Report of Lieut. George Bell, Acting Commissary Subsistence, Army, of the Subsistence of the Army from July 16 to 22
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp 338-340
WASHINGTON, D.C., August 1, 1861
SIR: In compliance with your instructions of the 31st ultimo, I have the honor to submit the following report:
On the 16th ultimo about fifty wagons arrived at Alexandria, Va., for the transportation of subsistence stores for General McDowell’s command. On the following day you directed me to forward about sixty more, sufficient for the amount of stores. These were in a very incomplete condition for the road, very few of the horses being shod; a large number of teamsters and wagon-masters very inexperienced; the horses new; a number of wagons requiring linchpins before they could be moved; also requiring hame-strings, extra traces, links, &c., necessary to produce a rapid and secure movement on the road. My whole attention was directed to putting them in proper condition, neglecting for a time my legitimate duties in the subsistence department. The recent establishment of the quartermaster’s depot in Alexandria, the constant and continued employment of the workmen for the volunteers, their limited number, besides its utter destitution of all the essentials of a quartermaster’s depot, compelled me to send to Washington for what requisites I could obtain.
Immediately after General McDowell’s presence there more energy was displayed. On the evening of the 17th and morning of the 18th 60,000 complete assorted rations, in parcels or sections of 15,000 each, were packed by me in about fifty-four wagons. I also attached one extra wagon to each section with the substantial parts of the ration. These wagons I turned over to Lieutenant Hawkins, U.S. Army, in a complete condition as far as the requirements of the Quartermaster’s Department were concerned. I then packed for myself, in a similar manner with the extra, 45,000 rations in about forty-eight wagons; all the hard bread in boxes. About 108,000 rations were taken by Lieutenant Hawkins and myself on the 18th ultimo. I also took seventy beef cattle.
On the 18th, with an escort of about two hundred men of the New Jersey Volunteers, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Moore, I left Alexandria for Colonel Heintzelman’s command. The only information I could obtain before their departure was, they intended taking the extreme left. I was informed by General Runyon, commanding, that they had gone to Occoquan, and started on the road for that place. After having proceeded several miles, I was informed by an officer he had just left Colonel Heintzelman at Fairfax Station. I immediately changed my course, and proceeded direct to Fairfax Court-House, with the intention of going from thence to the station. I arrived at the Court-House about 4.45 p.m., and finding no person there from whom I could obtain any information, parked temporarily my train, sent Mr. Burns forward to look for you for orders, and proceeded myself direct to Fairfax Station to see Colonel Heintzelman. I found he had left a place two miles from there, on the advance, a few hours previous. As the cattle were completely exhausted by the extreme heat and the horses much tired, I camped for the night, and at 4 o’clock a.m. on the 19th started for Centreville, joining you about 8 o’clock a.m. After assisting you in the distribution of my stores, I returned the same night with the above one hundred empty wagons to Alexandria, arriving there about 6 o’clock on the morning of the 20th.
Mr. Leech accompanied me as chief wagon-master. We commenced loading as soon as practicable. I directed Mr. Leech to forward to Cloud’s Mill all the wagons as soon as loaded, and wait there until the entire train was completed. By 4 o’clock on the afternoon of the 21st ultimo all were on the road. I loaded, in sections of complete assorted rations of 7,000 and 14,000, 70,000 rations, and thirty wagons with the substantial parts of the ration–bread, meat, sugar, coffee, &c. About twenty-five wagons, with forage, &c., accompanied the train, with a few empty wagons for contingencies, as about sixty were idle in Alexandria when we left.
Lieutenant-Colonel Moore, with about three hundred New Jersey Volunteers, again joined me at Cloud’s Mill, which we left in complete order, expecting to join the command before daylight on the morning of the 22d. I was at the head of the train, and turned off about eight miles from Alexandria on a road I had previously traveled to avoid the hills. After proceeding from three to five miles farther I met a gentleman, who informed me the Army was routed and in full retreat. I proceeded about haft a mile farther, and met Lieutenant Stockton, of Colonel Hunter’s staff, with Colonel Hunter, wounded. He, in substance, told me the same. Believing that the presence of so large a train might embarrass the troops under any circumstances, and a delay of a few hours not materially affect them, I sent an express to General Runyon, requesting him to telegraph to Washington for instructions, and commenced parking my train in different fields along the road in small sections in such a manner it could advance or retire with rapidity, all the sections moving simultaneously.
I found, by approaching the rear, that Mr. Leech had failed to follow me, and taken about forty-five or fifty-five wagons on the road I left. I immediately sent a messenger to stop his train where it was, and also any cattle that might be on the road advancing, and to await further orders from me. (He was about one and a quarter miles from me.) After closing up his train he came up. I then directed him to park his train in a grass field, so he could move rapidly in either direction. I directed an expressman to proceed at once to General McDowell’s staff, and obtain such orders from you, or any reliable officer of the staff, as would control me. Lieutenant Mcintosh, of the New Jersey Volunteers, kindly volunteered, as also did Lieutenant-Colonel Moore. I also requested Lieutenant Mcintosh to examine carefully everything he could with reference to the movements, and return without delay. The expressman from General Runyon returned with the following order:
“General Scott directs you to halt, and govern your future movements by what you hear from the advance.” About 3.30 a.m. on the 22d ultimo Lieutenant Mcintosh returned, and said he had seen Lieutenant Hawkins, who told him the troops were retiring. He (Lieutenant Mcintosh) went on, and met a member of General McDowell’s staff (whose name he heard, but forgot), who informed him the Army were retiring, and expected to be at Arlington by daylight, if not cut off, and to tell me to get the wagons out of the road, so as not to embarrass them. He said he met some drovers with cattle hurrying back rapidly by your orders. I immediately ordered Mr. Burns to direct Mr. Leech to start without delay for Alexandria with such wagons as were with him, and started off the train with me. Mr. Leech followed me at the distance of a few hundred yards. The entire train arrived safely in Alexandria, without the loss of a wagon, before 7.30 a.m. on the 22d ultimo. A number of the wagons in the rear were stopped on the outskirts of the city and their contents taken. Also, after their arrival, I understand, a number were taken by troops of Colonel Davies’ brigade, but of the command I have nothing definite. I know the provisions left the Wagons after their return. I am confident all returned. As great disorder and confusion prevailed in Alexandria, I was apprehensive the wagons would be seized by the returning troops. I immediately proceeded to Washington and reported the fact to the Subsistence Department, who very judiciously ordered the entire train to Washington, with the cattle, which had also returned in safety. I am satisfied this movement alone saved the provisions from an unavoidable seizure.
Lieutenant-Colonel Moore and Lieutenant and Adjutant Mcintosh, of the New Jersey Volunteers, assisted in every possible manner, and kindly volunteered for any duty I might assign them to. The officers of Lieutenant-Colonel Moore’s command were also desirous of offering any aid in their power. Mr. Burns was invaluable to me as an assistant.
I have turned over all the stores in the train. The loss of hard bread was very heavy, from the inconvenience of transporting it and the breakage of the barrels.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
First Lieutenant, First Artillery, A. C. S.
Capt. H. F. CLARKE, C. S.
In charge of Subsistence of General McDowell’s command