Notes on “Early Morning of War” – Part 2

9 12 2016

51gm8atoyol-_sx329_bo1204203200_I know, it’s been eight months since Part 1 of this series. Life goes on. To recap, here’s how this works: as I read Edward Longacre’s study of the First Battle of Bull Run, The Early Morning of War, I put little Post-Its where I saw something with which I agreed or disagreed, or which I didn’t know, or which I did know and was really glad to see; essentially, anything that made me say “hmm…” So I’ll go through the book and cover in these updates where I put the Post-It and why. Some of these will be nit-picky for sure. Some of them will be issues that can’t have a right or wrong position. Some of them are, I think, cut and dry. So, here we go:

Chapter 1: The Great Creole and the Obscure Ohioan

The biographical sketch of McDowell is pretty good here, more in-depth than you’ll find pretty much anywhere else. It touches on McDowell’s familial political connections, his broad education, experiences as a staff officer, alcohol abstention, and generally favorable impression upon military and political figures. This all contributes to making his ultimate appointment to command of an army more understandable and less serendipitous. I would have preferred a little more on McDowell’s actual rank (while a brevetted major, his actual rank prior to appointment as a full Brigadier General U. S. A. was as First Lieutenant) affected his relationship with other officers and his boss, Winfield Scott.

This chapter (p. 29) also gives the first glimpses into McDowell’s planning process, primarily with very preliminary plans he presented to his benefactor, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, in May, 1861. These plans far exceeded McDowell’s areas of influence, and I think should not be given too much weight in examining the plans he would later develop, under changed circumstances, for moving on Manassas. It seems to me some of the assumptions and conditions in these earlier, larger plans get conflated by analysts into McDowell’s later, more narrow plans.

The background provided on Beauregard in this chapter is pretty standard, with a little more discussion of his pre-war politics than one normally finds in general sketches. One surprise here is a description of Beauregard’s character (p. 22) provided by South Carolina Governor Pickens in a 7/7/1861 letter to fellow South Carolinian Milledge Luke Bonahm, whom Bory had succeeded in command of the Bull Run line. In that letter, which may have been written in part as salve for the wounded pride of the recipient, Beauregard is described  in terms usually applied to his comrade Joe Johnston (“His reputation is so high that he fears to risk it”).

Also in this chapter is a brief recap of General Scott’s “offering” of “command” of “the” Union army to Robert E. Lee which left me as dissatisfied as most accounts of the meeting.

Check back here often for the next installment. I’m going to make an effort to put up a couple chapters per month from here on out.

Part 1





Capt. Jerome Rowe, Co. A, 32nd New York Infantry, On the Retreat

9 12 2016

Letters from the Battle-Field.
———-
[Correspondence of the Journal]
———-

Headquarters 32d Regiment,
Alexandria, Va.,
July 27, 1861.

Friend Selkreg: – I cannot help, as one of the many military men engaged in the ill-fated conflict at Bull’s Run, to feel slandered by the public press as regards the operations of that day. It is enough upon the poor soldiers that they were defeated, without making them accountable for the loss of half a million of property, strewn, as wrecks of defeat in the indecent haste with which that great army retired to camp that day; without charging upon the whole army a panic that carried them past Centreville in their rout; that lost that place, Fairfax Court House, and all the territory we had occupied by victorious arms, which is now given back to enemies and is being fortified, and must be retaken perhaps with loss of life.

The withdrawing our forces from the conflict at Bull’s Run, as the fight was then progressing, was doubtless eminently proper. The general rout following is the fault of the Commander, and one of the most infamous things, as it was conducted, in military history. If Gen. McDowell had ordered the army to fall back and form at Centreville, instead of ordering the men promiscuously to run for their lives to their camps, the command would have been well executed, our Government property saved, the territory saved, the moral and credit of the army saved, and neither the world nor our enemies have known that we were defeated. What reason was there for a panic among thirty thousand men, who were formed in divisions remote from the actual conflict, who had not fired a musket all day, who, when they retired from the woods, retired as they would have moved to a fourth of July parade. If all possible panics had been generated among the men in the fight, it would not have affected more than the six or eight regiments actually engaged in it, bating the stupid blunder of moving a train of baggage wagons into the inextricable passes of Bull Run, to be wedged in and block up the rear.

That thirty thousand men would have remained and held Centreville had they been permitted to have done so. So far from the army’s having taken flight, in an uncontrollable panic, I have seen several of the regiments who supposed when ordered to retreat that they were simply changing position for better effect. Ninety-nine out of every hundred of the troops, had they known that they were being withdrawn as defeated, would have refused to have left the woods. Fifteen thousand men, ourselves included, in a selected position natural for defence, were quietly asleep on the grass, and were awakened at 11 o’clock at night to march home. That single fifteen thousand could easily have held Centreville and have recovered all the property and saved the credit of the army. They would have done it if permitted. Re-enforcements would have reached us, and nothing would have pleased them more in the world than to have had Jeff Davis come out from his fastnesses and retreat behind masked batteries in the woods, and have attempted to have driven them from that position. Yet those men are now demoralized by the fright communicated to them by general officers, and by being marched, between 11 o’clock at night and 11 o’clock the next day, thirty miles to avoid some terrible grim-visaged enemy that would hang on their rear and worry and destroy them.

The Colonel of the 32d Regiment, when the enemy appeared and opened a tremendous fire upon our division, (which fire we suppose was simply to divert the attention of the remainder of the army from their own retreat at the place where the battle was, for they ran from our troops faster than our’s from them,) insisted on staying and giving them sturdy battle, and to that end induced some of the artillery, which the regiment protected, to stay after the other pieces had left, and give the enemy a few more rounds of grape and cannister. A young United States officer, a lieutenant of artillery, had just fallen and was carried in rear of our lines, and then retreat was ordered. The bugle, whose notes they must obey, then sounded a peremptory retreat which they obeyed, and left us to our duty to cover that retreat and save their horses and guns from the enemy. We did this, and our regiment came orderly the last out of the woods, with confederate cavalry hanging upon its rear, and audacious enough to show some of their horsemen after we got in line of battle in the open field. The cannon firing late in the day, which the New York papers speak of as a probable diversion, was the artillery of our own Brigade, formed by the side of our regiment, giving these cavalry hollow shot and setting them flying for the woods. When the enemy were at the right of our column, and driven by the artillery were expected to file around to the front and charge upon us at Bull’s Run, and the men stood with pieces cocked to receive them, I passed down the line to see how the men behaved, and my judgement is they would in action give a good account of themselves.

Yours, &c.,

JEROME ROWE, Capt. Co. A.

Ithaca [N. Y.] Journal and Advertiser, 8/7/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

Jerome Rowe at Fold3 

Bio sketch of Judge Jerome Rowe (thanks to reader Chris Van Blargan)





Unknown, 32nd New York Infantry, On the Battle

7 12 2016

The Battle at Bull’s Run.
———-
[Correspondence of the Journal]
———-  

Camp McDougal, near Alexandria, Va.,
Wednesday, July 24, 1861.

Dear Sir: – Yours of the 19th of July has just been received and read with pleasure. Our Regiment reached our old camp at Alexandria the forenoon of Monday last, on our retreat from the battle of Bull’s Run, and Manassas, of the day before. – We had been encamped near Bull’s Run, and within two miles of the masked batteries of the Rebels for the two last days previous, making, as I supposed, every preparation for a great battle and certain victory, and I to-day firmly believe that the victory was as certainly won and that but for the cowardice, knavery or imbecility of our acting Generals the federal troops would to-day occupy those important points instead of being as they are, repulsed, under the disgrace of retreat, and in the camps they occupied a week ago, or further back even in Washington.

We went forth to battle on the morning of the 21st of July. We reposed much confidence in our strength, and we were strong and the day would have been ours, but for the lack of some one to lead or direct our movements, having the necessary skill and qualifications to entitle him to be styled General of the New York State army. But this was not our case. The left of the line where our Brigade was stationed as a support of the batteries planted at that end of the line, our General seemed either crazy, badly scared or drunk, and our regiment (I understand it was so with others) was moving from place to place continually, to what end or for what purpose nobody seemed to know. Our artillery (two batteries on the left) blazed away all day at the enemy or their masked batteries – (those doing such fearful work among our men but a few days before) – without receiving a single shot from the enemy in return during the whole day, newspaper reports to the contrary notwithstanding. The only fight on the left of the line where our regiment was stationed, was the cannonade of our guns unanswered by the rebels, and the occasional exchange of shots between our skirmishers and theirs, whereby less than half a dozen men were killed and wounded, except that just at dark a body of rebel infantry marched from the woods on the left and fired upon the gunners killing one of the Lieutenants and for the time driving them from their guns. They rallied again, however, and poured into the rebels successive doses of shot and shell that sent them flying and enabled our men to take away their guns before they could rally again.

It was at this time that the 32nd Regiment was for the first time called upon to do active duty, although we had been constantly on the field and ready at all times. When the attack was made upon our battery on the left our Regiment was ordered down to resist it and cover the retreat of the artillery. When we reached the ground the artillery was already retreating, having previously poured into the rebels such a volley of grape and canister, that before they could rally the horses had been harnessed to the guns and they were safely drawn from the field, which we then occupied, covering the retreat. The rebels did not again show themselves; we were not fired into, nor did we fire a shot during the day.

We were soon after ordered to fall back to Centreville, where several regiments were forming to resist the imagined attack from thousands of rebel cavalry, supposed to be in pursuit of our now retreating army. As we took our position in line, some acting General, probably drunk or half scared to death, shouted out in a very loud, excited voice: “The cavalry are upon us; we shall all be cut to pieces; for God Almighty’s sake move out here, or we shall all be cut to pieces!” And then addressing himself to the artillerymen he commanded, “Why in h—l don’t you fire?” And they did, and away went the cavalry, which was to cut us all to pieces, and which consisted, as near as I could see, of some few dozen horsemen just emerged from the woods we had left, and certainly were not so formidable as to call out an expression of fear or terror made use of by our acting General, and which, I have no doubt did much towards unnerving many who could not of themselves see that what their General told them was untrue, and added materially to the general confusion that followed in our horrid retreat shortly afterwards. As we were not molested during the evening by the enemy of any sort, we were allowed to lay down on our arms in line of battle, ready to resist an attack at a moment’s warning, on the damp, cold ground (for the dew had commended to fall, and all the nights are quite cold in Virginia,) to rest and sleep. I know not how it was with my comrades, but I never slept more soundly in my life than I did there in the open air upon the battle-field, where our General would have us believe we were liable to be attacked and utterly cut to pieces at any moment. I could not realize that we were in any such great danger; and to-day, after looking the ground all over, I cannot bring myself to believe there was the least danger imagined; and when at eleven o’clock we were aroused up and ordered to fall back to Fairfax Court House, and finally to Alexandria, it seemed to me that orders were being issued by secessionists, who were having the thing all their own way by merely ordering it so, and, I am sorry to say, this belief has not entirely left me yet. Our Regiment reached our old camp ground at noon of the next day, nearly used up from excessive travel, but not a man had received a scratch from the hands of the rebels. Most of the fighting was done at the right of the line and not in our vicinity. A few wounded men, skirmishers, were carried off the field on the left, and but a few; and in addition to these, the first sight that met our eyes, when we went to the relief of the artillery, was the almost lifeless body of a dying lieutenant of the artillery company, who was mortally wounded by a musket ball at the first attack upon the battery.

I must confess that when I again reached camp I felt somewhat rheumatic, as well as a good deal used up. For a whole week we had lived upon the hardest kind of fare, and often too little of that. At night we slept upon the ground, without the least shelter, no matter though the rain fell, as it did occasionally, and lucky was the man who had both his rubber and blanket. As for myself, by chance I had no blanket or overcoat, but as the boys were some of them very kind to me, I managed to get along very well, and in a fe days I shall be ready, under a new leadership, to march again to the scene of action with, I trust, a different result. One of our Generals told me on our return that our probable loss was from four to six thousand, but this is all nonsense; straggling soldiers have not yet ceased coming in, and already the reliable estimated loss is reduced to some six hundred.

I really believe that if we had maintained our ground at Centreville the enemy would have retreated much faster towards Richmond the next morning than we did towards Alexandria. But as it is it may all be for the best.

You will please say to the citizens of Tompkins through our papers, that not a man of our two Ithaca companies as yet has been harmed by a secessionist bullet.

Ever truly yours,

——

Ithaca [N. Y.] Journal and Advertiser, 7/31/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Projecting

5 12 2016

I’m getting around to outlining my thoughts on Irvin McDowell’s plan for the campaign on Manassas. If you’ve been following along, you know that I am firmly of the opinion that McDowell’s intentions and expectations for the campaign have been grossly misrepresented over the years, with resulting, understandable effects on the analysis of the failure of his plans (keeping in mind that reasons for the failure of plans and reasons for defeat are two very, very different things). While I think I’m no longer completely alone in that opinion, and may never have been, I’m still pretty sure I’m in a very small minority.

anteffcoverIn the meantime, I’m reading a very interesting book by Bradley Graham, The Antietam Effect. I’ve heard rumblings about this book over the past few years (self published in 2012), but never saw it until stumbling over it in the Fredericksburg Battlefield visitor’s center. This is a collection of essays dealing with various topics of the campaign. It’s wide-ranging, even eclectic. The titles listed in the footnotes may leave you scratching your head at first glance but, trust me, there’s a point to everything (and yes, you have to read the notes). I don’t necessarily agree with all the author’s conclusions, but I love his approach and find it very similar to my own, on a basic level.

One passage I found particularly intriguing, and applicable with some bending to my own experience with the historiography of First Bull Run, can be found on page 175:

To make their views more compelling, some authors enlist the unspoken opinions of key players…They engage in a species of psychological projection – projecting their own internalized impressions onto important historical characters. This cognitive bias tends to shape analysis, and good scholarship devolves into advocacy for the favored view, and the ascription of the author’s opinions onto those who did not espouse them.

It seems to me that, when it comes to McDowell’s intentions and expectations, authors have developed impressions of what they must have been or should have been, and in the absence of confirming evidence projected those impressions as being those of the man himself. The strange thing to me is how consistently this has been done over the years, so that those impressions have become generally accepted. When the legend becomes fact…





Maj. Buel Palmer, 16th New York Infantry, On the Battle

29 11 2016

We are permitted to make the followin extracts from a letter from Maj. Buel Palmer, 16th Regt. To his wife, dated.

Camp near Alexandria, July 22.

My Dear Wife: You will see by the heading of this short note that I am again back at the old Camp. All of the 16th Regiment are safe, only one wounded. Lieut. Hopkins was shot in the foot, a slight wound; he will be about again in a few days. * * *

Thursday we took up our line of march for Centreville where Gen. McDowell’s army was to concentrate before any further advance on the rebels. Our Regiment arrived there about noon on Thursday last, and bivouaced in an open tract of country around and about Centreville, together with about 35,000 other troops. We remained there until yesterday morning when the army took up its line of march. The 1st Division left about 2 o’clock A. M. Our Division being the 5th and last, did not get under way before 7 o’clock A. M. We marched to the ground where Gen. Tyler two days before had a hard brush with the rebels. Here we planted our battery and immediately opened fire on the masked batteries of the rebels just below us; a ravine called the Bull’s Run. They did not return the fire, still we kept up ours occasionally stopping for a short time. The battle soon became general all along the Bull’s Run for 3 or 4 miles from us to the right. The most of the battle was fought on our right, the rebels trying to flank us, that is trying to get around our right wing; but did not succeed. — News came to us about 3 o’clock that the rebels were in retreat which at one time was actually the case, but owing to some blundering our victory was turned into a defeat or retreat back to Centreville. Of this our Division knew nothing until about 6 o’clock, when our Reg’t was attacked by about 3000 rebel Infantry and some Horse. We had at the time a battery of 4 guns, brass, and 2 iron, the 16th and 31st Regts. We supposed that the rebels were in retreat all the time. The first intimation we had to the contrary was by seeing a long line of bright bayonets glittering in the sun; they were on our left and were right on us. We immediately changed the position of our battery, formed our infantry in line of battle, the right wing of the 16th on the right of the battery, the left wing on the left and the 31st on the left of our left wing. Lt. Col. Marsh, in command of the right wing, I in command of the left wing of the 16th, and Col. Pratt in command of the 31st. As soon as formed our battery opened upon them & must have done dreadful execution, as they scattered and ran in every direction. They soon reformed and advanced again; and again our batteries let them have it; our ammunition gave out, but the battery still stood in position. The enemy came up at last through a dense thicket of underbrush. In the mean time we had ordered our men flat on their faces so when their volley came it generally passed over our heads, some fell short; it was a perfect hail storm of bullets. We could see them tear up the turf on all sides of us, but providentially none of our boys were hurt. – A Lieut of the battery was killed, a ball struck him in the forehead and killed him almost instantly. The artillery and the 31st at last withdrew from the field, leaving our right alone. We fell back about ten rods still keeping our line of battle perfect. This movement was made in hopes that the rebels would leave their cover so that we could get a chance to pepper them, but they still kept behind the trees and in the bushes. We remained in this position until Col. Davies sent peremptory orders by his aid to leave the field and fall behind the battery that was in the woods in our rear and right. – When we received this order, we formed in two ranks and marched off the field in common time, our Reg’t being in the rear. We then marched up on the hill near Centreville and remained there until near 11 o’clock at night when Gen. McDowell ordered us to fall back on Fairfax and thence to our old Camp. The 16th and 31st were the rear guard of the Grand Army and arrived in camp this morning about 9 o’clock. The reason of our falling back is a mystery to me. I think our troops should have stayed at Centreville; still all the Divisions except ours were very badly disorganized and much cut up.

Plattsburgh Republican, 7/27/1861

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From Bull Run to Chancellorsville: The Story of the Sixteenth New York Infantry together with Personal Reminiscences

Contributed by John Hennessy





Unknown, 71st New York State Militia, On the Battle

28 11 2016

Letters from the Army and Navy.

The Bull Run Battle.

The following letter was written by a gentleman, a member of the 71st Regiment, N. Y. S. M., who took an active part in the great battle at Bull Run on the 21st inst., to a relative in this village, and handed us for publication:

Washington, Navy Yard, July 23, 1861

I have no doubt you have heard of my safe arrival from the battle; it was a terrible one, one of the greatest ever fought in this country. After we had marched between 9 and 10 hours, starting 1 o’clock A. M. Sunday, and a good part of the distance was made in a double quick, we arrived on the battle ground. We were immediately drawn up in line of battle and marched up to within fifty rods of the enemy, in as good order as we ever did on a parade. All the time the enemy was firing into us, but doing little damage. The enemy was just over a hill and we had to march up to the top in order to get at them. As fast as we advanced the enemy retreated. We gained the top of the hill before they reached the woods and made sad havoc among them, killing about 100. After they reached the woods, they stood and kept up a brisk fire, most of the time their shots going over our heads. After we stood up at the top of the hill firing very sharp, the rebels raised an American flag; our officers gave us word to cease firing, saying we were fighting with our own men. We ceased, but the enemy did not; we raised our flag, and at that moment a whole volley was sent at us, riddling our flag terribly. Our men, without orders, blazed at them fiercely, completely driving them out of the woods, and as they went out they were exposed to us; we again opened on them and you could see dozens fall at a time. The 1st and 2d Rhode Island regiments and the 71st ‘New York were the first to open the battle. After we had driven them away from those woods we were ordered to fall back from the top of the hill, all the time their batteries were playing upon us. We could hear their balls pass our heads, it seemed as if it was hailing only there was more noise. While I was in the act of capping my musket a shell struck it and shattered it in a thousand pieces, one piece killing a man a few feet from me. I immediately ran and picked up his piece and fired with that the balance of the time. My haversack was also cut off my back, and strange to say I never received a wound. We were intended to be the reserve, but instead of that we were the advance, and opened the fire. We were upon a masked battery before we knew it and they opened upon us killing and wounding about eight. We fired on them silencing it and killed all in it, about 30 or 40 in all. If we had a re-enforcement in time we would have carried everything before us. We were doing so until the rebels were re-enforced by about forty or fifty thousand men, that number being too great for ours (about 20,000). The enemy’s whole force was upwards of ninety thousand strong.

Long Island Farmer & Queens Co. Advertiser, 7/30/1861

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History of the 71st Regiment, N. G, N. Y., American Guards

Contributed by John Hennessy





Image: Cpl. Joseph S. Sweatt, Co. E, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry

27 11 2016
2nd-nh-corp-joseph-sawyer-sweatt-2

Cpl. Joseph S. Sweatt, Co. E, 2nd N. H. Infantry, from The Seventh Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers in the Civil War, 1862-1865, courtesy of David Morin