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Colonel Nathan “Shanks” Evans commanded the Seventh Brigade in Beauregard’s Army of the Potomac at Bull Run. His command is often referred to as a demi-brigade due to its size: it consisted of one full regiment, the 4th SC, Wheat’s 1st Special Louisiana Battalion, Alexander’s and Terry’s troops of the 30th VA Cavalry, and one section of Latham’s battery. All told, he had about 1,100 infantrymen with him on the far left of the Confederate line on the morning of July 21, 1861. But what he managed to do with those men made him, for a time, a hero.
Using the advantages of terrain, Evans managed to hold back Burnside’s men until reinforced by Bee and Bartow, which in turn gave Johnston and Beauregard time to send much of their widespread and late arriving manpower to Henry Hill. He would follow up this success later in the year with a victory as the commander of the Confederate forces engaged at Ball’s Bluff, also known as the Battle of Leesburg. That action would earn him the thanks of the Confederate Congress.
But today Evans is probably best known not for his military achievments early in the war, but rather for his “barellita”, a one gallon jug of whiskey carried by an aide that accompanied him in camp and field. His reputation as a hard drinker dogged him throughout his Confederate career, and perhaps played a role in his slow promotion and a series of transfers that earned his men the sobriquet of “The Tramp Brigade”. He would end the war without a command and in relative obscurity.
Evans’s penchant for drink was a widely held impression from early on. In a letter to his mother written 10/18/1861, Longstreet staffer T. J. Goree wrote:
[Evans] is very much censured for not attacking [an isolated Federal force a few days after Ball’s Bluff], but the truth of the matter is he was so elated by his victory at Leesburg that he got a little drunker than usual, and was consequently not in a condition to do anything. Some of the officers under him speak of preferring charges against him. Genl Evans is one of the bravest men I ever saw, and is no doubt a good officer when sober, but he is unfortunately almost always under the influence of liquor. Cutrer, ed., Longstreet’s Aide: The Civil War Letters of Major Thomas Goree, p 51
As for the photo below, I have no idea what’s going on there, but the two men are holding hands. As I said here, things were different back then. I think. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
This article was originally published on 9/13/2007, as part of the Nathan George Evans biographical sketch.
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Report of Brig. Gen. Nathan G. Evans, Commanding Seventh Brigade, First Corps
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp 558-560
HEADQUARTERS STONE BRIDGE, BULL RUN, VA.,
July 24, 1861
COLONEL: I have the honor herewith to submit the reports of Col. J. L. E. Sloan, commanding Fourth Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers; Captain Harris, commanding the First Special Battalion Louisiana Volunteers(*); Captain Terry, commanding the squadron of cavalry, and First Lieutenant Davidson, commanding a section of Latham’s battery of artillery, the whole constituting the force under my command on the 21st instant.
The enemy made his appearance in line of battle on the east side of the stone bridge, about fifteen hundred yards in front of my position, and opened their fire with rifled cannon at 5.15 a.m., which was continued at intervals for about an hour. Having my entire force covered by the crest of the hills on the west side of the bridge, I did not return the fire. Observing the enemy had deployed a considerable force as skirmishers in front of his line, and that they were advancing on my position, I directed the two flank companies of the Fourth Regiment South Carolina Volunteers and one company of Major Wheat’s Special Battalion Louisiana Volunteers to advance as skirmishers, covering my entire front.
The skirmishers were soon engaged, and kept up a brisk fire for about an hour, when I perceived that it was not the intention of the enemy to attack me in my present position, but had commenced his movement to turn my left flank. I at once decided to quit position and to meet him in his flank movement, leaving the skirmishers of the Fourth Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, supported by the reserve of two companies, to keep him engaged. I sent word to Col. Philip St. George Cocke that I had abandoned my position at the bridge, and was advancing to attack the enemy at the crossing of the Warrenton turnpike and the Manassas roads.
Observing carefully the movements of the enemy, I was able to form my line of attack directly in his front, covered by a grove of woods, at about 9 o’clock a.m. Placing the Fourth Regiment on the left, supported by one piece of artillery, Major Wheat on the right, supported by a company of cavalry, I directed my command to open fire as soon as the enemy approached within range of muskets. At 9.15 o’clock my command opened a vigorous fire from their position, which caused the enemy to halt in confused order. The fire was warmly kept up until the enemy seemed to fall back. Major Wheat then made a charge with his whole battalion.
At this juncture General Bee arrived with his brigade to my timely assistance, and formed immediately in my rear, and advanced, covering and relieving my command, and was immediately hotly engaged with the enemy. Col. F. S. Bartow, with his regiment (Eighth Georgia), came up soon after to the support of General Bee, but the enemy by this time were in such large force that our position was no longer tenable, and I ordered my command, now greatly scattered, to fall back under cover towards the Lewis house. The commands of General Bee and myself were now completely scattered, when we were timely covered by Hampton’s Legion and other re-enforcements.
For the further services of my command I beg to refer you to the inclosed reports. While my whole command gallantly charged and repulsed the enemy, I would call the attention of the general commanding to the heroic conduct of Maj. Robert Wheat, of the Louisiana Volunteers, who fell, gallantly leading his men in a charge, shot through both lungs. I am also much indebted to him for his great experience and excellent advice. Colonel Sloan was observed by me several times during the day rallying his men and bravely leading them to action.
For acts of particular gallantry I beg again to refer to the reports of the immediate commanders. Lieutenant Davidson, though with one of his pieces crippled, did gallant service during the entire day, and kept up a brisk fire upon the enemy as they advanced to within two hundred yards of his piece. To my personal staff I am greatly indebted for the promptness with which they bore my orders under heavy fire, and to Capts. George McCausland, Alexander Rogers, aides-de-camp, and A. L. Evans, acting assistant adjutant-general, I am particularly indebted for remaining with me under heavy fire during the entire day.
I send herewith a stand of colors taken during the action by Major Wheat’s battalion. I would also call the attention of the commanding general to the valuable services of Dr. Bronaugh, of Virginia, who conducted me to the ground and assisted me in selecting my position to commence the action.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
N. G. EVANS,
Col. PHILIP ST. GEORGE COCKE,
Commanding Fifth Brigade
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Nathan George Evans: born Marion, SC 2/3/1824; nicknamed “Shanks” for his thin legs; brother of Chesley D. Evans, signer of SC ordinance of secession; brother-in-law of CSA general Martin W. Gary; attended Randolph-Macon College in Virginia; West Point Class of 1848 (36 of 38); Bvt 2nd Lt. 1st Dragoons 7/1/48; served on frontier duty in Texas1848-55; 2nd Lt 2nd Dragoons 9/30/49; 1st Lt 2nd Cav 3/3/55; duty in Kansas, 1855-1860; Sioux Expedition, 1855; Capt. (5/1/56 per Heitman, 12/20/55 per Cullum); Cheyenne Expedition 1856; Utah Expedition, 1858; Arkansas River Scout, 1859; Kiowa and Comanche Expedition, 1860; duty in Colorado, 1860; leave of absence, 1860-61; married Ann Victoria Gary, 3/20/60; resigned 2/27/61; Maj. SC Militia, AAG, 1/61; Capt ACSA Cav 3/16/61; Maj. CSA 3/16/61; AAG James Island Forces, 6/61 to 7/20/61; Col. CSA 4th SC Inf, 7/61; 7th Brigade, Army of the Potomac (AotP), 7/20/61 to 10/12/61; BGCSA 10/21/61 (n 10/21/61, c 12/19/61); 4th Brig., 4th Div, AotP, 10-22-61 to 10-24-61; Brg. X, Div. X AotP, 10/24/61 to 11/12/61; 1st Brig. 2nd Div. AotP, 11/12/61 to 12/18/61; 12/18/61 received Thanks of Confederate Congress “for the brilliant victory achieved by them over largely superior forces of the enemy in the battle of Leesburg [Ball’s Bluff]; 3rd Subdistrict, District of SC, Dept of SC, GA & East FL, 12-18-61 to 3/14/62; 3rd Subdist, Dist of SC, , Dept of SC & GA, 3/14/62 to 5/28/62; 2nd Subdist, Dist of SC, Dept of SC & GA, 5/28/62 to 6/19/62; Brig X, 1st Subdist, Dist of SC, Dept of SC & GA, 6/19/62 to 7/8/62; 3rd Brig, Jones’s Div, First Corps, Army of Northern VA (AoNV), 7/8/62 to 8/9/62; Evans’s Brig, Hood’s Div, First Corps, AoNV 8/9/62 to 11/6/62; Evans’s Brig, Dist of NC, Dept of NC, 11/6/62 to 3/3/63; James Island, 1st Subdist, Dist of SC, Dept of SC, GA & FL, 5/15/63 to 5/25/63; Evans’s Brig, Loring’s Div, Army of MS (AoM), 5/25/63 to 6/63; Evans’s Brig, Breckinridge’s Div, Army of TN (AoT), 6/63 to 6/21/63; Evans’s Brig, French’s Div, AoT, 6/21/63 to 8/3/63; Brig X, 2nd Subdist, Dist 1, Dept of SC, GA & FL, 8/3/63 to 9/15/63; arrested by Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard for disobedience of orders, Sept. 1863; acquitted of charges 11/5/63; Evans’s Brig, 1st Subdist, Dist of SC, Dept of SC, GA & FL, 3/11/64 to 3/21/64; 1st Subdist, Dist of SC, Dept of SC, GA & FL, 3/21/64 to 10/17/64; wounded after falling from his horse, 4/16/64; 2nd Subdist, Dist of SC, GA & FL, 10/17/64 to 11/5/64; failed to secure a command through to the end of the war; no record of parole; high school principal, Midway, AL, until his death on 11/23/68; buried Tabernacle Cemetery, Cokesbury, SC.
Sources: Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U. S. Military Academy, Vol II, pp 365-366; Eicher & Eicher, Civil War High Commands, pp 228-229,793; Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the U. S. Army, Vol. I, p. 410; Silverman, Thomas & Evans, Shanks: The Life and Wars of General Nathan G. Evans, CSA; Wert in The Confederate General, Vol II, pp 107-108; Warner, Generals in Gray, pp 83-84.
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The Bull Runnings Battlefield Tour with guide John Hennessy, held this past Saturday, was, I think, a success. Officially we had 62 attendees who signed in, and suspect we had a few who chose to not sign in. In addition, a few folks dropped out during the day, and I think we even picked up one or two others along the way. I’ll break the tour into two posts, then follow up with some conclusions and requests for input from attendees.
Tour Synopsis – Morning
We met at the picnic area off Groveton Road at 9:00 am. The pavilion came in handy as it was raining pretty steadily – this kept up all morning. After introductions and a review of the itinerary, we set off.
We consolidated into fewer cars (we had left a few at the Visitor’s Center), and headed for our first stop at Sudley Church. From there, we hiked the original Sudley Road trace to Sudley Springs Ford on Catharpin Run, where John set the stage, discussed the crossing of McDowell’s army, and dispelled the notion that anyone was going to services at Sudley Church on the morning of July 21, 1861.
Next we moved south to the Thornberry House, where many things were discussed, including the photos of March 1862, the Thornberry children, and Sullivan Ballou and his death, burial, and desecration. For the record, yes, I do believe his letter was real, even though the original’s whereabouts are unknown.
From there, John showed us the site of the graves of twelve Union soldiers, and also the site of the post-war home of the Benson’s of Sudley Church. See here for some disturbing inconsistencies in the wartime event.
Then it was back to the cars (we managed two crossings of Sudley Road without an incident, no small feat) and south to the Matthews Hill parking lot. There we received water and snacks from Debra Kathman and the good people at the Manassas Battlefield Trust, and made our way to Reynolds’s Rhode Island Battery, where John described the opening of the battle by Burnside’s Brigade and Evans’s men. Craig Swain laid some artillery jargon on us, discussing the range of various pieces North and South.
Next we marched south on Matthews Hill to Buck Hill, above the Stone House, and discussed what McDowell’s vision of victory may have been, the afternoon “lull,” and “the plan.” As it happens, John and I agree on what McDowell’s expectations were regarding what he could expect from the enemy in terms of numbers. We also agree on what McDowell planned and, most important, where those plans ended. We may differ a bit regarding the psychology, if you will, behind those plans, but we’re much closer than we are far apart. The plans pretty much end with the establishment of McDowell’s line along the Warrenton Turnpike, and across the Stone Bridge. After that, the next move depended on how the rebels would react.
Down in the Stone House’s back yard (the Stone House was owned by a family named Matthews, which was a different family from that which occupied the Matthews House on Matthews Hill), John described what was taking place in what has been traditionally called a relatively quiet “no man’s land.” That is to say, it was far from quiet. Sorry, for some reason I took no photos there. But John Cummings got this shot, spoiled only by my presence in it.
From there we crossed the Warrenton Pike (today’s Lee Highway) and proceeded up Henry Hill.
We stopped to recount the movements of Imboden’s Staunton Artillery (while it didn’t happen here, with the help of artillery buff Jim Rosebrock we determined that Imboden was most likely serving as the number four man on the piece when he crouched too near a gun he was working and went deaf in his left ear when it fired).
Our last stops before breaking for lunch was at the “boggy area” just off the paved Visitior’s Center parking lot, which has been traditionally described as the site where several post battle photos of Union graves were recorded (I perpetuated the legend here). John Cummings teased us about the proof he has assembled that the photos were not recorded here, nor were they recorded at the spot other photo buffs have identified. He promises more in the future. The most compelling evidence was presented by John Hennessy, who informed us that prior to the mid-1980s, the site was not damp at all – it became that way after changes were made to the topography.
OK, I’ll end this part where we took our lunch break. Highlights of that included shuttling drivers back to Matthews Hill to fetch cars for the afternoon portion of the hike.
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We are working on the itinerary for the tour. Things are shaping up, but I must emphasize the ground rules:
1 – YOU MUST BE WILLING TO CAR POOL. This is essential to logistical success, and we all know amateurs study tactics, while professionals study logistics.
2 – THERE WILL BE MUCH WALKING, over rolling ground. Get ye to the nearest treadmill. You have just under three months to prepare. Dress for the weather. And weather changes, if you haven’t noticed – we can’t control it.
3 – BRING A BAG LUNCH. You won’t have time to scoot out to Bob Evans or Subway, neither of which paid for this product placement. I’ll have bottled water on hand, but can’t promise it will be very cold.
4 – LET ME KNOW THAT YOU ARE COMING. Preferably on the Facebook event page here, by clicking the “Going” button, or the “Interested” button if you’re not sure. If that changes, just change your status to “Not Going.” The Facebook event page is the best place to keep up on what’s going on with the plans, book recommendations, and the like. If you’re still living in the (19)90s, you can continue to express interest in attendance in the comments section to this earlier post.
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REMINISCENCES OF A FAMOUS COMPANY
The Liberty Hall Volunteers at First Manassas.
“Old Zeus” — College Roommates Killed by Same Ball.
By Lieutenant J. H. B. Jones
(The following remarks were made on Lee-Jackson Day, 1911, at Lexington, and are reprinted from the Lexington Gazette:)
The Liberty Hall company was organized at Washington College, Lexington, Va., early in April, 1861, and numbered seventy-one members, rank and file. It was mustered into service at Staunton, Va., on June 10, 1861, by Major (afterwards general) John Echols. It spent several days in Staunton, and was then ordered to Winchester, Va., and was assigned to the Fourth Virginia Infantry, as Company I. This regiment was composed of companies principally from the counties of Montgomery, Pulaski, Smyth and Grayson, and was commanded by Colonel James F. Preston, who was a fine old officer, amiable and humane, and ever watchful of the interests of his soldiers. He sympathized with us on long marches and did everything he could to aid the weary. The youthful appearance of our boys brought forth many comments from the bewhiskered mountioneers of the Grayson Daredevils, such as, “Sonny, does your mother know you are out?” or “You may crack a cap on my gun; it won’t hurt you.” “Come home before the kufy bell rings.” These remarks were not very complimentary to us soldier boys, and very often our replies were not given in scriptural language, but it was not long before our critics changed their opinions of our endurance and soldierly qualities. As soon as we had been assigned to our regiment our time was fully occupied in drilling, guard duties and cooking. We were fairly proficient in the first two duties, but novices in cooking. The bread, oh, my! the samples of bread we produced would astonish the chefs of the exclusive 400.
Ted Barclay, one of my messmates, was noted for his recipe for making steak gravy (the only butter we had for our slapjack bread). He never failed to drop the hot stump of a tallow candle into the frying pan when cooking by candle light, and just before it was ready to go on our tin plates.
Owing to the position of the Confederate forces, long and rapid marches had to be made to aid Evans’s brigade on the extreme left. Generals Bee’s and Bartow’s men were hurried forward to his assistance. Then General Jackson’s brigade, after a rapid march, took position on the Henry house plateau in front of the young pine woods and in an easterly direction from the Henry house. The location of the Fourth Virginia Infantry was just in front of the young pine saplings, and the ground before the L. H. V. Co., was slightly higher than the ground it occupied. The order was given for the Fourth Virginia to lie down. The Rockbridge Artillery and some other guns were stationed in front of the Fourth Virginia and other regiments of the First Virginia brigade. The Thirty-third Virginia was to our left. The famous batteries of United States regulars commanded by Griffin and Ricketts were posted at first near the Henry House, and then advanced nearer to our line. These batteries were pouring a very destructive fire upon our forces. Some of their shots, aimed at the artillery in our front, passed them and struck the line of infantry. One solid shot killed three of the L. H. V.’s – viz.: Sergeant Charles W. Bell. Corporal William L. Paxton and Private Benjamin A. Bradley. The most trying duty that soldiers are called upon to perform is to support batteries in their front. They must lie still, receiving balls and shells not aimed at them, seeing their comrades killed and wounded, while they have to remain passive and restraint their combative instincts until ordered to “up guards, and at the enemy with bayonets.”
A very touching incident in the lives and death of Charley Bell and Ben Bradley may be recorded. They were playmates and close friends when small boys; they entered Washington College together, were roommates and bedfellows while there; in the army they were messmates and bunk fellows, and they were hurried into eternity by the same cannon ball. While the company was being subjected to this terrible ordeal of fire and blood, what can I say more complimentary than has already been said of our gallant captain, James J. White, the towering and loved “Old Zeus” of our college days? He walked backward and forward in front of his line of boys, seemingly unconscious of the deadly missiles flying past him; his words allayed their fears and inspired them with additional courage, and caused Jackson to say of them while making the successful, but bloody charge: “The boys were more than brave.”
Now the enemy’s fire became more distinct and more rapid; the enemy was sending forward fresh troops and more of them. The L. H. V.’s realized that their fighting qualities would soon be called into action. The artillery in their front were opening the way for them by retiring by the right and left flanks; the Federal volleys were getting nearer and nearer; our gallant soldiers were being outnumbered and were giving ground slowly. Every soldier knew that the time for vigorous action had come.
“The combat deepens, on ye brave
Who rush to glory, or the grave.
Wave Dixie, all thy banners wave,
And charge with all thy chivalry.”
The proximity of the volleys, the zip and singing of the rifle balls indicated that our men were stubbornly yielding to the enemy’s advance. Just then General Bee dashed to General Jackson and said: “General, they are beating us back.” Jackson’s reply was: “Then we’ll give them the bayonet.” General Bee returned to his men and said: “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Tally behind the Virginians; follow me.”
In this charge the gallant general was killed, but he had given Jackson a name that will ever live in history. Jackson watched the enemy’s approach closely, and then in clarion tone he called to his brigade: “Reserve your fire until they come within 50 yards, then fire and give them the bayonet, and when you charge yell like furies. Forward, First Brigade!”
Then and there, comrades, was born the rebel yell that ever grew in volume and spirit until insufficient rations cut short our wind and vocal powers. This was the decisive charge of the day, and in the language of Stonewall Jackson “broke the moral power of the Federal army.” The L. H. V.’s suffered severely in this charge. Four were killed, viz.: W. B. Ott, Calvin Utz, H. L. Wilson and C. D. Strickler, and three had been killed before the charge. The wounded were Orderly Sergeant William A. Anderson, Corporal G. B. Strickler, S. H. Lightner, H. A. Paxton. C. F. Neel and Bronson B. Gwynn. Sergeant E. A. Mitchell died shortly after the battle from brain fever, brought on by excitement and exertion in the battle, making a loss of fourteen men. The opponents of the company in this charge were the famous gaudy New York Zouaves. They had the reputation of being great fighters, and were terrible to look at. It was the fate of one of our smallest men, Bronson Gwynn, to meet in a hand-to-hand conflict with one of these big red breeches fellows, who jumped from behind a pine bush and made a desperate lunge at Gwynn with his bayonet. Fortunately, his thrust was inaccurate, and the bayonet only passed through his uniform between his arm and side. Poor little stammering, stuttering Gwynn rallied and extracted his clothing from the bayonet, at once crying out: “Now, d-d-damn you, take that,” and turned loose the contents of his old regenerated flint lock into the upper story of the Zouave’s fez-covered head. Having seen that his work was effective he hurried on to take his place in the charge.
Richmond [Virginia] Times-Dispatch, 2/12/1911
Contributed by Brett Schulte
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Categories : Reminiscences, Resources
The Battle of Manassas
Army of the Potomac,
Manassas, July 22, 1861
Yesterday, the 21st day of July, 1861, a great battle was fought and a great victory won by the Confederate troops. Heaven smiled upon our arms, and the God of battles crowned our banners with the laurels of glory. Let every patriotic heart give thanks to the Lord of Hosts for the victory He has given His people on His holy day, the blessed Sabbath.
Gen. Johnston had arrived the preceding day with about half the force he had, detailed from Winchester, and was the senior officer in command. He magnanimously insisted, however, that Gen. Beauregard’s previous plan should be carried out, and he was guided entirely by the judgement and superior local knowledge of the latter. While, therefore, Gen. Johnston was nominally in command, Beauregard was really the officer and hero of the day. You will be glad to learn that he was this day advanced from a Brigadier to the rank of full General. But to the battle.
At half-past six in the morning, the enemy opened fire from a battery planted on a hill beyond Bull’s Run, and nearly opposite the center of our lines. The battery was intended merely to “beat the bush.” and to occupy our attention, while he moved a heavy column towards the Stone Bridge, over the same creek, upon our left. At 10 o’clock, another battery was pushed forward, and opened fire a short distance to the left of the other, and near the road leading North to Centreville. This was a battery of rifled guns, and the object of its fire was the same as that of the other. They fired promiscuously into the woods and gorges in this, the Southern side of Bull’s Run, seeking to create the impression thereby that our center would be attacked, and thus prevent us from sending reinforcements to our left, where the real attack was to be made. Beauregard was not deceived by the maneuver.
It might not be amiss to say, that Bull’s Run, or creek, is North of this place, and runs nearly due east, slightly curving around the Junction, the nearest part of which is about 3 1/2 miles. The Stone Bridge is some 7 miles distant, in a northwesterly direction, upon which our left wing rested. Mitchel’s ford is directly North, distant four miles, by the road leading to Centreville, which is seven miles from the Junction. Our right is Union Mills, on the same stream, where the Alexandria and Manassas railroad crosses the Run, and distant four miles. Proceeding from Fairfax Court House, by Centreville, to Stone Bridge, the enemy passed in front of our entire line, but at a distance ranging from five to two miles.
At 9 o’clock, I reached an eminence nearly opposite the two batteries mentioned above, and which commanded a full view of the country for miles around, except on the right. From this point I could trace the movements of the approaching hosts by the clouds of dust that rose high above the surrounding hills. Our left, under Brigadier-General Evans, Jackson and Cocke, and Col. Bartow, with the Georgia Brigade, composed of the 7th and 8th regiments, had been put in motion, and was advancing upon the enemy with a force of about 15,000 while the enemy himself was advancing upon our left with a compact column of at least 50,000. His entire force on this side of the Potomac is estimated at 75,000. These approaching columns encountered each other at 11 o’clock.
Meanwhile, the two batteries in front kept up their fire upon the wooded hill where they supposed our center lay. They sent occasional balls, from their rifled cannon, to the eminence where your correspondent stood. Gens. Beauregard, Johnston and Bonham reached this point at 12, and one of these balls passed directly over and very near them, and plunged into the ground a few paces from where I stood. I have the ball now, and hope to be able to show it to you at some future day. It is an 18-pound ball, and about 6 inches long. By the way, this thing of taking notes amidst a shower of shells and balls is more exciting than pleasant. At a quarter past 12, Johnston and Beauregard galloped rapidly forward in the direction of Stone Bridge, where the ball had now fully opened. You correspondent followed their example, and soon reached a position in front of the battlefield.
The artillery were the first to open fire, precisely at 11 o’clock. By half-past 11, the infantry had engaged, and there it was that the battle began to rage. The dusky columns which had thus far marked the approach of the two armies, now mingled with great clouds of smoke, as it rose from the flashing guns below, and the two shot up together like a huge pyramid of red and blue. The shock was tremendous, as were the odds between the two forces. With what anxious hearts did we watch the pyramid of smoke and dust! When it moved to the right, we knew the enemy were giving way; and when it moved to the left, we knew that our friends were receding. Twice the pyramid moved to the right, and as often returned. At last, about two o’clock, it began to move slowly to the left, and this it continued to move for two mortal hours. The enemy was seeking to turn our left flank, and to reach the railroad leading hence in the direction of Winchester. To do this, he extended his lines, which he was able to do by reason of his great numbers. This was unfortunate for us, as it required a corresponding extension of our own lines to prevent his extreme right from outflanking us – a movement on our part which weakened the force of our resistance along the whole line of battle, which finally extended over a space of two miles. It also rendered it more difficult to bring up reinforcements, as the further the enemy extended his right, the greater the distance reserve forces had to travel to counteract the movement.
This effort to turn our flank was pressed with great determination for five long, weary hours, during which the tide of battle ebbed and flowed along the entire line with alternate fortunes. The enemy’s column continued to stretch away to the left, like a huge anaconda, seeking to envelope us within its mighty folds and crush us to death; and at one time it really looked as if he would succeed. But here let me pause to explain why it was our reinforcements were so late in arriving, and why a certain other important movement was miscarried.
The moment he discovered the enemy’s order of battle, Gen. Beauregard, it is said, dispatched orders to Gen. Ewell, on our extreme right, to move forward and turn his left and rear. At the same time he ordered Generals Jones, Longstreet, and Bonham, occupying the center of our lines, to cooperate in this movement, but not to move until Gen. Ewell had made the attack. The order to Gen. Ewell unfortunately miscarried. The others were delivered, but as the movements of the center were to be regulated entirely by those on the right, nothing was done at all. Had the orders to Gen. Ewell been received and carried out, and our entire force brought upon the field, we should have destroyed the enemy’s army almost literally. Attacked in front, on the flank and in the rear, he could not possibly have escaped, except at the loss of thousands of prisoners and all his batteries, while the field would have been strewed with his dead.
Finding that his orders had in some way failed to be executed, Gen. Beauregard at last ordered up a portion of the forces which were intended to co operate with General Ewell. It was late, however, before these reinforcements came up. Only one brigade reached the field before the battle was won. This was led by Gen. E. K. Smith, of Florida, formerly of the United States Army, and was a part of General Johnston’s column from Winchester. They should have reached here the day before, but were prevented by an accident on the railroad. They dashed on the charge with loud shouts and in the most gallant style. About the same time, Maj. Elzey coming down the railroad from Winchester with the last of Johnston’s brigades, and hearing the firing, immediately quit the train and struck across the country, and as a gracious fortune would have it, he encountered the extreme right of the enemy as he was feeling his way around our flank, and with his brigade struck him like a thunderbolt, full in the face. Finding he was about to be outflanked himself, the enemy gave way after the second fire. Meanwhile, Beauregard rallied the center and dashed into the very thickest of the fight, and after him rushed our own brave boys, with a shout that seemed to shake the very earth. The result of this movement from three distinct points, was to force back the enemy, who began to retreat, first in good order, and finally in much confusion. At this point the cavalry were ordered upon the pursuit. The retreat now became a perfect rout, and it is reported that the flying legions rushed past Centreville in the direction of Fairfax, as if the earth had been opening behind them. It was when Gen. Beauregard led the final charge, that his horse was killed by a shell.
We captured thirty-four guns, including Sherman’s famous battery, a large number of small arms, thirty wagons loaded with provisions, &c., and about 700 prisoners. Among the latter, were Col. Corcoran, of the New York Irish Zouaves, Hon. Mr. Ely, member of Congress, from New York, Mr. Carrington, of this State, a nephew of the late Wm. C. Preston, who had gone over to the enemy, and thirty-two Captains, Lieutenants, &c. We cam near bagging the Hon. Mr. Foster, Senator from Connecticut.
The official reports of the casualties of the day have not yet come in, and consequently it is impossible to say what our loss is. I can only venture an opinion, and that is, that we lost in killed, wounded and missing, about 1,500 – of which about 400 were killed. The enemy’s loss was terrible, being at the lowest calculation, 3,000.
Thus far I have said but little of the part taken by particular officers and regiments; for the reason that I desire first to obtain all the facts. Nor have I said anything of the gallant seventh and eighth regiments from Georgia. This part of my duty is most melancholy. It may be enough to say, that they were the only Georgia regiments here at the time, that they were among the earliest on the field, and in the thickest of the fight, and that their praise is upon the lips of the whole army, from Gen. Beauregard on down. Col. Gartrell led the seventh regiment, and Lieutenant-Colonel Gardner the eighth, the whole under the command of Col. Bartow, who led them with a gallantry that was never excelled. It was when the brigade was ordered to take one of the enemy’s strongest batteries, that it suffered most. It was a most desperate undertaking, and followed by the bloodiest results. The battery occupied the top of a hill, on the opposite side of Bull’s Run, with a small piece of woods on the left. Descending the valley along the Run, he proceeded under cover of the hill to gain the woods alluded to, and from which he proposed to make a dash at the battery and capture it. On reaching the woods, he discovered that the battery was supported by a heavy infantry force, estimated at 4,000 men. The whole force, together with the battery, was turned upon the eighth regiment, which was in the van, with terrible effect. Indeed, he was exposed on the flank and in front to a fire that the oldest veterans could not have stood. The balls and shells from the battery, and the bullets from the small arms, literally riddled the woods. Trees six inches in diameter, and great limbs were cut off, and the ground strewn with the wreck. It became necessary to retire the eighth regiment, in order to re-form it. Meanwhile, Col. Bartow’s horse had been shot from under him. It was observed that the forces with which his movement was to be supported had not come up. But it was enough that he had been ordered to storm the battery; so, placing himself at the head of the seventh regiment, he again led the charge, this time on foot, and gallantly encouraging his men as they rushed on. The first discharge from the enemy’s guns killed the regimental color-bearer. Bartow immediately seized the flag, and gain putting himself in front, dashed on, flag in hand, his voice ringing clear over the battlefield, and saying, “On, my boys, we will die rather than yield or retreat.” And on the brave boys did go, and faster flew the enemy’s bullets. The fire was awful. Not less than 4,000 muskets were pouring their fatal contents upon them, while the battery itself was dealing death on every side.
The gallant Eighth Regiment, which had already passed through the distressing ordeal, again rallied, determined to stand by their chivalric Colonel to the last. The more furious the fire, the quicker became the advancing step of the two regiments. At last, and just when they were nearing the goal of their hopes, and almost in the arms of victory, the brave and noble Bartow was shot down, the ball striking him in the left breast, just above the heart. His men rallied behind him, and finding him mortally wounded and that the forces that had been ordered to support their charge had not yet come up, they gradually fell back, bearing him in their arms and disputing every inch of ground. I learn that they would never have retired but for the orders which were given in consequence of the non-arrival of the supporting force. It appears that the order to support our charge, like that to gen. Ewell, miscarried – a failure which had nearly cost us two of the best regiments in the army. Col. Bartow died soon after he was borne from the field. His last words, as repeated to me, were: “they have killed me, my brave boys, but never give up the ship – we’ll whip them yet.” And so we did!
The field officers of the Seventh Regiment escaped except Col. Gartrell who received a slight wound. All the superior officers in the Eighth Regiment, except Maj. Cooper, were killed or wounded. Lieut. Col. Gardner had his leg broken by a musket ball, and Adjutant Branch was killed. Capt. Howard of the Mountain Rangers from Merriwether county was also killed. But I shall not go into a statement of the killed and wounded preferring in delicate and painful a matter to await the official report, which I hope to get tomorrow, when I shall have more to say about our heroic regiments. I will add just here, that our loss in officers was very great. Among others may be mentioned Gen. Bee, Lieut. Col. Johnson of Hampton’s Legion, and Col. Thomas of Gen. Johnston’s Staff, and others. Gen. Jackson was wounded in the hand, and Col. Wheat of the New Orleans Tigers was shot through the body. Col Jones of the 4th Alabama Regiment it is feared was mortally wounded. The regiments that suffered most and were in the thickest of the fight, were the 7th and 8th Georgia, the 4th Alabama, 4th South Carolina, Hampton’s Legion, and 4th Virginia. The New Orleans Washington Artillery did great execution.
If we consider the numbers engaged and the character of the contest, we may congratulate ourselves upon having won, one of the most brilliant victories that any race of people ever achieved. It was the greatest battle ever fought on this continent, and will take its place in history by the side of the most memorable engagements. It is believed that General Scott himself was nearby, at Centreville, and that he directed as he had planned the whole movement. Gen. McDowell was the active commander upon the field.
President Davis arrived upon the field at 5 o’clock, just as the enemy had got into full retreat. His appearance was greeted with shout after shout, and was the equivalent to a reinforcement of 5,000 men. He left Richmond at 7 in the morning.
But “little Beaury” against the world.
P. W. A.
Savannah Republican, 7/27/1861
William B. Styple, Ed., Writing and Fighting the Confederate War: The Letters of Peter Wellington Alexander Confederate War Correspondent, pp 19-23
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Tags: 7th Georgia Infantry, 8th Georgia Infantry, Beauregard-Ewell Controversy, Francis Bartow, Newspaper Accounts, Resources, Sherman's Battery
Categories : Newspaper Accounts, Resources
Baltimore, Md., January 15, 1897
John O. Casler:
Dear Comrade: Our command reached Manassas Junction on the 20th of July, in the morning, I think. We marched during the day to the right of the line, and the next day we marched and countermarched, halted and rushed, as the changing localities of the conflict, as far as our commanders could anticipate, seemed to require. My dinner was made from blackberries, for being outside of the ranks (as Sergeant Major) I could pick them as we passed over the fields. About 1 o’clock our regiment reached the elevation on which is seated the historic Henry house, and took position on the left flank of our brigade, up to that hour known as the 1st Brigade, or Jackson’s Brigade, ever afterwards as the Stonewall Brigade.
As we approached our position, we heard for the first time the horrid screaming of hostile shells going over our heads high up in the air, but not so high as not to be dangerous. I recall now with some amusement the intense gravity and astonishment written upon the faces of the men as these dangerous missiles from the batteries of Rickett and Griffin went hurtling over us; but I recall no signs of timidity. The men kept in their ranks, obeyed orders and moved into position on the left of the 2d Virginia, of which Brother Strother, my cousin, Willie Barton, and all my Winchester friends were members, with steadiness and resolution. My brother David was in the Rockbridge Battery, which was being supported by our brigade. My uncle, Frank Jones, and my brother-in-law, Thomas Marshall, were on Jackson’s staff. I felt the solemnity of the moment, but I recall no disposition whatever to turn and run. On the other hand, a sense of pride, a desire to emulate the action of the best men on the field possessed me, as it did, I believe, all of our command, except the Adjutant of our regiment. I think I went into that action with less trepidation than into any subsequent one. Inexperience doubtless had much to do with it, but, again, I attribute much of the nerve that sustained me to my year at Lexington. I felt on the field that the orders of our officers were supreme; that come what might, they must be obeyed, and discipline told on me from first to last. I will not give many details of the battle; they have been told by so many writers that it would prolong this narrative unduly for me to repeat them. I will only say that, after taking our position on the left of the brigade, we laid upon the ground listening to the musketry and cannonading going on to our right, or, rather, somewhat in front of our right, from the Confederate forces, which was being vigorously responded to by the Yankees. The “Henry house” was in front of our brigade, over the hill – the upper part of the house visible – and the Robinson house was to the right of that several hundred yards. Occasional shells would explode over our regiment, and the solemn wonderment written on the faces of the men as they would crane their heads around to look our for falling branches was almost amusing. I was near the left flank of the regiment, a few steps in rear, where, upon the formation of the regiment in line of battle, I belonged. Doubtless I wished I was home, but I had to stick. I remember an elderly man riding leisurely by towards the left, in rear of us, apparently giving orders. Some one, possibly myself, asked him who he was. He turned his horse and said: “I am Colonel Smith, otherwise Governor Smith, otherwise Extra Billy Smith.” It was, in fact, Colonel Smith, a game old fellow, who, I suppose, was looking over the ground for a position for his regiment, the 49th Virginia, as it subsequently took position on our left, and finally united in one of the charges on Griffin’s Battery.
Colonel Cummings and Lieutenant Colonel Lee were in front of our regiment, perhaps a hundred yards, stooping down, and occasionally standing to get a view over the crest of the hill that rose gently before us for a little over a hundred yards. The musketry kept up on our right, and then Colonels Cummings and Lee were seen to rise and, bending down, to come back with somewhat quickened steps to the regiment. I remember, as Colonels Cummings drew near, he called out: “Boys, they are coming, now wait until they get close before you fire.”
Almost immediately several pieces of artillery, their horses in front, made their appearance on the hill in front of us, curving as if going into battery, and at the same time I descried the spear-point and upper portion of a United States flag, as it rose in the hands of its bearer over the hill; then I saw the bearer, and the heads of the men composing the line of battle to the right and left of him. At the sight several of our men rose from the ranks, leveled their muskets at the line, and, although I called out, “Do not fire yet,” it was of no use; they fired and then the shrill cry of Colonel Cummings was heard, “Charge!” and away the regiment went, firing as they ran, into the ranks of the enemy, and particularly at the battery towards which our line rapidly approached. Although bearing a non-commissioned officers sword, I had obtained a cartridge box, belted it on, and had in some one secured a flintlock musket, with which one of our companies was armed. This gun, after two futile efforts, I fired at a man on horseback in the battery, one of the drivers, I think. I got near enough the battery to see that it was thoroughly disabled, horses and men falling, and our line driving ahead, when I felt the sting of a bullet tearing a piece from my side, just under my cartridge box, which I had pulled well around on the right and front of my waist. I called out that I was wounded to my uncle, Frank Jones, who helped me up on his horse, and carried me to the rear.
I think it can be demonstrated that the victory of First Manassas is traceable to Colonel Cummings. For fifteen or twenty minutes before our regiment (the 33d Virginia) rose and charged Griffin’s Battery the men of Bee’s and Bartow’s (and, I think, Evans’) commands were coming back over the hill from the Robinson and Henry houses in the greatest disorder, a flying, panic-stricken mob. The Stonewall Brigade maintained the line with the steadiness of veterans. The Rockbridge Battery, with its little guns, was doing its best. Jackson, about that time, rode along the front of his brigade, waiting for the critical moment to order his men into action. It was in his efforts to rally his command that the gallant Bee called to them to rally behind the Virginians. Pointing to Jackson, he used the memorable expression, “Look at Jackson, standing like a stone wall.” The precise expression he used it is impossible to learn. He most probably said, “Look at Jackson and his men, standing like a stone wall.” He had galloped up to Jackson a moment before, and had said: “General, they are driving us back,” and Jackson replied, the words snapping from his lips like grape-shot from a gun, “Then we will give them the bayonet.”
Bee turned to gallop toward his fleeing men, with the inspiration of Jackson possessing him, called out his immortal language, and fell, mortally wounded.
“Jackson had, within the half hour before, passed along his brigade the order not to fire until the enemy was within 30 paces, and then charge. So Colonel Cummings writes to me under the date of September 20, 1896. But, says Colonel Cummings, the shells of the enemy had caused some confusion “with the left company of my regiment,” or, rather, his command of eight companies, and when Griffin’s Battery showed itself on the hill in front of us, and occasional shots began to fall among us from the enemy moving towards our left to flank us, when the tumult of the broken ranks of Bee and Bartow was threatening the steadiness of our right, and the enemy, with exultant shouts, was pressing on, Colonel Cummings, like a flash, thought if those guns get into battery and pour one discharge of grape and canister into the ranks of my raw recruits the day is gone, and then it was, with splendid discretion, he took the responsibility of changing his orders, with the changed conditions, as Grouchy should have done at Waterloo, and charged the enemy.
The suddenness of our attack, the boldness of it, for our men went over and past the battery, the disabling of the guns, all checked the advancing lines. It was immediately followed up by the remainder of the brigade charging, and the troops on our left poured in. The tide of battle turned when it dashed against the farmer boys of the 33d Virginia. It was the first resistance it had met. The enemy came upon the point of a spear, one small regiment of undisciplined boys and me, not a month from the plough-handle and mechanic’s shop. The point broadened, as to the right and left assistance poured in, until it became a sharp blade against which the enemy could not and dared not rush; but the 33d led the van of the movement that first arrested McDowell’s victorious line, and from that moment the scene changed, and from the brink of disaster our army turned to a great victory. Colonel Cummings changed the life of McDowell by his order, “Charge!” He may have changed the history of the war. The battle pivoted upon his nerve. It was the turning point in tremendous events.
I visited the Robinson and Henry houses in September, 1861, and again in September, 1896. My last visit caused me to correspond with Colonel Cummings and read every line I could lay my eyes upon, including the reports of officers on both sides, as published in the compilation called the Rebellion Record, and I believe what I have attributed to Colonel Cummings cannot be successfully gainsaid. He turned the tide of the battle at First Manassas. Instead of the Confederate army flying as a mob to the Rappahannock, the Yankee army fled as a mob to Washington.
Several days have elapsed since I wrote the above. A day or so ago I accidentally saw in the Mercantile Library the “Recollections of a Private,” by Warren Lee Goss, of the Federal army. Turning to his narrative of the battle I find (p.13) a good representation of the Henry house plateau and the confusion in Griffin’s Battery following the attack of the 33d Regiment. I recognize the Sudley mill road, the entrance to the Henry place, on the left of the road, and the fence torn away to allow Griffin’s Battery freely to leave the rad and go upon the plateau. In September, 1896, I stood on this very ground, and , observing that between the bed of the road and the fence on the left hand side there was the usual wash, or gutter, I remarked to my companions that no doubt Griffin tore down the fence and filled the wash with the rails, thus making and easy crossing into the field for his artillery. The picture I am looking at shows the fence torn down, and imagination shows the rails placed as I surmised.
And now I quote from the book what seems to me brings the 33d face to face with the troops Goss writes about. Remember that the Sudley Mills road runs a south-easterly course from the mill to the Henry plateau. Our regiment charged northwesterly. McDowell’s line came over the hill supporting Griffin’s Battery, at right angles to the Sudley Mills road, advancing southeasterly.
Says Gross: “About 1 o’clock the fence skirting the road at the foot of the hill was pulled down to let our batteries (Griffin’s and Rickett’s) pass up to the plateau. The batteries were in the open field near us. We were watching to see what they’d do next, when a terrible volley was poured into them. It was like a pack of Fourth of July fire-crackers under a barrel magnified a thousand times. The Rebels had crept upon them unawares and the batteries were all killed and wounded.
“Here,” says Gross, continuing, “let me interrupt Tinkemann’s narrative to say that one of the artillerymen then engaged has since told me that, though he had been in several battles since, he had seldom seen worse destruction in so short a time. He said they saw a regiment advancing, and the natural inference was that they were Rebels.. But an officer insisted that it was a New York regiment, which was expected for support, and so no order was given to fire on them. Then came a tremendous explosion of musketry,” says the artilleryman, “and all was confusion; wounded men with dripping wounds were clinging to caissons, to which were attached frightened and wounded horses. Horses attached to caissons rushed through the infantry ranks. I saw three horses galloping off, dragging a fourth, which was dead.
“The dead cannoneers lay with the rammers of the guns and the lanyards in their hands. The battery was annihilated by those volleys in a moment. Those who could get away didn’t wait. We had no supports near enough to protect us properly, and the enemy was within seventy yards of us when that volley was fired. Our battery being demolished in that way was the beginning of our defeat at Bull Run,” says the old regular.
This ends the quotation. I have italicized the words which strike me as a direct confirmation of the claim I make that the 33d turned the tide, and Colonel Cummings’ timely order let loose the 33d at the very crisis of the battle. I distinctly only claim that with the order and because of the order came the first check McDowell sustained. That other troops immensely aided in forcing back the Yankee line when thus checked, I freely admit. But our regiment called a halt in the victorious advance of the enemy. I dwell upon the circumstance because of the great interest it adds to the engagement to know that you belonged to the regiment that received and repelled the dangerous thrust of the enemy at the nice turning point of the day. I should think to Colonel Cummings the circumstances would be of extraordinary interest, and that he would time and again reflect how little he thought, when he braced himself to give the order to his regiment, that he was making a long page in history.
“Late Staff Officer 2d Corps, A. N. V.”
James I. Robertson, Jr., ed., Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade, pp. 40 – 46
Randolph J. Barton at Ancestry.com
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Tags: 33rd Virginia, John Casler, Memoirs, Randolph Barton, Resources, Soldier's Letters
Categories : Private Correspondence, Reminiscences, Resources
July 18th we marched through Winchester and took the road leading to Berry’s Ferry, on the Shenandoah river, about eighteen miles distant. The citizens were very much grieved to see us leave, for fear the enemy would be in town, as there were no troops left but a few militia and Colonel Turner Ashby’s cavalry.
After marching a few miles we were halted, and the Adjutant read us orders that the enemy were about to overpower General Beauregard at Manassas Junction, and we would have to make a forced march. It was General Johnston’s wish that all the men would keep in ranks and not straggle, if possible. Then we started on a quick march, marched all day and nearly all night, wading the Shenandoah river about 12 o’clock at night halted at a small village called Paris about two hours, then resumed the march about daylight, and arrived at Piedmont Station, on the Manassas Railroad.
Our brigade was in the advance on the march, and when we arrived at the station the citizens for miles around came flocking to see us, bringing us eatables of all kinds, and we fared sumptuously. There were not trains enough to transport al at once, and our regiment had to remain there until trains returned, which was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. We had a regular picnic; plenty to eat, lemonade to drink, and beautiful young ladies to chat with. We finally got aboard, bade the ladies a long farewell, and went flying down the road, arriving at the junction in the night.
The next day, the 20th of July, we marched about four miles down Bull Run, to where General Beauregard had engaged the enemy on the 18th, and repulsed their advance. There we joined our brigade. We lay on our arms all night. We tore all the feathers out of our hats, because we heard the Yanks had feathers in theirs, and we might be fired on by mistake, as our company was the only one that had black plumes in their hats. We could hear pickets firing at intervals, and did not know what minute we would be rushed into action.
My particular friend and messmate, William I. Blue, and myself lay down together, throwing a blanket over us, and talked concerning our probable fate the next day. We had been in line of battle several times, and had heard many false alarms, but we all knew there was no false alarm this time; that the two armies lay facing each other, and that a big battle would be fought the next day; that we were on the eve of experiencing the realities of war in its most horrible form – brother against brother, father against son, kindred against kindred, and our own country torn to pieces by civil war.
While lying thus, being nearly asleep, he roused me up and said that he wanted to make a bargain with me, which was, if either of us got killed the next day the one who survived should see the other buried, if we kept possession of the battle-field.
I told him I would certainly do that, and we pledged ourselves accordingly. I then remarked that perhaps we would escape unhurt or wounded. He said: “No, I don’t want to be wounded. If I am shot at all I want to be shot right through the heart.”
During the night we heard a gun fired on the left of the regiment and I got up and walked down the line to see what had happened. I found one of the men had shot himself through the foot, supposed to have been done intentionally, to keep out of the fight, but the poor fellow made a miscalculation as to where his toes were, and held the muzzle of the gun too far up and blew off about half of his foot, so it had to be amputated.
July 21st dawned clear and bright (and for the last time on many a poor soldier), and with it the sharpshooters in front commenced skirmishing. We were ordered to “fall in,” and were marched up the run about four miles, and then ordered back to “Blackburn’s Ford.” Our company and the “Hardy Greys” were thrown out as skirmishers, opposite the ford, in a skirt of woods commanding a full view of the ford, and ordered to fire on the enemy if they attempted to cross the run. While we were lying in that position heavy firing was heard on our left, both infantry and artillery. In a few moments we were ordered from there to join the regiment, and went “double quick” up the run to where the fighting was going on. The balance of the brigade was in line of battle behind the brow of a small ridge. We were halted at the foot of this ridge and Colonel Cummings told us that it was General Jackson’s command that our regiment should depend principally on the bayonet that day, as it was a musket regiment.
Some of the boys were very keen for a fight, and while we were down in the run they were afraid it would be over before we got into it. One in particular, Thomas McGraw, was very anxious to get a shot at the “bluecoats,” and when the Colonel read us the order about the bayonet I asked Tom how he liked that part of the programme. He said that was closer quarters than he anticipated.
Our regiment marched up the hill and formed “left in front,” on the left of the brigade, and on the entire left of our army. As we passed by the other regiments the shells were bursting and cutting down the pines all around us, and we were shaking hands and bidding farewell to those we were acquainted with, knowing that in a few moments many of us would be stretched lifeless on the field.
At this time our troops were falling back, but in good order, fighting every inch of the way, but were being overpowered and flanked by superior numbers. They were the 2d Mississippi and Colonel Evans’ 4th Alabama Regiments, General Bee’s South Carolina Brigade, Colonel Bartow’s 7th and 8th Georgia Regiments, Major Wheat’s Battalion (called the Louisiana Tigers), and Imboden’s Battery. They had resisted the main portion of the “Federal Army” and had done all that men could do, and had lost severely, but were still holding the enemy in check while we were forming.
It was there at this moment that General Jackson received the name of “Stonewall,” and the brigade the ever memorable name of “Stonewall Brigade.” General Barnard E. Bee, riding up to General Jackson, who sat on his horse calm and unmoved, though severely wounded in the hand, exclaimed in a voice of anguish: “General, they are beating us back!”
Turning to General Bee, he said calmly: “Sir, we’ll give them the bayonet.”
Hastening back to his men, General Bee cried enthusiastically, as he pointed to Jackson: “Look yonder! There is Jackson and his brigade standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here and we will conquer. Rally behind them!”
They passed through our brigade and formed in the rear. I knew they were South Carolinians by the “Palmetto tree” on their caps. General Bee and Colonel Bartow fell, mortally wounded. The enemy, flushed with victory, pushed on, never dreaming what was lying just beyond the brow of the hill in the pines. There seemed to be a lull in the firing just at this time, and Sergeant James P. Daily, of my company, walked up to the brow of the hill, but soon returned with the exclamation: “Boys, there is the prettiest sight from the top of the hill you ever saw; they are coming up on the other side in four ranks, and all dressed in red!”
When we heard that, I, with several others, jumped up and started to see, but Colonel Cummings ordered us to “stay in ranks,” and Daily remarked: “We will see them soon enough.” Sure enough, in a few seconds the head of the column made its appearance, with three officers on horseback in front, and marching by the flank, with the intention of flanking one of our batteries – the Rockbridge Artillery, Captain W. N. Pendleton. In a few minutes they spied us lying there, and I heard one of the officers say: “Hello! what men are these?” At that moment some of our men who, evidently, had the “buck fever,” commenced, without orders, firing some scattering shots. The enemy then poured a volley into us, but as we were lying down the balls went over our heads, harmless.
That morning we had been given a signal to use in time of battle, to distinguish friend from foe, which was to throw the right hand to the forward, palm outward, and say, “Sumter.” When this regiment (which was the 14th Brooklyn, N. Y.), appeared in view Colonel Cummings gave the signal, and it was returned by one of the officers, but how they got it was a mystery. So, when the scattering shots were fired by some of our regiment, Colonel Cummings exclaimed: “Cease firing, you are firing on friends!” and the volley came from them at the same time, and I know I remarked, “Friends, hell! That looks like it.”
Colonel Cummings, seeing his mistake, and also seeing a battery of artillery taking position and unlimbering, in close proximity and in a place where it could enfilade our troops, determined to capture it before it could do any damage. I don’t think he had any orders from any superior officer, but took the responsibility on himself. Then came the command: “Attention! Forward march! Charge bayonets! Double quick!” and away we went, sweeping everything before us; but the enemy broke and fled.
We were soon in possession of the guns, killed nearly all the horses, and a great portion of the men were killed and wounded; and we were none too soon, for one minute more and four guns would have belched forth into our ranks, carrying death and destruction, and perhaps have been able to have held their position. As it was, the guns were rendered useless, and were not used any more that day, all though we had to give them up temporarily.
We were halted, and one of my company, Thomas Furlough, who had belonged to the artillery in the Mexican war, threw down his musket and said: “Boys, let’s turn the guns on them.” That was the last sentence that ever passed his lips, for just then he was shot dead.
While this was going on, the enemy were throwing a force on our left flank in the pines, and commenced pouring it into us from the front and an enfilading fire from the flank, and were cutting us to pieces, when we were ordered back, and halted at our first position.
Then we were reinforced by the 49th Virginia and the 6th North Carolina Regiments, commanded by Colonel Chas. F. Fisher (who was killed a few minutes afterwards) and “Extra Billy” Smith. This mad our line longer, and we were ordered to charge again. The charge of Jackson’s men was terrific. The enemy were swept before them like chaff before a whirlwind. Nothing could resist their impetuosity. The men seem to have caught the dauntless spirit and determined will of their heroic commander, and nothing could stay them in their onward course. The 33d Virginia, in its timely charge, saved the day by capturing and disabling Griffin’s battery, altho’ they could not hold it just then. The name won that day by the brigade and its General is immortal.
In this action our regiment (the 33d Virginia), being on the extreme left, was alone, the balance of the brigade not charging until later, and we were terribly cut up and had to fall back. General Jackson said he could afford to sacrifice one regiment to save the day; and it was the first check and first repulse the enemy had received, and during the remainder of the day the battle turned in favor of the Confederates.
We did not follow them far, for fresh troops were coming in all the time, and we had lost severely, and were considerably demoralized. I then took a stroll over the battlefield, to see who of my comrades were dead or wounded, and saw my friend, William I. Blue, lying on his face, dead. I turned him over to see where he was shot. He must have been shot through the heart, the place where he wanted to be shot, if shot at all. He must have been killed instantly, for hs was in the act of loading his gun. One hand was grasped around his gun, in the other he held a cartridge, with one end of it in his mouth, in the act of tearing it off. I sat down by him and took a hearty cry, and then, thinks I, “It does not look well for a soldier to cry,” but I could not help it. I then stuck his gun in the ground by his side, marked his name, company and regiment on a piece of paper, pinned it on his breast, and went off.
I then saw three field officers a short distance from me looking through a field glass. I very deliberately walked up to them and asked them to let me look through it, and one of them handed it to me. When looking through it I saw, about two miles off, what I took to be about 10,000 of the enemy. The field appeared to be black with them. I returned the glass, saying: “My God! have we all of them to fight yet?” Just at that moment “Pendleton’s Battery” turned their guns on them and I saw the first shell strike in the field. I don’t think it was five minutes until the field was vacant. I felt considerably relieved. I had had enough of fighting that day. We had gained a great victory. The enemy were completely routed and panic-stricken, and never halted until they arrived at Alexandria and Washington.
My company only numbered fifty-five, rank and file, when we went into service, but, ,so many having the measles and other ailments, we went into the fight with only twenty-seven men, and out of that number we lost five killed and six wounded. The killed were William I. Blue, Thomas Furlough, James Adams, John W. Marker and Amos Hollenback. The wounded were Sergeant William Montgomery, John Reinhart, Robert C. Grace, Edward Allen, A. A. Young and Joseph Cadwallader.
The regiment went right into action with about 450 men, and lost forty-three killed and 140 wounded. Our regiment fought the 14th Brooklyn Zouaves and the 1st Michigan, which poured a deadly volley into us. While we were engaged in front, Colonel Cummings ordered the regiment to fall back three times before they did so. All the troops engaged suffered more or less, but the loss of the 33d Virginia was greater than that of any regiment on either side, as the statistics will show, and it was the smallest regiment, not being full and not numbered.
We worked nearly all night taking care of the wounded, for nearly all of the enemy’s wounded were left in our hands. I took a short sleep on the battle-field. The next day was rainy and muddy. The regiment was ordered to “fall in,” but not knowing where they were going, I did not want to leave until I had buried my friend, according to promise. When they had marched off I hid behind a wagon, and Sergeant Daily, seeing me, ordered me to come on. I told him never would I leave that field until I had buried my friend, unless I was put under arrest. He then left me, and I looked around for some tools to dig a grave. I found an old hoe and spade, and commenced digging the grave under an apple tree in an orchard near the “Henry house.”
While I was at work a Georgian came to me and wanted the tools as soon as I was done with them. He said he wanted to bury his brother, and asked if I was burying a brother.
“No,” I replied, “but dear as a brother.”
“As you have no one to help you,” he said, “and I have no one to help me, suppose we dig the grave large enough for both, and we can help one another carry them here.”
“All right,” I said, “but I want to bury my friend near the tree, for, perhaps his father will come after him.”
So we buried them that way and gathered up some old shingles to put over the bodies, and a piece of plank between them. Then I rudely carved the name on the tree.
Captain William Lee, who was acting Lieutenant Colonel, was killed, and our Sergeant Major, Randolph Barton, a cadet from the Virginia Military Institute, was severely wounded.
That evening there was a detail made from each company to bury the dead, and we buried all alike, friend and foe, and this ended the first battle of “Bull Run,” and the first big battle of the war.
There is no doubt but that the timely charge of the 33d Virginia turned the tide of battle and saved the day for the Confederates. Colonel Cummings took the responsibility upon himself and ordered the charge just in the nick of time, for in five minutes’ time the Federals would have had their battery in position and would have had an enfilading fire on the brigade and Pendleton’s Battery, and made their position untenable. I herewith append a letter from Colonel Cummings, and one from Captain Randolph Barton, which bear me out in my statement, and more fully explain the situation and results. Also one that I had written to my parents three days after the battle, and which is still preserved.
James I. Robertson, Jr., ed., Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade, pp. 21-33
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Tags: 33rd Virginia, John Casler, Memoirs, Resources
Categories : Reminiscences, Resources