To Pleasant Williams Kittrell
Headquarters 4th Brigade, Centreville
August 2nd 1861
Dear Uncle Pleas,
I wrote hurriedly to Mother soon after the battle, knowing that she would be very solicitous and anxious to hear of my safety.
Having intended for some time to write to you, I take this opportunity to do so. You all at home no doubt think that I do not write often enough and I confess that I do not; but if you only knew how very difficult it has been here to procure writing material, you would very readily excuse me. Since, however, I have become a member of Genl Longstreet’s Staff I can no longer have such an excuse, and will consequently try to do better in the future. You can have no idea how very anxious I am to hear from home, never having received one line from any of you since I have been here. I console myself, however, with the thought that you have written but the letters have miscarried.
You have long since heard of the great “Battle of Manassas,” and the great victory achieved by our brave soldiers. To you at a distance who do not know the full particulars, it does seem like a great victory, and so it was. But to others (myself among the rest) it really does not seem so – we can not enjoy it so much for the simple reason that we know it was not complete. There is no good reason why our army should not now be encamped on Arlington Heights or in Washington City as here around the battleground. My descriptive powers are not very good, but still I will try to give you an account of the occurrences from the time we evacuated Fairfax Court House until the rout of the enemy.
Genl Bonham of SC – (a man whom I think is totally unfit for a military leader) had command at Farifax Court House. It had always been the intention of Genl Beauregard to evacuate Fairfax on the approach of the enemy. Early on the morning of the 17th ult. we heard the firing of our pickets, and very soon afterwards they came in. Soon the enemy came in sight about 2 miles distant. Their approach was from two sides, and when I saw them it almost seemed as if there were 500,000 of them. It was then we commenced striking our tents and loading our wagons, which ought to have been done long before, as it was well known on the 16th that they had commenced their forward movement. The consequence was that everything was done very hurriedly, and a considerable amount of property was left behind – consisting of provisions, forage, tents, some guns and ammunition. By the time our wagons had left, the enemy was in about a mile of the town, moving down on it very slowly. Gen. Bonham all the time appeared very much flurried. After moving his troops around and making some demonstrations as if for a fight, he ordered a retreat, which ought to have been done before the enemy was so close. From the number of canteens, knapsacks, blankets, &c. which our men threw away on the road, our retreat no doubt appeared more like a rout than a retreat in good order. By the time we had reached this place, a distance of eight miles, our men were almost broken down. After resting here a few hours, the most of our troops were sent on back across Bull Run, Genl Bonham remaining with one regiment to make a demonstration here. He did not do so, however, for about midnight on the 17th we again commenced our retreat and took position on the other side of the Run.
The enemy came in early next morning and occupied this place. By this time they were in fine spirits: they had come to the conclusion that they would have no fighting to do, and would march direct to Richmond. They did not tarry long here, but Gen. Tyler with his division of 15,000 moved direct on towards Manassas, or rather Blackburn’s and Mitchell’s Ford on Bull Run. Gen. Longstreet guarding the former and Bonham the latter. Capt. Kemper with his battery had been sent in advance of our forces, and when the enemy made his appearance, the Captain turned loose his guns upon them with considerable effect. After firing several times, he withdrew to his position across the Run.
In the meantime the enemy had opened his batteries upon Capt. Kemper and Genl Bonham, and everything seemed to indicate that he would attempt a crossing at Mitchells Ford on the direct road to Manassas. But whilst his batteries were playing upon Bonham, Tyler moved seven regiments of infantry down against Longstreet at Blackburn’s Ford. Genl Longstreet had in his brigade which extended up and down the river, the 1st, 11th, and 17th Va. Regiments. The 7th Va. was held in reserve. The attack was made against the points where the 17th was stationed, and 2 companies of the 1st – the whole not amounting to more than 1200 men. While that of the enemy to at least 6000. Our troops had no embankments to fight behind, as has been represented, but fought from the bank of the creek or run. The enemy were just above on a high bluff on the other side of the run. Until it was necessary to use the bayonet, the enemy had by far the advantage in position. They made the attack with great vigor and confidence, and it was with great difficulty that our men were persuaded to stand. Some of them started to fall back two or three times, but Genl Longstreet, in a perfect shower of balls, rode amongst them, with his cigar in his mouth, rallying them, encouraging, and inspiring confidence among them. For several minutes there was one continuous roar of musketry. Three times were the enemy repulsed, and three times did they come back to the attack; finally, Genl Longstreet gave the order for our boys to charge. Only two companies, however, succeeded in crossing the run but these were sufficient to cause the Hessians to flee precipitately. These two companies with their bayonets ran them out of the woods they were in, and made them go in every direction. Then it was that the 7 pieces of our artillery in our rear opened upon them and did terrible execution. Prisoners taken say that our artillery swept their ranks from one end to the other, besides disabling some pieces of their artillery. It was about 2 o’clock when our artillery opened upon their retreating forces. Theirs at the same time opened upon us, and there was a constant fire from both sides until 4 P.M. when the enemy retreated to Centreville – 3 miles. Our battery threw amongst them more than 300 shot and shell. Our loss was 15 killed and about 50 wounded. Theirs is estimated at from 500 to 2000 killed and wounded. Some of the prisoners have told me that it was about 2000. I know that they left many of their dead on the field, although they had 2 hours under cover of their guns to carry off the dead and wounded.
This fight of the 18th went a great way towards winning the victory of the 21st. For it gave our troops confidence in themselves, and convinced the enemy that we would fight. The disparity in numbers on the 18th was greater than on the 21st. I have given a fuller account of this fight than I would otherwise have done, had I not seen in the papers the credit for it given to Genl Bonham, when his command did not fire a gun. Genl Longstreet alone deserves all the credit. Had he not rode amongst his troops and himself rallied them when they started to fall back, had he not exhibited the coolness and courage that he did, the result of the whole affair might have been very different.
At one time Genl L. was himself exposed to fire from both the enemy and our own troops. He had ordered up his reserve, the 7th Va. Regt. (and fearing that they in their excitement might fire before he was ready for them) he placed himself immediately in front of them. No sooner than they were in position and while the Genl was before them, they commenced firing and the Genl only saved himself by throwing himself off his horse and lying flat on the ground.
The battle of the 21st I cannot describe so particularly as I was farther from it. Before day on Sunday morning we were aroused by the rattling of the enemy’s artillery wagons. By sunup they had placed three batteries in about 1 mile of Blackburn’s Ford – so as to play on that point – on Genl. Bonham who was just above at Mitchell’s Ford – and Genl Jones just below at McLane’s Ford.
Genls. Beauregard & Johnston were so certain from all the indications that the attack would again be made at Blackburn’s Ford (it also being the weakest point) that they had stationed nearly all the reserve force near that point. The enemy opened their three batteries upon Genls. Bonham, Longstreet and Jones about sunrise and from that time until 4 o’clock they poured the shell and grape in upon us.
This demonstration against us turned out to be only a feint [two words illegible] real point of attack was to be made at another point. About 6 O’clock A.M., Col. Frank Terry, who was also acting as Aide to Genl Longstreet, solicited and obtained permission from him to make a reconnaissance. Crossing the run, he ascended a high hill and climbing a tree had a full view. He was the first to discover and gave the information that the enemy was making the attempt to turn our left flank.
When he made his report, Genl Beauregard immediately ordered the reserve up near the Stone Bridge across Bull Run, a distance of 4 or 5 miles. It was never suspected that the enemy would cross the rear above Stone Bridge, and we were not prepared for it. They, however, crossed more than a mile above without being seen, and attacked our left flank.
Then the battle commenced in earnest, from 9 o’clock A.M. until about 4 P.M. it continued. The roar of the artillery for a few moments would be terrific – then it would be hushed and for several minutes we could hear one continuous volley of musketry. During all of that time we below were in an agony of suspense. But whilst all this was going on, and early in the day, Genl Longstreet solicited and obtained orders from Genl Beauregard to assume the offensive against the force which was keeping us in check.
The plan was, and the orders were, for Genl Ewell, who occupied the extreme right, to move forward to Centreville and attack their rear. Genl Jones at the same time was to commence an attack on their right flank. And when they opened the fight Genl Longstreet was to come forward and attack them in front.
In compliance with these orders, Genl Longstreet’s Brigade was moved across the run, placed in position and awaited for 2 hours for Genl Ewell to commence the attack. All the time we were exposed to a heavy firing from the batteries on the hill (and I am sorry to say that a portion of the 5th North Carolina Regiment in our Brigade made a pretty fast retrograde movement, but the most of them soon rallied and returned. 2 captains, however, declared that they couldn’t stand it and left the field.)
The messenger who was to convey the order to Genl Ewell became frightened and did not carry it. So the movement proposed was abandoned for the time. In the evening, however, the order was again given us to make the movement, and this time all received it. But while we were waiting for Ewell and Jones to attack, another order came, countermanding the former order. Genl Longstreet refused to resume his former position without another positive order. Soon it came from Johnston & Beauregard and stated, too, that a large column was moving down from the railroad, which they supposed was Patterson, and that we must not move, but hold ourselves in readiness to cover the retreat of our army.
The same order was given to Genl Jones; but before he received it, he had moved forward and commenced the attack with the 1st S. C. Regiment and 2 Mississippi Regiment.
The enemy poured a heavy fire into him of shell & grape, his troops became confused and the Mississippians retreated in considerable disorder.
The next order received was that the enemy were completely routed and for Genl Bonham & Longstreet to start in pursuit, it having fortunately turned out that the column which Johnston feared feared was Patterson was the brigade of Genl Smith, who had stopped the cars above on the R. R. and marched over direct to the scene of action and who coming up attacked the enemy’s flank and commenced the rout.
Our boys, when they received the order to start in pusuit, made the welkin ring with their shouts. I never saw a more jubilant set of troops.
The order was for Genl Bonham (who ranks Genl Longstreet) to take a road leading to the left across the country so as to attack the enemy on the road leading from Stone Bridge to Centreville and about half way between the two points, while Genl Longstreet was to march directly here and attack them. But Genl Bonham instead of taking the crossroad, comes over into our road and orders us to go through the wood to the right which it was impossible for us to do. So we had to fall in just behind his brigade. To have seen Genl Bonham, with his sword drawn and colors, you would have thought he would hardly stop short of New York.
But he had not proceeded far before some scouts (Messrs. Terry & Lubbock whom Genl L. had sent ahead) came in sight of a battery which the enemy had turned to cover the retreat. When they came in sight, it fired 2 rounds of grape at them without effect.
When Genl Bonham hear this firing he turned his Brigade and came back in quick time until he met Genl Longstreet. About this time Messrs. Terry and Lubbock came back and reported to them what they saw.
Genl Bonham said “we must go back, that a glory victory might (not) be turned into a terrible disaster.”
Genl Longstreet and others insisted that we be permitted to proceed. He told him that he would capture that battery without the loss of a man and that we would at Centreville cut off the rear of their army and follow straight into Washington City. But it was of no avail. He ordered us back, and we sullenly retraced our steps to our old position.
Genl Bonham could not realize that the enemy was so completely routed and disorganized, as they were, and he was fearful that they might rally in force and cut us to pieces. But if you can possibly conceive of how great the rout was, how utterly demoralized the enemy were, you can readily perceive how easy it would have been for 5000 fresh men to [several words illegible] (with a full clear moon) and follow them to Arlington Heights or even into Washington.
I have seen intelligent gentlemen from Washington who said that at any time on Monday, the 22nd, one regiment could have taken Washington without difficulty. Genl Longstreet, knowing from experience how utterly impossible it was to rally a demoralized army, was the more anxious to pursue. Genl Bonham (being a civilian andpolitician) could not understand it. For these reasons I think I am justified in saying the victory was not completed. I heard the next day Genl Beauregard express his regrets to Genl Longstreet that he (Genl Longstreet) was so situated as not to have his own way about the pursuit. I thought on our return that Genl Bonham could well be compared to the great French general who marched up the hill, and then marched down again. It is against military law to complain of the conduct of our superior officers – but this is only to you at home, who I feel anxious should fully understand everything.
I wish Uncle Pleas that you could have ridden along the road (the morning after the battle) between Stone Bridge and Centreville. The first thing that captured my attention when I came into the road was the quantity of muskets scattered on the roadsides. Many were in the road and the wagons had run over and broken and bent them in nearly every shape. The next thing were two dead yankees on the roadside. Then at a creek where there was a bad crossing, were wagons in almost a perfect jam, some broken to pieces, some overset, and some fastened against others. The most of them loaded, some with bridge timbers, others with ammunition, one with handcuffs, andothers still with a variety of things. Then came cannon abandoned, some because a horse had been killed, some because wheels were broken, and other because they were too heavy to proceed fast with. Every few hundred yards along the road a cannon was left. And all along were dead men – dead horses – muskets, canteens, knapsacks, blankets &c &c. There were also a fine lot of hospital stores – surgical instruments – also ambulances of the best description.
The Yankees say the Southerners do not fight like men – but devils. We were several times very nearly whipped, and nothing but the bulldog pertinacity of our men saved us. Several times some of our regiments, and even companies, were disorganized and scattered; but they would fall in with other regiments and companies and fight on.
Some of the enemy’s batteries were taken and retaken several times during the day. You could easily tell where a fight had occurred over a battery from the great number of dead men and horses. There is one place on the field where in an area of 8 or 10 acres there are more than 100 dead horses and I suppose at least double the number of men. The enemy must have fought well. Ellsworth’s Zouaves were nearly all killed and wounded. On our side the Hampton Legion suffered severely, also Gen. Bartow’s Brigade [and] also a Louisiana Regiment. But none suffered worse than the 4th Alabama. It and a Louisiana Regiment for nearly one hour bore the whole brunt of the battle with the enemy firing on them from three sides. The loss of the 4th Alabama was about 200 in killed & wounded. The proportion, though, of killed was small. They went onto battle with 600 men.
Judge Porter King’s Company lost 15 killed & wounded. I am happy to state that Cousin David Scott behaved very gallantly and passed through without a scratch. No one from Perry [County] that I knew was killed. I saw Dave for a few moments yesterday, the first time I knew certainly he was here. I never could until yesterday find the 4th Alabama, although I had diligently hunted for it.
Dave does not look very well. He has just gotten well of the measles. I did not see Capt. King as he had gone off. Sel Evans is a lieutenant in the company. He is a good looking young man. I shall go over and spend a day with them soon. They belong to Johnston’s army and I to Beauregard’s. Our field officers all acted very gallantly. Genl Beauregard was in the very thickest of the fight, and at one time led the Hampton Legion for 15 minutes. Genl Johnston also seized a flag and marched at the head of a brigade.
Several amusing incidents are related of the fight and rout. An Episcopal minister had charge of one of our batteries. Whenever he got ready to fire, he would exclaim, “Oh, Lord, have mercy on their Souls, for I will have none on their bodies.” It is told of another preacher that he came in close quarters with a Yankee and that drawing his sword he nearly severed the Yankee’s head from his body. Then, flourishing his sword in the air, he exclaimed, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon! On, boys, on!” On the 21st the Chaplain of the 5th N. C. Regt. – who is a Scotch Presbyterian – acted as Major of the Reg. (the Maj. being sick.) He rallied that portion of the Regiment which ran – In speaking of it afterwards he very penitently remarked to me that “‘he hoped the Lord would forgive him, but he had to swear once or twice at the boys to make them come back.” There was a boy about 16 in the battle, who received 3 slight wounds and had besides 2 other bullet holes through his clothes.
Many senators, congressmen & ladies were at this place to see the fight. Senator Foster of Connecticut is said to have gone from here to Fairfax C. H. on foot and bareheaded. Congressmen outran the soldiers. Lovejoy had hired a man with a 3-minute horse to drive him here. On the return, the man said he went back at full speed but every once and awhile Lovejoy would ask him why in the name of God didn’t he drive faster.
We had actually engaged int the fight about 20,000 men – The enemy had about 50,000. They selected their own ground, and had every advantage in position. We had no embankments or fortifications and not one masked battery. It was a fair field fight.
We had all told at that time 40 or 45,000 men. The enemy first made their advance with 55,000 men, but after the repulse of the 18th, they reinforced themselves with 15,000 men. Their total number was 70,000. Our loss in killed and wounded is not 2000. Theirs in killed, wounded, & missing according to the N.Y. Herald is 20,000, but I suppose 10,000 will probably cover it. We have a great many prisoners, many of their wounded. They did not pretend to send back to bury their dead. We had two of their surgeons here who we released on parole to attend their wounded – but they not only broke their parole, but left their wounded who are all anxious that they be caught & hung.
We have a very large force here now, say 50,000. What the next movement will be I cannot tell, but my opinion is that as soon as we can get transportation an advance will be made on Washington – Everything tends that way now. But I must close for you are no doubt tired, and so am I.
This letter is long enough for you all, and is so intended. All must answer it – My love to Grandma, Mother & all.
Your Nephew Affly.,
Thoms. J. Goree
I saw Hnl. Jacob Thompson yesterday and he sends his kindest regard to Grandma, Mother & Yourself.
Direct your letters to Capt. Thos. J. Goree
On Genl Longstreet’s Staff 4th Brigade
Manassas Junction Va.
[Cutrer, Whomas W., editor, Longstreet’s Aide: The Civil War Letters of Major Thomas J. Goree, pp. 24-32]