A Famous Flight.
How the First News of Bull Run Was Brought To Washington.
Probably the best description of the wild stampede which followed the battle of Bull Run appeared in the Pittsburgh Dispatch recently. The historian is Kennedy Marshall, of Butler, Pa., a prominent lawyer, and brother to Thomas Marshall, who some weeks ago declined a nomination on Cameron’s State ticket. Mr. Marshall, at the date of the battle, was a member of the Pennsylvania Legislature, and, with hundreds of persons, had followed the army to see the rebels crushed by McDowell. Mr. Marshall was accompanied by Henry J. Raymond, editor of the New York Times, and Dr. Russell, the famous war correspondent of the London Times.
“Raymond, Russell and I,” began Mr. Marshall, “were seated on the roadside, taking lunch, at three o’clock in the afternoon. While we were talking together we heard locomotives whistling over on the Manassas Railroad. The trains stopped in a cut, out of sight. Pretty soon out marched a lot of soldiers in gray, with a stand of brigade colors, and came at a double quick across the field. It was Kirby Smith with the last installment of Johnson’s army from Winchester, which had eluded Patterson. The panic which had seized our troops when these fresh fighters hurled themselves at the Union lines, already tottering with exhaustion, was wilder than anything in military history since three Austrian soldiers, coming out of the woods to surrender after the battle of Solferino, put the whole French army to rout for a time. Regiments that had stood up to their work bravely since nine o’clock in the morning, melted away in a few minutes at the sight of the gray charging columns. There was no knowing what the force was behind Smith, and Hunter’s men did not wait to see. They took the road to Centreville, pell-mell, every man for himself. The infantry charged their own batteries, cut the horses loose, jumped on their backs, and went to the rear on a gallop. Russell disappeared on the tide at the top of his speed. Raymond drifted away from me, and I did not let many pass me in the race myself. It was “the further the faster.” and, after covering what seemed to me about five miles, I dropped exhausted beside the road to rest.
“By-and-by Raymond came along. He had found his barouche and he took me in. We whirled along in the crush of ambulances, artillery horses, privates, officers, and camp-followers on foot, ladies and politicians in carriages, and 200 or 300 steers, all making the best of their way to Washington. A drove of cattle had been driven out behind the army to be slaughtered after the battle. They were stampeded with the rest and added to the confusion.
“I got over the Long Bridge at Washington at nine o’clock, just as the countersign was being given out for the night. I rode up to Willard’s Hotel, through streets crowded with people, wild with excitement over the favorable dispatches that had come in from the front. The brass bands were out in force, and somebody was making a rousing ‘On to Richmond’ speech from the balcony of the hotel. I walked into the office, under the sound of his inspiring words, knowing how soon those cheers would be hushed to whispers of affright. Chadwick was keeping the hotel then, and as I pushed up to the desk he stared at me, bare-headed and streaming with dirt and sweat as I was, and , finally recognizing me, asked me where I had been, and what was the matter.
“‘I come from the front. McDowell is licked out of his boots, and the wreck of our army is not far behind.’
“Chadwick dived back into his private office with a cared face, and in a few minutes came back and took me in with him.
“There sat Gen. Mansfield, who was in command of the troops around Washington, with a bottle of champagne before him.
“‘Mr. Chadwick informs me, sire, that you report the army retreating. Are you a military man, sire?’
“‘Then, how do you know, sire, that they are not merely making a change of front or executing some other military manoeuvre, sir?’
“‘Well, General,’ I replied as calmly as I could, while the gray-haired old martinet eyed me sternly, ‘I saw whole regiments throw down their guns and take to the woods. I saw artillerymen cut their horses loose from their guns and caissons and gallop away. I saw officers, men, Congressmen, and Texas steers running neck and neck down the road toward Washington, and steers were the only things that had their tails up. It may have been a change of front, as you say, but—‘
“‘I don’t believe a single word of it,’ broke in the General, who had listened to me with evident impatience.
“‘Good evening,’ I replied, and walked out of the door. The crowd had got the news by this time from Chadwick, and I was almost pulled to pieces. Somebody noticed that I was wearing a gray suit, and shouted: ‘He’s a rebel.’ There were several suggestions that I be lynched for attempting to stimulate a rising of the rebel element in the city. Gen. Mansfield hurried off to the War Department, and pretty soon a sergeant and a squad of soldiers came for me and took me to the Department. President Lincoln and his entire Cabinet were there, with old Gen. Scott, anxiously waiting for news from the front. Simon Cameron had known me as a member of the Legislature and vouched for my loyalty. There was very little said while I told my story briefly.
“The President sat with his head bent down upon his hand, and was evidently very much depressed. Simon Cameron, then Secretary of War, was the coolest head in the Cabinet. He immediately consulted with Scott as to hurrying re-enforcements across the Potomac, and orders were issued to stop all fugitives at Long Bridge. They asked me very few questions, but after I had told my story and was dismissed the newspaper correspondents nearly devoured me. Just as I came out of the War Department I met one of Gen. McDowell’s aids bringing in the report of his commander’s defeat.”
The National Tribune, 9/16/1882
PDF contributed by reader Brett Schulte