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John Barnard graduated from West Point in 1833 at the ripe old age of eighteen. He was simultaneously an engineering instructor and superintendent of the academy in 1855-1856. As McDowell’s chief engineer in the First Bull Run campaign, on July 18th he demurred when “requested” by his chief to accompany him on a reconnaissance of the ground over which the proposed turning movement (the Federal left) was to be conducted. Later, his inspection of the terrain and roads north of the Warrenton Turnpike, the area chosen by McDowell after he decided to act against the enemy’s left, produced less than accurate information. If you ask me, he “screwed the pooch”, as Chuck Yeager might say, and poorly served McDowell. After the battle he wrote a very long letter in response to the reporting of William Howard “Bull Run” Russell, titled The CSA and the Battle of Bull Run. He was also responsible for the design of the defenses of Washington – one look at a map of the forts ringing the city makes it hard not to conclude that Edwin Stanton was either hopelessly paranoid or simply a coward. Auntie Em!!!! (I’m very down on Stanton just now, if you can’t tell).
This article was originally posted on 8/5/2007, as part of the John Gross Barnard biographical sketch.
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Testimony of Gen. John G. Barnard
Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 160-162
WASHINGTON, January 11, 1862.
General JOHN G. BARNARD sworn and examined.
By the chairman:
Question. Were you at the battle of Bull Run?
Answer Yes, sir.
Question. In what capacity?
Answer I was the chief of the engineer corps of General McDowell’s army.
Question. Without going minutely into the matter, will you state concisely to what you attribute the disaster to our army in that battle?
Answer. One of the influential causes was, I think, the loss of time in getting under way the morning of the fight. The fact that the repulse turned into a disastrous defeat I attribute to the fact that our troops were all raw. General McDowell had not even time to see all his troops They were brigaded only for the march, and put under officers whom the troops had not time to know, and who had no time to know the troops; and they had not been under military training long enough to be thoroughly educated as to what they had to do. With every disposition to fight well, they had not acquired the knowledge and experience they should have had, and when they were driven back on the narrow roads, in small bodies, they became so mixed up that it was almost impossible to recognize them.
Question. You attribute the first bad phase of that battle to the fact that our troops did not get on the ground in time?
Answer. Yes, sir. I think an hour’s difference would have gained the battle. We had almost gained it as it was.
Question. What caused that delay?
Answer. There were two cause distinct from each other. One was that in the plan of attack General Tyler’s division was to move first on the Warrenton turnpike to Stone Bridge, while the really attacking column which was to turn the enemy’s left flank, and which consisted of Hunter’s and Heintzelman’s divisions, had to follow Tyler until they reached the road where they were to turn off to make this detour. The road into which they were to turn was not a beaten, travelled road, but a mere country path. And Tyler’s division was not out of the way so that they could get up to that turn-off for an hour and a half later than was expected. So that, instead of getting at that point at four o’clock, the head of Hunter’s column was not able to get there until, say about half-past five. That was the first cause.
Question. What delayed Tyler’s division; did you ever know?
Answer. When General McDowell and his staff rode along after waiting for the columns to get in motion—this was at four or half past four o’clock— we found the columns standing in the road waiting for one of Tyler’s brigades to get out of camp and under motion. Perhaps there was some fault in planning it, in overlooking the fact that Tyler’s division was so large, including three brigades, and the want of experience that we all had in moving large bodies of men. But whether it was General Tyler’s fault in not getting his troops under way in time, I am not competent enough to decide. I think that after we had waited for some time General McDowell had to stop the last brigade of Tyler’s division until Hunter’s division filed past.
I said there were two causes for that delay. The second was the much longer time it took for the column of Hunter’s to get around to Sudley’s Ford than we calculated for. In going over the ground as far as we could the day before, we fell upon the enemy’s patrol, and, not liking to attract their attention that way, we did not explore the ground up to the ford. We found that the ground was perfectly free; that there was nothing to obstruct cavalry or artillery; and the guide took them by a detour, saying that we would be exposed to the enemy’s batteries if we took the shorter road. So that we were three or four hours making that march through the woods. We did not get to the ford until half past nine or ten o’clock, and we ought to have been there at six o’clock. We succeeded in our operations. We deceived the enemy as to the point we were going to attack. We turned his left flank. He actually did not know the point of attack until twelve o’clock, when he commenced accumulating his forces at that point. If we had been earlier, we should have got on the Warrenton turnpike, in the rear of Stone Bridge, before he could have got there We should have concentrated three divisions there.
Question. There was a strong brigade on Centreville Heights after the retreat began?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. What would have been the effect of ordering up that force to support the retreating columns?
Answer. When I saw that there was danger of losing the battle—when I saw the first charge, the first repulse of the Zouave regiment, the first capture of Ricketts’s battery—I began to fear that we would be beaten. I had felt confident of a victory up to that time, but then I began to see the possibility of a repulse. We supposed that the Stone Bridge was unguarded, and if we were beaten, and the enemy should cross there, we would be cut off. I had got separated from General McDowell, and I hunted up the adjutant, who was behind attending to some duty, and requested him to order up the brigade at Centreville to the Stone Bridge, in order to support us there, as we supposed the division of Tyler had entirely got across the bridge. General McDowell left that brigade at Centreville as a reserve at a central point, as he was afraid that while we were operating on the enemy’s left, making this long detour to do so, the enemy would pass Blackburn’s Ford and manoeuvre up by Centreville on our left flank. I had rather overlooked that until I saw it in General McDowell’s report. And General Beauregard says that if we had not anticipated him, he would have attacked us. He actually did send an order to General Ewell to move up and attack our communication that way; and the reason it was not done was because the order miscarried in some way, so that that part of his plan failed. If they had attacked and carried that position at the same time that we were repulsed on our left, we would have been worse off than we were.
Question. But would not have been defeated, would you, if that strong division at Centreville had been at the fight? They would have gone right through them, would they not?
Answer. If our line had held out for a half an hour longer, we would have beaten the enemy as it was, because Schenck’s brigade at the Stone Bridge was at that moment just ready to act. The enemy had made an abattis on the other side; cut down the woods for some two hundred yards back from the bridge. Two of Tyler’s brigades had crossed over to join our left. Schenck’s brigade had remained at the bridge, and Captain Alexander had cut through the abattis and was ready to move on the enemy’s right just at the moment that they received news that our men were retreating. I believe if we had held out a half an hour, or even but a quarter of an hour, longer, we should have beaten them.
Question. If Patterson had held Johnston back, what would have been the effect?
Answer. We should have beaten them. That was the only thing that saved them.
Question. At what time before the battle commenced was it understood that Patterson was not holding Johnston back?
Answer. All that I knew about it, and all, I believe, that was distinctly known in the army about it, was that we heard the railroad cars running all night long. We were near enough at Centreville to hear the locomotives at Manassas.
Question. Suppose that when Patterson turned off from Bunker Hill to Charlestown, the moment that he knew he was no longer able to hold Johnston back, he had given notice to General Scott, and that notice had come to you, what would have been the effect of it upon your councils, had you heard it the day before the battle?
Answer. I think we should have fought any way. We could not have delayed any longer; that would have done us no good. The time of the three months’ volunteers was expiring. We had made that march to fight, and I think we would have fought.
Question. Suppose you had held your own there until Patterson had followed Johnston down?
Answer. If we had received something definite—a communication of that kind—I think it is likely the determination would have been altered.
Question. I mean if that communication had been given directly from Patterson to General Scott, and from General Scott had been sent immediately to you, I suppose the effect upon your council would have been at least to wait until Patterson had followed Johnston down?
Answer. If we had received the information in a distinct form, we might have acted differently. I know that, with what information we had, it was uncertain. The question was discussed, “Shall we defer the attack?” and it was concluded that we better fight as soon as we could. We heard the railroad cars running all night, and presumed that Johnston’s forces were coming in. But the moral effect of a delay would have been bad, and that action at Blackburn’s Ford had a bad effect on the army.
Answer. Could you not have brought up 10,000 or 15,000 more troops from Washington by a little delay?
Answer. By stripping Washington entirely of all its troops we might have done so, I suppose. I do not recollect what the whole force was here then.
Question. General Tyler was sent around to make a reconnoissance merely, as we have been told, not to make an attack, on the 18th?
Answer. He was not expected to go further than Centreville, I think. I think he was not expected to make any attack at all.
Question. Seeing that he did make an attack, he should have carried those batteries, should he not, if he could have done so? And if he had, would it not have cleared the way for the next battle, so that you could have turned their left?
Answer. He ought not to have made the attack at all without knowing that he could do something. He ought to have made the attack with the intention of carrying the position, or not have made it at all. I was on the spot, and warned him twice that it was not intended to fight a battle there; that it was on the straight road to Manassas, at one of the strongest crossings on Bull Run, and that it was evident the enemy was moving up his force to meet us there. And as he had no orders to fight, and as there was no plan to fight there, I did all I could to get him to desist. I had no objection to his opening his artillery fire, for that was a sort of reconnoissance, to make them show just what they were. But I had no idea that they were going to march down to the Run and fight as they did.
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Categories : Joint Committee Testimony, Resources, The Battle
Report of Maj. John G. Barnard, U.S. Corps of Engineers
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp.328-333
WASHINGTON, July 29, 1861
SIR: On the 18th of July, at about 9 a.m., I joined the commanding general about two miles beyond Fairfax Court-House, on the road to Centreville. He was then about going to Sangster’s, and invited me to attend him. Not understanding his journey to have the character of a reconnaissance, but as simply to communicate with the division of Colonel Heintzelman, I preferred accompanying the division of General Tyler to Centreville.
Proceeding to Centreville, I joined Captain Alexander, Engineers, a short distance out on the road leading to Blackburn’s Ford. He was at this time preparing to encamp his pioneer party, and it was my intention, as soon as the troops should be fixed in their positions, to propose to General Tyler to make a reconnaissance of the enemy’s position at Blackburn’s Ford.
It should be borne in mind that the plan of the campaign had been to turn the position of Manassas by the left; that is to say, that from Fairfax Courts-House and Centreville we were to make a flank movement towards Sangster’s and Fairfax Station, and thence to Wolf Run Shoals, or in that direction. In my interview with the commanding general, just referred to, 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 reconnoiter the enemy’s position at Blackburn’s Ford, it was not with the slightest idea that this point would be attacked. But a reconnaissance would be but the carrying out of a demonstration.
While I was awaiting Captain Alexander, I encountered Mathias C. Mitchell, who was afterwards 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 farther, we emerged from the woods, and found ourselves at the 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 cleared spot could be seen here and there, and still higher–higher than our own point of view, and only visible from its sloping gently towards us–the 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 it. 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 Parrotts 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. We had fired perhaps a half dozen rounds, when we 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 firing, directing at this battery, and Ayres battery was brought up and stationed on the left. The enemy’s batteries soon ceased answering. After ours had continued playing for about half an hour I thought it a useless expenditure of ammunition, and so stated to you (who arrived on the spot shortly before this), and presume that General Tyler concurred in this opinion, as the firing soon ceased. I supposed that this would be the end of the affair; but, perceiving the troops filing down towards the run, I thought it necessary to impress General Tyler with the fact that it was no part of the commanding general’s plan 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). At the same time I directed Lieutenant Houston to accompany the troops, and make such observations of the enemy’s position as he could. I remained on the heights, observing as well as I could the movements of the enemy’s forces. The affair becoming more serious than I expected, I was about to go down to the front when our troops retired, and I returned to Centreville with yourself to report to General McDowell.
It is proper to observe that before our artillery practice commenced movements of troops were observed on the road leading from Manassas to Blackburn’s Ford. As the road presented itself to the eye, those not very familiar with the locality might well feel some doubt, judging merely by the eve, whether these troops were advancing to or retiring from the position at Blackburn’s Ford. The impression seemed to be quite common among us that they were retiring. I was perfectly sure that they were columns moving up to meet us from Manassas.
At my interview with the commanding general that evening, he informed me that he had convinced himself that the nature of the country to the left or southward of Manassas was unfit for the operations of a large army; that he had determined to move by the right, turning the enemy’s left; that the provision trains were just coming in, and that the troops would require the next day to cook their provisions for another march. I told him I would endeavor the next day to obtain such information as would enable him to decide on his future movement.
The next most prominent crossing of Bull Run above Blackburn’s Ford is the stone bridge of the Warrenton turnpike. Such a point could scarcely be neglected by the enemy. Information from various quarters gave good cause for believing that it was guarded by several thousand men; that at least four cannon were stationed to lay upon it and the ford not far below, and, moreover, that the bridge was mined, and that extensive abatis obstructed the road on the opposite shore.
Two or three miles above the Warrenton Bridge is a ford, laid down on our maps as “Sudley Spring.” Reliable information justified the belief that the ford was good; that it was unfortified; that it was watched by only one or two companies, and, moreover, that the run above it was almost everywhere passable for wheeled vehicles. Midway between the stone bridge and Sudley Spring our maps indicated another ford, which was said to be good.
Notwithstanding our conviction of the practicability of these fords no known road communicated with them from any of the main roads on our side of Bull Run. We had information that a road branched from the Warrenton turnpike a short distance beyond Cub Run, by which, opening gates and passing through private grounds, we might reach the fords. It was desirable to assure ourselves that this route was entirely practicable. In company with Captain Woodbury, Engineers, and Governor Sprague, and escorted by a company of cavalry, I on the 19th followed up the valley of Cub Run until we reached a point west 10o north, and about four miles in an air-line from Centreville, near which we struck a road which we believed to lead to the fords. Following it for a short distance, we encountered the enemy patrols. As we were most anxious to avoid attracting the enemy’s attention to our designs in this quarter, we did not care to pursue the reconnaissance farther. We had seen enough to be convinced of the perfect practicability of the route. To make more certain of the fords, however, Captain Woodbury proposed to return at night, and, with a few Michigan woodsmen from Colonel Sherman’s brigade, to endeavor to find them.
On returning to camp it was determined to send Captain Wright and Lieutenant Snyder, Engineers, with Captain Woodbury. At the same time the commanding general directed Captain Whipple, Topographical Engineers, and Lieutenant Prime, Engineers, to make a night reconnaissance of the run between Warrenton Bridge and Blackburn’s Ford. Both these night expeditions failed. It was found the enemy occupied the woods too strongly on our side of the run to permit the reconnaissances to be accomplished. It was not our policy to drive in his pickets until we were in motion to attack. On laying before you the information obtained, the commanding general believed himself justified in adopting the following plan of attack, which was decided upon on the 20th:
1. A false attack to be made by Richardson’s brigade (temporarily attached to Miles’ division) on Blackburn’s Ford; the rest of that division remaining in reserve at Centreville.
2. Tyler’s division to move from its camp at 3 a.m. (the 21st) towards the stone bridge of the Warrenton turnpike, to feign the main attack upon this point.
3. The divisions of Hunter and Heintzelman (in the order named) to leave their camps at 2.30 a.m. (they were encamped about two or three miles behind Tyler), and, following his movement, to diverge from the Warrenton turnpike at the by-road beyond Cub Run, and take the road for Sudley Springs; or, rather, it was provided (if I mistake not) that Hunter’s division should proceed to Sudley Springs, and Heintzelman to take the lower ford; these matters, however, to be regulated by circumstances.
It was intended that the head of Hunter’s division should be at the turn-off at early daylight or about 4 a.m., and that it should reach Sudley by 6 or 7.
You are aware of the unexpected delay. The two leading brigades of Tyler had not cleared the road for Hunter to this point until 5.30, and our guide, alleging that a nearer route to the ford would bring our columns in sight of the enemy’s batteries, led them by so circuitous a way that Hunter did not reach Sudley until 9.30, or thereabouts. Accompanying the commanding general; we, as you are aware, after waiting two or three hours at the turn-off, rode on to overtake the front of Hunter’s division. When we emerged from the woods (nearly northeast of Sudley) into the open country, from whence the course of the run and the slopes of the opposite shore could be seen, we could perceive the enemy’s columns in motion to meet us. The loss of time here in great measure thwarted our plan. We had hoped to pass the ford and reach the rear of the enemy’s defenses at Warrenton stone bridge before he could assemble a sufficient force to cope with us.
It now became necessary to have Tyler’s division force the passage of the bridge. It had always been intended that this division should pass at or near the bridge; but it was hoped, by taking its defenses in rear, it could be passed without force. The commanding general promptly sent orders to Tyler to press his attack with all vigor. I had yet much confidence that, though we had been anticipated (owing to the delays mentioned), the enemy was not yet assembled to oppose us in great force (a confidence which I think the facts justified); that We might successfully attack him in front, while the division of Tyler should fall upon his flank and rear.
When we reached the front of Hunter’s column, the battle was just commencing. The events of the battle-field will be described in the reports you will receive from other quarters. I was near the commanding general until some time after the arrival of Sherman’s brigade on our left. Being accidentally separated, I saw yourself on the right, and, joining you, we observed for some time the action on the heights, where the enemy made his final and successful stand. As we were observing, the zouave regiment of Heintzelman was driven back, leaving Ricketts’ battery, upon which we observed the enemy charge.
You left me here, and I remained a few minutes longer, an anxious spectator, and for the first time beginning to anticipate a possible defeat. Two brigades of Tyler’s division had passed over the run, and I supposed (and believe the commanding general supposed) that the entire division was over. If so, the stone bridge was unguarded, and if we were defeated, our retreating columns might be cut off from Centreville by the detachments of the enemy crossing this bridge. I became so anxious on this point, that I sought you again and found you at some distance in the rear. After some consultation, you, on my assuming the responsibility, sent an order to Colonel Miles to move up two of his brigades to the stone bridge, and to telegraph the Secretary of War to send up all the troops that could be spared from Washington. While I was returning towards the front, intending to rejoin the commanding general, I saw our front give way, and it soon became evident that we were defeated.
I have stated that it was a part of the plan of the battle that Tyler’s division should pass at or near the stone bridge. Two of his brigades actually did pass, but not at the bridge (they finding fords a half mile higher up), and connected themselves with our left. In anticipation that the stone bridge would be blown up, Captain Alexander had been instructed to prepare a trestle bridge to replace it. This he had on the spot, but there appear to have been no mines prepared under the bridge. Captain Alexander passed over his pioneers one by one, and set them to cutting away the abatis, 200 yards in extent, obstructing the road. This task was accomplished, and the way was opened for Schenck’s brigade to fall on the enemy’s right at the moment when our lines finally gave way in front.
It will be seen from the above that the combination: though thwarted by adverse circumstances, was actually successful in uniting three entire divisions, 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 at Blackburn’s Ford probably neutralized at least an equal number of the enemy.
On retiring to Centreville, my opinion was asked as to maintaining our position, and I gave it in favor of a prompt retreat, for I believed the enemy was far superior in numbers, and that, elated by his victory, he would pursue, and I believed that a defeated army actually driven back on Washington before a pursuing enemy would endanger the safety of the capital.
The Engineer officers under my Command and attached to the different divisions were as follows:
Capt. D. P. Woodbury and Second Lieut. Chas. E. Cross, to the Second Division, under Colonel Hunter.
Capt. H. G. Wright and First Lieut. G. W. Snyder, to the Third Division, under Colonel Heintzelman.
Capt. B. S. Alexander and First Lieut. L. C. Houston, to the First Division, under General Tyler.
First Lieut. F. E. Prime, to the Fifth Division, under Colonel Miles.
They have all been most active and zealous in the discharge of the duties devolving Upon them.
A report from Capt. D. P. Woodbury is herewith. Reports from Captains Wright and Alexander and Lieutenant Prime will be furnished when received.
I am, very respectfully, your most obedient,
J. G. BARNARD,
Major of Engineers
Capt. J. B. Fry,
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John Gross Barnard; born Sheffield, MA, 5/19/15; suffered inherited deafness; appointment to USMA secured by relative Peter Buel Porter, John Quincy Adams’s Secretary of War; West Point Class of 1833 (2 of 43); Bvt 2nd Lt engineers 7/1/33; 2nd Lt 5/15/35; Capt 7/7/38; Bvt Maj for meritorious conduct while serving in the enemy’s country 5/30/48; Maj 12/13/58; his assignments prior to the outbreak of the rebellion included assisting in the construction of coastal defenses, the improvement of New York Harbor, and surveying the battlefields of the Mexican War; Engineer Dept. of Washington, 4/28/61 to 7/2/61 – charged with construction of the defenses of Washington; USN Blockade Strategy Board, 6/61 to 9/61; Engineer Dept. of the Northeast, 7/2/61 to 8/20/61; Engineer Army of the Potomac (AotP), 8/20/61 to 8/16/62; BGUSV 9/23/61 (n 12/21/61 c 3/24/62); Bvt Col for gallant and meritorious service in the Peninsula Campaign, 6/30/62; Engineer Defenses of Washington, AotP, 8/20/62 to 9/3/62; Defenses of Washington, 9/3/62 to 2/2/63; Engineer 22nd Corps Dept. of Washington 2/2/63 to 5/35/64; Lt Col engineers 3/3/63; BGUSA 3/22/64 (nomination withdrawn at his own request 6/11/64); Engineer AotP 5/25/64 to 6/5/64; Engineer General Headquarters 6/5/64 to 7/4/64; Bvt MGUSV for meritorious and distinguished service during the war 7/4/64 (n 7/4/64 c 7/4/64); Bvt BGUSA for gallant and meritorious service in the campaign which resulted in the surrender of the Army of Northern VA 3/13/65 (n 4/10/66 c 5/4/66); Bvt MGUSA for gallant and meritorious service in the field during the war 3/13/65 (n 3/8/66 c 5/4/66); Honor Guard for Lincoln Funeral 4/65; Col 12/28/65; mustered out of volunteers 1/15/66; post-war assignments including the reevaluation of coastal defenses in the age of the ironclad and improving the mouth of the Mississippi River; retired 1/2/81; authored Notes on Sea-Coast Defense (1861), The C.S.A. and the Battle of Bull Run (1862), Report of the Engineer and Artillery Operations of the Army of the Potomac (1863), The Peninsular Campaign and its Antecedents (1864), and Eulogy on the Late Brevet Major-General Joseph G. Totten (1866); co-founder of the National Academy of Sciences; died Detroit, MI, 5/14/82; buried Barnard Cemetery, Sheffield, MA.
Sources: Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U. S. Military Academy, Vol. I, pp 530-535; Eicher & Eicher, Civil War High Commands, pp 116, 706, 710, 718; 732; Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the U. S. Army, Vol. I p 191; Sifakis, Who was Who in the American Civil War, p 33; Warner, Generals in Blue, pp 19-20.
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Categories : Resources, Soldiers
I love to take pictures. A visit to any battlefield typically yields dozens of images. In photography I subscribe to a theory similar to that which I follow in boating: if you can’t tie good knots, tie lots of knots. So, every once in awhile I take a nice picture, but it is purely by accident.
My plan is to post one or two of my photos here every Friday. I will try to use photos with some Bull Run connection, but will only promise that they will all be associated with the American Civil War.
First up is the monument to Brigadier General Barnard Bee at First Bull Run, erected in 1939. I took this in April 2005. The monument sits on Henry Hill at the site where Bee uttered to the 4th Alabama the immortal words: “There stands Jackson like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here and we will conquer.” Or perhaps it was “Come with me and go yonder where Jackson stands like a stone wall.” There are several versions. Shortly thereafter, between 2:00 and 3:00 PM, Bee was wounded in the abdomen and exclaimed “I am a dead man; I am shot.” He died the next day at Manassas Junction, and is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC St. Paul’s Episcopal Churchyard in Pendleton, SC.
Coverage of the “stone wall” incident in an article that first appeared in the Charleston Mercury on July 25 would be reprinted and adapted throughout the Confederacy. The article was intended to elevate the martyred Bee to “a place in the highest niche of fame”, but in spite of that, and regardless of what Bee meant by them (whether or not they were laudatory, and whether or not Bee said them, is debated to this day), his words as reported would elevate Thomas Jackson and his brigade to legendary status.
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Tags: Articles, Barnard Bee, NPS, Stonewall Jackson
Categories : Articles, The Battlefield
By now you’ve read enough here to know that John J. Hennessy’s anticipated reworking of his 1989 H. E. Howard Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders Series book, The First Battle of Manassas: “An End to Innocence,” July 18-21, 1861, is available from Stackpole Books. Mr. Hennessy has graciously answered a few questions to provide a little more information about the book and himself. Please feel free to make observations or ask questions in the comment section. Also pay close attention to Mr. H’s closing paragraph. UPDATE: If you’d like a signed copy of the book for your collection (and who wouldn’t?) drop John a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
BR: I’m pretty sure most Bull Runnings readers are familiar with your work, and many to some extent with you, but for those who aren’t, what’s the thumbnail sketch of John Hennessy up to this point?
JH: My career might constitute the most successful and enduring adolescent delaying tactic in history. When I got out of college (I studied both history and management), I wanted to get a job I liked for a summer before I entered the slog of the real world (thinking I would ultimately pursue finance or some such lucrative-but-un-thrilling path). So, I got a job at Manassas Battlefield, hired by Mike Andrus and Dave Ruth (now the superintendent at Richmond NB). That whirlwind summer changed my life. One summer turned into most of a year, then another….and finally a career. I haven’t entered the real world yet.
Since those happy Manassas days, I have worked for the New York State Historic Preservation Office, the NPS Interpretive Design Center at Harpers Ferry (doing interpretive and exhibit planning for parks throughout the NPS), and finally at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP. I arrived there in 1995 as Assistant Superintendent and in 2001 transitioned to the Chief Historian’s position. There I still reside, challenged every day and the beneficiary of a truly outstanding staff of history professionals.
Along the way I have written a few books, most notably Return to Bull Run, which came out in 1993. Most years my professional duties with the NPS have been so consuming that I have had little time for writing of my own. I still punch out a few articles and essays each year, but not nearly as much as I would like.
BR: So, why history, and why the Manassas?
JH: Rainy days inspired my interest in history as a kid. Rainy days gave me the chance to read, and I found I loved biographies and history. I am not alone in pointing to two books as inspiration for an interest in the Civil War: McKinlay Kantor’s Gettysburg and the American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. I still remember vividly the trill of reading Kantor’s book on a dark, drippy afternoon with my bedside light on. And I do believe I came to know every one of those tiny men in the great landscape portrayals in American Heritage. Every one.
Transforming an interest in history to a career in history honestly never occurred to me until I arrived at Manassas. My determination that first summer was to leave behind at the park some piece of research that mattered—something that told us things we didn’t already know. As I dug deeper, I realized that a great deal remained to be understood about the battles and field–especially Second Manassas. At that time, for me, one thing drove me more than any other: the desire to accord significance to the ground—to be able to give visitors the experience of understanding what happened RIGHT HERE at a given moment more than a century ago.
That rather narrow quest spun up into efforts to better understand the battles in a larger sense. In 1983, I floated the idea to the park of using the research I was then doing as the basis for a set of troop movement maps for Second Manassas. I can see now that that was my great career break. That work got the attention and support of Ed Bearss, who was then the Chief Historian of the NPS, and it gave me a chance to do a level of research that quite honestly has been the foundation for everything I have done since. For me, those were exciting days that few historians will ever have a chance to match.
I left the NPS for a time in 1986, and only then did I decide to write books about Manassas. For most of five years I worked on both An End to Innocence and what would become Return to Bull Run.
A funny thing about An End to Innocence: when I worked at the park, I wasn’t much intrigued by First Manassas. Only after I left the NPS did I start to think seriously about the battle, its significance, and the conventional wisdom that governs it. I wrote the book over about a six-month period in 1988-89. Its scope is fairly narrow–closely focused on the battle itself. There is a reason for that: at the time, the best book on First Manassas was William C. Davis’s Battle at Bull Run. Davis is a beautiful writer and a thoughtful historian. He did a tremendous job on the campaign at large and the battle’s context. But at the park, we always felt like he didn’t quite get right the battle itself. And so I wrote my book to fill that gap, and to avoid treading on subject matter he had already handled so well.
BR: Are there any writers/historians who influence your writing?
JH: When I get stuck in my writing, I pull out Freeman or Furgurson to get my literary mind working again. As for inspiration, there’s no question that Sears’s Landscape Turned Red helped shape my vision of what a battle or campaign study should be. Beautifully written and organized.
BR: An End to Innocence has been out, what? over 25 years now, and it’s recognized as a standard (to me, THE standard) tactical study of the First Battle of Bull Run. What prompted you to do a new edit?
JH: Stackpole Books inquired about reprinting the book at about the same time I had started thinking that I should do something new with it. At that point I envisioned only small edits and additions—nothing major.
But then I started reading it again. I doubt most authors spend much time reading their own books, and I honestly hadn’t read anything but pieces of the book in years (mostly to prepare for tours). I had always liked it fairly well, but now…. Didn’t like the opening. Rewrote that. Found a good deal of passive voice and some awkward constructions. Slayed those. And as I went, I increasingly felt the narrative lacked richness, power. In some places a vagueness betrayed my uncertainty; in other places I knew I had, since 1989, gathered more powerful source material that could be woven in.
Pretty quickly a two-week edit turned into a three-month rewrite. I didn’t rewrite the whole book, but probably 80% of it.
BR: So, what IS new in this edition? Was there anything that really surprised you along the way? And how much was that affected by the availability of material, or by a maturation in your own thought processes?
JH: I shudder when I think how little I really knew about the Civil War and American history when I wrote this book in the late ‘80s. Then, my (and many others’) focus was on the accumulation of knowledge—adding detail, incorporating new sources. Today, I think we prize understanding to a far greater degree, and we demand that knowledge and understanding be interwoven.
I think I understand the First Battle of Manassas far better today than I did then—its fabric, its nature, and why it mattered.
Back then, I saw the battlefield landscape as mere tableau—a playing field for armies. Today, and in this edition, I pay a good deal more attention to the people who lived there, recognizing that this was a living space whose residents were deeply affected by what happened there. This is a general trend in Civil War historiography, and it’s a good one.
Since 1989, we have accumulated probably 150-200 new sources on the battle, many of which are now posted on Bull Runnings (more on that later). We are at a point in the historiography of the Civil War that most of the new sources that emerge simply reinforce things we already know. But sometimes they prompt some re-thinking, and a re-examination of sources one might not have given a thought to in years. An example: we have always presumed that the 11th New York and 1st Minnesota were the only two Union regiments atop Henry Hill at the first exchange of infantry fire. But we now know that the 38th NY was there too—farther off to the left, but without question engaged with Jackson’s line at the same time the Fire Zouaves were suffering their fall from fame and grace. Similarly, we have always presumed, as Burnside asserted, that Sykes’s Regulars played a major role in averting Union disaster at the height of the fighting on Matthews Hill. A closer look makes clear that’s all wrong, and there is little question about it. The Hampton Legion, the Mississippians with Bee, Barnard’s reconnaissance on July 19-20—all emerge with a slightly different hue thanks to new sources and a forced reconsideration.
By far the biggest challenge in the rewrite revolved around Irvin McDowell. In the original, I treated McDowell as something of a caricature –embracing conventional wisdom and the relentless cascade of simplicities that seem to revolve around him. This time around I took more time and, I think, a more thoughtful approach.
You had something to do with that. Your writings on the blog about McDowell, elusive though they may yet be, helped push me to take a close, second look at this much maligned man (I was really hard on him in my Second Manassas book) and, especially, his plan for battle. I wait anxiously to learn if you agree with my conclusions about McDowell (all of us of course want to stay on Harry’s good side), but in any event, my treatment of McDowell, the circumstances he faced, and his response as the battle progressed amount to probably the most important substantive revision of the book—less simplistic, more nuanced, more intent on understanding rather than simply narrating.
Some other new things: I include a good deal about the civilian spectators, both Union and (yes) Confederate. If Americans know one thing about Manassas, it’s that civilians came out to watch. I look closely at their experience, their role in affecting the Union retreat, and the important legacy produced by their bearing witness to Union disaster.
I also take a much closer look at the aftermath of battle. The combat itself shocked the soldiers. The aftermath shocked the nation. On this field were the first major field hospitals of the Civil War. Here were buried the first great numbers of dead. To this place came hundreds of curious onlookers and souvenir seekers. All these things tell us a great deal about how this battle reverberated across the nation, North and South.
And finally, really, how did the battle affect the people of the North and the Confederacy? Is the conventional wisdom that it shocked the nation to action true? Did Southerners really believe victory meant independence? I touched on these things only slightly in the original. These questions get more rigorous treatment in the new edition.
BR: What types of sources did you rely on most, and how did that change between the first edition and this one?
JH: For the new edition, I did only a bit of targeted research (most of that when I was preparing for the 150th in 2011). Instead, over the years I accumulated First Manassas things as I found them, throwing them into my files or, more recently, turning them into digital files (about half my research is now in digital form, and I hope eventually to phase out my 15 or so boxes of 5 x 8 cards entirely). I regularly check sites online for new material, and I have always been a bit of a maniac about wartime newspapers. The number of wartime papers online increases all the time, and many of them include primary sources worth looking at. (In fact, since I sent off the manuscript just four months ago, another dozen or so new sources have tumbled onto my desk).
Of course by far the best website for new material on First Manassas is Bull Runnings. In fact, it’s the best compilation of online material related to a specific Civil War engagement ANYWHERE (you can quote me on that).
One thing I surely noticed: Back in the 1980s, it was simply impossible to lay hands on some published sources. Today, many of those elusive sources are available digitally. As an example, my treatment of Extra Billy Smith and the 49th VA benefitted greatly from access to his writings, which I could not get in 1988. The digital age is a boon.
As I worked through the rewrite, I went back and re-examined literally every source I used or quoted in the original. Often I found I had overlooked a good passage or an important point my first time through. This process of reassessing sources prompted a good deal of the rewriting I did.
BR: Can you describe your writing process?
JH: I just write. I suppose I have in my brain an outline of what I am going to do, but I am not usually conscious of it, and I never put it on paper in outline form. My life is pretty busy, so I often got only small snatches of time for writing each day—often only 30 or 40 minutes. Once was, that would have been a disaster. But my writing “voice” has developed enough that I can fairly easily jump in and out of writing as circumstances command.
When I did get blocks of time to write, on a typical night I might get in 800 words. If I had a day, maybe 2,000. Writing is like building a brick wall. If you imagine the whole thing, it’s daunting. All you can do is the little bit in front of you—put the thoughts and sentences and passages together one-by-one.
BR: What’s next for you?
JH: My writing career has always been an inverse indicator of the fulsomeness of my career: when I have been challenged greatly at work, I hardly have the energy to write at home. But when those periods come along when 9-5 work is less stimulating (remember, I work for the government, so it happens), I look to get my intellectual jollies by writing. For the moment, my NPS work is pretty demanding. I will do occasional articles or essays, but likely not much more in the near term.
But, I am only a few years from retirement, and writing is what I plan to do when it comes. My great interest is the Army of the Potomac, and especially its relationship with the government and people it served. I am also much interested in its subordinate command. I expect I will write about both those topics. I also have an emerging itch to write a book about the artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia. I’ll also someday write about the town of Fredericksburg during the war, slavery and freedom hereabouts, and perhaps a few things well outside the well-trod intellectual and literary terrain of the Civil War period.
One last thing: sometime, perhaps in the spring, we ought to convene a Bull Runnings outing at Manassas for you, your readers, or anyone else who wants to come along–walk the ground, and hash through some of the mysteries and conundrums that remain. It’d be fun. I’m game if you and your people are.
BR: What do you think, Bull Runners? Does that sound like fun? Something you’d be interested in? Maybe the first ever Bull Runnings muster! We’ll see how it plays out, but your feedback is key.
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Tags: ACW Books, An End to Innocence, Articles, Interviews, John Hennessy, NPS
Categories : Articles, Books, Interviews
This past Saturday I paid a visit to Manassas National Battlefield Park. One of the spots we hit was the north end of the park, the area of the Thornberry House and Sudley Church. The Thornberry children were used by photographers Barnard and Gibson in many of their March 1862 photos of the battlefield, and the house was used as a hospital in both battles of Manassas. It was near this house that Sullivan Ballou’s body was buried and subsequently dug up, mutilated, and burned (see here, here, and here.) Laura Thornberry later recorded her recollections of the battle. And here are some images of the house and surroundings I recorded earlier. Below are the images from Saturday, November 15, 2014. Click for much larger images.
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Tags: Articles, Atrocities, Laura Thornberry, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Sudley Road, Sullivan Ballou, Thornberry House, Thornberry Kids
Categories : Articles, Civilians, Field Trips, The Battlefield
From my battlefield visit this past Saturday, here’s a photo of Sudley Springs Ford on Catharpin Run, over which the divisions of Hunter and Heintzelman crossed on the morning of July 21, 1861. Compare it to the Barnard and Gibson photo from March 1862. Notice anything? See the pile of rubble on the other side of the run, left of center (click on the image if you can’t make it out)? They are all that remains of the Sudley Spring house. It appears nice and square in the 1862 photo to the left of the Union cavalrymen, who are facing off against the Thornberry kids on the near side. Look at the trees that frame the left of both photos. Clearly not the same trees, but notice how they are both leaning similarly. What does it mean? OK, nothing. But it’s cool, nonetheless.
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Tags: Articles, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Photos, Sudley Springs Ford, Thornberry Kids
Categories : Articles, Field Trips, The Battlefield
This past Saturday I visited Manassas National Battlefield Park for a quick tour with my nephew. I snapped this photo of the typically wet area just east of the Visitor’s Center parking lot, the one you usually have to walk around on your trek to Stonewall on Steroids. Why take a picture of a puddle, especially a dry one? Well, in 1862, some theorize – I tend to concur – this feature was photographed at least three times, twice by the team of Whitney & Woodbury, and once by Barnard and Gibson. At the time, the marshy area was surrounded by shallow and supposedly Confederate graves. Think about that next time you’re busy keeping your feet dry.
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Tags: Articles, Graves, Henry Hill, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Photography
Categories : Articles, Field Trips, The Battlefield