Testimony of Capt. Charles Griffin
Report of the Conduct of the War, Volume 2, pp. 168-177
WASHINGTON, January 14, 1862
Captain CHARLES GRIFFIN sworn and examined.
By the chairman:
Question: What is your rank and position in the army?
Answer: I am a captain in the 5th regiment of artillery, in the regular service.
Question: Under what colonel?
Answer: Colonel Brown is the colonel of the regiment.
Question: Were you at Bull Run at the time of the battle there in July last?
Answer: Yes, sir.
Question: Under whose command?
Answer: I was attached to General Andrew Porter’s brigade, which belonged to General Hunter’s division.
Question: Will you please inform us what, according to your best judgment, led to the disasters of that day?
Answer: I can tell you what occurred on the right, where I was. I was brought into battery about half past 11, and opened on the enemy’s artillery. I should suppose it maintained its position for about a half an hour, when it retired. I changed position two or three times, and opened upon their infantry. It also retired, and as far as my observation went, we were successful in all parts of the field. There was a lull; we had nothing to fire at. Then Major Barry (now General Barry) approached me and said that it was General McDowell’s order for us to move on a hill about a thousand yards distant, where the enemy’s battery was that I had fired at. I hesitated about going there, because I had no support. I was told the Fire Zouaves would support us. We started for the hill, and halted once or twice. Once I went to Major Barry and told him I had no support; that it was impossible to go there without a support. He told me that the Fire Zouaves would support us; that they were just ready to take the doublequick and follow us. I told him if such was the case, I wished he would permit them to go and get into position on the hill let the batteries (Captain Ricketts’s and mine) come into position behind them, and then let them fall back. And I told him the better place for our battery was on a hill about 500 yards in the rear of the one to which we were then ordered. He said that General McDowell’s order was to go to the other hill; and he also refused to let the Fire Zouaves go on the hill first and form into line. I told him they would not support us. He said they would. He said, “Yes, they will: at any rate, it is General McDowell’s order to go there.” I said, “I will go; but mark my words, they will not support us.” In going to the hill my first lieutenant went towards another place, and I had to give the order to countermarch, and go on the hill indicated. The turning off thereby my first lieutenant threw Ricketts’s battery to the front. We got on the hill and fired about half an hour, when I moved two of my pieces to the right of Ricketts’s battery. We were then firing upon the enemy’s battery, which was not certainly over 300, if it was 250, yards from us. I had only five pieces there. One of my pieces had had a ball lodged in the bore so that it could not be got in or out. I had five pieces there, and Ricketts had six, making eleven pieces side by side. As I said, I moved these two pieces to the right of Ricketts’s battery, and commenced firing. After I had been there about five minutes, a regiment of confederates got over a fence on my front, and some officer (I took it to be the colonel) stepped out in front of the regiment, between it and my battery, and commenced making a speech to them. I gave the command to one of my officers to fire upon them. He loaded the cannon with canister, and was just ready to fire upon them, when Major Barry rode up to me and said, “Captain, don t fire there; those are your battery support.” I said, “They are confederates; as certain as the world, they are confederates.” He replied, “I know they are your battery support.” I sprang to my pieces and told my officer not to fire there. He threw down the canister, and commenced firing again in the former direction. After the officer who had been talking to the regiment had got through, he faced them to the left, and marched them about fifty yards to the woods, then faced them to the right again, and marched them about forty yards towards us, and then opened fire upon us, and that was the last of us. I had about fifty horses killed that day. I had had several horses and some men killed before. Before this occurred I started to limber up my pieces, so thoroughly convinced was I that they were the confederates. But as the chief of artillery told me they were my battery support, I was afraid to fire upon them. Major Barry said, “I know it is the battery support; it is the regiment taken there by Colonel ——.” “Very well,” said I, and gave the command to fire in another direction with the battery. But I never delivered the fire, for we were all cut down. The Zouaves were about twenty yards to the rear of us; they were sitting down. I begged them to come up and give them a volley, and then try the bayonet. They did not run at first, but stood as if panic-stricken. I do not believe they fired fifty shots, certainly not over one hundred. And after they had received three, perhaps four, volleys from this regiment of confederates, they broke and ran. I went down the hill and found Major Barry at the stream watering his horse. I stopped to water my horse also. Said I, “Major, do you think the Zouaves will support us?” Said he, “I was mistaken.” Said I, “Do you think that was our support?” “I was mistaken,” he said. “Yes,” said I, “you were mistaken all around.”
I can substantiate all this if anything is said to the contrary. There are living witnesses to support it. Lieutenant Read stood by my side and heard the conversation about the battery support.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question: Could you have cut up that regiment with a charge of canister so that they would not have charged upon you?
Answer: I could have staggered them terribly. While the colonel was making his speech to them we had plenty of time to have passed word along the whole line, and if the whole eleven guns had been turned upon them, they could not have touched us.
Question: Was that the commencement of the repulse?
Answer: Yes, sir; the first I saw of it. We had been advancing gradually before that. The report of General Andrew Porter is the best testimony of that.
By the chairman:
Question: What time was that?
Answer: About 3 o’clock, earlier or later – later if anything. I should suppose it was not far from that time.
Question: What happened after that?
Answer: Well, sir, I got off the field with one piece, there being one wheel horse and one lead horse to the piece. That piece I only got off about a thousand yards. I got off the field two pieces – two Parrott guns – the one that the ball was lodged in, and one with the horses attached to it. I went to the rear to get some horses to get my third piece off. There were several of our regiments that attempted to retake our batteries, and the enemy was driven back twice, if not three times, to my certain knowledge, by the brigade of General Franklin. I do not know what regiments he had. I know very few of the regiments. I knew the Fire Zouaves and the New York 14th, and I knew the battalion of regular infantry; that is about all, I believe. I met the 71st regiment, but they were not in our brigade. I also knew the Rhode Island troops when I saw them, but they were not in our brigade.
Question: You attribute the disaster in that part of the field where you were principally to a mistake in the place where you were to be posted, to having no support of infantry, and to a mistake as to the character of the regiment that appeared there?
Answer: I thought we ought to have gone on a different hill, and I thought Ricketts ought to stand still. But then I was but a subaltern there, and complied with the orders. I think we would not have lost our batteries if we had done so.
Question: Suppose you had been supported, what would then have been the consequence?
Answer: If we had been properly supported, we would not have lost our batteries.
Question: Supported by the Zouaves?
Answer: The Zouaves could not have supported us. They were not support enough. Five hundred men are not enough to support eleven pieces of artillery.
Question: What number do you think attacked you there?
Answer: There must have been 5,000 or 6,000, because there was regiment after regiment came on the field during the fight. The fight must have lasted half or three-quarters of an hour between our infantry and theirs – different troops coming up. A great many of our regiments turned right off the field as they delivered their fire, turning even as they delivered their volleys. They did not go off in any system at all, but went right off as a crowd would walking the street – every man for himself, with no organization whatever. The officers lost control of them. It is to be remarked that the men were very tired. I can readily see that if our men had been fresh when this thing occurred, with the success we had before, it might have been different.
Question: Do you understand this to be the first repulse of that day, or the first repulse where you were ?
Answer: I understand it to be the first repulse of that day. I understand that is the only repulse we received that day.
Question: Suppose that reserve brigade at Centreville had been brought forward to support you, what, in your judgment, would have been the effect?
Answer: That would have had great influence. It might have been different; it might have been the same. I think the mistake was in sending our batteries so far ahead without support; and then I think the disaster was probably the result of numbers.
By Mr. Gooch :
Question: You say that you thought you should have gone to a hill five hundred yards in the rear. Do you mean in the rear of the position you occupied when the order was given to move forward to the other hill, or five hundred yards in the rear of the hill to which you were ordered to move?
Answer: I mean five hundred yards in the rear of the hill where we lost our batteries – the hill to which we were ordered.
Question: How far were you ordered to advance from the position you had been occupying?
Answer: About one thousand yards.
Question: You say that the Zouaves did not exceed five hundred at that time?
Answer: I do not think they did; I think that is a large number.
Question: What was their condition at that time?
Answer. I thought them in a disorganized state when they were ordered to support us.
Question: What support did Ricketts’s battery have?
Answer: Just the same as I did.
Question: Do you mean that they were supported also by the Zouaves?
Answer: The Zouaves were in the rear to support the two batteries.
Question: Do you mean to be understood that these five hundred men were all the support both batteries had?
Answer: All the support I saw when I went on the hill, and all that I believe any of the officers saw.
Question: I suppose there is some rule in relation to the proper number of infantry to support batteries?
Answer: Yes, sir; there ought to have been at least 1,000 men to every gun, or at least there ought to have been not less than 4,000 men to support those batteries. It seems, from the reports of other officers, that there were other regiments brought up afterwards to support us. I find in General Barry’s report that he met Colonel Heintzelman taking up the New York 14th. But if he meant that the New York 14th was in front of us supporting us, it certainly is not to be explained, because the New York 14th had red pants on, while the regiment in front of us had blue pants on, blue shirts, and straw hats. It can be established beyond a doubt, I think, that the New York 14th never came on the ground until after the batteries were lost. There were officers present who saw this, and can probably tell more about it than I can. Captain Averill, now in General Fitz-John Porter’s division, certainly can tell more than I can. He was assistant adjutant general to General Porter, and can tell you exactly how these batteries were lost.
Question: I will ask you, as an artillery officer, in relation to the efficiency of artillery. Must it not always be accompanied by an infantry support?
Answer: Certainly; it is helpless by itself – perfectly helpless. Artillery must be supported, or you better not have it on the field.
Question: And you say that four thousand men at least were required to support our batteries at that time?
Answer: Yes, sir. If either one of those batteries had been by itself, there should have been at least a brigade to support it. But they were side by side, and I have therefore reduced the number required to four thousand good troops as the least we should have had.
Question: And your judgment is that if the batteries had been supported by four thousand men, they could not have been driven from their position?
Answer: Yes, sir; I have no idea they could.
Question: And if your batteries had retained their position there, would there have been any repulse at that time in that part of the field?
Answer: I do not believe there would. I believe if I had been allowed to take the position I wanted to go, and to which Captain Kensel wanted to go, we would not have lost our batteries. Captain Ricketts is living, and I understand that he refused to move forward. When Lieutenant Snyder, of the engineers, who died a few weeks ago, came up to him, Captain Ricketts said to him, “Snyder, I have such an order to move forward.” Lieutenant Snyder said, “You have the best position in the world ; stand fast, and I will go and see General McDowell.” He went, and came back and said that General McDowell would comply with Major Barry s orders. That was very proper and polite in General McDowell, for Major Barry was the chief of his staff; but it shows that the officers of my battery were not the only ones who thought we should not have been moved forward. General Andrew Porter came to me after the battle, and spoke very severely. Said he, “Sir, I want to know how you got into such a situation.” I said, “I went in accordance with the order of General Barry, from General McDowell.” General Porter had told me that he relied upon me, as I was his only battery. He said, “When I found you had gone a thousand yards in advance, I cannot tell you my feelings. I was afraid I had allowed you to go there upon my order.” He felt, perhaps, that I had gone there upon my discretion.
Question: When this confederate regiment came up in front of you, wasthere a fence intervening between you and them?
Answer: No, sir; but there was a four or five rail fence about two hundred yards in front of me. This regiment got over that fence, and its colonel came out between the regiment and myself and made a speech. The regiment was standing still when I gave the order to fire. There was some kind of grass there, in which the men stood, I should say a little above their knees.
Question: I do not suppose you know certainly, but do you suppose now that that could have been one of Johnston s regiments, part of Johnston’s reserves?
Answer: From what I have learned since, it was a North Carolina regiment.
Question: Are they supposed to have been in Johnston’s reserves?
Answer: My impression is that that regiment was in Johnston’s force.
Question: Was the attack of Johnston that day at that point?
Answer: I have always so understood.
Question: How many of your horses were killed by the fire of this regiment?
Answer: I should suppose there were thirty or forty killed.
By the chairman:
Question: Were the enemy all infantry that attacked you?
Answer: Yes, sir. There was a regiment of cavalry that charged through the Zouaves, as it appears from some of the reports; but that was before we lost our battery. That cavalry I never saw.
Question: How far were you followed off the field ?
Answer: We were followed certainly to Cub Run.
Question: Why did they leave you there?
Answer: I do not know. It was almost dark when we got there. It must have been dark in ten or fifteen minutes after I crossed Cub Run. It was then between seven and eight o clock.
Question: You say this attack was made about three o’clock, or a little after ?
Answer: Yes, sir.
Question: Then it took you about four hours in your retreat to get from where you were attacked to Cub Run ?
Answer: We had troops to cover our retreat; for instance, Arnold’s battery covered our retreat, and the regular infantry and cavalry covered their retreat; and the men went very slowly in a dense mass, probably not more than two or two and a half miles an hour.
By Mr. Gooch:
Question: Were there any other batteries besides yours and Ricketts’s on that part of the field?
Answer: The Rhode Island, I should say, was some 500 or 600 yards to my left in battery, and firing when I first came on the field in the morning. The position where I first opened my battery was not more than 1,000 to 1,500 yards from where I lost my battery.
Question: Did that battery change its position during the day?
Answer: No, sir; when I came back I found that battery limbered up with the horses turned towards Centreville. They were a mile or a mile and a half from where my battery was lost.
Question: You have supposed that the principal attack was on our right?
Answer: I have always supposed so.
Question: You say if your battery and Ricketts’s had been properly supported, it could not have been taken?
Answer: If those eleven guns had been properly supported, I think the day would have been different; and I think if we had not been moved on that point, and the captains of the batteries had been allowed to exercise their own judgment, the day would have resulted differently.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question: Probably if you had cut up that one regiment in front of you, it might have changed the fate of the day?
Answer: I think it would probably have done so.
Question: They would then have retired in disorder if you had fired canister upon them?
Answer: They would have been cut to pieces.
Question: It is not expected that raw troops will stand point blank range of canister and advance afterwards?
Answer: No troops can stand it long; for we could certainly have cut them all to pieces.
Question: Was it not possible to ascertain, during this time, whether they were or not confederate troops? Could not Major Barry have sent an aid or gone himself and ascertained in time to have saved you?
Answer: Of that I think the committee can best judge. Every man is capable of judging that. For instance, if one who is the chief states to another, “There stands your support,” and he wants to convince another of that fact, he can easily do so if he is on a horse. He might have gone right down in the woods to see where the support was. That is a question that every man is capable of judging about. It would merely be my opinion any way.
By Mr. Covode:
Question: You have fixed a definite number necessary to support your battery. Does it not depend entirely upon the advanced position the battery occupies as to the number of infantry necessary to support it?
Answer: Yes, sir; it might. But a battery, if thrown forward at all, to be properly supported, should have certainly a thousand men to a gun.
Question: If you had occupied a position 500 yards further in the rear of where you were, would not a less number of men have been necessary to support it than you think should have supported you where you were?
Answer: We could have got support easier, and we could have known what the enemy were doing. If I had had 500 yards more space in front of me then, I could have seen what was coming.
Question: Was it not necessary, in your advanced position, that you should have had the largest requisite number to support you?
Answer: Yes, sir. In the first place, a battery should never have been sent forward to reconnoitre. That is a military mistake. Of course, I am only a captain, and a great many would censure me for saying this; but it is so. It was the duty of the infantry to have gone forward and found out what the enemy were doing, and not have sent the battery forward to find that out.
By Mr. Odell:
Question: You spoke of a conversation you had with Major Barry in reference to the character of the regiment that came out in front of you?
Answer: Yes, sir.
Question: How near were you and he to each other when you had that conversation?
Answer: Side by side almost, as two gentlemen who would meet each other and talk to each other would naturally be.
Question: There could be no mistake between you?
Answer: No, sir. There could be no mistake about it, because we had two or three conversations in reference to the support – in reference to the Zouaves more immediately. When I countermarched my pieces, after they had turned off, and moved up on the hill, my last words were, “These Zouaves will never support us.”
Question: Why did you think that?
Answer: I had seen them on the field in a state of disorganization, and I did not think they had the moral courage to fight. I do not think that any troops that will go through the country in a disorganized state, thieving and robbing, are brave men. They were all running around the field in any way. They were in no kind of order. We got them collected together in some kind of order when we moved on the hill; but before that they were in no kind of order. At least, that is my recollection of it.
Question: And it was that that induced you to say they would not support you?
Answer: Yes, sir.
By Mr. Gooch :
Question: You did not consider them sufficient in number?
Answer: No, sir.
By the chairman:
Question: You do not believe in the maxim, “The worse the man the better the soldier?”
Answer: No, sir; I do not. I believe in the maxim that he who is universally cruel to a fallen foe is a coward.
By Mr. Odell:
Question: Did you have more than one conversation with Major Barry about this regiment of confederates ?
Answer: I did not. Lieutenant Read was a witness to Major Barry’s telling me that those were our troops. I state this that what I say may be established by something beyond my own hearsay. In justice to Major Barry, I will say that before this battle we were never on good terms. We never have been on good terms. But I do not wish to do him a particle of injustice.
Question: Were you in a good position to fire upon this confederate regiment when they presented themselves?
Answer: I could not possibly have been in a better position. They stood about two hundred yards in front of us, with the slightest slope in the world between us and them. All I had to do was to fire right down upon them.
By the chairman:
Question: Could you not tell by the flag they carried what they were?
Answer: I did not see any flag. I saw no flag that day on the field. I do not recollect of seeing a flag the whole day, either with the confederates or our own troops, except after the battle, when I saw a regiment or two going off the field have their flags rolled up. I do not pretend to have seen much on that field. I only know what occurred in reference to my own battery, and those standing by the side of them.
Question: In a battle like that should not the colors be shown, so that there should be no mistake?
Answer: Yes, sir; I have no doubt our troops had their colors; they say they had. But I had a particular duty to perform. I had no support all day long, with the exception that the New York 14th came to me when I was in my second or third position. An officer said, “I have been ordered here to support you; where shall I go?” He went to a fence in rear of the batteries. I said, “Don t go there in rear of us, for you will stand a chance of being hit. If their batteries fire at me, and don t hit me, it will pass over us and hit you.” They then went to one side, and when I saw them again they were falling back, every man for himself, about 500 yards from me. That was the last I saw of that regiment that day, excepting a straggling man here and there, or groups of twenty or so.
By Mr. Gooch:
Question: You consider one of the errors – the serious error of that day – was the fact that the artillery was not properly supported by infantry?
Answer: Undoubtedly. I consider that the first great error that was committed that day was the sending these batteries forward without support. And it is my opinion – at any rate, I do not know that I am called upon to express an opinion – but it is my opinion that if an officer received an order from the general to advance those two batteries forward, no matter how peremptory that order was, it was his duty, I think, not to have carried out that order if the batteries could not be supported, especially if he was the chief of the staff. Times may arrive when it is necessary to sacrifice a battery to secure some important result; for instance, Arnold s battery was sacrificed on our retreat to cover that retreat. But this was not one of those desperate cases.
Question: You think that it was a part of Major Barry’s duty to see that the batteries were properly supported before they were ordered forward?
Answer: I pretend to say I should not have done it.
By Mr. Covode:
Question: Could Major Barry order this infantry forward without his superior’s orders?
Answer: According to his report, he did.
By the chairman:
Question: If the general commanding should order the batteries forward, would not the chief of artillery understand that they were to be properly supported, without any particular orders to do so?
Answer: I should certainly consider it so.
Question: You would consider the order to mean that?
Answer: I think if the chief of a corps has no discretion like that, the general is in a bad situation. He certainly cannot be expected in a time like that to enter into all the details of his orders. He cannot do it. He gives his orders in a general form, and the details are attended to by others.
Question: You do not impeach the order of General McDowell in advancing the artillery forward, because undoubtedly he intended them to be supported properly?
Answer: Yes, sir; I take that for granted.
Question: It would be as unreasonable to expect a battery to go forward without a support as without horses – that is, a support is a necessary accompaniment to a battery?
Answer: I have always supposed so. There may be a time when it is necessary to sacrifice a battery. At Buena Vista General Taylor had lost everything, and was trying to retrieve. He ordered General Bragg to go forward. General Bragg undoubtedly turned to him and said, “I shall lose my battery;” and General Taylor probably said, “You must lose your battery, or all will be lost.” And he went forward, and by his fire of grape gained the day.
Question: You were under no such necessity that day?
Answer: No, sir.
Question: You think the battery ought not to have been ordered forward until after the advanced position had been reconnoitred by infantry?
Answer: Or without a sufficiently strong support.
Question: Do you mean to say these two things should have been done: first, to have the advanced position reconnoitred by infantry, so as to have known what there was in advance, and what the position of the enemy was, and what they were doing, as far as possible; and, second, when the batteries did go forward, they should have had a sufficient support of infantry?
Answer: Yes, sir. I contend that as long as the chief of artillery had not the sufficient support for the batteries he should not have moved them forward. If they were to be moved forward on that hill, we should have had a heavy and strong support, for the reason that that was the hill the enemy had occupied. We could see nothing beyond that hill. We could not tell what they were doing. We could not tell whether there were 1,000 or 5,000 beyond the hill. I had occupied about as high a position as any one, and I do not believe any man could see beyond that hill. And then I contend that the next blunder was that Major Barry told me the confederate regiment was our support.
Question: These two errors, you think, led to the first and most important repulse of the day?
Answer: I think these two errors led to the first and the repulse of the day. I think General Porter’s report will sustain me in that.
By Mr. Covode:
Question: Was Major Barry in a position where he was able to distinguish between our forces and theirs?
Answer: The major stood about 200 yards from them, right by my side. That is, he was on his horse and I was on my horse, and we were side by side.
Question: Was his opportunity a good one, from the position he occupied, for knowing the character of these confederate troops?
Answer: That would be a mere matter of opinion. His opportunity was just as good as mine.
By the chairman:
Question: They seemed like our soldiers?
Answer: They may have been dressed like some of our regiments. I went across the river on the 5th of July. The battle was on the 21st. I had not seen all our troops. I knew but four or five regiments.
By Mr. Covode:
Question: Were not cavalry in reach of you at that time?
Answer: I am under the impression that there was a squad of cavalry at my right. But they were in the woods, and might have just as well been at Centreville.
Question: That was not a proper time to use cavalry to reconnoitre?
Answer: No, sir; infantry should have been thrown forward.
By Mr. Gooch:
Question: Had you any cavalry that could be called in to support your battery?
Answer: No, sir. I am told by a cavalry officer that he received an order to charge right down through the woods. In the first place, he could not do it. Even if there was no enemy there, the cavalry could not charge through the woods.