Report of Col. Philip St. George Cocke, C. S. Army, Commanding Brigade
O.R.–SERIES I–VOLUME 51 Part 1 [S# 107] pp. 24-32
HEADQUARTERS FIFTH BRIGADE,
Camp near Suspension Bridge, [August 1, 1861]
GENERAL: The battle of 21st of July having been fought wholly within the position which had been assigned to and occupied by and which on the day of the battle was held by my brigade and the troops temporarily attached thereto, it becomes important that I should succinctly describe that position, the disposition made of the troops under my command for defending and holding that position, and the subsequent part which my command took in the great battle in which so large a part of your army participated, coming up as it did during the day from other positions. The position of this command, that of Stone Bridge (Avon) and Lewis’ farm (Portici), was the extreme left position of the Army of the Potomac along the line of Bull Run. The position of the army on Bull Run was the result of strategic movements which commenced with the recall of our more advanced forces, and which finally ended in the great battle of the 21st of July. By your general order of the 8th of July it was directed that “if attacked by a superior force of the enemy the three brigades of the Army of the Potomac serving in Fairfax will retire in the following manner and order: The whole of the Fifth Brigade on the Bull Run Stone Bridge, and the adjacent fords, making a stand if practicable at the Suspension Bridge across Cub Run.” Accordingly I issued brigade orders on the 12th instant, and on the 17th I recalled, united, and withdrew my entire command to the position assigned to it in perfect order and without any loss or accident whatsoever, the enemy moving the same day to occupy Fairfax CourtHouse in great strength.
Topographical description of the position of my command and of the battle-field.
Beginning near our left at Stone Bridge, over which passes the turnpike road from Alexandria to Warrenton, a flat of some 400 or 500 yards wide extends west of the bridge on either side of the turnpike back to the hills, which rise with some abruptness from the flat to the height of thirty to sixty feet. A dense forest of oaks at one time masked the bridge from view looking from these hills, but the trees had been felled to open the view for firing upon the enemy as he should approach the bridge, and the felled timber served to obstruct his passage over the flat except by the defile of the bridge and road, which last had been only partially obstructed near the foot of the hill. Westward of the crest overlooking the bridge, and in the direction of our left, rear, and right about the Stone Bridge, the country is broken into hill and valley, and this uneven surface covered by bodies of original forest, copses of pine, interspersed with hedges and fences, offering a field of uneven and diversified surface, all of which was availed of to the utmost by the skill and bravery of our officers and men who met and fought the enemy on that field. From a short distance below the Stone Bridge toward the right of my position, and throughout the entire extent of Lewis’ farm (Portici), the hills of Bull Run recede from the stream, of which the banks are generally low, and a long, open plain slopes from the run up to Lewis’ house, and to the right and left throughout my entire position in that direction. At Lewis’ Ford a road crosses Bull Run leading from the turnpike about half a mile in advance of Stone Bridge, diagonally toward and immediately in front of Lewis’ house, through a dense thicket of old-field pines extending nearly to the ford, and from that ford to the house half a mile distant over a gentle, open, or unwooded slope from the creek, rising almost uniformly to the house, which stands upon an eminence commanding a view of the surrounding country, the open inclined plane of the farm itself, the course of Bull Run, of the fords crossing the same, of the position of Stone Bridge, as also many of the enemy’s approaches through the woods on the opposite side of the creek. On our extreme right of Lewis’ farm, three-quarters of a mile below Lewis’ Ford, is Ball’s Ford, where the old public road passing from Alexandria to Warrenton crosses Bull Run, a trace of which road is still distinct and the road quite passable, although disused for public purposes since the construction of the turnpike passing over the Stone Bridge. To our right of this old road on the western side of Bull Run a heavy forest of oak extends from the creek backward nearly to the crest of the hill southward of Lewis’ house. The bank of the creek along Lewis’ farm is generally low and easy to be passed, and bordering as it does the extensive open inclined plane above described rendered this part of the position one without military strength and everywhere open to the attack of an enterprising enemy except at or near Lewis’ Ford, where for a few hundred yards on either side a precipitous bank of some twenty feet rises from the water of the creek and commands the flat or level on the opposite side of the creek. At Ball’s Ford the creek bank on our side is flat and wholly untenable for about 500 yards above in the direction of Lewis’ Ford, whilst a wooded eminence rising to an elevation of from sixty to seventy feet on the eastern or enemy’s side of the creek and stretching from opposite that ford the whole length of Lewis’ farm in the direction of Stone Bridge, thus giving the enemy, if in possession of those heights with his artillery the absolute command of the entire plain of Lewis’ farm in every direction as far back as the crest of the hill upon which the house is situated and rendering untenable by our troops under such circumstances of any position upon that plain in front of the enemy’s batteries so commandingly established. On the eastern or enemy’s side of Bull Run a narrow belt of low ground of irregular width, ranging from 50 to 100, and in some places 150 to 200 yards, stretched along the banks of the creek throughout the extent of the Portici (Lewis’) farm, from Ball’s Ford on our right to Stone Bridge on our left, and from the edge of the meadow at the foot of the hill a dense skirting of second-growth or old-field pine covers the slope of the hill toward its summit, succeeded by a large growth of oak or original forest, clothing a part of the slope and the entire top of the ridge, and continuing on that side of the creek from opposite Ball’s Ford to the turnpike road on our left.
Perceiving the impracticability of holding Ball’s Ford by troops placed on its flat and uncovered bank in front of a forest and eminence such as those just described, if once allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy, it became necessary to place the troops intended for the defense of that pass upon the eminence and in the forest on the eastern side of Bull Run and on either side of the old road crossing at that ford. Accordingly Withers’ regiment, Eighteenth Virginia, was ordered to occupy the wood to our left of the road, and Preston’s regiment, Twenty-eighth Virginia, the forest on our right of the road, and to oppose the enemy in whatever force he might advance by guerrilla fight from every position, from every corner, from every tree, and if still overpowered by numbers and forced to yield ground, to continue the fight through the forest flanking our right of Lewis’ farm toward the crest of the hill south of Lewis’ house, or until they could be supported by other troops coming to their relief Preston’s regiment (Twenty-eighth) also covered the approaches to the Island Ford, and one other ford below the Island Ford on my extreme right, and this was practicable in consequence of a bend of the creek to the rear of the right of that regiment (see map).
Position of the troops of the command.
In placing the troops, dispersed, as they necessarily were, and at positions most of them so disadvantageous for defense and but partially aided by intrenchments, it was deemed highly expedient to conceal as much as possible from the enemy a knowledge both of our numbers and strength, and even of the positions of the troops and batteries, until they were actually brought into action; and to effect these highly important objects it was decided that the troops should give up their tents, send back their wagon trains and baggage a few miles in rear toward Manassas, and bivouac in their positions. To the exposure and hardships of the bivouac the men and officers yielded without a murmur and they remained uncovered from the time of taking position on the 17th of July until after the battle, which took place on Sunday, July 21. Having indicated the position of the Eighteenth and Twenty-eighth Regiments, covering the approaches to Ball’s Ford, on my right, the Nineteenth Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Strange, was placed on the high bank on either side of Lewis’ Ford to oppose the passage of the enemy at that point. This regiment intrenched itself throughout its entire front, which intrenchment, by direction of Captain Harris, of the Engineers, was rendered quite effective. Between the two left companies of Lieutenant-Colonel Strange’s regiment one piece of Latham’s battery, placed in position by Captain Harris, of the Engineers, commanded the road leading to the ford through the meadow and pines in front of the ford. Next beyond the flank of the Nineteenth Regiment, along the high bank of Bull Run, was placed in position selected by Captain Harris, concealed from the enemy by a copse or undergrowth, one other gun of Latham’s battery. To the left of this second gun of Latham’s battery was placed Captain Schaeffer’s command, two companies on this side of the creek and part of one company on the opposite side of Bull Run, availing themselves of the natural formation of the bank as a breast-work from behind which to fire upon the enemy. To the left of a gorge penetrating Captain Schaeffer’s position, a section of Rogers’ battery was stationed on an eminence to command the approaches to this gorge and the gorge formed by Young’s Branch running in from our side. These guns were also placed in position by Captain Harris, of the Engineers, the bluff bank of the creek terminating at Young’s Branch near the position or gorge just above Rogers’ guns, and giving place to low banks above that point, with a growth of large trees along the bank. Just here a portion of Col. William Smith’s three companies was posted, commanded by him in person, to dispute the passage of the enemy at the gorge on Young’s Branch, which intersected our line as above described. The other part of Colonel Smith’s three companies was held in reserve (in a sheltered position), to be used as occasion might require, and ordered to charge the enemy if he succeeded in crossing Bull Run. This pass of Young’s Branch being deemed one of the most inviting for the enemy, it was thought necessary to hold in still further reserve to dispute his passage the entire regiment of Col. Eppa Hunton, which was therefore placed near by in a covered position, with orders to support Colonel Smith’s battalion in case of need. One section of Rogers’ battery, commanded by himself, and three troops of cavalry were held in reserve and placed under cover in the hollow or depression beyond the crest and to the north of Lewis’ house. From Young’s Branch toward Stone Bridge and beyond the position was covered by the troops attached to my brigade, under the immediate command of Major Evans. Two pieces of Latham’s battery, under Lieutenant Davidson, commanded from the hill the approach to Stone Bridge and the road through the felled timber described in the first part of this report. To the left of the Stone Bridge were the troops under the command of Major Evans, whilst his sharpshooters skirted the two edges of the forest bordering upon the felled timber on our side of the bridge. The cavalry of Evans’ command were engaged–some in scouting in the direction of Sudley’s Mill to give notice of the enemy’s approaches in that direction and others held in reserve.
Sudley’s Mill is on the branch of Bull Run called Catharpin, near its mouth, three miles northwest of Stone Bridge. At Sudley’s Mill a branch road crosses from the direction of Leesburg, passing directly toward Manassas, intersecting the turnpike at right angles at a stone house one mile and a quarter west, or in our rear of the Stone Bridge. It was this road of which the enemy availed himself to turn our left and to get on our flank and rear at Stone Bridge in his boasted march for Manassas. His plans were well arranged and skillfully conducted, for whilst he threatened our entire front from Stone Bridge to below Lewis’ Ford by a force estimated at from 12,000 to 15,000 men, and kept a large portion of my brigade engaged by this force in their front of treble their number, backed by batteries of artillery at several points opposite our front, and by skirmishers advanced in front of our lines, he meanwhile marched his main column of 25,000 or 30,000 men by Sudley’s Mill to take the whole position in flank and rear. I shall endeavor briefly to show in what manner he was met by my command both in our first position and subsequent movements.
The enemy having taken up his position in our front early in the morning, fired his first gun about 5.30 a.m. This seemed to be a signal gun, as it was answered from Mitchell’s Ford, four miles below, and where also on that day he made an attack, and this gun might also have been a signal to the column marching by Sudley’s Mill on our left. The batteries in our front along Bull Run continued firing on Stone Bridge, on Lewis’ house, and on our position at Lewis’ Ford until a late hour in the day. The battery in front of Lewis’ Ford was responded to with marked effect by Captain Latham’s first section, aided by the section of Rogers’ battery, commanded by Lieutenant Heaton, skirmishers occasionally making their appearance, emerging from the dense growth of pines covering the main body of the enemy. Whilst this was going on in our front the enemy, having arrived to threaten Major Evans’ left flank, with overwhelming numbers of his main column marched by Sudley’s Mill. The major promptly and heroically turned to meet him with his entire force, having necessarily to abandon the former front of his position at Stone Bridge. Never perhaps in the history of modern warfare was there so unequal a contest as now ensued. With his small but heroic numbers Major Evans advanced to fight the head of a column of 25,000 men, amongst which were some of the best regiments of the Federal army, strengthened by numerous batteries of well-appointed artillery of the most modern improved kind. For more than an hour this contest was maintained without assistance, the other troops of my command being held to their positions by the strong demonstrations in their front, which positions, if they had been abandoned at this stage of the battle, would have opened the way to an advance of the enemy also on this side, and thus inevitably have caused us the loss of the day. As soon, however, as I perceived the first movement of Major Evans I dispatched the reserved section of Rogers’ battery at full speed to cover the approaches to the Stone Bridge. This section got into position in good time to fire into a column of the enemy attempting to pass the Stone Bridge and drove it back.
In the meanwhile General Bee and Colonel Bartow, the first to come up to our support, the general reporting to the on Lewis’ hill, were informed by me of the progress of the battle on Major Evans’ left, and those gallant commanders, without halting their commands, marched directly to the scene of action and soon commenced their glorious part in the battle. Colonel Hampton with his legion came next. To him, too, I indicated the progress of events, and he promptly marched with his command to the battle. General Jackson followed next with his brigade, and from time to time other brigades pushed on as they arrived to the deadly conflict. About this time, the contest having become very close and warm and the enemy appearing to gain ground forward and also on our flank, and a stream of wounded men pouring through the gorge of Young’s Branch near the command of Col. William Smith (as subsequently reported by Captain Harris, of the Engineers, then and there present), upon suggestion of Captain Harris, the section of Rogers’ battery under command of Lieutenant Heaton, stationed at that point, and Colonel Smith’s command, were ordered to change front in order to meet an advance of the enemy, which it was thought might be made in that direction. General Beauregard, perceiving this movement, sent an order to these troops to advance, which they promptly did, Captain Harris proceeding with them, and subsequently placing the section of Rogers’ battery in effective position near Captain Imboden’s battery, from whence the section fired with effect upon the enemy until the ammunition was exhausted. Colonel Smith from this position soon took part in the battle, having many of his officers and men killed or wounded and his own horse wounded. (For further particulars see his report.(1))
The removal of these troops from their position on Young’s Branch uncovered a portion of my front line, and thus left that line exposed, to be penetrated by the enemy; but I am satisfied that the movement of our troops was unperceived by him, as the position was covered by a thicket of willows and other trees skirting the edge of Bull Run at this point. Closely observing from my own central and elevated position on the hill north of Lewis’ house (a position, nevertheless, over which a cross fire of most of the enemy’s batteries continued to throw shot and shell for hours, in the midst of which I necessarily stood observing)–I say from this position the various movements of our own troops I anxiously watched for the moment when I might withdraw the greater portion of the brigade not then actually engaged from the front line, without inviting disaster in that quarter, in order to throw it forward to the support of our men so hotly pressed on our left. General J. E. Johnston appearing near my position about this time, I called his attention to the state of my command on the front and right of Lewis’ farm, and referred for his decision the expediency of risking the abandonment of that front, and of immediately ordering forward the whole of the balance of my command to take part in the battle now raging and becoming critical as to its issue on our left. It was decided to make the movement., and I immediately dispatched my aides to order up at double-quick the regiments of Withers, Preston, and Strange, and the battery of Latham, and proceeding myself to meet those regiments, I advanced with them rapidly to the most active scene of the conflict. Hunton’s regiment, being in advanced position, was first in the battle, but as I led on the other regiments to other positions it was separated from me, and for the part which it took in the battle I must refer to Colonel Hunton’s report, hereafter to be made. Colonel Hunton since the battle having been ordered to Leesburg with his regiment, I have neither seen him nor been able to obtain any report.(2)
Withers’ Eighteenth Regiment Virginia Volunteers was the next in order taking part in the battle. Colonel Withers’ report is full, and clearly shows the gallant and distinguished part which it enacted in achieving the great victory of the day.(3) Latham’s battery followed Withers’ regiment. This battery being now full, the four pieces having come together and replenished their ammunition chest, was, under the guidance of Captain Harris, of the Engineers, advanced to a position to the left of the road leading from Lewis’ house toward Stone Bridge, from which position it fired with effect upon the head of a column advancing from toward the turnpike, and together with the fire of another battery succeeded in driving back the column. (For further particulars see Captain Latham’s report.(4)) Whilst Latham’s battery was taking position I was advancing with Preston’s regiment toward our then left flank, which the enemy was pressing and threatening to turn. About 500 yards beyond the left of Latham’s battery, as placed in position and near the fence extending toward our left in a thicket of pines, and whilst I was immediately upon the flank of the regiment, it was fired upon by the enemy advancing in the thick forest. The fire was returned, and the enemy giving way, this regiment advanced still farther toward the left. Whilst thus advancing Colonel Preston came upon and captured with his own hands Colonel Willcox, of the Federal army, whilst a captain and other prisoners were taken at the same place. The report of Colonel Preston, to which I beg leave to refer, will show the further important part he took in the battle.(5)
In the meantime, continuing to advance with Strange’s regiments Nineteenth Virginia Volunteers, and guided by the firing, I endeavored to turn the extreme right of the enemy. Coming athwart an intense fire, and not being able to see friend or foe through the pines, the regiment was caused to lie down whilst Colonel Strange and myself sought a view of the enemy. Entering the Sudley road on the left, I ordered the regiment to be marched by flank in that direction, and proceeded diagonally forward and ]left through the wood skirting our left of the road following a firing heard in that direction. Emerging from the wood into the open field, the regiment was led by a path toward Chinn’s house, near to which a battery was firing upon the enemy. By the time it got up the enemy was retreating, and on the hill beyond Chinn’s house (overlooking the turnpike), falling in with some of the regiments of Colonel Early, the Nineteenth Regiment continued the pursuit of the enemy. Crossing the meadow toward the turnpike and proceeding by Dogan’s house, followed the track of the retreating column toward Bull Run below Sudley’s Mill and crossed the run below and in sight of the mill. The enemy now being out of sight and pursued by the cavalry in advance of us, and night coming on I determined to recross Bull Run at Sudley’s Mill, and ordered the regiment to march back to Lewis’ farm. Finding numbers of prisoners and wounded at the church near the mill, one company was left in charge of the prisoners and wounded, the balance of the regiment continuing its march to Lewis’ farm. It would thus appear, general, that in consequence of the disposition made of the troops, the firm and gallant manner in which they acted along my whole front line of three miles in extent (which front, although threatened throughout the day, was nevertheless held in the face of greatly superior numbers, several assaults repelled, and the enemy effectually prevented from passing that line at any point, which if he had done would have been disastrous to our cause), this command forced the enemy to rely for victory solely upon his great column which turned the left of our entire position by the way of Sudley’s Mill; that the skillful and heroic struggle of Evans on my left, after he had been turned and taken in flank by overwhelming numbers, with his Spartan band led by himself, and by that true and tried soldier Major Wheat, and the brave Colonel Sloan, and backed by men who showed themselves not only insensible to fear, but actually inspired with superhuman daring and power, carried death and dismay into the ranks of the enemy, the fight thus continuing for more than an hour unsupported, and until the re-enforcements of Generals Bee and Bartow and others came to the relief; and finally, when the critical moment had arrived and the imminent result seemed trembling in the balance, it was promptly determined to abandon my entire front line along Bull Run and to throw forward the troops which had so gallantly defended it, to add their entire numbers and their valorous deeds to those of other corps struggling in the hottest fight, all of which contributed to turning the scale of victory in our favor, and in not only defeating the enemy, but in ultimately routing, disorganizing, and demoralizing him to a degree unprecedented in the history of modern warfare.
Of the greater part of these events and scenes you yourself, general, were an eyewitness. Many of the troops of my command fought by your side and in several instances received orders directly from you whilst acting as they necessarily did in detached bodies and in various parts of the wide field of conflict. Highly appreciating, general, the marked confidence reposed in me ever since I joined your army, as manifested by the extensive command and the responsible strategic positions assigned to me, I feel conscious of having acted with a mind and purpose single and a devotion absolute and unreserved in the righteous and patriotic cause in which we are all engaged; and in this spirit I trust my command have so far shown that they, too, have acted. Where so many have acted well their parts it would appear almost invidious to mention the names of any. Nevertheless, I deem it proper to state that the conduct of Majors Evans and Wheat is above all praise. That Capt. David B. Harris, of the Corps of Engineers, has rendered the most valuable services during the whole time he has served with my command. His science and skill, his cool and calm presence of mind in the midst of danger, his untiring efforts under the most trying circumstances, all prove him to be an officer worthy of filling a higher rank in that highest corps of the army to which he belongs.
Colonel Withers has the honor of having captured with his regiment (the Eighteenth Virginia Volunteers) a battery of eight guns, and of holding the same, a battery which had been twice previously during the day captured and recovered by the enemy. Col. Robert T. Preston and his Twenty-eighth Regiment of Virginia Volunteers rendered distinguished services. Col. William Smith with his command was in the hottest of the fight and had several officers and men wounded and killed and his own horse wounded. The Nineteenth Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Strange, having been longest held to its intrenched position at Lewis’ Ford, which it bravely defended in presence of the enemy’s batteries and infantry in great strength, was thus brought last into the more active field of battle. But it came up in time to produce by its presence an effect upon the then wavering enemy and to take part in the pursuit of his retreating columns which soon ensued. Captains Latham and Rogers, of the artillery, and Lieutenants Davidson and Heaton acted with distinguished bravery and skill. Surgeon Chancellor and Assistant Surgeons Braxton and Powell, of the Nineteenth Regiment, rendered very prompt and valuable relief to the wounded men, both to our own men and those of the enemy. To Lieut. John B. Cocke, acting assistant adjutant-general of the Fifth Brigade, and to T. J. Randolph, both acting as my aides-decamp during the battle, and who were both with me or bearing orders, often through the hottest fire, I owe my acknowledgments for the prompt and efficient manner in which they both discharged their duties. I would take this occasion to express my thanks to the whole command, to the brave and patriotic men and officers composing it, for the soldier-like manner in which they have submitted to necessary discipline, undergone hardships, and otherwise to operated in fulfilling the responsibility of the command.
And finally, trusting that this command has fulfilled its duties and that impartial history will do justice to the important part taken by it in achieving the late glorious victory,
I remain, general, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
PHILIP ST. GEO. COCKE,
Colonel, Commanding Fifth Brigade, Army of Potomac
Commanding Army of the Potomac
NOTE.–The Fifth Brigade proper consisted of the Nineteenth, Eighteenth, and Twenty-eighth Regiments of Virginia Volunteers, Lieutenant-Colonel Strange, Colonels Withers and R. T. Preston commanding; Latham’s battery of artillery, four brass 6-pounder guns, and Captains Terry’s and Langhorne’s troops of cavalry. Whilst at Centerville, prior to the battle of the 21st of July, Major Wheat’s Louisiana First Special Battalion was added to my command and stationed at or near Frying Pan Church, and Captain Alexander’s troop of cavalry also added to Terry’s at the same place. Subsequently Major Evans was ordered from Leesburg with Sloan’s Fourth Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers to Frying Pan Church, with orders to report to me and act as a part of my command stationed at that place. With this force I marched under general orders on the 17th of July to take position at or near the Stone Bridge. Between the 17th and 19th Col. Eppa Hunton with his command arrived at Lewis’ farm (Portici), with orders to report for duty with my command, bringing with him his regiment of Virginia volunteers, Captain Rogers’ battery of 4-pounder brass cannon, and three troops of cavalry. To this command was also added three companies under Captain Schaeffer, which had previously been stationed at the Stone Bridge, and three companies of Fauquier volunteers, part of Col. William Smith’s Forty-ninth Regiment Virginia Volunteers.
PHILIP ST. GEO. COCKE,
Colonel, Commanding Fifth Brigade
(1) See Vol. II, p. 551
(2) But see Vol. II, p. 545
(3) See Vol. II, p. 546
(4) See Vol. II, p. 553
(5) See Vol. II, p. 549