RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE FIRST BULL RUN
BY JOSEPH E. JOHNSTON, GENERAL, C. S. A.
BATTLES AND LEADERS OF THE CIVIL WAR – Volume I: From Sumter to Shiloh, pp. 167-193
When the State of Virginia seceded, being a citizen of that State, I resigned my office in the United States Army; and as I had seen a good deal of military service, in the Seminole and Mexican wars and in the “West, the President of the Confederacy offered me a commission in the highest grade in his army. I accepted the offer because the invasion of the South was inevitable. But I soon incurred Mr. Davis’s displeasure by protesting against an illegal act of his by which I was greatly wronged. (1) Still he retained me in important positions, although his official letters were harsh. In 1864, however, he degraded me to the utmost of his power by summarily removing me from a high command. Believing that he was prompted to this act by animosity, and not by dispassionate opinion, I undertake to prove this animosity by many extracts from his “Rise and Fall of the Confederacy” (D. Appleton & Co.: 1881), and my comments thereon.
Mr. Davis recites (“R. and F.,” I, p. 307) the law securing to officers who might leave the United States Army to enter that of the Confederacy the same relative rank in the latter which they had in the former, provided their resignations had been offered in the six months next following the 14th of March, and then adds:
“The provisions hereof are in the view entertained that the army was of the States, not of the Government, and was to secure to officers adhering to the Confederate States the same relative rank which they had before those States had withdrawn from the Union. . . .
“How well the Government of the Confederacy observed both the letter and spirit of the law will be seen by reference to its action in the matter of appointments.”
Those of the five generals were the most prominent, of course. All had resigned within the time prescribed. Their relative rank in the United States Army just before secession had been: 1st, J. E. Johnston, Brigadier-General; 2d, Samuel Cooper, Colonel; 3d, A. S. Johnston, Colonel; 4th, R. E. Lee, Lieutenant-Colonel; and 5th, G. T. Beauregard, Major. All of them but the third had had previous appointments, when, on the 31st of August, the Confederate Government announced new ones: Cooper’s being dated May 16th, A. S. Johnston’s May 28th, Lee’s June 14th, J. E. Johnston’s July 4th, and Beauregard’s July 21st. So the law was violated, 1st, by disregarding existing commissions; 2d, by giving different instead of the same dates to commissions; and 3d, by not recognizing previous rank in the United States Army. The only effect of this triple violation of law was to reduce J. E. Johnston from the first to the fourth place, which, of course, must have been its object. Mr. Davis continues:
“It is a noteworthy fact that the three highest officers in rank . . . were all so indifferent to any question of personal interest that they had received their appointment before they were aware it was to be conferred” (p. 307).
This implies that the conduct described was unusual. On the contrary, it was that of the body of officers who left the United States Army to enter that of the Confederacy. It is strange that the author should disparage so many honorable men. He states (“R. and F.,” L, 309) that General Lee, when ordered from Richmond to the South for the first time, asked what rank he held in the army: “So wholly had his heart and his mind been consecrated to the public service that he had not remembered, if he ever knew, of his advancement.”
As each grade has its duties, an officer cannot know his duty if ignorant of his rank. Therefore General Lee always knew his rank, for he never failed in his duty. Besides, his official correspondence at the time referred to shows that he knew that he was major-general of the Virginia forces until May 25th, 1861, and a Confederate general after that date.
Describing the events which immediately preceded the battle of Manassas, Mr. Davis says (“Rise and Fall,” I., 340):
“The forces there assembled [in Virginia] were divided into three armies, at positions the most important and threatened : one, under General J. E. Johnston, at Harper’s Ferry, covering the valley of the Shenandoah. . . . Harper’s Ferry was an important position both for military and political considerations. . . . The demonstrations of General Patterson, commanding the Federal army in that region, caused General Johnston earnestly to insist on being allowed to retire to a position nearer to Winchester.”
Harper’s Ferry is 22 miles east of the route into the Shenandoah Valley, and could be held only by an army strong enough to drive an enemy from the heights north and east of it. So it is anything but an important position. These objections were expressed to the Government two days after my arrival, and I suggested the being permitted to move the troops as might be necessary. All this before Patterson had advanced from Chambersburg.
On page 341,” R. and F.,” Mr. Davis quotes from an official letter to me from General Cooper, dated June 13th, 1861, which began thus:
“The opinions expressed by Major Whiting in his letter to you, and on which you have indorsed your concurrence, have been duly considered. You hail been heretofore instructed to exercise your discretion as to retiring from your position at Harper’s Ferry.”(2)
This latter statement is incorrect. No such instructions had been given. The last instructions on the subject received by me were in General Lee’s letter of June 7th.(3) On page 341 Mr. Davis says:
“The temporary occupation [of Harper's Ferry] was especially needful for the removal of the valuable machinery and material in the armory located there.”
The removal of the machinery was not an object referred to in General Cooper’s letter. But the presence of our army anywhere in the Valley within a day’s march of the position, would have protected that removal. That letter (page 341) was received two days after the army left Harper’s Ferry to meet General McClellan’s troops, believed by intelligent people of Winchester to be approaching from the west.
On page 345 Mr. Davis says it was a difficult problem to know which army, whether Beauregard’s at Manassas or Johnston’s in the Valley, should be reenforced by the other, because these generals were “each asking reinforcements from the other.” All that was written by me on the subject is in the letter (page 345) dated July 9th:
“I have not asked for reinforcements because I supposed that the War Department, informed of the state of affairs everywhere, could best judge where the troops at its disposal are most required. . . . If it is proposed to strengthen us against the attack I suggest as soon to be made, it seems to me that General Beauregard might with great expedition furnish 5000 or 6000 men for a few days.”
Mr. Davis says, after quoting from this letter:
“As soon as I became satisfied that Manassas was the objective point of the enemy’s movement, I wrote to General Johnston urging him to make preparations for a junction with General Beauregard.”
There is abundant evidence that the Southern President never thought of transferring the troops in the “Valley” to Manassas until the proper time to do it came — that is, when McDowell was known to be advancing. This fact is shown by the anxiety he expressed to increase the number of those troops.(4) And General Lee, writing [from South Carolina] to Mr. Davis, November 24th, 1861 (“Official Records,” II, 515), says in regard to General Beauregard’s suggestion that he be reenforeed from my army:
“You decided that the movements of the enemy in and about Alexandria were not sufficiently demonstrative to warrant the withdrawing of any of the forces from the Shenandoah Valley. A few days afterward, however,— I think three or four,— the reports from General Beauregard showed so clearly the enemy’s purpose, that you ordered General Johnston, with his effective force, to march at once to the support of General Beauregard.”
This letter is in reply to one from Mr. Davis, to the effect that statements had been widely published to show that General Beauregard’s forces had been held inactive by his (Mr. Davis’s) rejection of plans for vigorous offensive operations proposed to him by the general, and desiring to know of General Lee what those plans were, and why they were rejected.
“On the 17th of July, 1861,” says Mr. Davis (“R. and F.” I, 346), “the following telegram was sent by the adjutant-general” to General Johnston, Winchester, Va.:
“General Beauregard is attacked. To strike the enemy a decisive blow, a junction of all your effective force will be needed. If practicable, make the movement, sending your sick and baggage to Culpeper Court House, either by railroad or by Warrenton. In all the arrangements exercise your discretion. S. COOPER , Adjutant and Inspector-General.”
Mr. Davis asserts that I claim that discretion was given me by the words “all the arrangements.” I claimed it from what he terms the only positive part of the order, viz., “If practicable, make the movement, sending your sick to Culpeper Court House.” Mr. Davis adds:
“The sending the sick to Culpeper Court House might have been after or before the effective force had moved to the execution of the main and only positive part of the order.”
“Make the movement” would have been a positive order, but “if practicable” deprived it of that character, and gave the officer receiving it a certain discretion. But, as the movement desired was made promptly, it was surely idle to discuss, twenty years after, whether the officer could lawfully have done what he did not do. At the time the decision of such a question might have been necessary; but, as Mr. Davis will give no more orders to generals, and as the officer concerned will execute no more, such a discussion is idle now. The use of the wagons required in the march of the army would have been necessary to remove the sick to the railroad station at Strasburg, eighteen miles distant; so this removal could not have been made after the march. There being seventeen hundred sick, this part of their transportation would have required more time than the transfer of the troops to Manassas, which was the important thing. The sick were, therefore, properly and quickly provided for in Winchester. I was the only judge of the “practicable”; and “if practicable” refers to the whole sentence—as much to sending the sick to Culpeper as to “make the movement.” Still he says (“R. and F.,” I., 347):
“His [my] letters of the 12th and 15th expressed his doubts about his power to retire from before the superior force of General Patterson. Therefore, the word ‘practicable’ was in that connection the equivalent of ‘possible.’”
It is immaterial whether “if practicable” or “if possible” was written. I was the only judge of the possibility or practicability; and, if General Patterson had not changed his position after the telegram was received, I might have thought it necessary to attack him, to “make the movement practicable.” But as to my power to retire. On the 15th General Patterson’s forces were half a day’s march from us, and on the 12th more than a day’s march; and, as Stuart’s cavalry did not permit the enemy to observe us, retreat would have been easy, and I could not possibly have written to the contrary.(5)
As to Mr. Davis’s telegram (“R. and F.,” I., 348) (6), and the anxiety in Mr. Davis’s mind lest there should be some unfortunate misunderstanding between General Beauregard and me,—my inquiry was intended and calculated to establish beyond dispute our relative positions. As a Confederate brigadier-general I had been junior to General Beauregard, but had been created general by act of Congress. But, as this had not been published to the army, it was not certain that it was known at Manassas. If it was not, the President’s telegram gave the information, and prevented what he seems to have apprehended.
THE BATTLE OF BULL RUN.
On page 349, to the end of the chapter, the President describes his visit to the field of battle near Manassas. “As we advanced,” he says, “the storm of battle was rolling westward.” But, in fact, the fighting had ceased before he left Manassas. He then mentions meeting me on a hill which commanded a general view of the field, and proceeding farther west, where he saw a Federal “column,” which a Confederate squadron charged and put to flight. But the captain in command of this squadron (7) says in his report that the column seen was a party of our troops. Mr. Davis also dilates on the suffering of our troops for want of supplies and camp equipage, and on his efforts to have them provided for. After the battle ended, officers were duly directed by me to have food brought to the ground where the troops were to pass the night.
I was not in the conference described by Mr. Davis (“R. and F.,” I., 353, 354, 355). Having left the field after 10 o’clock, and ridden in the dark slowly, it was about half-past 11 when I found the President and General Beauregard together, in the latter’s quarters at Manassas. We three conversed an hour or more without referring to pursuit or an advance upon Washington. The “conference” described by him must have occurred before my arrival, and Mr. Davis may very well have forgotten that I was not present then.
But, when the President wrote, he had forgotten the subject of the conference he described; for the result, as he states it, was an order, not for pursuit by the army, but for the detail of two parties to collect wounded men and abandoned property near the field of battle. This order (pages 355, 356) is “to the same effect,” Mr. Davis says, as the one he wrote, and which he terms a direction to pursue the Federal army at early dawn.
It is asserted (“R. and F.,” I, 354) (8) that I left the command over both Confederate armies in General Beauregard’s hands during the engagement. Such conduct would have been as base as flight from the field in the heat of battle, and would have brought upon me the contempt of every honorable soldier. It is disproved by the fact that General Beauregard was willing to serve under me there, and again in North Carolina, near the close of the war; and that he associated with me. As this accusation is published by the Southern President, and indorsed by General Beauregard, it requires my contradiction.
Instead of leaving the command in General Beauregard’s hands, I assumed it over both armies immediately after my arrival on the 20th, showing General Beauregard as my warrant the President’s telegram defining my position. The usual order (9) assuming command was written and sent to General Beauregard’s office for distribution. He was then told that as General Patterson would no doubt hasten to join General McDowell as soon as he discovered my movement, we must attack the Federal army next morning. General Beauregard then pointed out on a map of the neighborhood the roads leading to the enemy’s camp at Centreville from the different parts of our line south of the stream, and the positions of the brigades near each road; and a simple order of march, by which our troops would unite near the Federal position, was sketched. Having had neither sleep nor recumbent rest since the morning of the 17th, I begged General Beauregard to put this order of march on paper, and have the necessary copies made and sent to me for inspection in a grove, near, where I expected to be resting—this in time for distribution before night. This distribution was to be by him, the immediate commander of most of the troops. Seeing that 8 brigades were on the right of the line to Centreville, and but 1 to the left of it at a distance of 4 miles, I desired General Beauregard to have Bee’s and Jackson’s brigades placed in this interval near the detached brigade.
The papers were brought to me a little before sunrise next morning. They differed greatly from the order sketched the day before; but as they would have put the troops in motion if distributed, it would have been easy then to direct the course of each division. By the order sketched the day before, all our forces would have been concentrated near Centreville, to attack the Federal army. By that prepared by General Beauregard but 4 brigades were directed ” to the attack of Centreville,” of which one and a half had not yet arrived from the Valley, while 6 brigades were to move forward to the Union Mills and Centreville road, there to hold themselves in readiness to support the attack on Centreville, or to move, 2 to Sangster’s cross-roads, 2 to Fairfax Station, and 2 to Fairfax Court House. The two and a half brigades on the ground, even supported by the half brigade of the reserve also on the ground, in all probability would have been defeated by the whole Federal army before the three bodies of 2 brigades each could have come to their aid, over distances of from 3 to 5 miles. Then, if the enemy had providentially been defeated by one-sixth or one-eighth of their number, Sangster’s cross-roads and Fairfax Station would have been out of their line of retreat.
Soon after sunrise on the 21st, it was reported that a large body of Federal troops was approaching on the Warrenton Turnpike. This offensive movement of the enemy would have frustrated our plan of the day before, if the orders for it had been delivered to the troops. It appears from the reports of the commanders of the six brigades on the right that but one of them, General Longstreet, received it. Learning that Bee’s and Jackson’s brigades were still on the right, I again desired General Beauregard to transfer them to the left, which he did, giving the same orders to Hampton’s Legion, just arrived. These, with Cocke’s brigade then near the turnpike, would necessarily receive the threatened attack.
General Beauregard then suggested that all our troops on the right should move rapidly to the left and assail the attacking Federal troops in flank. This suggestion was accepted; and together we joined those troops. Three of the four brigades of the first line, at Mitchell’s, Blackburn’s, and McLean’s fords, reported strong bodies of United States troops on the wooded heights before them. This frustrated the second plan. Two Federal batteries — one in front of Bonham’s brigade at Mitchell’s Ford, the other before Longstreet’s at Blackburn’s Ford — were annoying us, although their firing was slow.
About 8 o’clock, after receiving such information as scouts could give, I left General Beauregard near Longstreet’s position, and placed myself on Lookout Hill, in rear of Mitchell’s Ford, to await the development of the enemy’s designs. About 9 o’clock the signal officer, Captain Alexander, reported that a column of Federal troops could be seen crossing the valley of Bull Run, two miles beyond our left.
General McDowell had been instructed by his general-in-chief to pass the Confederate right and seize the railroad in our rear. But, learning that the district to be passed through was rugged and covered with woods, and therefore unfavorable to a large army, he determined, after devoting three days to reconnoissance, to operate on the open and favorable ground to his right, and turn our left. He had another object in this second plan, and an important one—that this course would place his between the two Confederate armies, and prevent their junction; and if it had been made a day or two sooner, this manoeuvre would have accomplished that object.
General McDowell marched from Centreville by the Warrenton Turnpike with three divisions, sending a fourth division to deceive us by demonstrations in front of our main body. Leaving the turnpike a half mile from the Stone Bridge, he made a long detour to Sudley Ford, where he crossed Bull Run and turned toward Manassas. Colonel Evans, who commanded fourteen companies near the Stone Bridge, discovered this manoeuvre, and moved with his little force along the base of the hill north of the turnpike, to place it before the enemy near the Sudley and Manassas road. Here he was assailed by greatly superior numbers, which he resisted obstinately.
General Beauregard had joined me on Lookout Hill, and we could distinctly hear the sounds and see the smoke of the fight. But they indicated no hostile force that Evans’s troops and those of Bee, Hampton, and Jackson, which we could see hurrying toward the conflict in that order, were not adequate to resist.
On reaching the broad, level top of the hill south of the turnpike, Bee, appreciating the strength of the position, formed his troops (half of his own and half of Bartow’s brigade) on that ground. But seeing Evans struggling against great odds, he crossed the valley and formed on the right and a little in advance of him. Here the 5 or 6 regiments, with 6 field-pieces, held their ground for an hour against 10,000 or 12,000 United States troops,(10) when, finding they were overlapped on each flank by the continually arriving enemy, General Bee fell back to the position from which he had moved to rescue Evans — crossing the valley, closely pressed by the Federal army.
Hampton with his Legion reached the valley as the retrograde movement began. Forming it promptly, he joined in the action, and contributed greatly to the orderly character of the retreat by his courage and admirable soldiership, seconded by the excellent conduct of the gentlemen composing his command. Imboden and his battery did excellent service on this trying occasion. Bee met Jackson at the head of his brigade, on the position he had first taken, and he began to re-form and Jackson to deploy at the same time.
In the mean time I had been waiting with General Beauregard on Lookout Hill for evidence of General McDowell’s design. The violence of the firing on the left indicated a battle, but the large bodies of troops reported by chosen scouts to be facing our right kept me in doubt. But near 11 o’clock reports that those troops were felling trees showed that they were standing on the defensive; and new clouds of dust on the left proved that a large body of Federal troops was arriving on the field. It thus appeared that the enemy’s great effort was to be against our left. I expressed this to General Beauregard, and the necessity of reenforcing the brigades engaged, and desired him to send immediate orders to Early and Holmes, of the second line, to hasten to the conflict with their brigades. General Bonham, who was near me, was desired to send up two regiments and a battery. I then set off at a rapid gallop to the scene of action. General Beauregard joined me without a word. Passing on the way Colonel Pendleton with two batteries, I directed him to follow with them as fast as possible.
It now seemed that a battle was to be fought entirely different in place and circumstance from the two plans previously adopted and abandoned as impracticable. Instead of taking the initiative and operating in front of our line, we were compelled to fight on the defensive more than a mile in rear of that line, and at right angles to it, on a field selected by Bee,— with no other plans than those suggested by the changing events of battle.
While we were riding forward General Beauregard suggested to me to assign him to the immediate command of the troops engaged, so that my supervision of the whole field might not be interrupted, to which I assented. So he commanded those troops under me; as elsewhere, lieutenant-generals commanded corps, and major-generals divisions, under me.
When we were near the ground where Bee was re-forming and Jackson deploying his brigade, I saw a regiment in line with ordered arms and facing to the front, but 200 or 300 yards in rear of its proper place. On inquiry I learned that it had lost all its field-officers; so, riding on its left flank, I easily marched it to its place. It was the 4th Alabama, an excellent regiment; and I mention this because the circumstance has been greatly exaggerated.
After the troops were in good battle order I turned to the supervision of the whole field. The enemy’s great numerical superiority was discouraging. Yet, from strong faith in Beauregard’s capacity and courage, and the high soldierly qualities of Bee and Jackson, I hoped that the fight would be maintained until I could bring adequate reinforcements to their aid. For this Holmes and Early were urged to hasten their march, and Ewell was ordered to follow them with his brigade with all speed. Broken troops were reorganized and led back into the fight with the help of my own and part of General Beauregard’s staff. Cocke’s brigade was held in rear of the right to observe a large body of Federal troops in a position from which Bee’s right flank could have been struck in a few minutes.
After these additions had been made to our troops then engaged, we had 9 regiments of infantry, 5 batteries, and 300 cavalry of the Army of the Shenandoah, and about 2 regiments and a half of infantry, 6 companies of cavalry, and 6 field-pieces of the Army of the Potomac, holding at bay 3 divisions of the enemy. The Southern soldiers had, however, two great advantages in the contest: greater skill in the use of fire-arms, and the standing on the defensive, by which they escaped such disorder as advancing under fire produced in the ranks of their adversaries, undisciplined like themselves.
A report received about 2 o’clock from General Beauregard’s office that another United States army was approaching from the north-west, and but a few miles from us, caused me to send orders to Bonham, Longstreet, and Jones to hold their brigades south of Bull Run, and ready to move.
When Bonham’s two regiments appeared soon after, Cocke’s brigade was ordered into action on our right. Fisher’s North Carolina regiment coming up, Bonham’s two regiments were directed against the Federal right, and Fisher’s was afterward sent in the same direction; for the enemy’s strongest efforts seemed to be directed against our left, as if to separate us from Manassas Junction.
About 3:30 o’clock, General E. K. Smith arrived with three regiments of Elzey’s brigade, coming from Manassas Junction. He was instructed, through a staff-officer sent forward to meet him, to form on the left of our line, his left thrown forward, and to attack the enemy in flank. At his request I joined him, directed his course, and gave him these instructions. Before the formation was completed, he fell severely wounded, and while falling from his horse directed Colonel Elzey to take command. That officer appreciated the manoeuvre and executed it gallantly and well. General Beauregard promptly seized the opportunity it afforded, and threw forward the whole line. The enemy was driven from the long-contested hill, and the tide of battle at length turned. But the first Federal line driven into the valley was there rallied on a second, the two united presenting a formidable aspect. In the mean time, however, Colonel Early had come upon the field with his brigade. He was instructed by me to make a detour to the left and assail the Federal right in flank. He reached the ground in time, accompanied by Stuart’s cavalry and Beckham’s battery, and made his attack with a skill and courage which routed the Federal right in a moment. General Beauregard, charging in front, made the rout complete. The Federal right fled in confusion toward the Sudley Ford, and the center and left marched off rapidly by the turnpike.
Stuart pursued the fugitives on the Sudley road, and Colonel Radford, with two squadrons which I had held in reserve near me during the day, was directed to cross Bull Run at Ball’s Ford, and strike the column on the turnpike in flank. The number of prisoners taken by these parties of cavalry greatly exceeded their own numbers. But they were too weak to make a serious impression on an army, although a defeated one.
At twenty minutes before 5, when the retreat of the enemy toward Centreville began, I sent orders to Brigadier-General Bonham by Lieutenant-Colonel Lay, of his staff, who happened to be with me, to march with his own and Longstreet’s brigade (which were nearest Bull Run and the Stone Bridge), by the quickest route to the turnpike, and form them across it to intercept the retreat of the Federal troops. But he found so little appearance of rout in those troops as to make the execution of his instructions seem impracticable; so the two brigades returned to their camps. When the retreat began, the body of United States troops that had passed the day on the Centreville side of Bull Run made a demonstration on the rear of our right; which was repelled by Holmes’s brigade just arrived.
Soon after the firing ceased, General Ewell reported to me, saying that his brigade was about midway from its camp near Union Mills. He had ridden forward to see the part of the field on which he might be required to serve, to prepare himself to act intelligently.
The victory was as complete as one gained in an open country by infantry and artillery can be. Our cavalry pursued as far as they could effectively; but when they encountered the main column, after dispersing or capturing little parties and stragglers, they could make no impression.
General Beauregard’s first plan of attack was delivered to me by his aide-de-camp, Colonel Chisolm, when I was thirty-four miles from Manassas. It was, that I should leave the railroad at Piedmont station, thirty-six miles from the enemy at Centreville, and attack him in rear, and when our artillery announced that we had begun the fight, General Beauregard would move up from Bull Run and assail the enemy on that side. I rejected the plan, because such a one would enable an officer of ordinary sense and vigor to defeat our two armies one after the other. For McDowell, by his numerical superiority, could have disposed of my forces in less than two hours; that is to say, before Beauregard could have come up, when he also could have been defeated and the campaign ended.
An opinion seems to prevail with some persons who have written about the battle, that important plans of General Beauregard were executed by him. It is a mistake; the first intention, announced to General Beauregard by me when we met, was to attack the enemy at Centreville as early as possible on the 21st. This was anticipated by McDowell’s early advance. The second, to attack the Federals in flank near the turnpike with our main force, suggested by General Beauregard, was prevented by the enemy’s occupation of the high ground in front of our right.
As fought, the battle was made by me; Bee’s and Jackson’s brigades were transferred to the left by me. I decided that the battle was to be there, and directed the measures necessary to maintain it; a most important one being the assignment of General Beauregard to the immediate command of this left, which he held. In like manner the senior officer on the right would have commanded there, if the Federal left had attacked.
These facts in relation to the battle are my defense against the accusation indorsed by General Beauregard and published by Mr. Davis.
In an account of the battle published in “The Century” for November, 1884, General Beauregard mentions offensive operations which he “had designed and ordered against his [adversary's] left flank and rear at Centreville,” and censures my friend General R. S. Ewell for their failure. At the time referred to, three of the four Federal divisions were near Bull Run, above the turnpike, and the fourth facing our right, so that troops of ours, going to Centreville then, if not prevented by the Federal division facing them, would have found no enemy. And General Ewell was not, as he reports, “instructed in the plan of attack”; for he says in his official report: “… I first received orders to hold myself in readiness to advance at a moment’s notice. I next received a copy of an order sent to General Jones and furnished me by him, in which it was stated I had been ordered at once to proceed to his support.” Three other orders, he says, followed, each contradictory of its predecessor. General Ewell knew that a battle was raging; but knew, too, that between him and it were other unengaged brigades, and that his commander was near enough to give him orders. But he had no reason to suppose that his commander desired him to move to Centreville, where there was then no enemy. There could have been no greater mistake on General Ewell’s part than making the movement to Centreville.
A brief passage in my official report of this battle displeased President Davis. In referring to his telegraphic order I gave its meaning very briefly, but accurately—”directing me, if practicable, to go to [General Beauregard's] assistance, after sending my sick to Culpeper Court House.” Mr. Davis objected to the word after. Being informed of this by a friend, I cheerfully consented to his expunging the word, because that would not affect the meaning of the sentence. But the word is still in his harsh indorsement. He also had this passage stricken out: “The delay of sending the sick, nearly seventeen hundred in number, to Culpeper, would have made it impossible to arrive at Manassas in time. They were therefore provided for in Winchester “; and substituted this: “Our sick, nearly seventeen hundred in number, were provided for in Winchester.” Being ordered to send the sick to Culpeper as well as to move to Manassas, it was necessary to account for disobedience, which my words did, and which his substitute for them did not.
Mr. Davis (“R. and F.,” L, 359) expresses indignation that, as he says, “among the articles abandoned by the enemy . . . were handcuffs, the fit appendage of a policeman, but not of a soldier.” I saw none, nor did I see any one who had seen them.
Mr. Davis says (page 359): “On the night of the 22d, I held a second conference with Generals Johnston and Beauregard.” I was in no conference like that of which account is given on page 360. And one that he had with me on that day proved conclusively that he had no thought of sending our army against Washington; for in it he offered me the command in West Virginia, promising to increase the forces there adequately from those around us. He says (page 361):
“What discoveries would have been made, and what results would have ensued from the establishment of our guns upon the south bank of the river to open Are upon the capital, are speculative questions upon which it would be useless to enter.”
Mr. Davis seems to have forgotten what was as well known then as now— that our army was more disorganized by victory than that of the United States by defeat; that there were strong fortifications, well manned, to cover the approaches to Washington and prevent the establishment of our guns on the south bank of the river. He knew, too, that we had no means of cannonading the capital, nor a disposition to make barbarous war. He says (“R. and F.,” I., 362):
“When the smoke of battle had lifted from the field . . . some . . . censoriously asked why the fruits of the victory had not been gathered by the capture of Washington City. Then some indiscreet friends of the generals commanding in that battle . . . induced the allegation that the President had prevented the generals from making an immediate and vigorous pursuit of the routed enemy.”
Mr. Davis has no ground for this assertion; the generals were attacked first and most severely. It was not until the newspapers had exhausted themselves upon us that some of them turned upon him. On November 3d he wrote to me that reports were circulated to the effect that he
“prevented General Beauregard from pursuing the enemy after the battle of Manassas, and had subsequently restrained him from advancing upon Washington City. … I call upon vou, as the commanding general, and as a party to all the conferences held by me on the 21st and 22d of July, to say whether I obstructed the pursuit of the enemy after the victory at Manassas, or have ever objected to an advance or other active operation which it was feasible for the army to undertake.” (“R. and P.,” I., 363.)
I replied on the 10th, answering the first question in the negative, and added an explanation which put the responsibility on myself. I replied to the second question, that it had never been feasible for the army to advance farther toward Washington than it had done, and referred to a conference at Fairfax Court House [October 1st, 1861] in reference to leading the army into Maryland, in which he informed the three senior officers that he had not the means of giving the army the strength which they considered necessary for offensive operations.
Mr. Davis was displeased by my second reply, because in his mind there was but one question in his letter. I maintain that there are two; namely, (1) Did he obstruct the pursuit of the enemy after the victory at Manassas? (2) Had he ever objected to an advance or other active operation which it was feasible for the army to undertake?
The second matter is utterly unconnected with the battle of Manassas, and as the question of advance or other active operation had been discussed nowhere by him, to my knowledge, but at the conference at Fairfax Court House, I supposed that he referred to it. He was dissatisfied with my silence in regard to the conferences which he avers took place on July 21st and 22d, the first knowledge of which I have derived from his book.
THE WITHDRAWAL FROM CENTREVILLE TO THE PENINSULA.
Mr. Davis refers (“Rise and Fall,” I., 444-5) to the instructions for the reorganization of the army given by him to the three general officers whom he met in conference at Fairfax Court House on October 1st, 1861. But the correspondence urging the carrying out of the orders was carried on with Generals Beauregard and G. W. Smith (my subordinates) in that same October. He neither conversed nor corresponded with me on the subject then, the letter to me being dated May 10th, 1862. The original order was dated October 22d, 1861, to be executed “as soon as, in the judgment of the commanding general, it can be safely done under present exigencies.” As the enemy was then nearer to our center than that center to either flank of our army, and another advance upon us by the Federal army was not improbable on any day, it seemed to me unsafe to make the reorganization then. From May 10th to 26th, when the President renewed the subject, we were in the immediate presence of the enemy, when reorganization would have been infinitely dangerous, as was duly represented by me. But, alluding to this conference at Fairfax Court House, he says (p. 449): “When, at that time and place, I met General Johnston for conference, he called in the two generals next in rank to himself, Beauregard and G. W. Smith.” These officers were with Mr. Davis in the quarters of General Beauregard, whose guest he was, when I was summoned to him. I had not power to bring any officer into the conference. If such authority had belonged to my office, the personal relations lately established between us by the President would not have permitted me to use it.
He says (pp. 448-9): “I will now proceed to notice the allegation that I was responsible for inaction of the Army of the Potomac in the latter part of 1861 and in the early part of 1862.” I think Mr. Davis is here fighting a shadow. I have never seen or heard of the “allegation” referred to; I believe that that conference attracted no public attention, and brought criticism upon no one. I have seen no notice of it in print, except the merely historical one in a publication made by me in 1874, (11) without criticism or comment.
In the same paragraph Mr. Davis expresses surprise at the weakness of the army. He has forgotten that in Richmond he was well informed of the strength of the army by periodical reports, which showed him the prevalence of epidemics which, in August and part of September, kept almost thirty per cent. of our number sick. He must have forgotten, too, his anxiety on this subject, which induced him to send a very able physician, Dr. Cartwright, to find some remedy or preventive.
He asserts also that “the generals” had made previous suggestions of a “purpose to advance into Maryland.” There had been no such purpose. On the contrary, in my letter to the Secretary of War, suggesting the conference, I wrote:
“Thus far the numbers and condition of this army have at no time justified our assuming the offensive. . . . The difficulty of obtaining the means of establishing a battery near Evansport (12). . . has given me the impression that you cannot at present put this army in condition to assume the offensive. If I am mistaken in this, and you can furnish those means, I think it important that either his Excellency the President, yourself, or some one representing you, should here, upon the ground, confer with me on this all-important question.”
In a letter dated September 29th, 1861, the Secretary wrote that the President would reach my camp in a day or two for conference. He came for that object September 30th, and the next evening, by his appointment, he was waited on by Generals Beauregard, Gustavus W. Smith, and myself. In discussing the question of giving our army strength enough to assume the offensive in Maryland, it was proposed to bring to it from the South troops enough to raise it to the required strength. The President asked what was that strength. General Smith thought 50,000 men, General Beauregard 60,000, and I 60,000, all of us specifying soldiers like those around us. The President replied that such reenforcements could not be furnished; he could give only as many recruits as we could arm. This decided the question. Mr. Davis then proposed an expedition against Hooker’s division, consisting, we believed, of 10,000 men. It was posted on the Maryland shore of the Potomac, opposite Dumfries. But I objected that we had no means of ferrying an equal number of men across the river in a day, even if undisturbed by ships of war, which controlled the river; so that, even if we should succeed in landing, those vessels of war would inevitably destroy or capture our party returning. This terminated the conference. Mr. Davis says, in regard to the reenforcements asked for (“R. and F.,” I., 449): “I had no power to make such an addition to that army without a total disregard of the safety of other threatened positions.” We had no threatened positions; and we could always discover promptly the fitting out of naval expeditions against us. And he adds (p. 451), with reference to my request for a conference in regard to reenforcements:
“Very little experience, or a fair amount of modesty without any experience, would serve to prevent one from announcing his conclusion that troops could be withdrawn from a place or places without knowing how many were there, and what was the necessity for their presence.”
The refutation of this is in General G. W. Smith’s memorandum of the discussion: “General Johnston said that he did not feel at liberty to express an opinion of the practicability of reducing the strength of our forces at points not within the limits of his command.” On page 452 [referring to possible minor offensive operations. — EDITORS ] Mr. Davis says he
“particularly indicated the lower part of Maryland, where a small force was said to be ravaging the country.”
He suggested nothing so impossible. Troops of ours could not have been ferried across the broad Potomac then. We had no steamer on that river, nor could we have used one. Mr. Davis says (“R. and F.,” I., 452):
“… Previously, General Johnston’s attention had been called to possibilities in the Valley of the Shenandoah, and that these and other like things were not done, was surely due to other causes than ‘the policy of the Administration’”. . . .
Then he quotes from a letter to me, dated August 1st, 1861, as follows:
“… The movement of Banks (13) will require your attention. It may be a ruse, but if a real movement, when your army has the requisite strength and mobility, you will probably find an opportunity, by a rapid movement through the passes, to strike him in rear or flank.”
It is matter of public notoriety that no incursion into the ” Valley ” worth the notice of a Confederate company was made until March, 1862. That the Confederate President should be ignorant of this is inconceivable. Mr. Davis says (p. 462):
“… I received from General Johnston notice that his position [at Centreville] was considered unsafe. Many of his letters to me have been lost, and I have thus far not been able to find the one giving the notice referred to, but the reply which is annexed clearly indicates the substance of the letter which was answered: ‘ General J. E. Johnston: . . . Your opinion that your position may be turned whenever the enemy chooses to advance,’ etc.”
The sentence omitted by him after my name in his letter from which he quotes as above contains the dates of three letters of mine, in neither of which is there allusion to the safety (or reverse) of the position. They are dated 22d, 23d, and 25th of February, and contain complaints on my part of the dreadful condition of the country, and of the vast accumulation by the Government of superfluous stores at Manassas. There is another omission in the President’s letter quoted, and the omission is this:
“… with your present force, you cannot secure your communications from the enemy, and may at any time, when he can pass to your rear, be compelled to retreat at the sacrifice of your siege train and army stores. . . . Threatened as we are by a large force on the south-east, you must see the hazard of your position, by its liability to isolation and attack in rear.”
By a singular freak of the President’s memory, it transferred the substance of these passages from his letter to my three.
Referring again to the conference at Fairfax Court House [October 1st], Mr. Davis says (p. 464):
“Soon thereafter, the army withdrew to Centreville, a better position for defense, but not for attack, and thereby suggestive of the abandonment of an intention to advance.”
The President forgets that in that conference the intention to advance was abandoned by him first. He says on the same page:
“On the 10th of March I telegraphed to General Johnston: ‘Further assurance given to me this day that you shall be promptly and adequately reenforced, so as to enable you to maintain your position, and resume first policy when the roads will permit.’ The first policy was to carry the war beyond our own border.”
The roads then permitted the marching of armies, so we had just left Manassas. (14)
On the 20th of February, after a discussion in Richmond, his Cabinet being present, the President had directed me to prepare to fall back from Manassas, and do so as soon as the condition of the country should make the marching of troops practicable. I returned to Manassas February 21st, and on the 22d ordered the proper officers to remove the public property, which was begun on the 23d, the superintendent of the railroad devoting himself to the work under the direction of its president, the Hon. John S. Barbour. The Government had collected three million and a quarter pounds of provisions there, I insisting on a supply of but a million and a half. It also had two million pounds in a meat-curing establishment near at hand, and herds of live stock besides. On the 9th of March, when the ground had become firm enough for military operations, I ordered the army to march that night, thinking then, as I do now, that the space of fifteen days was time enough in which to subordinate an army to the Commissary Department. About one million pounds of this provision was abandoned, and half as much more was spoiled for want of shelter. This loss is represented (“R. and F.,” I., 468) (15) as so great as to embarrass us to the end of the war, although it was only a six days’ supply for the troops then in Virginia. Ten times as much was in North Carolina railroad stations at the end of the war. Mr. Davis says (p. 467):
“It was regretted that earlier and more effective means wore not employed for the mobilization of the army, . . . or at least that the withdrawal was not so deliberate as to secure the removal of our ordnance, subsistence, nnd quartermaster’s stores.”
The quartermaster’s and ordnance stores were brought off; and as to subsistence, the Government, which collected immediately on the frontier five times the quantity of provisions wanted, is responsible for the losses. The President suggested the time of the withdrawal himself, in the interview in his office that has been mentioned. The means taken was the only one available,— the Virginia Midland Railroad. Mr. Davis says (“R. and F.,” I., 465):
“To further inquiry from General Johnston as to where he should take position, I replied that I would go to his headquarters in the field, and found him on the south bank of the river, to which he had retired, in a position possessing great natural advantages.”
There was no correspondence in relation to selecting a defensive position. I was not seeking one; but, instead, convenient camping-grounds, from which my troops could certainly unite with other Confederate forces to meet McClellan’s invasion. I had found and was occupying such grounds, one division being north of Orange Court House, another a mile or two south of it, and two others some six miles east of that place; a division on the south bank of the Rappahannock, and the cavalry beyond the river, and about 13,000 troops in the vicinity of Fredericksburg. Mr. Davis’s narrative [of a visit to Fredericksburg at this time, the middle of March.— EDITORS] that follows is disposed of by the proof that, after the army left Manassas, the President did not visit it until about the 14th of May.ft But such a visit, if made, could not have brought him to the conclusion that the weakness of Fredericksburg as a military position made it unnecessary to find a strong one for the army.
Mr. Davis (“R. and F.,” II., 81) credits me with expecting an attack which he shows General McClellan never had in his mind:
“In a previous chapter, the retreat of our army from Centreville has been described, and reference has been made to the anticipation of the commanding general, J. E. Johnston, that the enemy would soon advance to attack that position.”
This refers, I suppose, to a previous assertion (” R. and F.,” L, 462), my comments upon which prove that this ” anticipation ” was expressed in the President’s letter to me, dated February 28th, 1862. He says (” R. and F.,” II., 83):
“The withdrawal of our forces across the Rappahannock was fatal to the [Federal] programme of landing on that river and marching to Richmond before our forces could be in position to resist an attack on the capital.”
This withdrawal was expressly to enable the army to unite with other Confederate troops to oppose the expected invasion. I supposed that General MeClellan would march down the Potomac on the Maryland side, cross it near the mouth of Aquia Creek, and take the Fredericksburg route to Richmond. The position of Hooker, about midway between Washington and this crossing-place, might well have suggested that he had this intention.
POSTCRIPT.— In the first paragraph of General Beauregard’s postcript, it is asserted that I did not claim to have commanded in the first battle of Manassas until May, 1885, and that my official report of that action contains no such claim. It is, nevertheless, distinctly expressed in that report — thus:
“In a brief and rapid conference, General Beauregard was assigned to the command of the left, which, as the younger officer, he claimed, while I returned to that of the whole field.”
And in “Johnston’s Narrative,” published in 1874, it is expressed in these words, on page 49:
“After assigning General Beauregard to the command of the troops immediately engaged, which he properly suggested belonged to the second in rank, not to the commander of the army. I returned to the supervision of the whole field.”
So much for my not having claimed to have commanded at the” first Manassas ” until May, 1885.
General Beauregard in his official report states the circumstance thus:
“. . .I urged General Johnston to leave the immediate conduct of the field to me, while ho, repairing to Portici, the Lewis house, should urge reinforcements forward.”
This language would certainly limit his command as mine does. He did not attempt to command the army, while I did command it, and disposed of all the troops not engaged at the time of his assignment.
In his official report of the battle, General Beauregard further states:
“Made acquainted with my plan of operations and dispositions to meet the enemy, he gave them his entire approval, and generously directed their execution under my command.”
The only “plan” that he offered me [to move via Aldie] was rejected — on the 14th, before my arrival. The battle fought was on McDowell’s plan, not General Beauregard’s. The proof of this is, that at its commencement little more than a regiment of Beauregard’s command was on the ground where the battle was fought, and, of his 7 brigades, 1 was a mile and 6* were from 4 to 7 or 8 miles from it. The place of the battle was fixed by Bee’s aud Jackson’s brigades, sent forward by my direction. At my request General Beauregard did write an order of march against the Federal army, finished a little before sunrise of the 21st. In it I am invariably termed commander-in-chief, and he (to command one of the wings) “second in command,” or General Beauregard—conclusive proof that the troops were not “under his command.”
Two letters, from General Lee and Mr. Walker, Secretary of War, are cited as evidence that General Beauregard commanded. Those gentlemen were not in a position to know if I relinquished the command. But I had this letter from General Lee:
“RICHMOND, July 24th, 1861. MY DEAR GENERAL : I almost wept for joy at the glorious victory achieved by our brave troops. The feelings of my heart could hardly be repressed on learning the brilliant share you had in its achievement. I expected nothing else, and am truly grateful for your safety. . . .”
In conclusion, I cannot discover that my unfavorable opinion of the Federal general’s tactics, quoted by General Beauregard, indicates a fear to command against him.
(1) The letter of protest covered nine sheets of letter-paper, and the ninth sheet (to quote from the original) sums up the matter in these words:
“My commission is made to bear such a date that my once Inferiors in the service of the United States and of the Confederate States shall be above me. But it must not be dated as of the 21st of July nor be suggestive of the victory of Manassas. I return to my first position. I repeat that my right to my rank as General is established by the Acts of Congress of the 14th of March, 1861, and the 16th of May, 1861, and not by the nomination and confirmation of the 31st of August. 1861. To deprive me of that rank it was necessary for Congress to repeal those laws. That could be done by express legislative act alone. It was not done, it could not be done, by a mere vote in secret session upon a list of nominations. If the action against which I have protested be legal, it is not for me to question the expediency of degrading one who has served laboriously from the commencement of the war on this frontier, and borne a prominent part in the only great event of that war for the benefit of persons neither of whom has yet struck a blow for this Confederacy. These views and the freedom with whieh they are presented may be unusual. So likewise is the occasion which calls them forth. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
“J. E. JOHNSTON, General.
“To His Excellency, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, Richmond.”
This ninth sheet is all of the original letter that can be found by the present owner, Mrs. Bledsoe, widow of Dr. Albert T. Bledsoe, who, at the time the letter was written, was Assistant-Secretary of War. Dr. Bledsoe told his wife that President Davis handed the letter to him, with the remark that it would not go upon the official files, and that ho might keep it if he liked.— EDITORS.
(2) This letter of Major Whiting to General Johnston and General Johnston’s letter (probably referred to as the indorsement), are both dated May 28th 1861. The phrase of General Cooper, “You had been heretofore instructed,” should have read either “You had been theretofore [before May 28th] instructed,” or, “You have been heretofore [before June 13th] instructed.” The latter is probably what was meant, as the only letter of instructions to General Johnston received at Harper’s Ferry giving him permission to use his discretion which is to be found in the Official Records, is the one of June 7th from General Lee, in which he says: “It is hoped that you will be able to be timely informed of the approach of troops against you, and retire, provided they cannot be successfully opposed. You must exercise your discretion and judgment in this respect.”—EDITORS.
(3) “Official Records,” II, 910.
(4) See “Official Records,” II, 924, 935, 940, 973, 976-977.
(5) Mr. Davis has a few words of praise for General Johnston, which, in this connection, will be of interest to the reader: “It gives me pleasure to state that, from all the accounts received at the time, the plans of General Johnston for masking his withdrawal to form a junction with General Beauregard were conducted with marked skill” (“R. and P.,” I, 347).— EDITORS
(6) This telegram, sent in response to an inquiry from General Johnston, read as follows: “Richmond, July 20, 1861. General J. E. Johnston, Manassas Junction, Virginia: You are a general in the Confederate Army, possessed of the power attaching to that rank. You will know how to make the exact knowledge of Brigadier-General Beauregard, as well of the ground as of the troops and preparation, avail for the success of. the object in which you cooperate. The zeal of both assures me of harmonious action. JEFFERSON DAVIS”
(7) Captain John F. Lay. See “Official Records,” II., 573.— EDITORS.
(8) Not by Mr. Davis, but in a letter from General Thomas Jordan, quoted by Mr. Davis for another purpose.— EDITORS.
(9) General J. A. Early, in his narrative of these events, says: “During the 20th, General Johnston arrived at Manassas Junction by the railroad, and that day we received the order from him assuming command of the combined armies of General Beauregard and himself.”—J. E. J.
(10) General Fry (page 185) states that these troops were Andrew Porter’s and Burnside’s brigades, and one regiment of Heintzelman’s division. Reckoning by the estimate of strength given by General Fry on page 194 these would have made a total of about 0500 men.—EDITORS.
(11) See “Johnston’s Narrative” (New York: D. Appleton & Co.), pp. 78, 79.
(12) Evansport is on the Potomac below Alexandria, at the mouth of Quantico Creek.
(13) By orders dated July 19th, 1861, General N. P. Banks had been assigned to the command of the Department of the Shenandoah, relieving General Patterson in command of the army at Harper’s Ferry, General Patterson being by the same orders “honorably discharged from the service of the United States,” on the expiration of his term of duty.—EDITORS.
(14) Between the 7th and 11th of March, 1862, the Confederate forces in north-eastern Virginia, under the General Johnston, were withdrawn to the line of Rappahannock. On the 11-12th Stonewall Jackson evacuated Winchester and fell back to Strasburg.—EDITORS.
(15) Not by Mr. Davis, but in a statement quoted at the above page from General J. A. Early, who said, “The loss . . . was a very serious one to us, and embarrassed us for the remainder of the war, as it put us at once on a running stock.”— EDITORS
(16) In “The Century” magazine for May, 1885, General Johnston, to support his assertion, quoted statements by Major J. B. Washington, Dr. A. M. Fauntleroy, and Colonel E. J. Harvie, which are, now omitted for want of space.— EDITORS. VOL. I. 17