Lt. George Campbell Brown, Aide-de-camp to R. S. Ewell, On the Battle

23 02 2013

I joined a company raised near Spring Hill & even before its organization we experienced the evils of the elective system of officering troops. Every post from Captain to Corporal was elective – & after some intriguing & squabbling we split into two companies – one, under my cousin Capt. G. W. Campbell, Jr. joining the 1st Tenn. Regt. (Maney’s), the other under Capt. (afterwards Major) N. F. Cheairs joining the 3d Tenn. (Jno. C Brown’s).

When I had been in Camp Cheatham about a month, I was sent home with a severe acute rheumatism of both knees, and by the advice of my physician (who assured me I would not be fit for duty in the infantry for six months) resigned my position as 1st Lieutenant & accepted the offer just afterwards made me by Genl R. S. Ewell of A. D. C. of his Staff. I secured a horse after some difficulty & started him for Manassas Junction under charge of my Mother’s carriage driver Robert, who went as my servant. Went on in the passenger trains myself & reached the Junction on the 19th July, two days before the Battle of Manassas. I recollect the despair which came over me when I heard Genl E’s Hd. Qrs. were at Union Mills, 5 miles off, as I thought of my big trunk. But I left it at the station & started down the R. Rd. lined with tents & troops & of course covered with filth in consequence. Pretty soon a young man of affable address caught up with me, bringing with him two others that I soon found out were under his guard as it gradually dawned on me that I was too. It turned out that his Lieut. had charged him to keep special watch on me as I might be a spy.

In honor of my supposed rank, I was carried direct to Genl Ewell’s Hd. Qrs., one of the men with me being dismissed at his Regts Camp, the other’s convenience postponed to mine. On the way I nearly lost the confidence of my guard and felt quite like an imposter myself. We met a group of a half-dozen plainly-dressed riders going at a gallop towards the Junction. “There goes Genl Ewell, now,” said the guard. I was forced to confess that I had not recognized him. We found only Lt. Taliaferro present at Hd. Qrs. – a gawky, good-natured freckled young “Plebe” from West Point, but who, in my humbled condition, seemed then to me most majestic & terrific in his military power & of almost incredible affability & condescension, seeing that he welcomed me quite like an equal. He gave the guard a receipt for me & we sat together in the small shade the quarters afforded until Genl E. retd. in about an hour – a medium=sized & plain man, with well-shaped, spare figure & face much emaciated by recent sickness but indicative of much character & genius. I had not seen him for eight years & found it not easy to recall his features. He had evidently changed much by exposure & bad health.

That night he told me Genl Beauregard expected a fight on the morrow. I must not forget his first greeting to me – a characteristic one. Seeing him busy in giving orders when he first came up, I kept my seat waiting to make myself known till he should be at leisure. Talieferro went up to him & told him I had come. He immediately came & shook hands saying, “Well, Campbell, I am sorry you have come.” Thinking he meant that he had mean time appointed another officer on his staff, I faltered out that I was too, if it embarrassed him in any way. He laughed & said that he meant we would probably have a fight the next day – that he had hoped I would stay away long enough to miss it but as I was here, it could not be helped. Next day he lent me a horse (he had then but two) which on the 21st I, in my “zeal without knowledge” rode nearly to death.

Early on the morning of the 20th, it was known that McDowell might attack at any time & the nerves of all were strained to their highest tension, listening for the beginning of the conflict. A Lieut. Clendening of Alabama (6th Ala. I think) was on duty at a picket post 3 miles below Union Mills, and before we had got fairly ready to move, came rushing to Hd. Qrs. pale & breathless with excitement (not fear) to report that the enemy had thrown a bridge across Bull Run from the side of the steep hill opposite & were crossing a heavy force of all arms over it. He described it minutely – said that the hill was steep & they had two bridges, one above the other (thus [sketch not included]) and were then crossing rapidly. He had seen infantry and artillery, and an officer on a fine white horse had made a special impression upon him. “What had become of his picket?” He had forgotten it entirely and feared it was cut off – had gone beyond it with a field-glass and seeing the bridge & enemy not over a hundred yards from him had rushed to Hd. Qrs. to tell of them.

Not believing his story, of which the details were almost incredible, Gen, Ewell mounted him on a courier’s horse & sent him with R. F. Mason (afterwards Maj. & A.Q.M. on Ewell’s & Fitz Lee’s Staff) to find the picket & point out the bridge. The picket knew of no enemy – but Clendening with a confident air carried Mason to the stream & pointed out the bridges. He showed the troops crossing – called on Mason to listen to the rumble of artillery – and to look at the man on the white horse who sat at the end of the bridge, directing the movement. It was a pure figment of his heated brain! Mason returned with him to Hd. Qrs. & by way of corroboration brought a member of the picket. Clendening denied nothing. He had seemed much abashed when they proved him mistaken about the bridge – but said he really thought it was there. Je was placed under arrest & the affair investigated. Luckily for him, Gen. Ewell sent for his Colonel, Captain &c, & found out his character. He never drank – was plainly sober – & showed intense mortification at his error. There was insanity in his family – but not much – and it was finally determined, upon consultation with medical men, that hard living & mental excitement had produced temporary insanity. He was released & advised to resign – did so & went home, intensely grateful to Gen. Ewell. He was a man of high personal character. A drunkard or habitual liar would have been shot, or tried by a drum-head Court, at least. His false report had been communicated to Gen. Beauregard by courier, & though instantly contradicted (i.e. in half an hour) might have caused a serious delay or change in the movements of the whole army.

Our brigade consisted of the 5th Alabama, Col. Rodes, the 6th Alabama (12 companies), Col. Seibles & the 6th Louisiana, Col. Seymour, with four pieces of the Washington Arty. (brass 7. pdrs., & 12 pdr, howitzers) under a Capt. T. L. Rosser, & three (or four) Cavalry Companies under Lt. Col. Walter Jenifer. Rodes (killed as Major General) was already prominent, being much commended for his conduct on the retreat from Fairfax Station & Sangster’s X-roads, to the present position. His Lt. Col. (Jones) & Major (Morgan, afterwards Brig. Gen’l. of Cavy. in the West – Alabama or Tennessee) were good officers. Seibles was a tall blustering politician, out of his element – his Lt. Col. (Baker) a mere cipher. Both resigned without reaching a higher rank. His Major (Jno. B. Gordon) commanded a Georgia Brigade & came out of the war a Lieutenant General. Poor old Seymour was killed in temporary command of Taylor’s Brigade at Cold Harbor – a brave gentleman but inefficient, slow officer. His Lieut. Co., a turbulent fellow, staid away from the Reg’t a good deal, I was told, & was thrown over at the reorganization. Major James resigned in August or Sept. from a quarrel with the Lieut Col. whose very name I forget. James was sensible – I know nothing of his soldierly qualities.

Rosser ended the war as Major General of Cavalry – Jenifer as nominated Lieut. Col. of same. Jenifer was worthless as an officer – a great dandy but small man.

The three infantry regiments had over 2500 men for duty. Seibles had some 1360 on his rolls – the others about 250 less, each. The Cavy. was about 300 men – & the “Governor’s Mounted Guard” & “Goochland Troop” were very fine men & unusually intelligent. The other Companies I forget. The Governor’s Guard were composed of young gentlemen from Richmond – & had as privates, Warwicks, Haxales, Strothers, Allans, &c. The Goochlanders were of nearly similar material.

It seems now ludicrous, yet very sad, to recall how eagerly we all looked forward to our first fight. Roser kept his battery continually unlimbered, ready for action, posted on a high hill just above the RRd. bridge & ford at Union Mills. Seible’s reg’t covered the side of the hill above & below the ford, sheltered in rifle-pits & behind large rocks that lay thick on the hillside. Rodes was very strongly & skilfully posted (I remember Gen’l. Ewell’s praising his works for their engineering skill displayed) below the RRd. bridge – & Seymour above the bridge – each of them with part in reserve.

Holmes’ brigade from Fredericksburg had come up on the afternoon of the 19th or morning of the 20th & was in reserve at [?] house, a mile & a half in our rear. Holmes ranked Genl Ewell – hence a blunder on the 21st.

Genl Ewell’s staff then consisted of 1. Col. Humphrey Tyler, almost always drunk – ordered to him from Richmond. 2. Lt. (Cadet) John Taliaferro, son of “Farmer John” of Orange Co. – brave & willing but young & stupid. 3. Capt. (afterwards Maj Genl) Fitz Lee, assigned to him by mutual request – very valuable & efficient. 4. Capt. (afterwards A.Q.M.) Rhodes – willing & quick – did not stay long with him, being ordered to Richmond at his own request. 5. R. F. Mason (afterwards Maj. & A.Q.M.) energetic & efficient as a scout & cool & brave – not useful except on the field. 6. C. Brown – No Qr Mr or Commy – no Brigade Surgeon – till late in the fall. A. M. Hudnut of Richmond acted as Clerk at this time & until October.

21st July – First Manassas. The night before this, Gen. Ewell sitting, for want of chairs, in his half-empty trunk – I, in front of him on a pallet – told me we would probably fight next morning – & to be ready to ride by daylight. I was – and thew whole command lay ready under arms till 8 A.M. listening from before sunrise to the fire of the guns at Stone Bridge & in front of Mitchell’s Ford. At [?] an order came from Genl Beauregard to be in readiness to move & at [?] after waiting for the expected orders to advance till uneasy Genl Ewell sent for further instructions. I here insert the correspondence bearing on this affair, so misunderstood at the time – & by at least one person, so wantonly misrepresented – viz. the correspondent of the “Columbus (Ga.) Sun” – who insinuated a charge of treason against Genl Ewell – but apologized & retracted when called on to give authority for his statements. Genl Beauregard gave Genl Ewell full permission to publish his (Genl B.’s) letter in his own defense – but presently wrote to him, begging him to wait for the publication of his (Beauregard’s) official report, which would fully & satisfactorily explain the matter. Genl Ewell did so wait – but when the report came out its way of stating the affair was so vague & unsatisfactory that he was greatly disgusted, seeing the probability that nine out of ten who read it would still impute blame to him when in fact it belonged to Beauregard. It seems hard to believe the most important order of the day, seeing that it was to move the wheeling & guiding flank of a body of twelve or fourteen thousand troops, by a courier. Still more so that the name even of the courier should be unknown – & that having sent he should wait – within fifteen minutes ride of the camp of those troops for several hours, waiting to know why they did not execute his orders & neither go himself nor send a Staff Officer moreover a courier to see to their execution. But so it was – and in the eyes of some at least in our Brigade, Beauregard was great no longer.

As I find on examining my pages that the correspondence I spoke of is not among them I leave a space for it & proceed. Genl Ewell, being aware of the original programme of Genl Beauregard, uneasy at getting no orders sent to Genl Holmes to ask if he had any, & finding he had none, took the responsibility on himself of moving across Bull Run on the road towards Centreville, sending a Staff Officer to inform Genl Beauregard of what he had done – and sending word to D. R. Jones on his left – Genl Holmes promised to follow him & started to do so. But I omit a very important link. When Genl E. first sent to Holmes, he sent als to D. R. Jones on his left, who returned a copy of a dispatch stating that “Ewell was ordered to cross Bull Run and move on Centreville & directing him (Jones) to conform to the movement as soon as notified by Ewell that it had begun.” This is the substance of the communication – & on this were based the subsequent movements of Ewell & Holmes.

We crossed Bull Run at Union Mills Ford – the 6th La. only using th R. Rd. bridge. Halting on the hill beyond the stream to form and close up, we moved in column on the Centreville Road – Rodes in advance, then the Art’y – then Seibles – then Seymour. But we had barely gone a mile & a half, when Capt. Rhodes, who had gone to Genl Beauregard, returned in hot haste to discontinue the movement. The order that he brought is indelibly engraved in my memory, from its peculiar phraseology. It was in the form of a circular & ran thus: “On account of the difficulties of the ground in their front the troops will resume their former positions.” It was dated 10 1/2 A.M. & signed by Beauregard. It was some time afterwards before I fully appreciated that the “difficulties” were the Yankees whom D. R. Jones attacked at McLean’s Ford. He ran up against them as stupidly as if he were blindfolded – and got run off in a minute. But I suppose the real reason of our recall was the state of affairs on the left, but that Beauregard for some reason felt it better to give a false excuse than none at all – perhaps for fear of disheartening the men.

At any rate we went back to our little house on the hill side & the troops to their bivouacs – and waited through the long July day with only an occasional flutter of couriers or Staff, listening to the distant & heavy firing, as only those can listen who hear the noise for the first time – with nerves at such a high tension that every moment we seemed to hear the guns come nearer & nearer. We gradually learned the state of affairs – that the struggle was to be decided on the left, seven miles away – and we began to comprehend that only in case of our defeat or as a forlorn-hope to prevent it, could we expect to share in the combat. Yet when after three P.M. the order to move was brought by Capt. Rhodes or Capt. Lee (I’m not certain which) with a face very firm but far from exultant – we moved with enthusiasm and perfect confidence. The change of direction put the 6th La. in advance & the men, mostly hardy Irishmen, outfooted the less robust soldiers of the Ala. Regts. so much that we had twice to stop & wait for them. The day was excessively hot & dusty – yet those Irish marched over four miles an hour – but we did not reach the field soon enough to do more than take a look at the rear of the enemy hurrying across Bull Run a mile above the Stone Bridge & cheer Johnston & Beauregard & Davis as they rode past us.

In less than half an hour a rumor came to Genl Beauregard that a force of the enemy were crossing at Union Mills. Not even fully understanding the completeness of his victory, he at once ordered our troops to return there & if we found no enemy to encamp for the night on our old ground. We did so – and our share in the first Manassas consisted of a march two miles to the front and back – and another seven miles to the left and ditto – the only fire we were under being that of two rifled guns opposite Mitchell’s Ford which shelled the road we were on as we passed, but being three miles away, hit nobody.

Next day passed with a rain that became heavier til near noon – then slackened – & Jno. Taliaferro who had heard that his brother was wounded had gone to see him having brought back a wonderful account of the battle-field I begged leave to go see it – and with a courier named Bruce, rode over it. One Yankee, with his head blown clean off by a round shot & only the chin left with a short black beard on it, giving it a peculiar appearance of Beastliness (in its literal sense), made on me the impression, scarce effaced by subsequent horrible sights, of being the most horrible corpse imaginable. Another I remember with a rifle ball quite through both hips from side to side, who was lying in a branch into which he had evidently crawled hoping to ease his pain. Most of the wounded had been removed but we found one poor fellow mortally hurt, on an out-of-the-way hillside, covered with two or three oil-cloths by some charitable hand, but so helpless that he had not been able to cover his head & one ear was quite full of water from the rain. Bruce lifted his head, wiped out the water and gave him some whisky, or apple brandy, from his canteen – & we received for it a warm blessing from the poor Irish boy – very likely his last words to any human being, though we sent two of the ambulance corps to take him to hospital. I remember being surprised to find so few dead as I saw & learning afterwards that many had been buried & that I had not seen quite a large part of the field – though I was where the hardest fighting took place – near the Henry house.

A few days later we crossed Bull Run & took up our camp on the waters of Pope’s Head Run near its mouth. Here we lay quiet for two nor three months. No special events occurred, except that Capt. Rhodes left the staff for Richmond to become A.Q.M – and Major James resigned from the 6th La. because of his quarrel with Lt. Col. (whom I never saw to my knowledge) & was reappointed in the Engineers. Mr. (afterwards Major) B. H. Greene of Miss here joined us, as volunteer aid to Genl Ewell. My servant Robert, who had been first our cook & then our driver at home, cooked for the mess – & we catered by turns – living pretty well. Humphrey Taylor, who was really all the time in the “biled owl” stage of drunkenness, and had a remarkable faculty, that had once or twice deceived Genl Ewell, of listening with apparent attention & deep gravity to any orders given him & replying mechanically: “Yes, Sir, Very well. It shall be done at once, Sir – ” while all the time stupid, blind drunk – he, say, had been sent to Manassas Junction on the 21st, to find Genl Beauregard – had got drunk & never been heard of till I passed him on the afternoon of the 22d in a sutlers tent talking to an Indian, or a mulatto, woman who kept it – and the next we knew of him was a publication in a Federal paper giving the news of his capture at Cincinnati in an attempt, doubtless inspired by bourbon, to bring his wife away into our lines. I have never met him since though we exchanged for him late in the war. He was never of any use to the C.S. and I was surprised that they exchanged him, considering the circumstances of his capture – & that he brought it on himself.

Terry L. Jones, Ed, Campbell Brown’s Civil War: With Ewell and the Army of Northern Virginia, pp. 20-33





Notes to Brig. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, On the Battle

12 01 2013

A few notes on this post – Brig. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, On the Battle:

A copy of this letter, from Richard S. Ewell to Mary Custis Lee, was provided to me by researcher Tonia Smith of Pinehurst, NC. I received permission from the Virginia Historical Society to post a transcription and an image of the letter here.

Before posting the letter, I contacted Donald Pfanz of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Mr. Pfanz is the author of the definitive biography of Ewell, and has recently published a collection of his correspondence. As the letter in question was not included in his book, I wanted to give him a first look. He very graciously consented to transcribe its contents. Considering his familiarity with Ewell’s handwriting and composition, this was appropriate. With one minor exception, his transcription of the letter has been reproduced here as submitted, complete with edits – typically I don’t edit correspondence for punctuation, spelling, or abbreviations. However, as Mr. Pfanz was kind enough to do the work, I make an exception in this case.

Thanks to Ms. Smith, the VHS, and Mr. Pfanz.





Brig. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, On the Battle

11 01 2013

July 31. 61—

Mrs. M. C. Lee

Dear Madam,

Your letter & the two enclosed came to my quarters within the last hour[.]  I assure you I feel deeply the gratitude due to an Overruling Providence for our deliverance.  From the rumors & confirmed reports I gather that the sons of our noble old State had their full share in the actions of the 18th & 21st.  As was proper they seemed to be the chief instruments & have suffered severely—

You will gather more of the details from papers than I can give you except that it is a fact that they brought a large number of handcuffs.  I am told a box of them was marked for Officers   –My brother told me he saw one numbered 500 or some such number but I am told there were thousands[.]   A circular has been sent from our Head Qrts. Inquiring into it.

I was not in the fight.  Crossing the river twice with my Brigade to take the offensive we were recalled both times, the lat time to go to Stone Bridge, the place of hardest contention[,] but the tide had turned before our arrival–  It is curious to read the exulting letters picked up on the field, some of them disgraceful even to our enemies–  Capt. Tillinghast – was killed Ramsey d[itt]o–  Rickets is a prisoner–  Orlando Wilcox d[itt]o.  Dr Stone & Gray do.  Andrew Porter[,] Fitz John Porter, Palmer, Stoneman, Miles, Heintzelman wounded, were on the field.  One co of 2d Drag. & 6 of Cavalry–  Major Sykes commanded a Battalion of Infantry–  I have not made many inquiries as you may suppose it is painful to find our old Army friends active against us–  Capt. Potter whom I left at Albuquerque N.M. professing never to take up arms against the South is a prisoner & I hear, loud in his threats of what they are going to do next–  The general tone of the prisoners is impudent in the extreme—

Mr. Moss wrote on the back of the letter enclosing those from Mrs. Fitzhugh that “he had made inquiries & Arlington had not been much abused.”  The papers state however that they were going to clear away the trees—

–Genl. Lee was traveling west a few days since but being without retinue it is likely [“likely” crossed out?] possible not to take the field–  They are repairing the rail road bridges burnt when we fell back from Fairfax & it seems a general advance is contemplated.  I think before very long you can go to Ravensworth & I hope to Arlington—

–I have had quite a holyday [sic] since the battle as changes in Brigades are being made.  Fortunately they leave me my best Regt. And the best colonel I have seen (Rodes 5th Ala.)  He is a Virginian & was a long time at the Institute—

–I have the same cavalry as before the battle and their horses are in fine condition.  If Miss Lee want to visit the battle field or to go to Ravensworth it can be managed without difficulty, particularly as regards the field–  The other would require notice a day or two before, but a horse could be sent to meet her at the Station[.]

–I believe I have told you all I know positively as regards who were present on the field & your other questions—

Mrs. Ricketts has joined her husband since the fight & she or some other Northern woman has been so violent in their expressions that it was threatened to put her in prison if she would not stop

–I have heard no names of the other ladies who came to enjoy our humiliation–  Indeed I don’t know but Mrs. Ricketts came after the fight—

–It is not likely that the women who came along to spend the winter in Richmond were the wives of old Officers–  They were I expect of the new forces or of volunteers–  I am sure Mrs. Miles was not along or he would never have been able to return–  Some blame is attached to us for not advancing in the panic, but although Alexandria might have been easily taken it would have been hard to hold & we were so embar[r]assed by wounded & prisoners that it would have been impossible to have supplied troops at that distance without the rail road—

With respects to Miss Mary

Yours—

R S. Ewell

P. S.

I will send you a list of Officers of the regular Army killed or Captured when I see a correct one – RSE–

Mary Lee Papers, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia MSS/L5144a 1334-1666 Sec. 24. Used with permission.

Transcribed by Donald Pfanz.

Letter image

Notes





Brig. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, On the Retreat from Fairfax and the Battle

10 01 2013

July 31, 1861

Miss Lizzie Ewell

Dear Lizzie,

I received your note with the envelope a few days since. I am very sorry that I can not gratify your taste for blood and your ambition by any account of glory that I was to have reaped on the 18th or 21st. When we fell back from Fairfax Court-house Station my post had been assigned, in advance, at Union Mills on the extreme right flank of our position. I was, when directed to do so, at the critical moment, to take the road to Centreville to attack the enemy in flank, and the various other brigades, between this and the point of attack of the enemy, were also to cross the run and do likewise. On the 17th we all remained in position as the enemy did not make a decided attack. On the 21st we were roused before daylight with orders to hold ourselves in readiness at a moments warning, and very soon we could hear the booming of artillery and the faint discharge of musketry far up the run towards the turnpike. About nine A.M. the next General above me sent word he had crossed and was advancing, sending me a copy of his orders which looked to my doing so, although nothing had come to me. I also moved forward, but we were all arrested by an order to fall back to our old positions. The reason I had not received the order was that it had not been sent, but the time lost was so short that it made no difference – less than an hour. The reason of our recall was that our hands were full up the run, and the scales were doubtful.

At three P.M. I again received orders to cross, and went about 1 1/2 miles when I was directed to march my brigade to the stone bridge over Bull Run. My feelings then were terrible, as such an order could only mean that we were defeated and I was to cover the retreat. I reached [there] in time to find we had won, and marched back to Union Mills (Rail-road crossing of Bull Run.) Our line of battle from extreme left to right was nearly five miles. The battle took place on the left – across Bull Run – on open ground, the enemy having turned our flank. We should feel deeply our gratitude for the victory, for the march of the enemy was as a swarm of locusts, burning and destroying. They drove peoples stock into their pens merely to butcher them, leaving farmers without a live animal on their farms. The private memoranda found on the field speak of their depredations on the route.

On the 17th, the day we fell back from Fairfax, owing to the hurry of affairs, the troops at the Court-house fell back without warning me at the station, and the result was that Col. R. E. Rodes of my command (formerly of Lexington) was engaged with the enemy, and my flanks were about being turned before we knew that General Bonham had orders to retire. Either the Yankees lost their way or were over cautious for we extricated ourselves without loss of baggage or life. We were very near being surrounded by 10 or 15000 while we were less than 2000 without artillery. In the hurry of movements they forgot the most important orders sometimes. Col. Rodes is an old acquaintance of Benjamins, and excellent officer, behaved very gallantly, but in the blaze of more recent events his little skirmish will be overlooked. He killed and wounded some 40 of the enemy, including one captain, and drove them back to wait for their artillery. In the meantime we retired. All is doubtful as to future movements.

Remember me to the family. There is talk of an advance.

Yours,

R. S. Ewell.

Pfanz, Donald C., ed., The Letters of General Richard S. Ewell, Stonewall’s Successor, pp. 175-176

From a typescript in Library of Congress (original lost)





General Ewell at Bull Run – Campbell Brown

28 02 2010

GENERAL EWELL AT BULL RUN (1)

BY MAJOR CAMPBELL BROWN, AIDE-DE-CAMP AND ASSISTANT ADJUTANT-GENERAL TO GENERAL EWELL.

BATTLES AND LEADERS OF THE CIVIL WAR – Volume I: From Sumter to Shiloh, pp. 259-261

In General Beauregard’s article on Bull Run, in “The Century” for November [1884], is this severe criticism of one of his subordinates, the late Lieutenant-General R. S. Ewell:

“Meanwhile, in rear of Mitchell’s Ford, I had been waiting with General Johnston for the sound of conflict to open in the quarter of Centreville upon the Federal left flank and rear (making allowance, however, for the delays possible to commands unused to battle), when I was chagrined to hear from General D. R. Jones that, while he had been long ready for the movement upon Centreville, General Ewell had not come up to form on his right, though he had sent him between 7 and 8 o’clock a copy of his own order, which recited that Ewell had been already ordered to begin the movement. I dispatched an immediate order to Ewell to advance; but within a quarter of an hour, just as I received a dispatch from him informing me that he had received no order to advance in the morning, the firing on the left began to increase SO intensely as to indicate a severe attack, whereupon General Johnston said that he would go personally to that quarter.”

This contains at least three errors, so serious that they should not be allowed to pass uncorrected among the materials from which history will one day be constructed:

1. That Ewell failed to do what a good soldier would have done — namely, to move forward immediately on hearing from D. R. Jones.

2. That Beauregard was made aware of this supposed backwardness of Ewell by a message from D. R. Jones.

3. That on receiving this message he at once ordered Ewell to advance.

The subjoined correspondence, (2) now [March, 1885] first in print, took place four days after the battle. It shows that Ewell did exactly what Beauregard says he ought to have done — namely, move forward promptly; that his own staff-officer, sent to report this forward movement, carried also to headquarters the first intelligence of the failure of orders to reach him; that no such message was received from D. R. Jones as is here ascribed to him; and that the order sent back by Beauregard to Ewell was not one to advance, but to retire from an advance already begun.

It is not easy to understand these mistakes, as General Beauregard has twice given a tolerably accurate though meager account of the matter — once in his official report, and once in his biography published by Colonel Roman in 1884. Neither of these accounts can be reconciled with the later attitude.

Upon reading General Beauregard’s article, I wrote to General Fitzhugh Lee, who was Ewell’s assistant adjutant-general at Manassas, asking his recollection of what took place. I have liberty to make the following extracts from his reply. After stating what troops composed the brigade, he goes on:

“These troops were all in position at daylight on the 21st July, ready for any duty, and held the extreme right of General Beauregard’s line of battle along Bull Run, at Union Mills. As hour after hour passed, General Ewell grew impatient at not receiving any orders (beyond those to be ready to advance, which came at sunrise), and sent me between 9 and 10 A. M. to see General D. R. Jones, who commanded the brigade next on his left at McLean’s Ford, to ascertain if that officer had any news or had received any orders from army headquarters. I found General Jones making preparations to cross Bull Run, and was told by him that, in the order he had received to do so, it was stated that General Ewell had been sent similar instructions.

“Upon my report of these facts, General Ewell at once issued the orders for his command to cross the Run and move out on the road to Centreville.”

General Lee then describes the recall across Bull Run and the second advance of the brigade to make a demonstration toward Centreville, and adds that the skirmishers of Rodes’s 5th Alabama Regiment, which was in advance, had actually become engaged, when we were again recalled and ordered to “move by the most direct route at once, and as rapidly as possible, for the Lewis house” — the field of battle on the left. Ewell moved rapidly, sending General Lee and another officer ahead to report and secure orders. On his arrival near the field they brought instructions to halt, when he immediately rode forward with them to General Beauregard, “and General Ewell begged General Beauregard to be allowed to go in pursuit of the enemy, but his request was refused.”

As to the real causes of the miscarriage of General Beauregard’s plan of attack there need be little doubt. They are plainly stated by his immediate superior in command, General Joseph E. Johnston, in his official report, as being the “early movements of the enemy on that morning and the non-arrival of the expected troops” from Harper’s Ferry. He adds: ”General Beauregard afterward proposed a modification of the abandoned plan, to attack with our right, while the left stood on the defensive. This, too, became impracticable, and a battle ensued, different in place and circumstances from any previous plan on our side.”

There are some puzzling circumstances connected with the supposed miscarriage of the order for our advance. The delay in sending it is unexplained. General Beauregard says it was sent “at about 8 A. M.,” but D. R. Jones had received his corresponding order at 10 minutes past 7, and firing had begun at half-past 5.

The messenger was strangely chosen. It was the most important order of the day, for the movements of the army were to hinge on those of our brigade. There was no scarcity of competent staff-officers; yet it was intrusted to “a guide,” presumably an enlisted man, perhaps even a citizen, whose very name was unknown.

His instructions were peculiar. Time was all-important. He was ordered not to go direct to Ewell, but first to make a detour to Holmes, who lay in reserve nearly two miles in our rear.

His disappearance is mysterious. He was never heard of after receiving the order; yet his route lay wholly within our lines, over well-beaten roads and far out of reach of the enemy.

Lastly, General Beauregard, in his official report, gives as his reason for countermanding the movement begun by Ewell at 10 o’clock, that in his judgment it would require quite three hours for the troops to get into position for attack. Had the messenger dispatched at 8 been prompt, Ewell might have had his orders by 9. But at 9 we find Beauregard in rear of Mitchell’s Ford, waiting for an attack which, by his own figures, he should not have expected before 12.

It is not for me to reconcile these contradictions.

(1) This article appeared substantially as here printed in “The Century ” for March, 1885.— EDITORS.

(2) [CORRESPONDENCE.]

Union Mills, July 25th, 1861.

General Beauregard.

Sir: In a conversation with Major James, Louisiana 6th Regiment, he has left the impression on my mind  that you think some of your orders on the 21st were either not carried out or not received by me.

My flrst order of that day was to hold myself in readiness to attack — this at sunrise. About 10. General Jones sent a copy of an order received by him In which it was stated that I had been ordered to cross and attack, and on receipt of this I moved on until receiving the following:

10 &1/2 A.M.

On account of the difficulties of the ground in our front it is thought advisable to fall back to our former position.

(Addressed) General Ewell.       

(Signed) G. T. B.

If any other order was sent to me, I should like to have a copy of it, as well as the name of the courier who brought it.

Every movement I made was at once reported to you at the time, and this across Bull Run, as well as the advance in the afternoon, I thought were explained in my report sent in to-day.

If an order were sent earlier than the copy through General Jones, the courier should be held responsible, as neither General Holmes nor myself received it. I send the original of the order to fall back in the morning. The second advance in the afternoon and recall to Stone Bridge were in consequence of verbal orders.

My chief object in writing to you is to ask you to leave nothing doubtful in your report, both as regards my crossing in the morning and recall —and not to let it lie inferred by any possibility that I blundered on that day. I moved forward as soon as notified by General Jones that I was ordered and he had been.

If there was an order sent me to advance before the one I received through General Jones, it is more than likely it would have been given to the same express.

Respectfully,

R. S. EWELL. B. G.

Manassas, Va., July 26th, 1861.

General: Your letter of the 25th inst. is received. I do not attach the slightest blame to you for the failure of the movement on Centreville, but to the guide who did not deliver the order to move forward, sent at about 8 A. M. to General Holmes and then to you —corresponding in every respect to the one sent to Generals Jones, lion ha MI. and Longstreet — only their movements were subordinate to yours. Unfortunately no copy, in the hurry of the moment, was kept of said orders: and so many guides, about a dozen or more, were sent off in different directions, that it is next to impossible to find out who was the bearer of the orders referred to. Our guides and couriers were the worst set I ever employed, whether from ignorance or over-anxiety to do well and quickly I cannot say: but many regiments lost their way repeatedly on their way toward the field of battle, and of course I can attach no more blame to their commanding officers than I could to you for not executing un order which I am convinced you did not get.

I am fully aware that you did all that could have been expected of you or your command. I merely expressed my regret that my original plan could not be carried into effect, as it would have been a most complete victory with only half the trouble and lighting.

The true cause of countermanding your forward movement after you had crossed was that it was then too late, as the enemy was about to annihilate our left flank, and had to be met and checked there, for otherwise he would have taken us in flank and rear and all would have been lost.

Yours truly,

G. T. Beauregard

General R. S. Ewell, Union Mills, Va.

P. S. Please read the above to Major James. Ewell, Union Mills, Va.

N. B. The order sent you at about 8 A. M., to commence the movement on Centreville, was addressed to General Holmes and yourself, as he was to support you, but being nearer Camp Pickens, the headquarters, than Union Mills, where you were, it was to be communicated to him first, and then to you; but he has informed me that it never reached him. With regard to the order sent you in the afternoon to recross the Bull Run (to march toward the Stone Bridgei), it was sent you by General J. E. Johnston, as I am informed by him, for the purpose of supporting our left, if necessary.

G. T. B.

Do not publish until we know what the enemy is going to do—or reports are out —which I think will make it all right.

B.

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Lizinka Ewell – Southern Unionist?

26 03 2009

In this post I discussed an entry in the Oxford Guide to American Military History in which the contributor indicated that Confederate Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell was removed from command of the Army of Northern Virginia’s 2nd Corps in 1864 in part because of his wife Lizinka Brown Ewell’s “increasing Unionist sentiments”.  Not recalling ever coming across this in my readings before, I fired off a note to Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP Chief Historian John Hennessy, and asked if he could forward a link to my post to his colleague Donald Pfanz, who wrote The Book on Ewell.  Mr. Pfanz was good enough to respond and give his permission to post his note here.

Dear Mr. Smeltzer,

John Hennessy passed along your inquiry about Lizinka Ewell and her supposed Unionist sentiments.  Lizinka was definitely not a Unionist.  In fact, she outfitted an entire Confederate company at the outset of the Civil War.  She was, however, a practical woman, and early in 1865 when she saw that the South was “up the spout” and that it was only a matter of time before the Confederacy collapsed, she and her daughter fled to the North in an apparent effort to save what she could of her property.  Instead, she ended up under house arrest in St. Louis, where she stayed with a cousin, Thomas T. Gantt, who had been on McClellan’s staff earlier in the war.  (There must have been some interesting conversations in the household during that period!)

Lee transferred Ewell out of the army because he lacked faith in him and preferred to have Jubal Early lead the Second Corps.   (Lee also realized that with Longstreet’s wounding Ewell would take command of the army if anything happened to him.)   I am not completely satisfied in my own mind why Lee harbored doubts as to Ewell’s ability to command the corps.  It may have had something to do with Ewell’s adolescent behavior in the winter of 1863-4, his loss of temper at the Bloody Angle, or Lizinka’s overbearing conduct at headquarters.   It didn’t have anything to do with disloyalty on Lizinka’s part, however.

Don Pfanz

That’s good enough for me.  Thanks, Mr. Pfanz, for taking the time to respond. 





#95 – Brig. Gen. Richard S. Ewell

13 03 2008

 

Report of Brig. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, Commanding Second Brigade, First Corps

O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp 536-537

HEADQUARTERS SECOND BRIGADE,

Union Mills, July 24, 1861

SIR: In conformity with Special Orders, No. 145, headquarters Army of the Potomac, I have the honor to report that upon the morning of July 21, 1861, I first received orders to hold myself in readiness to advance at a moment’s notice. I next received a copy of an order sent to General Jones and furnished me by him, in which it was stated I had been ordered at once to proceed to his support.

I immediately commenced crossing my brigade over Bull Run, but whilst so doing received an order to fall back to my former position, which I did, and a short time afterwards received another order, brought by Colonel Terry, aide-de-camp, to cross again, proceed up the run, and attack a battery of the enemy upon its flank and rear, regulating my movements upon the brigades of Generals Jones and Longstreet. I again crossed the stream, and had proceeded about a mile and a half in execution of the order when I was stopped by an order to march at once to stone bridge, following General Holmes’ brigade, which had already been ordered to proceed to that point.

I deem it proper to state that the courier said he had been accompanied by an aide-de-camp whose horse had given out before reaching me. I countermarched and marched at once to headquarters in the field, remained in reserve at that point until ordered back to Union Mills, which I reached after a long and fatiguing march the same night.

My brigade consisted of Rodes’ Fifth Alabama, Seibels’ Sixth Alabama, Seymour’s Sixth Louisiana, a battery under Captain Rosser, the Washington Artillery, and four companies of cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Jenifer. The infantry would hardly have got back that night, but for the excitement of hearing that the enemy were in possession of the ford. As connected with this, I send a report of a skirmish on the 17th, of Colonel Rodes’ regiment becoming engaged and checking the enemy, owing to the non-reception of the order to fall back on their appearance.(*)

Very respectfully,

R. S. EWELL,

Brigadier-General

Col.. THOMAS JORDAN,

Assistant Adjutant-General

*No. 74, p. 459.





Farewell Letters Then and Now

5 01 2008

Here is a touching piece drawing parallels between the famous Major Sullivan Ballou letter and another by one of our modern day heroes – a fellow blogger.  Please check this one out.  And follow this link to Major Olmstead’s full blog post.

The Major was a friend of fellow blogger Don at Crossed Sabers, and I notice that as I wrote this he put up a tribute.  You can read it here

Update – more details here.





2nd Lt. George Armstrong Custer, Co. G, 2nd U. S. Cavalry, On Travelling to the Field and the Battle (Part 2)

7 10 2017

In the preceding chapter I described my night ride from Washington to the camp of McDowell’s army at and about Centreville. After delivering my dispatches and concluding my business at headquarters, I remounted my horse, and having been directed in the darkness the way to the ground occupied by Palmer’s seven companies of cavalry, I set out to find my company for the first time, and report to the commanding officer for duty before the column should begin the march to the battleground.

As previously informed by a staff officer at headquarters, I found it necessary only to ride a few hundred yards, when suddenly I came upon a column of cavalry already mounted and in readiness to move. It was still so dark that I could see but a few lengths of my horse in any direction. I accosted one of the troopers nearest me., and inquired, “What cavalry is this?” “Major Palmer’s,” was the brief reply. I followed up my interrogations by asking, “Can you tell me where Company G, Second Cavalry, is?” the company to which I had been assigned, but as yet had not seen. “At the head of the column,” came in response.

Making my way along the column in the darkness, I soon reached the head, where I found several horsemen seated upon their horses, but not formed regularly in column. There was not sufficient light to distinguish emblems of rank, or to recognize the officer from the private soldier. With some hesitation I addressed the group, numbering perhaps a half dozen or so individuals, and asked if the commanding officer of my company, giving the designation by letter and regiment, was present. “Here his is,” promptly answered a voice, as one of the mounted figures rode toward me, expecting no doubt I was a staff officer bearing orders requiring his attention.

I introduced myself by saying, “I am Lieutenant Custer, and in accordance with orders from the War Department, I report for duty with my company, sir.” “Ah, glad to meet you Mr. Custer. We have been expecting you, as we saw in the list of assignments of the graduating class from West Point, that you had been marked down to us. I am Lieutenant Drummond. Allow me to introduce you to some of your brother officers.” Then, turning his horse toward the group of officers, he added, “Gentlemen, permit me to introduce you to Lieutenant Custer, who has just reported for duty with his company.” We bowed to each other, although we could see but little more than the dim outlines of horses and riders as we chatted and awaited the order to move “forward.” This was my introduction to service, and my first greeting from officers and comrades with whom the future fortunes of war was to cast me. Lieutenant Drummond, afterward captain, to whom I had just made myself known, fell mortally wounded at the Battle of Five Forks, nearly four years afterward.

While it is not proposed to discuss in detail the movements of troops during the Battle of Bull Run or Manassas, a general reference to the positions held by each of the contending armies the night preceding combat may be of material aid to the reader. Beauregard’s headquarters were at or near Manassas, distant from Centreville, where General McDowell was located in the midst of his army, about seven miles. The stream which gave its name to the battle runs in a southwest direction between Centreville and Manassas, somewhat nearer to the former place than to the latter.

The Confederate army was posted in position along the right bank of Bull Run, their right resting near Union Mill, the point at which the Orange and Alexandria Railroad crosses the stream, their center at Blackburn’s Ford, while their left was opposite the Stone Bridge, or crossing of the Warrenton Pike, at the same time holding a small ford about one mile above the Stone Bridge. Beauregard’s entire force that day numbered a few hundred over 23,000 with 55 pieces of artillery, notwithstanding that the president of the Confederacy, who arrived on the battlefield just before the termination of the battle, telegraphed to Richmond, “Our force was 15,000.” Ewell commanded on the Confederate right; Longstreet in the center, at Blackburn’s Ford; and Evans the left, at and above the Stone Bridge.

The Federal forces were encamped mainly opposite the left center of their adversary’s line. The numbers of the two contending armies were very nearly equal, the advantage, if any, in this respect, resting with the Union troops; neither exceeded the force of the other beyond a few hundred. General McDowell crossed Bull Run, in making his attack on the enemy that day, with only 18,000 men and 22 guns. But to this number of men and guns must be added nearly an equal number left on the east side of Bull Run for the double purpose of constituting a reserve and occupying the enemy’s attention. All of these troops were more or less under fire during the progress of the battle. Thus it will be seen that the number of men was about equal in both armies, while the Confederates had six pieces of artillery in excess of the number employed by their adversaries.

Reconnaissances and a skirmish with the enemy on the 18th had satisfied General McDowell that an attack on the enemy’s center or left did not promise satisfactory results. He decided, therefore, to make a feigned attack on the enemy’s center at Blackburn’s Ford, and at the same time to cross Bull Run at a point above that held by the enemy, and double his adversaries left flank back upon the center and right, and at the same time endeavor to extend his own force beyond Bull Run sufficiently far to get possession of and destroy the Manassas Gap Railroad, thus severing communications between Beauregard’s army and its supports in the valley beyond.

McDowell’s forces, those engaged in the battle…divided into four divisions, commanded by Brigadier General Daniel Tyler, Connecticut volunteers; Colonels David Hunter, S. P, Heintzelman, and D. S. Miles. Tyler’s division was to occupy the attention of the enemy by threatening movements in front of the Stone Bridge, while the divisions of Hunter and Heintzelman were to move up Bull Run, keeping beyond the observation of the enemy, cross that stream, and turn the enemy’s left flank. Miles’s division was to constitute the reserve of the Federal army, and to occupy ground near Centreville. Richardson’s brigade of Tyler’s division was to act in concert with the latter, under Miles, and to threaten with artillery alone the enemy stationed at Blackburn’s Ford. Still another division, Runyon’s, formed a part of McDowell’s forces, but was not made available at the battle of the 21st, being occupied in guarding the communication of the army as far as Vienna, and the Orange and Alexandria Railroad; the nearest regiment being seven miles in rear of Centreville. It will thus be seen that as McDowell only crossed 18.000 men over Bull Run to attack about 32,000 of the enemy, his reserve, not embracing Runyon’s division, was but little less in number than his attacking force.

One of the conditions under which General McDowell consented to the movement against the enemy at Manassas was that the Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley, under Johnston, who were then being confronted, and supposed to be held in check by the Federal army, under Major General Patterson of the Pennsylvania volunteers, should not be permitted to unite with the forces of Beauregard.

This was expecting more than could be performed, unless Patterson had been ordered to attack simultaneously with the movement of McDowell. As it was, Beauregard no sooner learned of McDowell’s advance on the 17th of July than Johnston was ordered by the Confederate authorities at Richmond to form an immediate junction at Manassas with Beauregard. Other troops, under Holmes, consisting of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, amounting to about one brigade, were also ordered to join Beauregard.

The promised arrival of these heavy reinforcements induced Beauregard to depart from his resolution to act upon the defensive. He determined to attack General McDowell at Centreville as soon as he should be assured of the near arrival of Johnston’s and Holmes’s commands. His first plan was to have a portion of Johnston’s army march from the valley by way of Aldie, and attack McDowell in rear and upon his right flank, while his own army should make an attack directly in front. This plan was abandoned, and instead it was agreed between Beauregard and Johnston that the forces of both should be united west of Bull Run, and matched to the direct attack of the Federals.

In pursuance of this plan Johnston arrived at Manassas at noon on the 20th, the day preceding the battle, and being senior to Beauregard in rank, he nominally assumed command of both Confederate armies, but assented to Beauregard’s plans, and virtually conceded their execution to that general.

It is somewhat remarkable that the Federal and Confederate commanders had each determined to attack the other on the same day, the 21st. The Confederate general was induced to alter his plan, and act upon the defensive, but a few hours before his lines were assailed by McDowell; his decision in this matter being influenced by two circumstances. One was the detention of about 8,000 of Johnston’s men, whose presence had been relied upon; the other was the discovery several hours before daylight that the Federal army was itself advancing to the attack. Beauregard had ordered his forces under arms and was awaiting his adversary’s attack at half-past four o’clock the morning of the 21st.

Reasoning correctly that McDowell was not likely to attack his center at Blackburn’s Ford, not to operate heavily against his right near Union Mills, Beauregard no sooner discovered the movement of Hunter’s and Heintzelman’s divisions, to pass above and around his left flank at Sudley Springs, than he began moving up his reserves and forming his left wing in readiness to receive the attacking division as soon as the latter should cross Bull Run.

Hunter and Heintzelman were forced to make a much longer detour, in order to make the designated crossings of Bull Run, than had been anticipated.

The first gun announcing the commencement of the battle was fired from Tyler’s division in front of the Stone Bridge. It was not until nearly 10:00 A. M. that the troops of Hunter’s division came in contact with the enemy near Sudley Springs.

Once over the stream, both Hunter and Heintzelman promptly engaged the enemy, and slowly forced his entire left wing back until the troops under Tyler were able to cross and participate in the battle. Beauregard, soon after satisfying himself of the real character and direction of his adversary’s movement, decided upon a counter-attack by throwing his right wing and center across Bull Run at Blackburn’s and Union Mills fords, and endeavoring to do with his enemy exactly what the latter was attempting with him – to turn his right flank. By this movement he hoped to place a large force in rear of Centreville and ensure McDowell’s defeat.

The orders for this movement, which were sent to Ewell on the right, miscarried, and too much time was lost before the mistake could be rectified. It was fortunate for the Confederates that this was the case, as had this turning movement been attempted, the troops sent to the Federal side of Bull Run to execute it would in all probability have been held in check by the heavy Federal reserves under Richardson and Miles, and would have been beyond recall when, later in the day, Beauregard, finding his left giving way in confusion before the successful advance of Hunter’s, Heintzelman’s, and Tyler’s divisions, rapidly moved every available man from his right to the support of his broken left. Had Beauregard attempted to turn the position at Centreville, McDowell would have achieved a complete victory over all the Confederate forces opposed to him on the Confederate side of Bull Run several hours before the arrival upon the battlefield of the Confederate troops from the valley whose coming at a critical time decided the battle in the Confederates’ favor.

With the exception of a little tardiness in execution, something to be expected perhaps in raw troops, the plan of battle marked out by General McDowell was carried out with remarkable precision up till about 3:30 P.M. The Confederate left wing had been gradually forced back from Bull Run until the Federals gained entire possession of the Warrenton Turnpike leading from the Stone Bridge. It is known now that Beauregard’s army had become broken and routed, and that both himself and General Johnston felt called upon to place themselves at the head of their defeated commands, including their last reserves, in their effort to restore confidence and order; General Johnston at one critical moment charged to the front with the colors of the Fourth Alabama. Had the fate of the battle been left to the decision of those who were present and fought up till half-past three in the afternoon, the Union troops would have been entitled to score a victory with scarcely a serious reverse. But at this critical moment, with their enemies in front giving way in disorder and flight, a new and to the Federals unexpected force appeared suddenly upon the scene. From a piece of timber directly in rear of McDowell’s right a column of several thousand fresh troops of the enemy burst almost upon the backs of the half-victorious Federals.

From Civil War Times Illustrated (submitted there by Peter Cozzens), The Half-Victorious Federals, Vol. XXXVII, No. 7, February 1999

Part 1
Part 3





2nd Lt. George Armstrong Custer, Co. G, 2nd U. S. Cavalry, On Traveling to the Field and the Battle (Part 1)

20 09 2017

I left West Point on the 18th of July for Washington, delaying a few hours that afternoon on my arrival in New York to enable me to purchase, of the well-known military firm of Horstman’s, my lieutenant’s outfit of sabre, revolver, sash, spurs, etc. Taking the evening train for Washington, I found the cars crowded with troops, officers, and men hastening to the capital.

At each station we passed on the road at which a halt was made, crowds of citizens were assembled provided bountifully with refreshments, which they distributed in the most lavish manner among the troops. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds, they received us with cheers and cheered us in parting. It was no unusual sight, on leaving a station surrounded by these loyal people, to see matrons and maidens embracing and kissing with patriotic fervor the men, entire strangers to them, whom they saw hastening to the defense of the nation.

Arriving at Washington soon after daylight, Saturday morning, the 20th of July, I made my way to the Ebbit House, where I expected to meet some of my classmates domiciled. Among others I found there was Parker, appointed from Missouri, who had been my room- and tent-mate at West Point for years. He was one of the few members of my class who, while sympathizing with the south, had remained at the Academy long enough to graduate and secure a diploma. Proceeding to his room without going through the formality of announcing my arrival by sending a card, I found him at that early hour still in bed. Briefly he responded to my anxious inquiry for news, that McDowell’s army was confronting Beauregard’s, and a general engagement was expected hourly. My next inquiry was as to his future plans and intentions, remembering his Southern sympathies. To this he replied by asking me to take from a table near by and read an official order to which he pointed.

Upon opening the document referred to, I found it to be an order from the War Department dismissing from the roles of the army Second Lieutenant James P. Parker, for having tendered his resignation in the face of the enemy. The names of two others of my classmates appeared in the same order. After an hour or more of discussing the dark probabilities of the future as particularly affected by the clouds of impending war, I bade a fond farewell to my former friend and classmate, with whom I had lived on terms of closer intimacy than with any other being. We had eaten day by day at the same table, had struggled together in the effort to master the same problems of study; we had marched by each other’s side year after year, elbow to elbow, when engaged in the duties of drill, parade, etc., and had shared our blankets with each other when learning the requirements of camp life. Henceforth this was all to be thrust from our memory as far as possible, and our paths and aims in life were to run counter to each other in the future.

We separated; he to make his way, as he did immediately, to the seat of the Confederate Government, and accept a commission under a flag raised in rebellion against the government that had educated him, and that he had sworn to defend; I to proceed to the office of the Adjutant General of the Army and report for such duty as might be assigned me in the great work which was then dearest and uppermost in the mind of every loyal citizen of the country.

It was not until after two o’clock in the morning that I obtained an audience with the Adjutant General of the Army and reported to him formally for orders, as my instructions directed me to do. I was greatly impressed by the number of officials I saw and the numerous messengers to be seen flitting from room to room, bearing immense numbers of huge-looking envelopes. The entire department had an air of busy occupation which, taken in connection with the important military events then daily transpiring and hourly expected, and contrasted with the humdrum life I had but lately led as a cadet, added to the bewilderment I naturally felt.

Presenting my order of instructions to the officer who seemed to be in charge of the office, he glanced at it, and was about to give some directions to a subordinate nearby to write out an order assigning me to some duty when, turning to me, he said, “Perhaps you would like to be presented to General Scott, Mr. Custer?” To which I of course joyfully assented.

I had often beheld the towering form of the venerable chieftain during his summer visits to West Point, but that was the extent of my personal acquaintance with him. So strict was the discipline at that Academy that the gulf which separated cadets from commissioned officers seemed greater in practice thant that which separated enlisted men from them. Hence it was rare indeed that a cadet ever had an opportunity to address or be addressed by officers, and it was still more rare to be brought into personal conversation with an officer above the grade of lieutenant or captain, if we except the superintendent of the Academy and the commandant of the corps of cadets. The sight of a general officer, let alone the privilege of speaking to one, was an event to be recounted to one’s friends. In those days the title of general was not so familiar as to be encountered on every hotel register. Besides, the renown of a long lifetime of gallantry in his country’s service had gradually but justly placed General Scott far above all contemporary chieftains in the admiration and hero worship of his fellow countrymen; and in the youthful minds of the West Point cadets of those days Scott was looked up to as a leader whose military abilities were scarcely second to those of a Napoleon, and whose patriotism rivaled that of Washington.

Following the lead of the officers to whom I had reported, I was conducted to the room in which General Scott received his official visitors. I found him seated at a table over which were spread maps and other documents which plainly showed their military character. In the room, and seated near the table, were several members of Congress, of whom I remember Senator Grimes of Iowa.

The topic of conversation was the approaching battle in which General McDowell’s forces were about to engage. General Scott seemed to be explaining to the congressmen the position, as shown by the map, of the contending armies. The adjutant general called General Scott’s attention to me by saying, “General, this is Lieutenant Custer of the Second Cavalry; he has just reported from West Point and I did not know but that you might have some special orders for him.”

Looking at me for a moment, the general shook me cordially by the hand, saying, “Well, my young friend, I am glad to welcome you to the service at this critical time. Our country has need of the strong arms of all her loyal sons in this emergency.” Then, turning to the adjutant general, he inquired to what company I had been assigned. “To Company G, Second Cavalry, now under Major Innis Palmer, with General McDowell,” was the reply. Then, addressing me, the general said, “We have had the assistance of quite a number of you young men from the Academy, drilling volunteers, etc. Now what can I do for you? Would you prefer to be ordered to report to General Mansfield to aid in this work, or is your desire for something more active?”

Although overwhelmed by such condescension upon the part of one so superior in rank to any officer with whom I had been brought in immediate contact, I ventured to stammer out that I earnestly desired to be ordered to at once join my company, then with General McDowell, as I was anxious to see active service. “A very commendable resolution, young man,” was the reply; then, turning to the adjutant general, he added, “Make out ;lieutenant Custer’s orders directing him to proceed to his company at once”; then, as if a different project had presented itself, he inquired of me if I had been able to provided myself with a mount for the field. I relpied that I had not, but would set myself about doing so at once.

“I fear you have a difficult task before you, because, if rumor is correct, every serviceable horse in the city has been bought, borrowed, or begged by citizens who have gone or are going as spectators to witness the battle. Beauregard may capture some of them and teach them a lesson. However, I what I desire to say to you is, go and provide yourself with a horse if possible, and call here at seven o’clock this evening. I desire to send some dispatches to General McDowell, and you can be the bearer of them. You are not afraid of a night ride, are you?”

Exchanging salutations, I left the presence of the general-in-chief, delighted at the prospect of being at once thrown into active service, perhaps participating in the great battle which everyone there knew was on the eve of occurring; but more than this my pride as a soldier was not a little heightened by the fact that almost upon my first entering the service I was to be the bearer of important official dispatches from the general-in-chief to the general commanding the principal army in the field.

I had yet a difficult task before me in procuring a mount. I visited all the prominent livery stables, but received almost the same answer from each, the substance of which was that I was too late; all the serviceable horses had been let or engaged. I was almost in despair of the idea that I was not to be able to take advantage of the splendid opportunity for distinction opened before me, and was at a loss what to do, or to whom to apply for advice, when I met on Pennsylvania Avenue a soldier in uniform, whom I at once recognizes as one of the detachment formerly stationed at West Point, who left with those ordered suddenly to the defense of Washington at the time of Mr. Lincoln’s inauguration, when it was feared attempts would be made to assassinate the president-elect.

Glad to encounter anyone I had ever seen before, I approached and asked him what he was doing in Washington. He answered that he belonged to Griffin’s battery, which was then with McDowell’s forces at the front, and had returned to Washington by Captain Griffin’s order, to obtain and take back with him an extra horse left by the battery on its departure from the capital. Here then was my opportunity, and I at once availed myself of it. It was the intention of this man to set out on his return at once; but at my earnest solicitation he consented to defer his departure until after seven o’clock, agreeing also to have the extra horse saddled and in readiness for me.

Promptly at seven o’clock I reported at the adjutant general’s office, obtaining my dispatches, and with no baggage or extra clothing to weigh down my horse, save what I carried on my person, I repaired to the point at which I was to find my horse and companion for the night. Upon arriving there I was both surprised and delighted to discover that the horse which accident seemed to have provided for me was a favorite one ridden by me often when learning the cavalry exercises at West Point. Those who were cadets just before the war will probably recall him to mind when I give the name “Wellington,” by which he was then known.

Crossing Long Bridge about nightfall, and taking the Fairfax Court House road for Centreville, the hours of night flew quickly past, engrossed as my mind was with the excitement and serious novelty of the occasion as well as occasionally diverted by the conversation of my companion. I was particularly interested with his description, given as we rode in the silent darkness, of a skirmish days before at Blackburn’s Ford, between the forces of the enemy stationed there and a reconnoitering detachment sent from General McDowell’s army; especially when I learned that my company had borne an honorable part of the battle.

It was between two and three o’clock in the morning when we reached the army near Centreville. The men had already breakfasted, and many of the regiments had been formed in column in the roads ready to resume the march; but owing to delays in starting, most of the men were lying on the ground, endeavoring to catch a few minutes more of sleep; others were sitting or standing in small groups smoking and chatting.

So filled did I find the road with soldiers that it was with difficulty my horse could pick his way among the sleeping bodies without disturbing them. But for my companion I should have had considerable difficulty in finding my way to headquarters, but he seemed familiar with the localities even in the darkness, and soon conducted me to a group of tents near which a large log fire was blazing, throwing a bright light over the entire scene for some distance around.

As I approached, the sound of my horse’s hoofs brought an officer from one of the tents nearest to where I halted. Advancing toward me, he inquired who I wanted to see. I informed him I was the bearer of dispatches from General Scott to General McDowell. “I will relieve you of them,” was his reply, but seeing me hesitate to deliver them, he added, “I am Major Wadsworth of McDowell’s staff.”

While I had hoped from ambitious pride to have an opportunity to deliver the dispatches in person to General McDowell, I could not decline longer, so placed the documents in Major Wadsworth’s hands, who took them to a tent a few paces distant, where, through half-open folds, I saw him hand them to a large, portly officer, whom I at once recognized to be General McDowell. Then, returning to where I still sat my horse, Major Wadsworth…asked me of the latest news in the capital, and when I replied that every person at Washington was looking to the army for news, he added, “Well, I guess they will not have to wait much longer. The entire army is under arms, and moving to attack the enemy today.” After inquiring at what hour I left Washington, and remarking that I must be tired, Major Wadsworth asked me to dismount and have some breakfast, as it would be difficult to say when another opportunity would occur.

I was very hungry, and rest would not have been unacceptable, but in my inexperience I partly imagined, particularly while in the presence of the white-haired officer who gave the invitation, that hunger and fatigue were conditions of feeling which a soldier, especially a young one, should not acknowledge. Therefore, with an appetite almost craving, I declined the kind proffer of the major. But when he suggested that I dismount and allow my horse to be fed I gladly assented.

While Major Wadsworth was kindly interesting himself in the welfare of my horse, I had the good fortune to discover in an officer at headquarters one of my recent West Point friends, Lieutenant Kingsbury, aide-de-camp to General McDowell. He repeated the invitation just given by Major Wadsworth in regard to breakfast, but I did not have the perseverance to again refuse.

Near the log fire already mentioned were some servants busily engaged in removing the remains of breakfast. A word from Kingsbury, and they soon prepared me a cup of coffee, a steak, and some Virginia corn bread, to which I did ample justice. Had I known, however, that I was not to have an opportunity to taste food during the next thirty hours, I should have appreciated the opportunity I then enjoyed even more highly.

As I sat on the ground sipping my coffee, and heartily enjoying my first breakfast inn the field, Kingsbury (afterward Colonel Kingsbury, killed at the Battle of Antietam) informed me of the general movement then begun by the army, and of the attack which was to be made on Beauregard’s forces that day.

Three days before, I had quitted school at West Point. I was about to witness the first grand struggle in open battle between the union and secession armies; a struggle which, fortunately for the nation, the Union forces were to suffer defeat, while the cause for which they fought was to derive from it renewed strength and encouragement.

From Civil War Times Illustrated (submitted there by Peter Cozzens), Custer’s First Stand, Vol. XXXVII, No. 6, December, 1998

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