Report of Lieut. Stephen C. Lyford, First U.S. Dragoons
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp 363-365
FORT CORCORAN, VA., July 25, 1861
SIR: In obedience to your orders, I beg leave to submit the following report of the engagement at Bull Run on Sunday, July 21, 1861:
Being attached to General Schenck’s brigade, we joined the division under the command of General Tyler, and at about 2 o’clock in the morning of July 21, our brigade leading the column, our battery was preceded by the First and Second Ohio Volunteers and the Second New York Volunteers in the above-mentioned order. We arrived in view of the enemy’s position about 5 a.m., and immediately opened fire with the 30-pounder rifled gun attached to our battery, under the immediate command of Lieutenant Hains, U.S. Army. This fire not being responded to, it was soon discontinued, and our brigade was ordered to take up a position in order of battle to the right and left of the main road, our battery being placed in the skirts of the woods on the right, with a hill immediately in our rear. The ground in front was entirely open, extending to the creek, on the farther side of which the enemy had constructed an abatis. Three regiments of volunteers were placed near us to support our battery. We then awaited the advance of the columns under Colonels Hunter and Heintzelman, who were to attack the enemy in flank. These troops advanced into position about 9 a.m., and immediately opened the attack, which was continued with great warmth on both sides. Several regiments from General Tyler’s division being ordered to cross the creek to their support, one of these regiments attempted to cross the open ground in front of our division, when a battery of the enemy opened fire upon them. This regiment was instantly dispersed in all directions. We replied to this fire so successfully that in a short time the battery was completely silenced, and, from the accounts of persons who afterwards visited their position, we found that only some ten or twelve of their men remained unhurt.
The section under my command, being composed of one 6-pounder gun and one 12-pounder howitzer, made use of shell, spherical case, and solid shot, ending with a few rounds of canister. Our supports in the mean time had disappeared, and from this time no regular support was sent to us. Without using our field guns for some time we continued the fire with the 30-pounder at intervals. In the afternoon, probably about 2 o’clock, we were ordered to a new position to counterbatter the enemy’s batteries, which were at such a distance that they could not be reached by our guns. We were here exposed to a most galling fire without being able to reply with success. The section commanded by Lieutenant Wilson having been ordered to a new position, and being actively engaged, I was ordered to place my section in a position to be designated by a captain of the Massachusetts volunteers, where, according to his statement, the ranks of the enemy could be much damaged by my fire. Upon advancing down the road for a quarter of a mile, under the fire of two of the enemy’s batteries, this place was pointed out by the captain, but not liking the position, I considered it advisable to halt my section, and proceed alone to examine the ground. On examination, I found that I should be directly under the fire of two batteries, without any support, and where, to obtain an elevation necessary to throw projectiles three hundred yards, it would be necessary to sink the trails of our carriages in the ground. In addition to this, there was nothing to use artillery against, and no troops whatever to support us. Taking these circumstances into consideration, I did not think that I should be justified in placing my guns in such a position, and consequently returned to my starting point.
Shortly after this our battery moved to the rear into the woods, and there remained in the road, the battery being in column of pieces. We remained in this position for some little time, when an order was given to move still farther to the rear. On emerging from the woods, we encountered a charge of cavalry. When my section was made aware of the enemy’s approach, the cavalry was not fifteen yards distant. The command “Gallop” was then given, and the rout was made in the greatest confusion. Previous to our encounter, several regiments had passed us at a run, completely routed, without our being aware that we had lost the day. Had there been any support for our battery, had one company of infantry stood fast, the cavalry could easily have been repulsed, and the shameful consequences avoided. Our battery moving at a gallop, the carriages one by one broke down, and the pieces one by one were scattered along the road. I rode with my section till I saw that all was lost, and, after receiving a ball in my horse’s neck, I continued on in your company to Centreville. From Centreville I rode with dispatches to General Scott, and arrived at Fort Corcoran at daylight on Monday morning. After partaking of refreshments, I rode back to Vienna, to pick up the stragglers belonging to our company. Throughout the day the non-commissioned officers and privates of my command behaved with the utmost coolness and gallantry.
I am, sir, with much respect, your obedient servant,
Second Lieutenant, First Dragoons, U.S. Army
Capt. J. HOWARD CARLISLE,
Commanding Company E, Second Artillery, U. S. Army