Southern Historical Society Papers
Vol. XIX. Richmond, Va. 1891, pp.82-92
History of the First Battle of Manassas and the Organization of the Stonewall Brigade
[From the Winchester, Va., Times, January 14, 1891]
HOW IT WAS SO NAMED
BY D. B. CONRAD, KANSAS CITY, MO., FORMERLY U. S. AND C.S. NAVY
He was as exact in the performance of his duties as a mathematical proposition; his only pleasure, walking daily at the same hour for his health; strict, grim and reticent, he imagined that the halves of his body did not work and act in accord. He followed hydropathy for dyspepsia, and after a pack in wet sheets every Sunday morning he then attended the Presbyterian church, leading the choir, and the prayer-meetings every night during the week. He ate the queerest food, and he sucked lemons constantly; but where he got them during the war, for we were many miles from a lemon, no one could find out–but he always had one. In fact, no one knew or understood him. No man ever saw him smile–but one woman, his wife. But he stood very high in the estimation of all for his rigid moral conduct and the absolute faith reposed in his word and deeds. Soon it was observed that every night there was singing and praying under “that tree,” and every Sunday morning and evening he held prayer-meetings, which, I regret to say, were attended by only a few–always strictly, however, by his staff, who seemed to have been chosen or elected because they were of his way of life. When thrown with him on duty he was uniformly courteous to all. He always kept his eyes half closed as if thinking, which he invariably did before answering; but his replies were short and to the point. Not many days elapsed before the officers found out that when he gave or wrote one of his short orders, it was always to be obeyed, or suspension at once followed neglect. In May many regiments arrived from Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, and there was some semblance of discipline–as an immense log guard-house, always filled, gave evidence.
One Sunday evening in early June the long roll was beaten, and we soon were in line, marching out between the high hills towards Shepherdstown bridge on the upper Potomac, accompanied by a long procession of carriages filled with our mothers and sisters, escorted by our middle-aged, portly fathers on horseback; for as we could not go to them, they daily visited us in our camp; and that evening, for the first time in our lives, it looked and felt like war. For were we not on our way to keep the Yankees out of Virginia? Were they not in force somewhere in Maryland, intending to cross over the bridge which we were marching to, to defend and burn? This was the feeling and belief of all of us; and as in the narrow country road winding around the many high hills our long line of bright bayonets glinted in the setting sun, our five full regiments, numbering nearly four thousand five hundred of the brightest, healthiest, and the most joyous of Virginia youth, stepping out quickly to the shrill music of the drum and fife, with its accompanying procession of vehicles carrying weeping mothers and sisters, it was my first and most vivid sight of what war might be. As darkness fell apace, all were left behind but the soldiers. It was our first night-march, and by two o’clock we were “dead beat!” Many fell asleep by the roadside, and were only aroused by the rattling of muskets, as the foremost regiment fired a volley without orders, and swept across the bridge, only to be sternly ordered back by “Old Jack, the sleepless,” who reprimanded its colonel and then personally superintended the firing of the wooden structure. During the next week we marched over several counties, and by the time we reached Winchester, where General J. E. Johnston had established his headquarters, we were in perfect trim, and knew each other well and felt like soldiers.
In Winchester we were regaled day and night with the speeches of ‘Fire-eaters,” “Original Secessionists,” Et id genus omne! I only recall the following: I saw a crowd listening eagerly with arrested attention to an orator. He was both corpulent and crapulent, who had just come from Washington, which was his present glory and distinction. He announced that he would redden the Potomac with the blood of every Yankee who crossed to invade the sacred soil of the South. One Southern man with a bowie knife was equal to any two Yankees, and that the war would be over after the first fight, when they would be driven out and away forever. Another orator drew a large audience; his chief distinction and glory seemed to be that he was and had been a “Nullifier” (whatever that was). An original “Secessionist;” had a brother fighting in Italy with Garibaldi, whom he announced was expected daily — the looked-for “Military Messiah;” and finally that he was a South Carolinian and came here to assist in fighting Virginia’s battles. Then there were groans and derision from the assembled Virginians.
For a week ending July 2d, we were encamped near Martinsburg, some four miles from the ford of the Potomac leading to Hagerstown, called Falling Waters, watching the Federal army under General Patterson. At sunrise the alarm was given: “the enemy are crossing!” and we were under arms on our way to the ford. Emerging on the turnpike, we were halted to support a battery; skirmishers were thrown out, and soon we were all engaged. We tried hard to hold Patterson until General Johnston could come up from Winchester, but were forced back, and here we saw Colonel Jackson under fire for the first time; stolid, imperturbable, undisturbed, as he was watched by every eye; and his example was quieting and of decided moral effect. There, for the first time, we saw the long line of blue, with the United States flag in the center, and both sides exchanged shots; the first of the many fights in the old Valley of Virginia. We fell back through Martinsburg; it was occupied by General Patterson; and at a small hamlet called” Bunker Hill,” some seven miles away, we, during the whole of July 4th, were in line of battle, expecting Patterson hourly. The next evening we fell back upon Winchester, and after our arrival there happened an episode which I will relate briefly, as it was the first and only attempt at a mutiny ever heard of in the Confederate army.
About 3 o’clock on the afternoon of July 17th the long roll was beaten and we were marched to an adjoining field, crushing under our feet as we moved along the stone fences bounding it. There we found our five regiments surrounding a number of tents, and when the hollow square was perfect we became aware that we enclosed a battalion of troops who had refused positively to further obey their commander. General Joe Johnston’s adjutant, Colonel Whiting, with Colonel Jackson and the colonel of the refractory troops, rode up into the square. The drums were ordered to beat the assembly, and, to our infinite relief, the battalion, under the command of its several captains, fell into line at once. Then there was a dead silence. This was a mutiny! What came next? How was it to be punished? Was every tenth man to be shot, or only the officers? As I rode along I heard these questions asked by both rank and file. Colonel Whiting then rode to the front with a paper in his hand, and when he arrived at the head of the troops he read aloud, with marked emphasis, in substance as follows: That General Johnston had heard with regret and surprise that, on the eve of an action, both men and officers had refused to obey the orders of their commander. He could only say that it was the imperative duty of all soldiers to obey orders; that their grievances would be redressed in time, but such an example would and should not go unpunished. He therefore expected of them instant obedience of their colonel’s orders; that Colonel Jackson, with five regiments, was there to enforce, if needed, his commands. Their own colonel then put them through their evolutions for so many minutes, and they were ordered back to their tents, and all was quiet. It seems hardly necessary to state that those were the last orders ever given by that colonel, as he was removed from command.
All of General Johnston’s army were then encamped around Winchester, when, on the 18th of July, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, again the long roll was sounded. From the number of mounted officers and men galloping furiously off to every encampment, it was evident that there was important news. General Patterson was known to be at Charlestown, twenty miles to the east, but nearer to the passes of the Blue Ridge than we were. General Beauregard was known to be at Manassas station, far to the east, eighty miles by direct line, with the Blue Ridge and the Shenandoah river running between him and us. Soon the news came–it was not an order, but simply a message from General Johnston to each brigade, regiment and individual soldier, that General Beauregard had just notified him from Manassas, on that morning at daybreak, he had been attacked by an overwhelming force of the enemy from Centerville. He was holding his own, but needed help. General Johnston had started, and would go day and night to his relief; and he expected every man who wanted to fight the enemy would up and follow. There is no man living of all that army to-day who can ever forget the thrill of “Berserker rage” which took possession of us all when the news was understood, and General Johnston’s inspiring message was repeated along the line. We were to help General Beauregard drive the enemy back; then, returning to the Valley, would hurl General Patterson across the Potomac and end the war. For had not Secretary Seward proclaimed that in sixty days it would be over? Every man sprang to his place, and in an incredibly short time we were rapidly moving through the dusty streets of old Winchester, there only to be the more inspired and encouraged, for there was not a mother or sister there who had not in the ranks a son or a brother, and who through tears and wails at being left undefended and alone, yet told us it was our duty to go. Our Virginia brigade took the lead and to the eastward, making for Ashby’s Gap. We footed it fast and furious; it was at first like a run, but soon slackened to the “route step,” and now we wondered at the old soldier’s puzzle: “Why, when the leading files of a mile of soldiers were only in a walk, that the rear files are always on a run?” As we passed through the rich and fertile Clarke County, the road was lined with ladies holding all manner of food and drink, for General Johnston’s staff had passed in a sweeping gallop and given tidings of our coming. At sundown we came to the cold, swift Shenandoah, and with two and three to every horse, the rest stripped off trousers, crossed, holding aloft on muskets and head, clothing and ammunition. This was the severest test, for it was a long struggle against a cold, breast-high current, and the whole night and the next day witnessed this fording of men, guns and horses. I did not see my mare for two days; nearly a dozen cousins and brothers or other relatives had to use her in the crossing. Luckily the road beyond was hard, dry and plain in the dark night as we slowly climbed the Blue Ridge, which rises precipitously from the river, and in a straggling line passed by the “Big Poplar Tree” that crowns the summit and is the corner of four counties, Clarke, Warren, Fauquier and Loudoun. Coming down the mountain by the hamlet of Paris, and there leaving the pike, we took the country road, soft and damp, to the railroad station of Piedmont, where, sleeping on the ground, we awaited the arrival of the train to carry us to Manassas Junction. At sunrise it came; a long train of freight and cattle cars, in which we packed ourselves like so many pins and needles; and, as safety for engine and cars was more essential than speed, for we had one engine only on that part of the old Manassas Gap railroad, we slowly jolted the entire day, passed the many country stations, warmly welcomed by the gathered crowds of women and girls with food and drink.
And when at sunset we arrived at Manassas Junction, sprung at once into line, and swept out into a broken country of pine forest. Four miles brought us to the banks of “Bull Run,” where we slept. That was Friday night, the 19th, and it had taken twenty-four hours to bring four thousand men to the expected field of action. Bright and early on Saturday, the 20th, we were up and examined with a soldier’s interest the scene of the conflict of the 18th. A line of fresh graves was rather depressing; the trees were lopped and mangled by shot and perforated by minnie balls. The short, dry grass showing in very many spots a dark chocolate hue, spreading irregularly like a map, which the next day became a too familiar sight. We could not make anything out of the fight, beyond that here was the ford, and here they came down to cross in force. They were simply repulsed from the ford; there was no pursuit, the artillery remaining on the hills beyond; and it was agreed that here, any day now, we were to fight against a direct assault. The enemy’s object, we supposed, was to get to Manassas Junction, murder every one there, and destroy buildings and stores.
The art of war was so simple and so well understood by all in those early days, that the opinions of high-up college graduates and successful lawyers were even sought for, and in all cases, I must do them justice to say, were given with the utmost freedom and liberality. Every man who had been in the Mexican war, or had been fighting abroad, was a colonel or a brigadier at once, and they swelled and swaggered around, dispensing willing information of tactics and grand strategy in the most profuse and generous way to an absorbent and listening crowd. The whole of Saturday, the 20th, did we lie in the pines, resting and surmising, greeting each new regiment as it arrived at all hours of the day and night, panting for the fight. Questions asked were: “Had the fighting begun yet?” Are we too late?” “When was it to be? Let us get a good place where we can kill every d—d Yankee, and then go home.” Not a sound or shot disturbed the quiet of long Saturday, and we slept peacefully in the pines that night. As the next day (Sunday, the 21st) broke we were jumped out of our lairs by the loudest gun I ever heard, apparently fired right at our heads, as we supposed, and from just over the bank of Bull Run, only a hundred yards distant; but it proved to be the signal gun from Centerville, four miles away, in the encampment of General McDowell. At a double quick we were in line along the bank of the stream, momentarily expecting the enemy to appear and open on us, and thus we awaited until the sun got over the tops of the trees, when a mounted officer rode up, and after a hurried interview with Colonel Jackson, we were, to our surprise, wheeled to the rear, and at double-quick, over fields and through the woods, we went to the extreme left of our army.
It then turned out that at that day and hour General McDowell had decided to attack us on our left; and as General Beauregard had decided to attack the Federals on their left, so, had it not been discovered in time by the Confederates, each army would have followed thereto in concentric circles. For two long, hot hours did we move towards the rattling of musketry, which at first was very faint, then became more and more audible. At last we halted under a long ridge covered with small pines. Here were the wounded of that corps who had been first engaged–men limping on gun or stick; men carried off in blankets, bleeding their life away; men supported on each side by soldiers–and they gave us no very encouraging news to troops as we were. They had been at it ever since sun-up. The enemy were as thick as wheat in the field, and the long lines of blue could not be counted. Up the narrow lane our brigade started, directly to where the musketry seemed the loudest, our regiment, the Second, bringing up the rear. Reaching the top, a wide clearing was discovered; a broad table land spread out, the pine thicket ceased, and far away over the hill in front was the smoke of musketry; at the bottom of the long declivity was the famous turnpike, and on the hills beyond could be seen clearly Griffin’s and Rickett’s batteries. In their front, to their rear, and supported on each side, were long lines of blue. To our right, about one hundred yards off, was a small building, the celebrated “Henry House.” As ours was the last regiment to come up, and as the brigade, as it surmounted the hill, wheeled into line sharply to the left into the thickets, we were thus thrown to the extreme right of the line and of the entire army. Halting there and mounted on a gate-post, I could see the panoramas spread out before me. The brass pieces of Griffin’s and Rickett’s batteries were seen wheeling into line, caissons to the rear, the horses detached and disappearing behind the hill. The glinting of the morning sun on the burnished metal made them very conspicuous. No cavalry were seen. I do not think that McDowell had any in action that day. Both batteries soon opened on us with shell, but no casualties resulted, for the reason that in their haste and want of time the fuses were not cut. I picked up many which fell to the ground with a dull sound, and found that the reason they did not explode. The infantry were engaged on the side of the long, gradual slope of the hill on which we stood, and in the bottom below, out of our sight, we could hear the sound and see the white smoke.
At this time there rode up fast towards us from the front a horse and rider, gradually rising to our view from the bottom of the hill. He was an officer all alone, and as he came closer, erect and full of fire, his jet-black eyes and long hair, and his blue uniform of a general officer made him the cynosure of all. In a strong, decided tone he inquired of the nearest aide, what troops we were and who commanded. He was told that Colonel Jackson, with five Virginia regiments had just arrived, and pointed to where the colonel stood at the same time. The strange officer then advanced, and we of the regimental staff crowded to where he was to hear the news from the front. He announced himself as General B. E. Bee, commanding South Carolina troops; he said that he had been heavily engaged all the morning, and being overpowered, are now slowly being pushed back; we will fall back on you as a support: the enemy will make their appearance in a short time over the crest of that hill. “Then sir, we will give them the bayonet,” was the only reply of Colonel Jackson. With a salute, General Bee wheeled his horse and disappeared down the hill, where he immortalized himself, Colonel Jackson and his troops, by his memorable words to his own command: “Close up, men, and stand your ground. Colonel Jackson with five regiments of Virginia troops is standing behind us like a stone wall, and will support you.” Thus was the name of “Stonewall” given to General Jackson and his famous brigade. General Bee was killed the next moment. Our entire line lay in the pine thickets for one long hour, and no man, unless he was there, can tell how very long it was to us. Under fire from two batteries throwing time-shells only, they did not do a great amount of killing, but it was terribly demoralizing. Then there was a welcome cessation; and we were wondering why, and when the fighting would begin for us. After nearly half an hour the roar of the field pieces sounded louder than I had yet heard, and evidently very near us; this was the much criticised movement of Ricketts, who had ordered his battery down the opposite hill, across the pike and up the hill we were on, where, wheeling into battery on the level top, opened with grape and canister right into the thicket and into our exposed line. This was more than Colonel Jackson could stand, and the general order was–” Charge and take that battery!” Now the fight of Manassas, or Bull Run, began in earnest–for the position we held was the key of the field. Three times did our regiment charge up to and take this battery, but never held it; for though we drove the regiment supporting it, yet another was always close behind to take its place. A gray-headed man, sitting sideways on horseback, whom I understood to be General Heintzleman, was ever in one spot directing the movements of each regiment as it came up the hill; and his coolness and gallantry won our admiration. Many fragments of these regiments charged on us in turn as we retreated into the pines, only to be killed, for I do not think any of them went back alive. The green pines were filled with the Seventy-ninth Highlanders and the red-breeched Brooklyn Zouaves, but the only men who were killed twenty or thirty yards behind, and in the rear of our line, were the United States Marines. Many of these I had sailed with, and they called on me by name to help them as they lay wounded in the undergrowth. “Water, water!” “Turn me over!” “Raise my head, and remove me out of this fire!” were their cries. I then saw what was afterwards too often the case–men with wounded legs, unable to move out of the fire, mortally wounded while lying helpless Our entire brigade thus fought unaided and alone for at least an hour–charging, capturing, retreating, and retaking this battery, resisting the charges of each fresh regiment as it came forward at quick-step up the slope of the hill, across the table-land, on its top and into the pine thickets where we were, until we were as completely broken up into fragments and as hard pressed as men ever were. It had gotten down to mere hand-to-hand fighting of small squads, out in the open and in the pines. There was no relief, no reinforcements, no fresh troops to come, or to fall back on. Luckily the enemy were in the same disorganized condition as we were. General Johnston seized the colors of a regiment, and on horseback, led a charge, excusing it afterwards as necessary at that moment to make a personal example. Our Colonel Jackson, with only two aids, Colonels Jones and Marshall, both subsequently killed, rode slowly, and without the slightest hurrah, frequently along our front, encouraging us by his quiet presence. He held aloft his left or bridle hand, looking as if he was invoking a blessing, as many supposed, but in fact to ease the intense pain, for a bullet had badly shattered two of his fingers, to which he never alluded, and it has been forgotten, for it was the only time he was ever wounded, until his fall in action in 1863. Thus the fate of the field hung in a balance at 2:30 P. M. At this moment President Davis and his staff made their appearance on the field, but not being known, attracted no attention. Both sides were exhausted and willing to say “enough!” The critical moment, which comes in all actions, had arrived, when we saw to our left a cloud of dust, and out of it emerged a straggling line of men with guns held at a trail. Slowly they came on to the field, not from want of spirit, but tired out from double-quicking in the heat and dust. As they passed by and through our squads there were hurried inquiries; the enemy was pointed out to them, and when seen, from out of their dusty and parched throats, came the first “Rebel yell.” It was a fierce, wild cry, perfectly involuntary, caused by the emotion of catching first sight of the enemy. These new troops were Kirby Smith’s delayed men; the train had that morning broken down, but on arriving at the station near and hearing the sound of fighting, he had ordered the train stopped, and forming into line and rapidly marching, guided only by the roar of the guns, had arrived on the field at the supreme moment. The yell attracted the attention of the enemy, surprised and startled them. Inspired by the sight of the Federals the new Confederate troops, in one long line, with a volley and another yell, swept down the slope of our hill and drove before them the broken, tired enemy, who had been at it since sunrise. Kirby Smith was shot from his horse, but onward they went, irresistible, for there was no opposition. The enemy stood for a few moments, firing, then turned their backs for the first time. As if by magic the whole appearance of the scene was changed. One side was cheering and pursuing in broken, irregular lines; the other a slow-moving mass of blue backs and legs, guns, caissons and ammunition wagons, started down the hard, white pike. Our batteries, with renewed vigor and dash, had again come to the front, and from their high positions were opening with shot and grape. One solitary bridge was the point to which the fleeing Federals converged, and on that point was our fire concentrated. The result was at one seen–a wheel or two knocked off their caissons or wagons blocked the passage, and the bridge became impassable. The men cut loose their horses, mounted and rode away; others plunged into the mud and water, and the retreat became from that moment a panic, for the god Pan had struck them hard for the first and last time. There was never again the like to be seen in the subsequent four years. Our pursuit, singularly, was by artillery, our infantry having become incapable of further motion from sheer exhaustion; and Stewart had only a few companies out of the one regiment on the field; but they did good work in keeping up the rout until late in the night, when they were brought to a standstill at Centerville, where there was a reserve brigade that had not been in action; and so ended the part taken by the Stonewall Brigade in this their first fight. I may add here that our regiment was not gathered together for four days, and the brigade not for a week. With us, as with the rest of our victorious army, we were as much disorganized and scattered by our victory as the Federals by their defeat, and pursuit, unless by an organized force beyond Centerville, would have been simply a physical impossibility.