Capt. Nathaniel H. R. Dawson, Co. C, 4th Alabama Infantry, On the Battle, Casualties, and Aftermath

28 11 2022

Manassas, Virginia, July 24, 1861

We have in some measure recovered from the excitement following the battle, and I prepare to write you this morning, seated in a thicket, pencil in hand, some of the details of the late engagement –

We, the 4th Ala., with the 2d Miss. and 6th N. C. Rg., under Gen. Bee commenced the fight by attacking the advancing column of Yankees. Our reg. was supposed to attack 5,000 men and after keeping them in check for one hour, retreated, fell back upon the reserve. I was injured by a sprain in the ankle and missed the Reg. which was in advance and was not further engaged. About 200 of the reg. was collected but took no further active part in the battle. We have but about 200 killed and wounded. Among the former is Lieut. Simpson, whom you saw last winter in Montgomery. He was to be married to Miss Collier. We lost about 1,000 killed and wounded. The loss of the Yankees is incalculable as they were [illegible] for fifteen miles, all of their artillery – 50 pieces – 10,000 stand of arms, all of their hospital wagons, a large number of their baggage wagons, and a large number of prisoners have been taken. Their dead line the road all the way.

I walked over the battlefield the next day after the fight. The scene presented was horrible. I counted in one small spot – where Sherman’s battery was taken – thirty-seven horses that were dead and near one hundred dead yankees, besides the wounded who had been removed. Near this place is a house, an old lady 90 years of age was killed by a cannon ball. Her daughter told me this herself at the house. The dead presented an awful appearance, and I thought perchance that the fortunes of man might place me in a similar position. I have learned it seems, however, to think philosophically of these things and am inclined to the opinion that I am hard-hearted.

I have thought of you all the time, my own dear Elodie, have prayed that I might be spared to see you again, and so far my prayer has been granted, and I am deeply grateful to God. I am afraid you have been troubled by rumors of my injury, as Mr. [illegible] and Mr. Smith, members of congress from Alabama who came up from Richmond yesterday told me that it was reported I was killed. I telegraphed the Selma Reporter the day after the battle and yesterday again and wrote you the night of the battle of my safety and hope your apprehensions were not excited, but I almost regret that I was not wounded that I might have had an excuse for giving harm. But I am deeply thankful that so far I have escaped. Col. Jones, Col. Law, and Major Scott are all wounded. Gen. Bee was killed. I send you a flower plucked by me this morning from the spot. He was at the head of our regiment at the time, or the remnant. We lost 185 killed and wounded out of about 700 who went to battle.

You must write me at Manassas Junction, and I will get your letters. I will write you as often as possible. I have sent to Winchester for my trunk and will then have facilities. Excuse this miserable scrawl, but we are in the woods without tents or baggage.

Remember me to Mr. and Mrs. White. You are the idol of my heart, and I am so grateful for your love.

Adieu, dearest Elodie,
Ever and affectionately yours,
N. H. R. Dawson

From Practical Strangers: The Courtship Correspondence pf Nathaniel Dawson and Elodie Todd, Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln. pp. 141-143

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Pvt. William C. Ward, Co. G, 4th Alabama Infantry, On the Campaign

10 11 2022

FOURTH ALABAMA REGIMENT AT BATTLE OF MANASSAS, SUNDAY, JULY 21, 1861

By William C. Ward

At sundown, Jul 21, ,1861, the greatest battle ever fought on the American continent, to that time, had been won by the Southern Confederacy and lost by the United States of America. So widespread and deep was the exultation of the southern people, and so profound was the depression of the north, that everywhere and easy achievement of southern independence was confidently anticipated.

In June, 1861, General Patterson, with a large and well-equipped army, crossed the Potomac in the vicinity of Matinsburgh Va., and confronted the army of the valley of the Shenandoah commanded by General J. F. Johnston, making such demonstrations as to indicate an immediate battle. After awaiting the expected attack for about ten days, General Johnston withdrew to Winchester, Va., and his troops resumed drilling, of which they stood in need. General Jackson, however, with his brigade and some cavalry remained in the presence of the enemy, concealing the movements of his commanding general.

In the meantime, General Beauregard, flushed with the cheap laurels won in the capture of Fort Sumter, was in command of a splendid, thought not a large army, along the line of Bull Run creek, about three miles north of Manassas Junction. He was a splendid military engineer, and with the creek to protect his front had a well entrenched position. General McDowell, with the flower of the Federal army, strong in numbers and with all the most modern equipments of war, occupied a strong position confronting Beauregard. On the 18th of July, McDowell made a reconnaissance in force along Beauregard’s front, justly creating the impression that he intended to give battle. Over Beauregard was the shortest line of march to Richmond with a railroad to carry supplies. It thus became manifest that Patterson had not seriously intended to attack the army of the Shenandoah, but had made a strategic demonstration to amuse General Johnston. As soon as General Johnston, on the 18th, had information by telegraph that Beauregard been attacked, the army of the Shenandoah was mobilized and at once marched toward Manassas leaving Winchester that afternoon. Infantry, artillery, commissary and quartermaster wagons filled the highways all crowding toward the point of attack.

At noon, on the 20th of July, we reached Manassas and bivouaced in the woods about one mile north of the Junction. We were very tired and very much exhausted by the weary journey, on foot and in the cars, and the excessive heat. Early Sunday morning, off to the northwest, an occasional report of artillery could be heard, but soon that most alarming of signals, the dropping fire of skirmishers was heard. Directly a courier dashed up to General Bee, our brigade commander, who immediately mounted his little chestnut horse, and the order came to fall in. Sooner than it takes to write it, we were headed to the northwest at a double-quick guided by the artillery and skirmish fire Of the Third brigade commanded by General Bee, composed of the Fourth Alabama, Second and Eleventh Mississippi, First Tennessee and the Fifth North Carolina regiments, only the Fourth Alabama, Second Mississippi, and two companies of the Eleventh Mississippi were present in this movement, the others following later in the day. General Bee was at the head of the Fourth Alabama, and ever moving toward that skirmish firing. So rapid was the march, that many of the men, weak from measles, were being left behind, afterwards to take their places when the battle was on. Imboden’s rock brigade artillery, had unlimbered on a plateau, just north of the Robertson […] Rickett’s battery, 500 yards over the hill and beyond the valley intervening. Arriving at the point of attack, it was found that General Evans (Shank) in command of an outpost numbering about 600 men, had been struck by McDowell’s right brigade engaged in turning Beauregard’s left. Wheat’s battalion of Louisiana Tigers deployed as skirmishers, moved at the right oblique across our front and disappeared into the timeber. The Fourth Alabama was fronted into line of battle and ordered to load. It was then marched to the southwest for a short distance, partially behind a block of timber covering a steep hill side, when again fronting in line of battle marched up the hill and halted behind a low fence just in the edge of the timber.

General Bee from the left, rode up along our front and commanded, “Up Alabamians.” At once, every one sprang up and forward into the corn field about one hundred and fifty yards, halted and laid down in the corn, then about two feet high. Over a little ridge, just out of sight, was Rickett’s battery, near enough for us to hear the commands, “Load. Aim. Fire!” and the sound of the rammer as it drove the shot home, and the swab as it followed the shot sent across the valley to Imboden. We could on our right, see our men as they rose to fire and lay down to load. We could hear the commands of the Yankee officers, as they urged their men to advance. Every time the right of the Yankee regiment, immediately in our front, reached the crest of the ridge, we fired and the Yankees would fall back. On our right the men were more exposed, and the slaughter was terrible. The roar of musketry was fearful, and without intermission. It was, load, aim, fire, at will. The Second Mississippi had disappeared from our left. How long we were there, we never knew, but long enough to be left alone, and for Jackson to reach the plateau near the Henry house, a half mile in our rear and take a strong position; long enough for Bartow, great of soul, to form line to the right of the Robertson house, supporting Imboden’s battery, and long enough for Hampton, with his legion of infantry, cavalry and artillery to arrive from the right, and long enough to leave on the battle-field nearly one-third of the 650 men who went into battle.

Just who did it, was never known, but some one gave the command retreat. The regiment rose and faded as it were to the rear. Some men ran as they went by Colonel Egbert Jones, who stood by his horse supporting himself, having received his death wound. He said, “Men, do not run.” The men were demoralized. They fell backwards, through the woods, over the fence, down the hill, reformed facing the front, then faced to the rear, crossed the brook and again halted and faced to the front obliquing to the right. Colonel Jones having been left wounded, Lieutenant-Colonel Law took command. It was then seen that immediately on our left there was a Federal regiment that had turned our left in close column by division at a support arms, and that our right had been turned by a Union brigade. The left company of the Fourth, notwithstanding the cry, “Don’t shoot, they are Virginians,” delivered a fire left oblique into the faces of the regiment on the left. This was returned with interest. The Fourth was literally hanging in the air without support, enemies to the right of them, to the front of them and to the left of them. Again the men in front of the terrible fire fled up the hill. It was pitiful to see the poor fellows fall before the merciless hail. Chagrined, full of wrath and shame, some dragged themselves up the hill, and as they retired turned and emptied their muskets at short range into the faces of the foe.

Where was Shank Evans with his six hundred, where was Wheat with his Louisiana Tigers, where was Falkner with the Mississippians? Crossing the line of the Eighth Georgia, a shell exploded just over the head of Captain Clarke, who commanded the left rifle company, and immediately in front of this historian. The old captain fell, lay still on his face for a moment, rose, brushed the dirt from his clothes, and quietly continued to the rear. Here the celebrated Hampton’s legion came into view, with the assistant surgeon in front carrying a stretcher, and firing volleys or red hot oaths at the retreating men. Hampton must have formed on the left of the Eighth Georgia. Halting around the old cotton-bale flag, which Sergeant Frank Fitts had carried through the day, just in the rear of the Georgians, it was ascertained that about two hundred of the regiment had rallied.

It was just at this time that General Johnston and Beauregard, accompanied by their staffs, rode up to the regiment, having heard the firing from their position on the right, and concluded that McDowell had selected his own battle-ground and was giving battle. To General Johnston’s question, “What troops are these?” the answer was, “It is what is left of the Fourth Alabama.”

“Where are your field officers?” The answer was, “left on the battlefield.”

“Who is in command?”

Here it is understood that no one had thought it the duty of the senior captain to take command. We asked that the general either lead or give us a commander to take us again into the battle. He replied that he had just come on the field, and as soon as he could understand the situation he would place us again in battle.

Just at this point General Bartow, bleeding from a wound in the foot, his horse wounded and panting, rode up and said, “General Johnston, I am hard pressed on the right, and I cannot hold my positions without reinforcements. The General replied, “You must at all hazards hold your position, and you need reinforcements, this regiment here,” pointing to the Fourth Alabama, “will support you.” Bartow turned his horse and rode back to his command and to his death. General Johnston then, placing himself by the colors, moved the Fourth through the scrub pine timber, placed the regiment in a washout in the rear of the Georgians and left us shrouded by the thick pine bushes with orders to support Bartow.

There are some men who believe that a speech is always in order, and never lose an opportunity to fire an audience with their eloquence. Here was a great opportunity, and Captain, afterwards General Tracy rose to the occasion. The men were sad; their comrades had fallen; they had shown their backs to the foe, and they felt that hence forth they never would be able to wipe out the stain. They felt that they ought to have died on the battlefield. Tracy was eloquent. It is remembered that when he had exhausted all his native resources, he closed with Hallock’s lines, “Strike for your altars and fires; strike for the green graves of your sires, God and your native land.” Just then a minnie ball, apparently having lost its course, came singing that song that threatens to strike but does not indicate where, yet apparently near Captain Tracy’s head. He bowed low, saying, “and dodge boys, when you can.”

The battle raging from our right towards our left came nearer. Bullets fell fast into our covering. The captains, not knowing what had become of Bartow and his Georgians, moved us out into an open field, where we could see the danger that threatened. A water detail was sent out while the men rested in the sun. It was here that General Bee rode up to the regiment. Mortified at the results of the morning and feeling all was lost, he called out:

“What regiment is this?”

Captains King and Clarke answered, “General, do you not know your own men? This is what is left of the Fourth Alabama.” He said:

“Come with me and go yonder where Jackson stands like a stone wall.” The captains replied, “we have sent out details for water and as soon as they return, we will go with you.”

It was just before this that the Federal attack had become general. Advancing over the line of retreat of the Fourth Alabama, the Union army ascended the hill to the plateau in front of Jackson and Hampton and the Georgians, and as it uncovered the crest, there was a crash of musketry that can never be forgotten. The Yankees advanced, loading and firing, and their cartridge covers showed beautiful lines and magnificent drill.

When the water was distributed, General Bee mounted, placing himself on the left, and moved in rear of Jackson’s line of battle. Arbuthnot’s battery changing position, cut the regiment in two at the colors. When the right again joined the left, we were told that General Bee had fallen mortally wounded, while leading the regiment to a place where it could again go into battle. He died that night. While waiting in front of the Lewis house, where General Johnston had established his headquarters, General Jackson rode by, having his arm in a sling. For hours he had held his position and it was understood that he had saved the day.

Directly there was an indescribable roar of battle and shouting. The cavalry came from the rear charging to the front. The cry was that the Yankee army was in full retreat, and all over the vast plateau the glad shouts of victory went up to heaven. President Davis, at this time, rode on the field, hat in hand, receiving the plaudits of the men. Straglers were coming in. The happiest people ever seen were the negro mess servants, who laughed, shouted and wept. Steve., Captain King’s body servant, was uncontrollable in his joy that he had found his master alive. The Fourth went back to the Junction that night to gather up the fragments and sleep. We were so tired! We laid down to sleep feeling that we were disgraced; we waked on Monday morning to find the air vocal with our praise. That a great victory had been won was being ascribed to the fact that the Fourth Alabama had for an hour held the Federal right in check until brigades and regiments could be moved from the right to the left. As fast as the regiments came on the field, marching by the left flank they were fronted into line of battle and moved into action. McDowell, at the same time, was always moving by his right until having uncovered his front about 12 o’clock he advanced to the main attack. His flanking movement had been discovered by Evans and check by the Fourth Alabama. We never fully knew what the Fourth Alabama had done until General Heintzleman’s report to his commanding-general was made public. In that report he paid a very great compliment to the valor of the Fourth Alabama regiment that for an hour or more delayed his advance successively driving back his four regiments, so that he was unable to again bring them to the attack. From the position named, all knew the regiment so designated was the Fourth Alabama.

To prevent a short line march to the rear of our line of battle by the Union army, it was necessary to keep a large part of Beauregard’s army behind his earth works at Bull Run, when the day had been won. Colonel Cook’s Virginia regiment came on the battlefield, having all day listened to the roar of the great battle. The battle was fought by the southern generals without a plan, a rough and tumble fight made necessary by the splendid flanking movement of McDowell. As the day grew old, Generals Archer and Kirby Smith, coming by railroad train, when at a point equidistant from the battlefield and Manassas Junction, hearing the sound of battle, stopped the train and with their commands moved in the direction of the firing. They struck the Yankee right, squarely and doubled it back upon itself. Up to this time the Yankees had steadily advanced fighting with great confidence. This was too much and they fled from the field without order, never halting until under the shelter of Washington.

(Birmingham, AL) Age-Herald, 7/20/1902

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Contributed and transcribed in part by John Hennessy

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Lt. John Calvin Reed (Reid), Co. I, 8th Georgia Infantry, On the Battle and Aftermath

3 11 2022

Chapter 2

The First Manassas.

After we were in the road and well closed up, Bartow, raining in his horse, announced to us, with thrilling manner, as we passed by, “We are marching to succor General Bearegard, who is now fighting the enemy at Manassas”; and deafening cheers responded. We kept on twenty four hours, with but four hours’s rest, taking the railway train at Piedmont, where the shipment was tedious and wearing. Our regiment arrived at Manassas Junction early Saturday morning, July 20, and from Bartow’s words to us after breakfast, we supposed we were to meet the enemy immediately; but having stacked arms near Mitchell’s Ford, the way wore away without anything notable except loud complaints from the hungry. Our boys had many of them found their haversacks containing three days’ rations too burdensome, and so they had thrown away most of their contents. The next morning, in company with W. H. Clarke, the junior lieutenant, and McCall the second sergeant, I went to a neighboring home and bespoke a good breakfast. While it was preparing a cannonade commenced. The house chanced to be that of the man who was to be the guide of Lt. Col. Gardner, now in command of the regiment, Bartow commanding the brigade, to his position; and he saved us a long walk back over the ground we had come by showing us where we might fall in as the regiment came by. The cannon we heard were far towards the left. As we marched along the batteries quickened their fire, and I saw a shell explode for my first time. Because of the greater distance of the hostile batteries from us the explosion of the shell seed to be the echo of the report of the gun, and as the shell came toward us the echo seemed louder. Most of the men were still hungry, and but few had recovered from the exertion of getting to Piedmont from Winchester by forced march, now regarded as a great affair, though a year later we would have laughed at it. But the sound that promised battle fed the hungry and rested the weary. We went about and about, sometimes almost counter marching, often double quicking, and now and then on the run. The sun was blazing in fiercest heat. At last we were near the famous Henry house. Here we saw Bartow, who had not been with us during the morning and while we paused to amit some disposition of the 7th. Georgia that he was making as brigade commander, Hampton’s Legion came alongside of us and halted. In their best clothes and clean linen. How bravely they outshone us, who were in our shirt sleeves, and all bedraggled and soiled with the dirt of our hard march. And their ranks were full, while he had left two hundred behind at Winchester, most of them sick with measles. Here I first heard musketry. Rival batteries might dual it our at long taw, but I was as accurately impressed then as I could ever be Afterwards that musketry meant real fighting. The sound came from over the hill and seemed about half a mile away. Here I gave Lit. my colored servant, my coat and baggage, and took my canteen, and ordered him to go to the rear. As we started he was in a great struggle between his concern for me, and his fear, which had been showing plainly since the increase of artillery fire, and became abject when he heard the musketry. The rest here, – though out of the shade, and we were about to taste our first battle, – was very grateful. We marched a few hundred yards, surmounting a hill that rose with a steady slope, and the shock was stunning when on the crest from which we caught a view of two miles beyond, we came, as it seemed to us, all at once, in the midst of the fight. Under orders we laid down a short distance in rear of the Henry house. The Wise artillery was just beyond the house, and it was firing rapidly. Hostile guns were replying, but they did not have the range; and the shot and shell were passing far overhead. This was the most trying part of the day. The projectiles sung and whizzed and exploded over us, around us, and a very few among us. One of the Macon Guards was killed here. I shrank from the accursed things for several minutes. Once I saw dust rising from the roof of the house, indicating that a shot had passed through it. Major Cooper directed a brush fence, dividing the regiment between the right of our company and the next, to be pulled down. I was lying ten or fifteen yards distant, and as another officer was nearer, I did not heed the command. It was repeated. I looked up, and o my shame saw that nobody had stirred. I forgot the hostile battery; and in a minute a dozen of our men had enlarged a passage to our major’s satisfaction. The small affair was a great relief to me; and I think that with my springing up went the last of any nervousness that day. When I lay down again, I located the battery on the other side of the turn-pike, and about three fourths of a mile off. A long range of woods ran around the further limit of the field, and out of a place in this, as it seemed, I could see the smoke puff. Then I distinguished the report, and I have forgotten how many seconds I made it between the two. In a short while after I had heard the report, here came the shot or shell. Then I saw a long line of the enemy, far towards our left; and it rejoiced me to see them scamper as some of the shot of the wise artillery tore through their ranks. General Bee was fighting across the turn-pike, as we could hear, not see. After we had stood the fire of the distant battery about half an hour, Bartow started with us to reinforce Bee. As we moved off, another man was struck down by a shell – killed, I think. We kept behind rising ground, crossed the pike, went up a long steep red hill, and, when near the top, fronted in line and halted, – our commander seeming to expect an attack. Then we resumed our march. Just as we reached the corner of a square grove of oaks I descried the battery, and noted that were nearer to it by half than when on the hill. It sent a few ineffectual shot at us; and passing on around the rear of the oaks, we turned up the other side; and when we got to a fence running off to our right on a production of the front line of the oaks and leading to the famous pine thicket, we filed to the right, and proceeded along the fence. It was partially thrown down, and there was some small growth on each side, called in the south a hedgerow. As we turned away from the oaks a few men were wounded by Minie balls from the long fence, some three hundred yards off, to be described hereafter. Eight companies had passed on – the regiment was marching by the flank, with the right in front – and just as company I was turning from the woods, a shell from the battery, now hardly three hundred and fifty yards from us, knocked three men out of a file behind me. Some of Company K were also wounded here by a shell. Shortly afterwards I heard canister shot fly through the bushes, the marks of which I found the next day. Bartow was leading us to the thicket about a hundred and twenty yards distant from the oaks. A fence on the side of the oaks we were leaving reached on the produced side about 250 yards to the front, where it intersected with what I call the long fence, which last extended several hundred yards to the right. The 4th Alabama were lying on the ground, to the right of the fence running from the oaks, and I saw them in this position loading and firing upon the long fence. At the point where we left the oaks this regiment was between us and that fence. Now let me tell you of the latter and the thicket. It was evidently Bartow’s design, or Bee’s, that we should take advantage of the thicket in order to approach under its cover within good range of the long fence. The latter was about 125 yards from the front of the thicket, and our march was along the hedgerow to enter the rear of the thicket. We were foolishly carried over the last sixty yards of this route before and not behind the hedgerow, and a most galling fire was concentrated upon us from parts of three regiments. We made this last of the way on the run. I could hear the bullets zipping and zeeing among us like angry bees, and I knew that our men were falling fast. Two of our company were hit just here, – George Heard, one of them, falling dead as we entered the thicket. This with the tree wounded by a shell, made five. We slackened down to quick time, and I glanced up the regiment and was struck with the good order in which the files were dressed. We were in sight of the battery, and in position to be raked from end to end, but its canister came too high. When we moved forward, the ground concealed us from the guns. Just as we resumed quick time I looked back at the perilous place we had just passed. Jesse Dalton, of company K, a man over sixty, against who I had brought a suit for slander for Higgins, was coming over the ground running slowly and weasely. Thousands of bullets seemed to be striking up the dust around him, but he did not quicken his gait. He was too exhausted. I thought that he would run the gauntlet safely, but just as he got to the pines he received a serious wound. When I saw his fall I could not help thinking of the rule of law under which a personal action dies with a party*. I said we had dressed our files. Bartow, quivering with rage, shouted, “By the left flank, march.” That threw us in line, to the front. Everybody understood that it was ow our time; and there was a wild rush to the edge of the thicket. It was rectangular and contained about three acres, with a front of some 110 yards. We should have had a least three hundred yards. From the fence came a volley that roared more loudly than any I have ever heard afterwards, but it seemed to do no hurt. Huddled up in some place seven or eight deep, and even more, our firing commenced. I observed three colors at regular intervals, just on the other side of the long fence. A dwelling was a little beyond it, and four out-houses were on its lines, and some grains stacks besides. The dwelling and out-houses were opposite the left and right center of the regiment. The further side of the fence, the out-houses and stacks were lined with federals. An ice-house was a few yards nearer our side of the fence, and just a trifle to the left of the produced left line of the thicket, and more federals were around it; and they extended in rather desultory order, in front, to a point not far to its right. To the left of the ice-house, in an oblique line towards the fence, by which the 4th Alabama were lying, another regiment took position, just after our fighting commenced, and its musketry was very destructive to companies K and I, as it approached somewhat to an enfilade and many of the men f these companies were pushed out into the open. This last mentioned regiment fired buck and ball, as I discovered from the marks on the trees the next day, the other regiments fired Minie balls. Now, were we not in a pickle? The houses, the stacks, the fence, the line of the regiment on our left, – all seemed a continually playing flash. The trees were becoming white all around us, from having the bark cut away, though I noted that numerous bullets were going too high and bringing down leaves. Many of our men were being wounded, and there were frequent cries of pain, “O,! Lord!” becoming from that time on the ejaculation that I usually heard a man make when struck in battle. But the loading and firing kept up with eagerness. Jim Lewis, one of the company, came to me and told me goodbye. The brains and blood seemed to be running out of his forehead. I never expected to see him again, but the next day it appeared the ball had gone around and not through the skull. I shall never forget how pale, stiff and thoroughly dead Gus Daniel, another one of the company, looked as I glanced down when I had stumbled over him. This was the first dead man I saw. Our men were taking careful aim. McCall, a glorious fellow from New York State, our second sergeant, as already mentioned, was shooting at the color of the regiment on our left; and all of company K, and the left half of I, were aiming at that regiment. The weary and feeble were staying their muskets upon the pines, and each was selecting a mark. A federal in front of the thicket bravely rushed into an opening in the fence, where he raised his piece, but before it came to his shoulder it flew into the air and he fell. A second later I saw another adventurous man climbing and out-house, and down too he came. But we were under the concentrated fire of at least four regiments, and probably each was of fuller rank than ours. I was never afterwards in as hot a place. The men were so crowded as seriously to impede their work. Some few fired as many as fourteen rounds, but the most of them fired but seven or eight. And let me make you understand the peril of those few minutes. According to a count some of us made upon a careful study of the company roles, the regiment carried into the action 490 officers and men. Of these 41 were killed, 159 wounded, and seventeen reported missing ten or twelve days afterwards. It is probable that the most of the seventeen were wounded and captured. So out of 490 we lost 217 – not very far from half. I think it was 39 or 40 of dead in the thicket that I counted a little before sun down, and they lay within less than half an acre of ground. In our company six were killed in the thicket; and thirteen severely wounded. Two of the latter died soon afterwards. Our total of officers and men in the company at the commencement of the action was sixty-four, and adding to the killed and wounded those whose clothing was pierced by balls – and bear in mind hardly one of us had on a coat – and deducting the sum from the total, fourteen only was left. As those who heard him told me the next day, Bartow vociferated to the captain of the Atlanta Grays, “We must get these men out of here.” Several times he ordered us to fall back, but I was among those who did not hear. Nothing could be understood in the din to which our ears were so new. But some of the men at last, misunderstanding the order to fall back, began a disorderly retreat. On the right of the first platoon, close behind it, I was encouraging some of the men of our company to fire with more coolness, and I reminded them that the enemy’s fire was slackening. The regiment furthest to the left had disappeared – its smooth-bores probably being no match for the Mississippi rifles of company K – and the line before us looked thinner along the fence; and there was nobody standing on our side of it. Ransome, one of my men, lying on the ground, was keeping his musket quiet. He seemed very cool, and with much warmth I asked him why he had ceased to fire. He fired at once, begun to load, and shouted to me that he had been obeying orders; and he rolled his eyes in such a manner that I glanced to the left and then to the right. Nearly everybody was going back at about quick time. Of course I could not stay. I carried off my squad very doggedly. Their sulleness increased mine. At every step they seemed on the point of rushing back, and soon would turn and fire. I had got near the fence at the rear of the thicket, when I heard what seemed to be a severe slap, and looking towards it I saw a little fellow, of another company with his piece almost at a shoulder. He was facing to the right, and a ball had struck the barrel; and he told me afterwards he thought he was shot through his collar bone. His face showed great anxiety, until I said to him that it was his musket that was wounded. Bartow’s horse was killed in the thicket; and when I came to the fence dividing the pines from the wheat field, he was there dismounted, and ordering the colors to be planted near the fence. He was greatly excited, and he implored his men to rally. I went to him, and I thought his eye twinkled with pleasure as he saw that I was coming to the front. The last words that passed between him and me were my enquiring where he wished the line to form, to which he pointed with his arm along an open place running diagonally through the pines, and said, “Just there.” I was nearly ready to sink in the ground at what I too hastily conceived was the disgrace of the regiment, for I did not know that we had been ordered back. “Who is the officer that is leading off these men” said the colonel hoarse with rage, stamping his feet, and shaking his fist in the direction of our poor fellows going across the wheat field. Jake Phinizy, 1st lieutenant of company K, made great efforts to bring the men back. I shouted from the fence, calling everyone by name that I saw. We got back a few. But balls began to come hotly from the right, and the colonel commanded us to fall back. All organization was lost. My little band kept with me, and I told them we must go to the color. We crossed the ledge of small oaks, through which shot and shell were crashing, from a battery on the right which I could not see, and we came upon the color at the brook, at the foot of the hill, behind the grove of oaks. The men leaped into the water like thirsty men, It was muddy, but we drank copiously. A dashing cavalier, as he looked in his brilliant uniform, galloped up, and said, “Why, the Georgians are running while the South Carolinians (of Sloan’s regiment) are fighting.” Our color-bearer, Charley Daniels, cursed him, and threatened to shoot him; and many of us ran towards him, hurling the fiercest imprecations. “O,” said he, with an apologetic, but noble bearing, “I must admit that you are ready enough to fight; I withdraw the words that I should not have used;” and he rode away. Some days afterwards I saw a picture, and then for the first time I learned that the handsome stranger was General Bee. Bartow sent the color bearer on nearly to the pike, not far from the free negro Robinson’s house; and there the regiment tried to form. It was madness. The red hill side of the brook, hardly two hundred yards distant, was swarming with infantry, elated, huzzaing, and flaunting the United States flag so proudly that is seemed to cover the whole land. We mustered perhaps a hundred men. Bartow sent us word from a fence on which he was leaning, the he should die where he was or his regiment should rally. I saw Hampton’s Legion in position, in front of Robinson’s house, its right resting on the pike, and my judgement told me that we should reform behind the new line. But I could not disregard the appeal of Bartow. Our men fired about two rounds here, and it was returned more than five fold. In the midst of the smoke and dust thrown up by the musket balls shot at us I found myself between the two lines. But at last I got in place behind the remnant of our company. The company commanders led the men away; and I have always believed they did right. Just before I got to the pike, a fugitive passed me at a slow pounding trot. When he was about six or eight feet ahead a bullet whistled so close to my ear that I was startled. “Dip”, I heard it strike. The poor fellow fell forward, the blood and brains spouting from the back of his head in a red jet as long as my finger. We passed out behind Hampton’s Legion, and then behind the 7th Georgia. Here I noticed Fry, the old chaplain, patting the men on the back, and adjuring them to stand firm. Major Cooper in obedience to orders, carried the regiment off the field. I stayed behind; and I collected a few of my company and some others, whom I tried to induce to go with me into a regiment just arrived. A field officer angered me by saying they did not want stragglers, but one of his whole-souled captains told me softly not to mind a d—-d fool, saying he would make room for us. My poor fellows were fainting for water, and it seems to me some of them were letting their tongues out, and I was myself almost dead from thirst. We told the captain that we should rejoin him as soon as we had got some water; and we ran off for it. We hurried back, and the regiment had gone. Then it occurred to me that the remains of our own regiment might yet for ordered forward; and in that case I ought to be with it. So I sent one of the company to find and mark exactly where it was, and keep me informed of it; and I sat down on a stone and observed the fight. I cannot more definitely give the place than by saying it was a little to the left of a battery of ours that was on our right and firing vigorously. A Louisiana Tiger came along going to the rear. He was without his rifle and sabre bayonet, but he had not yet got rid of his loose attire, baggy trousers, and something on his head resembling a turban, – all of which made him look like a Turk. Every time a gun fired from our battery, which, as he was faced about, was to his left, and a little behind him, he would fall prostrate, manifestly believing that the shot was the enemy’s and aimed at him. This sight diverted me for the moment; and with a few minutes’ rest I was soon recovered from my extreme fatigue and thirst, and then returned my great concern for our fortunes. I saw a little and understood more of the first impact of our new line. Yes, the line really does stand. Then I discovered that an assault was repulsed. And as our men fighting were firm, and a few reinforcements were coming up with spirit, and rising columns of dust betokened more behind, the flush of hope came back to my pale cheek and I said to my companions, we shall conquer yet. All the struggle to keep the position where Jackson offered battle, and the taking and the loss of the ground about the Henry house – these I noted, heedless of the dangers that filled the air around me. I had unconsciously changed my position, and got nearly behind the center.

The fight had rolled further to the left, and my ear told me that we were not losing there. When the field around the Henry house was permanently occupied I decided that the day would soon be ours. In my verdancy I supposed that when the enemy went back all of us should be ordered forward; and so I returned to the regiment. The main field hospital was near it, where numbers of the wounded were stretched upon the ground. It was spirit-lifting to hear them bless the regiments double-quicking by, and see them wave their comrades forward with hands soon to be stilled in death. The reinforcement rushing past, replying to the wounded with cheers and vows to revenge them, the musketry plainly receding, the joy in the faces of all around and brightest in those of the dying as victory was surely coming – all this moving scene arises, and I am again an eager confederate, volunteered for the war. When our men advanced in the last charge, there came above the confused noise of the battle a shout – I was always told that it commenced with the 1st Maryland and the 3d Tennessee – and shaking the earth, rending the air, and piercing the ears, it followed Bull Run down on our right, until it died out in the far distance. There was born full-grown the southern battle-cry. I ran towards the Lewis House. I caught sight of the federal line going to pieces, and I saw Lieut. Dearing as he fired the farewell shots from our side. Officers were leaping for joy. One of these who was gray-headed, was clapping his hands with fury, and exclaiming rapturously and over and over, “We have whipped ‘em.” I dashed back to the regiment. In a short while orders were brought that Genl. Johnston wanted every man to come to the top of the hill that he might show his line to the retreating enemy. As I tell this now I feel a qualm of the nausea that it excited in me. It was about 5 P. M., and all of three hours until dark. I replied to myself, Is there to be no pursuit? I had been pleasing myself with the compensation our regiment was now to have for the awful loss in the morning, and gleefully had I quoted to some of my friends Shakespeare’s “Tis sport to maul a runner.” It was days before I fully recovered from the disappointment. Jake Phinzy always asserted that I never did.

President Davis galloped by on his way to the field. His high-crowned hat and citizen’s garb showed oddly. He was recognized, and everybody cheered, the wounded among them.

I got to the pine thicket as soon as I could. Thad Howell, the handsomest man in our company, was lying on his back, in the open field, just at the edge of the pine. A bullet had struck the top of his forehead, and the brains were oozing out. He heels drummed on the ground constantly, but I found that he was utterly unconscious. Those who could feel demanded all that I could do. There was Dawson Moore, one of our company, with his leg broken. I got him into an ambulance. But there were many other companies who were not removed that night. For a long while after the ambulance left I was there alone. I supplied all the wounded with water. Some drank as though they would burst, but I as not afraid to give it. As I started away with a poor fellow’s canteen the second time, he called me to him and made me swear that I would return. But their thirst was at last assuaged. Their teeth commenced to chatter, and I robbed the dead of blankets to cover them. Nearly all went to sleep. At a late hour that night, friends commenced to come in groups. It was raining. I threw an oil-cloth which I took off of a dead federal around men and went to camp, and, lying on the ground with my feet to the fire, slept until several hours after sunrise, when the men around me waked me by cheering some of the captured artillery that was going by. It was still raining; but with Charley Doherty, a lieutenant of the Pulaski Volunteers, I went over the field. First I studied the fence and stacks and out-houses in front of the thicket. It gratified me to find hardly a single mark of a bullet from our regiment which was too high; and the wounded federals in the house and yard, said our musketry had be devouring. Then we went to the other part of the field. It sickened me to find a frightened woman cowering in the Henry house. She showed me the body of her mother laid out. The old woman had been long bed-ridden, I think she said, and while in bed the day before she was killed with a musket ball, which came through the side of the house. The house was riddled with shot. To the left of the house – in a field of small pines of second growth – the dead were thickest. The red shirt generally marked the federal. As this spot had plainly been the fiercest and closest grapple, and both sides had shown the genuine Anglo-Saxon mettle. It pained me to see that our dead here equalled, if it did not exceed, those of the other side. But further on our left, the federal corpses indicated that surprise and swift destruction had darted upon them from the forest which I shall mention after a while as extending forward; and here our loss had been small.

As our camp was near I went over the field many times, and I studied it more closely than I ever had opportunity to do another afterwards. The map which accompanies this chapter was made just as my study of the field ended. Though I was without topographical training, It think it is practically accurate. I hope that the engraver will reproduce the rude diagram exactly. I regret now that I did not make it illustrate the rest of the battle field. But I was then too resolved upon showing the terrific results to the 8th Georgia of inexperienced conduct.

The foregoing account is mainly taken from my letters to Gennie, and it may be relied upon as thoroughly accurate. I have tried to set down mainly what I noticed myself, in my first battle. Many of the regiment further to the right told me that the federal line advanced from the log fence once in a charge, and arriving at the cedars, marked on the map, we thence driven back by our fire. I have not described this, simply because I did not see it. And I wish that I could say more of those who suffered. Especially should I be glad to tell of Col. Gardner, who was on the right, where he was sorely wounded. But I forbear. I fear that I have already detailed much that can never interest anybody but myself.

But if I have cut my narrative short, I have some philosophizing and reflections I cannot suppress.

Instead of reinforcing Evans’s right, Bee ought to have strengthened his left, using the square oak grove, the hedgerow to its right, and the hills to the left of the grove for cover and screen, and gradually have fallen back to the high plateau where we took our stand later. It was foolish in the extreme to advance the 4th Alabama into the bare field beyond the oaks. It was madness to send the 8th Georgia to the pines by the route I have told. We never should have been thrown so far out; but if it was decided that we must seize the opportunity offered by the thicket, we should have been led from the corner of the oaks directly to its rear, which would have been the shortest line, and one hidden by the hedgerow from the battery and the long fence. When arrived at the thicket, only the left half of the regiment should have been sent to the front, and the other companies should have been stationed along the right side, and ordered to lie down. And those sent forward should have been instructed to take advantage of all cover offered by the trees and the formation of the ground. When we gave way, the enemy advancing rapidly upon our right and rear, there was nothing to be expected from raw troops but a disorderly flight across the pike. But had Bee made use of the oaks and the hill to their left, and posted skirmishers to be retired into the oak grave behind it when pressed, such a stand could have been maintained much longer than ours was and the transcendent duty of the hour was to gain time to allow of reinforcement from our distant right. And the 4th Alabama, the Tiger Rifles, the 8th Georgia, and the other men of Bee and Evans would have reached the new line with but small loss. Such management would have made the fight across the pike the right preparation for our battle, instead of the route which proved very near our ruin, and which was retrieved only by a seeming miracle.

The longer we contemplate the plainer it appears that everybody else’s part on our side could have been better spared than Jackson’s. He really decided, and with the utmost wisdom, where our new line was to be formed. He who was afterwards the magician of surprise to flank and rear is now the very soul of the grand need, obstinate fighting. And yet his wariness shows. He pushes his artillery into the open, to be sacrificed to encourage the raw infantry that he is sheltering; and he charges when least expected and in the very nick of time. He has noble comrades, Bartow, Bee, Hampton and Evans are with him, and the heroes face imminent ruing with peerless courage. And General Johnston riding forward with the standard of a regiment! And the chivalric Beauregard having the officers to advance the colors and appeal to the men to come on! Where in all the annals of war were disheartened raw troops so quickly endowed with veteran steadiness against the countless odds of foes flushed with victory won as they believed? And the result! With the very last reinforcement of ours we had in all but twenty-five thin and weary regiments on the field, and we took prisoners of fifty-five regiments, full and fresh.

The field itself was great luck to us. Skits of forest and second-growth pine ran along our front; on the right, ,in the rear of Robinson’s house, there was a wooded ravine; and on our extreme left there was a long reach forward of forest – good for defence and for making our movements. The ground occupied by the enemy in his struggles to carry our position was nearly all open, and it sloped downward, behind him to the plain almost a hundred feet; and so it was highly favorable both for our observation defence and attack. And it is not to be over-looked that there was little shade for the enemy and much for us on this hot July day, especially trying to raw levies. While it is Jackson’s glory to have been the immovable fulcrum of the rally against defeat in the morning, it is Beauregard’s glory that after he arrived on the field the tactics of the battle were practically faultless. To me he has long suggested Luxemburg’s greatness in sudden straits; and I think he appreciated in time the entire resources of the field to which he had been unexpectedly driven. He made them at first serve for an insuperable defensive; and at this moment of ripeness his offensive swept the baffled and wearied for from before him. I am not aware of any other battle in which the ground was so well used and our troops disposed and handled better. The fault of our subsequent fighting was mainly tactical. Beauregard did so magnificently with a small army that he should have been trusted with a larger. Still I must say that there ought to have been a more vigorous pursuit till after dark.

And I cannot help thinking that we failed to learn another important lesson from the first Manassas. That less was to cultivate defensive tactics in pitched battles. I verily believe that had we forced a defensive battle in Pennsylvania the south would at least have got pay for her slaves.

I must not fail to observe upon General Johnston’s report. In the lively image which it calls up to the reader it is equalled, in my knowledge, only by Caesar’s account of the battle with the Nervii, or his picture of the battle which doomed Alesia.

And the last thing I have to say is that Beauregard is right, when he pronounces that we ought to have followed up the victory by crossing the upper Potomac. This would have given us Maryland, and lifted the pressure upon is in the west.

(Note: P. S. I see now, as I have explained in my book “The Brothers’ War” that we ought to have pursued the flying federals, pressing them the rest of the day and all the next night. The bridge over the Potomac hemmed their retreat so seriously that we could have captured nearly the whole of the Grand Army and its baggage. The foregoing was written 20 years ago. July 27, 08

*See 34 Ga. 433. I finally lost my case on another point.

John C. Reed Manuscript, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, AL, pp. 15-33

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The Brothers’ War, by John Calvin Reed





“W. P. S.,” On Brig. Gen. Barnard Bee and the Campaign

12 04 2022

REMINISCENCES
OF THE LATE GEN. BARNARD E. BEE.

———-

On the fifteenth day of July the hills and valleys around Winchester, Va., were white with the tents of Gen. Johnston’s army, which consisted of the commands of Brigadier Generals Barnard E. Bee and E. Kirby Smith, and of Colonels Elzy, Bartow and Jackson, acting Brigadier Generals, and the cavalry command of Lieut. Colonel Stuart.

The town was all excitement under the information that Gen. Patterson had advanced from Martinsburg four miles in the directions of Winchester. Early the next morning the strains of martial music were heard on every side; the entire camp was in motion; and soon, out of the apparent disorder and confusion, came fort the regularly ordered columns, stretching along the roads leading in the direction of the enemy. The troops were in high spirits at the prospect of an engagement; but as it was well ascertained that such could not take place for a least several hours, while some of the commands took their positions in line of battle to await intelligence, General Bee availed himself of the opportunity to give the brigade some practical instruction, and spent most of the morning in “evolutions of the line.” Nothing further having been heard from the enemy, the troops were returned to their camps; but, in the evening, a courier from the ever-watchful Col. Stuart announced the enemy at Bunker’s Hill, nine miles from Winchester, and advancing. Orders were immediately issued to advance our troops to their respective positions and take up line of battle. As the order passed from camp to camp, it was received by the soldiers with the wildest enthusiasm, and the joyous shouts from determined men rang through the valleys. Every man sprang promptly to his position, and at night the men laid upon their arms in expectation of the attack, which was looked for with the first dawn of morning. The morning came; and, as hour after hour passed silently by, and still no signs of the enemy, disappointment was seen on every face. At last a messenger from Col. Stuart tells the story: “Patterson has fallen back on Bunker’s Hill, and commenced a movement to his right, which will take him to Charlestown and beyond our reach.” The lines were again retired, and the men moved sullenly back to camp. They had confidently expected to annihilate Patterson’s army of thirty thousand, notwithstanding our army numbered but little over half his force. At daybreak on Wednesday, the 18th, orders were issued that the troops should be supplied with two day’s cooked rations, and be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Early in the day orders to commanders of Brigades announced that Gen. Beauregard was being attacked at Manassas by overwhelming numbers, and that our army would be immediately moved to his support. This order was published to the troops after they were on the march, and several miles out of Winchester.

The object of Gen. Patterson in so suddenly abandoning what seemed to have been his purpose in moving on Bunker Hill, could not be certainly known. It might be to pass around and attack the unfortified side of Winchester, or it might be to get between Johnston’s army and Manassas, and prevent him from reinforcing Gen. McDowell. In either event, it was more than likely that we should encounter him en route to Manassas; and it was therefore important that the army should move with its appointments looking to an attack. Gen. Bee was in command of the rear division, consisting of his own brigade of five regiments and a Virginia battery of four brass field pieces, under the gallant Imboden; also, the brigade of Col. Elzy and Col. Stuart’s command of thirteen companies of Virginia cavalry.

The manly and soldierly bearing of General Bee, together with his constant efforts to secure for the troops of his command all the comforts that circumstances would allow, had won from them an admiration amounting to affection, which was demonstrated by the wildest and most enthusiastic cheering, as regiment after regiment defiled past him, where he stood dismounted on a slight eminence by the road side, watching to see that all was in order with the rear guard. But these men were yet to know him better and appreciate him more amid the storm of battle, the shrill sound of the enemy’s shells, and the sharp whistle of their Minnie balls filling the air – the dead and the dying strewed all around him – his cool steady courage as he moved from battalion to battalion of his command, a living, speaking example, [?]ing “death rather than defeat.”

It was late in the afternoon of the 18th July when the last regiment (the 6th North Carolina, commanded by Colonel Fisher,) left the town of Winchester. The troops were in the highest spirits, and their anxiety to reach Manassas could illy brook the frequent delays to which they were subjected by the trains of wagons extending for miles along the road between the advanced and rear columns. Hour after hour during the night the rumbling of heavy wagons and the steady tramp of soldiers echoed along the rugged road, reaching away in the direction of the Shenandoah. It was long past midnight when the exhausted teams were halted for food and rest, and the wearied soldiers stretched themselves and slept in the very roads. With the first streaks of dawn General Bee, who, with his staff, had obtained some two hours’ rest under a tree by the road side, was moving among his troops, and the column again on the march, soon reached the banks of the Shenandoah River. While the wagon train was crossing the stream the men despatched a scanty breakfast, and then themselves fording the river waist-deep, were quickly ascending the Blue Ridge Mountains through Ashby’s Gap. The scenery of this mountain pass is beautiful beyond description, but the men who then moved along it had not time or thought for the fairest beauties of nature. There was life and death on their movements, and, more than that, there was victory or defeat to our national arms, and each man strained his every nerve in the march. On reaching Paris, at the foot of the mountains, orders were received from General Johnston, who had reached Piedmont, on the Manassas Gap railroad, directing General Bee to march with his Division directly to Manassas, while the main body of the army should proceed thither by Railroad. General Bee at once issued an order detaching and organizing his command as separate from that of Genera Johnston, and commenced his march as directed. We had proceeded but a few miles, when Captain Randolph brough orders countermanding those received at Paris, and directing a junction with General Johnston at Piedmont. This was accomplished by the close of the day. When near Piedmont, a courier was met with orders for General Bee to report himself at headquarters as soon as possible. On returning from this interview Gen. Bee said, “I would have given anything in the world could I have said to Gen. Johnston, ‘my troops are in condition to march immediately to Manassas.’” That march would have taken him, as he supposed, within reach of Patterson’s force, and successfully to execute his orders in the face of such danger and obstacle, was an honor well worth the venture. He knew, however, that his men were in no condition for such a march without rest, and could not possibly make it in the time required. They had been on their feet for twenty-eight hours, most of the time under a burning sun, and without water, and not they absolutely required rest. Therefore, though with deep regret, he found himself compelled to admit that he could not go on that night, His care and solicitude for his soldiers was remarkable. He knew their wants, and made every effort to relieve them. When his column reached Piedmont he might have been seen, regardless of the drenching rain, moving everywhere among his troops, doing everything in his power which could contribute to their comfort. His gallantry, and patriotism had a parallel only in his kindness of heart.

At three o’clock in the morning the troops were ordered on board the cars for Manassas. Of General Bee’s command the Second Mississippi, the Fourth Alabama and two companies of the Eleventh Mississippi, under Lieutenant Colonel Liddell, obtained places in the train, while Imboden, with his Battery, resumed his march for Manassas. Generals Johnston and Bee, with their respective staff officers, completed the detachment which filled the train, and we proceeded to Manassas, arriving about 9 o’clock. Colonel Bartow had preceded us the evening before, with two regiments of his brigade.

We were scarcely well clear from the cars when a report was brought in that the enemy was advancing, and General Bee received orders to march his command to Camp Walker, about three miles from Manassas, in the direction of Centreville. Here he occupied only a supporting position, and it was evident to those around that a shadow overcast the face of our General. He had hoped for a post of honor, which, in his view, was in the front and nearest the enemy.

In this position our troops bivouacked during the night of Saturday, the 20th. At about 12 o’clock that night Captain Imboden reported his Battery just in from Piedmont.

At sunrise on the 21st July the booming of the enemy’s guns awoke the echoes along our whole line, and ushered in the bloody battle of Manassas Plains. I know write only of

GENERAL BEE ON THE BATTLE FIELD.

It was immediately evident that General Bee had not been overlooked, but that great confidence was placed in his judgement and military capacity, for at six o’clock he received orders to take his own command, with that of Colonel Bartow and Pendleton’s Battery (supposing Imboden’s too much exhausted), and move to the extreme left, in the vicinity of Stone Bridge, giving him a large discretion in co-operating with the Generals Cocke and Jackson of that wing.

Immediately on the receipt of these instructions the General sent for Captain Imboden, and said to hem, “Captain I have been ordered to take into battle a battery supposed to be fresher than yours; will you stand that?” “Not if I can help it,” was the reply. “Harness up, then,” was the order, “and I will leave my guide to bring you up.” Despatching an order to Colonel Bartow to follow, the General then placed himself at that head of the column, and with only a chart to guide him, started for his position on the extreme left. Advancing in the direction of Stone Bridge, or more directly on a line for Sudley’s Ford, he passed first General Jackson, and then General Cocke.

Upon communicating with these officers and learning their position, Gen. Bee at once perceived that the discretion in his orders, as senior officer, could be used to attack the enemy in advance of those with whom he had been directed to co operate. Disregarding, therefore, the suggestion of Gen. Jackson to take position between himself and Gen. Bonham, and directing that he (Jackson) had better extend towards Bonham, he passed on to the exposed left of General Cocke, where he rightly divined was the post of danger. Continuing to advance until the enemy came into full view, he quickly detected their extension to the right to turn our left flank, when, directing his march in a parallel directions, he checked the movement and compelled them to take position and form line of battle.

Imboden, with his battery, came up most opportunely, and was established on our left just as Rickett’s Battery of the enemy was advancing to their front. Leaving Col. Bartow with two regiments to support the gallant Imboden, the General, at the head of the 2d Mississippi and the 4th Alabama Regiments, advanced on the right whilst the two companies of the 11th Mississippi had been sent forward to the support of the battery under General Evans. The command of Gen. Evans had been engaged with the enemy as he advanced, but now fell back through our ranks. Our line was then advanced close on the enemy, and opened a terrible fire on Rickett’s Battery and the divisions under the command of Cols. Hunter and Heintzelman.

A portion of Gen. Evans’ command rallied in our read, and returned to the charge, co-operating with our force. That General, reporting in person that a column of the enemy was about to turn our right, an order was sent to Col. Bartow to advance one regiment to the support of that point. The Colonel obeyed, and himself led the regiment into position. The 4th Alabama was thrown forward up the face of a hill, and there held their position close up, delivering a terrible fire, from which the enemy reeled and shook. The thunder of artillery, the heavy sound of bursting shells, around, above and below us, the sharp and incessant rattle of musketry, and the constant whizzing of the balls as the storm burst upon our little handful, was enough to shake the nerves of veterans; but our men stood firm, and time and again were the enemy hurled back, bleeding and shrinking from the well directed fire. But the storm raged on; and, as the advanced lines of the enemy melted away, new troops moved up to fill their places until overpowered by superior numbers. The Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels of both the Mississippi Regiments, killed or wounded, and many gallant officers besides, stretched upon the bloody field, our brave troops, unable longer to stay the tide, began slowly to give way. Gen. Bee, in the midst of the storm, was seen everywhere that the danger most threatened – riding up and down the lines; encouraging the troops by his voice and example; urging them, by all they held most dear, to stand up and resist the tide which threatened them with destruction. Forming his lines wherever the field offered an advantage, and in the last extremity falling back to a new position, for three mortal hours he bore the brunt of this terrible battle, disputing with his small force, inch by inch, the bloody ground, and only yielding to overwhelming numbers. Now our reserved began to come up. The first was a regiment unknown to us. The General at once assigned it position. Then came Hampton’s Legion. Still all were compelled to fall back until Jackson’s Brigade moved up. Riding up to the commanding officer, Gen. Bee remarked: You see, General, we have been overwhelmed by superior numbers, and driven back.” “Let them come on, sir, we will give them the bayonet,” was the reply. Confident that Jackson would do all that a brave man could do, the General turned from him, and once more forming his own command, now dwindled to a mere handful, addressed them briefly. I think he used these words: “Soldiers, you have fought gallantly, and have only been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers; now we are strongly reinforced; there is Gen. Jackson standing like a stone wall; if we determine to die here, we will conquer. Follow me!” And that devoted band did follow him to the death.

The impression made upon the writer by Gen. Bee, while delivering this brief address, is one which time cannot efface. Of commanding figure, with an eye of unusual expression and brilliancy, and a voice at once manly and commanding, as he rose in his saddle and uttered those memorable words, “If we determine to die here” – words which make him a patriot-martyr – he presented a picture truly sublime. His determination had been made, and near that spot he fell. He had passed safely through eight hard fought fields on the soil of Mexico, fearlessly exposing his life at the head of a company of the Third U. S. Infantry, fighting under the banner of what was then a great and glorious Union; but here, on his first battle field for his beloved South, fighting for her rights and her honor, he fell; fell, perhaps, by a ball from his own commanded ranged among his enemies on the bloody field. While advancing at the head of his troops, the fatal ball struck him from his horse, inflicting a mortal wound, and he was borne from the field by the officers of his staff. Though suffering severely, he roused himself on the succeeding morning and asked the fate of the day; when told that the enemy was totally routed, and expression of satisfaction passed across his features, and a few hours afterwards the spirit of the patriot soldier passed calmly away.

In the death of General Bee the country sustains the loss of a gallant and accomplished officer, and to he bereaved family and friends the loss is irreparable; but to him it was all that he would have asked. In his youth it is said he was ever fond of the quotation –

“The life that others pay let us bestow,
And give to glory what we to nature owe!”

He fell as a soldier should fall – amid the shock of battle, in a just cause, fighting for all the rights that man holds most dear, not for himself, but for us and for all that will come after us. And his bright example will teach others how do die in defence of their country’s honor. Many brave and noble spirits will follow him, but none more brave, more noble, or more worthy than General Barnard Elliott Bee.

W. P. S.

The Charleston (SC) Mercury, 9/7/1861

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Obituary – Brig. Gen. Barnard Bee

10 04 2022

Obituary.

———-

Gen. Barnard E. Bee.

Upon the wings of shining Victory comes the dark shaft of Death. And with the first impulsive leapings of the heart in the glad shout of triumph for our arms and our cause, the breath of Carolinians is stilled in mourning for our gallant dead. In that they lived, they were ours – int that they are dead, it was for use they died. Upon each heart in Carolina they have levied a tribute. The bitter, bitter tears of those who loved them dearest in life, the little hands of pleading children, demand of us, even in the rush of life, and the fierce cry of victory, to pause in silence over their biers, and to mingle our sorrows with the unutterable grief of hearts that cannot be comforted. And to-day South Carolina, like a Spartan mother, mourns her lost sons.

Perhaps there was no man of his age in the Confederate service who had won for himself a fairer fame, both as an accomplished officer and high-toned gentleman, than the late Gen. Barnard E. Bee, of this State. Upon the desperate field of battle, where more than once his gallant blade had won him the applause of the army and of his native state, sword in hand, he perished – an untimely death.

Gen. Bee, descended from an old Carolina family of gentlemen, was about 35 years of age, and leaves a widow and an infant son.

He entered West Point a Cadet in 1841; was made Brevet Second Lieutenant, 3d Infantry, in 1845. Curing the Mexican war he served with marked distinction, winning two brevets before the close of the war – that of First Lieutenant, “for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battle of Cerro Gordo, on the 18th April, 1847,” in which he was wounded, and that of Captain, in the storming of Chepultepec, on the 13th of September, 1847, “for gallant and meritorious conduct.” Since 1848 he acted as Adjutant, and rose to a full First Lieutenancy in March, 1851.

His achievements, since that time, in wars amongst the Indians, were such as to attract towards him the attention of his State, and in his dying hand, on the field in which he fell, he grasped the sword which South Carolina had taken pride in presenting him.

Few men of his age had attracted more attention in his profession, and such was his reputation, that President Davis, at once raising him from the rank of Captain, appointed him a Brigadier-General in the Provisional Army.

It will not be easy to fill his place in the Confederate service; but South Carolina, more especially, mourns his loss, for he was a true representative of her race. Mild, modest, amiable of deportment, open, generous, bold and dashing in achievement, nice of honor and punctilious of fame, winning friends by sterling conduct, as fearless of foes as sensitive of regard, he was all that his State could ask of a Gentleman, a soldier and a patriot. South Carolina will ever bend in honor over the tomb of such a son.

The Charleston (SC) Mercury, 7/23/1861

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The Death of Brig. Gen. Barnard Bee

10 04 2022

Barnard Bee.

The death of this pure chevalier will ever be esteemed one of the brightest yet saddest incidents of the present great war. The very embodiment (as he was) of Carolina chivalry, he deeds of valor on the plains of Manassas astonished even the general in command, accustomed as he was to Southern fervor and acquainted as he had recently become with Carolina enthusiasm. But in the midst of his heroic efforts, the fatal ball was numbered which assigned him a soldier’s grave. It has long been said and sung, that “to die for one’s country” is “sweet” as well as “honorable;” the thought was never more fully verified than in the death scene of this hero. We quote a touching account of General Bee’s last moments from a letter addressed to the Charleston Courier;

“While participating in the thickest of the fight, a ball penetrated the groin and passed upwards in the region of the stomach. He was at once borne from the field to a neighboring hospital, and after a temporary rest there, removed to Manassas, where an apartment was provided for him in the hotel. Among those who called upon the wounded General on the day following, was his old friend, Col. Tupper, of Charleston, who was on the Staff of General Smith, and himself slightly hurt. Bee was lying on a mattress, calm, composed, and evidently not in much pain. Aware of his approaching end, he was engaged in dictating to one of his Staff his last missive to his family, being so absorbed in this task that he appeared not to observe the slightest movement which transpired around him. At intervals he would drop away into a dreamy kind of repose and seem to sleep, by a preconcerted arrangement his Aid would touch him slightly in the centre of his forehead with the point of his pencil, when the General would recover his faculties and proceed. In due time his labor of love was finished, and he turned his attention to the company present. Col. Tupper was among these, and as the hands of the two friends met for the last time, Bee gently drew him down so as to be more distinctly heard, while Col. Tupper bent upon his knee and laid his face upon that of the dying man. The latter then said: “Colonel, our acquaintance has been of a very pleasant nature. It’s hard to part where friends are so dear, but I must soon leave you. God bless and protect you.” With others of his friends he also exchanged brief words of parting.

“Shortly afterwards, the dying General asked to be raised in his bed, which being done, with his hands clasped, eyes burning with an almost supernatural light as if he already looked upon the glories of another world, he repeated a verse, but unfortunately I can only give the last two lines:

My spirit soars to meet its God,
I die in the arms of victory.

“With these upon his lips, the hero was laid back upon his pillow and without a struggle sank into his eternal rest.

“He had emphatically carried his life in his hand and the grace of God in his heart, and when the messenger came, it found him ready and willing to obey the summons. Death to him was no rugged path. He had

No earthly clinging
No lingering gaze
No strife at parting
No sore amaze;
But sweetly, gently,
He passed away
From the world’s dim twilight
To endless day.

Edgefield (SC) Advertiser, 8/21/1861

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Unknown Officer, Bonham’s Brigade, On the Battle and the Death of Bee

8 04 2022

Richmond, July 24. – The following is the account of the action on Sunday, at Stone Bridge, got from and officer of Gen. Bonham’s Staff:

Bonham’s Brigade was in the centre, at Mitchell’s Ford. This Brigade was composed of Kershaw’s, Williams’, Cash’s and Bacon’s Regiments of South Carolinians, Colonel Keller’s Louisiana Regiment, and Col. Kirkland’s North Carolina Regiment.

On the left of Bonham was Gen. Cocke, at Stone Bridge. This was when the fight began. After the battle had been raging for some time at Stone Bridge, General Beauregard, ordered up two regiments from Bonham’s Brigade to assist in repelling the enemy.

Gen. McGowan bore Gen. Bonham’s order for his troops to advance. Kershaw’s and Cash’s Regiments, with Kemper’s Battery, were sent forward. This was at the crisis of the battle – probably about two o’clock. As these troops passed on, they were joined by Col. Preston’s Regiment of Virginians, of Cocke’s Brigade. They made a dashing charge on the enemy over everything. In this onslaught, being comparatively fresh, these troops pursued the enemy upon the hills. They kept close upon the heels of the flying foe down the road, almost along the whole distance to Centreville, and in this pursuit, in conjunction with Radford’s Cavalry, of Virginia, they captured twenty-one pieces of field artillery.

About sunset, the other regiments of Bonham’s Brigade started, also, in pursuit of the flying for, by the Mitchell’s Ford Road, towards Centreville, and took many prisoners and some cannon.

The remains of Gen. Barnard E. Bee leave here tomorrow for Charleston. The name of this officer deserves a place in the highest niche of fame. He displayed a gallantry that scarcely has parallel in history. The brunt of the morning’s battle was sustained by his command until past 2 o’clock. Overwhelmed by superior numbers, and compelled to yield before a fire that swept everything before it, Gen. Bee rode up and down his lines, encouraging his troops, by everything that was dear to them, to stand up and repel the tide which threatened them with destruction. At last his own Brigade dwindled to a mere handful, with every field officer killed or disabled. He rode up to Gen. Jackson, and said: “General, they are beating us back.”

The reply was: “Sir, we’ll give them the bayonet.”

Gen. Bee immediately rallied the remnant of his Brigade, and his last words to them were: “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Follow me!”

His men obeyed the call; and, at the head of his column, the very moment when the battle was turning in our favor, he fell, mortally wounded. Gen. Beauregard was heard to say he had never seen such gallantry. He never murmured at his suffering, but seemed consoled by the reflection that he was doing his duty.

Yorkville (SC) Enquirer, 8/1/1861

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Anniversary Video with Civil War Times: Bartow Monument, 7/21/2021

24 07 2021

Our second stop on Thursday was the monument to COLONEL (NOT Brigadier General) Francis Bartow on Henry Hill. There we spoke about the first monument on a Civil War battlefield (I think), the man in whose memory it was erected, as well as a little about the incidents surrounding the naming of “Stonewall” Jackson and his brigade. See here for a nice article on that by John Hennessy. You can also read more about the Bartow monument in the April 1991 issue of Blue & Gray Magazine (the one with friend Clark “Bud” Hall on the cover), in an article titled The Civil War’s First Monument: Bartow’s Marker at Manassas. Appearing in this video are Civil War Times editor Dana Shoaf and myself. The magazine’s director of photography Melissa Winn is behind the camera.





Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to Brig. Gen. Samuel Cooper on Need for Cavalry and Staff

29 12 2020

CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN MARYLAND, PENNSYLVANIA, VIRGINIA, AND WEST VIRGINIA FROM APRIL 16 TO JULY 31, 1861

CORRESPONDENCE, ETC. – CONFEDERATE

O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, pp. 962-963

Headquarters,
Winchester, July 2, 1861.

General S. Cooper:

General: I become more convinced daily of the great value of cavalry, compared with infantry, for service on this frontier. The quantity we have is entirely insufficient for mere scouting and outpost duty. If you can send companies enough to make up another regiment under such an officer as Colonel Stuart, you will add vastly to the strength of this force. We cannot observe the river with one regiment.

Do send me Pemberton immediately, or, if he cannot be spared, Major Rhett. I have no adjutant-general. Can you not appoint and send to me two more such as Bee and Smith ? They are to be found—Pemberton, for instance.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. E. JOHNSTON,
Brigadier-General, C. S. Army.





Lt. William Mack Robbins, Co. G, 4th Alabama Infantry, On the Battle

25 11 2018

With Generals Bee and Jackson at the First Battle of Manassas

On the afternoon of July 18, 1861, the army of [Brigadier General Joseph E.] Johnston – about ten-thousand strong – which had been for some weeks manoeuvering up and down the [Shenandoah] Valley in front of [Major General Robert] Patterson and was then lying around Winchester, was hastily put in motion and marched off southeastwardly, going we knew not whither. Most of the men belonged to the class which may be described as “young bloods,” sons of planters, reared in ease and affluence – intelligent, merry hearted, high spirited, full of romance and enthusiasm. They had volunteered at the first call, not only from devotion to the cause, but love of adventure, and there was nothing they were so eager for as to get into battle, being somewhat tinctured with the idea that they “could whip at least three Yankees apiece,” and were rather afraid that the war might come to an end before they got the chance to prove it. In spite of their confidence in their general, they had been a good deal chagrined and disgusted at what they deemed his overwary strategy in not delivering battle to the enemy under Patterson. They were therefore greatly delighted to hear the general order which General Johnston caused to be read to each regiment as soon as we got well out of Winchester that summer evening. That order was about in these words: “Beauregard is attacked by overwhelming odds at Manassas. Your commanding general has full confidence in your zeal and devotion and asks every man to step out lively. You are going on a forced march over the mountains to reinforce your companions in arms and save the country.” Loud cheers welcomed the tidings. The prospect of an early encounter with the enemy loomed up ahead and stimulated the impatient spirits of the men to their best exertions. Heat, dust, and night-fall soon made the rapid march disagreeable enough, but it was pushed without a check till we reached the Shenandoah. This river, about waist deep, was waded at dawn of July 19, amidst songs, jokes, and general hilarity. The Blue Ridge was passed at Ashby’s Gap, and at evening of the same day the head of the column arrived at Piedmont Station on the Manassas Gap Railroad, whence Johnston’s forces were sent forward in detachments by rail as fast as transportation could be furnished.

So much has been said about Johnston’s troops appearing on the field in the nick of time after the battle had been long ranging that the impression extensively prevails that none of them were there at its beginning. This is a great mistake. Three brigades – [Brigadier General Thomas J.] Jackson’s, [Col.] F. S. Bartow’s and nearly all of [Brigadier General Barnard E.] Bee’s – were at hand when the battle opened and bore an important part in it all day. The Fourth Alabama and other regiments of Bee’s Brigade reached the Junction at noon of the twentieth and were among the very earliest in the conflict the next day. It was only the comparatively minor number of Johnston’s men under [Brigadier General Edmund] Kirby Smith and [Colonel Arnold] Elzey that leaped from the train when they heard the battle in progress, and, hastening down the Warrenton Pike, came in so luckily on the right rear of the Federals and caused the panic which gave the victory to the Confederates.

I have spoken of the eagerness of our inexperienced but enthusiastic soldiers to see and participate in the battle. The feeling did not diminish, but rather grew in intensity on this occasion, up to the time of actual engagement, and how much longer I cannot say; but one thing is certain – all of us by the time the day was over felt sufficiently amused. Thousands of soldiers on both sides know all about the experience of a first battle, and anything said on the subject would be but an old tale to them; but those who never took a hand, and especially young who have come up since the war would no doubt like to know how a battle looks and seems to a new soldier – its thrill, its thunder, its grandeur, its horror, and no lees its odd, absurd, and even grotesque features. I do not feel competent to paint an adequate picture and description of these things. I doubt if any pen can fitly paint them. A few hints about how this battle opened and proceeded – as the writer saw it – must suffice. The Fourth Alabama were busy with breakfast near the junction when the sudden boom of a gun in the direction of the railroad bridge over Bull Run drew our eyes that way and we saw for the first time the little dense round sphere of white vapor, high up in the air, produced by the bursting of a shell. This was quickly followed by others, the design of the Federals being to draw all attention to that part of the line while they were executing their shrewd flanking movement on our left. However, our regiment, with others of Bee’s Brigade, was at once moved at double-quick towards the Confederate left, to a position that had been allotted to us at one of the upper fords. But we had scarcely reached the designated point when we were again ordered to go at a rapid run for about two miles still further up the stream to meet the Federals – our commanders having just at that moment discovered that they had crossed the stream at Sudley’s Ford, entirely beyond the Confederate left, and were pouring down in heavy force on that flank. All depended on presenting a quick front to this unexpected movement. So we went  – a few battalions only – across the fields at out highest speed, and soon reached the plateau of the Henry House, around which the battle was afterward mainly fought. But Bee did not permit us to stop there. He marked that as the most favorable position for the Confederate line to form its new front on, but he knew his brigade alone could not hold it and he also saw that the enemy would reach it, unless checked and delayed by some means before an adequate force of Confederates could get there to oppose them. To gain the needed time it was necessary to risk the sacrifice of the two and a half regiments then with him by a bold movement still further to the front. He could not hesitate. So he ordered the Fourth Alabama, Second Mississippi, and Eleventh Mississippi (two companies) to move half a mile further forward to the next ridge to engage the enemy and delay them as long as possible. Down the slope we rushed, panting, breathless, but still eager because ignorant of the desperate crisis which had doomed us to probably destruction to save the whole army. As we passed the little rivulet below the Stone House, the duel of the artillery began and the shells of friend and foe shrieked wildly above our heads. Mounting the hill and entering the copse of timber north of the Stone House, we began to hear a sharp cracking of musketry ahead of us – a collision  between the Federals and some small bodies of Confederates we had not known were there before, among them [Major C. R.] Wheat’s Louisiana Tigers, wearing the zouave uniform.

As we emerged from the little wood we caught sight of these Tigers, utterly overwhelmed and flying pell-mell, most of them running off to our right and toward the stream (Bull Run). This and their zouave uniform, which we had never before seen, but had heard some of the enemy wore, for a minute caused us to mistake these “Tigers” for Federals and as they were flying in disorder, some of our men set up a loud yell and shout of victory, supposing the enemy were already routed and retreating, whereupon one ardent fellow of the Fourth Alabama, with his finger on the trigger and anxious to pull down on somebody before they all got away, burst out with: “Stop your darned hollerin’ or we won’t get a shot!” But the mistake was discovered just in time to prevent our firing on friends. A little way further up the hill beyond the timber and we struck the enemy and no mistake. Their long advancing line, with the Stars and Stripes waving above it (which made some of us feel sorry), began to peer over the crest, eighty yards in our front, and opened a terrific fire, which at first went mostly over us. It is proper to mention that the Mississippians, who had come with us, were halted at the edge of the wood behind us, and so did not get into the hot conflict that ensued, the whole brunt of which thus fell on the Fourth Alabama alone. On receiving the enemy’s first fire we lay down and waited till we could see their bodies to the waist, when we gave them a volley which was very effective, firing uphill. The Federals fell back and disappeared behind the crest. After some interval they advanced another and longer line; but the result was the same as before, only they held on longer this time and their fire hurt us badly. A third time they came on in a line which extended both our flanks, and now the conflict became bloody and terrible to us, their balls coming not only from the front but from the right and left oblique, cutting down our colonel (Egbert Jones) and stretching lifeless many a familiar form so recently full of hope and gayety. Then war began to show us his wrinkled front. But we thought of what they would say at home if we flinched and how ashamed we should feel if after all the big talk about whipping the enemy we let them whip us at the first chance. We could see, too, that they were as awkward at the business and enjoyed it as little as ourselves. Besides, it looked like they could hardly help killing every one of us if we got up and tried to run away. It seemed our safest chance to hug the ground and pepper away at them; and so from sheer desperation, as much as anything, we kept to it, until after awhile, to our great joy, the enemy fell back once more behind the crest, and their fire lulled. Our general, seeing we would be certainly overwhelmed at the next onslaught, gave us the order to retire, which we did before another attack. We had been at it for over an hour and had really rendered great service in gaining time for the Confederate army to change front and form the new line. But nearly one third of the Fourth Alabama had gone down in the effort and were left on the ground, including the colonel, mortally wounded. I should not omit to mention that the Seventh and Eight Georgia, of Bartow’s brigade, also came into our advanced position far to our right during our contest, and had a bloody collision with another column of the Federals, and though these Georgians were recalled some time before we were, they contributed materially to the delay of the Federal advance.

The two Mississippi regiments of our (Bee’s) brigade had also retired before us, so that the Fourth Alabama was going back alone. In this movement a bloody episode occurred to us. Retiring by the same route along which we had come, when we reached the little rivulet running near the stone house, we saw a regiment, in column by companies, marching down the rivulet toward us. Their flag was furled on the staff and so was ours. By the quarter we had just come from they thought us probably Federals, but were not sure. As for us, we felt the enemy had got so far around in rear of the place of our recent fight; their uniform also resembled that of the Sixth North Carolina, belonging to our brigade, and we hastily took them for that regiment coming to our aid. Thus encouraged we halted, faced about and reformed our line, intending with this supposed reinforcement to take another tilt with the enemy we had been fighting if they should pursue us as we expected. The unknown regiment also halted and deployed into line of battle at right angles with ours and less than 100 yards from our left flank. Their colonel signaled us with his handkerchief for the purpose of communicating  and learning who we were as it afterward appeared; but we never dreamed this was his purpose and made no haste to respond, feeling confident we knew him, and thinking of course he knew us. All this took place in a few moments. Having quickly rearranged our line, our flag was than unfurled and displayed – the Stars and Bars! Instantly a blaze of fire flashed along the line of our supposed friends (a New York regiment it really was), and an enfilading hailstorm of bullets tore through the Fourth Alabama from left to right, killing many and disabling more, among the rest Lieutenant Colonel [Evander M.] Law and Major Scott, leaving our regiment without field officers.

What does the reader suppose we did? We did not stay there. The position was too bad and the surprise too sudden. True, the enemy’s fire was once returned with considerable effect; but it is only frank to say that we resumed, without delay, our movement back to the main Confederate line, whither Bee had intended us to go when he first ordered us to retire. Having arrived there, even after all they had suffered, the Fourth Alabama still had pride enough left to rally again, and under the command of a captain fell in on the right of the line and fought to the end of the terrible day. I will not now attempt to detail all the incidents that befell the regiment in these later hours of the battle. I will give one, however, which will always be of special historic interest.

The position of our regiment being now on the right of the Confederate line as drawn on the plateau of the Henry House, and the leading design of the Federals during the entire day being to turn the Confederate left, the heaviest fighting gradually veered toward that flank. No one who was there can ever forget how the Federal musketry crashed and rolled in fresh outbursts as new troops poured in against the center and left. Farther and farther round its awful thunder seemed to encroach, as if it would never be stayed till it should rend and tear that part of our line to atoms. Our brigade comrades of the Sixth North Carolina, separated from us in the manouevres of the day, had rushed in single-handed and attempted to check it, but had been smitten as with fire by its overwhelming power and their gallant Colonel [C. F.] Fisher, with many of his men, were no more. Jackson, with brigade, was struggling desperately, and at length successfully, to arrest the Federal columns; but immovable as Jackson and his men stood, the surging tides of the enemy beating upon him with such a mighty momentum that it seemed as if he must give way. Just then the battle had entirely lulled in our front on the right. Our Brigadier, General Barnard E. Bee, at this moment came galloping to the Fourth Alabama and said: “My brigade is scattered over the field and you are all of it I can now find. Men, can you make a charge of bayonets?” Those poor battered and bloody-nosed fellows, inspired by the lion-like bearing of that historic officer, responded promptly: “Yes, general, we will go wherever you lead and do whatever you say.” Be then said, pointing toward where Jackson and his brigade were so desperately battling: “Yonder stands Jackson like a stone wall! Let us go to his assistance.” Saying that Bee dismounted and led the Fourth Alabama (what remained of them) to Jackson’s position and joined them on the right of his brigade. Some other reinforcements coming up a vigorous charge was made, pressing the Federals back. In this charge Bee fell mortally wounded. Bartow fell nearly at the same time and within a stone’s throw of the same spot. Before the Federals recovered from the impression made by this partial repulse they saw Kirby Smith’s men advancing down the Warrenton Pike upon their right rear, as before stated, and his unexpected appearance in that quarter struck them with an overpowering panic and caused their precipitate retreat from the field. The battle ended so suddenly that the Confederates could not understand and could scarcely believe it. When afterwards the doings of the day were recounted among is the above expression, uttered General Bee concerning Jackson, was repeated from mouth to mouth throughout the Confederate army, and that is how he came to be known everywhere as Stonewall Jackson.

In conclusion, as I have set down with an endeavor at entire frankness the achievements, the mistake and the misfortunes that day of the regiment to which I myself belonged (the Fourth Alabama), I may be pardoned for adding a word about how we looked back upon our experience after it was over as a curious illustration of the absurd notions of inexperienced soldiers. Our ideal was that we were to whip whatever we came across – no matter about numbers; many or few, we must put them to flight. To turn the back before any enemy would be disgraceful. Having, therefore, turned our backs to the enemy twice that day, as I have narrated, once under orders and once without, we of the Fourth Alabama, upon the whole, felt humiliated and rather ashamed of ourselves on reviewing what had occurred. It was some days after the battle that to our surprise we began to hear from our comrades if the army and to read in the papers that our regiment was thought to have distinguished itself greatly. Then we began to hold up our heads again and to recall the fact that we had lost more than any other regiment in the army. Finally, we go hold of the Northern newspapers and found where our gallant and generous adversary, [Brigadier General Samuel P.] Heintzelman, giving an account of what he termed our stubborn resistance in that opening conflict, which I have described, had praised us extravagantly, saying: “That Alabama regiment was composed of the most gallant fellows the world ever saw.” This restored our equanimity, and we concluded that if we had not come up to our previous ideas of our invincibility, maybe we had not done so badly after all, and perhaps our sweethearts at home would not scorn us as poltroons. One other profound inpression, however, was left on the minds, at least of some of us, by the events of that day, and especially when we came to gather up the mangled remains of so many of our late merry-hearted and beloved comrades – an impression which was not changed by all we saw in the succeeding four years, or by the lapse of time since, and that was – talk as men about great war-like deeds, heap plaudits on heroes and worship military glory how they will – war is from hell!

Transcribed from Peter Cozzens (ed.), Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume 5, pp. 41-49. Brackets above are the editor’s. Per note therein, the original article first appeared in the Philadelphia Weekly Times, 2/26/1881, under the title First Battle of Bull Run.

William Mack Robbins at Ancestry

William Mack Robbins at Fold3

Interesting article on William Mack Robbins