On the Conduct of the 8th New York State Militia and Other Reported Acts of Cowardice

27 02 2022

Confessing their Cowardice

We find in the New York Times the following remarkable expose’ of the action of the enemy at Manassas. It will be seen from this that the Eighth New York Regiment, which was represented by some of the Northern papers to have been “torn almost to shreds by the enemy’s balls,” was actually not on the field of battle! Was there ever a more cunning, infamous falsehood? – and yet it is about as near the truth as all the Northern accounts of the battle. But we will let the Times itself tell its own story:

Washington, July 31

I am afraid the good people of New York are doing quite as much to demoralize our troops as did the battle of Bull Run. Idolizing runaways and making heros of cowards is not the way to grow true patriots and real heros. The ovation to some of the returning troops looks like a mockery of valor. For instance, I read in Saturday’s Times the following relating to the reception of the Eighth Regiment, New York State Militia, on their arrival at New York:

“Capt. Varian, with his troop of bronzed and hardy looking artillerist, were also on the pier, with their two guide colors, torn almost to shreds by the enemy’s balls during the late engagement.”

And again, I read of –

“Capt. Varian’s artillery corps, which was in the fight.”

Now I look at the facts. On the Saturday preceding the battle of Bull Run, Capt. Varian and his artillerists demanded their discharge – their time having expired. Gen. McDowell said all that a commander on the eve of a battle could say, to induce them to remain, but without producing any effect.

That day Secretary Cameron visited the camp, and the subject being referred to him, partly by coaxing and partly by truly representing the inglorious action which they contemplated, the artillerists were induced to notify Gen. McDowell that, “with the exception of seventeen, the company would stay with the division, until the time of the Regiment expired, on the 25th.” After Secretary Cameron returned to Washington, however, the company took a sober second thought, and late Saturday evening again demanded their discharge from Gen. McDowell. Of course, it had to be granted; and in addition to his other duties, the commander had to provide for mustering them out of the service and sending them to the rear.

They wanted to take their battery with them, but this Gen. McDowell refused – fearing the effect to be produced upon the moving columns, at seeing a park of artillery withdrawing to the rear as the infantry marched to the front. This artillery lay idle all day at Centreville, and was brought off by stronger hands from another State, and without even having fired one projectile. If the two guide-colors are “toen almost to shreds,” their artillerists must have halted on their march to the war and made their own colors a target, popping them with the pistols they had never yet fired at a foe. This statement of facts come from an authentic source and is literally true.

I saw, some days ago, a statement that a Captain of Lieutenant Alexander displayed cowardice on the field. I have seen since a statement from his friends that “Captain or Lieutenant Alexander was incapable of cowardice.” I did not see Alexander run, and he may be incapable of cowardice, but, if he will go to the headquarters of the Army of the United States, he will hear persons who hold equal or higher rank than himself very bitterly lamenting than an army officer, and a graduate of West Point, should have so entirely failed to do his duty on the field, and should have set an example of running which a raw recruit would be ashamed to follow.

There have been other acts of cowardice on the field of Bull Run – at least there are well-defined rumors of gross dereliction of duty. I cannot, however, yet get them so well authenticated as to justify my giving them publicity. It is not among the volunteers alone that such instances occur. The regulars themselves produce their full quota of instances; and men educated at West Point were as prominent in cowardice as men fresh from the workshops. It is not a pleasant thing to make these statements. It is much easier to commend for bravery than to broad for cowardice; but if the cowards are not branded, how shall the brave be honored?

The Charleston (SC) Mercury, 8/12/1861

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McDowell Orders 4th Pennsylvania Infantry and Varian’s Battery 8th New York State Militia to the Rear

3 11 2020



O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, p. 745

Special Orders,
No. 39.

Hdqrs. Dep’t Northeastern Virginia,
Centreville, July 20, 1861.

  1. The Fourth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, having completed the period of its enlistment, is hereby honorably discharged from the service of the United States. The regiment will, under command of the lieutenant-colonel, take up the march to-morrow for Alexandria, and on its arrival at that place will report to General Runyon to be mustered out of the service.
  2. Colonel Hartranft, Fourth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, having volunteered his services, is assigned to duty on the staff of Colonel Franklin, commanding brigade.
  3. Captain Varian’s battery of light artillery, attached to the Eighth Regiment New York State Militia, having completed the period of its enlistment, is honorably discharged from the service of the United States, and will march to Alexandria and report to General Runyon to be mustered out of the service. The material of the battery will be turned over to the ordnance officer of this command.

By order of General McDowell:

Assistant Adjutant-General.