Report of Lieut. Col. J. W. Henagan, Commanding Eighth South Carolina Infantry, of Operations July 17 and 18
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp. 455-457
HDQRS. EIGHTH REG’T SOUTH CAROLINA VOLS.,
Camp Victor, Vienna, July 29, 1861
In obedience to General Orders, No.–, from headquarters First Brigade, Army of the Potomac, I ask leave to report the operations of the Eighth Regiment South Carolina Volunteers from the morning of the 17th to the 18th instant, inclusive, during which time, in consequence of the illness of Colonel Cash, the command devolved upon me.
At a very early hour on the morning of the 17th repeated and rapid discharges of artillery and musketry were reported at a distance of from two to three miles to my right. This proved to be an attack by the advance guard of the enemy’s columns upon pickets stationed on the Falls Church and Alexandria roads. These pickets having been driven in, orders from brigade headquarters required me to take position behind the intrenchments which had been thrown up at a distance of three hundred yards in front of my camp on both sides of the road leading from Germantown towards the Flint Hill school-house, and known as the Old Georgetown road. A gun from Captain Shields’ howitzer battery had been previously placed in position on the right of this road, and was in charge of Lieutenant McCarthy. For the protection of this piece I threw Company G, Captain Harrington, into the trenches on the right, and detailed Company C, Captain Coit, to operate as skirmishers in the woods on the extreme right of the earthworks. Company D, Captain Miller, was deployed at a distance of one hundred and fifty yards in front and on the left of my position. Company A, Captain Hoole, was on picket at a barricade one and a quarter miles in advance, on the Flint Hill road, and Captain Hough, of Company B, with part of his command, was on picket at a point on the Fox Mill road about one mile to the left of Captain Hoole. The remainder of Company B, under Lieutenant Johnson, was stationed at a stone bridge one and a quarter miles from Germantown, on the Little River turnpike, in the direction of Centreville. These pickets had been placed overnight, and received orders at a very early hour from brigade headquarters to dispute every inch of ground if driven in during the day.
The firing which had been first heard upon the right gradually inclined towards the left, indicating a movement towards my front. A few minutes before 8 o’clock the enemy appeared in large force, advancing upon the barricade behind which Captain Hoole was stationed–his skirmishers beating the woods on both sides and far to the left. Captain Hoole retired upon the nearer approach of the column, and fell back upon the line of skirmishers in my front. The noise of axes at the barricades and the words of command given by those who were in charge of the party by whom it was cut away were distinctly heard by Captain Coit at his advanced position. I had as yet received no orders to draw in my pickets, although the enemy could now be plainly seen deploying across the road at a distance of four hundred to five hundred yards in front of my line. The delay on the part of the enemy in advancing immediately upon my position led me to suspect a flank movement was intended upon my left, and this, if successful, would have necessarily involved the sacrifice of Captain Hough’s command. My surmise was soon confirmed by the rapid movement of the enemy’s skirmishers to the left in squads of four or five, while his advance still bore slowly down on my front.
Although I had been advised of the original purpose of the commanding general to fall back upon Centreville and Bull Run, the apparent impossibility of now withdrawing in safety from the immediate presence of a largely superior force led me to suppose that there had been a change in the plan of operations, and that it was expected a stand should be made in our present position. I communicated this supposition to the men of my command, and it is due them to say that the degree of alacrity with which they assumed the positions assigned them severally and the coolness with which they prepared to meet the overwhelming numbers immediately opposing them entitle them to most honorable mention. At this critical juncture, and as he was on the point of opening fire upon the advancing enemy, Lieutenant McCarthy received orders to withdraw his gun from position and rejoin his battery. My command was thus left unsupported, while I was every instant expecting my skirmishers to engage those of the enemy. The distance between the enemy’s advance and my skirmishers was reduced to less than one hundred yards before I received orders to withdraw my command and take position in the retreating column. I immediately dispatched two of the mounted staff to the relief of the skirmishers and pickets, and filed out of the trenches, retiring in good order through Germantown to the Centreville road, where the column had been halted and awaited my coming. I was for some time fearful that the detached companies which I had been compelled to leave on duty would be cut off before they could rejoin the regiment, and this would certainly have been the case but for the personal exertions of Col. R. D. Howard, volunteer aide-de-camp to the colonel, and Capt. J. C. McClenaghan, regimental quartermaster, who at the imminent peril of their own safety sought and conducted across the fields the skirmishing parties and pickets, and overtook the column near Centreville. Two shots were fired upon Captain Hough’s command as it passed through Germantown, but without effect.
At Centreville the column was halted, and my regiment assigned to position on the crest of the hill on the left of the road leading to Fairfax Court-House and behind the Brown Church. Here I was ordered to remain in line of battle, with my right next the road and fronting the approach from Fairfax Court-House. I detailed Company H, Captain Singletary, to take position as picket in the woods about one mile in front of my line, and Companies I, Captain Stackhouse, and G, Captain Harrington, were deployed as skirmishers at a distance of two hundred yards in front, extending from the turnpike to the Chantilly road.
At 12 o’clock p.m. my picket came in and reported the presence of the enemy in the woods near their late position. This was communicated to brigade headquarters, and at 1 o’clock I was ordered to draw in my outposts and join the column retiring towards Manassas. This was quietly done, my skirmishers reporting the sound of the tramp of men in the woods immediately in their front. At daybreak the column reached Bull Run. I left two companies, K, Captain S, and D, Captain Miller, on the north side of the run, to picket the Centreville road until the rear guard should come in, and, crossing at Mitchell’s Ford, I was ordered into position on the extreme left, my right resting on Colonel Williams’ Third Regiment South Carolina Volunteers, and my left extending to the distance of one mile above the ford. The regiment still occupying this position, Colonel Cash appeared in the lines early on Thursday and resumed command.
JNO. W. HENAGAN,
Lieutenant-Colonel, Commanding Eighth S.C. Volunteers