Report of Col. Robert T. Preston, Twenty-eighth Virginia Infantry
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp. 549-551
ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Camp, July, 1861
COLONEL: In obedience to your order of the 23d instant, that “commanders of regiments and of detached troops of all arms serving with the command of Colonel Cocke, on the 21st instant, in the battle of Manassas, will immediately make report to the colonel commanding the Fifth Brigade of the services performed by their respective commands on that glorious day,” I have respectfully to report:
The Twenty-eighth Regiment Virginia forces, C. S. Army, under my command, was, in obedience to orders, marched from Camp Mason on the 17th instant, and at about 4 p.m. on the same day encamped upon the position assigned it on the right of the road leading from Manassas Junction by Lewis’ Ford of Bull Run and upon the high ground within about half a mile of Lewis’ Ford, and was also intended to regard and defend the Island Ford of Bull Run, lying nearly a mile southeast of its position.
During the interval until the 21st the encampment was frequently changed for the purpose stated, and the regiment turned out under arms several times by night and day to repel expected attacks upon the position.
Colonel Withers having some days previously crossed Ball’s Ford and taken position in the woods, I was ordered on the evening of the 19th instant to cross the ford and defend it in conjunction with his command against the attack of the enemy. I occupied the right of the road leading from Ball’s Ford towards Centreville on the night of the 19th, and again on the night of the 20th instant. Both regiments on the nights referred to posted pickets along the Centreville road, and I also posted pickets upon the approaches to the Island Ford. For greater security I ordered Company K, Captain Deyerle, to take position with the advance picket, and make proper resistance before retiring upon my position.
During the early part of the night picket runners informed me that the pickets of a body of the enemy were posted within half a mile of our advance pickets. They also reported that they could hear a sound as of speeches made in the enemy’s camp, responded to by laughter and cheers. At 2 o’clock on the morning of the 21st pickets reported the noise of large bodies of the enemy and quantities of artillery passing over the turnpike in the direction of the stone bridge. The passing artillery was distinctly audible from my quarters.
At — o’clock a.m. the regiment was turned out under your order, and proceeded to occupy a position to resist the enemy if he should approach along the Centreville road. The two regiments were formed in line of battle, the Twenty-eighth resting on the right side of the road, parallel with and protected by the wood which intervened between their position and open ground. I subsequently caused the fence to be removed farther within the wood, so as to deprive the enemy of a material protection to his advance.
Two days before, in company with Captain Harris, of the Engineers, I made a personal reconnaissance of the Centreville road and approaches to the Island Ford on Bull Run, he explaining the topography of the grounds around us.
After remaining in this position until — a.m., dispatching couriers from time to time with information of all occurrences likely to be of interest to yourself, I received orders from brigade headquarters to recross the creek by way of Ball’s Ford or the fish-dam crossing, and take position below Ball’s Ford in the heavy timber on the south side of the ford. This order was executed with rapidity and exactness. The regiment deployed in line, its right resting on the ford. The Eighteenth Regiment crossed the creek by way of the ford, passing along our line, occupied the left, next the hill. The two regiments covered the road from the creek to the hill.
At — p.m. an order was received from you directing the advance of my regiment to the battle-field. The order was obeyed with alacrity. The Twenty-eighth passed in line across the field past the Lewis house (headquarters), through the orchard below the house, across the first ravine, upon the farm road leading from Lewis’ to Mrs. Henry’s house. It there halted, faced to the left, commenced to advance by a narrow lane nearly at right angles to its course up to this point. Its progress was stopped for a few moments by the passage of Latham’s battery, taking position, and afterwards by the Washington Battery coming from the direction of the field of battle. This obstruction removed, the regiment resumed its march. Advancing nearly half a mile, it was fired upon by the enemy, concealed in the woods on the right. By this fire six men of Company B, Captain Wilson, were wounded. This fire was promptly and effectually returned by Company B, Captain Wilson’s company, and several of the enemy killed and wounded.
At this moment a few of the enemy were discovered who had advanced beyond the road, and whose escape was intercepted by the passage of the regiment. Upon presenting a pistol at one of them he cried out that he was “an officer and a gentleman,” and yielded himself and companions prisoners. The men wounded and captured proved to be the advance of the First Regiment Michigan Volunteers, of the Federal Army. Among those who surrendered were Col. O. B. Willcox and Captain—, the former of whom had been wounded in the arm by the fire of Company B, Captain Wilson.
My advance continued about half a mile farther through a dense wood, when it entered the road to Sudley’s Mill. There it was stopped by Kemper’s battery, which in passing occupied the road entirely. The regiment was halted for a few moments and the men ordered to lie down from a very heavy fire of the combatants, which passed over them, and which it was not in position to return. By this fire one man of Company C (Captain Bowyer) was wounded.
I was here in some uncertainty in regard to my position. Beyond was a warm conflict between the Second and Eighth Regiments South Carolina Volunteers (Colonels Kershaw and Cash) and the enemy. The woods were very dense. I had never seen the ground before. I was wholly without a guide. I therefore availed myself of the unavoidable delay occasioned by the passage of the battery to procure such information of the relative positions of the combatants as to prevent ourselves from firing into or being fired into by our friends. Riding forward I met with Colonel Kershaw, who, in reply to my request that he would aid in leading me into position, furnished me a guide in Lieutenant Hardy, who rode forward and rendered important aid in that capacity. The battery having passed, the regiment renewed its march. It had advanced a short distance through a narrow road in the woods when, to my deep regret, Lieutenant Hardy was killed by a fire from the enemy, some of whom, and among them the man who shot Lieutenant Hardy, were immediately fired on and killed by my advanced company (A) Captain Patton.
I at once ordered the colors to the front, and emerging upon open ground returned obliquely across a short neck of woods and came in sight of the enemy, who were escaping from the woods in rapid and scattered retreat to their main body upon the turnpike. An effort was made to overtake them, but after pursuing them to the crest of the hill next the turnpike and above the stone house (Matthews’) the regiment was countermarched in a line parallel with the route of the enemy. Advancing upon this route I was directed by General Beauregard in person to cross the turnpike and scour the woods beyond. In performing this service I detached Company A, Captain Patton, with orders to examine the stone house of Matthews, from which a hospital flag was suspended.
In this house were found a large number of the wounded enemy, some dead, and thirty-six men, who surrendered themselves prisoners. Among them were two officers, a surgeon, and assistant surgeon. The latter was liberated on parole, and directed to take charge of and assist the enemy’s wounded. There were also found in the house about one hundred arms. I then passed beyond the stone house through the wood designated by General Beauregard, found several killed and wounded, and sent one of the latter, a Carolinian, to the care of our surgeons. The advance of the regiment stopped at this point, being the same, as I learned subsequently, where a severe conflict had occurred between Major (now Brigadier-General) Evans and the enemy. The regiment was then countermarched over the same ground to the turnpike, and down the same to the stone bridge.
From this point I was ordered by General Beauregard to march in the direction of the White House. This order was under execution when I was directed by order of General Beauregard to take post near Mitchell’s Ford, on Bull Run. The regiment reached this point at — o’clock the same night, a distance of about — miles from the field of battle.
The conduct of the command when called into action or exposed to a fire which they could not return, authorizes me to assure you that it may be relied on for any service which requires courage, energy, and obedience. I shall congratulate myself if it be your opinion that its opportune arrival contributed in any degree to arrest the progress of the enemy at a critical point and period of the fight.
I annex a return of the casualties during the fight.
Respectfully, colonel, your most obedient,
ROBT. T. PRESTON
Colonel Twenty-eighth Virginia Infantry, C. S. Army
Col. P. ST. GEORGE COCKE,
Commanding Fifth Brigade, Virginia Forces, C. S. Army