Reports of Col. Israel B. Richardson, Second Michigan Infantry, Commanding Fourth Brigade, First Division
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp. 373-377
CAMP FOURTH BRIGADE, TYLER’S DIV.,
GEN. McDOWELL’S CORPS,
Near Arlington, July 25, 1861
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report as to the operations of my brigade in front of the enemy at Bull Run, on Sunday, July 21:
On the night of the 20th July I was summoned to attend a meeting of commanders of brigades at the headquarters of the commanding officer in the field, General McDowell, and, in common with the other commanders of brigades, I was instructed what was expected of my portion of the command on the following day–that is, I was to defend the position which I then occupied in front of the enemy, called Blackburn’s Ford, and about one mile in his front, where we had been for the last three days. I was also ordered to consider myself under the command of Col. D. S. Miles, U.S. Army, who was to command his own brigade at Centreville, my own, and that of Colonel Davies, midway between the two, these three brigades constituting what was then called the reserve.
Attached to my brigade was the field battery of Major Hunt, U.S. Army, and also the rifled battery of 10-pounders, under Lieutenant Greene, U.S. Army. I was ordered to open fire on the enemy for the purpose of making a diversion, not before, but soon after, hearing the report of General Tyler’s cannonade on my right, to carry out which purpose I made the following disposition of the brigade: Two batteries I placed on the ridge of a hill, in view of the enemy; the Third Michigan Infantry on the left of the road, in line of battle. Still farther, six hundred yards to the left, on a commanding eminence, I had placed the day before two companies of the First Massachusetts Regiment, for the purpose of holding the log barn and the frame barn, which companies pushed, picket style, farther to our left for the security of that point, which I considered a good position for artillery. In a ravine half way between the two positions I placed also a company of the First Massachusetts Regiment, which pushed pickets down the ravine to its front; and on the extreme right of all I placed the balance of the Massachusetts regiment in line of battle, with two companies of that regiment pushed four hundred yards to the right and front, which two companies again threw pickets in advance. The New York and Second Michigan Regiments I placed in the road five hundred yards in rear of the line as a reserve.
Soon after making these arrangements, which I did on hearing the report of artillery on our right, Colonel Davies’ brigade made its appearance, with him at its head. Inquiring of me the date of my commission, he found that he ranked me by ten days, and he assumed the command. That officer wished a good position for artillery to open, and I immediately proposed the position on our left, near the log house, from which a good view of a large stone barn, called by the people of the country the enemy’s headquarters, could be obtained. Colonel Davies brought up with him the rifled 20-pounder battery of Lieutenant Benjamin, and ordered it to open fire immediately. He directed, also, Hunt’s battery to his assistance, and I ordered Greene’s battery to open its fire at the same time. The enemy appeared to have withdrawn his guns from that position, as he returned no fire, or he might have been reserving his fire for the last attack. An hour’s cannonading, however, brought in view a column of the enemy’s infantry, which I observed with my glass. There were at least twenty-five hundred men; and soon after two other bodies of men, of at least a regiment each, who soon occupied the lines on the other side of the run, which lines already appeared full to overflowing. Supposing now that they intended to make a push across our front in column, or would endeavor to turn our left, about 11 o’clock a.m. I began to fortify my position by throwing up an earthen parapet, with embrasures across the road for three guns, and commenced an abatis of timber, by felling trees, pointing outwards, between this battery and the log house to the left.
About this time the enemy on the opposite side appeared to be falling back in confusion from our right attack, which continued for some time, and then the tide changed, and they seemed to be returning in large masses.
During the interval between these two extremes I was ordered by Colonel Miles to throw forward skirmishers and feel the enemy, and accordingly two companies of the Third Michigan Regiment were sent forward and down the ravine, to cover our front and advance; these were supported by Captain Brethschneider’s light infantry battalion, which also advanced down the ravine, accompanied by Lieutenant Prime, Corps of U.S. Engineers, who went for the purpose of ascertaining the enemy’s position, he volunteering his services for that particular purpose. Colonel Davies also threw forward a company of skirmishers on his right. The enemy’s skirmishers were in force in the woods in front, and covered themselves with trees and rifle-pits which had been thrown up before. Our two advance companies were driven back; the enemy pursued, and were in turn driven back by the spherical case shot of Greene’s battery, and I ordered back the light infantry and also the two companies to their former position. The company in front of Colonel Davies’ command retired about the same time.
By 5 o’clock p.m. I had the battery and the abatis nearly completed, making my defenses as secure as the short time and few implements used would permit. No enemy appeared in force at my front with a disposition to assault, but about this time a heavy column of infantry appeared to the left of Colonel Davies, in a ravine, moving up to the attack. This brigade opened a heavy fire upon them, and gallantly drove them back, as he informed me afterwards. During this firing, which was soon after 5 o’clock, I received orders from Colonel Miles, through one of his staff, to retreat upon Centreville, and endeavor to hold that position. I immediately collected together my brigade, and put it in motion on the road towards Centreville, when a staff officer proposed to me to throw my regiment in line, face towards the enemy between the house occupied the night before by Hunt’s battery and the Union and Centreville road, in which road the enemy was supposed to be advancing. I had gained a position near the desired point when I was met by Colonel Davies, who informed me that he had beaten the enemy handsomely in front. I told him I had been ordered back to Centreville by Colonel Miles; that the rest of my brigade had gone on; that I had been directed to go to that point with my regiment for the purpose of facing the enemy there, which I had done, and Colonel Davies returned, as I supposed, to his brigade. Soon after this I was met by a staff officer of General McDowell’s, who told me to put my brigade in position on the left of the road from Centreville to Blackburns Ford, and stretching towards the Union and Centreville road, facing the enemy. Other troops had also fallen back to this point, distant about a mile from Centreville.
At about 6 o’clock p.m. Captain Alexander, of the Corps of Engineers, directed me, by the order of General McDowell, to take the general arrangement of the troops at that point in my own hands, he suggesting as a good line of defense a line between a piece of woods on the right and one on the left, the line facing equally towards the enemy, who were supposed to be coming either on the Union or Blackburn road. I immediately formed that line as I best could of the regiments nearest the position, placing the men in the ravines and the artillery as much as possible on the hills in rear of the infantry.
Before Captain Alexander gave me this last direction, I learned that Colonel Miles had altered the position of some regiments which I had placed before, especially the Third Michigan Regiment, which I had ordered to form close column by division, to remain as a reserve, and await further orders from me. The officer in command of the regiment at that time, Lieutenant-Colonel Stevens (Colonel McConnell being unwell, but on the ground), immediately executed that order, and put his regiment in close column. I went to another part of the field, and on returning found this regiment deployed in line of battle, and in another position. I inquired of Colonel Stevens the reason of their position being altered. He told me that Colonel Miles had directed this movement. I asked him why. Colonel Stevens replied, “I do not know, but we have no confidence in Colonel Miles.” I inquired the reason, and Colonel Stevens replied, “Because Colonel Miles is drunk.” That closed the conversation. I sent Colonel Stevens back with his regiment to form close column by division, as at first. I then reported to Captain Alexander that I had been interfered with in my disposition of the troops during the day, and I could not carry out General McDowell’s orders as long as I was interfered with by a drunken man. Captain Alexander then said that General McDowell now rested the whole disposition of the troops with me, and that I must use my own judgment. I went to place another battalion in line, when I was met by Colonel Miles, who ordered me to form that regiment in another direction. I replied that I should obey no more orders that he might see fit to give me. Colonel Miles then said, “Colonel Richardson, I shall put you in arrest.” I told him I never should obey his arrest, and that he never could put me in that position. Colonel Miles answered that he “did not understand this.” I made no reply, and went on with the further disposition of the forces, which was done according to the inclosed diagram.(*)
As soon as the line of battle was well formed the enemy’s cavalry made his appearance on the Centreville and Manassas road. I ordered Lieutenant Benjamin to open his rifled cannon upon them, which he did, and the cavalry disappeared after a few shots. It was now nearly dark, and the troops encamped in their present position. About 10 o’clock General McDowell informed me that a retreat was resolved upon; that the troops must be started on the road to Fairfax as soon as possible, and ordered me to move last and cover the retreat of the Army with my brigade. I told the general I would do so, and would stand by him as long as any man would. I left with my brigade at 2 o’clock a.m., after all the other regiments and batteries had retired. On reaching Fairfax I found it abandoned by our troops, and I covered the rear, bringing up my brigade in good order, the New York regiment in front, then the Massachusetts regiment, the two Michigan regiments in rear of the whole. Arrived at Arlington at 2 o’clock p.m. on Monday after the action.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully,
I. B. RICHARDSON,
Colonel, Commanding Fourth Brigade
My brigade in general behaved itself nobly, and always stood firm. Of my staff, Mr. Eastman, first lieutenant, U.S. Army, did his duty to my satisfaction. Lieutenant Brightly, U.S. Army, was sick and unable to perform much duty, but did all he could. Cadet John R. Meigs, U.S. Military Academy, acted as my volunteer aide, carried my orders promptly, and a braver and more gallant young man was never in any service. I most earnestly recommend him to be appointed at once a lieutenant in the Regular Army. Lieutenant Prime, Corps of Engineers, was continually in the performance of his every duty, and the medical staff were assiduous in their attendance upon the wounded.
I. B. RICHARDSON,
Colonel, Commanding Fourth Brigade
DEP’T N. E. VIRGINIA, HDQRS. FOURTH BRIGADE,
August 11, 1861
CAPTAIN: Permit me to correct an unintentional error that has crept into Brigadier-General McDowell’s official report of the engagement of 21st July.
By command of Brigadier-General McDowell, given me in presence of Colonel Jackson, Eighteenth New York Volunteers, and of Captain Whipple, of the Engineer Corps, to conduct the retreat and to cover the retreat with my brigade, I did so cover the retreat from Centreville. I brought up the rear with my brigade in the following order: Twelfth New York leading, followed by First Massachusetts; the Third Michigan, taking up position, kept in the rear and followed by the Second Michigan. About one mile this side of Centreville we were obliged to halt on account of other regiments, and the Second Michigan then took the position of the Third Michigan, and thus marching in good order we reached Arlington about 4 o’clock on Monday, the 22d, and went into camp, having moved in rear of all other regiments and batteries. At Fairfax we were so far in rear that no troops (of our own forces) were in sight. Will you do my brigade the credit of this correction?
I. B. RICHARDSON, Colonel,
By LARNED, Lieutenant-Colonel
Capt. JAMES B. FRY,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Arlington