Report of Captain Thomas J. Goldsby, Fourth Alabama
SUPPLEMENT TO THE O.R. – VOL.1: REPORTS ADDENDUM TO SERIES I, VOL. 2, pp 171-174
Headquarters, Fourth Alabama Regiment
Camp Bee, near Manassas, [Virginia]
July 29, 1861
Sir: In obedience to your order of July 26, I submit the following report of the operations of the regiment, immediately preceding and during the battle of July 21.
In the evening of Thursday, July 18, we left our camp near Winchester, and started upon a forced march, across the Blue Ridge, en route for Manassas. We marched all that night and the next day, arriving at Piedmont after nightfall on July 19. At that point we took the cars and arrived at Manassas Junction about 9 o’clock on Saturday, July 20. Our tents were left at Winchester, and the supply of food was scant and insufficient. The men arrived at Camp Walker about ten o’clock a. m. on Saturday, hungry and much exhausted by the exposure and fatigue.
We bivouacked that day and night, obtaining some food which, with some rest, much refreshed and strengthened the men.
On Sunday, July 21, immediately after breakfast, we received the order to “fall in” with knapsacks and arms and take up the line of march towards where the fire of the enemy first opened. After marching in that direction some three or four miles – most of the distance in double-quick time – our direction was suddenly changed towards the left of our line of battle, to which we marched a distance of some two miles, in quick and double-quick time. The day was exceedingly hot, and the supply of water being small, the men arrived on the battlefield much exhausted.
I suppose it was about 9 o’clock a. m., when we reached a skirt of woods about 250 or 300 yards from the enemy’s line, when we halted and formed in line of battle. The enemy were right in front of us in overpowering numbers – Sherman’s Battery fully commanding our position, supported by immense bodies of infantry.
Hardly had we halted and formed before the order came to advance, which we did in double-quick, through the open field to within 100 yards of the enemy’s line, where we were commanded to “halt and lie down.”
The left of our regiment was in the cornfield, and the right in the open field. The fire at once became general – our men rising to fire and lying down to load.
Our advance was covered by one piece of artillery, the fire of which did much to divert the attention of the enemy from our advance movements. Even in that our of peril we could not fail to admitre the accuracy and effect of its aim. Unfortunately, after three rounds, the horses attached to the caisson became frightened and ran off, leaving the piece without ammunition and leaving us unprotected by artillery, except in so far that the gallant [John Daniel] Imboden was permitted, by the heavy fire in his front, to yield us occasional shots. Although they could come but seldom, when they did come we recognized in them the booming “God cheer” of Virginia to Alabama.
For an hour and a half the Fourth Alabama sustained the most galling and destructive fire. Our brave men fell in great numbers, but they died as the brave love to die – with faces to the foe, fighting in the holy cause of liberty. Of course, it is impossible for me to say how many were opposed to us. I only judge, from the incessant and tremendous fire that was kept up, that we were greatly outnumbered.
The force intended for our support on the right and left having been withdrawn for three-quarters of an hour, alone and unaided, except by Imboden’s Battery, we held our position, driving back on three separate occasions the advancing columns of the enemy and enabling reinforcements to come up. At last, outflanked on the right and left and exposed to fire from three sides, we were ordered to fall back.
Our gallant Colonel [Egbert J.] Jones, who, during the hottest of the engagement, sat conspicuously on his horse – as calm as a statue – giving orders as they came, fell severely wounded in this movement.
We retired in good order through the woods on our left and, descending a hill, again formed in line of battle on a branch which runs through the ravine. On our right, as we descended the hill, we observed two regiments drawn up in close column in line of battle. These, being one-quarter of a mile behind the position which we had just left and where we expected to find reinforcements, we confidently regarded by us as friends. They returned our signal, and we were on the point of forming behind them, when, as we unfurled our flag, they opened a murderous fire upon our ranks, killing some and wounding many, among the latter, Lieutenant-Colonel [Evander M.] Law and Major [Charles L.] Scott, both of whom had displayed great gallantry and done much to inspire us by their example.
Left, thus, without field officers and almost surrounded by the enemy, we again fell back, after returning in kind and with effect the compliments of our supposed friends through a pine wood to an open field, where we halted and awaited orders. The thirst of the men was intense and almost intolerable.
At this place, a half mile behind our original position, amid the bursting of shells and the rattling storm of musketry, our heroic General [Barnard Elliott] Bee rode up to the regiment and inquired what body of troops we were. Being told that “it was what remained of the Fourth Alabama,” he replied, with an expressive gesture, “This is all of my brigade that I can find – will you follow me back to where the firing is going on?” “To the death,” was the response, whereupon he put himself on the left of our line and marched us by the left flank to where the fight was raging around Sherman’s Battery.
As we were nearing the scene, a train of artillery that was falling back cut our line, thus separating the left company from the rest of the regiment. This company, with our General at its head, obliqued to the right, upon the open field, when our gallant and beloved commander fell, mortally wounded. The rest of the regiment, not seeing the direction which the head of the column had taken, marched straight forward through the wood, exposed at every step to a galling fire.
Deprived, as we then were, of our Brigadier-General, of our Colonel, of our Lieutenant-Colonel and Major, not knowing our friends from our enemies, and exposed to a murderous fire, with no opportunity of returning it, we marched back, reformed our line, and awaited orders.
We remained on the field until the battle closed, with ranks thinned, it is true, but yet always with a perfect organization.
The regiment was exposed to heavy fire for seven or eight hours, and during the whole time, and particularly during that portion of it when they were actually engaged, the officers and men exhibited the most admirable coolness and gallantry.
I cannot refrain from mentioning the gallant conduct of Major Howard, the aide-de-camp of General Bee. He was ever where the fire was the hottest, and though wounded, remained on the field until the close of the action.
Such, Sir, is a succinct account of the operations of this regiment, called for by your order.
The list of the killed and wounded, hereto appended, will testify that the regiment did not shrink from sealing with its best blood its devotion to the cause.
We rejoice at the glorious victory which was won on that ever memorable field, but over our exultation there is thrown the pall of private sadness by the death and wounding of those we love.
It would be invidious, if it were possible, to enumerate individual acts of heroism, where every man did his duty.
Commanding Third Brigade, Army of the Shenandoah
[Daily Dispatch, newspaper, Richmond, Virginia, August 17, 1861]