I was recently going through some older posts, and was reminded of a series of posts from over 4 years ago by Dmitri Rotov over at Civil War Bookshelf. They explore the relationship between Irvin McDowell and William Franklin, and shed some light on the duo prior to First Bull Run (and beyond). Check them out – good stuff.
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Tags: Articles, Blogroll, Civil War Bookshelf, Digital History, Irvin McDowell, William B. Franklin
Categories : Articles, Civil War Blogroll, Civil War On the Web, Digital History, Soldiers
Sorry this has taken so long.
The good folks at the Central Ohio Civil War Round Table – they’re in the Columbus area – invited me out to speak to them on the topic of my choice this past March 12. They invited me, jeez, must have been at least 18 months ago. They get really good speakers out there so the schedule is set many months in advance. This is the second time I’ve spoken to the group. I really like being invited back to a group, as I rightly or wrongly interpret that to mean they like what I do. Regardless, I’m to the point now where I won’t speak to any group unless they say “Hey, you want to speak to our group?”
My wife actually accompanied me on this trip; she’s never seen me speak before, and only once did she even attend a class I taught – because our soon to be son was due any day and she hoped discomfort and boredom would help spur things along. So this was an unusual trip right from the start, and continued on the unusual path when we got a flat tire very near our hotel. I changed the tire and we made it over to the hotel where our host Mike Peters (the historian of the COCWRT and the talent-booker) was waiting to take us to dinner.
After a nice meal we headed over to the venue in Westerville – a cool room in an old building at Otterbein University where veterans held meetings post-war. I renewed a couple of old acquaintances and made some new ones, and finally got to meet Phil Spaugy, with whom I’ve been “friends” on Facebook for awhile, and his posse from Dayton. Check out Phil’s blog here.
I was told by Mike that I had about 30 to 45 minutes for my presentation. I went over by about half an hour, but only one of the 20 or so in attendance left before the end (he is a lawyer, and I heard a siren going off only minutes before he left – coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.)
The gist of the presentation in a nutshell – my opinion, which I hope I supported adequately:
McDowell’s plan for the First Bull Run campaign was not a quick, tactical flank attack meant to overwhelm his outnumbered opponent and defeat him in the field. It was a deliberate, strategic turning maneuver, meant to compel a superior opponent to abandon his carefully chosen position, allowing McDowell to cut his line of communications. It did not fail because of slow movement, a complex plan, or the arrival of last minute Confederate reinforcements. It failed because McDowell was unable to establish his own line across Bull Run and move on the rail line at Groveton, and was instead drawn into a series of frontal assaults against a larger force occupying a superior position.
Sacrilege, I know. Of course, I had more to say than these four sentences, and that’s the fun part. You can read a recap of my talk here. I can quibble with a few things, but I’m not sure if the misunderstanding was due to a failure on my part to be clear. For now let’s just say that not all the details jive with what I meant to say. I really like this bit, though:
[Harry Smeltzer] reacts to consensus like a bull to the matador’s cape. Charge! And he lays waste to conventional wisdom. He doesn’t trust accepted “facts” and easy generalizations about battles, strategies, troop movements, and other assumptions that have been passed down as gospel over generations.
Yep, that’s me. I’m a loner. A rebel.
Afterwards we took a chilly walk to a nearby college pub where a few of us quaffed ales and had a generally ribald time. The next day, Mike and I went on a little field trip to nearby Lancaster, OH, while the wife made some sales calls and got the flat fixed. But that’s another story…
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Tags: Articles, Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable, McDowell's Plan, Speaking
Categories : Articles, Speaking, The Battle
I’ve been hemming and hawing over one of the things I’ve been working on with regards to the “history” of the First Battle of Bull Run these past many months. “Working” is a relative term, and in this case it consists mostly of thinking. I’ve been firming up these thoughts, writing things down, pulling together sources, and most important bouncing them off a few people whose opinions I respect. So here’s the nutshell: I believe that the standard story of what Irvin McDowell was trying to do, and what he expected to confront, with regards to Beauregard’s force outside Manassas – which typically is covered within no more than a paragraph in most (maybe all) studies of the campaign written within the last, oh, say, 90 years – is not right. That is, it is not supported by the primary documents, and it is not supported by McDowell’s actions up to and including July 21st, 1861. Or, at least, there is an alternative interpretation.
Lots of factors play into this. As a wise man once said:
This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head. Luckily I’m adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind limber.
OK, except for the drug regimen it applies (mine is not really all that strict.) Thankfully a few of the assumptions of the accepted line of thought are refuted so thoroughly by the documentary evidence that there’s little room for argument (at least, in my mind.) This weekend I was very encouraged by a knowledgeable and respected military historian who implied, or at least from whom I inferred, that I’m not completely nuts. More on this as we get closer to the big reveal in Columbus come March.
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Tags: Articles, Irvin McDowell, McDowell's Plan
Categories : Articles, The Battle
My sister sent me your blog about my great-great-grandfather, Irvin. Family lore has it that he tried to dissuade Lincoln from fighting at Bull Run, believing it unwinnable. Lincoln allegedly believed that the soldiers needed a battle and offered to take responsibility for the likely loss. “Caesar can do no wrong” McDowell said (according to my grandmother, Madeleine McDowell Greene), and owned responsibility for the rout.
I was interested in your report of his Grandfather – was that Samuel? His portrait hangs in my library.
Thank you for your research, and comments.
Cynthia was referring to this article in which I commented on Michael Hardy’s recent biographical article on McDowell. I replied to Cynthia’s email, and received a response in which she detailed her relationship to McDowell. While she’s not aware of the existence of any of his papers at this point, hopefully we can flesh-out the General a bit in the future.
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Tags: Articles, Descendants, Irvin McDowell
Categories : Articles, Soldiers
McDOWELL’S ADVANCE TO BULL RUN
BY JAMES B. FRY, BREVET MAJOR-GENERAL, U. S. A. (AT BULL RUN, CAPTAIN AND ASSISTANT ADJUTANT-GENERAL ON McDOWELL’S STAFF).
As President Buchanan’s administration was drawing to a close, he was forced by the action of the South to decide whether the power of the general Government should be used to coerce into submission States that had attempted to secede from the Union. His opinion was that the contingency was not provided for, that while a State had no right to secede, the Constitution gave no authority to coerce, and that he had no right to do anything except hold the property and enforce the laws of the United States.
Before he went out of office the capital of the nation seemed to be in danger of seizure. For its protection, and in order to consult about holding Southern forts and arsenals, General Scott was in December called to Washington, from which he had been absent since the inauguration of Pierce, who had defeated him for the presidency. Jefferson Davis, Pierce’s Secretary of War, and General Scott had quarreled, and the genius of acrimony controlled the correspondence which took place between them. Notwithstanding the fact that on account of his age and infirmities he was soon overwhelmed by the rush of events, General Scott’s laurels had not withered at the outbreak of the war, and he brought to the emergency ability, experience, and prestige. A high light in the whole military world, he towered above the rest of our army at that time professionally as he did physically. As the effect of his unusual stature was increased by contrast with a short aide-de-camp (purposely chosen, it was suspected), so was his exalted character marked by one or two conspicuous but not very harmful foibles. With much learning, great military ability, a strict sense of justice, and a kind heart, he was vain and somewhat petulant. He loved the Union and hated Jefferson Davis.
By authority of President Buchanan, Scott assembled a small force of regulars in the capital, and for the first time in the history of the country the electoral count was made and a President was inaugurated under the protection of soldiery. But before the inauguration of Lincoln, March 4th, the secession movement had spread through the “cotton-belt” and delegates from the secession States had met as a congress at Montgomery, Alabama, February 4th. On the 8th they had organized the “Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America,” and on the 9th had elected Jefferson Davis President and Alexander H. Stephens Vice-President.
When the news of the firing upon Sumter reached Washington, President Lincoln prepared a proclamation, and issued it April 15th, convening Congress and calling forth 75,000 three-months militia to suppress combinations against the Government. The Federal situation was alarming. Sumter fell on the 13th of April, and was evacuated on the 14th. Virginia seceded on the 17th, and seized Harper’s Ferry on the 18th and the Norfolk Navy Yard on the 20th. On the 19th a mob in Baltimore assaulted the 6th Massachusetts volunteers as it passed through to Washington, and at once bridges were burned and railway communication was cut off between Washington and the North.
Lincoln had had no experience as a party leader or executive officer, and was without knowledge of military affairs or acquaintance with military men. Davis at the head of the Confederacy was an experienced and acknowledged Southern leader; he was a graduate of the Military Academy; had commanded a regiment in the Mexican war; had been Secretary of War under President Pierce, and had been chairman of the Military Committee in the United States Senate up to the time he left Congress to take part with the South. He was not only well versed in everything relating to war, but was thoroughly informed concerning the character and capacity of prominent and promising officers of the army. There was nothing experimental in his choice of high military commanders. With but few exceptions, those appointed at the beginning retained command until they lost their lives or the war closed.
The Southern States, all claiming to be independent republics after secession, with all their governmental machinery, including militia and volunteer organizations, in complete working order, transferred themselves as States from the Union to the Confederacy. The organization of a general government from such elements, with war as its immediate purpose, was a simple matter. Davis had only to accept and arrange, according to his ample information and well-matured judgment, the abundant and ambitious material at hand in the way that he thought would best secure his purposes. Lincoln had to adapt the machinery of a conservative old government, some of it unsuitable, some unsound, to sudden demands for which it was not designed. The talents of Simon Cameron, his first Secretary of War, were political, not military. He was a kind, gentle, placid man, gifted with powers to persuade, not to command. Shrewd and skilled in the management of business and personal matters, he had no knowledge of military affairs, and could not give the President much assistance in assembling and organizing for war the earnest and impatient, but unmilitary people of the North.
Officers from all departments of the Federal civil service hurried to the Confederacy and placed themselves at the disposal of Davis, and officers from all the corps of the regular army, most of them full of vigor, with the same education and experience as those who remained, went South and awaited assignment to the duties for which Davis might regard them as best qualified. All Confederate offices were vacant, and the Confederate President had large if not absolute power in filling them. On the other hand, the civil offices under Lincoln were occupied or controlled by party, and in the small regular army of the Union the law required that vacancies should as a rule be filled by seniority. There was no retired list for the disabled, and the army was weighed down by longevity; by venerated traditions; by prerogatives of service rendered in former wars; by the firmly tied red-tape of military bureauism, and by the deep-seated and well-founded fear of the auditors and comptrollers of the treasury. Nothing but time and experience—possibly nothing but disaster—could remove from the path of the Union President difficulties from which the Confederate President was, by the situation, quite free. In the beginning of the war, the military advantage was on the side of the Confederates, notwithstanding the greater resources of the North, which produced their effect only as the contest was prolonged.
After the firing of the first gun upon Sumter, the two sides were equally active in marshaling their forces on a line along the border States from the Atlantic coast of Virginia in the east to Kansas in the west. Many of the earlier collisions along this line were due rather to special causes or local feeling than to general military considerations. The prompt advance of the Union forces under McClellan to West Virginia was to protect that new-born free State. Patterson’s movement to Hagerstown and thence to Harper’s Ferry was to prevent Maryland from joining or aiding the rebellion, to re-open the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and prevent invasion from the Shenandoah Valley. The Southerners having left the Union and set up the Confederacy upon the principle of State rights, in violation of that principle invaded the State of Kentucky in opposition to her apparent purpose of armed neutrality. That made Kentucky a field of early hostilities and helped to anchor her to the Union. Missouri was rescued from secession through the energy of General F. P. Blair and her other Union men, and by the indomitable will of Captain Lyon of the regular army, whose great work was accomplished under many disadvantages. In illustration of the difficulty with which the new condition of affairs penetrated the case-hardened bureauism of long peace, it may be mentioned that the venerable adjutant-general of the army, when a crisis was at hand in Missouri, came from a consultation with the President and Secretary Cameron, and with a sorry expression of countenance and an ominous shake of the head exclaimed, “It’s bad, very bad; we’re giving that young man Lyon a great deal too much power in Missouri.”
Early in the contest another young Union officer came to the front. Major Irvin McDowell was appointed brigadier-general May 14th. He was forty-three years of age, of unexceptionable habits and great physical powers. His education, begun in France, was continued at the United States Military Academy, from which he was graduated in 1838. Always a close student, he was well informed outside as well as inside his profession. Distinguished in the Mexican war, intensely Union in his sentiments, full of energy and patriotism, outspoken in his opinions, highly esteemed by General Scott, on whose staff he had served, he at once secured the confidence of the President and the Secretary of War, under whose observation he was serving in Washington. Without political antecedents or acquaintances, he was chosen for advancement on account of his record, his ability, and his vigor.
Northern forces had hastened to Washington upon the call of President Lincoln, but prior to May 24th they had been held rigidly on the north side of the Potomac. On the night of May 23d-24th, the Confederate pickets being then in sight of the Capitol, three columns were thrown across the river by General J. K. F. Mansfield, then commanding the Department of Washington, and a line from Alexandria below to chain-bridge above Washington was intrenched under guidance of able engineers. On the 27th Brigadier General Irvin McDowell was placed in command south of the Potomac.(1)
By the 1st of June the Southern Government had been transferred from Montgomery to Richmond, and the capitals of the Union and of the Confederacy stood defiantly confronting each other. General Scott was in chief command of the Union forces, with McDowell south of the Potomac, confronted by his old classmate, Beauregard, hot from the capture of Fort Sumter.
General Patterson, of Pennsylvania, a veteran of the war of 1812 and the war with Mexico, was in command near Harper’s Ferry, opposed by General Joseph E. Johnston. The Confederate President, Davis, then in Richmond, with General R. E. Lee as military adviser, exercised in person general military control of the Southern forces. The enemy to be engaged by McDowell occupied what was called the “Alexandria line,” with headquarters at Manassas, the junction of the Orange and Alexandria with the Manassas Gap railroad. The stream known as Bull Run, some three miles in front of Manassas, was the line of defense. On Beauregard’s right, 30 miles away, at the mouth of Aquia Creek, there was a Confederate brigade of 3000 men and 6 guns under General Holmes. The approach to Richmond from the Lower Chesapeake, threatened by General B. F. Butler, was guarded by Confederates under Generals Huger and Magruder. On Beauregard’s left, sixty miles distant, in the Lower Shenandoah Valley and separated from him by the Blue Ridge Mountains, was the Confederate army of the Shenandoah under command of General Johnston. Beauregard’s authority did not extend over the forces of Johnston, Huger, Magruder, or Holmes, but Holmes was with him before the battle of Bull Run, and so was Johnston, who, as will appear more fully hereafter, joined at a decisive moment.
Early in June Patterson was pushing his column against Harper’s Ferry, and on the 3d of that month McDowell was called upon by General Scott to submit” an estimate of the number and composition of a column to be pushed toward Manassas Junction and perhaps the Gap, say in 4 or 5 days, to favor Patterson’s attack upon Harper’s Feny.” McDowell had then been in command at Arlington less than a week, his raw regiments south of the Potomac were not yet brigaded, and this was the first intimation he had of offensive operations. He reported, June 4th, that 12,000 infantry, 2 batteries, 6 or 8 companies of cavalry, and a reserve of 5000 ready to move from Alexandria would be required. Johnston, however, gave up Harper’s Ferry to Patterson, and the diversion by McDowell was not ordered. But the public demand for an advance became imperative—stimulated perhaps by the successful dash of fifty men of the 2d United States Cavalry, under Lieutenant C. H. Tompkins, through the enemy’s outposts at Fan-fax Court House on the night of June 1st, and by the unfortunate result of the movement of a regiment under General Schenck toward Vienna, June 9th, as well as by a disaster to some of General Butler’s troops on the 10th at Big Bethel, near Fort Monroe. On the 24th of June, in compliance with verbal instructions from General Scott, McDowell submitted a “plan of operations and the composition of the force required to carry it into effect.” He estimated the Confederate force at Manassas Junction and its dependencies at 25,000 men, assumed that his movements could not be kept secret and that the enemy would call up additional forces from all quarters, and added: ” If General J. E. Johnston’s force is kept engaged by Major-General Patterson, and Major-General Butler occupies the force now in his vicinity, I think they will not be able to bring up more than 10,000 men, so we may calculate upon having to do with about 35,000 men.” And as it turned out, that was about the number he “had to do with.” For the advance, McDowell asked “a force of 30,000 of all arms, with a reserve of 10,000.” He knew that Beauregard had batteries in position at several places in front of Bull Run and defensive works behind the Run and at Manassas Junction. The stream being fordable at many places, McDowell proposed in his plan of operations to turn the enemy’s position and force him out of it by seizing or threatening his communications. Nevertheless, he said in his report:
“Believing the chances are greatly in favor of the enemy’s accepting battle between this and the Junction and that the consequences of that battle will be of the greatest importance to the country, as establishing the prestige in this contest, on the one side or the other, —the more so as the two sections will be fairly represented by regiments from almost every State,—I think it of great consequence that, as for the most part our regiments are exceedingly raw and the best of them, with few exceptions, not over steady in line, they be organized into as many small fixed brigades as the number of regular colonels will admit, … so that the men may have as fair a chance as the nature of things and the comparative inexperience of most will allow.”
This remarkably sound report was approved, and McDowell was directed to carry his plan into effect July 8th. But the government machinery worked slowly and there was jealousy in the way, so that the troops to bring his army up to the strength agreed upon did not reach him until the 16th.
Beauregard’s Army of the Potomac at Manassas consisted of the brigades of Holmes, Bonham, Ewell, D. R. Jones, Longstreet, Cocke and Early, and of 3 regiments of infantry, 1 regiment and 3 battalions of cavalry, and 6 batteries of artillery, containing in all 27 guns, making an aggregate available force on the field of Bull Run of about 23,000 men. Johnston’s army from the Shenandoah consisted of the brigades of Jackson, Bee, Bartow, and Kirby Smith, 2 regiments of infantry not brigaded, 1 regiment of cavalry (12 companies), and 5 batteries (20 guns), making an aggregate at Bull Run of 8340.(2)
McDowell’s army consisted of 5 divisions, Tyler’s First Division, containing 4 brigades (Keyes’s, Schenck’s, W. T. Sherman’s, and Richardson’s); Hunter’s Second Division, containing 2 brigades (Andrew Porter’s and Burnside’s); Heintzelman’s Third Division, containing 3 brigades (Franklin’s, Willcox’s, and Howard’s); Runyon’s Fourth Division (9 regiments not brigaded); and Miles’s Fifth Division, containing 2 brigades (Blenker’s and Davies’s),—10 batteries of artillery, besides 2 guns attached to infantry regiments, 40 guns in all, and 7 companies of regular cavalry. Of the foregoing forces, 9 of the batteries and 8 companies of infantry were regulars, and 1 small battalion was marines. The aggregate force was about 35,000 men. Runyon’s Fourth Division was 6 or 7 miles in the rear guarding the road to Alexandria, and, though counted in the aggregate, was not embraced in McDowell’s order for battle.(3)
There was an ill-suppressed feeling of sympathy with the Confederacy in the Southern element of Washington society; but the halls of Congress resounded with the eloquence of Union speakers. Martial music filled the air, and war was the topic wherever men met. By day and night the tramp of soldiers was heard, and staff-officers and orderlies galloped through the streets between the headquarters of Generals Scott and McDowell. Northern enthusiasm was unbounded. “On to Richmond” was the war-cry. Public sentiment was irresistible, and in response to it the army advanced. It was a glorious spectacle. The various regiments were brilliantly uniformed according to the aesthetic taste of peace, and the silken banners they flung to the breeze were unsoiled and untorn. The bitter realities of war were nearer than we knew.
McDowell marched on the afternoon of July 16th, the men carrying three days’ rations in their haversacks; provision wagons were to follow from Alexandria the next day. On the morning of the 18th his forces were concentrated at Centreville, a point about 20 miles west of the Potomac and 6 or 7 miles east of Manassas Junction. Beauregard’s outposts fell back without resistance. Bull Run, flowing south-easterly, is about half-way between Centreville and Manassas Junction, and, owing to its abrupt banks, the timber with which it was fringed, and some artificial defenses at the fords, was a formidable obstacle. The stream was fordable, but all the crossings for eight miles, from Union Mills on the south to the Stone Bridge on the north, were defended by Beauregard’s forces. The Warrenton Turnpike, passing through Centreville, leads nearly due west, crossing Bull Run at the Stone Bridge. The direct road from Centreville to Manassas crosses Bull Run at Mitchell’s Ford, half a mile or so above another crossing known as Blackburn’s Ford. Union Mills was covered by Ewell’.s brigade, supported after the 18th by Holmes’s brigade; McLean’s Ford, next to the north, was covered by D. R. Jones’s brigade; Blackburn’s Ford was defended by Longstreet’s brigade, supported by Early’s brigade; Mitchell’s Ford was held by Bonham’s brigade, with an outpost of two guns and an infantry support east of Bull Run; the stream between Mitchell’s Ford and the Stone Bridge was covered by Cocke’s brigade; the Stone Bridge on the Confederate left was held by Evans with 1 regiment and Wheat’s special battalion of infantry, 1 battery of 4 guns, and 2 companies of cavalry.(4)
McDowell was compelled to wait at Centreville until his provision wagons arrived and he could issue rations. His orders having carried his leading division under Tyler no farther than Centreville, he wrote that officer at 8:15 A. M. on the 18th, “Observe well the roads to Bull Run and to Warrenton. Do not bring on an engagement, but keep up the impression that we arc moving on Manassas.” McDowell then went to the extreme left of his line to examine the country with reference to a sudden movement of the army to turn the enemy’s right flank. The reconnoissance showed him that the country was unfavorable to the movement, and he abandoned it. While he was gone to the left, Tyler, presumably to ” keep up the impression that we were moving on Manassas,” went forward from Centreville with a squadron of cavalry and two companies of infantry for the purpose of making a reconnoissance of Mitchell’s and Blackburn’s fords along the direct road to Manassas. The force of the enemy at these fords has just been given. Reaching the crest of the ridge overlooking the valley of Bull Run and a mile or so from the stream, the enemy was seen on the opposite bank, and Tyler brought up Benjamin’s artillery, 2 20-pounder rifled guns, Ayres’s field battery of 6 guns, and Richardson’s brigade of infantry. The 20-pounders opened from the ridge and a few shots were exchanged with the enemy’s batteries. Desiring more information than the long-range cannonade afforded, Tyler ordered Richardson’s brigade and a section of Ayres’s battery, supported by a squadron of cavalry, to move from the ridge across the open bottom of Bull Run and take position near the stream and have skirmishers ” scour the thick woods ” which skirted it. Two regiments of infantry, 2 pieces of artillery, and a squadron of cavalry moved down the slope into the woods and opened fire, driving Bonham’s outpost to the cover of intrenchments across the stream. The brigades of Bonham and Longstreet, the latter being reenforced for the occasion by Early’s brigade, responded at short range to the fire of the Federal reconnoitering force and drove it back in disorder. Tyler reported that having satisfied himself “that the enemy was in force,” and ascertained ” the position of his batteries,” he withdrew. J This unauthorized reconnoissance, called by the Federals the affair at Blackburn’s Ford, was regarded at the time by the Confederates as a serious attack, and was dignified by the name of the “battle of Bull Run,” the engagement of the 21st being called by them the battle of Manassas. The Confederates, feeling that they had repulsed a heavy and real attack, were encouraged by the result. The Federal troops, on the other hand, were greatly depressed. The regiment which suffered most was completely demoralized, and McDowell thought that the depression of the repulse was felt throughout his army and produced its effect upon the Pennsylvania regiment and the New York battery which insisted (their terms having expired) upon their discharge, and on the 21st, as he expressed it, “marched to the rear to the sound of the enemy’s cannon.” Even Tyler himself felt the depressing effect of his repulse, if we may judge by his cautious and feeble action on the 21st when dash was required. (5)
The operations of the 18th confirmed McDowell in his opinion that with his raw troops the Confederate position should be turned instead of attacked in front. Careful examination had satisfied him that the country did not favor a movement to turn the enemy’s right. On the night of the 18th the haversacks of his men were empty, and had to be replenished from the provision wagons, which were late in getting up. Nor had he yet determined upon his point or plan of attack. While resting and provisioning his men, he devoted the 19th and 20th to a careful examination by his engineers of the enemy’s position and the intervening country. His men, not soldiers, but civilians in uniform, unused to marching, hot, weary, and footsore, dropped down as they had halted and bivouacked on the roads about Centreville. Notwithstanding Beauregard’s elation over the affair at Blackburn’s ford on the 18th, he permitted the 19th and 20th to pass without a movement to follow up the advantage he had gained. During these two days, McDowell carefully examined the Confederate position, and made his plan to manoeuvre the enemy out of it. Beauregard ordered no aggressive movement until the 21st, and then, as appears from his own statement, through miscarriage of orders and lack of apprehension on the part of subordinates, the effort was a complete fiasco, with the comical result of frightening his own troops, who, late in the afternoon, mistook the return of one of their brigades for an attack by McDowell’s left, and the serious result of interfering with the pursuit after he had gained the battle of the 21st.
But Beauregard, though not aggressive on the 19th and 20th, was not idle within his own lines. The Confederate President had authorized Johnston, Beauregard’s senior, to use his discretion in moving to the support of Manassas, and Beauregard, urging Johnston to do so, sent railway transportation for the Shenandoah forces. But, as he states, “he at the same time submitted the alternative proposition to Johnston that, having passed the Blue Ridge, he should assemble his forces, press forward by way of Aldie, north-west of Manassas, and fall upon McDowell’s right rear,” while he, Beauregard, “prepared for the operation at the first sound of the conflict, should strenuously assume the offensive in front.” “The situation and circumstances specially favored the signal success of such an operation,” says Beauregard. An attack by two armies moving from opposite points upon an enemy, with the time of attack for one depending upon the sound of the other’s cannon, is hazardous even with well disciplined and well-seasoned troops, and is next to fatal with raw levies. Johnston chose the wiser course of moving by rail to Manassas, thus preserving the benefit of “interior lines,” which, Beauregard says, was the “sole military advantage at the moment that the Confederates possessed.”
The campaign which General Scott required McDowell to make was undertaken with the understanding that Johnston should be prevented from joining Beauregard. With no lack of confidence in himself, McDowell was dominated by the feeling of subordination and deference to General Scott which at that time pervaded the whole army, and General Scott, who controlled both McDowell and Patterson, assured McDowell that Johnston should not join Beauregard without having “Patterson on his heels.” Yet Johnston’s army, nearly nine thousand strong, joined Beauregard, Bee’s brigade and Johnston in person arriving on the morning of the 20th, the remainder about noon on the 21st. Although the enforced delay at Centreville enabled McDowell to provision his troops and gain information upon which to base an excellent plan of attack, it proved fatal by affording time for a junction of the opposing forces. On the 21st of July General Scott addressed a dispatch to McDowell, saying: “It is known that a strong reenforcement left Winchester on the afternoon of the 18th, which you will also have to beat. Four new regiments will leave to-day to be at Fairfax Station to-night. Others shall follow to-morrow — twice the number if necessary.” When this dispatch was penned, McDowell was fighting the “strong reenforcement” which left Winchester on the 18th. General Scott’s report that Beauregard had been reenforced, the information that four regiments had been sent to McDowell, and the promise that twice the number would be sent if necessary, all came too late — and Patterson came not at all.(6)
During the 19th and 20th the bivouacs of McDowell’s army at Centreville, almost within cannon range of the enemy, were thronged by visitors, official and unofficial, who came in carriages from Washington, bringing their own supplies. They were under no military restraint, and passed to and fro among the troops as they pleased, giving the scene the appearance of a monster military picnic.(7) Among others, the venerable Secretary of War, Cameron, called upon McDowell. Whether due to a naturally serious expression, to a sense of responsibility, to a premonition of the fate of his brother who fell upon the field on the 21st, or to other cause, his countenance showed apprehension of evil; but men generally were confident and jovial.
McDowell’s plan of battle promulgated on the 20th, was to turn the enemy’s left, force him from his defensive position, and, “if possible, destroy the railroad leading from Manassas to the Valley of Virginia, where the enemy has a large force.” He did not know when he issued this order that Johnston had joined Beauregard, though he suspected it. Miles’s Fifth Division, with Richardson’s brigade of Tyler’s division, and a strong force of artillery was to remain in reserve at Centreville, prepare defensive works there and threaten Blackburn’s Ford. Tyler’s First Division, which was on the turnpike in advance, was to move at 2:30 A. M., threaten the Stone Bridge and open fire upon it at daybreak. This demonstration was to be vigorous, its first purpose being to divert attention from the movements of the turning column. As soon as Tyler’s troops cleared the way, Hunter’s Second Division, followed by Heintzelman’s Third Division, was to move to a point on the Warren ton Turnpike about 1 or 2 miles east of Stone Bridge and there take a country road to the right, cross the Run at Sudley Springs, come down upon the flank and rear of the enemy at the Stone Bridge, and force him to open the way for Tyler’s division to cross there and attack, fresh and in full force.
Tyler’s start was so late and his advance was so slow as to hold Hunter and Heintzelman 2 or 3 hours on the mile or two of the turnpike between their camps and the point at which they were to turn off for the flank march. This delay, and the fact that the flank march proved difficult and some 12 miles instead of about 6 as was expected, were of serious moment. The flanking column did not cross at Sudley Springs until 9:30 instead of 7, the long march, with its many interruptions, tired out the men, and the delay gave the enemy time to discover the turning movement. Tyler’s operations against the Stone Bridge were feeble and ineffective. By 8 o’clock Evans was satisfied that he was in no danger in front, and perceived the movement to turn his position. He was on the left of the Confederate line, guarding the point where the Warrenton Turnpike, the great highway to the field, crossed Bull Run, the Confederate line of defense. He had no instructions to guide him in the emergency that had arisen. But he did not hesitate. Reporting his information and purpose to the adjoining commander, Cocke, and leaving 4 companies of infantry to deceive and hold Tyler at the bridge, Evans before 9 o’clock turned his back upon the point he was set to guard, marched a mile away, and, seizing the high ground to the north of Young’s Branch of Bull Run, formed line of battle at right angles to his former line, his left resting near the Sudley Springs road, by which Burnside with the head of the turning column was approaching, thus covering the Warrenton Turnpike and opposing a determined front to the Federal advance upon the Confederate left and rear.(8) In his rear to the south lay the valley of Young’s Branch, and rising from that was the higher ridge or plateau on which the Robinson house and the Henry house were situated, and on which the main action took place in the afternoon. Burnside, finding Evans across his path, promptly formed line of battle and attacked about 9:45 A. M. Hunter, the division commander, who was at the head of Burnside’s brigade directing the formation of the first skirmish line, was severely wounded and taken to the rear at the opening of the action. Evans not only repulsed but pursued the troops that made the attack upon him. Andrew Porter’s brigade of Hunter’s division followed Burnside closely and came to his support. In the mean time Bee had formed a Confederate line of battle with his and Bartow’s brigades of Johnston’s army on the Henry house plateau, a stronger position than the one held by Evans, and desired Evans to fall back to that line; but Evans, probably feeling bound to cover the Warrenton Turnpike and hold it against Tyler as well as against the flanking column, insisted that Bee should move across the valley to his support, which was done.
After Bee joined Evans, the preliminary battle continued to rage upon the ground chosen by the latter. The opposing forces were Burnside’s and Porter’s brigades, with one regiment of Heintzelman’s division on the Federal side, and Evans’s, Bee’s, and Bartow’s brigades on the Confederate side. The Confederates were dislodged and driven back to the Henry house plateau, where Bee had previously formed line and where what Beauregard called “the mingled remnants of Bee’s, Bartow’s, and Evans’s commands” were re-formed under cover of Stonewall Jackson’s brigade of Johnston’s army.
The time of this repulse, as proved by so accurate an authority as Stonewall Jackson, was before 11:30 A. M., and this is substantially confirmed by Beauregard’s official report made at the time. Sherman and Keyes had nothing to do with it. They did not begin to cross Bull Run until noon. Thus, after nearly two hours’ stubborn fighting with the forces of Johnston, which General Scott had promised should be kept away, McDowell won the first advantage; but Johnston had cost him dearly.
During all this time Johnston and Beauregard had been waiting near Mitchell’s Ford for the development of the attack they had ordered by their light upon McDowell at Centreville. The gravity of the situation upon their left had not yet dawned upon them. What might the result have been if the Union column had not been detained by Tyler’s delay in moving out in the early morning, or if Johnston’s army, to which Bee, Bartow, and Jackson belonged, had not arrived?
But the heavy firing on the left soon diverted Johnston and Beauregard from all thought of an offensive movement with their right, and decided them, as Beauregard has said, “to hurry up all available reinforcements, including the reserves that were to have moved upon Centreville, to our left, and fight the battle out in that quarter.” Thereupon Beauregard ordered “Ewell, Jones, and Longstreet to make a strong demonstration all along their front on the other side of Bull Run, and ordered the reserves, Holmes’s brigade with six guns, and Early’s brigade, to move swiftly to the left,” and he and Johnston set out at full speed for the point of conflict, which they reached while Bee was attempting to rally his men about Jackson’s brigade on the Henry house plateau. McDowell had waited in the morning at the point on the Warrenton Turnpike where his flanking column turned to the right, until the troops, except Howard’s brigade, which he halted at that point, had passed. He gazed silently and with evident pride upon the gay regiments as they filed briskly but quietly past in the freshness of the early morning, and then, remarking to his staff, “Gentlemen, that is a big force,” he mounted and moved forward to the field by way of Sudley Springs. He reached the scene of actual conflict somewhat earlier than Johnston and Beauregard did, and, seeing the enemy driven across the valley of Young’s Branch and behind the Warrenton Turnpike, at once sent a swift aide-de-camp to Tyler with orders to “press the attack” at the Stone Bridge. Tyler acknowledged that he received this order by 11 o’clock. It was Tyler’s division upon which McDowell relied for the decisive fighting of the day. He knew that the march of the turning column would be fatiguing, and when by a sturdy fight it had cleared the Warrenton Turnpike for the advance of Tyler’s division, it had, in fact, done more than its fair proportion of the work. But Tyler did not attempt to force the passage of the Stone Bridge, which, after about 8 o’clock, was defended by only four companies of infantry, though he admitted that by the plan of battle, when Hunter and Heintzelman had attacked the enemy in the vicinity of the Stone Bridge, “he was to force the passage of Bull Run at that point and attack the enemy in flank.”(9) Soon after McDowell’s arrival at the front, Burnside rode up to him and said that his brigade had borne the brunt of the battle, that it was out of ammunition, and that he wanted permission to withdraw, refit and fill cartridge-boxes. McDowell in the excitement of the occasion gave reluctant consent, and the brigade, which certainly had done nobly, marched to the rear, stacked arms, and took no further part in the fight. Having sent the order to Tyler to press his attack and orders to the rear of the turning column to hurry forward, McDowell, like Beauregard, rushed in person into the conflict, and by the force of circumstances became for the time the commander of the turning column and the force actually engaged, rather than the commander of his whole army. With the exception of sending his adjutant-general to find and hurry Tyler forward, his subsequent orders were mainly or wholly to the troops under his own observation. Unlike Beauregard, he had no Johnston in rear with full authority and knowledge of the situation to throw forward reserves and reinforcements. It was not until 12 o’clock that Sherman received orders from Tyler to cross the stream, which he did at a ford above the Stone Bridge, going to the assistance of Hunter. Sherman reported to McDowell on the field and joined in the pursuit of Bee’s forces across the valley of Young’s Branch. Keyes’s brigade, accompanied by Tyler in person, followed across the stream where Sherman forded, but without uniting with the other forces on the field, made a feeble advance upon the slope of the plateau toward the Robinson house, and then about 2 o’clock filed off by flank to its left and, sheltered by the east front of the bluff that forms the plateau, marched down Young’s Branch out of sight of the enemy and took no further part in the engagement. McDowell did not know where it was, nor did he then know that Schenck’s brigade of Tyler’s division did not cross the Run at all.
The line taken up by Stonewall Jackson upon which Bee, Bartow, and Evans rallied on the southern part of the plateau was a very strong one. The ground was high and afforded the cover of a curvilinear wood with the concave side toward the Federal line of attack. According to Beauregard’s official report made at the time, he had upon this part of the field, at the beginning, 6500 infantry, 13 pieces of artillery, and 2 companies of cavalry, and this line was continuously reenforced from Beauregard’s own reserves and by the arrival of the troops from the Shenandoah Valley.
To carry this formidable position, McDowell had at hand the brigades of Franklin, Willcox, Sherman, and Porter, Palmer’s battalion of regular cavalry, and Ricketts’s and Giiffin’s regular batteries. Porter’s brigade had been reduced and shaken by the morning fight. Howard’s brigade was in reserve and only came into action late in the afternoon. The men, unused to field service, and not yet over the hot and dusty march from the Potomac, had been under arms since midnight. The plateau, however, was promptly assaulted, the northern part of it was earned, the batteries of Ricketts and Griffin were planted near the Henry house, and McDowell clambered to the upper story of that structure to get a glance at the whole field. Upon the Henry house plateau, of which the Confederates held the southern and the Federals the northern part, the tide of battle ebbed and flowed as McDowell pushed in Franklin’s, Willcox’s, Sherman’s, Porter’s, and at last Howard’s brigades, and as Beauregard put into action reserves which Johnston sent from the right and reinforcements which he hurried forward from the Shenandoah Valley as they arrived by cars. On the plateau, Beauregard says, the disadvantage of his “smooth-bore guns was reduced by the shortness of range.” The short range was due to the Federal advance, and the several struggles for the plateau were at close quarters and gallant on both sides. The batteries of Ricketts and Griffin, by their fine discipline, wonderful daring, and matchless skill, were the prime features in the fight. The battle was not lost till they were lost. When in their advanced and perilous position, and just after their infantry supports had been driven over the slopes, a fatal mistake occurred. A regiment of infantry came out of the woods on Griffin’s right, and as he was in the act of opening upon it with canister, he was deterred by the assurance of Major Barry, the chief of artillery, that it “was a regiment sent by Colonel Heintzelman to support the battery.”(10) A moment more and the doubtful regiment proved its identity by a deadly volley, and, as Griffin states in his official report, “every cannoneer was cut down and a large number of horses killed, leaving the battery (which was without support excepting in name) perfectly helpless.” The effect upon Ricketts was equally fatal. He, desperately wounded, and Ramsay, his lieutenant, killed, lay in the wreck of the battery. Beauregard speaks of his last advance on the plateau as “leaving in our final possession the Robinson and Henry houses, with most of Ricketts’s and Griffin’s batteries, the men of which were mostly shot down where they bravely stood by their guns.” Having become separated from McDowell, I fell in with Barnard, his chief engineer, and while together we observed the New York Fire Zouaves, who had been supporting Griffin’s battery, fleeing to the rear in their gaudy uniforms, in utter confusion. Thereupon I rode back to where I knew Burnside’s brigade was at rest, and stated to Burnside the condition of affairs, with the suggestion that he form and move his brigade to the front. Returning, I again met Barnard, and as the battle seemed to him and me to be going against us, and not knowing where McDowell was, with the concurrence of Barnard, as stated in his official report, I immediately sent a note to Miles, telling him to move two brigades of his reserve up to the Stone Bridge and telegraph to Washington to send forward all the troops that could be spared.
After the arrival of Howard’s brigade, McDowell for the last time pressed up the slope to the plateau, forced back the Confederate line, and regained possession of the Henry and Robinson houses and of the lost batteries. But there were no longer cannoneers to man or horses to move these guns that had done so much. By the arrival upon this part of the field of his own reserves and Kirby Smith’s brigade of Johnston’s army about half-past 3, Beauregard extended his left to outflank McDowell’s shattered, shortened, and disconnected line, and the Federals left the field about half-past 4. Until then they had fought wonderfully well for raw troops. There were no fresh forces on the field to support or encourage them, and the men seemed to be seized simultaneously by the conviction that it was no use to do anything more and they might as well start home. Cohesion was lost, the organizations with some exceptions being disintegrated, and the men quietly walked off. There was no special excitement except that arising from the frantic efforts of officers to stop men who paid little or no attention to anything that was said. On the high ground by the Matthews house, about where Evans had taken position in the morning to check Burnside, McDowell and his staff, aided by other officers, made a desperate but futile effort to arrest the masses and form them into line. There, I went to Arnold’s battery as it came by, and advised that he unlimber and make a stand as a rallying-point, which he did, saying he was in fair condition and ready to fight as long as there was any fighting to be done. But all efforts failed. The stragglers moved past the guns, in spite of all that could be done, and, as stated in his report, Arnold at my direction joined Sykes’s battalion of infantry of Porter’s brigade and Palmer’s battalion of cavalry, all of the regular army, to cover the rear, as the men trooped back in great disorder across Bull Run. There were some hours of daylight for the Confederates to gather the fruits of victory, but a few rounds of shell and canister checked all the pursuit that was attempted, and the occasion called for no sacrifices or valorous deeds by the stanch regulars of the rear-guard. There was no panic, in the ordinary meaning of the word, until the retiring soldiers, guns, wagons, congressmen, and carriages were fired upon, on the road east of Bull Run. Then the panic began, and the bridge over Cub Run being rendered impassable for vehicles by a wagon that was upset upon it, utter confusion set in: pleasure-carriages, gun-carriages, and ammunition wagons which could not bo put across the Run were abandoned and blocked the way, and stragglers broke and threw aside their muskets and cut horses from then- harness and rode off upon them. In leaving the field the men took the same routes, in a general way, by which they had reached it. Hence when the men of Hunter’s and Heintzelman’s divisions got back to Centreville, they had walked about 25 miles. That night they walked back to the Potomac, an additional distance of 20 miles; so that these undisciplined and unseasoned men within 36 hours walked fully 45 miles, besides fighting from about 10 A. M. until 4 p. M. on a hot and dusty day in July. McDowell in person reached Centreville before sunset,(11) and found there Miles’s division with Richardson’s brigade and 3 regiments of Runyon’s division, and Hunt’s, Tidball’s, Ayres’s, and Greene’s batteries and 1 or 2 fragments of batteries, making about 20 guns. It was a formidable force, but there was a lack of food and the mass of the army was completely demoralized. Beauregard had about an equal force which had not been in the fight, consisting of Ewell’s, Jones’s, and Longstreet’s brigades and some troops of other brigades. McDowell consulted the division and brigade commanders who were at hand upon the question of making a stand or retreating. The verdict was in favor of the latter, but a decision of officers one way or the other was of no moment; the men had already decided for themselves and were streaming away to the rear, in spite of all that could be done. They had no interest or treasure in Centreville, and their hearts were not there. Their tents, provisions, baggage, and letters from home were upon the banks of the Potomac, and no power could have stopped them short of the camps they had left less than a week before. As before stated, most of them were sovereigns in uniform, not soldiers. McDowell accepted the situation, detailed Richardson’s and Blenker’s brigades to cover the retreat, and the army, a disorganized mass, with some creditable exceptions, drifted as the men pleased away from the scene of action. There was no pursuit, and the march from Centreville was as barren of opportunities for the rear-guard as the withdrawal from the field of battle had been.(12) When McDowell reached Fairfax Court House in the night, he was in communication with Washington and exchanged telegrams with General Scott, in one of which the old hero said, ” We are not discouraged”; but that dispatch did not lighten the gloom in which it was received. McDowell was so tired that while sitting on the ground writing a dispatch he fell asleep, pencil in hand, in the middle of a sentence. His adjutant-general aroused him ; the dispatch was finished, and the weary ride to the Potomac resumed. When the unfortunate commander dismounted at Arlington next forenoon in a soaking rain, after 32 hours in the saddle, his disastrous campaign of 6 days was closed.
The first martial effervescence of the country was over. The three months men went home, and the three-months chapter of the war ended — with the South triumphant and confident; the North disappointed but determined.
(1) The aspect of affairs was so threatening after President Lincoln’s call of April 15th for 75,000 three-months militia, and General Scott was so averse to undertaking any active operations with such short-term troops, that, as early as May 3d, and without waiting for the meeting of Congress, the President entered upon the creation of an additional volunteer army to be composed of 42,034 three-years men, together with an increase of 22,714 regulars and 18,000 seamen.— J. B. F.
(2) Beauregard himself has said that on the 18th of July he had along the line of Bull Run about 17,000 men; that on the 19th General Holmes joined him with about 3000 men; and that “received from Richmond between the 18th and 21st about 2000 more”; and that Johnston brought about 8000 more, the advance arriving “on the morning of the 20th and the remainder about noon of the 21st,” making his whole force, as he states it, “nearly 3000 men of all arms.” The figures are probably under the mark, as Hampton’s Legion, McRea’s regiment, a North Carolina “regiment and two battalions of Mississippi and Alabama” joined between the 17th and 21st. Beauregard’s force may fairly be placed at 32,000; and the opposing armies, both in the aggregate and in the parts engaged, were nearer equal in that than in any other battle in Virginia.— J. B. F.
(3) The average length of service of McDowell’s men prior to the battle was about sixty days. The longest in service were the three-months men, and of these he had fourteen regiments.— J. B. F.
(4) The state of General Beauregard’s mind at the time is indicated by the following telegram on the 17th of July from him to Jefferson Davis: “The enemy has assaulted my outposts in heavy force. I have fallen back on the line of Bull Run and will make a stand at Mitchell’s Ford. If his force is overwhelming, I shall retire to Rappahannock railroad bridge, saving my command for defense there and future operations. Please inform Johnston of this via Staunton, and also Holmes. Send forward any reinforcements at the earliest possible instant and by every possible means.” The alarm in this dispatch and the apprehension it shows of McDowell’s “overwhelming” strength are not in harmony with the more recent assurance of the Confederate commander, that through sources in Washington treasonable to the Union, and in other ways, he “was almost as well informed of the strength of the hostile army in my [his] front as its commander.”—J. B. F.
(5) The casualties in the affair were: Union, 1 officer and 18 enlisted men killed ; 1 officer and 37 enlisted men wounded ; 26 enlisted men missing,— aggregate, 83. Confederate (Beauregard in his official report of 1861), “15 killed and 53 wounded men, several of whom have since died.”— J. B. F.
(6) On the 17th of July Patterson, with some 16,000 three-months men, whose terms began to expire on the ii4th, was at Charlestown, and Johnston, with about the same number, was at Winchester. On that day General Scott telegraphed Patterson, “McDowell’s first day’s work has driven the enemy behind Fairfax Court House. Do not let the enemy amuse and delay you with a small force in front while he reenforces the Junction with his main body.” To this Patterson replied at half past 1 o’clock in the morning of the 18th, stating his difficulties and asking, “Shall I attack?” General Scott answered on the same day: “I have certainly been expecting you to beat the enemy,” or that you “at least had occupied him by threats and demonstrations. You have been at least his equal and I suppose superior in numbers. Has he not stolen a march and sent reinforcements toward Manassas Junction?” Patterson replied on the same day (18th), “The enemy has stolen no march upon me. I have caused him to be reenforced”; and at 1 o’clock P.M. on that day he added : “I have succeeded, in accordance with the wishes of the General-in-Chief, in keeping General Johnston’s force at Winchester.” At the very hour that Patterson was writing this dispatch Johnston’s advance was leaving Winchester. On the 18th Johnston telegraphed to Richmond that Patterson was at Charlestown, and said: “Unless he prevents it, we shall move toward General Beauregard to-day.” He moved accordingly, and the Confederate armies were united for battle. It rested, however, with higher authority than Patterson to establish between his army and McDowell’s the relations that the occasion called for. In considering the requirements for McDowell’s movement against Manassas, General Scott gave great weight to the general and irresistible fear then prevailing in Washington that the capital might be seized by a dash. Its direct defense was the first purpose of the three months militia. The Potomac at Washington was itself a strong barrier, and with the field-works on its south bank afforded security in that quarter. The danger was thought to be from the Shenandoah, and that induced the Government to keep Patterson in the valley. Indeed, on the 30th of June Colonel C. P. Stone’s command was ordered from Point of Rocks to Patterson at Martinsburg, where it arrived on the 8th of July; whereas the offensive campaign against Manassas, ordered soon after, required Patterson to go to Stone, as he proposed to do June 21st, instead of Stone to Patterson. The campaign of McDowell was forced upon General Scott by public opinion, but did not relieve the authorities from the fear that Johnston might rush down and seize Washington. General Scott, under the pressure of the offensive in one quarter and the defensive in another, imposed upon Patterson the double task, difficult if not impossible, of preventing Johnston from moving on the capital and from joining Beauregard. If that task was possible, it could have been accomplished only by persistent fighting, and that General Scott was unwilling to order; though in his dispatch of the 18th in reply to Patterson’s question, “Shall I attack?” he said, “I have certainly been expecting you to beat the enemy.” Prior to that, his instructions to Patterson had enjoined caution. As soon as McDowell advanced, Patterson was upon an exterior line and in a false military position. Admitting that he might have done more to detain Johnston, bad strategy was probably more to blame for the result than any action or lack of action on Patterson’s part.— J. B. F.
(7) The presence of senators, congressmen, and other civilians upon the field on the 21st gave rise to extravagant and absurd stories, in which alleged forethought and valor among them are contrasted with a lack of these qualities in the troops. The plain truth is that the non-combatants and their vehicles merely increased the confusion and demoralization of the retreat.—J. B. F.
(8) Evans’s action was probably one of the best pieces of soldiership on either side during the campaign, but it seems to have received no special commendation from his superiors.—J. B. F.
(9) After the affair at Blackburn’s Ford on the 18th and Tyler’s action in the battle of the 21st, a bitterness between Tyler and McDowell grew up which lasted till they died. As late as 1884, McDowell, writing to me of Tyler’s criticism of him after the war, said, “How I have been punished for my leniency to that man! If there is anything clearer to me than anything else with reference to our operations in that campaign, it is that if we had had another commander for our right we should have had a complete and brilliant success.”—J. B. F.
(10) Griffin himself told rao so as we rode together after leaving Centreville. He and I were classmates and warm friends.— J. B. F.
(11) I left the field with General Franklin. His brigade had dissolved. We moved first northerly, crossed Bull Run below the Sudley Spring Ford, and then bore south and east. Learning by inquiries of the men I passed that McDowell was ahead of me, I leftFranklin and hurried on to Centreville, where I found McDowell, just after sunset, rearranging the positions of his reserves.—J. B. F.
(12) The revised losses are as follows: Federal, 16 officers and 444 enlisted men killed; 78 officers and 1046 enlisted men wounded; 50 officers and 1262 enlisted men missing; 25 pieces of artillery and a large quantity of small arms. Confederate, 25 officers and 362 enlisted men killed; 63 officers and 1519 enlisted men wounded; 1 officer and 12 enlisted men missing.—J. B. F.
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Tags: Battles and Leaders, James Fry, Memoirs, Resources
Categories : Reminiscences, Resources, The Battle
The January 2010 issue of America’s Civil War magazine features an article by author and fellow blogger Michael Hardy, Irvin McDowell: The Most Unpopular Man in America. Let me start by saying that Mr. Hardy is a fine writer, and this article is a good read. Not a lot gets written about McDowell (see here), and anything that starts a discussion of the man is a good thing. However, since some of the opinions or characterizations in the article are generally at odds with my own as stated here on several occasions, I think I’m obliged to address them. I’ll add that I’m at odds with just about everybody over these issues, not just Mr. Hardy.
I: McDowell’s Rank
Mr. Hardy writes that McDowell’s promotion to brigadier general displeased Winfield Scott; that Scott would have preferred the promotion went to Joseph Mansfield, and that Mansfield held a rank superior to McDowell. All-in-all, these facts are true, but their juxtaposition implies that Scott’s objection was born strictly of preference. As I pointed out here, rank and seniority weren’t the most important things in the antebellum army – they were the only things. As a 1st lieutenant and brevet major who never had a field command, McDowell was very low on the army’s totem pole. Mansfield, for example, had been a full colonel since 1853. I think Scott’s problems with McDowell’s elevation make a little more sense in light of this fact.
II: McDowell’s Connections
Mr. Hardy also writes that in the early days of the Lincoln administration, McDowell “quickly impressed Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, a fellow Ohioan.” As I discussed here, I’m not sure that this “impression” was as serendipitous as is generally assumed. McDowell’s grandfather was a politico in Kentucky, his father had been mayor of Columbus, and McDowell himself had attended the U. S. Military Academy, indicating some political influence or connection. As Mr. Hardy points out, McDowell was also a cousin by marriage of Ohio Governor William Dennison. Later, McDowell would take an active role in preparations for the marriage of Chase’s daughter Kate to Rhode Island Governor William Sprague, and later still Ohioan James Garfield would name a son after McDowell. I think pre-war political connections and the role they may have played in McDowell’s meteoric rise in 1861 need to be examined more closely.
III: McDowell’s Plan
This is the big one. Mr. Hardy, like most every other person who has written about First Bull Run before him, casts McDowell in the passive role of a man whose plans were undone by circumstances beyond his control:
But the key to McDowell’s plan was out of his hands. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston had 11,000 men in the Shenandoah Valley. Union Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson and his 15,000 man army stationed near Harpers Ferry would have to prevent Johnston from reinforcing the Confederates at Manassas. A Federal victory depended on Patterson’s success in the Valley.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that this summary of McDowell’s plan is one with which I disagree vehemently. The reason for its amazing staying power in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary can be found in the various testimonies before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War and in the Committee’s report (find it all here). “What?”, you ask, “Are you saying Johnston’s arrival did not spell defeat for the Federal forces?” No, what I’m saying is that McDowell’s plan, while assuming Patterson’s success, did not depend on it; because, as I explained here, the plan also assumed that all available CSA forces would be forwarded to the Bull Run line, bringing the force there to 35,000 troops. That’s maybe a little more than McDowell actually wound up facing, including Johnston. (In addition, after reading McDowell’s plan you’ll see that it neither anticipated nor depended on celerity as attendant to success.)
These issues aside, I think the article is good and raises some interesting points. Check it out.
Photo from this site.
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Tags: Articles, Civil War Magazines, Irvin McDowell
Categories : Articles, Civil War Magazines, Soldiers
Irvin McDowell gets his own day! Check it out.
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Tags: Articles, Irvin McDowell
Categories : Articles, News
Testimony of Gen. Irvin McDowell
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 41-47
WASHINGTON, January 23, 1862.
General IRVIN McDOWELL recalled and examined.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. There are one or two points in relation to the battle of Bull Run upon which the committee desire you to make some further explanation. You state in your official report, under date of August 4, 1861, that there was delay in the first division in getting on the road on the morning of the battle, and that this was a great misfortune. Will you please state more fully in relation to that delay?
Answer. In my general order, No. 22, of July 20, 1861, providing for the movement of the several divisions to attack the enemy, it was arranged that General Tyler’s division should move at half past two a. m., precisely, on the Warrenton turnpike to threaten the possession of the bridge. General Tyler’s division consisted of four brigades, three only of which moved at this time, as directed in the order referred to. Schenck’s and Sherman’s brigades were one mile from Centreville on the road from Centreville to the Stone Bridge—on the right and left of the road; Keyes’s brigade was about a half a mile to the east of Centreville, on the right of the same road going west; the second division—Hunter’s—was about two miles from Centreville, and to the east of it. This division was ordered to move at two o’clock a. m. precisely. Heintzelman’s division was two miles distant from Centreville, and east of it, on what is called the old Braddock road. This division was to move at half past two a. m. precisely. Heintzelman’s division consisted of the brigades of Wilcox, Franklin, and Howard. Hunter’s division consisted of the brigades of Burnside and General Andrew Porter. All these divisions had the road in common, from the encampment of Sherman’s and Schenck’s brigades to the point where the road to Sudley’s Springs turned off to to the right—at a blacksmith’s shop—a little over a mile. Tyler was to move at half past two a. m., and Hunter was to move half an hour earlier, so that he might close up on Tyler’s division. Heintzelman was to move at half past two a. m., so as to fall in the rear of Hunter’s division. Tyler was expected to get over the ground, between the encampment of his advanced brigade and where the road turned off to the right at the blacksmith shop, in time to offer no obstructions to the road, which was to be used in common by all the divisions. I was sick during the night and morning, and did not leave my headquarters—a little over a mile, perhaps a mile and a quarter, east of Centreville—until I thought all the divisions were fully in motion, so as to give myself as much rest as possible. When I had got beyond Centreville about a mile, I passed the troops lying down and sitting down on the wayside. Upon asking why they did not move forward, the reply came to me that the road was blocked up. I saw some men coming from the left of the road through a cornfield into the road. When I asked to what regiment they belonged, they said the 2d New York, which formed a part of Schenck’s brigade. I went forward, urging the troops to move on, until I got to the blacksmith’s shop, where the road turned off to Sudley’s Springs. I was making every effort, personally and by my aides, to have the road cleared, in order that Hunter’s and Heintzelman’s divisions might take up their march to the right by way of Sudley’s Springs, to carry out the plan of battle.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. Whose division blocked up the road?
Answer. The first division, General Tyler’s division. Major, now General, Barnard, who was the chief of engineers on my staff, in his report to me, dated July 29, 1861, says as follows: “You are aware of the unexpected delay. The two leading brigades of Tyler’s did not clear the road for Hunter to this point (blacksmith shop, where the road turned to the right) until half past five.” That was three hours after the time fixed to start.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. What was the distance from the encampment of Tyler’s leading brigades to the blacksmith shop?
Answer. About a mile. I directed one of my staff to notice when General Tyler commenced firing. It was six o’clock. Colonel, now General Heintzelman, in his report to me of July 31, states as follows:
“At Centreville we found the road filled with the troops, and were detained three hours to allow the divisions of Generals Tyler and Hunter, to pass. I followed them with my division immediately in rear of the latter.”
I will mention that General Tyler in moving forward as the troops were then moving forward—some 18,000 men—was so supported that it was felt that he might move with confidence and promptness upon the road. I have been thus particular in making this explanation because General Tyler has written me a letter, complaining that my report does him injustice, and asking me to set him right in reference to this matter of delay. Under the circumstances I did not feel that I could make any change. He also stated that he received no orders from me during the day.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. I notice in your report that you state that you sent an aide-de-camp to General Tyler to direct him to press forward his attack, as large bodies of the enemy were passing in front of him to attack the division which had crossed over. Will you state what this order was, and by whom it was sent?
Answer. I sent an order to General Tyler to press forward the attack from a point near where this road that turns off at the blacksmith shop crosses Bull Run, near Sudley’s Springs. I sent Lieutenant Kingsbury, my aide-de-camp, to General Tyler to press forward his attack, because I saw columns of dust, indicating large bodies of troops, moving up in front of General Tyler’s division, and as but a small part of Hunter’s division had, at that time, crossed Bull Run, I was afraid he would be crushed before we could get a sufficient body of troops forward to support him. Lieutenant Kingsbury reported to me that he had gone to General Tyler, and found General Tyler, with his aide-de-camp, near a tree, in the branches of which he had some men observing the troops of the enemy coming up on the opposite side. Lieutenant Kingsbury reported to me that he had told General Tyler it was my order he should press forward his attack, and General Tyler replied, “What does he mean? Does he mean that I shall cross the stream?” Lieutenant Kingsbury said : “I give you the message exactly as it was given to me;” to which General Tyler returned answer, “I have a great mind to send some” regiment, or brigade, or something, “across the stream ” Lieutenant Kingsbury made me a written report of this, which ,I mislaid. And while I was waiting at the blacksmith shop to see which direction the battle was to take I also sent an order to General Tyler by my then aide-de-camp, Major Wadsworth, now General Wadsworth.
By Mr. Gooch :
Question. When was Keyes’s brigade ordered to move?
Answer. General Tyler states, in his report, that it was ordered to move at two o’clock in the morning. I did not give any orders to General Keyes, but to Tyler. General Tyler was ordered to move at 2 1/2 a. m. He must have given the order to bring up his rear brigade at two o’clock. General Keyes says: “In compliance with the orders of Brigadier General Tyler, I have the honor to report my operations, leaving my camp at Centreville at two o’clock a. m.”
Question. You were aware, when you gave the order to General Tyler, that Keyes’s brigade was encamped at Centreville?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. Was there anything between Keyes’s brigade and the remainder of General Tyler’s division?
Question. Was there anything to prevent Keyes’s brigade from moving up and joining the rest of the division?
Answer. There ought to have been nothing. There was, because I believe Hunter’s division got into the road before him.
Question. Then if he was interrupted or obstructed in moving up and joining the remainder of Tyler’s division, whose fault was it?
Answer. It must either have been his fault in getting off so late, if he was ordered to move at 2 o’clock by General Tyler, or the fault of some of Hunter’s division in going too soon.
Question. The intention was that the whole of General Tyler’s division should move from the point where Sherman and Schenck were encamped, and on the Warrenton turnpike, at 2 1/2 o’clock?
Answer. Yes, sir. This brigade of Keyes’s had, in consequence of previous movements, become dislocated from the other two, but that, practically, had no effect upon the march of Sunday morning. What I wished to do was to post this force of Tyler’s at or near the Stone Bridge, and under the cover of his force make this flank movement to the right.
Question. Can you state whether or not Schenck’s and Sherman’s brigades had moved forward past the point where the road turns off at the blacksmith shop in time to give the road to the other divisions as they came up ?
Answer. They had not; that is just the point.
Question. Then the other divisions of the army were held back, not only by Keyes’s brigade, but by the other brigades of Tyler’s division?
Answer. Keyes did not hold them back; he went into the field and they came up.
Question. Then they were held back by Schenck’s and Sherman’s brigades?
Answer. Yes, sir; by the slow movement of that part of the force.
Question. It has been said that General Tyler ordered Keyes’s brigade up to join him prior to the day of the battle, and that order was countermanded by you, and the brigade remained back where it was.
Answer. That may have been, but it is a matter of no sort of consequence whatever. I do not know whether that was so or not. But it was of no consequence, because General Tyler and the whole of his forces were ahead; the others were behind.
Question. Would there have been any advantage in stationing the several divisions differently; that is, having some divisions which had further to march stationed where Tyler’s was?
Answer. No, sir; Tyler got his position there logically from the way the force marched to Centreville. Tyler was to throw himself between Fairfax Court-House and Centreville. Hunter started from Anandale, and behind Tyler; Miles was below, and Heintzelman further below still. When Tyler moved forward to Centreville and commenced the fight at Blackburn’s Ford the other divisions were behind. Now to have changed them around would simply have made an unnecessary inversion; there would have been no particular object in it. I should have ordered forward first whichever division might have occupied Tyler’s position, so that, under cover of that, I might have made my flank movement to the right with the other divisions.
Question. It was desirable, then, that a force should be at Stone Bridge before any force passed up toward Sudley’s Springs ?
Answer. I think so. I wanted a strength there, and then, under cover of that, I could move my other divisions up. Had that not been done, there was danger that the other divisions going up to Sudley’s church, having the longest distance to go, might be attacked and cut off.
Question. It was necessary that that division of the army which was to move to Stone Bridge should have the road, and reach and pass the point where the blacksmith shop stands, before the remaining portion of the army should turn off towards Sudley’s Springs?
Answer. That was part of my well determined plan. I thought that was the better way. I do not think any other would have been a safe movement.
Question. I wish to ask you whether the force you left at Centreville was regarded by you as a reserve, or whether they were stationed as they were posted at the different points that day because it was necessary to have troops there to protect the rear of your army?
Answer. More the latter than the former, though partly both; to act as a reserve and, at the same time, to guard against an attack on our left or right. I remained at the turn-off by the blacksmith shop for nearly an hour, in doubt whether there would be an attack above at all. I was inclined to look for it at the left. And I have learned since that General Beauregard intended to attack me at eight o’clock, at Blackburn’s Ford; and when General Tyler commenced firing at Stone Bridge and received no response, I was in doubt. In my order for the battle I say: “The enemy has planted a battery on the Warrenton turnpike to defend the approach to Bull Run, has mined the Stone Bridge,” &c. I wanted to commence the attack on that point, which I was afraid I could not turn, and under cover of that attack to throw a large force up to the right. We expected the Stone Bridge to be a strong point, with batteries in position, regular works, &c. We expected the bridge would be blown up so that we could not use it, and I had made preparations so that the engineer should have another bridge to be used there. We were to make our move to the right and attack them under cover of this attack at the bridge.
Question. If it had not been for the disposition of the forces of Miles’s division which you made on the day of the battle, would not your whole army have been exposed and liable to be cut off?
Answer. Yes, sir; by a movement of the enemy on my left.
Question. That is, by a movement from the enemy’s right on your left?
Answer. Yes, sir; I can show you how I felt on that subject by referring you to my general order No. 22, in which I say : “The fifth division (Miles’s) will take position at the Centreville Heights ; Richardson’s brigade will, for the time, become part of his (Miles’s) division, and will continue in its present position. One brigade will be in the village, and one near the present station of Richardson’s brigade. This division will threaten Blackburn’s Ford, and remain in reserve at Centreville. The commander will open fire with artillery only, and will bear in mind that it is a demonstration only that he is to make. He will cause such defensive works, abattis, earthworks, &c., to be thrown up as will strengthen his position. Lieutenant Prime, of the engineers, will be charged with this duty.” I will also further, in relation to this same matter, give an extract from my report: “I had also felt anxious about the road from Manassas by Blackburn’s Ford to Centreville, along the ridge, fearing that while we should be in force to the front, endeavoring to turn the enemy’s position, we ourselves should be turned by him by this road; for if he should once obtain possession of this ridge, which overlooks all the country to the west to the foot of the spurs of the Blue Ridge, we should have been irretrievably cut off and destroyed. I had, therefore, directed this point to be held in force, and sent an engineer to extemporise some field-works to strengthen their position.”
Question. And you say now that you understand it was the intention of Beauregard to attack you at that point?
Answer. I have understood since that General Beauregard intended in the first place to attack me at 8 o’clock on the morning of the battle, and to attack me on my left, at this Blackburn’s Ford, or in its vicinity; and I have also understood that during the battle he did order a heavy attack to be made in that direction. An attack was made there, but not in the force he intended. It failed on account of an order which he gave one of the commanders having miscarried.
Question. Would it, in your opinion, have been judicious, at any time prior to the rout of our army, to have ordered the force, or any portion of it, stationed at Centreville on to the field of action?
Answer. I do not think it would have been judicious to have sent them one moment earlier than they were sent for. A reference to the reports of Colonel Davies, Colonel Richardson, and Hunt, of the artillery, I think, will show this. They were there having a heavy attack on the left, which would have been heavier but for the failure I have referred to. General Barnard, in his report of July 29, says:
“It will be seen from the above that the combination, though thwarted by different circumstances, was actually successful in uniting three entire brigades, (excepting the brigade of Schenck, which had just opened its way to fall on the enemy’s right at the moment when our lines finally gave way in front,) upon the decisive point.
“A fault, perhaps, it was that it did not provide earlier for bringing the two brigades of Miles (in reserve at Centreville) into action. One of his brigades (Richardson’s) actually did participate, though not on the battle-field; and in its affair on Blackburn’s Ford probably did neutralize the attack of the enemy.”
General Barnard did not then know the extent of that affair on the left. He thought that only Richardson was engaged in it. A reference to the reports of Colonel Davies, commanding a brigade under Colonel Miles, Colonel Hunt, commanding a battery of artillery, and of Colonel Miles, will show why only one brigade from Centreville was sent forward to the front. And it will show that the affair on the left was a matter of much greater importance than General Barnard seems at that time to have supposed it to be. Davies’s brigade was actually engaged, as was also that of Richardson, in repelling the attack of the enemy on the left. Colonel Miles, in his report, says that he received an order to put two brigades on the Warrenton turnpike at the bridge, and a staff officer was sent to order forward Davies’s brigade; that whilst this staff officer was executing his instructions, Davies sent word that he wanted the reserve forward where he was, as he was attacked by 3,000 of the enemy; that the staff officer, therefore, properly suspended the giving of the order, and reported immediately to Colonel Miles, and this caused him to advance with only one brigade, Blenker’s, to the position on the Warrenton turnpike.
Question. The shortest road from Manassas to Centreville was by Blackburn’s Ford?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. When the retreat of our army took place, had the way by Blackburn’s Ford not have been obstructed by the force you had placed there or near there, could not the enemy have moved forward immediately upon Centreville and cut off the retreat of your whole army?
Answer. Yes, sir; and I refer again to my report in answer to that question.
“At the time of our retreat, seeing great activity in this direction, (Blackburn’s Ford,) also firing and columns of dust, I became anxious for this place, fearing if it were turned or forced the whole stream of our retreating mass would be captured or destroyed. After providing for the protection of the retreat by Porter’s or Blenker’s brigade, I repaired to Richardson, and found the whole force ordered to be stationed for the holding of the road from Manassas by Blackburn’s Ford to Centreville on the march for Centreville under orders from the division commanders. I immediately halted it and ordered it to take up the best line of defence across the ridge that their position admitted of, and subsequently taking in person the command of this part of the army. I caused such disposition of the force as would best serve to check the enemy.”
By Mr. Odell:
Question. Was the attack on Blackburn’s Ford on Thursday, the 18th of July, made by your order?
Answer. No, sir, it was not. On July the 18th I was between Germantown and Centreville, General Tyler’s division being between my then position and Centreville. I wrote him the following note, which was carried to him by General, then Colonel, Wadsworth, my aide-de-camp:
“BETWEEN GERMANTOWN AND CENTREVILLE,
“July 18, 1861—8.15 a. m.
“BRIGADIER GENERAL TYLER—General: I have information which leads me to believe you will find no force at Centreville, and will meet with no resistance in getting there. Observe well the roads to Bull Run and to Warrenton. Do not bring on any engagement, but keep up the impression that we are moving on Manassas. I go to Heintzelman to arrange about the plan we have talked over.”
The plan was for the army to go around and attack the enemy’s right. I will give an extract from General Tyler’s report of July 27 as bearing on this question:
HEADQUARTERS FIRST DIVISION DEPARTMENT NE. VIRGINIA,
Washington City, July 27, 1861.
“General McDOWELL, Commanding Department:
“SIR : On the 18th instant you ordered me to take my division, with the two 20-pounder rifled guns, and move against Centreville, to carry that position. My division moved from its encampment at 7 a. m. At 9 a. m. Richardson’s brigade reached Centreville, and found that the enemy had retreated the night before; one division on the Warrenton turnpike, in the direction of Gainesville, and the other, and by far the largest division, towards Blackburn’s Ford, on Bull Run.”
This order of mine that I have referred to was given to him in person by then Major Wadsworth, who also cautioned him verbally from me not to do too much in the way of keeping up the impression that we were moving on Manassas.
I will now read from General Barnard’s report of July 29. He was the chief of engineers on my staff:
“It should be borne in mind that the plan of campaign had been to turn the position and turn Manassas by the left; that is to say, that from Fairfax Court- House and Centreville we were to make a flank movement toward Sangster’s and Fairfax Station, and thence to Wolf Run Shoals, or in that direction.
“In my interview with the commanding general he said nothing to indicate any change of plan; but, on the contrary, his remarks carried the impression that he was more than ever confirmed in his plan, and spoke of the advance on Centreville as a ‘demonstration.’
“In proposing therefore to reconnoitre the enemy’s position at Blackburn’s Ford, it was not with the slightest idea that this point would be attacked; but a reconnoissance would be the carrying out of a ‘ demonstration.’
“Whilst I was awaiting Captain Alexander, l encountered Matthew C. Mitchell, who was secured as a guide. Representing himself as a Union man and a resident of that vicinity, I was engaged questioning him, when intelligence was received that General Tyler had sent back for artillery and infantry, and that the enemy was in sight before him. Riding to the front, I joined General Tyler and Colonel Richardson. Proceeding with them a short distance further, we emerged from the woods, and found ourselves at a point at which the road commences its descent to Blackburn’s Ford. The run makes here a curve or bow towards us, which the road bisects. The slopes from us towards it were gentle and mostly open. On the other side the banks of the run rise more abruptly, and are wooded down to the very edge of the run. Higher up a clear spot could be seen here and there; and still higher, higher than our own point of view, and only visible from its gently sloping towards us, an elevated plateau, comparatively open, in which Manassas Junction is situated.
“Although, owing to the thickness of the wood, little could be seen along the edge of the run, it was quite evident from such glimpses as we could obtain that the enemy was in force behind us. I represented to General Tyler that this point was the enemy’s strong position, on the direct road to Manassas Junction; that it was no part of the plan to assail it. I did not, however, object to a “demonstration,” believing that it would favor what I supposed still to be the commanding general’s plan of campaign.
“The two 20-pounders, of Parrott’s, had been ordered up. They were opened upon the enemy’s position, firing in various directions, without our being able to perceive the degree of effect they produced. They had fired perhaps a dozen rounds, when they were answered by a rapid discharge from a battery apparently close down to the run and at the crossing of the road. The 20-pounders continued their fire, directing at this battery, and Ayre’s battery was brought up and stationed on the left. The enemy’s batteries soon ceased answering. After ours had continued playing for about a half an hour, I felt it a useless expenditure of ammunition, and so stated to you, (Captain Fry, who arrived on the spot shortly before this,) and presumed General Tyler concurred in this opinion, as the firing soon ceased.
“I supposed this would be an end of the affair. But perceiving troops filing down towards the run, I thought it necessary to impress General Tyler with the fact that it was no part of the plan of the commanding general to bring on a serious engagement. I directed Captain Alexander (engineers) to state this fact to him, which he did in writing, having stated the same verbally before.”
My own order was not to bring on an engagement, and here was the chief of my engineers, and my adjutant general besides, urging the same thing on General Tyler.
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Tags: JCCW, Resources
Categories : Joint Committee Testimony, Resources, The Battle
Testimony of Gen. Irvin McDowell
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 35-41
WASHINGTON, D. C., December 26, 1861.
General IRVIN McDOWELL sworn and examined.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. We were instructed to make some inquiry in regard to the battle of last July. In the first place, was that battle of Bull Run decided upon in a council of war?
Answer. No, sir. I will give you in a few words the way that was done. There is much that precedes the battle that would be interesting to you gentlemen to know. Not to be too long, I will say that the general-in-chief, General Scott, called upon me verbally to submit a plan of operations to go against Manassas,and to estimate the force necessary to carry out that plan. I cannot tell the day when this was done. I could give you a copy of the plan I submitted, but unfortunately the copy I kept has not, I think, the date to it. The one I sent to him has, I think. I sent the plan to General Scott, and he read it and approved of it. I was then summoned before the cabinet. There were some general officers there : General Sandford, General Tyler, General Mansfield, and General Meigs were there. I think those were all but I am not certain. I was then called upon to read my plan of operations, and I read it. No persons had any suggestions to make in reference to it except General Mansfield. He made some remarks, but said he had not thought about the matter, and did not know anything about it, and was not prepared to say anything in relation to it. As the plan was all approved of, without any alteration, and, I think, without any suggestion, except a slight one from General Mansfield, I then called the engineers to assist me, and gave the paper to them to discuss. They discussed it, and made no alterations, and had no suggestions to make except one. Captain Woodbury, now Major Woodbury, suggested that I should go by the right instead of by the left. I told him the reasons why I preferred to go by the left; that to go by the left was a conclusive movement, and to go by the right might not be.
Question. That is, to cut off the railroad?
Answer. Yes, sir. It was to go down by our left on their right and cut the railroad there. Your first question was as to whether there was any council of war on the plan. In reply, I said the plan was one that I submitted in compliance with verbal instructions from General Scott, and which plan received no modification either from the cabinet or from General Scott, except a mere verbal correction, changing “communications” to “communication.” Nor did any of the engineers make any suggestion, except the one I have mentioned, to go by the right instead of the left. I told him why I did not want to go in that direction, but said I was the last man in the world pledged to my own views, and if any one could tell me anything better than I could myself, I would accept it, and give him the full credit of it. Now, in regard to my plan, I had, in the first place, to assume what the enemy had in front of me. I next assumed that there would be no secret of my preparing to go against them. They would know it, and as a consequence of that they would bring up whatever disposable force they had. Therefore, it was not so much what they had here, but what they would bring here, that I was to go against. I assumed that if General Butler would keep them engaged below, and General Patterson would keep Johnson engaged above, I would then have so much to go against. To do that I asked for a certain force. They agreed to it, and gave me the force, but very late in the day. But they did not fulfil the condition with me so far as General Johnson was concerned. I had a part to play in the matter. It was but a part in a whole; it was a large part, still only a part. I had no control over the whole; that was controlled by General Scott. On several occasions I mentioned to the general that I felt tender on the subject of General Patterson and General Johnson. In reply to some suggestion once made about bringing Patterson over to Leesburg, I said if he went there Johnson might escape and join Beauregard, and I was not in a condition to meet all their forces combined. I said that I went over there with everything green. That was admitted; but they said that the other side was equally green. I said that the chances of accident were much more with green troops than with veterans, and I could not undertake to meet all their forces together. General Scott assured me—I use his own words—”if Johnson joins Beauregard he shall have Patterson on his heels.” He gave me this assurance, that there should be no question in regard to keeping Johnson’s troops engaged in the valley of Virginia. I estimated to go from Vienna with the largest force, and get in behind Fairfax Court-House; go with one force down the Little River turnpike upon Fairfax Court-House; go with one force by way of Anandale, and then go off to the south by the old Braddock road, as it is called, and then have the fourth column go south of the railroad. The railroad was then blocked up and obstructed. They had broken down the bridges and torn up the track where they could, filled in the deep cuts with earth and trees, and obstructed the road as effectually as they could. I could not at first use that railroad, though I threw the largest part of the force called reserve upon the railroad to make the communications good. The largest part of the 30,000 men were in front. I moved down Tuesday evening. When General Scott was called upon, or when the question was asked in the cabinet, when he would be ready to carry out this plan, General Scott fixed for me that day week. Up to that time General Scott never wished anything done on the other side of the river further than to merely fortify Arlington Heights. General Scott was exceedingly displeased that I should go over there. He had other plans in view, and personal plans, so far as I was concerned. And he was piqued and irritated that I was sent over there, and the more so that General Sandford was here in somewhat an equivocal position. He was here for three months, a major general of troops in New York. General Scott did not wish to give him the command here in Washington; at least I infer so because he did not put him in command, and he put him in command on the other side of the river. But General Scott was told that he must put either General Mansfield or myself over there. He wished to keep General Mansfield here, and he put me over there. The general had opposed my somewhat rapid promotion, because he thought it was doing a hurt to General Mansfield, and when I was promoted he insisted that General Mansfield should also be promoted, and date back a week before my own promotion. When I was ordered to the other side General Scott sent me two messages by his aide-de-camp and military secretary, to make a personal request of the Secretary of War not to be sent on the other side. I said I could not do that. Just appointed a general officer, it was not for me to make a personal request not to take the command which I had been ordered upon. I could not stand upon it. I had no reputation, as he had, and I refused to make any such application. So I went on the other side, and the general was cool for a great while. He did not like that I did not comply with his suggestion and ask not to be sent there. I was on the other side a long while without anything. No additions were made to the force at all. With difficulty could I get any officers. I had begged of the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Treasury, who at that time was connected with the Secretary of War in many of the plans and organizations going forward, that I should not be obliged to organize and discipline and march and fight all at the same time. I said that it was too much for any person to do. But they could not help it, or did not help it, and the thing went on until this project was broached. General Scott at the same time took occasion to say to the cabinet that he was never in favor of going over into Virginia. He did not believe in a little war by piecemeal. But he believed in a war of large bodies. He was in favor of moving down the Mississippi river with 80,000 men, of which I was to command the advance. We were to go down, fight all the battles that were necessary, take all the positions we could find, and garrison them, fight a battle at New Orleans and win it, and thus end the war. I did not think well of that plan, and was obliged to speak against it in the cabinet. I felt that it was beyond everything a hazardous thing for our paper steamboats, as you might term them, to try to go down the river on such an expedition. They have some considerable difficulty to get down safely in the most peaceable times and with all the precautions possible, and it would be exceedingly hazardous for them to undertake to go down there with a large army, with all their machinery above water and exposed, and obliged to attack works opposed to them all the way down. Here is the case of the Potomac now blockaded; we do not venture to land and attack the batteries here, though this is a wide river with a broad channel, one well known and which does not change. We attempt nothing of the sort here, and yet we were expected to go down the Mississippi a thousand miles, supply our force all the way down, attack the batteries, and be diminishing our force all the while by leaving garrisons in all the places we should deem of sufficient importance to retain. I thought the plan was full of most serious and vital objections. I would rather go to New Orleans the way that Packenham attempted to go there. I went over the river, as I have told you. General Mansfield felt hurt, I have no doubt, in seeing the command he had divided in two and a portion sent over there. I got everything with great difficulty. Some of my regiments came over very late; some of them not till the very day I was to move the army. I had difficulty in getting transportation. In fact, I started out with no baggage train, with nothing at all for the tents, simply transportation for the sick and wounded and the munitions. The supplies were to go on afterwards. I expected the men to carry supplies for three days in their haversacks. If I went to General Mansfield for troops, he said: “I have no transportation.” I went to General Meigs and he said he had transportation, but General Mansfield did not want any to be given until the troops should move. I said: “I agree to that, but between you two I get nothing.” The quartermaster begged of me not to move, because he was not ready. I said: “We must move on Tuesday;” which was one week after the time General Scott had fixed. All my force had not come over by the time he fixed. A large part came over on Sunday, and some on the very Tuesday I moved. I told the general I was not ready to go. Said I to him : “So far as transportation is concerned, I must look to you behind me to send it forward.” I had no opportunity to test my machinery; to move it around and see whether it would work smoothly or not. In fact, such was the feeling,that when I had one body of eight regiments of troops reviewed together, the general censured me for it, as if I was trying to make some show. I did not think so. There was not a man there who had ever manoeuvred troops in large bodies. There was not one in the army; I did not believe there was one in the whole country; at least, I knew there was no one there who had ever handled 30,000 troops. I had seen them handled abroad in reviews and marches, but I had never handled that number, and no one here had. I wanted very much a little time; all of us wanted it. We did not have a bit of it. The answer was: “You are green, it is true; but they are green, also; you are all green alike.” We went on in that way. But there is one thing clear beyond any doubt. If the movements which had been ordered had been carried out, we should have had no difficulty at all. My plan was simply this: It was to move out this force upon these four lines. I had to move them on four lines that had no communication with each other from the very nature of the country. But I thought I made each column strong enough to hold its own. If it could not penetrate it could stand still, and if attacked it could hold its own, while the other columns were pressing forward and trying to get behind the enemy. The roads from Alexandria radiate. One goes out to Vienna, one goes to Fairfax Court-House, one to Fairfax Station, and one further south to Pohick church. My orders were, that those on the right should go the first day—Tuesday—out to Vienna. I had taken the precaution before to send General Richardson, who commanded a brigade I had organized at Chain Bridge, out to examine the road he afterwards moved over. Generals Keyes, Schenck, Richardson, and Sherman, in all four brigades, were to be at Vienna that night. General Hunter, who commanded what I intended to be a sort of reserve, composed of General Burnside’s command and General Porter’s command, were to go on the Little River turnpike to Anandale. General Miles was to go to Anandale a little before and turn down on the Braddock road. General Heintzelman was to go out also from Alexandria on the railroad, and send up some force to Vienna to hold that point after our troops left it. The next morning General Tyler was to march from Vienna and go down upon the road towards Fairfax Court-House. General Hunter was to go forward to Fairfax Court-House direct. General Miles was to come down on the Braddock road to another road that crossed it, going from Fairfax Court-House to Fairfax Station, while Heintzelman went down below. They were to be there early in the morning, I think at 8 o’clock. At Fairfax Court-House was the South Carolina brigade. And I do not suppose anything would have had a greater cheering effect upon the troops, and perhaps upon the country, than the capture of that brigade. And if General Tyler could have got down there any time in the forenoon instead of in the afternoon the capture of that brigade was beyond question. It was but 5,000 or 6,000 men, and Tyler had 12,000, at the same time that we were pressing on in front. He did not get down there until in the afternoon; none of us got forward in time. That was due to two things, perhaps. The affair of Big Bethel and Vienna had created a great outcry against rushing into places that people did not know anything about. I think the idea of everyone was that we were to go into no such things as that; that we were to feel our way. That, perhaps, caused the march to be very, slow; because, from Vienna across the march was not more than five or six miles, and if they started by 4 o’clock in the morning they should get there by 8 o’clock. They did not get there until 3 o’clock, and the South Carolina brigade marched at 11 o’clock, so that it slipped through our hands. Then, too, the men were not used to marching; they stopped every moment to pick blackberries or to get water. They would not keep in the ranks, order as much as you pleased. When they came where water was fresh they would pour the old water out of their canteens and fill them with fresh water; they were not used to denying themselves much. They were not used to journeys on foot; the men of the north no more than the men of the south were used to going on foot much. While the men of the south were accustomed to riding horseback, those of the north rode in wagons for the shortest journeys, and they were pretty well broken down with this short march; therefore, when I wanted them to push on to Centreville, they were so broken down that they could not get more than half way there. The subsistence was to come on the next morning. Thursday morning I went off to see about making this march off to the left. That day General Tyler got involved at Blackburn’s Ford, which made it necessary to move the whole of the troops forward that day, instead of keeping them behind to draw their rations. The attack at Blackburn’s Ford had a bad effect upon our men. They were all in high spirits before that, but had not succeeded in their first attack. That attack made all wish to know what we were going to do, and where we were going to go, so that the next two days were employed by General Barnard and those under him in trying to discover where we could penetrate this line. They went out and were unsuccessful. They went out again at night, and were again unsuccessful. On Saturday about noon they reported that they had found a place. I at once gave orders to march at 6 o’clock that night, going part of the distance and stopping, and then move on early in the morning; but General Burnside, who was the furthest off, said that it would be much less fatiguing for his men to make one march instead of two, and that if we started early enough in the morning we could reach there in time. I yielded to it at once, as it was only on account of the men that I wanted to stop. I started in the morning. We got around late, it is true; there were delays about getting into the road. General Tyler was late, and General Hunter was slow in getting around; still, we substantially carried out the plan. We got over there and met the enemy; and there I found that, in addition to General Beauregard, I had General Johnston—how much of him I did not know. I learned afterwards that some 7,000 or 8,000, the bulk of his force, had arrived. Still, we were successful against both until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when the remainder of his force came upon us upon our right when our men were tired and exhausted, and that caused the day to turn against us.
I have learned since, in relation to that movement of General Johnston, which was the fatal thing in the whole of this battle, and which General Scott assured me should not take place, or if it did General Patterson should be driving him in, that General Patterson was before General Johnston on Wednesday, and on Thursday morning, at 4 o’clock, he ordered his troops to march. I learned from General Morell—now in General Fitz-John Porter’s division, but who was then on the staff of General Sandford, who commanded under General Patterson— that they all expected that they were going right down to Winchester on Thursday, and that all the men were in the highest possible spirits at the idea of going there.and that General Sandford believed they were superior to Johnston’s force. But instead of going down to Winchester, after they got down to a place called Bunker Hill, they turned off to the left and went off towards Harper’s Ferry. Then the men became so dissatisfied that they demanded their discharge. Up to that time there had been no indications of turbulence. General Johnston, on that same day—Thursday—when he found out that Patterson had gone away, left in the afternoon between 2 and 3 o’clock, and pushed down in a masterly manner as hard as he could to join Beauregard. General Patterson in the meantime was, I am told, under the greatest possible alarm, and telegraphed all the time, and sent an officer down, who arrived on Sunday, to General Scott for re-enforcements against General Johnston, General Johnston at that very time being before me here; and General Scott was so impressed with this, that a large part of the force in Washington was ordered to go up there to join General Patterson. So completely was General Patterson outwitted that he thought General Johnston had 40,000 men there. One who was on his staff, and his adjutant general, told me that they had got records, reports, and returns to the effect that Johnston had something like 40,000 men. All I can say is, that if he had 40,000 men, I had the whole of them on me.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. Do you believe he had 10,000?
Answer. I think he had from 12,000 to 15,000, and General Patterson had in the vicinity of 20,000. If he had 40,000, then I had them all. But I assume that he joined Beauregard in the first place with 8,000, and that his last re-enforcement was about 4,000.
By the chairman:
Question. When did you first learn that Johnston was released from Patterson and down here?
Answer. I first learned it in a way beyond all doubt on the field of battle. About 11 o’clock in the day I made some prisoners.
Question. Did no one tell you before?
Answer. A man came to me before. But, great God! I heard every rumor in the world, and I put them all aside unless a man spoke of his own personal knowledge. Some person came to me; I did not know who he was. I had people coming to me all the time, each one with something different. All that I paid no attention to. This person came to me and said, I think, “The news is that Johnston has joined Beauregard.” He might have said that somebody else had joined Beauregard. He did not know it himself; had heard it from others. Some one said: ” We heard the cars coming in last night.” Well, I expected that. I expected they would bring into Manassas every available man they could find. All I did expect was that General Butler would keep them engaged at Fortress Monroe, and Patterson would keep them engaged in the valley of Virginia. That was the condition they accepted from me to go out and do this work. I hold that I more than fulfilled my part of the compact because I was victorious against Beauregard and 8,000 of Johnston’s troops also. Up to 3 o’clock in the afternoon I had done all and more than all that I had promised or agreed to do; and it was this last straw that broke the camel’s back—if you can call 4,000 men a straw, who came upon me from behind fresh from the cars.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. Has it not been a fact, all through this war, that our generals in front of the enemy—as was General Patterson in front of General Johnston— have been deceived as to the force of the enemy? General Patterson says that he had positive information that General Johnston had over 35,000 men, while he had only 20,000. Has this not been a bragging, lying force that they have been exhibiting along our lines all the time?
Answer. There is one thing: In war the object is to deceive the enemy as to your force and make him believe that you are stronger than you really are. I have taken the evidence of negro.men and found it very good myself. But that is a matter of judgment; you may get yourself overreached.
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Tags: Irvin McDowell, JCCW, Resources
Categories : Joint Committee Testimony, Resources, The Battle
Irvin McDowell remains a murky figure. Probably the biggest obstacle in learning more about the man is the fact that his personal correspondence and records, what are most commonly referred to as “papers”, were destroyed or otherwise lost after his death. But while it’s generally accepted that fellow Union general George Thomas destroyed his own papers to prevent the “hawking” of his story, nobody is really sure what happened to McDowell’s stuff.
One of the first studies of Bull Run that I read, R. M. Johnston’s still essential Bull Run: Its Strategy and Tactics (1913), contains this tantalizing tidbit:
I was long in hopes of getting access to some papers left by General McDowell which are said to contain information of importance as to his relations with the authorities at Washington; unfortunately, I was unable to persuade those who have charge of them to let me see them.
Note that Johnston didn’t write that he had heard the papers might exist, or that he was unable to track down or contact the owners, but rather that he knew where they were and who had them, and was denied access. It sure sounds like there was something out there in 1913. Where is it now? Does the answer lay amid Johnston’s own papers, wherever they may be? Does it lie in other collections, like those of fellow Ohio general and assassinated President James A. Garfield, who named a son after McDowell? Or perhaps in those of his friends the Chase family, also of Ohio? Or maybe someplace as mundane as the records of the San Francisco Dept. of Parks and Recreation (McDowell served as Park Commissioner for the city between his retirement from the army in 1882 and his death in 1885)?
Maybe someday I’ll get an email from some distant McDowell or Garfield or Chase relative, or from some clerk in San Francisco’s city hall, or some archivist somewhere, telling me they have a steamer trunk labeled “Maj. Gen. McDowell” and loaded with old letters and dispatches and diaries and memoirs. It’s happened before – not to me, but it’s happened.
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Tags: Articles, Irvin McDowell
Categories : Articles, Soldiers