Southern Historical Society Papers
Vol. XXIII, Richmond, Va., January-December 1895, pp.259-266
The Closing Scenes of the Battle–Cavalry Pursuit
[Because of graphic details embodied, this article and the reply thereto are given.–ED.]
To the Editor of the Dispatch:
The subjoined letter, which I request you to publish in your widespread and metropolitan journal, is from the pen of Captain William Fitzhugh Randolph, of Greenville, Miss. Captain Randolph, himself a gallant Confederate officer, is brother to Bishop Randolph, of Virginia, and of the military stock of the distinguished Captain Buckner Magill Randolph, of the Confederate infantry, as well as kinsman to the courageous and accomplished Colonel Robert Randolph, of the cavalry corps attached to the Army of Northern Virginia.
JOHN SCOTT, of Fauquier,
Colonel of Cavalry, Confederate States Army
GREENVILLE, August, 1895
Colonel John Scott:
MY DEAR COLONEL,–I hope you will excuse the delay which has occurred in my answer to your letter, received some weeks ago, which has been occasioned, first, by my absence from home, and then by a spell of fever, from which I have only recovered in the past few days.
The extract which you give from Colonel Munford’s report (see for the report itself, page 534, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. II) is so entirely inaccurate and at variance with all my own experience, that I think it better to supplement your own narrative by giving a brief account of my observation of some of the incidents of that memorable day. I did not at that time, as, perhaps, you are aware, belong to any organized command, but had been, in company with a few choice companies, scouting in front of our army, and on the day of the first battle of Manassas acted as a sort of free lance, taking in the battle from the various standpoints, which gave the best promise of interest and incident. It is well understood now that we were on that day outgeneraled at every point. The Federal commander, by a sham attack on the 18th, had masked his real design, while he marched the bulk of his army around by Sudley Mill, and thus precipitated a superior force upon the unprotected left flank and rear of the Confederates, turning our entire position, and rendering absolutely useless all the defences which had been erected at Manassas, the day being only saved by the indomitable courage of a few Confederate brigades, who fought with a persevering tenacity which has been rarely equalled and never excelled, on any of the great battlefields of the world. Our army numbered nearly 30,000, and less than 10,000 of number, through that long and terrible day, bore the whole brunt of the Federal onset. Step by step, contesting every inch of ground with desperate courage, our line was slowly but steadily driven back by the sheer weight of the Federal advance, outnumbered, as they were, almost ten to one.
Heintzelman, who commanded a division of the Federal army, stated in his report to the department at Washington, with grim satire, that their defeat was not the result of masked batteries or overwhelming numbers, but because regiments repulsed brigades, and brigades drove back divisions. But, notwithstanding this fact, the Confederate line was gradually forced back up the long slope leading to the Henry House. When reinforced by a few regiments of fresh troops, which had been hurried up from Manassas, the thin Confederate line closed up for a last stand on the apex of the ridge which overlooked the stone bridge and the whole ground over which the enemy had been advancing. I stood close behind, looking at the long, solid ranks of the enemy as they were massing for a final assault, for, as I glanced along our line, it seemed almost certain that those worn and tired soldiers who had fought through the long, hot day, their ranks depleted to one half of their original strength, would surely be overwhelmed at last by the impact of numbers. Bee and Bartow had fallen. Of the Fourth Alabama, which had entered the fight 850 strong, more than 400 had gone down on the bloody field, and all that were engaged had suffered in the same proportion, but with ranks unbroken, resolute, and dauntless still, Johnston and Beauregard both were urging and encouraging the troops, and fully exposed to the whole Federal fire, the minie-balls coming thick and fast. Jackson stood near his brigade, with cap drawn close over his eyes, stern and silent, awaiting the catastrophe, and rendered rather more conspicuous by a white handkerchief wound around his left hand, which had been slightly wounded by a bullet.
SUCH THE SITUATION
Such was the situation when looking to our left. On the right flank of the Federal advance, and a little in its rear, we saw the gleam of bayonets on the crest of the hills. It was but a single brigade–3,000 strong–led by Kirby Smith, who, hearing the steady firing from the cars at Gainsville, had come across the country straight for the battle field. As the brigade poured over the crest of the hill the pace was quickened to a double-quick, rushing down on the enemy’s flank, firing and shouting as they came. The Federal line halted, then wavered, wheeling a little to the right, as if to meet this fresh enemy, but their hearts seemed to fail them before that onward rush, and the right of the line began to crumble like a rope of sand. Then it was that I saw Jackson raise his wounded hand and point down to that wavering line. Those worn and tired soldiers needed no second bidding. They knew their time had come at last, and, apparently as fresh as when the battle opened in the morning, those young volunteers leaped like bloodhounds down the hill, and closed with the foe.
The end had come, and the battle was won–a victory as amazing as it was unexpected. A moment before the advance the solid blue lines seemed irresistible; now, in the wildest panic, the whole field covered with a host of disorganized fugitives, flying as if all the devils of the lower regions were behind them. I was on many a hard-fought field afterwards, but never saw I a scene like that. Musket, knapsack–everything in fine that impedes flight–was thrown away, and the disorganized, panic-stricken masses poured like an avalanche across the turnpike, over the stone bridge, into the woods and fields beyond.
At this juncture I was standing not far from the Henry House. Generals Johnston and Beauregard were with President Davis, who, hearing that the Confederate army was retreating, had come in a special car from Richmond, and had just ridden upon the field. Captain Davis, at the head of the Albemarle Troop of cavalry, rode up the hill, and was immediately ordered in pursuit. As the troop was passing near me, Archie Smith, of Winchester, a member of the company, and a near relative, called to me to join them, which I was very glad to do. We passed close to Mr. Davis, with the two Generals, who raised their caps to us, and giving them a rousing cheer, we rode on. At first our progress was slow; as we came up with the two regiments of South Carolinians (Kershaw’s Brigade), who, together with Kemper’s Battery, had been ordered to follow the enemy. We crossed the Stone bridge on the Warrenton pike about a half mile beyond the hill. At this point the two regiments of infantry halted on the left of the road, and the Albemarle company formed on their right. Kemper’s Battery then unlimbered, the guns were run out to the front, and commenced firing down the pike at what appeared to be a receding cloud of dust. The firing was kept up about fifteen minutes, until all signs of the fugitives had disappeared, resistance on their part having entirely ceased.
No orders being received to continue the pursuit, the Carolinians remained where they had halted. Captain Scott, whom I then saw for the first time, rode out into the road, and called for volunteers to continue the pursuit. Captain Davis responded that his troop was ready. The gallant captain did not wait a moment, but dashed on, followed by Captain Davis’s sixty men. Captain Scott, rendered conspicuous by a white havelock, rode considerably in advance. Finding no obstruction to our advance, our pace was greatly accelerated. Occasionally a few of the troopers would drop out of ranks, gather up some of the flying enemy, and start for the rear; but for the most part very little notice was taken of these fugitives, as they scattered right and left, we riding through and over them, looking for better game.
About sunset we descried in the distance a cloud of dust, evidently made by a part of the flying enemy. We spurred our horses to a furious gallop, and dashed down upon them. We soon found what they were–some ten guns, I believe, encircling the black thirty-two pounder, called “Long Tom,” which was to play such havoc with the Confederate ranks! The cannoneers and drivers made a desperate dash with their guns at Cub Run bridge, which was immediately in their front. But, crowding too rapidly on the bridge, it broke under the weight, and baggage-wagon, ambulance, caisson, and all fell through into the stream below, forming an impassable barrier, which blocked they way, and effectually prevented further passage. The cannoneers and drivers leaped from their guns and horses, and darted into the bushes on either side of the run, leaving everything an easy capture.
The temptation was too great for the average cavalryman, and Captain Davis himself, with most of his men, dismounted and commenced work on the tangled wreck. I myself was about to dismount, having an eye on a fine McClelland saddle which I wanted to secure, when Archie Smith, who was still at my side, turned to me and said: “Yonder goes the ‘White Havelock,’ Will!” “All right,” I replied, and we dashed after Captain Scott, who was crossing the stream above the wreck and debris, waving to the men to follow him. About fifteen of Davis’s men followed us, but most of them remained behind to work with the guns and secure horses, saddles, and other plunder. We joined Captain Scott on the other side of the run, and continued our wild ride faster than ever. We soon came to the foot of the hill upon which the little town of Centreville is situated. Crossing a small stream at the base, we rode rapidly up the slope, and on the crown of the hill came in immediate contact with a long, blue line of Federal infantry, drawn up in battle array. Riding up close to them, Captain Scott shouted, “Surrender!” For a few seconds they seemed to hesitate, but, hearing no sound of any advancing along the turnpike in our rear, an officer turned to his men and ordered them to fire. Our little band retreated at once, and dashed down the hill rather faster than we had come up, receiving as we went the whole fire of perhaps three hundred infantry. Not a man, however, was hurt, and we were soon out of sight, hidden by the shades of night.
A WHOLE BRIGADE
I ascertained afterwards that the troops we encountered on the heights of Centreville were a brigade, under Colonel Miles, which had never been in the fight, but had been left to cover the retreat of the Federal army.
With reference to the capture of the artillery and spoil at Cub Run bridge, the assertion that any command, except the Albemarle Troop, led by Captain Scott, had anything to do with it is without foundation. No other cavalry was in sight or hearing at the time, and had it not been for the headlong, furious charge of these sixty men, all these guns, undoubtedly, would have crossed the bridge in safety and been on their way to Washington long before any other command had reached the scene. To Captain Scott, therefore, and to him alone, the sole credit of the capture is due. The only part in the affair performed by Colonel Munford and his command was in manual labor, required in hauling the cannon out of the wreck, securing the horses, etc. Had the other cavalry leaders exhibited the same energy, daring, and enterprise which characterized Captain Scott, it is not at all improbable that the cavalry arm of the service alone might have ridden to Washington that night. But satisfied with what had been done, the army remained quiescent. * * *
W. F. R.
REPLY OF GENERAL MUNFORD
LYNCHBURG, VA., December 22, 1895
To the Editor of the Dispatch:
Your last Sunday’s [December 15] paper contained a brief communication from Colonel John Scott, of Fauquier, enclosing a long letter to the latter from “W. F. R.,” dated “Greenville, August, 1895.” This letter of W. F. R. seems to be in reply to one from Colonel Scott, soliciting W. F. R.’s opinion of my official report of the participation of my command at the First Battle of Manassas.
A reference to my report at page 534, of Series I, Volume II, of “The War of the Rebellion, Official Records,” will show that I therein state that “I advanced and found that Major Scott, commanding Captain Davis’s Company, had proceeded to the bridge on Cub creek.” There was no more gallant soldier or officer than Colonel Scott; and I neither there nor anywhere else during the war found any occasion to criticise him. But, as touching the contention raised by W. F. R., that no command, except the Albemarle Troop, led by Captain Scott, had anything to do with the capture of the artillery and spoil at Cub Run bridge, I am enabled to avoid the necessity, at all times unpleasant, of a laudatory mention of my own deeds, by introducing the following disinterested witnesses–namely, Colonel R. C. W. Radford, of the Thirtieth Virginia Cavalry, who on that day commanded the First Brigade, and Colonel John B. Kershaw, commanding the Second Regiment, South Carolina Volunteers. Colonel Radford’s report will be found on page 532 of the same volume of “The War of the Rebellion, Official Records,” to which I above referred. In that report he says:
“I have no hesitation in saying that the charge made by my own command, in connection with that made by the command under Lieutenant-Colonel Munford, composed of Captains W. H. Payne, Ball, Langhorne, and Hale, caused the jam at Cub creek bridge, which resulted in the capture of fourteen pieces of cannon, their ammunition and wagons, five forges, thirty wagons, and ambulances, and some forty or fifty horses. I base this opinion on the fact that we were in advance of all our forces, and by our charge the enemy were thrown into wild confusion before us, their vehicles of all sorts going off at full speed, and in the greatest disorder.”
Colonel Kershaw, in his report, at pages 522-524 of the same volume, says:
“Arrived at the house on the hill, which was occupied by the enemy as a hospital, having made many prisoners by the way, we found that a portion of our cavalry (Captains Wickham’s and Radford’s, and Powell’s and Pitzer’s), had had an engagement there with a battery of the enemy, which they had taken, but had retired after being fired on by the heavy reserve corps, which intervened between them and my command. This cavalry had come into the road by Lewis’ Ford, below the stone bridge, and neither of us knew of the position of the other until some time after.” * * *
“Reluctantly, I ordered my command to return; but, directing Colonel Cash to remain, I went with a detachment of twenty volunteers from his regiment to the bridge, where I found Lieutenant-Colonel Munford, with a portion of the Virginia cavalry, extricatingthe valuable capture. They had arrived by the Sudley Ford road, having pursued the enemy from the battle-field, and came up to the bridge, when Captain Kemper ceased firing. Here I remained until 10 o’clock at night, aiding Colonel Munford, when I returned to camp.”
I have ever deemed it an unseemly spectacle for the Southern survivors of the Confederate war to indulge in crimination and recrimination of one another, and shall content myself with the above response to the criticism of “Free Lance.”
THOMAS T. MUNFORD