Report of Lieut. Oliver D. Greene, Second U.S. Artillery
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp. 436-437
ALEXANDRIA, VA., July 24, 1861
SIR: In compliance with your circular order of this date, just received, I have the honor to report that, on the morning of the 21st instant, my battery was placed in position in reserve near Centreville by Colonel Miles, commanding division, in person. Shortly afterwards, I received an order to hasten to the front with it, at Bull Run, as the enemy were there in force, and supposed to be attempting to turn our left flank. I took it forward as rapidly as possible, and came into action on the crest of a hill about six hundred yards from the enemy’s line of skirmishers. I opened fire immediately upon a fixed battery partially masked by the woods, at a distance of about fifteen hundred yards, and also upon a point where it was known another masked battery was placed. The enemy were congregated in considerable force inside of the first battery, but as soon as I got the range the spherical case shot dispersed them and they disappeared from that position for nearly three hours. I then ceased firing, while skirmishers were thrown to the front from Colonel Richardson’s brigade to feel the strength of the enemy in the edge of the woods in front of us. They were found to be in overwhelming force, and as our skirmishers retired theirs advanced in very strong force, but incautiously presented their flank to my battery. I threw in canister and spherical case as rapidly as possible, killing and wounding several, the first shot knocking over three. I kept up this fire for about five minutes, when I supposed the enemy were driven from that immediate vicinity. I then turned the fire of the battery upon columns of dust seen rising above the woods and indicating the march of troops in mass. Whether any effect was produced or not by this fire I cannot say.
At this time Lieutenant Prime, of the Engineers, directed my attention to a group of thirty or forty horsemen, evidently officers, on the plateau opposite, who, with maps on their horses’ necks, were apparently taking a view of our position and strength at a safe distance. By digging a hole under the trail I got two pieces bearing upon them at an angle of twenty-five or thirty degrees. The distance must have been two and one-half or three miles, but the first shot sent the center figure of the group to the rear; the second scattered the remainder in all directions. Firing was then ordered to cease at all the guns, for some time nothing appearing worth attention, until finally a cloud of dust was seen approaching our position from the direction of Manassas upon a road that was entirely concealed by woods from our sight except at one bare spot within our best range, and the range of this point we had got accurately before. The guns were all prepared with shell and spherical case, and pointed upon this spot. When the head of the column appeared it proved to be a battery of light artillery. I opened fire upon it instantly, and fired with the utmost rapidity. The smoke of the guns obscured my sight, so that I saw none of the effect produced, but Colonel Richardson, who was looking with a glass, informed me afterwards that I cut them up badly, and forced them to turn back. We saw them no more. Shortly after this one of my men called my attention to the battery we first fired upon. The enemy were endeavoring to plant field piece, the horses of which were just passing to the rear as I looked with my glass. I opened upon them with spherical case, firing several rounds. When the smoke cleared away there was no gun to be seen, and the battery gave me no more trouble during the day.
About this time heavy re-enforcements commenced being sent into the main action from Manassas, passing along the plateau opposite, and at about two miles distance. I fired upon them as often as large masses could be seen to justify firing at such a distance. Not much effect was produced, so far as I could see. One column of cavalry was, however, scattered in all directions by a solid shot. Very little firing was done by us for the next two hours, at which time we were ordered to Centreville to protect our left flank and our retreat. I chose a position on the crest of a hill, which from its shape gave me command of the ground to our left, and also of the road along which our division was retiring. From the position I could perfectly sweep with my fire 180 degrees front right and left down a gentle slope. Four regiments were placed as my supports, and the force at the point could have stopped double its number.
At this time an unauthorized person gave the order to retreat. I refused to obey the order, but all my supporting regiments but one (Colonel Jackson’s Eighteenth New York) moved off to the rear. Colonel Jackson most gallantly offered his regiment as a support for the battery, saying “that it should remain by me as long as there was any fighting to be done there.” The above-mentioned unauthorized person again made his appearance at this time and again ordered me to retreat, and ordered Colonel Jackson to form in column of division on my right and retreat with me, as all was lost. The order was, of course, disregarded, and in about two minutes the head of a column of the enemy’s cavalry came up at a run, opening out of the woods in beautiful order. I was prepared for it, and the column had not gone more than a hundred yards out of the woods before four shells were burst at their head and directly in their midst. They broke in every direction, and no more cavalry came out of the woods. Shortly after my battery was ordered to fall a little farther to the rear, to form in a park of artillery. At that point the battery remained until about 12 o’clock at night, when it was ordered to take up the line of march for Washington, which point it arrived at in perfect order, although much exhausted, men and horses having been hard at work for thirty hours, almost without food and water and without sleep.
My officers, Lieutenants Cushing, Harris, and Butler, were coolly and assiduously attentive to their duties during the day. The accuracy of our fire was mainly owing to their personal supervision of each shot. The men of the company behaved well, and every one seemed to try and do his duty in the best possible manner. My only trouble was to keep the drivers from leaving their horses to assist at the guns.
To Lieutenant Prime, of the Engineers, and Colonel Richardson, of the Third Michigan Regiment, I am indebted for the most valuable assistance in securing the best effect from the firing.
One of the officers and one of the men were struck by spent balls, but I am happy to say we had no loss either in men or horses.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
OLIVER D. GREENE,
First Lieutenant, Second Artillery, Comdg. Light Co.
G. F. H. COWDREY, Acting Asst. Adjt. Gen.,
Second Brig., Fifth Div., Colonel Davies, Comdg.