Testimony of Gen. Daniel Butterfield
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 207-210
WASHINGTON, January 20, 1862.
General DANIEL BUTTERFIELD sworn and examined.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. What is your rank and position in the army?
Answer. I am a brigadier general of volunteers, and lieutenant colonel of the 12th regiment of infantry in the regular service.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. We want to know something about your connexion with the army under General Patterson’s command. Were you colonel of the 12th New York regiment under General Patterson?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. You first came to Washington?
Answer. Yes, sir; under orders from the governor of the State.
Question. And you went where from Washington?
Answer. From Washington we led the first advance over the Long Bridge in May into Virginia. About the 6th of July, I think, on a Sunday, we left Washington by rail to Baltimore, and thence to Hagerstown. We remained at Hagerstown one day. Hearing that General Patterson was going to make a fight or an advance the next day, the men were anxious to go ahead. We left Hagerstown at 6 o’clock at night, and came up with the advance guard to Martinsburg at 3 o’clock in the morning, 26 miles, besides fording the Potomac. That shows how anxious the men were to be in at the fight.
Question. How long did you remain at Martinsburg?
Answer. We remained there until Monday, the 15th.
Question. Where did you then go?
Answer. To Bunker Hill.
Question. What was the distance?
Answer. From 9 to 12 miles. I do not remember the exact distance.
Question. What did you understand was the object of that advance?
Answer. I understood the object was to advance on the position of the enemy.
Question. The enemy under General Johnston?
Answer. Yes, sir; at Winchester.
Question. Was that the understanding of the officers generally?
Answer. That was the general impression prevailing among the officers and troops, that we were going after Johnston at Winchester.
Question. What was the temper of the troops while you were at Bunker Hill?
Answer. They were very anxious for a fight; you might say “spoiling for a fight,” some of them. The three regiments under my command were anxious for a fight.
Question. Was there any dissatisfaction in the army there?
Answer. Not any in my brigade. I knew nothing at all about the other regiments at that time. I was assigned, shortly after my arrival at Martinsburg, to the command of a brigade which consisted of the 12th and 5th New York militia and the 19th and 28th New York volunteers. I started from Martinsburg with the command of this brigade. I had had command of it for some time at Martinsburg; I know they were generally very anxious for a fight. With regard to the disposition of the other troops in the army there I knew nothing at that time. My time was fully occupied in taking care of my own men.
Question. In your intercourse with the officers of that force did you hear any dissatisfaction expressed?
Answer. Not the slightest. On the contrary, the general expression of the officers, of my own regiments particularly, was one of the greatest anxiety to get into a fight. They expressed great dissatisfaction in being ordered away from Washington, as they thought they would then see no fighting. I had a personal interview with General Scott, and he told me it was a very important movement indeed, and that we would probably be in a fight sooner than by remaining here, and when I told my officers that they were perfectly willing and anxious to go.
Question. Did you understand that the object of your going from here to Martinsburg, to Patterson’s column, was to prevent Johnston from joining Beauregard?
Answer. I did not at the time we moved.
Question. Did you after you got there?
Answer. I did not until after the whole affair was over. I did not understand that that was the particular object for which General Scott designed us. He simply told me that our movement was a very important one, one of great importance. He made that remark to me before we left Washington, on the 6th of July. He said: “I have picked out your regiment as one of the best disciplined, and we calculate that you will lead the way; that you will not disappoint us in the estimate we have made of you.” I supposed from that that there was work of some kind cut out for us there.
Question. How long did you remain at Bunker Hill?
Answer. We remained there two days. We left Bunker Hill to go to Charlestown on the 17th of July.
Question. What was the effect of your position at Bunker Hill upon the enemy?
Answer. It was a threatening position upon the enemy. We were twelve miles from Winchester, and we were in close expectation of a fight there; the troops expected it.
Question. Did you make any demonstration forward from Bunker Hill?
Answer. Yes, sir; while at Bunker Hill the Rhode Island battery and some other troops—I think Colonel Wallace’s Indiana regiment and some cavalry— went out to within six miles of Winchester, where they found an abatis constructed across the road, with a cavalry picket, which they drove in. They threw some shells towards Winchester. I afterwards understood that the effect of that demonstration was to draw up the whole of Johnston’s army in line of battle behind their intrenchments at Winchester. This I learned from a young officer who was attached to the staff and went out with the expedition.
Question. Was this abatis a serious impediment to the movement of a large body of troops?
Answer. It was simply trees felled across the road—not much of an impediment ; this young officer who gave me the account of it stated that a large number of trees had been felled across the road to impede the advance of the army. I supposed it was merely a precaution to enable the force behind to get into line to receive any body of men coming up.
Question. Did you receive any orders while at Bunker Hill to make an attack upon the enemy?
Answer. I do not now remember. I have got copies of all the orders I received. If there are any such orders among them I can send them to the committee. Our orders generally came about 11 o’clock at night, and were promulgated immediately. We oftentimes used to keep the orders sent to us to be sent out by staff officers to be read to the colonels, deeming it necessary to have it done at once.
Question. At what time did you receive your order to go to Charlestown?
Answer. I think we got it at 11 o’clock the night before we moved. We moved to Charlestown on the 17th. I am very positive the order came between 10 and 11 o’clock at night to move the next morning at daylight.
Question. What was the effect of that movement upon the troops?
Answer. Well, sir, it was bad.
Question. Why was it bad?
Answer. Well, sir; one colonel came to me and said that the men said they were retreating; and that if they carry their colors at all they would carry them boxed up.
Question. Was it not a retreat?
Answer. I did not so consider it at the time.
Question. Was it not a retreat, so far as your relative position to the enemy was concerned?
Answer. I did not consider it so at the time, from the nature of the country, as shown by the map. I was not consulted or advised what the nature of the movement was. I simply received the order and obeyed it. . I did not know but what it was an attempt to cut off General Johnston from making a junction with Beauregard, by getting our army between him and Manassas.
By the chairman:
Question. Was it not the understanding of the troops when they started that they were merely going down to another road, and then to throw themselves in the rear of Johnston?
Answer. I had that impression, and I think I circulated it as a matter of policy among the troops. If I did pot circulate and give currency to it, I explained that we could make such a move when we got to Charlestown as would not bring us in front of the intrenchments prepared for us at Winchester.
Question. Which, in your opinion as a military man, was the better position to prevent Johnston from joining Beauregard—Bunker Hill or Charlestown?
Answer. I should have selected Charlestown if my movements could have been concealed, because I could have attacked Johnston, with his army marching in flank, if he had attempted to move. I would not have attacked him at Winchester, where he was intrenched and prepared to defend himself.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. In leaving Bunker Hill for Charlestown did you not free Johnston from our control?
Answer. No, sir; not if our movements were directed to hold him. The army was in position at Charlestown, if it was determined to cut Johnston off from joining Beauregard, to be thrown in between him and the Shenandoah.
Question. How far is Charlestown from Winchester? More or less than Bunker Hill?
Answer. A greater number of miles. But we would have no further to go to reach the line which Johnston would have to take to Manassas than we would at Bunker Hill?
Question. Do you know what our force was at Bunker Hill?
Answer. I had no positive knowledge. I judged it to be about 20,000.
Question. Did you at any time offer to make a fight with your portion of the army there?
Answer. I stated to General Sanford that we had come there for a fight; that we were ready to fight; and if there was going to be a fight, we wanted to be counted in, and we were willing to lead at any time when the fight was opened.