R. B. Price’s JCCW Testimony – “Porte Crayon”

19 07 2009

strother_portrait_webAs many of you are no doubt aware, the “Porte Crayon” identified in Price’s testimony as the source of enemy troop strength was none other than David Hunter Strother, an artist, diarist, and native of Martinsburg, VA.  He would serve as a staff officer for George McClellan and John Pope, and receive a brigadier general brevet.  His wartime observations are collected in A Virginia Yankee in the Civil War.  Already famous before the war, Strother sketched the John Brown trial in Charlestown.


JCCW – Col. R. Butler Price

19 07 2009

Testimony of Col. R. Butler Price

Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 185-194

WASHINGTON, January 18, 1862.

Colonel R. BUTLER PRICE sworn and examined.

By the chairman.

Question. Did you serve with General Patterson during his expedition into Virginia; and if so, about what time?

Answer. I served with him from his first orders from the President, some time in April. He left Philadelphia on the 2d of June, and I remained with him until he was discharged from the service.

Question. What was your rank and position?

Answer. I was senior aid under General Patterson, with the rank of major.

Question. You accompanied him on his march from Martinsburg to Charlestown ?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. About what was his force at that time?

Answer. He had about 19,000 men with him—that is, for all purposes. A portion of those men were detailed for special duty, guarding wagon trains, &c. He had probably 15,000 or 16,000 fighting men—not over 19,000 men in all.

Question. What was the object of that expedition? What particular purpose was it intended to accomplish?

Answer. From Martinsburg over to Charlestown?

Question. Yes, sir.

Answer. There were two reasons, I think, which prompted General Patterson to make that movement from Martinsburg to Charlestown: one was partly the condition of the quartermaster’s and commissary’s departments in relation to the supply of the army; and another was to make Charlestown as a more favorable base of operations, either to the front, or to fall back to Harper’s Ferry. Charlestown was considered safer than Martinsburg; Harper’s Ferry being within six miles of Charlestown.

Question. You were with him on the march from Martinsburg to Bunker Hill?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. What was the distance?

Answer. About twelve miles.

Question. How far is Bunker Hill from Winchester?

Answer. I think about sixteen miles; I am not positive about that; but I think the distance is in the neighborhood of sixteen miles.

Question. Was one great object of General Patterson’s expedition to prevent Johnston from joining Beauregard at Manassas?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. That was the principal object?

Answer. That was one of the motives; yes, sir. To place General Patterson in a position where he could do that to the most advantage. As I said before, Charlestown is a point which would have facilitated either in making a forward movement, or falling back upon Harper’s Ferry.

Question. When he was at Bunker Hill, was he not then in as good a position to have prevented Johnston from joining Beauregard as from any other point?

Answer. No, sir; he was not in so good a position as at Charlestown. And under the circumstances it would have been impossible for him to have remained at Bunker Hill.

Question. For what reason?

Answer. The difficulty of provisioning his army; getting forage forward. There was no nearer point there than Maryland.

Question. How came he to go to Bunker Hill, then?

Answer. He did not go there with the intention of staying there.

Question. Was it on the direct road to Charlestown?

Answer. No, sir; but he went to Bunker Hill because he was ordered to keep Johnston in check, and always keep a force in front of him. He went there for the purpose of offering Johnston battle.

Question. Johnston was not at Bunker Hill, was he?

Answer. He was there while we were at Winchester. As we approached him he fell back.

Question. And Johnston having fallen back to Winchester, General Patterson approached him no further?

Answer. No, sir; not towards Winchester.

Question. Why not?

Answer. Because he heard while at Bunker Hill that the force of General Johnston was very much greater than his own, both in number and in artillery force.

Question. Had he any intelligence that Johnston’s army had been increased during this period?

Answer. Yes, sir; very materially increased.

Question. Where from?

Answer. Somewhere between Winchester and Manassas; it was not known where. He got positive information at Bunker Hill that Johnston had 42,000 men at Winchester, and, I think, sixty-three pieces of artillery.

Question. From whom did he get that information?

Answer. It was given to him by General Cadwalader, who obtained it through private parties; I do not know who they were.

Question. Where did these re-enforcements come from?

Answer. From towards Manassas.

Question. At what time were these re-enforcements, supposed to have joined Johnston?

Answer. Between the time of our leaving Martinsburg and leaving Bunker Hill, which was a period of two and a half days.

Question. Was it not very singular that he should have retreated to Winchester with this great increase of force?

Answer. He was re-enforced while he was at Winchester, after he left Bunker Hill. From the best knowledge we could obtain while at Martinsburg, General Johnston had in the neighborhood of 25,000 or 26,000 men.

Question. Was it not very singular that Johnston should be re-enforced from Manassas when they knew they were about to be assailed by the central army, under General McDowell?

Answer. I can give no opinion in reference to their motives.

Question. Had you any authentic information of re-enforcements joining Johnston during this period?

Answer. It was information that was given to General Cadwalader from what he considered a reliable source, and he so reported to General Patterson. The information proved to be correct, as we learned from various sources afterwards.

Question. That he received a very large re-enforcement at this period from Manassas?

Answer. Yes, sir; making his whole force over 42,000 men.

Question. How did you learn that afterwards?

Answer. By information from various persons. One was a gentleman, whose name I forget. His soubriquet is “Porte Crayon.” He was in Winchester at the time General Johnston left with 35,000 men, leaving 7,000 at Winchester. There were two or three other persons, who were at Winchester at that time, who reported the same thing, thus verifying the report Cadwalader made to General Patterson.

Question. Had it not been for this supposed re-enforcement, would he have advanced upon Winchester from Bunker Hill?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. That was his intention?

Answer. Yes, sir; provided he thought proper to do so after arriving at Bunker Hill.

Question. Where was he when he heard of this re-enforcement?

Answer. At Bunker Hill.

Question. And then he retreated from the enemy to go to Charlestown ?

Answer. No, sir; he did not. It was not a retreating movement. It was merely a movement across the country to Charlestown.

Question. He gave up all idea of encountering Johnston ?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Then, when he left Banker Hill, he knew he could no longer hold Johnston in check, did he not?

Answer. Yes, sir; he gave up the idea of attacking Johnston. But then he was under the impression that the necessity of his holding Johnston in that part of Virginia had passed away, from the fact that he supposed the battle at Manassas had at that time been fought.

Question. What made him think that?

Answer. From despatches he received from General Scott, and letters fixing the date of the attack.

Question Did General Scott ever send him any despatch that he would fight at Manassas on any particular day?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Where is that despatch?

Answer. I suppose it is among the papers of General Patterson. It was either a despatch or letter; I did not know which.

Question. Did you learn the date of that despatch?

Answer. I do not recollect now.

Question. Do you know what time was stated when the battle would be fought at Manassas?

Answer. Yes, sir; on the Tuesday previous to the Sunday on which it was fought.

Question. Do you suppose, as a military man—I ask your opinion as a military man—that General Scott could fix. beyond a doubt, upon a day when he could attack the enemy with such an army, the two being so far apart ? Could he fix with certainty that he would fight on a particular day?

Answer. I think he could, having the control of his operations.

Question. He did not fight on the day he proposed?

Answer. No, sir; he did not.

Question. Then it is possible for a military man to be mistaken about that?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. And a military man would know that there would not be any certainty about such a thing?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. General Patterson, if I understand it, had the means of communicating by telegraph with General Scott?

Answer. The facilities were not great from Bunker Hill. There was no telegraph nearer there than Hagerstown.

Question. How far was that?

Answer. About 42 miles. All the despatches received from and sent to General Scott were carried by carriers from any position in which the army happened to be to Hagerstown.

Question. Would it not have been well for General Patterson, when he had ascertained that Johnston had received re-enforcements, that rendered it impossible for him to detain him—would it not have been well to have sent General Scott the earliest information of that?

Answer. He did.

Question. What was the import of that communication?

Answer. The import of that information was that Johnston’s force was then estimated at 42,000 men, and was much larger than what General Patterson had.

Question. And when he turned off to Charlestown, and found he could no longer detain him, did he notify General Scott of that?

Answer. No, sir ; I do not know as he sent any despatch that he could no longer detain him, but General Patterson was under the belief he could not detain him there any longer. When he discovered that Johnston’s force was moving he telegraphed to General Scott.

Question. As the matter stood, suppose he had, the moment he received that information, and had made up his mind that he could no longer detain him—for you have said already that it was the object of this expedition to detain him there, and prevent his joining Beauregard—had he communicated that immediately to General Scott, would it not have been a military fact that would have had a controlling effect upon planning and carrying out the battle of Manassas?

Answer. I think it ought to have been.

Question. And if he did not give General Scott the earliest information of that, would it not have been a negligence and unmilitary act?

Answer. So I should have considered it.

Question. But you think he did give him that information?

Answer. I am under that impression—yes, sir.

Question. How long did you remain at Charlestown?

Answer. I think we stayed there, at Charlestown, five days.

Question. Was there any order from General Scott to General Patterson, that if he could not detain Johnston, he should follow him down to Manassas?

Answer. No, sir.

Question. No such arrangement?

Answer. None that I have ever heard

Question. When he turned off from Bunker Hill to Charlestown, had you heard any dissatisfaction manifested among the officers and troops?

Answer. Nothing of the kind—not the slightest; nothing but the most unqualified approbation.

Question. Was there any period when the troops whose time was expiring refused to go further?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. What time was that?

Answer. That was at Charlestown.

Question. You did not hear anything of that before?

Answer. No, sir. I heard of the circumstance, but it was not within my own positive knowledge.

Question. Charlestown was the first?

Answer. Yes, sir; the first open exhibition of it.

Question. Then, in brief, the Pennsylvanians, when they supposed he was advancing upon the enemy, did not wish to take advantage of their time being out?

Answer. They did not grumble about there being no fight, because General Patterson, in the appeal he made to them at Charlestown, begged them to stay for ten days in case he might have to fight with the enemy.

Question. Did he expect to have a fight with the enemy?

Answer. He thought he might have a fight, and in the mean time he had sent to General Scott for orders, and did not know what orders he would get.

Question. After Johnston had been re-enforced, he had double your force; would he have fought him then?

Answer. He would not follow him up, but he would have fought if Johnston had attacked him.

Question. Why not throw himself across Johnston’s path, and detain him in that way?

Answer. It was impossible for him to do that while at Bunker Hill or at Charlestown.

Question. Was it not possible to do that?

Answer. It was totally impossible.

Question. What was the impossibility?

Answer. It was that he could not reach the track that Johnston took before Johnston could reach it; for he could march his men to a point below Strasburg, and then take his men to Manassas, and it was impossible that General Patterson could reach that point to intercept him. I do not think he would have made an attempt to do that.

Question. If it was an object to detain him, how did he expect to detain him?

Answer. He did not expect to do it after he left Bunker Hill.

Question. If he was willing to fight double his force in the open field, why not follow him up?

Answer. He was intrenched there; not in the open field.

Question. You say he could not get to the railroad without attacking Johnston at Winchester. Now I want to know this: I find from the testimony that General Patterson turned from Bunker Hill, and gave up the original intention of detaining Johnston, because Johnston had been greatly re-enforced.

Answer. Yes, sir,that was one reason; and another reason was that he thought the necessity had passed.

Question. Now I understand you to say that he would have fought Johnston even after he had been re-enforced, perhaps at Charlestown, and expected to do it, and wanted to keep his troops there.

Answer. Yes, sir. He would have fought him, if he had attacked him.

Question. If so, and his main purpose being to detain him in the valley there, why did he relinquish his original position?

Answer. The design no longer existed after he left Bunker Hill; and if he had been so disposed, he could not have thrown himself across the track of Johnston after he left Winchester.

Question. Suppose that, before Johnston left Winchester, Patterson had taken a position between Manassas and Winchester upon that railroad, could he not have done that?

Answer. No, sir; not before Johnston.

Question. Not before Johnston left?

Answer. No, sir.

Question. Then he could not have prevented Johnston from going to Manassas, whether he was re-enforced or not?

Answer. No, sir. He could not have prevented Johnston from going to Manassas, whether he was re-enforced or not. But he would have attacked him at Winchester, if he had not been re-enforced. He offered him battle on two or three different occasions. Johnston was between Martinsburg and Bunker Hill when we marched to Martinsburg. He then fell back to Bunker Hill, and then he fell back to Winchester, laying a trap for us all the time.  Johnston would not have fought before he got to Winchester, and there he had a great advantage over us.

Question. You think General Scott was apprised of this right off.

Answer. Yes, sir.

By Mr. Gooch:

Question. General Patterson moved from Martinsburg to Bunker Hill because there he more directly threatened Johnston?

Answer. Yes, sir; he marched there for the purpose of offering him battle.

Question. For the purpose of threatening him?

Answer. Yes, sir, to threaten him, and to hold him there and give him battle. From the best information we had, Johnston’s force was from 22,000 or 23,000 to 26,000.

Question. The great object you deemed to be to hold Johnston, and you moved to Bunker Hill so as to threaten him and hold him?

Answer. Yes, sir; and fight him there.

Question. And Johnston fortified himself at Winchester?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. You moved to Bunker Hill and sent out some pickets?

Answer. There was a reconnoissance made from Bunker Hill on the day we arrived there, I think, with probably 800 or 1,000 men. They marched on the road to Winchester, a distance of four or five miles. There they found the cavalry pickets of Johnston, which they dispersed. They found the road obstructed.

Question. The object of the reconnoissance was successful?

Answer. Yes, sir. To find the condition of the road from there to Winchester, and to find out the preparations to prevent General Patterson from marching to Winchester.

Question. You found no indication to show that Johnston intended to attack you at Bunker Hill?

Answer. No, sir.

Question. The indications were that he wanted to fight you behind his intrenchments at Winchester, and not to come out to attack you?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Did you send some of your baggage trains directly from Martinsburg to Charlestown?

Answer. No, sir. They all came down by the way of Bunker Hill. We marched on two roads from Martinsburg to Bunker Hill.

Question. During all this time you were following up Johnston, there was no time that he offered you battle, or proposed to do so in any way in the open field?

Answer. No, sir. Not upon any occasion.

Question. He wanted to fight you upon unequal terms at Winchester?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. You did not believe when you reached Bunker Hill that Johnston intended to fight you at Bunker Hill?

Answer. No, sir. We found no such indication.

Question. When you were at Bunker Hill, I suppose that you felt that, during that time, you were threatening that position of Johnston, instead of his threatening you?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Then, when you moved from Bunker Hill, you moved to a point, Charlestown, which was further from Winchester than Bunker Hill?

Answer. I think Charlestown is rather further from Winchester than Bunker Hill is: probably five or six miles further.

Question. You moved down from Martinsburg to Bunker Hill in two columns. Did you propose to move forward upon Winchester in two columns?

Answer. No, sir. I do not know that we did.

Question. General Sanford had a column there, had he not?

Answer. We marched in two columns from Martinsburg, but they were all concentrated in the vicinity of Bunker Hill.

Question. Was it not the intention to move from Bunker Hill to Winchester?

Answer. Yes, sir. At one time General Patterson had given an order to move from Bunker Hill to Winchester. He was very unwilling to leave Johnston even at Winchester without attacking him; and on the afternoon before we left Bunker Hill he decided to attack him, notwithstanding his strong force.

Question. Behind his intrenchments?

Answer. Yes, sir; it went so far that his order was written by his adjutant, General Porter. It was very much against the wishes of General Porter; and he asked General Patterson if he would send for Colonel Abercrombie and Colonel Thomas and consult them on the movement. General Patterson replied: “No, sir; for I know they will attempt to dissuade me from it, and I have made up my mind to fight Johnston under all circumstances.” That was the day before we left Bunker Hill. Then Colonel Porter asked to have Colonel Abercrombie and Colonel Thomas sent for and consulted as to the best manner to carry out his wishes. He consented, and they came, and after half an hour they dissuaded him from it.

Question. At that time General Patterson felt it was so important to attack Johnston that he had determined to do it?

Answer. Yes, sir; the order was not published, but it was written.

Question. You understood .General Patterson to be influenced to make that attempt because he felt there was a necessity for detaining Johnston?

Answer. Yes, sir; to detain him as long as he possibly could.

Question. That order was not countermanded until late on Tuesday, the 16th, was it?

Answer. That order never was published. It was written; but at the earnest solicitation of Colonel Porter it was withheld until he could have a consultation with Colonel Abercrombie and Colonel Thomas.

Question. It remained the intention of General Patterson to make the attempt to move on Winchester from Bunker Hill?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. And the order to move on Charlestown was not promulgated until 12 o’clock that night?

Answer. It was later than that; it was between 1 and 2 o’clock in the morning.

Question. Your position on the staff of General Patterson was such as to enable you to know of the telegraphic despatches passing between him and General Scott?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. If I understand you, after you moved from Bunker Hill to Charlestown, you were then no longer directly threatening Johnston?

Answer. No, sir; the movement towards Charlestown was a flank movement, not one threatening General Johnston.

Question. So that Johnson at that time would not have felt that his force at Winchester was in danger of being attacked by your force?

Answer. No, sir.

By the chairman:

Question. If I have understood you, I am not able to see how at any time you could have prevented Johnston from going to Manassas, if he saw fit to go?

Answer. We never could have prevented Johnston from going to Manassas if he had chosen to do so. He retreated before us all the time. His cavalry force, under Colonel Steuart was hanging around us all the time.

Question. So that you knew all the time that if he saw fit to retreat from Winchester, and so on down to Manassas, he could have done so?

Answer. Yes, sir, at any .time.

Question. You have been asked if you thought General Scott, the commanding general, would positively fix the time upon which a battle could be fought

Answer. I thought he could fix upon the time when he decided to have the attack, unless circumstances arose to prevent it.

Question. As a military man, do you not know that there are numerous contingencies to render it very uncertain when two armies shall meet?

Answer. There is always an uncertainty. But I think an officer with a large army could fix upon the day when he should commence his attack. That was not done in this case.

Question. You mentioned that the roads were barricaded in front of you at Bunker Hill, what was the character of those barricades?

Answer. From the reports of officers, I understand there were trees cut down and thrown across the roads there.

Question. Would you, as a military man, consider that a formidable obstacle in the way of an army 20,000 strong?

Answer. No, sir, not by any means. There were fences built across the road, stone walls built across the road; and they became more numerous as we approached Winchester, and more formidable. And it was reported that the road was defended all the way from that point to Winchester. They would not retard the progress of an army, but they would give great advantage to a foe lurking in the neighborhood. I should not think it was a serious obstacle in the way by any means. I only mention this to show that there was no disposition on the part of General Johnston to attack General Patterson at that point.

Question. Were you not cognizant of the fact that General Patterson had a positive order from General Scott to hold Johnston in the valley of Winchester?

Answer. Yes, sir; those were General Scott’s orders all the time.

Question. Was not that with direct reference to the battle that was expected to take place at Manassas?

Answer. Yes, sir.

By the chairman:

Question. Was not the order a little more than that? Was it not that if he could not detain Johnston he should follow him down by way of Leesburg?

Answer. No, sir; the Leesburg proposition was made by General Patterson, but not consented to by General Scott. That was before we left Martinsburg.

By Mr. Odell:

Question. Do you think your position at Bunker Hill was a success so far as holding General Johnston was concerned, in accordance with the order received from General Scott?

Answer. Yes, sir; but the position of General Patterson, at Bunker Hill, could not have prevented Johnston from leaving Winchester any moment he pleased.

Question. Your army, while at Bunker Hill, was successful in holding Johnston in the valley of Winchester, in accordance with the orders of General Scott.

Answer. Yes, sir.

By the chairman:

Question. Is there anything else that occurs to you which you wish to state?

Answer. In reference to the forward move from Martinsburg, there was a council of war held there, at which I was present, and heard all the opinions given. They were unanimous against a forward movement any further than Bunker Hill. In reference to the discontent shown by officers and soldiers, I never saw anything of the kind   After the army left Bunker Hill, on the march to Charlestown, every regiment that we passed were baited and faced to the front, and by the command of their officers, they cheered General Patterson, without a single exception. There was not the slightest sign of disapprobation shown by officers or men, that I saw.

By Mr. Covode:

Question. You had no information that Johnston was reinforced at the time you held your council at Martinsburg?

Answer. No, sir. The supposition when we left Martinsburg was that Johnston would fight us at Bunker Hill.

By Mr. Gooch:

Question. What do you now understand to have been Johnston’s force at Winchester on the day you commenced your movement to Charlestown?

Answer. 42,000 men. I am as certain of that as I can be of anything I do not know of my own knowledge.

Question. I suppose there is always great uncertainty in the movements of large bodies of men?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. And it is impossible almost for a commander to say a week beforehand that he will be with 20,000, 30,000, or 40,000 men at a given point on any given day ?

Answer. Certainly.

Question. Because contingencies may arise to prevent his getting there, even if he meets with no foe?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Answer. And of course there is always great uncertainty in fixing the time when you will attack the enemy?

Answer. Yes, sir; most undoubtedly.

Question. And, as a military man, I suppose you would not be willing to base any important military operations upon the assumption that there had been an engagement, simply because it had been fixed upon a week beforehand for a certain day?

Answer. That is true. But under the circumstances under which General Patterson was at the time, and from the various letters and telegraphic despatches between Washington and himself, I would have drawn the conclusion that the battle of Manassas would be fought on Tuesday. Because General Scott was positive in his despatch in fixing Tuesday as the day. I would not have been certain the battle would have taken place on that day. But I would certainly have expected it in twenty-four hours of that time, although it might have been delayed, as it was in that case.

Question. Still you would not have based any important military operation on the assumption that it did take place that day?

Answer. Although I would not suppose it was a certain thing that the battle would take place that day, yet at Bunker Hill General Patterson’s column was very much exposed; there was difficulty in getting forage and provisions for it. His army was some thirty-two miles from the Potomac, and anything but a friendly country and people in his rear, and he might have placed himself in a very precarious and dangerous position. I would have taken these things into consideration, with the supposition that there was no longer any necessity to remain there. I should have been governed by those considerations.