Southern Historical Society Papers
Vol. XXXII. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1904, pp 143-145
General Eppa Hunton at The Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861
Statement That he Saved the Confederate Army from Defeat
A writer signing himself “C” contributed to the Prince William Times of July, 1904, the following interesting story of the first battle of Manassas:
The writer of this has read and heard so many conflicting accounts of the first battle of Manassas, and commented publicly on some of these as to make it impossible to conceal his name if he tried to do so. Recently he has been persuaded to write a plain account of what he saw and knows to be true in relation to this battle.
The Confederate forces had for a week been fortifying at the stone bridge against a front attack. I was engaged in cutting a heavy body of timber out of the way on the bottom land leading to the bridge, so as to enable our artillery to sweep the turnpike and adjacent low land, for over a mile in the direction of Centreville, and had just finished this work when the enemy attacked at Blackburn’s and Mitchell’s fords. There was so little blood shed, and the Federal forces were so easily repulsed, that I began to look upon the whole movement as a feint, and believe it is now generally so regarded.
On Saturday, July 20th, I had occasion to ride over into Prince William, and met the 8th Virginia, commanded by Colonel Eppa Hunton, who had been ordered to the next day’s battlefield. We were then old friends, and are such still. He had the Loudon Cavalry with him. In a brief interview I told him I believed the attack would not be made at the stone bridge, but by way of the Braddock Road, and the “Big Woods” (all upper Fairfaxians will know what I mean by Big Woods), and also that our people were not picketing north of the stone house, and suggested that a squad of the cavalry be left at my house on the Sudley Road to prevent a surprise. Colonel Hunton replied: “Your suggestion is a good one, and I will adopt it at once, trusting you to act for me as commissary and quartermaster for the time being.”
He sent Sergeant Amos Slaymaker, Private Hansbrough and four others whose names have escaped my memory, to my house with orders to keep a strict watch night and day, and to report to him at once so soon as any Federal advance was seen. This order was well obeyed, as the sequel will show. One thing not exactly germaine to the point, I cannot refrain from mentioning. It showed Colonel Hunton’s regard for his men. He said:
“Have you got anything in the way of cooked rations you can send my men about nightfall? They have been marching all day long without anything but an early breakfast.” I replied “that I had not, but said I would go home, have four or five lambs killed and cooked, arid all the bread we could cook, and send it to his camp by dark.”
The servant I sent the provisions by delivered all safely, and in doing so had to run the gauntlet of the Tiger rifles. These fellows claimed to be Colonel Hunton’s men, but some of the 8th being on the lookout, came to his rescue, and saved the lambs in short order.
Now, to the point. Who saved the Confederates from a disastrous surprise on July 21, 1861? I will endeavor to prove that General Hunton was the man.
The people in the vicinity of the battlefield were in possession of information that a battle was imminent, and were on the lookout. On Saturday evening, July 20th, Captain J. D. Debell, of Centreville, who had been in our vicinity for several days, came to Sudley and remained that night. He believed with me that the advance would be made through the route referred to, and Bull Run passed at Sudley Ford. He had a field-glass, small, but a fairly good one. Exactly at sunset he, Sergeant Slaymaker and myself discovered by the use of the glass eighteen or twenty blue-coat infantry inside of an open field, and not over thirty yards from the woods road we expected the enemy to follow. We were on this road, in a direct line, a mile and a half distant from them. Slaymaker sent information to the Colonel at once, and he (Colonel Hunton) sent word to General Beauregard by the same messenger. Slaymaker held his post until the advance of Tyler’s division drove him from it. I remained at home until the infantry advanced to within three hundred yards of me, and retreated to the battlefield. I saw the firing of infantry, and the mad rush of the Federals down the Henry Hill to get out of harm’s way. Taking into consideration the fact that Colonel Hunton got Sergeant Slaymaker’s report at 7:30 A. M., and that the battle was on before 10 A. M., I cannot reconcile the report of some of General Evans’s friends that he discovered the advance of the army through a signal station that he had established a day or two before on Hooe’s Hill, below Manassas, with what I saw and know. I am very sure I am correct in my opinion that General Eppa Hunton is entitled to the honor of being the officer who prevented the defeat of the Confederate forces on July 21, 1861.