Report of Col. R. E. Rodes, Fifth Alabama Infantry, of Skirmish at Fairfax Court-House
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp. 459-461
UNION MILLS STATION, Fairfax County, Va., July 24, 1861
CAPTAIN: In obedience to General Ewell’s instructions, I have the honor to present herein a statement in relation to the skirmish which occurred between a portion of my command and the enemy on the morning of the retreat of the advance guard of our Army to Bull Run and in relation to the retreat of this regiment.
On the night before the retreat referred to I sent Captain Shelley’s company (E) armed with rifled muskets, to sustain my advance guard.
This company had remained at the outpost on Braddock’s old road, some three and one-half miles from the regiment, until 7 a.m. on the morning of the 17th instant, when they returned towards camp to get provisions, having been sent off in such a hurry as to prevent their making preparations for breakfast, and had gotten within three-fourths of a mile of camp before the approach of the enemy was announced to them by one of my couriers coming in with a prisoner, who had been taken by a sentinel (Private Wethered, of Company H). The outpost and guard fell back fighting, not very severely, but killing several of the enemy. One of the guard (Kennedy, of Company H) killed two, having taken two deliberate musket-shots from the same spot at four of the Federalists, all of whom fired at him.
Shelley’s company, having advanced again to sustain the guard, had a sharp skirmish with them. This skirmish took place four hundred yards in advance of our breastworks, which are three-quarters of a mile east of our encampment, and which were by this time occupied by the main body of my command. Our skirmishers, being completely outflanked, retired in good order to their station in the barricades. The enemy did not follow them then, nor had they followed them twenty minutes after, when an officer of the regiment, Captain Fowler, returned to the breastworks.
They had outflanked my position to the right during the skirmish, for they could be seen crossing the clearing along the edge of which we were posted in large numbers. Up to and after the close of the skirmish I had received no definite orders to retreat, but had learned that General Bonham’s command was retreating, and that the troops at Fairfax Station were about to retreat. I had sent a courier to General Ewell for instructions, and an officer, Capt. J. D. Webb, to General Bonham, with orders to remain with him until his troops began to fall back. Captain Webb found the general’s command had already evacuated their positions at the Court-House, and were on the Centreville road, and, upon telling General Bonham his instructions from me, received from him the reply, “Tell Colonel Rodes to commence his retreat immediately, and inform General Ewell of it.” General Ewell had already advised me, but after Captain Webb left me, of General Bonham’s movements.
As soon after the message from General Bonham as I could assemble the companies on the center of our line of defenses our retreat began. We retreated without molestation and in good order to McLean’s Ford, where I reported to General Jones, marching the regiment, except one company, across Bull Run. Just before sunset I was ordered by General Beauregard, through Colonel Chisolm, to move down to Union Mills. In obedience to this order, the regiment at once recrossed the run, and joined the main body of General Ewell’s command at the mills.
The result of the skirmish may be summed up thus: On our side two men wounded slightly–one in the leg, the other in the ear; on the side of the enemy, one prisoner and at least twenty killed and wounded. This estimate I consider safe. Two prisoners taken in the battle of the 21st, who state that they were in the column which advanced along Braddock’s road, stated the loss as much heavier–one, fifty killed and wounded; the other, seventy. These reports come to me from men of this regiment who conversed with said prisoners. In our retreat we lost eight or ten tents and two barrels of crackers; but this, in the case of the tents, was because the tents were thrown out of one wagon in order to give room for the many sick men we had.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. RODES,
Colonel, Commanding Fifth Regiment Alabama Volunteers
Capt. FITZHUGH LEE,
Act. Asst. Adjt. Gen., Second Brigade, Army of the Potomac