Testimony of Col. Craig Biddle
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 194-198
WASHINGTON, January 18, 1862.
Colonel CRAIG BIDDLE sworn and examined.
By the chairman:
Question. Did you serve under General Patterson in his campaign into Virginia?
Answer. Yes, sir; I was his aide-de-camp.
Question. We desire a statement, in as brief yet comprehensive a manner as occurs to you, of the military incidents of that campaign, beginning with your movement from Martinsburg to Charlestown. That probably is the most of the military part that we care to inquire into. What number of men did you have at Martinsburg?
Answer. I do not recollect precisely the number. I would not like to state that except from the documents.
Question. About how many do you suppose?
Answer. I suppose we had about 18,000 men; that is, after Colonel Stone came up with his command.
Question. You marched from Martinsburg with about that number?
Answer. I think so.
Question. Where did you go?
Answer. To a place called Bunker Hill, and then diverged to Charlestown.
Question. What was your object in going to Bunker Hill?
Answer. To make a demonstration against Johnston, who was supposed to be at Winchester, and to create the impression that we were going to Winchester.
Question. Was he at Winchester while you were at Martinsburg?
Answer. We supposed so; or rather he remained at Bunker Hill a day, and then fell back on Winchester.
Question. You advanced to Bunker Hill with the intention of giving him battle?
Answer. If he was there, that was the idea. The idea was either to attack him there—it was estimated that the column was not strong enough to attack him, and therefore we meant by demonstration to hold him there as long as we could.
Question. Was not the object of your army to hold Johnston in the valley of Winchester until after the battle at Manassas?
Answer. We hoped to do so. I understood that was the object.
Question. You went to Bunker Hill?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. That was on the road from Martinsburg to Winchester, was it?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question How long did you remain at Bunker Hill?
Answer. I think we were there only a day.
Question. One day?
Answer. I think so; we went on the 16th, which was Tuesday, and stayed there until Thursday or Friday, I think. No, sir; we got to Charlestown on Sunday morning, and we must have left Bunker Hill on Saturday.
Question. From Bunker Hill you made a reconnoissance still further towards Winchester?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. With a view of advancing the army still further?
Answer. Yes, sir. I ought to say to you that I am not a military man. This was my first experience in military matters. I voted for Mr. Lincoln, and I thought it my duty to set an example and go in the field, if necessary, and I joined General Patterson’s staff; but upon questions relating to the military conduct of the campaign I do not feel my judgment sufficiently good for the committee to take.
Question. You came here at the instance of General Patterson to give us, I suppose, such information as he desires to have stated. I do not know precisely what he wants. We have a pretty full account of that transaction. But he wanted us to examine you. I do not know exactly to what points, and therefore I wish you to testify to anything material which occurs to you.
Answer. Anything I should say would, of course, be very much like the observations of any other person who was not a military man.
Answer. Very well; state any facts that may occur to you as material to General Patterson or to the government.
Answer. The point I have always understood to be in controversy was the propriety of General Patterson’s going on to Winchester.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. We are not discussing or examining any controversy here; we merely want the facts.
Answer. I do not speak of what is said or thought here, but of what is said by others.
By the chairman:
Question. If we had summoned you I should know what it was for; but I do not know. I want General Patterson to have a fair hearing, and to let his witnesses who were with him state what they may know in relation to the matter.
Answer. I was present, of course, at all the discussions. The discussion at Martinsburg was as to whether or not General Patterson should go on to Winchester. General Patterson was very full of that himself. He was determined to go to Winchester; but the opinions of all the regular officers who were with him were against it. The opinions of all the men in whose judgment I had any confidence were against it. They seemed to have the notion that General Patterson had got his Irish blood up by the fight we had had at Falling Waters, and was bound to go ahead. He decided upon going ahead against the remonstrances of General Porter, who advised against it. He told me he considered he had done his duty, and said no more. The movement was delayed in consequence of General Stone’s command not being able to move right away. It was then evident that there was so much opposition to it that the general was induced to call a council of the general officers in his command, at which I was present. They were unanimously opposed to the advance. That was at Martinsburg.
Question. You did advance to Bunker Hill?
Answer. The order of General Scott was, that if he thought he was not strong enough to attack Johnston he was to make a demonstration and endeavor to hold him there as long as he could. General Scott had fixed Tuesday, the 16th, as the day on which this was to be done. Those despatches I saw. General Patterson advanced on Tuesday, and held him there until Thursday afternoon; and we were all as confident as possible that the battle at Manassas had been fought, and that General Patterson had succeeded in doing all he could; and the flank movement down to Charlestown was considered judicious by everybody, especially as we considered that our utility there was at an end.
Question. You say that before that, at Martinsburg, it was not thought best to attack Johnston?
Answer. It was thought by all the officers there that a forward movement was not advisable; that our troops were entirely undisciplined. Although it was thought perfectly proper to attack in the open field, as General Patterson had been trying to do ever since he started, yet it was perfectly idle to attack the intrenchments at Winchester. Everybody represented the force of General Johnston as from 30,000 to 40,000.
Question. Where were you when you heard that he had been re-enforced ?
Answer. At Martinsburg, I think.
Question. Was it not at Bunker Hill that you first heard that?
Answer. No, sir; I do not think so.
Question. Do you think it was before the council of war was held at Martinsburg?
Answer. I think so.
Question. It is your opinion, then, that General Patterson could not have prevented General Johnston from going to Manassas?
Answer. I do not think he could possibly have done anymore than he did. As I say, my opinion is founded upon the opinions of all those gentlemen in whom I have the utmost confidence. I consider General Porter one of the most accomplished officers I ever had the pleasure to meet with.
Question. When did you first hear any complaints there that the regiments wanted to go home?
Answer. I think there was no question about their going until they got to Charlestown. The time of none of them expired until then. They all expected to go home at the end of their three months. There was no appeal made to them until we got to Charlestown.
Question. They manifested no dissatisfaction before that time?
Answer. No, sir; I do not know as they did until at Charlestown, when they expected to go home. I recollect perfectly the discussions that took place in regard to those troops. The regular officers said the troops would not stay a day after their time had expired. The general said: “Well, you will see.” They said: “We know, because we saw it in Mexico.” I said: “This is entirely a different matter; this is a fight for the existence of our government, and the men will not dare go home, I think.” General Patterson took it up and went out and made a direct appeal to the men. The general speaks very well under all circumstances, and he made remarkably good speeches then, as I thought, and as all thought. The general went to his son’s regiment, which was a very fine regiment, and which we understood was willing to remain. The general made a speech to them, but to our surprise a considerable number of them refused to put up their muskets when the question was put to them. The officers were very much mortified at this, and spoke to the men, and finally they got them, with few exceptions, to put up their muskets. But still it was a sort of touch-and-go with them. That was the first time the fear crossed my mind that there would be trouble. The general then went to the other regiments, but found that it was not feasible at all; from one-half to two-thirds refused to go. He finally got to an Irish regiment and made a very powerful appeal to them, knowing the Irish character very well. He carried them with a sort of shout, and they all said they would remain. They all lifted up their mnskets. But he had hardly turned his back when they hallooed out, “Shoes and pants!” “Shoes and pants!”
Question. And it was evident, then, that you could do no more?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. You did not expect after you turned off to Charlestown that there would be any fighting?
Answer. It was supposed that if it were necessary to advance we could advance better from Charlestown than from Bunker Hill. We had not such a long line to protect; Bunker Hill was clear in the enemy’s country, where it was not possible to do anything with the supplies we had.
Question. Then you knew very well it was no longer possible to hold Johnston from going to Manassas?
Answer. We thought he had gone.
Question. And if he had gone you supposed you could not have prevented his going?
Answer. We thought we could do it better if we should advance from Charlestown than from the other place, because we could get supplies. It was the opinion of the quartermaster, commissary, and engineers, that we were on a false line at Bunker Hill, and that the enemy would get in our rear.
Question. Of course you did not know whether he had gone or not?
Answer. We heard he had gone on Thursday afternoon.
Question. That was the first you heard of it?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. If he had gone why did you not go to Winchester?
Answer. We thought we should do no good, for if we went there we would have to come back again; we could not hold it.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. Where did General Sanford join you; was he with you at Martinsburg with his re-enforcements?
Answer. I think he joined us at Martinsburg.
Question. Did you include his men in the 18,000 you said you had there?
Answer. Yes, sir; I think we did.
Question. The understanding among your officers, I think you said, was to fight or to hold Johnston in the valley of Winchester?
Answer. We understood that that was what was desired; to fight him if we could, or, if not, to hold him there as long as we could; that is, for this fixed time; to hold him there on the 16th, which was the day that General Patterson was directed to hold him there.
Question. Was that all that he was directed to do; to hold him there one day?
Answer. That was the day on which he was to make an advance, to pretend to attack him, or rally to attack him, in order to hold him there. General Scott was to let General Patterson know on what day he wanted him to advance, or to make an attack, whichever he was able to do; and General Scott intimated to him, or telegraphed him directly, that it was on the 16th that he wanted him to do so; and having held the enemy there until Thursday afternoon, he conceived that he had done all that General Scott desired him to do. It was impossible to hold him any longer time there, for the time of the men was expiring then. There is an impression abroad in regard to General Patterson’s popularity among the men. I believe General Patterson was always an extremely popular commander, and that all this dissatisfaction with him was got up afterwards; it was entirely an afterthought.
Question. While at Bunker Hill, the night before you left there, were any orders issued to march on the enemy?
Answer. I think there were such orders.
Question. Did not General Patterson issue orders at Bunker Hill, the night before you marched to Charlestown, for an attack on the enemy?
Answer. I think such orders were written. I do not think they were issued. I think General Patterson was again persuaded not to make an advance. General Patterson was extremely popular with the army until after those men got home. They all expected to be received at home with great homage; but General Patterson having asked them to stay, and they having refused, the first question asked of them after they got home was, “Why did you not stay? why did you refuse to remain?” And in order to answer that question they had to get up some excuse, and it took the form very often of abuse of General Patterson.
Question. Were not the men in good spirits and ready to fight while at Bunker Hill?
Answer. Yes, sir; the men were ready to fight at any time. I always conceived that the spirit of the men was broken when they were ordered back across the Potomac. They had been hanging on week after week, and had got the impression that there was to be no fight at all; and they did not want to be kept there on the borders for no purpose at all. And the men had got the idea that their time was out, and there would be no fight at all. When this order was given everybody was in the highest possible spirits. They dashed across the river, and the whole army was aroused to go forward. We got two orders from Washington. The general did not mind the first order; then there was another one which said, “I have twice ordered you to send on all the regular troops.” And the men came back from over the river, and became greatly disheartened.
By Mr. Covode:
Question. Did you not believe all the time, up to the time when you turned back to Charlestown, that the men would remain over their time if they could have been led forward against the enemy?
Answer. I think, if the thing had been put through in a spirited way from the first, after they had got into it, they would not have backed out. There were various reasons which justified the men. The force had been raised in a great hurry—in a month or two—and a great many of their officers were totally inefficient. They had a perfect dread of going into battle with their officers, and they wanted to go back and enter into new organizations the next day after they got back.