GENERAL EWELL AT BULL RUN (1)
BY MAJOR CAMPBELL BROWN, AIDE-DE-CAMP AND ASSISTANT ADJUTANT-GENERAL TO GENERAL EWELL.
In General Beauregard’s article on Bull Run, in “The Century” for November , is this severe criticism of one of his subordinates, the late Lieutenant-General R. S. Ewell:
“Meanwhile, in rear of Mitchell’s Ford, I had been waiting with General Johnston for the sound of conflict to open in the quarter of Centreville upon the Federal left flank and rear (making allowance, however, for the delays possible to commands unused to battle), when I was chagrined to hear from General D. R. Jones that, while he had been long ready for the movement upon Centreville, General Ewell had not come up to form on his right, though he had sent him between 7 and 8 o’clock a copy of his own order, which recited that Ewell had been already ordered to begin the movement. I dispatched an immediate order to Ewell to advance; but within a quarter of an hour, just as I received a dispatch from him informing me that he had received no order to advance in the morning, the firing on the left began to increase SO intensely as to indicate a severe attack, whereupon General Johnston said that he would go personally to that quarter.”
This contains at least three errors, so serious that they should not be allowed to pass uncorrected among the materials from which history will one day be constructed:
1. That Ewell failed to do what a good soldier would have done — namely, to move forward immediately on hearing from D. R. Jones.
2. That Beauregard was made aware of this supposed backwardness of Ewell by a message from D. R. Jones.
3. That on receiving this message he at once ordered Ewell to advance.
The subjoined correspondence, (2) now [March, 1885] first in print, took place four days after the battle. It shows that Ewell did exactly what Beauregard says he ought to have done — namely, move forward promptly; that his own staff-officer, sent to report this forward movement, carried also to headquarters the first intelligence of the failure of orders to reach him; that no such message was received from D. R. Jones as is here ascribed to him; and that the order sent back by Beauregard to Ewell was not one to advance, but to retire from an advance already begun.
It is not easy to understand these mistakes, as General Beauregard has twice given a tolerably accurate though meager account of the matter — once in his official report, and once in his biography published by Colonel Roman in 1884. Neither of these accounts can be reconciled with the later attitude.
Upon reading General Beauregard’s article, I wrote to General Fitzhugh Lee, who was Ewell’s assistant adjutant-general at Manassas, asking his recollection of what took place. I have liberty to make the following extracts from his reply. After stating what troops composed the brigade, he goes on:
“These troops were all in position at daylight on the 21st July, ready for any duty, and held the extreme right of General Beauregard’s line of battle along Bull Run, at Union Mills. As hour after hour passed, General Ewell grew impatient at not receiving any orders (beyond those to be ready to advance, which came at sunrise), and sent me between 9 and 10 A. M. to see General D. R. Jones, who commanded the brigade next on his left at McLean’s Ford, to ascertain if that officer had any news or had received any orders from army headquarters. I found General Jones making preparations to cross Bull Run, and was told by him that, in the order he had received to do so, it was stated that General Ewell had been sent similar instructions.
“Upon my report of these facts, General Ewell at once issued the orders for his command to cross the Run and move out on the road to Centreville.”
General Lee then describes the recall across Bull Run and the second advance of the brigade to make a demonstration toward Centreville, and adds that the skirmishers of Rodes’s 5th Alabama Regiment, which was in advance, had actually become engaged, when we were again recalled and ordered to “move by the most direct route at once, and as rapidly as possible, for the Lewis house” — the field of battle on the left. Ewell moved rapidly, sending General Lee and another officer ahead to report and secure orders. On his arrival near the field they brought instructions to halt, when he immediately rode forward with them to General Beauregard, “and General Ewell begged General Beauregard to be allowed to go in pursuit of the enemy, but his request was refused.”
As to the real causes of the miscarriage of General Beauregard’s plan of attack there need be little doubt. They are plainly stated by his immediate superior in command, General Joseph E. Johnston, in his official report, as being the “early movements of the enemy on that morning and the non-arrival of the expected troops” from Harper’s Ferry. He adds: ”General Beauregard afterward proposed a modification of the abandoned plan, to attack with our right, while the left stood on the defensive. This, too, became impracticable, and a battle ensued, different in place and circumstances from any previous plan on our side.”
There are some puzzling circumstances connected with the supposed miscarriage of the order for our advance. The delay in sending it is unexplained. General Beauregard says it was sent “at about 8 A. M.,” but D. R. Jones had received his corresponding order at 10 minutes past 7, and firing had begun at half-past 5.
The messenger was strangely chosen. It was the most important order of the day, for the movements of the army were to hinge on those of our brigade. There was no scarcity of competent staff-officers; yet it was intrusted to “a guide,” presumably an enlisted man, perhaps even a citizen, whose very name was unknown.
His instructions were peculiar. Time was all-important. He was ordered not to go direct to Ewell, but first to make a detour to Holmes, who lay in reserve nearly two miles in our rear.
His disappearance is mysterious. He was never heard of after receiving the order; yet his route lay wholly within our lines, over well-beaten roads and far out of reach of the enemy.
Lastly, General Beauregard, in his official report, gives as his reason for countermanding the movement begun by Ewell at 10 o’clock, that in his judgment it would require quite three hours for the troops to get into position for attack. Had the messenger dispatched at 8 been prompt, Ewell might have had his orders by 9. But at 9 we find Beauregard in rear of Mitchell’s Ford, waiting for an attack which, by his own figures, he should not have expected before 12.
It is not for me to reconcile these contradictions.
(1) This article appeared substantially as here printed in “The Century ” for March, 1885.— EDITORS.
Union Mills, July 25th, 1861.
Sir: In a conversation with Major James, Louisiana 6th Regiment, he has left the impression on my mind that you think some of your orders on the 21st were either not carried out or not received by me.
My flrst order of that day was to hold myself in readiness to attack — this at sunrise. About 10. General Jones sent a copy of an order received by him In which it was stated that I had been ordered to cross and attack, and on receipt of this I moved on until receiving the following:
10 &1/2 A.M.
On account of the difficulties of the ground in our front it is thought advisable to fall back to our former position.
(Addressed) General Ewell.
(Signed) G. T. B.
If any other order was sent to me, I should like to have a copy of it, as well as the name of the courier who brought it.
Every movement I made was at once reported to you at the time, and this across Bull Run, as well as the advance in the afternoon, I thought were explained in my report sent in to-day.
If an order were sent earlier than the copy through General Jones, the courier should be held responsible, as neither General Holmes nor myself received it. I send the original of the order to fall back in the morning. The second advance in the afternoon and recall to Stone Bridge were in consequence of verbal orders.
My chief object in writing to you is to ask you to leave nothing doubtful in your report, both as regards my crossing in the morning and recall —and not to let it lie inferred by any possibility that I blundered on that day. I moved forward as soon as notified by General Jones that I was ordered and he had been.
If there was an order sent me to advance before the one I received through General Jones, it is more than likely it would have been given to the same express.
R. S. EWELL. B. G.
Manassas, Va., July 26th, 1861.
General: Your letter of the 25th inst. is received. I do not attach the slightest blame to you for the failure of the movement on Centreville, but to the guide who did not deliver the order to move forward, sent at about 8 A. M. to General Holmes and then to you —corresponding in every respect to the one sent to Generals Jones, lion ha MI. and Longstreet — only their movements were subordinate to yours. Unfortunately no copy, in the hurry of the moment, was kept of said orders: and so many guides, about a dozen or more, were sent off in different directions, that it is next to impossible to find out who was the bearer of the orders referred to. Our guides and couriers were the worst set I ever employed, whether from ignorance or over-anxiety to do well and quickly I cannot say: but many regiments lost their way repeatedly on their way toward the field of battle, and of course I can attach no more blame to their commanding officers than I could to you for not executing un order which I am convinced you did not get.
I am fully aware that you did all that could have been expected of you or your command. I merely expressed my regret that my original plan could not be carried into effect, as it would have been a most complete victory with only half the trouble and lighting.
The true cause of countermanding your forward movement after you had crossed was that it was then too late, as the enemy was about to annihilate our left flank, and had to be met and checked there, for otherwise he would have taken us in flank and rear and all would have been lost.
G. T. Beauregard
General R. S. Ewell, Union Mills, Va.
P. S. Please read the above to Major James. Ewell, Union Mills, Va.
N. B. The order sent you at about 8 A. M., to commence the movement on Centreville, was addressed to General Holmes and yourself, as he was to support you, but being nearer Camp Pickens, the headquarters, than Union Mills, where you were, it was to be communicated to him first, and then to you; but he has informed me that it never reached him. With regard to the order sent you in the afternoon to recross the Bull Run (to march toward the Stone Bridgei), it was sent you by General J. E. Johnston, as I am informed by him, for the purpose of supporting our left, if necessary.
G. T. B.
Do not publish until we know what the enemy is going to do—or reports are out —which I think will make it all right.