Lt. Col. J. P. Pryor, Aid to Brig. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, On the Battle and His Captivity

11 02 2022

From the Richmond Dispatch.]

GRAPHIC ACCOUNT OF A CAPTURE, A SECESSION SPEECH, AND AN ESCAPE.

Richmond, Aug. 10, 1861. – Owing to a severe illness, from which I have not yet recovered, my promised statement has been delayed to this time. It is with diffidence I obtrude upon the public even now, and should certainly not do so, but that I know that everything in any way connected with the great battle of Manassas is still read with unabated interest, and that it is also necessary to my own vindication from certain mis-statements which have been copied into our newspapers from Northern resources. I shall make it as brief as possible, confining it mainly to the facts, and denouncing, in advance, as false and unfounded, anything in conflict with it which may have appeared in the journals of the United States.

The day before the fight, (Saturday,) the regiment to which I was attached, (the 19th Mississippi, Col. C. H. Mott,) was on the way from Winchester to Manassas, waiting at a railway station called Piedmont, for a train to convey it to the vicinity of the [?] of action. – I was on horseback and was that day acting as Assistant Brigade Quarter Master to Maj. Jas. H. Anderson, of Mississippi, and also as volunteer Aid to Col. C. H. Mott, who was then acting as commander of the Brigade in place of Brigadier General E. Kirby Smith, who was acting in place of General Johnston. Saturday morning I had ridden on, six or seven miles from Piedmont, by the dirt road, in the direction of Manassas, when Maj. Anderson requested me to go back and attend to some business in his department which he supposed had been neglected. In order to ride as light as possible I gave my rifle and baggage to a servant and told him to await my return – not expecting to be gone more than two hours. On my return to Piedmont I was detained by Col. Mott four or five hours, and consequently when I started back toward Manassas I was unable to overtake either the Quarter Master’s train or the servant with my arms who, of course, despairing of my return in time for him to catch up with the train before dark, had gone on. I rode on, however, to Haymarket, a village distant, I believe, ten miles from Manassas Junction, and somewhat nearer the battlefield.

At Haymarket I stopped for the night, being completely knocked up by the fatigue of the day and of the previous march from Winchester to Piedmont. Sleeping the next morning – the glorious Sunday, the 21st – late at least for a soldier, we were at breakfast about 7 o’clock, when it was announced that the battle had begun, as the quick recurring discharges of cannon were distinctly heard. It was at once perceived that a party of us, all of whom were strangers to war, should proceed to the battle ground. I was unarmed, but such was my desire to see a battle, particularly such as I knew this promised to be, I acceded, and away we went, under the guidance of some of the neighboring citizens, who said they knew all of the by ways of the vicinity. They led us by a tortuous route, and it was not till half past ten that we reached the field; and when we got there, I was completely “turned round,” and, as I found out afterwards, was on the left wing of our line of battle, instead of the right, as I then supposed.

The part of the battle ground upon which we entered had not been very hotly contested previous to our arrival, but, instantly after coming up, it became and continued to [?] hours the “[?]” part of the field. The persons who came with me I saw no more after reaching the area of the conflict. Unable to find any of our Mississippi people that I knew, I was thrown in with a regiment which I was afterwards told was from North Carolina – probably the 6th – which just then was making an ineffectual attempt to form on a ridge in point-blank range of a large battery of the enemy, then playing on that of our lines. The regiment, however, fell back a little way to the left and formed in good order behind a farm-house and the adjacent buildings. – About this time a piece of our artillery came upon the scene at that point, and after some delay opened fire upon the enemy in beautiful style. I sat on my horse near this gun for some time, the enemy’s shot and shell whizzing by and falling thick and fast around. The shot from a rifled cannon makes a peculiar music, which, to be appreciated, must be heard – it cannot be described. The bursting of bombs in the air, too, is a sight to see – the long drawn out whirl of a Minnie ball – of a hailstorm of them – the small [?] like report of many thousand muskets – all made up a concert well worth going a thousand miles to attend. And yet, strange to say, I was not in the least apprehensive of danger to myself. All sense of fear was swallowed up in the one grand idea we had that day – before us an enemy who, whatever his numbers, must that day be whipped.

After tarrying awhile by the side of our troops at the point whence I first smelt the powder and heard the roar of a real battle field, I descried on the hill in front of me – the hill where, farther to the left, stood the house so terribly riddled afterwards by the [?]shot of the enemy, in which they killed the old woman, notwithstanding the hospital flag then floating over it – another regiment, which I hoped might be one from Mississippi, I immediately formed the determination to join it. I started down the hill under a cross fire from a battery to the left and another in front, which I now suppose to have been Sherman’s, such was the incessant roar of its guns and the explosion of its shells and hissing of its balls, all around and above me. I had, however, advanced only half way up the opposite hill, when I was met by the regiment I was seeking, rapidly falling back but in good order. Many of the men were wounded, and many came down the hill with their faces all streaming with blood and begrimmed with powder. This regiment, I am informed, was the Fourth Alabama, which suffered so severely and acted so nobly through out the entire day. I proceeded to form, if I am not mistaken, along with the North Carolina regiment, behind the crest of the hill and beyond the range of the enemy’s guns.

All this time the rattle of rifles and musketry, as well as the grander music of artillery, was unceasing. It was observed by many old soldiers, after the battle, that they had never before known the discharges of musketry to be so sharp and continuous throughout so long an action – an action that lasted from 7 in the morning to 7 in the evening. And, this, too, notwithstanding the now well established fact that there were six distinct bayonet charges made by the Confederates during the day.

It was now about 1 o’clock, and as the troops I happened to be with seemed to be waiting for reinforcements, and as I was unarmed and there was no prospect of getting arms where I then was, I concluded to go again in search of a Mississippi regiment, knowing the gallant Second, under the command of my now renowned friend Faulkner, to be somewhere on the field. For this purpose I started off as I then thought, on the side of the field near Manassas. Unfortunately, I was mistaken in the course, and knowing nothing of our line or order of battle, I rode in the direction of Centreville. On rising the next hill, a shell struck a rock within a few feet of me, and exploding, threw the dust over me and my horse in a way that was not very compatible with one’s notions of safety, but was still exciting, especially to the horse, who bounded into the air as if he had been struck with a fragment of Yankee iron. This shell must have been thrown at me by Sherman’s Battery, then probably a mile and a half distant.

Riding forward a few yards further, I perceived in a glen or ravine a party of soldiers, numbering, I suppose about forty, dressed in uniforms exactly similar to many of those worn in the Confederate service, and all armed with the improved Springfield musket.* Of course, I did not dream for an instant that they were other than Southerners and Secessionists. Riding directly up to, and accosting them, a brief colloquy ensued, of which the following is the substance:

“Well, boys,” said I, “I believe those batteries over yonder are, for the present, a little too much for our people on the hill.”

“Oh no,” replied one of them, “we are carrying the day everywhere.” (And so they were up to 1 ½ P. M.]

“Well,” said I, “who are you, and where are you from?”

“Where the devil are you from?” was the quick response, in true Yankee fashion.

Seeing I was in for it, I replied promptly and proudly, “I am from Mississippi.”

Instantly an officer sprang up and shouted, “Take that man,” and the whole forty cocked their guns and surrounded me. There I was in their midst, totally unarmed. What could I do but surrender me a prisoner of war? I did so. I was dismounted. They searched me for arms but found none. The officer of the detachment got on my horse, and when the panic came ran away with him! But I understand that both horse and man were killed by a cannon shot from one of our batteries in the rout. So much for the gallant bay who bore me through what little I saw of the immortal filed of Manassas.

My captors carried e by devious ways to a strong detachment of their troops, probably [?] strong, posted in a neighboring wood. – From thence they were ordered to convey me to their rear, which they proceeded to do, treating me kindly and politely by the way. Indeed, I may here say, once and for all, to the credit of the great Yankee nation, except in a single instance, I experienced nothing but polite and respectful treatment while I was a captive in their hands. The single instance referred to was of a very common soldier, wo, it seems, had just lost his brother that night, and who came up, and pointing to me, said he wanted to shoot “that d—-d secesh.” My guards sternly ordered him off, and even threatened to shoot him if he did not at once absent himself. But this is anticipating, for the incident happened after we reached the rear.

The rear of the enemy’s forces to which I was next conducted was then at a point a mile and a half to two miles on this side of Centreville at a farm house beyond and to the right of which lie extensive fields. To the left there is a skirt of woods sufficiently extensive to screen a brigade and a battery of four guns. But of this further on.

Arrived at the rear, we found there a large body of men, amounting, I judge, to near 10,000, scattered over the field and in the grounds around the farm house, all in disarray and all elate with the victory which they then deemed assured. They brought out a chair for me, and a large crowd gathered around, asking innumerable questions, but at the same time politely assuring me I need not answer unless I chose. They asked m how many men we had in the field that day.

I told them I did not know, and that if they did I should not tell them. However, I added, I shouldn’t be surprised if we had at least 60,000 men on the ground, and as many more only a few miles off. They said they had 40,000 in the field and 40,000 in reserve. They asked me if Jeff. Davis didn’t ride a white horse, and was he not on the field? I replied that President Davis rode a white horse at Richmond, and that if not then on the field, he would be there in ample time to turn the tide of battle, if it was really running in their favor, as they said it was. They said they did not care a d—n for the nigger – that they were simply fighting for the flag, and asked me what we were fighting for? I told them they were very candid; that while we were fighting for the same great principle our and their forefathers fought together for side by side through the first revolution, the right to govern ourselves in our own way, without let or hindrance from the outside world, they acknowledged that they were merely fighting for a tawdry piece of bunting, worth about fifty cents a yard – while they were fighting for a simple conventional symbol, we were fighting for our homes and firesides, and every good and holy thing that man holds dear. Much more of the same sort passed, but not a word was said by me (as their reporters wantonly write,) about our having “two full negro regiments” in our Confederate States Army.

During the [?], a great crowd numbering several hundreds gathered around me, (still sitting in my chair,) [?] officers on horseback being on the outskirts and [?]. Tiring somewhat of their countless questions, I politely remarked that if they would [?] their [?] questioning I would make them a comp[?] the whole [?] between the Confederate States and the United States as I understood it, and as I believed every [?] and intelligent man among them would view it if he were only properly enlightened. To this they assented, and I proceeded to do my best under the circumstances. Of course, I cannot here give even an outline of my remarks on that interesting and critical occasion but this much I remember and will not withhold: After going over the main points of Southern Scripture in reference to merely political [?], States Rights, etc., I told them frankly that, although they could outnumber us, we could outfight them; that a vast majority of our people were as brave as Caesar at the head of his conquering legions, while the majority of brave men among them was probably not so vast, that we had the best Generals on our side – Davis, Beauregard, Johnston, Lee, Magruder, Albert Johnston, Ben McCulloch and others – while they had only Scott, whose sands of time are nearly run, and who is altogether too slow for such a “trial of conclusions” as our Generals have [?]; and that as long as we could bring 200,000 men into the field, (and we can do that forever,) the question of victory or defeat is a mere question of generalship. Finally, I told them, that God Almighty, the Supreme, All-wise and [?] Ruler of the Universe, was on our side. That was evidenced by the military [?] of the old Union, which for the last eight years, had required large quantities of arms and munitions of war to be transported to Southern and Southwestern forts, arsenals, armories and other military and naval depots. That it was evidenced at Fort Sumter, when God raised a great storm and scattered their provisioning and reinforcing fleet to the four winds of the sea. Just as the bombardment began. That it was evidenced at Bethel, where it seems that the very stars, in their courses, fought against you Siveras of the North, in that you got on fighting and slaying among yourselves, even before the battle began, demoralizing your forces and thus assuring us an easy victory against the most desperate odds. That it was further abundantly evidenced in the unexampled food crops with which the good God has blessed us, thus forever thwarting your expressed determination to starve us out, by blockading us from Cairo all the way round to the sea. And, finally, I should not be surprised if some signal interposition of Divine Providence should not be exhibited in our favor here at Bull Run today.

All this, and more like it, I substantially said, and yet they did not slay me where I sat. The truth is, I thought I was doomed to a long and dreary imprisonment or exile at least, and, perhaps, felt a little desperate. They heard me politely, and, so far from mocking or hissing, seemed rather to like, if not the matter, at least the exceeding novelty of my remarks, and the intense strangeness of “the situation” generally.

Nearly all the time I was with them the Yankees were particularly severe on our “masked batteries,” sneeringly asking, “How many masked batteries have you?” I told them we had them almost everywhere, and particularly in places where they would least expect them. I knew not that even while I spoke one of our batteries was moving up behind the skirt of woods to which I have alluded, for the purpose of giving them a surprise such as the world has rarely seen.

I observed that most of them seemed to be unaccustomed to the use of arms, handling them awkwardly, and showing very palpable symptoms of trepidation whenever even one of their own muskets or rifles was fired a short distance off. But when, as I have foreshadowed, our big guns (Kemper’s battery) backed by the South Carolina brigade, came up on them unperceived and commenced firing on them from their right flank, all scattered about the houses and fields as they were – oh, then you ought to have seen them break and run! The two rough-hewn fellows who had me in charge snatched me up by either arm and dragged me in the grand melee at more than “double-quick,” across an open field, for more than two hundred yards; and, when the fire grew hotter, and some of their men began to fall, they forgot all about me, dropped me and their muskets, and everything else they had about them that would encumber their flight – knapsacks, haversacks, cartridge-boxes, canteens and all – and ran for dear life. As did my guards in the matter of shedding their encumbrances, so did nearly the entire division. The woods and fields were strewed with the “spoils of war.” All this time the officers – or at least some of them – were shouting, “Don’t run, men; don’t run!” while they themselves were making quite as good time as their men. Very quietly I picked up one of my guards’ muskets (I have it yet), and taking a direction to the right across their line of racing. I was soon safely out of the rabble rout, and happily ensconced under a tree in a woodland hard by, where I sat down to await the chances of battle, already decided – though I did not then know it positively – gloriously in our favor.

It was, I think, not more than an hour before the skirmishers of a South Carolina Regiment came up, and after requiring me to give an account of myself, which being satisfactory, I went on with them a short distance, and a little after sunset saw the last gun fired by Kemper’s battery at the broken and disordered elements of the enemy as they scampered pell mell into and through Centreville on their way to Washington, and to everlasting disgrace. It was by use of these last guns, I suppose, that my gallant horse and the officer that commanded the detachment which took me prisoner were slain. Requiecsat in pace!

Returning that night towards the headquarters, the South Carolina Brigade, in whose hospitable company I found myself bivouacked at various places on the battlefield, until finally, about three o’clock in the morning of Monday, we arrived at the headquarters of Gen. Evans, where we laid down on the ground, and on [?] blankets, in the rain, until we got sufficiently wet to wake us up – about 6 ½ or 7 o’clock.

My captors belonged to a regiment of Wisconsin, the [?*], I believe. After they ran off and left me, dropping every portable thing they had, I picked up the fine military great coat of one of their officers – Lieut. W[ise?], I suppose, was his name, from an envelope in the pocket which I have yet, and which my baggage being at the Junction, was of especial service in shielding me from the cold and rain of several succeeding nights and days.

Begging pardon, Messrs. Editors, for having trespassed so long upon your patience.

I am, yours, very respectfully,
J. P. PRYOR

The (Huntsville, AL) Democrat, 8/28/1861

Clipping Image

* An account in the Baltimore Sun, reprinted in the Richmond Dispatch on 7/25/1861, identifies these as members of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, and the soldier capturing Pryor as Pvt. Hasbrouck. It also identifies Pryor as a cousin of Roger A. Pryor.

This account refutes, per other Southern accounts, claims in Northern papers that Pryor told his captors there were units of black confederate soldiers on the field that day. See this post by Andy Hall.

I suspect, but can’t state with certainty, that the author is John Pope Pryor, a journalist, who was later enlisted in the Nathan Bedford Forrest’s 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, and still later coauthored The Campaigns of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and of Forrest’s Cavalry.

J. P. Pryor at Fold3

J. P. Pryor at FindAGrave





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.