Reports of Col. Thomas A. Davies, Sixteenth New York Infantry, Commanding Second Brigade, Fifth Division
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX.pp. 428-433
HEADQUARTERS SECOND BRIGADE, FIFTH DIVISION,
Troops Department Northeastern Virginia, July 25, 1861
SIR: In accordance with circular of the 23d instant, Headquarters Troops Department Northeastern Virginia, I have the honor of reporting the proceedings of the Second Brigade, Fifth Division, at the battle of Blackburn’s Ford, six miles from the battle of Bull Run, on the 21st instant. The Fifth Division, under the command of Colonel Miles, consisting of the First and Second Brigades, Richardson’s brigade, and Greene’s and Hunt’s light batteries, formed the left wing of the troops in action. The First Brigade, Colonel Blenker, occupied during the day the heights of Centreville, and were not engaged with the enemy. The Second Brigade, under my command, was in readiness to march from camp at 2.30 a.m., but the road was so blocked with moving troops that my brigade shortly after daylight took a parallel route through the fields, Greene’s battery in advance, till it struck the road leading to Blackburn’s Ford, about one mile south of Centreville. At this point Colonel Miles gave me directions to assume the command of Richardson’s brigade, and to take position in front of the batteries at Blackburn’s Fold on and near the battle-ground of the 18th instant, and make the demonstration of attack, in pursuance of General McDowell’s orders. I immediately ordered forward the two 20-pounder rifled guns of Hunt’s battery, commanded by Lieutenant Edwards, into an open field, about eighty yards east of the road from Centreville to Bull Run and on a line with the place where our batteries were playing on the 18th instant, and about fifteen hundred yards from the enemy’s batteries at Blackburn’s Ford, and commenced a rapid firing. I ordered the Eighteenth Regiment forward as a protection to this battery, in the open field, and formed line of battle facing the enemy, the Thirty-second Regiment being held in reserve on the road just in rear.
Having ascertained from my guide that there was a road without obstruction leading from the Centreville road to the east, and then bearing off toward the south in the direction of the enemy’s position, and which could be seen about half a mile distant to the east from Lieutenant Edwards’ battery, I ordered the Sixteenth and Thirty-first Regiments New York Volunteers on to this road at its junction with the Centreville road; one regiment deployed along the road a considerable distance, and the other remaining in column to protect two guns of Hunt’s battery which I ordered to be stationed at that point. I then gave orders to Colonel Richardson to make such arrangements with regard to the defense of the position in front of the enemy’s batteries at Blackburn’s Ford (the immediate battle-ground of the 18th instant) as in his judgment the emergency of the moment might require. At this juncture, being about 10 o’clock a.m., and finding the ammunition for the 20-pounder rifle guns was fast running out, and having accomplished, in my judgment, from the movement of the troops opposite, which we could plainly see, the demonstration ordered, I ordered Lieutenant Edwards to cease firing.
About 11 o’clock Colonel Miles came on the ground, informing me that he had ordered forward the Sixteenth and Thirty-first Regiments from the positions in which I had previously placed them, and also the two guns commanded by Lieutenant Platt, and had also ordered forward the other two guns of Hunt’s battery into the open field where Lieutenant Edwards’ guns had been firing, and ordered the Eighteenth Regiment back out of the open field into the woods on the Centreville road as a reserve. The Thirty-second Regiment, by Colonel Miles’ order, remained as a reserve in column on the Centreville road, about three-quarters of a mile in rear. Colonel Miles then ordered me to continue the firing without regard to ammunition, which I did till I received an order to stop, about two hours later. As soon as Colonel Miles left me again in command I sent back the brigade corps of pioneers to the back road, whence the two regiments had been removed, with instructions to fell trees and completely block the road, which they effectually did. We had during the afternoon unmistakable evidence that a large column of cavalry and infantry had attempted to take us in rear by means of this road, for when they were returning, having been stopped by the fallen trees, Major Hunt, with his howitzers, and Lieutenant Greene and Lieutenant Edwards, with their rifled guns, poured a heavy fire into their column, the effect of which we could not ascertain, but it must have been destructive as the distance was only from a half to three-quarters of a mile.
In the course of the day two companies, and later four companies, of the Thirty-first and two of the Sixteenth were, by Colonel Miles’ order, thrown forward to feel the enemy’s strength to the front and left in the direction of Bull Run. They found the enemy posted in the woods, and were recalled. They reported having killed several of the rebel scouts.
The afternoon, till about 4 o’clock, was passed in great inactivity, except the firing by the rifled cannon at moving columns of the enemy at great distances. I had seen unmistakable evidences in the afternoon, by clouds of dust, &c., of the concentration of the enemy’s troops on our left, but received peremptory orders from Colonel Miles to hold the position and remain there all night. He then left me in command for the night, and I immediately began to prepare for an attack. I threw out two companies of skirmishers in the woods to our rear, and ordered the Thirty-second forward to support them.
About 4 o’clock we saw the enemy approaching down a gorge leading into a valley which lay directly to our left, about five hundred yards distant. The field in which I was ordered to remain was inclosed on two sides by dense woods, and covered by light bushes on the side toward the said valley on the left. After the enemy was discovered filing into the valley, no movement was made for some time. When it was supposed from the appearance of things that the last of the column was entering the valley, I ordered all the artillery (six pieces) to change front to the left, but not to fire till the rear of the column showed itself. I placed the artillery with a company of infantry between each piece, and changed the battle front of the two regiments (the Sixteenth and Thirty-first) supporting the artillery to the left, and on a line with the artillery, and ordered every man to lie down and reserve his fire. During the whole time that this order was being carried out the enemy’s troops were still advancing down the hill, four abreast and at right shoulder shift. I gave orders to Lieutenant Edwards, when I saw the rear of the column, to give it a solid 20-pounder shot, which he did, knocking a horse and his rider into the air, and starting on a double-quick the rear of the column into the valley. I then ordered the whole artillery to pour grape and canister into the valley, and at every fire there went up a tremendous howl from the enemy. During all this time the enemy poured volleys of musketry over the heads of our prostrate men. This firing continued from twenty-five to thirty minutes. A portion of the enemy rushed into a barn, and well-directed shots brought out what was left in great haste. The whole force of the enemy, consisting, as nearly as I could estimate from the time of their passage at one point and from what I can find out, of 3,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry, was utterly dispersed. A small number of the dispersed troops came up into the edge of the field in the bush (from the number of shots fired, amounting probably to about fifty), and fired five volleys at our prostrate men, but did not succeed in drawing a shot from them in return.
It having been ascertained that the enemy had left the field, from their having ceased firing, and from seeing them run through the bushes in every direction, and hearing at the same time that our troops were falling back on Centreville, I received orders by an aide from Colonel Miles, who was in Centreville, to fall back on Centreville and encamp. I immediately went over to give the same order to Richardson’s brigade on the Centreville road, and also to Greene’s battery, but found they had left some time before by Colonel Miles’ order through an aide. The Thirty-first Regiment, under Colonel Pratt, filed out of the field in rear of the artillery, and the Sixteenth followed, under Lieutenant-Colonel Marsh, each in perfect order, not having fired a gun at the enemy. The Eighteenth and Thirty-second Regiments were ordered by me to fall back on Centreville, which they did in good order, and my entire brigade, together with Hunt’s battery, fell back on Centreville heights without the least confusion and in perfect order, and assumed positions under the direct command of General McDowell, who sent a major, an aide, to me, directing that my regiments should fall in in accordance with his express orders. The entire left wing was then in complete order, and every man in his place. Having received this order from General McDowell, I left my command, and went to Centreville Centre to look after the sick and wounded and my own baggage train. I returned immediately to my command, and found that Colonel Miles had been superseded, and received an order from General McDowell to take command of the left wing, which I did, encamping on the ground, when the order came for a retrograde movement to fall back on Fairfax Court-House. I formed my brigade, the Sixteenth first, Greene’s battery next, the Eighteenth, Thirty-first, and Thirty-second following, and marched them towards Fairfax Court-House. I found Blenker’s brigade about two miles on the road, in order on each side of it, at “parade rest.” I communicated with Colonel Blenker, and found that he had received direct orders from General McDowell to bring up the rear and prevent any attack by the enemy. My brigade then continued its march, and arrived in camp at Alexandria, and were in perfect condition on Monday, every regiment, as I understand, having an evening parade, and prepared for duty. Greene’s battery went on to Arlington, from which place I recalled it here yesterday, and the brigade now stands complete as before the battle, with the exception of the list of casualties herewith inclosed, amounting to Lieutenant Craig, of Hunt’s battery, killed, and two privates wounded (one seriously and one slightly), and one private taken prisoner.
In respect to the conduct of the officers under my command on the 21st, I cannot say too much of the practical and industrious perseverance of Colonel Richardson, who commanded his brigade on the Centreville road, who made important impromptu defenses in felling trees, and by temporary fortifications across the road, which, although they were not required from the direction of the attack, would have proved of immense value under other circumstances. His persevering energy during the day was untiring, and I am indebted to him for valuable suggestions as to positions and defense.
To Major Hunt and Lieutenant Edwards, who commanded the batteries on the left, any words that I can use will fall far short of expressing the beauty with which they handled their pieces and the rapidity and precision of their fire. It was the most surprisingly beautiful display of skill ever witnessed by those present.
As to Lieutenant Greene, who had charge of the rifled guns on the right, and was more immediately under the eyes of Colonel Richardson, I can state, from my own observations, that the cool and deliberate manner in which he commanded his battery on that and on previous occasions assure me that he is entitled to more praise than his modest report, which I herewith inclose, would induce [No. 61].
As to Colonel Jackson, commanding the Eighteenth Regiment, I can state that during the morning, while he was in the face of the enemy, discharging picket duty, and in line of battle, he and his command behaved with coolness and bravery, and was relied upon in the afternoon as a reserve with great confidence.
Colonel Pratt, commanding the Thirty-first regiment, and Lieutenant-Colonel Marsh, commanding the Sixteenth Regiment, ordered into line of battle by Colonel Miles on the field, and in previous picket duty, showed superior drill and discipline, and to their strict obedience of orders in reserving their fire, under the most provoking circumstances, while they were supporting the artillery, may be attributed the safety of the latter, and probably the safety of the left wing.
Colonel Matheson performed various evolutions during the day under orders, at one time protecting one road, at another time another, and then as a reserve in column; and the patience of himself and command, while so acting within sound of fire, is entitled to great credit. Adjutant Howland, Sixteenth Regiment, my acting aide-de-camp, rendered me valuable services in changing the position of the troops from time to time, and, in general, doing all of his duties thoroughly, and much appertaining to others.
To Brevet Second Lieutenant Bradford, acting brigade commissary, and to Acting Quartermaster Woolsey R. Hopkins and Acting Asst. Adjt. Gen. F. H. Cowdrey much praise is due for the gallant manner in which they delivered orders, sometimes under heavy fire.
Surgeon Crandall and Surgeon’s Mate Moore, Sixteenth Regiment, performed their duties with great fidelity and skill, dressing the wounds of many not under my command.
Surgeon Hamilton, of the Thirty-first Regiment, dressed the wounds of over two hundred men at Centreville.
To the teamsters of ordnance and baggage wagons credit is due for having returned all the wagons and teams, and public property of every description intrusted to them, safely to camp.
Joseph B. Rodden, Company K, Sixteenth Regiment, remained on the field at Centreville till the morning after the fight, and drove into camp, with the aid of a negro whom he pressed into his service, thirty head of cattle belonging to the Government, and arrived at Alexandria on Tuesday morning.
I understand from a deserter now in my camp that my old classmate at West Point, Robert E. Lee, commanded the enemy’s forces opposed to me at Blackburn’s Ford.
I am, sir, respectfully, your obedient servant,
THOS. A. DAVIES,
Colonel, Comdg. Second Brigade, Fifth Division
Capt. James B. Fry, Asst. Adjt. Gen.,
General McDowell, Commanding
HDQRS. SIXTEENTH REGIMENT N.Y. VOLS.,
Alexandria, Va., August 9, 1861
Capt. JAMES B. FRY, Asst. Adjt. Gen.,
Brigadier-General McDowell, Commanding:
SIR: It is with deep sorrow that I see from the general report of Brigadier-General McDowell of the battle of Ball Run that he had failed to give the troops under my command on that day the credit of a victory and of protection to the left wing of the Army.
The circumstances of the battle of Blackburn’s Ford, on the 21st of July, and of the fact of a victory of our arms at one point, at least, would be gratifying to the public to know.
I therefore ask for a court of inquiry to investigate the circumstances of our action on the left at the battle of the 21st ultimo, in order that the troops under my command on that occasion may receive their due share of credit.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
THOS. A. DAVIES,
Colonel Sixteenth Regiment New York Volunteers