Testimony of Gen. Irvin McDowell
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 41-47
WASHINGTON, January 23, 1862.
General IRVIN McDOWELL recalled and examined.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. There are one or two points in relation to the battle of Bull Run upon which the committee desire you to make some further explanation. You state in your official report, under date of August 4, 1861, that there was delay in the first division in getting on the road on the morning of the battle, and that this was a great misfortune. Will you please state more fully in relation to that delay?
Answer. In my general order, No. 22, of July 20, 1861, providing for the movement of the several divisions to attack the enemy, it was arranged that General Tyler’s division should move at half past two a. m., precisely, on the Warrenton turnpike to threaten the possession of the bridge. General Tyler’s division consisted of four brigades, three only of which moved at this time, as directed in the order referred to. Schenck’s and Sherman’s brigades were one mile from Centreville on the road from Centreville to the Stone Bridge—on the right and left of the road; Keyes’s brigade was about a half a mile to the east of Centreville, on the right of the same road going west; the second division—Hunter’s—was about two miles from Centreville, and to the east of it. This division was ordered to move at two o’clock a. m. precisely. Heintzelman’s division was two miles distant from Centreville, and east of it, on what is called the old Braddock road. This division was to move at half past two a. m. precisely. Heintzelman’s division consisted of the brigades of Wilcox, Franklin, and Howard. Hunter’s division consisted of the brigades of Burnside and General Andrew Porter. All these divisions had the road in common, from the encampment of Sherman’s and Schenck’s brigades to the point where the road to Sudley’s Springs turned off to to the right—at a blacksmith’s shop—a little over a mile. Tyler was to move at half past two a. m., and Hunter was to move half an hour earlier, so that he might close up on Tyler’s division. Heintzelman was to move at half past two a. m., so as to fall in the rear of Hunter’s division. Tyler was expected to get over the ground, between the encampment of his advanced brigade and where the road turned off to the right at the blacksmith shop, in time to offer no obstructions to the road, which was to be used in common by all the divisions. I was sick during the night and morning, and did not leave my headquarters—a little over a mile, perhaps a mile and a quarter, east of Centreville—until I thought all the divisions were fully in motion, so as to give myself as much rest as possible. When I had got beyond Centreville about a mile, I passed the troops lying down and sitting down on the wayside. Upon asking why they did not move forward, the reply came to me that the road was blocked up. I saw some men coming from the left of the road through a cornfield into the road. When I asked to what regiment they belonged, they said the 2d New York, which formed a part of Schenck’s brigade. I went forward, urging the troops to move on, until I got to the blacksmith’s shop, where the road turned off to Sudley’s Springs. I was making every effort, personally and by my aides, to have the road cleared, in order that Hunter’s and Heintzelman’s divisions might take up their march to the right by way of Sudley’s Springs, to carry out the plan of battle.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. Whose division blocked up the road?
Answer. The first division, General Tyler’s division. Major, now General, Barnard, who was the chief of engineers on my staff, in his report to me, dated July 29, 1861, says as follows: “You are aware of the unexpected delay. The two leading brigades of Tyler’s did not clear the road for Hunter to this point (blacksmith shop, where the road turned to the right) until half past five.” That was three hours after the time fixed to start.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. What was the distance from the encampment of Tyler’s leading brigades to the blacksmith shop?
Answer. About a mile. I directed one of my staff to notice when General Tyler commenced firing. It was six o’clock. Colonel, now General Heintzelman, in his report to me of July 31, states as follows:
“At Centreville we found the road filled with the troops, and were detained three hours to allow the divisions of Generals Tyler and Hunter, to pass. I followed them with my division immediately in rear of the latter.”
I will mention that General Tyler in moving forward as the troops were then moving forward—some 18,000 men—was so supported that it was felt that he might move with confidence and promptness upon the road. I have been thus particular in making this explanation because General Tyler has written me a letter, complaining that my report does him injustice, and asking me to set him right in reference to this matter of delay. Under the circumstances I did not feel that I could make any change. He also stated that he received no orders from me during the day.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. I notice in your report that you state that you sent an aide-de-camp to General Tyler to direct him to press forward his attack, as large bodies of the enemy were passing in front of him to attack the division which had crossed over. Will you state what this order was, and by whom it was sent?
Answer. I sent an order to General Tyler to press forward the attack from a point near where this road that turns off at the blacksmith shop crosses Bull Run, near Sudley’s Springs. I sent Lieutenant Kingsbury, my aide-de-camp, to General Tyler to press forward his attack, because I saw columns of dust, indicating large bodies of troops, moving up in front of General Tyler’s division, and as but a small part of Hunter’s division had, at that time, crossed Bull Run, I was afraid he would be crushed before we could get a sufficient body of troops forward to support him. Lieutenant Kingsbury reported to me that he had gone to General Tyler, and found General Tyler, with his aide-de-camp, near a tree, in the branches of which he had some men observing the troops of the enemy coming up on the opposite side. Lieutenant Kingsbury reported to me that he had told General Tyler it was my order he should press forward his attack, and General Tyler replied, “What does he mean? Does he mean that I shall cross the stream?” Lieutenant Kingsbury said : “I give you the message exactly as it was given to me;” to which General Tyler returned answer, “I have a great mind to send some” regiment, or brigade, or something, “across the stream ” Lieutenant Kingsbury made me a written report of this, which ,I mislaid. And while I was waiting at the blacksmith shop to see which direction the battle was to take I also sent an order to General Tyler by my then aide-de-camp, Major Wadsworth, now General Wadsworth.
By Mr. Gooch :
Question. When was Keyes’s brigade ordered to move?
Answer. General Tyler states, in his report, that it was ordered to move at two o’clock in the morning. I did not give any orders to General Keyes, but to Tyler. General Tyler was ordered to move at 2 1/2 a. m. He must have given the order to bring up his rear brigade at two o’clock. General Keyes says: “In compliance with the orders of Brigadier General Tyler, I have the honor to report my operations, leaving my camp at Centreville at two o’clock a. m.”
Question. You were aware, when you gave the order to General Tyler, that Keyes’s brigade was encamped at Centreville?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. Was there anything between Keyes’s brigade and the remainder of General Tyler’s division?
Question. Was there anything to prevent Keyes’s brigade from moving up and joining the rest of the division?
Answer. There ought to have been nothing. There was, because I believe Hunter’s division got into the road before him.
Question. Then if he was interrupted or obstructed in moving up and joining the remainder of Tyler’s division, whose fault was it?
Answer. It must either have been his fault in getting off so late, if he was ordered to move at 2 o’clock by General Tyler, or the fault of some of Hunter’s division in going too soon.
Question. The intention was that the whole of General Tyler’s division should move from the point where Sherman and Schenck were encamped, and on the Warrenton turnpike, at 2 1/2 o’clock?
Answer. Yes, sir. This brigade of Keyes’s had, in consequence of previous movements, become dislocated from the other two, but that, practically, had no effect upon the march of Sunday morning. What I wished to do was to post this force of Tyler’s at or near the Stone Bridge, and under the cover of his force make this flank movement to the right.
Question. Can you state whether or not Schenck’s and Sherman’s brigades had moved forward past the point where the road turns off at the blacksmith shop in time to give the road to the other divisions as they came up ?
Answer. They had not; that is just the point.
Question. Then the other divisions of the army were held back, not only by Keyes’s brigade, but by the other brigades of Tyler’s division?
Answer. Keyes did not hold them back; he went into the field and they came up.
Question. Then they were held back by Schenck’s and Sherman’s brigades?
Answer. Yes, sir; by the slow movement of that part of the force.
Question. It has been said that General Tyler ordered Keyes’s brigade up to join him prior to the day of the battle, and that order was countermanded by you, and the brigade remained back where it was.
Answer. That may have been, but it is a matter of no sort of consequence whatever. I do not know whether that was so or not. But it was of no consequence, because General Tyler and the whole of his forces were ahead; the others were behind.
Question. Would there have been any advantage in stationing the several divisions differently; that is, having some divisions which had further to march stationed where Tyler’s was?
Answer. No, sir; Tyler got his position there logically from the way the force marched to Centreville. Tyler was to throw himself between Fairfax Court-House and Centreville. Hunter started from Anandale, and behind Tyler; Miles was below, and Heintzelman further below still. When Tyler moved forward to Centreville and commenced the fight at Blackburn’s Ford the other divisions were behind. Now to have changed them around would simply have made an unnecessary inversion; there would have been no particular object in it. I should have ordered forward first whichever division might have occupied Tyler’s position, so that, under cover of that, I might have made my flank movement to the right with the other divisions.
Question. It was desirable, then, that a force should be at Stone Bridge before any force passed up toward Sudley’s Springs ?
Answer. I think so. I wanted a strength there, and then, under cover of that, I could move my other divisions up. Had that not been done, there was danger that the other divisions going up to Sudley’s church, having the longest distance to go, might be attacked and cut off.
Question. It was necessary that that division of the army which was to move to Stone Bridge should have the road, and reach and pass the point where the blacksmith shop stands, before the remaining portion of the army should turn off towards Sudley’s Springs?
Answer. That was part of my well determined plan. I thought that was the better way. I do not think any other would have been a safe movement.
Question. I wish to ask you whether the force you left at Centreville was regarded by you as a reserve, or whether they were stationed as they were posted at the different points that day because it was necessary to have troops there to protect the rear of your army?
Answer. More the latter than the former, though partly both; to act as a reserve and, at the same time, to guard against an attack on our left or right. I remained at the turn-off by the blacksmith shop for nearly an hour, in doubt whether there would be an attack above at all. I was inclined to look for it at the left. And I have learned since that General Beauregard intended to attack me at eight o’clock, at Blackburn’s Ford; and when General Tyler commenced firing at Stone Bridge and received no response, I was in doubt. In my order for the battle I say: “The enemy has planted a battery on the Warrenton turnpike to defend the approach to Bull Run, has mined the Stone Bridge,” &c. I wanted to commence the attack on that point, which I was afraid I could not turn, and under cover of that attack to throw a large force up to the right. We expected the Stone Bridge to be a strong point, with batteries in position, regular works, &c. We expected the bridge would be blown up so that we could not use it, and I had made preparations so that the engineer should have another bridge to be used there. We were to make our move to the right and attack them under cover of this attack at the bridge.
Question. If it had not been for the disposition of the forces of Miles’s division which you made on the day of the battle, would not your whole army have been exposed and liable to be cut off?
Answer. Yes, sir; by a movement of the enemy on my left.
Question. That is, by a movement from the enemy’s right on your left?
Answer. Yes, sir; I can show you how I felt on that subject by referring you to my general order No. 22, in which I say : “The fifth division (Miles’s) will take position at the Centreville Heights ; Richardson’s brigade will, for the time, become part of his (Miles’s) division, and will continue in its present position. One brigade will be in the village, and one near the present station of Richardson’s brigade. This division will threaten Blackburn’s Ford, and remain in reserve at Centreville. The commander will open fire with artillery only, and will bear in mind that it is a demonstration only that he is to make. He will cause such defensive works, abattis, earthworks, &c., to be thrown up as will strengthen his position. Lieutenant Prime, of the engineers, will be charged with this duty.” I will also further, in relation to this same matter, give an extract from my report: “I had also felt anxious about the road from Manassas by Blackburn’s Ford to Centreville, along the ridge, fearing that while we should be in force to the front, endeavoring to turn the enemy’s position, we ourselves should be turned by him by this road; for if he should once obtain possession of this ridge, which overlooks all the country to the west to the foot of the spurs of the Blue Ridge, we should have been irretrievably cut off and destroyed. I had, therefore, directed this point to be held in force, and sent an engineer to extemporise some field-works to strengthen their position.”
Question. And you say now that you understand it was the intention of Beauregard to attack you at that point?
Answer. I have understood since that General Beauregard intended in the first place to attack me at 8 o’clock on the morning of the battle, and to attack me on my left, at this Blackburn’s Ford, or in its vicinity; and I have also understood that during the battle he did order a heavy attack to be made in that direction. An attack was made there, but not in the force he intended. It failed on account of an order which he gave one of the commanders having miscarried.
Question. Would it, in your opinion, have been judicious, at any time prior to the rout of our army, to have ordered the force, or any portion of it, stationed at Centreville on to the field of action?
Answer. I do not think it would have been judicious to have sent them one moment earlier than they were sent for. A reference to the reports of Colonel Davies, Colonel Richardson, and Hunt, of the artillery, I think, will show this. They were there having a heavy attack on the left, which would have been heavier but for the failure I have referred to. General Barnard, in his report of July 29, says:
“It will be seen from the above that the combination, though thwarted by different circumstances, was actually successful in uniting three entire brigades, (excepting the brigade of Schenck, which had just opened its way to fall on the enemy’s right at the moment when our lines finally gave way in front,) upon the decisive point.
“A fault, perhaps, it was that it did not provide earlier for bringing the two brigades of Miles (in reserve at Centreville) into action. One of his brigades (Richardson’s) actually did participate, though not on the battle-field; and in its affair on Blackburn’s Ford probably did neutralize the attack of the enemy.”
General Barnard did not then know the extent of that affair on the left. He thought that only Richardson was engaged in it. A reference to the reports of Colonel Davies, commanding a brigade under Colonel Miles, Colonel Hunt, commanding a battery of artillery, and of Colonel Miles, will show why only one brigade from Centreville was sent forward to the front. And it will show that the affair on the left was a matter of much greater importance than General Barnard seems at that time to have supposed it to be. Davies’s brigade was actually engaged, as was also that of Richardson, in repelling the attack of the enemy on the left. Colonel Miles, in his report, says that he received an order to put two brigades on the Warrenton turnpike at the bridge, and a staff officer was sent to order forward Davies’s brigade; that whilst this staff officer was executing his instructions, Davies sent word that he wanted the reserve forward where he was, as he was attacked by 3,000 of the enemy; that the staff officer, therefore, properly suspended the giving of the order, and reported immediately to Colonel Miles, and this caused him to advance with only one brigade, Blenker’s, to the position on the Warrenton turnpike.
Question. The shortest road from Manassas to Centreville was by Blackburn’s Ford?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. When the retreat of our army took place, had the way by Blackburn’s Ford not have been obstructed by the force you had placed there or near there, could not the enemy have moved forward immediately upon Centreville and cut off the retreat of your whole army?
Answer. Yes, sir; and I refer again to my report in answer to that question.
“At the time of our retreat, seeing great activity in this direction, (Blackburn’s Ford,) also firing and columns of dust, I became anxious for this place, fearing if it were turned or forced the whole stream of our retreating mass would be captured or destroyed. After providing for the protection of the retreat by Porter’s or Blenker’s brigade, I repaired to Richardson, and found the whole force ordered to be stationed for the holding of the road from Manassas by Blackburn’s Ford to Centreville on the march for Centreville under orders from the division commanders. I immediately halted it and ordered it to take up the best line of defence across the ridge that their position admitted of, and subsequently taking in person the command of this part of the army. I caused such disposition of the force as would best serve to check the enemy.”
By Mr. Odell:
Question. Was the attack on Blackburn’s Ford on Thursday, the 18th of July, made by your order?
Answer. No, sir, it was not. On July the 18th I was between Germantown and Centreville, General Tyler’s division being between my then position and Centreville. I wrote him the following note, which was carried to him by General, then Colonel, Wadsworth, my aide-de-camp:
“BETWEEN GERMANTOWN AND CENTREVILLE,
“July 18, 1861—8.15 a. m.
“BRIGADIER GENERAL TYLER—General: I have information which leads me to believe you will find no force at Centreville, and will meet with no resistance in getting there. Observe well the roads to Bull Run and to Warrenton. Do not bring on any engagement, but keep up the impression that we are moving on Manassas. I go to Heintzelman to arrange about the plan we have talked over.”
The plan was for the army to go around and attack the enemy’s right. I will give an extract from General Tyler’s report of July 27 as bearing on this question:
HEADQUARTERS FIRST DIVISION DEPARTMENT NE. VIRGINIA,
Washington City, July 27, 1861.
“General McDOWELL, Commanding Department:
“SIR : On the 18th instant you ordered me to take my division, with the two 20-pounder rifled guns, and move against Centreville, to carry that position. My division moved from its encampment at 7 a. m. At 9 a. m. Richardson’s brigade reached Centreville, and found that the enemy had retreated the night before; one division on the Warrenton turnpike, in the direction of Gainesville, and the other, and by far the largest division, towards Blackburn’s Ford, on Bull Run.”
This order of mine that I have referred to was given to him in person by then Major Wadsworth, who also cautioned him verbally from me not to do too much in the way of keeping up the impression that we were moving on Manassas.
I will now read from General Barnard’s report of July 29. He was the chief of engineers on my staff:
“It should be borne in mind that the plan of campaign had been to turn the position and turn Manassas by the left; that is to say, that from Fairfax Court- House and Centreville we were to make a flank movement toward Sangster’s and Fairfax Station, and thence to Wolf Run Shoals, or in that direction.
“In my interview with the commanding general he said nothing to indicate any change of plan; but, on the contrary, his remarks carried the impression that he was more than ever confirmed in his plan, and spoke of the advance on Centreville as a ‘demonstration.’
“In proposing therefore to reconnoitre the enemy’s position at Blackburn’s Ford, it was not with the slightest idea that this point would be attacked; but a reconnoissance would be the carrying out of a ‘ demonstration.’
“Whilst I was awaiting Captain Alexander, l encountered Matthew C. Mitchell, who was secured as a guide. Representing himself as a Union man and a resident of that vicinity, I was engaged questioning him, when intelligence was received that General Tyler had sent back for artillery and infantry, and that the enemy was in sight before him. Riding to the front, I joined General Tyler and Colonel Richardson. Proceeding with them a short distance further, we emerged from the woods, and found ourselves at a point at which the road commences its descent to Blackburn’s Ford. The run makes here a curve or bow towards us, which the road bisects. The slopes from us towards it were gentle and mostly open. On the other side the banks of the run rise more abruptly, and are wooded down to the very edge of the run. Higher up a clear spot could be seen here and there; and still higher, higher than our own point of view, and only visible from its gently sloping towards us, an elevated plateau, comparatively open, in which Manassas Junction is situated.
“Although, owing to the thickness of the wood, little could be seen along the edge of the run, it was quite evident from such glimpses as we could obtain that the enemy was in force behind us. I represented to General Tyler that this point was the enemy’s strong position, on the direct road to Manassas Junction; that it was no part of the plan to assail it. I did not, however, object to a “demonstration,” believing that it would favor what I supposed still to be the commanding general’s plan of campaign.
“The two 20-pounders, of Parrott’s, had been ordered up. They were opened upon the enemy’s position, firing in various directions, without our being able to perceive the degree of effect they produced. They had fired perhaps a dozen rounds, when they were answered by a rapid discharge from a battery apparently close down to the run and at the crossing of the road. The 20-pounders continued their fire, directing at this battery, and Ayre’s battery was brought up and stationed on the left. The enemy’s batteries soon ceased answering. After ours had continued playing for about a half an hour, I felt it a useless expenditure of ammunition, and so stated to you, (Captain Fry, who arrived on the spot shortly before this,) and presumed General Tyler concurred in this opinion, as the firing soon ceased.
“I supposed this would be an end of the affair. But perceiving troops filing down towards the run, I thought it necessary to impress General Tyler with the fact that it was no part of the plan of the commanding general to bring on a serious engagement. I directed Captain Alexander (engineers) to state this fact to him, which he did in writing, having stated the same verbally before.”
My own order was not to bring on an engagement, and here was the chief of my engineers, and my adjutant general besides, urging the same thing on General Tyler.