Irishman from county Cork, who followed Surgeon Palmer from the University of Michigan, to look after the regimental hospital. He was clever, well educated, with plenty of wit and a large heart. The Second loved Vickery more, I believe, than they ever did anyone else, and with good reason too. He rose to be assistant surgeon Aug. 8, 1862, and surgeon Sept. 1st, 1854. He jumped up upon the earthwork at Petersburg, June 29th, 1864, to see the colored troops charge at the Burnside mine explosion, when a bullet cut one of the femoral arteries. Surgeon Hamilton E. Smith, of the 27th Michigan was beside him at this time, and performed the most valuable service of his life in checking the hemorrhage, as these wounds are usually fatal on the field. Vickery is now a surgeon in the regular army, and is in charge of the army and navy hospital at Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Colonel Richardson shortly after came over from the front, and in a scornful sort of manner, suggested to the regiment, that we had better be getting back or the enemy’s cavalry would cut us off. Upon this we moved back into the woods. Loss in the 3d Brigade, 19 killed; 38 wounded; 26 missing. Rebel loss, 15 killed; 53 wounded. It was upon this occasion that Major Williams, after having moved the regiment well into the woods, formed them into a hollow square to resist an expected charge of cavalry. How well I can remember the beautiful appearance the regiment presented in the timber, with fixed bayonets. In the movement I was left on the outside, and tried in vain, to get into the place where the Adjutant and Major seemed so safely protected. Colonel Richardson’s remarks to the Major, when he discovered our position, and proceeded to unravel us, were not of a character to be repeated, even at this late date.
It was on our way in from the place where Wollenweber had been wounded, and at the edge of the woods, that I found one of our lieutenants lying at the foot of a large oak tree, quite white and limp. He had been in the Mexican war and we regarded him as an experienced soldier. I stopped an army wagon and tried to load him in, supposing he had been taken seriously ill. Colonel Richardson, who seemed to be ubiquitous, ordered him out, and spoke very harshly to him, and took quite an unprofessional view of the case. After the Colonel had gone on, I ordered the Lieutenant loaded in again, and as the last order is usually the one obeyed, we carried him back in safety. He disappeared like the Quartermaster, and we never saw either of them any more.
The Colonel had not gotten quite as much work out of the 1st Massachusetts and 12th New York, as he had expected, and he reared around a good deal during the next two or three days.
For two or three nights before the memorable Sunday, July 21, 1861, picket firing had been very constant, and the details from the regiment had pretty generally tired off their pieces a good many times. The grand rounds at night by the officer of the day was considered little less than fatal. He usually proceeded with a sergeant on each side as flankers, all with pistols at full cock. After having made the circuit of the pickets, this officer lay down to sleep with his flankers on either side, in order to prevent so important an official from being captured.
We held our position between Blackburn’s ford and Centreville along the line of the Bull Run during the battle on Sunday, the 21st. It was quite a commanding position, and we could look off to the north and west, and get some idea of the plan of the battle
We came near being the centre of the fight ourselves. It seems, that Beauregard intended to deliver battle on our left, and cut through to Centreville and get in the rear of McDowell, but the aide de camp who was sent with the final order, stopped to get a drink at a spring. The farmer, upon whose land the spring was located, being an ardent rebel, would not permit him to go on his way with only this cold cheer, but insisted upon pledging him in a glass of peach brandy. The excitement was so great, and the importance of the occasion so supreme, that the aide took several drinks of this apparently harmless beverage. Upon remounting and galloping off he accidentally struck his head against a tree, and became insensible, so the order was never received by Ewell, the general in command on the Rebel right. In the meantime, General Hunter’s column was pressing the enemy’s left so hard that they were forced into a defensive battle.
During all this day, we, at Blackburn’s ford, heard the heavy firing beyond the stone bridge, and hoped that the Union forces were winning a great victory, and that we should be in Richmond within five days. It might have dampened our ardor somewhat had we known that nearly four years of hardship were to intervene before we should realize the fulfillment of that “hope deferred.”
During the afternoon, about 4 P. M., Colonel Davis, of the 2d brigade of Colonel Miles’ division, made a very creditable defense of our left. Colonel Richardson’s brigade, the 4th of Tyler’s division, was making a demonstration at Blackburn’s ford by throwing out heavy skirmishers, as if to cross over. Colonel Jones was ordered by General Johnson to cross and attack our left, in order to prevent the division from joining in the battle on the Warrenton pike, which was at that time very hotly contested. Colonel Jones crossed at McLean’s ford, with three regiments and formed in line intending to flank Captain Hunt’s field battery of four guns. Colonel Davis, noting this movement, changed his front unobserved and waited for the attack. When Jones’ brigade came within five hundred yards Captain Hunt opened upon his line with cannister, and Jones’ Brigade simply disappeared.
As Colonel Nicolay says, in his “Outbreak of the Rebellion,” Jones modestly reported a loss of 14 killed and 62 wounded. The loss in Davis’ brigade was trifling. What would have been the result of throwing the brigades of Richardson, Davis and Blenker, over the stone bridge not more than a mile distant, to meet the forces of Ewell, Early and Holmes, as they came up from our left to join the battle at the Henry house. Can anyone imagine what would have been the effect upon the long victorious Union troops, who had marched so many miles, and fought so many hours, and charged again and again, by regiments, up the Henry house hill?
I remember to this day, how much solid satisfaction it gave us that evening, when we first began to realize that we were defeated, to hear that General Scott was hurrying up from Alexandria with a 50 pounder seige gun, manned by the marine corps from Fortress Monroe.
The medical men of our brigade and General Miles’ division, were in a large farm house on the left of the Blackburn’s ford pike.
I had just made my first amputation, and was examining the bones of the amputated arm, when Colonel Richardson rode up and reiterated his warning of three days before, that “you had better be getting out of here or the enemy’s cavalry will cut you off.” Complying with this apparently well founded order, and with the aid of Vickery and Cleland, loading up my solitary patient, I was about to mount my horse and move back towards Centreville, when Colonel Richardson asked me if I would be obliging enough to let Mrs. Richardson have my horse, as she could not find hers, and he was about to send her back to Alexandria under the escort of Captain Brethschneider and his two conpanies of flankers. Of course, however much I felt that I needed a horse at that moment, to avoid the charge of black horse cavalry, momentarily expected from the left, I acceded to the Colonel’s request, assuring him that I considered it a privilege to render any service to either the male or female commander of our brigade.
Reasoning that if I was obliged to walk, I had better not stand upon the order of my going, but go at once, I started off at a fair, brisk, shooting gait of some four or five miles an hour, expecting to join the column moving back on the Blackburn ford pike to Centreville. I had not proceeded more than a hundred yards, when, like Lot’s wife, I looked back, only with more fortunate results, for I spied old Dan eating clover, and Mrs. Richardson mounted upon another horse, and starting off under Captain Brethschneider’s escort. I turned back, mounted old Dan, and rode down to Centreville, and up on to the Rebel earth-works, which overhung Fairfax pike.
It is not often in a lifetime that one is permitted to see such a sight as I then witnessed. A retreating, uniformed, unorganized, unarmed crowd, poured down towards Washington at a steady unhalting pace. The men who had borne the burden and heat of the day, the camp followers, the friends of the several regiments who had come along to see the victory. Every now and then a wounded officer or soldier, assisted by his comrades, went by. Here appeared a couple of Zouaves riding on an artillery horse, with the broad, flat harness on, as it had been cut out of the traces. I remember seeing a Zouave officer walking along, slightly wounded, and hearing him say to those with him, that he would go no further, here he would stand and fight to the last, and just then a gun from one of our field pieces was fired off in an unmeaning manner, over into Virginia from near Centreville. The sound of that gun sent all his military resolutions to the winds, and he passed along with the steady current of the retreat. On looking down into the lunette, I saw a number of open carriages, and standing up in one of them was Zach Chandler, looking off towards Bull Run (for Centreville was on a hill,) into the red dust which formed the horizon toward the battlefield. This must have been near nine o’clock in the evening, at that season of the year about the time that the growing twilight takes the place of daylight. I had sent on the regimental ambulance, and rode back to the 3rd brigade, which lay with Tyler’s and Davis’s brigades, to the south and south-west of Centreville, in line of battle, waiting for the long expected attack of Beauregard.
It was a relief to see the quiet composure of these troops after having witnessed the confusion of the retreating mass surging towards Washington. After the darkness fell, these three brigades covered the retreat. Richardson’s last.
Col. Miles had been suspended by McDowell on account of drunkenness and inefficiency, Colonel Richardson having complained to McDowell that he had been constantly interfered with by Col. Miles, commanding the 5th division; that Miles was drunk and incapacitated for duty, and it was by his orders Richardson had been withdrawn from holding Blackburn’s ford.
It was here that Richardson lost his sword, and his wife’s horse and side-saddle. The sword he had left standing against a tree, and forgetting it there when he moved on. He borrowed mine, greatly to my relief. It was a heavy cavalry sabre which had been issued to me by the State—for ornamental purposes, I presume—and was a counterpart of the one lost by the Colonel. He applied for permission to send a flag of truce, hoping to have the horse and side-saddle returned, but was refused by General Tyler, very curtly. Richardson had known General Bee, and he told me he knew that if Bee was able to do so, he knew he would send them back. Poor Bee had hummed his last note, and was no longer a worker in the hive of the Confederacy. He had been killed in the hot work on the Sudley road, on the 21st.
The 3rd Michigan of our brigade, had about the same experience that the 2d had in this campaign; and to the 1st Michigan belong any laurels won by hard fighting. This regiment made four charges at the Henry house hill in the hottest of the battle, and lost 6 killed, 37 wounded, and 52 taken prisoner. Here it was that General Wilcox was severely wounded, and that Captain W. H. Withington was captured.
We believed that a stand would be made at Fairfax Court House, and no one in our division imagined we would go further back. As I rode into Fairfax Court House that night, a rather warm-looking individual in a rumpled linen duster, and with a straw hat well pushed back on his head, rushed down into the road, and seizing me by the hand, fervently exclaimed, “Thank God! Govenor, you are safe.” I said, I was, just as thankful as he appeared to be, and appreciated it quite as much as if I was a govenor, as it did not make much difference, so long as you were safe, what your rank was. It seemed he had mistaken me for Govenor Sprague of Rhode Island. I did feel flattered for the moment.
At this place I saw an anxious looking elderly man leaning over a gate, who asked me whether the army would make a stand here. His youngest son was in the house, mortally wounded; in the retreat a black horse cavalryman had ordered him to surrender and upon his refusing had shot him, the ball passing through the spine. The father had followed his son in to the tield. He was from Ohio. His name was McCook, and he was the father of those gallant sons, afterwards known as the “fighting McCooks.” His son died that night. McCook found out the name of the rebel cavalryman, who came from Warrenton, Virginia, and hunted for him in and about Washington and Alexandria for a long time; coming on his hot trail several times. By a strange coincidence, two or three of the McCook brothers were killed upon different anniversaries of this same day. I remember one, a general officer, was killed by guerillas, who took him out of an ambulance in Tennessee. And this old gentleman himself was shot by Gen’l Morgan’s men, in the raid through Ohio.
We did not halt at Fairfax Court House, but kept right on to the Long bridge at Washington, by way of Munson’s hill and Arlington. In this battle of Bull Run the Union army lost 481 killed, 1011 wounded, and 1460 missing. The Rebel loss was 269 killed, 1483 wounded, no missing mentioned.
It was in many respects a grand battle, and was well conceived and well fought on both sides. And there were as valorous deeds and as good work done on this open field by the raw toops, as were done in any battle of the war. The mistakes were chiefly tactical, and could hardly have been separated from the conditions which at that time existed; who knows what might have been the result had the battle been set 24 hours sooner, or before General Joe Johnston had added his 8,884 men and 22 guns, to Beauregard’s army. As it was, this army from the valley of the Shenandoah, which did most of the fighting on the Rebel side, and the arrival of its last brigade on the flank and rear of the Union lines decided the contest. Military critics are agreed that in many points. Bull Run, was a battle which the more it is studied the more it will redound to the military credit of both sides engaged in it. While the troops were not handled with the same firmness as Grant, Sherman, or Sheridan would have shown later, the material was there in as good quality as when its commanders of regiments and brigades, such as Richardson, Keyes, Sherman, Porter, Burnside, Hunter, Heintzleman, Ricketts, Franklin, Griffin, Wilcox and Howard, later rose to the command of Divisions, Corps and Armies.
This campaign occurred in what might be designated as the “romantic period” of the war. Who that was in field and camp in the summer of ’61, does not realize the truthfulness of this distinction as compared with the sledge-hammer work under that modern Charles Martel, General Grant, in’64 and’65?
We were all young then—and the imagination was more active, the ambitions were greater, the pleasures and disappointments keener. Every man carried a baton in his knapsack, and Hope, the enchantress, was clad in the most roseate hues. Who can look back after these long years, when all of us have drunk the cup of experience, and have in too many instances found it far different from the nectar of our youth, and not sympathize with the thrill and enthusiasm of those earlier days of the war ?
The soldier of ’61 was full of life and patriotism, his ardor undampened by the stern discipline and reverses of the war. The soldier of ’65 was inured to hardship and adversity, and hoped less, but fought and accomplished more. The period of romance had changed to a period of system and endurance. Individuality had given place to mechanical action, and what was lost in enthusiasm and animation, was made up in concert of action and confidence in method. The military machine ran more smoothly and with less friction, and inspired greater confidence. The history of these four years of war has its counterpart in our own lives. In our youth, we acted upon impulse regardless of consequences, now we think before we act: “then we saw through a glass darkly, but now we see face to face; then we knew in part, but now we know even as we are known.”
Life is easier at fifty than it was at twenty, but as a rule it is not more delightful; and so it was with the war. In ’61 it was pic-nic, and a theatre ; in ’64, and ’65 it was a business, and a circus.
The story of the Bull Run campaign which I can recall is no fable, nor is it the vain imaginings of a cavalryman, it is the veritable truth. That campaign had every adornment of high coloring, it was gotten up regardless of expense, and the music and scenic effects were magnificent. It needed the brilliant tinting of a Turner to paint it true to life, and the pen of a Mark Twain to record its vitality and expression. With its unhappy termination, went out forever the effervescence and impulsiveness of the service in the war. And with the disappearance of the baggy red breeches and the havalocks, and the pell-mell marching, came in the forty rounds in the cartridge box, the three days rations in the haversack, and the sharper lines of rout and battle.
My apologies for the scarcity of posts lately. I’m busy with a few things in addition to my real job and filing my tax return: writing the next installment of In Harm’s Way for Civil War Times (here’s a hint: it’s a western battlefield house, and the original structure no longer exists – my editor’s decision); and interviewing a very big name about the upcoming release of a new book, which will be an upcoming post here. I’ve also got a few posts I need to get written, including a look at several instances of the forming of squares at Bull Run, and thoughts on a Carol Reardon essay about what military “genius” meant to Civil War America. I’m continuing my reading on West Point for a potential program on the Classes of 1861 at Bull Run and think an article on Simon Cameron’s post Bull Run report on the academy would be appropriate. And of course I will continue to post primary data to the Bull Run Resources section. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.