Southern Historical Society Papers
Vol. XXXIV Richmond, Va., January-December 1906 pp. 170-178
First Battle Of Manassas
Dash and Heroism of the Maryland Line–Stonewall Jackson’s Flank Saved–Recollections Revived by the 45th Anniversary
A Paper read before the Isaac R. Trimble Camp, No. 1035, United Confederate Veterans, Baltimore, Md., October 2, 1906, by
Colonel WINFIELD PETERS, Maryland Member of the Historical Committee, and on Southern School History, U. C. V.
In the first Battle of Manassas, July 21, 1861, our First Maryland Regiment lastly and hotly engaged a brigade of the enemy from the edge of a woods overlooking a declivity, then a dry ditch at the foot, then a hill, on the crest of which the enemy was formed in battle line. We fired at point-blank range of, perhaps, 500 yards, awaiting reinforcements. The regiment was well dressed on the colors and the firing unobstructed, but the heat was intense, and the absence of wind prevented the smoke from rising; hence the view of the enemy’s line was now and then obscured.
In Murray’s company (second from the right) were Privates Geo. Lemmon, N.J. Watkins and W. Peters. Watkins was my file leader, and Lemmon was next on my right in the rear rank. Watkins knelt and fired, thus facilitating my firing, but shortly he rose to his feet, and in rising Lemon fired, sending the charge from his musket through Watkins’ cap, from back to front, and likely it passed through his hair. Seeing his cap flying in front of him, Watkins stepped forward at the risk of being shot, picked it up, and as coolly retook his place in the ranks. George Lemmon afterward told me–in his sly way–that he had two cartridges in his musket! Our cartridges contained a bullet and three buckshot (“buck and ball”). The firing was so deafening that no one could tell whether his piece was discharged. This was particularly so on our immediate right, where Jackson’s men were fighting desperately. It has been jocosely remarked that this was the only “wound” Nick Watkins got during the war.
SPLENDID CHARGE BY CONFEDERATES
Soon the Third Tennessee Regiment came up and promptly aligned on our right, and thereupon we were told that we must charge and carry the hill in our front. Immediately the two regiments–numbering together some 1,200–well aligned, charged out of the woods at “Double-quick,” “Charge bayonets,” with a ringing yell. At once the Yankees seemed to cease firing, and after we clambered out of the ditch they disappeared from the hill, the top of which we reached as speedily as possible. We expected, of course, to receive their fire at short range. Gaining the crest of the hill, a magnificent battle view was disclosed. Covering the hill were the wounded and dead of the enemy, and in our immediate front the Yankees we had fought were fleeing down the hill at a gait that we tired fellows could not duplicate. They must have started for the rear when we got out of the ditch and began to climb the hill in their front.
One of them said, after the war, that he did not stop running until he reached his home, Bangor, Maine. Another Yankee soldier, who was wounded in the face, was asked how that happened, as they all run at Bull Run. He said he “run a mile and looked back!“
As we swept over the ridge, looking to the left, we could see the Tenth Virginia rallying upon the left of the First Maryland; thus precipitating the three regiments upon the enemy’s right flank, in the general assault that drove them in flight from the field.
While engaging the enemy from the woods, two six-pounder guns under Lieutenant Beckham, of Pelham’s Battery, took position on our left and fired effectively; also a squadron or two of Stuart’s cavalry were seen charging at the distance of perhaps 1,000 yards from our left, and on capturing the hill we could still see the cavalry sweeping toward the left front, following and charging the retreating Yankees. As stated, the Tenth Virginia Regiment, having reached the field and united with the Maryland and Tennessee regiments, we moved toward the Henry House, where the heaviest fighting had occurred, and halted at the captured guns of Rickett’s Battery, (U. S. regulars), which were being turned upon the retreating foe.
CARNAGE WAS AWFUL
The charge of the Maryland and Tennessee regiments, with the Virginia regiment aligned thereon; with a simultaneous advance of the Confederate lines; broke the enemy, who then began the famous Bull Run rout. The carnage here (the Henry House plateau) was awful, the first of many sanguinary battles to follow. Fatigued almost to exhaustion, without food or water, we were yet marched after the retreating Yanks, across the stone bridge, then back to the battlefield in the night, where we slept upon the ground as soundly and satisfiedly as victorious soldiers ever did under like stress.
The first Maryland Battalion, infantry, was formed at Harper’s Ferry in May, 1861, and became a regiment in June following, by the addition of more companies. They participated in the Valley campaign under Gen. Jos. E. Johnston, ending in the sudden movement of Johnston’s army, July 18, and the forced march to the support of General Beauregard at Manassas. The Fourth Brigade (under Colonel Arnold Elzey, of the First Maryland) was the last to reach the field of battle, July 21. Under the personal command of Gen. E. Kirby Smith, the Maryland regiment, upon detraining near Manassas Junction, was quickly started at double-quick to reinforce Stonewall Jackson, (who received his soubriquet that day), and the distance, about five miles, was made (it was said, in three-quarters of an hour) under the blazing sun, over a road so dusty that the clouds of dust raised by the brigade caused the enemy to conclude that large reinforcements were moving to the Confederate left, while on the other hand, the Confederate generals, not expecting Elzey’s brigade so soon, were apprehensive that the enemy was in their rear. Moreover, the colors could not be described, which dilemma resulted in the Stars and Bars giving place to the renowned Confederate battle-flag, having a St. Andrew’s cross on a red field–symbolical of suffering and blood–and was designed by General Beauregard, a Catholic.
Most conspicuous and inspiriting was the activity and manifest skill of General Smith, at the railroad. Seizing upon the First Maryland, when alighting, we were hurried into the road, ordered to place jackets and knapsacks under a nearby cherry tree, then formed column and moved off at “double-quick.” The General’s curt command was “Forward to the firing: The password is Sumter.”
The Maryland regiment (battalion of direction) nearing the battlefield was turned from the road into an open field, when, immediately, while in column of fours, they met a severe musketry fire, which disabled General Smith and others. Instantly, at double-quick, the column was deployed into line (right in front), and, charging, rushed to the woods from which the enemy were firing, causing them to retreat, and preventing them from forming in Jackson’s left rear.
PRIVATE SWISHER’S RASHNESS FATAL
Halting here, at the edge of the pine thicket, we were ordered to lie down, hence were protected from the enemy’s desultory fire, directed principally toward the colors, but, Private Swisher, of “A” company–next to the color company–more curious than the others, failing to obey the order to lie down, was killed by a bullet through his forehead. So anxious was Elzey to contribute to save the day and speedily, that, without waiting for reinforcements, we were soon ordered to “Attention,” and the regiment moved off by the left flank, in twos, then formed in battle line and advanced to support Jackson’s left, which they did and most opportunely.
FALLING FROM RANKS PERILOUS
Men famishing with thirst and hunger dropped in the rear to gather blackberries we were marching over, but instantly the gallant Geo. H. Steuart, lieutenant-colonel commanding, ran at them, with his sabre raised very ominously, yelling at them. “Get back in ranks: We may be cut to pieces,” and there was no more falling out of ranks. But, escaping the possible enfilading fire, the regiment pressed on until the enemy was met and defeated, as first related.
SMITH LEFT FOR DEAD: ELZEY SUCCEEDS HIM
Colonel Elzey was chagrined at General Smith’s superceding him and leading the Maryland regiment to the battle. Seeing Smith fall, Elzey–oblivious to the perilous situation–exclaimed to Major Bradley T. Johnson: “God is just; Smith is dead! Johnson, get his horse. This means for me six feet of ground, or a yellow sash”–worn only by generals. The horse ran off and the gallant major was suffering from scurvy.
Elzey, though brave, was presumptive; moreover, he did not possess the calibre of Smith. Smith had immortalized himself, and recovering from his almost fatal wound, he returned to us a Major-General. The sequence is strange: Almost a year thereafter, Elzey, commanding his brigade in the battle of Cold Harbor, received just such a wound as Smith’s, which likewise made him a Major-General.
ELZEY, BLUCHER OF THE DAY
It happened that about the time the Maryland regiment reached the battlefield President Davis also arrived, having come from Richmond by railroad and ridden on horseback from Manassas. He was first seen among the troops fighting on Jackson’s right, encouraging and rallying them. Jackson sent to inquire what civilian was rallying his men, and the information brought back was satisfactory. Jefferson Davis at that period was rated among the elite of living American soldiers. Having learned of the conduct of the Maryland regiment, the President promptly rode over, and saluting our colonel, addressed him as General Elzey, and General Beauregard dubbed him the Blucher of the day. Nevertheless, had we been 15 minutes later in checking the enemy, advancing, there would, probably, have been no Blucher of Manassas, because they would have enveloped Jackson’s left flank, which, with the extreme left–two regiments under Colonel Jubal A. Early–must have retired, and quite likely not in the best order, judging from the evidences of demoralization we witnessed during the last half of our march. A regiment was seen resting by the roadside, and scores of men were leisurely making for the rear, who, replying to anxious questions as to the progress of the battle, answered, to a man, that our army was defeated. General Smith (riding at a trot, we at double-quick step), would now and then turn to us and in a commanding tone exclaim: “Pay no attention to those skulkers and poltroons. Follow me to the firing!” In truth, the energy and brave example of the General inspirited us, despite our well nigh exhausted condition, to arrive at the right time, at the right place, make the dash, follow it up and drive the enemy from the field. And it was the first display of the skill and bravery in battle characteristic of the Southern West Pointers. Johnston planned, Smith, Elzey and Steuart led. With the three typical regiments, at the critical juncture of the day, the Yankees were fated on that field. Jackson would gladly have led us on to Washington, and he said so, but was not permitted, nor perhaps consulted, but the fatal mistake was discovered ‘ere long. And victory always followed Jackson. A word as to this a little further on.
That the loss in killed and wounded in the First Maryland was not greater was because of their promptness, energy and dash in responding to orders, and the ready skill of our leaders. A noteworthy case of a badly wounded man was that of Sergeant John B. Berryman, (a file closer) of “C” company, (first from the right), who fell simultaneously with General Smith. He kept his bed during nearly the entire war, and the ill-effects from the wound never ceased until he died, on January 21, 1898, 36 years and 6 months from the day he was wounded, the anniversary of the birth of Stonewall Jackson, to whose aid Berryman was hurrying when shot.
SMITH’S BRIGADE SAVED THE DAY
There appears in the Confederate Veteran, August, 1906, pp. 364-65, the following: “Concerning Military Career of General J. E. Johnston, President Davis wrote, February 18, 1865: “Indeed we were saved from a fatal defeat at the First Battle of Manassas only by the promptness of General E. Kirby Smith, who, acting without orders and moving by a change of direction, succeeded in reaching the battlefield in time to avert a disaster.” Note the words “fatal defeat,” etc.
STONEWALL JACKSON’S WAY
Jackson’s magnificent victory and the unparalleled valor of his Stonewall Brigade seemed to be ignored. With a bullet broken finger, he was left to mutter: “With 10,000 such men I could take Washington.” Jackson could see the way; the two commanding Generals and the President–who deferred to them, as he said–could not. Johnston said: (repeating it to me and others, after the war) “We cannot cross a river a mile wide and 18 feet deep.” Jackson and Stuart would have found Seneca ford, on the Potomac, 12 miles above Washington, easily fordable. The day after the battle, we had, with reinforcements, 3,000 cavalry on the field. Jackson would have interposed between Washington and the Federal forces in the lower Valley under Maj. Genl. Patterson. The dread of “rebel cavalry” and “masked batteries” would have intensified Jackson’s advance and the Washington Government would have fled the city, or capitulated.
The First Maryland did their work in this (their first) battle in Stonewall Jackson’s way, fourteen months before the famous war lyric, “Stonewall Jackson’s Way,” was penned–under the inspiration of the guns at Sharpsburg, by Dr. John Williamson Palmer, of Baltimore. To find the enemy, go at him, quickly, rush upon him and keep it up; ‘trust in God and keep your powder dry;’ was Stonewall Jackson’s way.
COLONEL JOHNSON THE STAR SOLDIER
The star actor in the First Maryland was Bradley Tyler Johnson. Its last colonel, he led it through the Valley and Richmond campaigns, and until, in August, 1862, reduced to one half its original strength, the regiment was mustered out of service, by some occult method in the Richmond War Office. Colonel Johnson was justly indignant and refused to make a request to have the order rescinded, whereupon, General Jackson assigned him to the command of the Second Brigade in the Stonewall Division, which fought heroically at the Second Battle of Manassas.
HEROIC CAPTAIN MURRAY AND HIS MEN
Captain Murray’s company was mustered out of service, June 18th, 1862–the one year term of enlistment having expired–but they, with few exceptions, served faithfully to the end, whether re-enlisting or commissioned. The aggregate muster roll was about 120. With the First Maryland, they participated in General J. E. Johnston’s Valley campaign, 1861; the Manassas campaign, 1861-1862; and in Stonewall Jackson’s Valley campaign, 1862. Captain Wm. H. Murray of our “H” Company–the crack company of the regiment–was a young officer of exceptional merit and promise and greatly beloved.
Leading his Company “A,” Second Maryland Infantry, Captain Murray fell in the desperate charge at Gettysburg, the morning of July 3d, 1863. Gettysburg had no sublimer hero than Murray, the typical captain of the Maryland infantry. Major Goldsborough–intrepid and skillful–commanding the battalion, before advancing to the charge, said to him: “Captain Murray, I have the most implicit confidence in your ability to lead’ our men. Take charge of the right wing: I will look after the left, as I know them better.” Thus, on that bloody, fated field, these two best line officers parted forever. Murray, in the fore front, killed; Goldsborough, thought mortally wounded, but recovered; likewise Lt. Col. Herbert, in the successful charge the night before; two-thirds of the battalion dead or wounded. Though repulsed, by heavy odds, behind rifle trenches, the shattered regiment retired in good order and were not pursued.
Of the two soldiers first before mentioned; Geo. Lemmon became an ordnance officer and served with credit on the staffs of distinguished Generals. He died August 29, 1905, having on August 25th passed his 70th year. Mr. N. J. Watkins, who afterward served in the Signal Corps, is the well known, able journalist. Of the third, who was promoted to a lieutenancy: the late General Bradley T. Johnson, not long before he died, wrote: “Peters is the best all around assistant adjutant general I ever met. I have known him since 1861. Can do anything he undertakes and do it better than anyone else.” In addition to these, the Baltimoreans, still living, who were under Captain Murray at First Manassas, are: Captains Clapham Murray, his brother, and McHenry Howard, General John Gill, Col. Frank Markoe, Major Jas. Wm. Lyon, Judge Daniel G. Wright, Lieutenants Charles B. Wise, Charles E. Grogan, David S. Briscoe. Thomas B. Mackall and Winfield Peters; Privates, J. McKenny White, Sommervel Sollers and J. Southgate Lemmon. Rev. Randolph H. McKim. D. D., is in Washington, D. C.; Lieut. Richard T. Gilmor and Private Henry F. Schliephake are at the Confederate Soldiers’ Home, Pikesville, Md.; Captain Frank X, Ward and Private Fred’k L. Pitts, are in Philadelphia, Pa., and Private Duncan M. Turner is in Leonardtown, Md. These are probably the only survivors.
A broken shaft of marble in the Confederate burial plot, in Loudon Park Cemetery, Baltimore, to Murray and his men, tells the sixty who gave up their lives in the Confederate struggle: about one fourth of the whole number mustered.
THE ONLY CONFEDERATE MONUMENT AT GETTYSBURG
The monument is the tribute of the Murray Confederate Association, who, likewise, were instrumental in erecting the massive granite monument to the Second Maryland Infantry, on Culp’s Hill, Gettysburg; the only one thus far permitted by the Gettysburg National Cemetery authorities to Confederates, to be placed so near the Federal lines. But, they had to concede that the Maryland regiment took, occupied and held (July 2 and 3) the place where their monument stands. Indeed, the bloody charge on July 3 was made at a distance beyond it. This Maryland monument, erected in 1886, stands to-day the only Confederate monument on the battlefield of Gettysburg.
COLONEL PETERS AND CAPTAIN LEMMON BURIED ALMOST SIDE BY SIDE
Private Lemmon received deserved promotion. Years after the war, General William H. Payne, on whose staff he had served, paid him a sly compliment. “Lemmon,” he said, “I sometimes didn’t know whether you were on my staff or I on yours.” George Lemmon was a true type of a Maryland soldier and gentleman, and was as intelligent as he was brave. He was destined to die while traveling and approaching the old Manassas battlefields. He died on the fortieth anniversary of the death of my father–which resulted from service in the Confederate Army–Colonel George Peters, commanding the old First Rifle Regiment, Baltimore, many men from which entered the Confederate service, at the very beginning, assisted by the colonel and myself, lieutenant and paymaster. Col. George Peters and Captain George Lemmon lie a short distance apart in Greenmount Cemetery, awaiting the last trumpet call.