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





Pvt. Thomas W. Colley, Co. L (Washington Mounted Rifles), 1st Virginia Cavalry, on the March to Manassas and the Battle

13 11 2018

The subject of this sketch, Thomas W. Colley was born in Washington County, Virginia, Nov. 30th, 1837 of poor but respectable “parentage.” I was sent to the old field schools [on the job training] until 14 years of age, when I was apprenticed to the “Blacksmith trade” at which I served for some two years and then by consent of my father decided to quit that trade and learn the Brick Masons trade which I continued to work at until April 1861. I learned to make & burn brick and to lay them up, and also learned the “Plasters business,” and became quite an expert in the Plasters part of his trade. The war between the States coming on in 1860 & 61 I volunteered on the 7th of April 1861 in a cavalry company then being organized at Abingdon, Va., the county seat of my county, by Captain Wm. E. Jones [William Edmondson Jones], {who had served] previously as a Lieut. in the Mounted Rifles U.S.A. In honor of his old command, Jones named this co. the Washington Mounted Rifles.

We were known as such until we merged into the 1st Regiment of Virginia Volunteer Cavalry [cavalry] first as Co. G and afterwards as Company D. This regiment was composed of companies from the upper and lower Valley of Virginia with one Co. from Amelia County and one from Maryland. At first the “Maryland Co” & the Washington Mounted Rifles formed the 1st squadron in the regiment and were armed with carbines and were used as sharpshooters. Afterwards all the companies were armed with rifles & the whole regiment were sharpshooters and continued in that line of service until the closing scenes around Appomattox C.H. April 9th 1865.

I was constantly with my command from the day I left home for Richmond until I was finally disabled and wholly unfit for any kind of duty. I was in the Valley of Virginia with my regiment in front of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston whose forces in June 1861 and up till July 21st were at Winchester. My command was on picket duty in the medical front [unclear the position Colley references as ‘Medical front’] and scouting in the country watching the movements of Gen. Patterson. [Major General Militia, Robert Patterson] Was on camp guard the morning Gen. Patterson advanced towards Winchester in his “first” movement to hold Johnston there, while he went to the aid of Gen. Banks [Major General Nathaniel Banks] at Manassas and in this advance , where I heard the first shell “fired” from an enemy gun; the thing most dreaded by raw recruits “the peculiar whizzing sound of those missiles of death” as they pass through the air caused the hair to rise on one’s head and a creepy horrible sensation run over his flesh and a great desire to be back at home with Ma. And at this particular time and place this horrible feeling seized almost the entire regiment and they started down the Pike, one co. actually going into Winchester 12 miles from the point they started from.

At the time the shell passed over us Co. D was drawn in marching order by 2, with horses heads turned toward Winchester. Captain Jones was on the front with the advance picket watching the enemy’s movements. Some of the boys were dismounted searching among a lot of blankets & other camp equipment that had been thrown away by a stampeded wagon driver. We had been hurried out of camp and left our baggage to the care of the wagoners. I was among the dismounted ones and would have sworn the shell that passed over the mounted mens heads some 50 or so feet in the air did not miss me 2 inches. This was a signal with out a word of command.

The whole mounted positions hit out down the pike. Captain Jones seeing or hearing the movements dashed up cursing the cowardly wretches for running away. Came in time to save me from running with the rest. Captain sent Lieut. Blackford [William Willis Blackford] after the boys, and he over hauled them and brought them back.

The captain gave us a lecture on the harmlessness of these terrible missiles, especially if they were as high in the air as that one was; in 12 months from that time the sound of artillery and the whizzing of shells would only lull a soldier to sleep. He ordered me to dismount and open a place in the fence so our company could be drawn up in line to oppose any forward movement of the enemy. General Johnston succeeded in deceiving Gen. Patterson after all his shrewd maneuvers and left him in the lower valley.

Whilst Johnston was rushing the whole force to Manassas to join Gen. Beauregard [Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard] Gen. Stuart [at the time, Colonel James Ewell Brown Stuart] took all the companies of the regt. and pressed on with Johnston except our co. under Captain Wm. E. Jones. We were left to hover around the front of Pattersons army and keep up a bold front until the line was joined at Manassas. We left for Manassas and arrived there Saturday, and were there, ready for the memorable 21st Sunday morning, a day never to be forgotten by any who participated in its terrible coverage. I shall never forget I know, until my eyes close in death. I was out on one of the advanced picket posts near Jermanna [Jermantown] Ford on Bull Run. Just as the sun was brightening the tops of the trees “the signal gun was fired.” A tremendous gun. I thought I never heard such a report and the whizzing and whining of that awful shell, “I thought it would never stop.”

It went far out across the Manassas Plains into the skirting forrest. I thought if we had to charge and capture such tremendous guns, there would be none of us left to tell the tale. But I was not permitted to summarize or reflect long on these terrible unforeseen results. The picket firing commenced all along the line and the cavalry were all drawn together and were moved here and there all day through clouds of road dust so thick we could not see the horse in front of us. We were finally ordered at about 2 pm to support Gen. Bartow’s [Colonel Francis Stebbins Bartow] & Be Brigades [Brigadier General Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr.] near Stone Bridge, and arrived there at the time they were both killed. My stirrup leathers broke and I had to fall out of ranks and repair them. As I came over a hill I could see the enemy’s batteries and masses of infantry to my left. Farther up on the hill I saw two or three officers and I rode up to them and asked where my regiment was, and Col. Thomas G. Preston pointed out to me the direction they went, and I was satisfied it was a soldier’s duty to be with his command.

When the fight was on, and about that time of day it was on in all its fury and fearfulness, the face of the hill in my front was literally rent and torn with shells and shot. How I was ever to pass through that spot I could not tell, but my duty led in that direction and I must go. So I put spurs to my horse and ran the gauntlet safely and soon found my command drawn up in line in a small ravine. I had hardly gotten over my run before the Hampass Legion [Brigadier General Wade Hampton’s Legion] of S.C., whose officers had been killed and who were badly cut up and stampeded, came running down through a clump of pines and our company commenced cursing and abusing them for running. I asked who they were & they said South Carolinians. Damn you. You were the first to secede, now you are the first to run. It was always shocking to me to see a soldier run and especially at that time, our first fight. They said we are whipped and ruined, our cause is gone. We told them they were liars, we were not whipped there.

About this time Col. Stuart took 3 companies of our regt. and charged the 14th Brooklyn Zouaves, “Red Briches” fellows[.]

He broke their lines, and fresh forces were coming on through the night. They soon gone away, and the greatest stampede and run for dear life that was ever imagined since history commenced recording the events of the various ages. We were soon in the chase. The first fellow I saw on crossing Bull Run Bridge was an ambulance driver; his horses had ran away with him and straddled a tree, broke the breast yoke and smashed the front end of the vehicle up against the tree and smashed the drivers face up and tumbled him out insensible. He was just coming to when we run up on him and we wanted to know what he was doing over here invading our country. Some of the boys wanted to kill him and others thought best not to hurt the poor fellow. We had not learned then that wagoners and ambulance drivers were not at all dangerous. As belligerents we soon left him and went on after the fleeing blue coats [underlined in original].

We followed them to Cub Run and there the bridge crossing that stream was blockaded with wagons and other vehicles disabled by our artillery. If we had known as much that night as we did 2 or 3 years later, not many of the boys would have ever reached Washington D.C. That night it was getting quite dark and we were brought back over the battlefield. The excitement of the dog “gone” and now it was our time to see and hear the shrieks and groans of the wounded and dying of both armies. I thought “oh horrors of horrors” is this war? It was a terrible scene. We could hear the awful groans and sighs and the calls for water and the torches going in every direction searching for friends. We were hurried on towards the junction where we started from.

From In Memory of Self and Comrades, pp.1-7

Contributed, annotated, and transcribed by Michael K. Shaffer

Thomas Wallace Colley at Ancestry.com

T. W. Colley at Fold3

Thomas Wallace Colley at FindAGrave





2nd Lt. George Armstrong Custer, Co. G, 2nd U. S. Cavalry, On Travelling to the Field and the Battle (Part 3)

18 11 2017

I was standing with a friend and classmate at the moment on a high ridge near our advancing line. We were congratulating ourselves upon the glorious victory which already seemed to have been ours, as the Confederates were everywhere giving way, when our attention was attracted by a long line of troops suddenly appearing behind us upon the edge of the timber already mentioned. It never occurred to either of us that the troops we then saw could be any but some of our reinforcements making their way to the front.

Before doubts could arise we saw the Confederate flag floating over a portion of the line just emerging from the timber; the next moment the entire line leveled their muskets and poured a volley into the back s of our advancing regiments on the right. At the same time a battery which had also arrived unseen opened fire, and with the cry of “We’re flanked! We’re flanked!” passed from rank to rank, the Union lines, but a moment before so successful and triumphant, threw down their arms, were seized by a panic, and begun a most disordered panic.

All this occurred almost in an instant of time. No pen or description can give anything like a correct idea of the rout and demoralization that followed. Officers and men joined in one vast crowd, abandoning, except in isolated instances, all attempts to preserve their organizations. A moderate force of good cavalry at that moment could have secured to the Confederates nearly every man and gun that crossed Bull Run in the early morning. Fortunately the Confederate army was so badly demoralized by their earlier reverses, that it was in no mood or condition to make pursuit, and reap the fill fruits of victory. The troops that had arrived on the battlefield so unexpectedly for the Federals, and which had wrought such a disaster on the Union arms, were Elzey’s brigade of infantry and Beckham’s battery of artillery, the whole under command of Brigadier General Kirby Smith, being a detachment belonging to Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah, just arrived from the valley. Had this command reached the battlefield a few minutes later, the rout of Beauregard’s army would have been assured, as his forces seemed powerless to check the advance of the Union troops.

General McDowell and his staff, as did many of the higher officers, exerted themselves to the utmost to stay the retreating Federals, but all appeals to the courage and patriotism of the latter fell as upon dumb animals. One who has never witnessed the conduct of large numbers of men when seized by a panic such as that was cannot realize how utterly senseless and without apparent reason men will act. And yet the same men may have exhibited great gallantry and intelligence but a moment before.

The value of discipline was clearly shown in the crisis by observing the manner of the few regular troops, as contrasted with the raw and undisciplined three months’ men. The regular soldiers never for a moment ceased to look to their officers for orders and instructions, and in retiring from the field, even amid the greatest disorder and confusion of the organizations near them, they preserved their formation, and marched only as they were directed to do.

The long lines of Union soldiery, which a few minutes before had been bravely confronting and driving the enemy, suddenly lost their cohesion and became one immense mass of fleeing, frightened creatures. Artillery horses were cut from their traces, and it was no unusual sight so see three men, perhaps belonging to different regiments, riding the same horse, and making their way to the rear as fast as the dense mass of men moving with them would permit.

The direction of the retreat was toward Centreville, by way of the Stone Bridge crossing, and other fords above that point. An occasional shot from the enemy’s artillery, or the cry that the Black Horse cavalry, so dreaded in the first months of the war in Virginia, were coming, kept the fleeing crowd of soldiers at their best speed.

Arms were thrown away as being no longer of service in warding off the enemy. Here and there the state colors of a regiment, or perhaps the national standard, would be seen lying on the ground along the line of retreat, no one venturing to reclaim or preserve them, while more than on full set of band instruments could be observed, dropped under the shade of some tree in rear of the line of battle, and where their late owners had probably been resting from the fatigues of the fight when the panic seized them and forced them to join their comrades in flight. One good regiment composed of such sterling material as made up the regiments of either side at the termination of the war could have checked the pursuit before reaching Bull Run, and could have saved much of the artillery and many of the prisoners that as it was fell into the enemy’s hands simply for want of owners.

The rout continued until Centreville was reached; then the reserves posted under Miles gave some little confidence to the retreating masses, and after the latter had passed the reserves, comparative order began in a slight degree to be restored. General McDowell at first decided to halt and make a stand on the heights near Centreville, but this was soon to be discovered to be inadvisable, if not impracticable, so large a portion of the army having continued in their flight toward Washington. Orders were then given the various commanders to conduct their forces back to their former camps near Arlington opposite Washington, where they arrived the following day.

The cavalry, on the Federal side consisting of only seven companies of regulars under Major Palmer, were not employed to any considerable extent during the battle except as supports to batteries of artillery. One charge was made in the early part of the battle near the Warrenton Turnpike by Colburn’s squadron. In advancing in the attack in the morning, Palmer’s companies accompanied Hunter’s division in the long and tedious movement through an immense forest by which Bull Run was crossed at one of the upper fords, and the left flank of the Confederates successfully turned.

After arriving at Sudley Springs, the cavalry halted for half an hour or more. We could hear the battle raging a short distance in our front. Soon a staff officer of General McDowell’s came galloping down to where the cavalry was waiting, saying that the general desired us to move across the stream and up the ridge beyond, where we were to support a battery.

The order was promptly obeyed, and as we ascended the crest I saw Griffin with his battery galloping into position. The enemy had discovered him, and their artillery had opened fire upon him, but the shots were aimed so high that the balls passed overhead. Following the battery, we also marched within plain hearing of each shot as it passed over Griffin’s men. I remember well the strange hissing and exceedingly vicious sound of the first cannon shot I heard as it whirled through the air. Of course I had often heard the sound made by cannon balls while passing through the air during my artillery practice at West Point, but a man listens with changed interest when the direction of the balls is toward instead of away from him. They seemed to utter a different language when fired in angry battle from that put forth in the tamer practice of drill.

The battery whose support we were having reached its position on an advanced crest near the right of the line, the cavalry massed near the foot of the crest and sheltered by it from the enemy’s fire. Once the report came that the enemy was moving to the attack of the battery which we were specially sent to guard, the order was at once given for the cavalry to advance from the base to the crest of the hill and repel the enemy’s assault.

We were formed in column of companies, and were given to understand that upon reaching the crest of the hill we would probably be ordered to charge the enemy. When it is remembered that but three days before I had quitted West Point as a schoolboy, and as yet had never ridden at anything more dangerous or terrible than a three-foot hurdle, or tried my sabre upon anything more combative than a leather head stuffed with tan bark, it may be imagined that my mind was more or less given to anxious thoughts as we ascended the slope of the hill in front of us. At the same time I realized that I was in front of a company of old and experienced soldiers, all of whom would have an eye upon their new lieutenant to see how he comported himself when under fire.

My pride received an additional incentive from the fact that while I was on duty with troops for the first time in my life, and was the junior officer of all present with the cavalry, there was temporarily assigned to duty with the company another officer of the same rank, who was senior to me by a few days, and having been appointed from civil life, was totally without military experience except such as he had acquired during the past few days. My brief acquaintance with him showed me that he was disposed to attach no little importance to the fact that I was fresh from West Point and supposed to know all that was valuable or worth knowing in regard to the art of war. In this common delusion I was not disposed to disturb him. I soon found that he was inclined to defer to me in opinion, and I recall now, as I have often done when in his company during later years in the war, the difficulty we had in deciding what weapon we would use in the charge to which we believed ourselves advancing.

As we rode forward from the foot of the hill, he in front of his platoon and I abreast of him, in front of mine, Walker (afterward captain) inquired in the most solemn tones, “Custer, what weapon are you going to use in the charge?” From my earliest notions of the true cavalryman I had always pictured him in the charge bearing aloft his curved sabre, and cleaving the skulls of all with whom he came in contact. We had but two weapons to choose from: each of us carried a sabre and one revolver in our belt. I promptly replied, “The Sabre”, and suiting the action to the word, I flashed my bright new blade from its scabbard, and rode forward as if totally unconcerned. Walker, yielding no doubt to what he believed was “the way we do it at West Point,” imitated my motion, and forth came his sabre. I may have seemed to him unconcerned, because I aimed at this, but I was far from enjoying that feeling.

As we rode at a deliberate walk up the hill, I began arguing in my own mind as to the comparative merits of the sabre and revolver as a weapon of attack. If I remember correctly, I reasoned pro and con about as follows: “Now, the sabre is a beautiful weapon; it produces an ugly wound; the term ‘sabre charge’ sounds well; and above all the sabre is sure; it never misses fire. It has this drawback, however: in order to be made effective it is indispensable that you approach very close to your adversary – so close that if you do not unhorse or disable him, he will most likely render that service to you. So much for the sabre.

“Now as to the revolver, it has this advantage over the sabre: one is not compelled to range himself alongside his adversary before beginning his attack, but may select his own time and distance. To be sure, one may miss his aim, but there are six chambers to empty, and if one, two, or three miss, there are still three shots left to fire at close quarters. As this is my first battle, had I not better defer the use of the sabre until I have acquired a little more experience?”

The result was that I returned my sabre to its scabbard, and without uttering a word drew my revolver and poised it opposite my shoulder. Walker, as if following me in my mental discussion, no sooner observed my change of weapon than he did likewise. With my revolver in my hand I put it upon trial mentally. First, I realized that in the rush and excitement of the charge it would be difficult to take anything like accurate aim. Then, might not every shot be fired, and without result…? In all probability we would be in the midst of our enemies, and slashing right and left at each other, in which case a sabre would be of much greater value and service than an empty revolver. This seemed convincing; so much so that my revolver found its way again to its holster, and the sabre was again at my shoulder. Again did Walker, as if in pantomime, follow my example.

How often these changes of purpose and weapons might have been made I know not – had the cavalry not reached the crest meanwhile and, after being exposed to a hot artillery fire and finding that no direct attack upon our battery was meditated by the enemy, returned to a sheltered piece of ground.

A little incident occurred as we were about to move forward to the expected charge, which is perhaps worth recording. Next to the company with which I was serving was one which I noticed as being in most excellent order and equipment. The officer in charge of it was of striking appearance, tall, well-formed, and handsome, and possessing withal a most soldierly air. I did not then know his name, but being so near to him and to his command, I could not but observe him.

When the order came for us to move forward up the hill, and to be prepared to charge the moment the crest was reached. I saw the officer referred to ride gallantly in front of his command, and just as the signal forward was given, I heard him say, “Now men, do your duty.” I was attracted by his soldierly words and bearing, and yet within a few days after the battle he tendered his resignation, and in a short time was serving under the Confederate flag as a general officer.

When the retreat began, my company and one other of cavalry, and a section of artillery, command by Captain Arnold, came under the personal direction and control of Colonel Heintzelman, with whome we moved toward Centreville. Colonel Heintzelman, although suffering from a painful wound, continued to exercise command, and maintained his seat in the saddle. The two companies of cavalry and the section of Arnold’s battery moved off the field in good order, and were the last organized Union troops to retire across Bull Run.

Within about two miles of Centreville, at the bridge across Cub Run, the crossing was found to be completely blocked up by broken wagons and ambulances. There being no other crossing available, and the enemy having opened with artillery from a position a short distance below the bridge, and commanding the latter, Captain Arnold was forced to abandon his guns. The cavalry found a passable ford for their purpose, and from this point no further molestation was encountered from the enemy After halting a few hours in some old camps near Centreville, it now being dark, the march was resumed, and kept up until Arlington was reached, during the forenoon of the 22d.

I little imagined when making my night ride from Washington to Centreville the night of the 20th, that the following night should find me returning with a defeated and demoralized army. It was with the greatest difficulty that many of the regiments could be halted on the Arlington side of Long Bridge, do determined were they to seek safety and rest under the very walls of the capital. Some of the regiments lost more men after the battle and retreat had ended than had been killed, wounded, and captured by the enemy. Three-fourths of one regiment, known as the Zouaves, disappeared in this way. Many of the soldiers continued their flight until they reached New York…

The press and people of the South accepted the result of the battle as forecasting if not already assuring the ultimate success of their cause, and marking, as they expressed it, the birth of a nation, and while this temporary advantage may have excited and increased their faith as well as their numbers, by drawing or driving into their ranks the lukewarm and those inclined to remain loyal, yet it was a source of weakness as well, from the fact that the people of the South were in a measure confirmed in the very prevalent belief which had long existed in the Southern states regarding the great superiority in battle of the Southron over his fellow countryman in colder climes. This impression maintained its hold upon the minds of the people of the South and upon the Southern soldiery until eradicated by months and years of determined battle.

The loyal North accepted its defeat in the most commendable manner, and this remark is true whether applied to the officials of the states and general government or to the people at large. There was no indulging in vain or idle regrets; there was no flinching from the support and defense of the Union; there was least of all hesitation as to the proper course to pursue. If the idea of compromise had been vainly cherished by any portion of the people, it had vanished, and but one sentiment, one purpose actuated the men of the North, as if acting under a single will.

Men were hurried forward from all the loyal states; more offered their services than the government was prepared to accept. The defeat of the Union arms forced the North to coolly calculate the immense task before it in attempting to overthrow the military strength of the insurgent states. Had Bull Run resulted otherwise than it did, had the North instead of the South been the victor, there would have been danger of a feeling of false security pervading the minds of the people of the North. Their patriotism would not have been awakened by success as it was by disaster; they would not have felt called upon to abandon the farm, the workshop, the counting room, and the pulpit in order to save a government tottering almost upon the brink of destruction.

Before passing from the consideration of the Battle of Bull Run, the plan of the battle is entitled to a few words. No subsequent battle of the war, no matter how successful or important in result, was more carefully or prudently planned; and so far as left to the accomplishment of what he had proposed to da and what he had expressly stipulated he would do – the overthrow of Beauregard’s army – McDowell did all and more than had been expected of him. He had asked that the Confederate forces in the Valley under Johnston should be prevented from reinforcing Beauregard, but this was not done. Johnston united most of his force with that of Beauregard before the battle began; and even over these combined armies McDowell’s plan of battle, after hours of severe struggle, was carried to successful execution and only failed in attaining final triumph by the arrival at a critical moment of fresh troops from the Valley.

From Civil War Times Illustrated (submitted there by Peter Cozzens), The Necessary Defeat, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 8, March 1999. Thanks to reader Jon-Erik Gilot

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2nd Lt. George Armstrong Custer, Co. G, 2nd U. S. Cavalry, On Travelling to the Field and the Battle (Part 2)

7 10 2017

In the preceding chapter I described my night ride from Washington to the camp of McDowell’s army at and about Centreville. After delivering my dispatches and concluding my business at headquarters, I remounted my horse, and having been directed in the darkness the way to the ground occupied by Palmer’s seven companies of cavalry, I set out to find my company for the first time, and report to the commanding officer for duty before the column should begin the march to the battleground.

As previously informed by a staff officer at headquarters, I found it necessary only to ride a few hundred yards, when suddenly I came upon a column of cavalry already mounted and in readiness to move. It was still so dark that I could see but a few lengths of my horse in any direction. I accosted one of the troopers nearest me., and inquired, “What cavalry is this?” “Major Palmer’s,” was the brief reply. I followed up my interrogations by asking, “Can you tell me where Company G, Second Cavalry, is?” the company to which I had been assigned, but as yet had not seen. “At the head of the column,” came in response.

Making my way along the column in the darkness, I soon reached the head, where I found several horsemen seated upon their horses, but not formed regularly in column. There was not sufficient light to distinguish emblems of rank, or to recognize the officer from the private soldier. With some hesitation I addressed the group, numbering perhaps a half dozen or so individuals, and asked if the commanding officer of my company, giving the designation by letter and regiment, was present. “Here his is,” promptly answered a voice, as one of the mounted figures rode toward me, expecting no doubt I was a staff officer bearing orders requiring his attention.

I introduced myself by saying, “I am Lieutenant Custer, and in accordance with orders from the War Department, I report for duty with my company, sir.” “Ah, glad to meet you Mr. Custer. We have been expecting you, as we saw in the list of assignments of the graduating class from West Point, that you had been marked down to us. I am Lieutenant Drummond. Allow me to introduce you to some of your brother officers.” Then, turning his horse toward the group of officers, he added, “Gentlemen, permit me to introduce you to Lieutenant Custer, who has just reported for duty with his company.” We bowed to each other, although we could see but little more than the dim outlines of horses and riders as we chatted and awaited the order to move “forward.” This was my introduction to service, and my first greeting from officers and comrades with whom the future fortunes of war was to cast me. Lieutenant Drummond, afterward captain, to whom I had just made myself known, fell mortally wounded at the Battle of Five Forks, nearly four years afterward.

While it is not proposed to discuss in detail the movements of troops during the Battle of Bull Run or Manassas, a general reference to the positions held by each of the contending armies the night preceding combat may be of material aid to the reader. Beauregard’s headquarters were at or near Manassas, distant from Centreville, where General McDowell was located in the midst of his army, about seven miles. The stream which gave its name to the battle runs in a southwest direction between Centreville and Manassas, somewhat nearer to the former place than to the latter.

The Confederate army was posted in position along the right bank of Bull Run, their right resting near Union Mill, the point at which the Orange and Alexandria Railroad crosses the stream, their center at Blackburn’s Ford, while their left was opposite the Stone Bridge, or crossing of the Warrenton Pike, at the same time holding a small ford about one mile above the Stone Bridge. Beauregard’s entire force that day numbered a few hundred over 23,000 with 55 pieces of artillery, notwithstanding that the president of the Confederacy, who arrived on the battlefield just before the termination of the battle, telegraphed to Richmond, “Our force was 15,000.” Ewell commanded on the Confederate right; Longstreet in the center, at Blackburn’s Ford; and Evans the left, at and above the Stone Bridge.

The Federal forces were encamped mainly opposite the left center of their adversary’s line. The numbers of the two contending armies were very nearly equal, the advantage, if any, in this respect, resting with the Union troops; neither exceeded the force of the other beyond a few hundred. General McDowell crossed Bull Run, in making his attack on the enemy that day, with only 18,000 men and 22 guns. But to this number of men and guns must be added nearly an equal number left on the east side of Bull Run for the double purpose of constituting a reserve and occupying the enemy’s attention. All of these troops were more or less under fire during the progress of the battle. Thus it will be seen that the number of men was about equal in both armies, while the Confederates had six pieces of artillery in excess of the number employed by their adversaries.

Reconnaissances and a skirmish with the enemy on the 18th had satisfied General McDowell that an attack on the enemy’s center or left did not promise satisfactory results. He decided, therefore, to make a feigned attack on the enemy’s center at Blackburn’s Ford, and at the same time to cross Bull Run at a point above that held by the enemy, and double his adversaries left flank back upon the center and right, and at the same time endeavor to extend his own force beyond Bull Run sufficiently far to get possession of and destroy the Manassas Gap Railroad, thus severing communications between Beauregard’s army and its supports in the valley beyond.

McDowell’s forces, those engaged in the battle…divided into four divisions, commanded by Brigadier General Daniel Tyler, Connecticut volunteers; Colonels David Hunter, S. P, Heintzelman, and D. S. Miles. Tyler’s division was to occupy the attention of the enemy by threatening movements in front of the Stone Bridge, while the divisions of Hunter and Heintzelman were to move up Bull Run, keeping beyond the observation of the enemy, cross that stream, and turn the enemy’s left flank. Miles’s division was to constitute the reserve of the Federal army, and to occupy ground near Centreville. Richardson’s brigade of Tyler’s division was to act in concert with the latter, under Miles, and to threaten with artillery alone the enemy stationed at Blackburn’s Ford. Still another division, Runyon’s, formed a part of McDowell’s forces, but was not made available at the battle of the 21st, being occupied in guarding the communication of the army as far as Vienna, and the Orange and Alexandria Railroad; the nearest regiment being seven miles in rear of Centreville. It will thus be seen that as McDowell only crossed 18.000 men over Bull Run to attack about 32,000 of the enemy, his reserve, not embracing Runyon’s division, was but little less in number than his attacking force.

One of the conditions under which General McDowell consented to the movement against the enemy at Manassas was that the Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley, under Johnston, who were then being confronted, and supposed to be held in check by the Federal army, under Major General Patterson of the Pennsylvania volunteers, should not be permitted to unite with the forces of Beauregard.

This was expecting more than could be performed, unless Patterson had been ordered to attack simultaneously with the movement of McDowell. As it was, Beauregard no sooner learned of McDowell’s advance on the 17th of July than Johnston was ordered by the Confederate authorities at Richmond to form an immediate junction at Manassas with Beauregard. Other troops, under Holmes, consisting of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, amounting to about one brigade, were also ordered to join Beauregard.

The promised arrival of these heavy reinforcements induced Beauregard to depart from his resolution to act upon the defensive. He determined to attack General McDowell at Centreville as soon as he should be assured of the near arrival of Johnston’s and Holmes’s commands. His first plan was to have a portion of Johnston’s army march from the valley by way of Aldie, and attack McDowell in rear and upon his right flank, while his own army should make an attack directly in front. This plan was abandoned, and instead it was agreed between Beauregard and Johnston that the forces of both should be united west of Bull Run, and matched to the direct attack of the Federals.

In pursuance of this plan Johnston arrived at Manassas at noon on the 20th, the day preceding the battle, and being senior to Beauregard in rank, he nominally assumed command of both Confederate armies, but assented to Beauregard’s plans, and virtually conceded their execution to that general.

It is somewhat remarkable that the Federal and Confederate commanders had each determined to attack the other on the same day, the 21st. The Confederate general was induced to alter his plan, and act upon the defensive, but a few hours before his lines were assailed by McDowell; his decision in this matter being influenced by two circumstances. One was the detention of about 8,000 of Johnston’s men, whose presence had been relied upon; the other was the discovery several hours before daylight that the Federal army was itself advancing to the attack. Beauregard had ordered his forces under arms and was awaiting his adversary’s attack at half-past four o’clock the morning of the 21st.

Reasoning correctly that McDowell was not likely to attack his center at Blackburn’s Ford, not to operate heavily against his right near Union Mills, Beauregard no sooner discovered the movement of Hunter’s and Heintzelman’s divisions, to pass above and around his left flank at Sudley Springs, than he began moving up his reserves and forming his left wing in readiness to receive the attacking division as soon as the latter should cross Bull Run.

Hunter and Heintzelman were forced to make a much longer detour, in order to make the designated crossings of Bull Run, than had been anticipated.

The first gun announcing the commencement of the battle was fired from Tyler’s division in front of the Stone Bridge. It was not until nearly 10:00 A. M. that the troops of Hunter’s division came in contact with the enemy near Sudley Springs.

Once over the stream, both Hunter and Heintzelman promptly engaged the enemy, and slowly forced his entire left wing back until the troops under Tyler were able to cross and participate in the battle. Beauregard, soon after satisfying himself of the real character and direction of his adversary’s movement, decided upon a counter-attack by throwing his right wing and center across Bull Run at Blackburn’s and Union Mills fords, and endeavoring to do with his enemy exactly what the latter was attempting with him – to turn his right flank. By this movement he hoped to place a large force in rear of Centreville and ensure McDowell’s defeat.

The orders for this movement, which were sent to Ewell on the right, miscarried, and too much time was lost before the mistake could be rectified. It was fortunate for the Confederates that this was the case, as had this turning movement been attempted, the troops sent to the Federal side of Bull Run to execute it would in all probability have been held in check by the heavy Federal reserves under Richardson and Miles, and would have been beyond recall when, later in the day, Beauregard, finding his left giving way in confusion before the successful advance of Hunter’s, Heintzelman’s, and Tyler’s divisions, rapidly moved every available man from his right to the support of his broken left. Had Beauregard attempted to turn the position at Centreville, McDowell would have achieved a complete victory over all the Confederate forces opposed to him on the Confederate side of Bull Run several hours before the arrival upon the battlefield of the Confederate troops from the valley whose coming at a critical time decided the battle in the Confederates’ favor.

With the exception of a little tardiness in execution, something to be expected perhaps in raw troops, the plan of battle marked out by General McDowell was carried out with remarkable precision up till about 3:30 P.M. The Confederate left wing had been gradually forced back from Bull Run until the Federals gained entire possession of the Warrenton Turnpike leading from the Stone Bridge. It is known now that Beauregard’s army had become broken and routed, and that both himself and General Johnston felt called upon to place themselves at the head of their defeated commands, including their last reserves, in their effort to restore confidence and order; General Johnston at one critical moment charged to the front with the colors of the Fourth Alabama. Had the fate of the battle been left to the decision of those who were present and fought up till half-past three in the afternoon, the Union troops would have been entitled to score a victory with scarcely a serious reverse. But at this critical moment, with their enemies in front giving way in disorder and flight, a new and to the Federals unexpected force appeared suddenly upon the scene. From a piece of timber directly in rear of McDowell’s right a column of several thousand fresh troops of the enemy burst almost upon the backs of the half-victorious Federals.

From Civil War Times Illustrated (submitted there by Peter Cozzens), The Half-Victorious Federals, Vol. XXXVII, No. 7, February 1999

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2nd Lt. George Armstrong Custer, Co. G, 2nd U. S. Cavalry, On Traveling to the Field and the Battle (Part 1)

20 09 2017

I left West Point on the 18th of July for Washington, delaying a few hours that afternoon on my arrival in New York to enable me to purchase, of the well-known military firm of Horstman’s, my lieutenant’s outfit of sabre, revolver, sash, spurs, etc. Taking the evening train for Washington, I found the cars crowded with troops, officers, and men hastening to the capital.

At each station we passed on the road at which a halt was made, crowds of citizens were assembled provided bountifully with refreshments, which they distributed in the most lavish manner among the troops. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds, they received us with cheers and cheered us in parting. It was no unusual sight, on leaving a station surrounded by these loyal people, to see matrons and maidens embracing and kissing with patriotic fervor the men, entire strangers to them, whom they saw hastening to the defense of the nation.

Arriving at Washington soon after daylight, Saturday morning, the 20th of July, I made my way to the Ebbit House, where I expected to meet some of my classmates domiciled. Among others I found there was Parker, appointed from Missouri, who had been my room- and tent-mate at West Point for years. He was one of the few members of my class who, while sympathizing with the south, had remained at the Academy long enough to graduate and secure a diploma. Proceeding to his room without going through the formality of announcing my arrival by sending a card, I found him at that early hour still in bed. Briefly he responded to my anxious inquiry for news, that McDowell’s army was confronting Beauregard’s, and a general engagement was expected hourly. My next inquiry was as to his future plans and intentions, remembering his Southern sympathies. To this he replied by asking me to take from a table near by and read an official order to which he pointed.

Upon opening the document referred to, I found it to be an order from the War Department dismissing from the roles of the army Second Lieutenant James P. Parker, for having tendered his resignation in the face of the enemy. The names of two others of my classmates appeared in the same order. After an hour or more of discussing the dark probabilities of the future as particularly affected by the clouds of impending war, I bade a fond farewell to my former friend and classmate, with whom I had lived on terms of closer intimacy than with any other being. We had eaten day by day at the same table, had struggled together in the effort to master the same problems of study; we had marched by each other’s side year after year, elbow to elbow, when engaged in the duties of drill, parade, etc., and had shared our blankets with each other when learning the requirements of camp life. Henceforth this was all to be thrust from our memory as far as possible, and our paths and aims in life were to run counter to each other in the future.

We separated; he to make his way, as he did immediately, to the seat of the Confederate Government, and accept a commission under a flag raised in rebellion against the government that had educated him, and that he had sworn to defend; I to proceed to the office of the Adjutant General of the Army and report for such duty as might be assigned me in the great work which was then dearest and uppermost in the mind of every loyal citizen of the country.

It was not until after two o’clock in the morning that I obtained an audience with the Adjutant General of the Army and reported to him formally for orders, as my instructions directed me to do. I was greatly impressed by the number of officials I saw and the numerous messengers to be seen flitting from room to room, bearing immense numbers of huge-looking envelopes. The entire department had an air of busy occupation which, taken in connection with the important military events then daily transpiring and hourly expected, and contrasted with the humdrum life I had but lately led as a cadet, added to the bewilderment I naturally felt.

Presenting my order of instructions to the officer who seemed to be in charge of the office, he glanced at it, and was about to give some directions to a subordinate nearby to write out an order assigning me to some duty when, turning to me, he said, “Perhaps you would like to be presented to General Scott, Mr. Custer?” To which I of course joyfully assented.

I had often beheld the towering form of the venerable chieftain during his summer visits to West Point, but that was the extent of my personal acquaintance with him. So strict was the discipline at that Academy that the gulf which separated cadets from commissioned officers seemed greater in practice thant that which separated enlisted men from them. Hence it was rare indeed that a cadet ever had an opportunity to address or be addressed by officers, and it was still more rare to be brought into personal conversation with an officer above the grade of lieutenant or captain, if we except the superintendent of the Academy and the commandant of the corps of cadets. The sight of a general officer, let alone the privilege of speaking to one, was an event to be recounted to one’s friends. In those days the title of general was not so familiar as to be encountered on every hotel register. Besides, the renown of a long lifetime of gallantry in his country’s service had gradually but justly placed General Scott far above all contemporary chieftains in the admiration and hero worship of his fellow countrymen; and in the youthful minds of the West Point cadets of those days Scott was looked up to as a leader whose military abilities were scarcely second to those of a Napoleon, and whose patriotism rivaled that of Washington.

Following the lead of the officers to whom I had reported, I was conducted to the room in which General Scott received his official visitors. I found him seated at a table over which were spread maps and other documents which plainly showed their military character. In the room, and seated near the table, were several members of Congress, of whom I remember Senator Grimes of Iowa.

The topic of conversation was the approaching battle in which General McDowell’s forces were about to engage. General Scott seemed to be explaining to the congressmen the position, as shown by the map, of the contending armies. The adjutant general called General Scott’s attention to me by saying, “General, this is Lieutenant Custer of the Second Cavalry; he has just reported from West Point and I did not know but that you might have some special orders for him.”

Looking at me for a moment, the general shook me cordially by the hand, saying, “Well, my young friend, I am glad to welcome you to the service at this critical time. Our country has need of the strong arms of all her loyal sons in this emergency.” Then, turning to the adjutant general, he inquired to what company I had been assigned. “To Company G, Second Cavalry, now under Major Innis Palmer, with General McDowell,” was the reply. Then, addressing me, the general said, “We have had the assistance of quite a number of you young men from the Academy, drilling volunteers, etc. Now what can I do for you? Would you prefer to be ordered to report to General Mansfield to aid in this work, or is your desire for something more active?”

Although overwhelmed by such condescension upon the part of one so superior in rank to any officer with whom I had been brought in immediate contact, I ventured to stammer out that I earnestly desired to be ordered to at once join my company, then with General McDowell, as I was anxious to see active service. “A very commendable resolution, young man,” was the reply; then, turning to the adjutant general, he added, “Make out ;lieutenant Custer’s orders directing him to proceed to his company at once”; then, as if a different project had presented itself, he inquired of me if I had been able to provided myself with a mount for the field. I relpied that I had not, but would set myself about doing so at once.

“I fear you have a difficult task before you, because, if rumor is correct, every serviceable horse in the city has been bought, borrowed, or begged by citizens who have gone or are going as spectators to witness the battle. Beauregard may capture some of them and teach them a lesson. However, I what I desire to say to you is, go and provide yourself with a horse if possible, and call here at seven o’clock this evening. I desire to send some dispatches to General McDowell, and you can be the bearer of them. You are not afraid of a night ride, are you?”

Exchanging salutations, I left the presence of the general-in-chief, delighted at the prospect of being at once thrown into active service, perhaps participating in the great battle which everyone there knew was on the eve of occurring; but more than this my pride as a soldier was not a little heightened by the fact that almost upon my first entering the service I was to be the bearer of important official dispatches from the general-in-chief to the general commanding the principal army in the field.

I had yet a difficult task before me in procuring a mount. I visited all the prominent livery stables, but received almost the same answer from each, the substance of which was that I was too late; all the serviceable horses had been let or engaged. I was almost in despair of the idea that I was not to be able to take advantage of the splendid opportunity for distinction opened before me, and was at a loss what to do, or to whom to apply for advice, when I met on Pennsylvania Avenue a soldier in uniform, whom I at once recognizes as one of the detachment formerly stationed at West Point, who left with those ordered suddenly to the defense of Washington at the time of Mr. Lincoln’s inauguration, when it was feared attempts would be made to assassinate the president-elect.

Glad to encounter anyone I had ever seen before, I approached and asked him what he was doing in Washington. He answered that he belonged to Griffin’s battery, which was then with McDowell’s forces at the front, and had returned to Washington by Captain Griffin’s order, to obtain and take back with him an extra horse left by the battery on its departure from the capital. Here then was my opportunity, and I at once availed myself of it. It was the intention of this man to set out on his return at once; but at my earnest solicitation he consented to defer his departure until after seven o’clock, agreeing also to have the extra horse saddled and in readiness for me.

Promptly at seven o’clock I reported at the adjutant general’s office, obtaining my dispatches, and with no baggage or extra clothing to weigh down my horse, save what I carried on my person, I repaired to the point at which I was to find my horse and companion for the night. Upon arriving there I was both surprised and delighted to discover that the horse which accident seemed to have provided for me was a favorite one ridden by me often when learning the cavalry exercises at West Point. Those who were cadets just before the war will probably recall him to mind when I give the name “Wellington,” by which he was then known.

Crossing Long Bridge about nightfall, and taking the Fairfax Court House road for Centreville, the hours of night flew quickly past, engrossed as my mind was with the excitement and serious novelty of the occasion as well as occasionally diverted by the conversation of my companion. I was particularly interested with his description, given as we rode in the silent darkness, of a skirmish days before at Blackburn’s Ford, between the forces of the enemy stationed there and a reconnoitering detachment sent from General McDowell’s army; especially when I learned that my company had borne an honorable part of the battle.

It was between two and three o’clock in the morning when we reached the army near Centreville. The men had already breakfasted, and many of the regiments had been formed in column in the roads ready to resume the march; but owing to delays in starting, most of the men were lying on the ground, endeavoring to catch a few minutes more of sleep; others were sitting or standing in small groups smoking and chatting.

So filled did I find the road with soldiers that it was with difficulty my horse could pick his way among the sleeping bodies without disturbing them. But for my companion I should have had considerable difficulty in finding my way to headquarters, but he seemed familiar with the localities even in the darkness, and soon conducted me to a group of tents near which a large log fire was blazing, throwing a bright light over the entire scene for some distance around.

As I approached, the sound of my horse’s hoofs brought an officer from one of the tents nearest to where I halted. Advancing toward me, he inquired who I wanted to see. I informed him I was the bearer of dispatches from General Scott to General McDowell. “I will relieve you of them,” was his reply, but seeing me hesitate to deliver them, he added, “I am Major Wadsworth of McDowell’s staff.”

While I had hoped from ambitious pride to have an opportunity to deliver the dispatches in person to General McDowell, I could not decline longer, so placed the documents in Major Wadsworth’s hands, who took them to a tent a few paces distant, where, through half-open folds, I saw him hand them to a large, portly officer, whom I at once recognized to be General McDowell. Then, returning to where I still sat my horse, Major Wadsworth…asked me of the latest news in the capital, and when I replied that every person at Washington was looking to the army for news, he added, “Well, I guess they will not have to wait much longer. The entire army is under arms, and moving to attack the enemy today.” After inquiring at what hour I left Washington, and remarking that I must be tired, Major Wadsworth asked me to dismount and have some breakfast, as it would be difficult to say when another opportunity would occur.

I was very hungry, and rest would not have been unacceptable, but in my inexperience I partly imagined, particularly while in the presence of the white-haired officer who gave the invitation, that hunger and fatigue were conditions of feeling which a soldier, especially a young one, should not acknowledge. Therefore, with an appetite almost craving, I declined the kind proffer of the major. But when he suggested that I dismount and allow my horse to be fed I gladly assented.

While Major Wadsworth was kindly interesting himself in the welfare of my horse, I had the good fortune to discover in an officer at headquarters one of my recent West Point friends, Lieutenant Kingsbury, aide-de-camp to General McDowell. He repeated the invitation just given by Major Wadsworth in regard to breakfast, but I did not have the perseverance to again refuse.

Near the log fire already mentioned were some servants busily engaged in removing the remains of breakfast. A word from Kingsbury, and they soon prepared me a cup of coffee, a steak, and some Virginia corn bread, to which I did ample justice. Had I known, however, that I was not to have an opportunity to taste food during the next thirty hours, I should have appreciated the opportunity I then enjoyed even more highly.

As I sat on the ground sipping my coffee, and heartily enjoying my first breakfast inn the field, Kingsbury (afterward Colonel Kingsbury, killed at the Battle of Antietam) informed me of the general movement then begun by the army, and of the attack which was to be made on Beauregard’s forces that day.

Three days before, I had quitted school at West Point. I was about to witness the first grand struggle in open battle between the union and secession armies; a struggle which, fortunately for the nation, the Union forces were to suffer defeat, while the cause for which they fought was to derive from it renewed strength and encouragement.

From Civil War Times Illustrated (submitted there by Peter Cozzens), Custer’s First Stand, Vol. XXXVII, No. 6, December, 1998

Part 2
Part 3





Pvt. Rufus H. Peck, Co. C, Botetourt Dragoons, Attached to 30th Virginia Cavalry*, On the Battle

12 03 2017

We remained at Fairfax C. H. until the 17th of July, and I was sent with fourteen other men, commanded by Serg. Garret, three miles below Fairfax C H. on the Falls Church road to stand picket, and at 9 o’clock a. m. we found that McDowell was moving on Manassas Junction by three roads, viz.: Falls Church road, Little River turnpike, and Flint Hill road. Serg. Garret returned to notify the General of McDowell’s movement, but the Gen. had already learned from other pickets, of his advance, so he ordered the army to retreat immediately. As Serg. Garret did not return to us, Corporal McCue sent me back 3 miles to Fairfax C. H., and when I arrived our Adjt. told me of the retreat and from there I could see Col. Kershaw’s regiment already engaged with the enemy, so I had to return to notify the other pickets to join the command, which we could only do by a flank movement and came very near being cut off entirely by the enemy. When I returned I found that two of our pickets on the Flint Hill road, John Mays and William Mailer had been captured. We continued our retreat to Centerville and remained there until night. Gen. Beauregard’s plan was to throw sky rockets to let us know when to retreat further towards Manassas Junction, and when we called in the last pickets, we were, fired upon by the enemy and two of our horses were killed from under their riders, Edward Hayth and WilHam Walton.

During the night we marched across Bull Run at Mitchel’s Ford and laid down for the remainder of the night in front of the guns at Manassas Junction. We were awakened next morning by the fireing of one of the enemy’s guns called ”Long Tom.” As this was the first big gun I had seen fired, I remember well the appearance of that shell to me. It looked more like a gate-post flying through the air than any thing else I could compare it to. After hissing through the air about a mile it exploded and I told the boys I knew it had blown Manassas Junction to “kingdom come” and she would need no more protection. It wasn’t many days after this though, until we became more accustomed to the big guns, so we didn’t jump at such hasty conclusions and the fireing wasn’t so exciting or terrifying. I hadn’t seen much of the infantry until that day and when they began double quicking and crossing Bull’s Run at Mitchel’s Ford in order to meet the enemy, I imagined we had men enough to whip the North right there.

At 9 o’clock on the 18th, the two armies met and for two hours a raging battle followed and when the Southerners made a charge ‘all along the line, they drove the enemy back with considerable slaughter, into the timber back of the lowlands, where the battle was fought, and they remained there until Sunday, with ”Long Tom” occasionally saluting us. Our line of battle extended from Blackburn’s Ford up nearly to Stone Bridge, a distance of 10 miles.

Sunday morning at about 8 o’clock Long Tom began fireing and we all thought the enemy meant to renew the attack, but about 9 o’clock we heard fireing at Stone Bridge about six miles above Manassas Junction.

The cavalry was immediately ordered to make a force march to Stone Bridge and when we got their we found that the 8th Georgia Regiment, commanded by Col. Huntington, in trying to hold the ford had lost nearly all their men and their commander. The 2nd Va. Regiment arrived to go to their rescue, but failed on account of the thick pines. About this time Jackson came in and with Gen. Bee and others, turned defeat into victory. Gen. Bee rushed to Jackson and said ‘General they are beating us back,” and Jackson said “we will give them the bayonet.” Gen. Bee encouraged by Jackson’s response shouted to his men: “Look! there is Jackson and his men standing like a stone wall.” He was ever afterward called “Stonewall Jackson.”

Gen. Bee was killed in a few minutes after making the remark to his men. The enemy, under McDowell’s command, was driven back with dreadful slaughter to Washington.

As we of the 2nd Va. regiment were unable to get to Stone Bridge to aid in the battle there and were in a dangerous position, being between the fires of both armies. Gen. Beauregaurd ordered us to the rear. Just at that time Gen. Jos. E. Johnson, coming in from the valley, rode up to Beauregaurd’s head-quarters and took command, he being a senior officer. He immediately sent a courier to Col. Radford to halt the 2nd Va Cavalry. Col. Radford told the courier to go to the D – – that he was acting under Beauregaurd’s orders. We were not aware of Johnston being near, but as soon as Johnston saw we didn’t halt he galloped down and shouted : “In the name of Jos. E. Johnston I command you to halt.” Of course, it wasn’t any trouble for Col. Radford or his men to halt, then.

He commanded us to cross Bull Run and go toward Cub Run Bridge to intersect the enemy’s line as it passed on retreat, and to shoot all the horses drawing the artillery and wagons. There being 1,000 of us. we held the road for nearly a mile, coming on their right flank and being so near before they knew jt that we succeeded in capturing 24 pieces of artillery and the men commanding same. The road was lined with dead horses for nearly a mile, a sight no one would want to witness again, but we were only carrying out orders

Our captain ordered the fences to be pulled down and 3 other men and I dismounted and tore them down on both sides. When we mounted we happened to look to our left and saw a house with a crowd of men standing around a well. I proposed to these three comrades that we could go up and fill our canteens as it was such a hot day. When we arrived, there were 60 or 70 of the finest looking men I ever saw. about middle-aged and finely dressed. More gold-headed canes, gold glasses and gold teeth than I had ever seen before on that number of men. We asked them to fill our canteens, which they did and just as they filled the last canteen, one of the men said to us that our command was retreating and I road around the house to where I could see our line and it had passed nearly out of sight. Just then two guns that we hadn’t captured with the other 24 pieces of artillery, and a regiment of infantry also, opened fire on our regiment, and Capt. Radford of 2nd Va. regiment and Serg. Ervin were killed and several others wounded

Just as we four men arrived to recross the road, a cannister of grape shot passed down the road striking two of our horses. We rode on about a half mile under a heavy fire, but they were over shooting us, just stripping the leaves from the trees, when one of the horses fell dead from his wound and the other one was still running on three legs. I took the saddle from the dead horse and carried it on my horse that was called the “Flying Artillery” and wouldn’t carry two men, and another comrade took the rider of the horse that was killed.

We overtook our regiment just as they were ready to recross Bull Run, and were held in readiness the remainder of the day, but no order for action was given and near night fall marched back to our camp ground of the proceeding night.

Just after dark a heavy rain began and continued all night and about half the next day, so we were thoroughly drenched by this time. Shortly after day break we started toward Centerville and our skirmish line captured several prisoners on the way. We moved very cautiously through the woods in the downpour of rain, thinking the enemy was at Centerville. But instead of the enemy being at Centerville, we found the homes deserted. Tables were set with the most delicious victuals, fine drinks, etc , having been prepared for a general jubilee after the supposed victory. Some of the houses were locked, but the majority were so that we could easily enter and some of the owners soon returned, so we enjoyed a bountiful repast that was intended for the northern soldiers. After the victory at Stone Bridge and the capture of the artillery at Cub Run Bridge, as they were retreating, the enemy rushed on to Washington panic-stricken. Had we realized the condition of the enemy then, as we afterward knew it to be, we could have pursued them and easily captured them, but we didn’t know the conditions.

Reminiscences of a Confederate Soldier of Co. C, 2nd VA. Cavalry, by R. H. Peck

*The 2nd Virginia Cavalry, while formed in May of 1861, was known as the 30th Regiment Virginia Volunteers until the end of October, 1861.

R. H. Peck at Fold3

R. H. Peck at Ancestry.com 





Unknown, Col. Radford’s Squadron, Co. G, Radford Rangers, Attached to 30th Virginia Cavalry*, On the Battle

7 03 2017

WITH THE SECOND VIRGINIA CAVALRY AT BULL RUN – RECOLLECTIONS OF A FIGHTER WHO WAS IN THE EARLY BATTLE.

WRITTEN FOR SUNDAY REPUBLIC

I have never seen a more beautiful sunrise than that which occurred on the 21st day of July, 1861.

The approach of the “King of Day” on a midsummer morning, is hardly announced by [?] beautiful blushes on the eastern horizon, before his bright rays begin to dart through the trees and convert the dew-drops on the grass into sparkling diamonds. The limp dress of nature has been freshened since she torrid heat of yesterday, and the smiles in inexpressible loveliness at the approach of the morning light. What a pity this beautiful panorama is of so short duration! But the sun climbs so rapidly toward the meridian that we soon are panting again for breath. I can never forget this particular sunrise.

We left our camp at Fairfax Court House early on the morning of the 17th, marched slowly up the grade through Germantown on the Warrenton Pike. We were green and raw in military matters and threw away our ham and bread to lighten the load of our horses. How we wished got them before the long day’s march was over! But dewberries were ripe and, during the frequent halt, we found means of appeasing the urgent demands of our appetite. We passed Centerville in the early evening, and late at night crossed the since famous “Bull Run.” As we passed up the long hill on the south of the stream a weird sight was presented by the silent ranks of Bonham’s South Carolina Brigade stationed near the foot of the hill. A little higher up the hill was a battery of artillery, the pieces all unlimbered and pointing toward Mitchell’s Ford which we had crossed in our march from Centreville. The ropes at the end of the rods (linstocks**) were ignited and ready to “light off” the cannon, should the enemy attempt to cross the ford during the night.

We proceeded to the summit of the hill and bivouacked on the open plateau of the crest. Our position commanded a full view of the heights on the north side of the stream and as we were not on duty, we spent the next day watching for the approach of the Army of the North. It was several miles from our position to the top of the hill on the other side. In the afternoon of the 18th, we could discern the enemy debouching from the road where it came into open view from the woods.

In a short time a puff of smoke was seen and in a few moments a cannon ball hissed past, high up over our heads, and struck in the open plateau behind us. Again, another hissed past and then another. Under the circumstances, it was difficult for them to estimate how far their balls overshot our position. But we were soon called to the woods below the road where soon we could not be exposed to the view of the artillerists. Pretty soon the booming of cannon from both armies was heard and not long after, volleys of musketry were added to the display of war at the fort below use (Blackburn’s) * * * All was quiet the next day, which was spent in restless lounging by our men. It was hard to get a drink of fresh water. There was a very faint stream, or, rather, ooze of water from the side of the hill, and it required a deal of patience to wait until a small excavation in the mud should be sufficiently filled with muddy water to enable us to dip up a cupful to drink. Captain Radford spent the day apart from us all. He had a presentiment that he would be killed in the approaching battle and wrote letters and papers most of the time.

On the 20th we were sent to do picket duty for General Cooke at the ford above us. So, Sunday morning, July 21, found J. Pleasant Dawson and myself stationed under a large water oak in the edge of a green meadow that skirted “Flat Run” near where it entered the “Bull Run.” It was hard for us to resist the temptation to dismount and loll on the carpet of green verdure spread so temptingly beneath our feet.

As the sun rose on this beautiful spot, so calm and so peaceful, our thoughts reverted to our homes, our loved ones and our neighbors, then to “Old Trinity” back in Bedford County, the church we had attended for worship all of our lives. We spoke in low and tender tones of our girl friends who would be likely to attend church that day, wishing from the bottom of our hearts that we could be there in person as we were in spirit; and then we grew silent, for our talk had conjured up a multitude of sweet memories of the past on which our hungry hearts silently feasted with delight.

A call to camp put an end to our entrancing reveries – love, peace and beauty must soon give place to the horrors of battle. We had hardly gotten to camp and taken our place in the regiment before the booming of cannon was shaking the earth and balls were tearing and whizzing through the pine woods in which we were concealed. Several hours were spent in ranks, during which it was hard to banish the thought of the terrible havoc one of these deadly missiles would make should it pass from front through to the rear of our column. As the day advanced cannon began to boom northwest of us, and those that annoyed us ceased. We then formed in line in the open field on the crest of the hill.

Ever fresh in memory is the sight of a South Carolina regiment that passed by to take a position in the line in rear of the fort. In their ranks was the tall figure of old Mr. Ruffin, who fired the first shot at Fort Sumpter. His long snow-white locks hung down below the collar of his coat from under the fur (silk) hat so often worn by elderly gentlemen of that day. The regiment passed in silence and the firm and stately tread of the men showed that the spirit that animated every bosom was of the “do-or-die” type.

After we had been in ranks for some time with the noonday sun beating down upon us from the cloudless sky, we were allowed to dismount and stand by our horses. We strained our eyes toward the northwest, where the battle was now fiercely raging, and tried to see some hoped for signs of victory for the noble band of Southrons but there was little to encourage us, although our painful interest in the scene made us forget the intense heat that enveloped us. We had no means of knowing the time of day, but the sun had some time passed the zenith, when the clear ringing voice of Colonel Radford gave forth the cautionary command, “Attention!” Then “Prepare to mount!” and then, “Mount!” We were well-drilled and the simultaneous rattle of sabers showed that we were all in the saddle. “From the right by fours, gallop, march!” In a moment, the whole column of 700 or 800 horsemen shook the earth in their gallop towards the battlefield. The dust was so thick that we could not see our file leaders, but our horses kept us right and we rapidly covered the distance between our camp and the Lewis House. Before we reached that point our gallop had been changed to a trot, so that we could pass the regiments of infantry which were also making their way to the scene of battle. A regiment of Tennessee troops attracted my attention as we passed. They were of the race of “Ana[?],” tall muscular men, with mouth firmly set, nostrils expanded and faces lit up with the light of battle, they gave us a lofty inspiration for the work we expected to be called upon to perform in a few moments. I must not forget to say that in one set of fours a jet-black negro, as large as the white giants with whom he marched, filled his place with all the dignity and determination of a born soldier.

After passing the Lewis House we began to see the effects of battle. The wounded men on the stretchers and in the “ambulances,” with cheerful voices would encourage us. “We are whipping them,” said they, “go on and make the victory a complete rout.” The stragglers, however dirty and dusty, and with down and out and rueful looks, told us their regiment had been cut all to pieces, and they were all that were left.

We rode rapidly forward and halted in column on the north side of Holkum’s Branch in rear of Stonewall Jackson’s command, and under shelter of the intervening hill.

The rising clouds of dust had given our movement and position to the enemy’s batteries and immediately they began to fire on us from the north, from the northeast and from the northwest. Shells burst on our flanks – our left flanks as we stood in column being toward the northwest.

After using shells for some time, they tried to reach us by solid shot in ricochet firing. These would strike the brow of the hill on our left and rebounding over our column would bury themselves with a dull thud in the hill beyond the branch. As we heard the hissing and screaming of the balls and shells, nearly every man would duck his head instinctively down the neck of his horse, which stood with that subdued and resigned look they always have when standing out in a thunderstorm or in the battle’s rage.

It seemed that we stood in that spot for many hours, but I know it could not have been actually much more than half an hour. Then the firing of musketry from Jackson’s line began. It would begin on the right, not in volleys but in succession and sounded as the grinding of coffee – only magnified a thousand times. Before the wave of reports would reach half way to the left flank, it would begin again on the right – the cannon of both armies playing a bass to the tenor of the musketry. Suddenly there was a yell – as unmistakable as the tocsin of the rattlesnake or the vindictive [?] of the bumble-bee as he thrusts his sting into you – and we knew the Rebels were charging the Army of Coercion. The terrible ordeal was soon over and we had to duck our heads no more. In a short time we began to march back toward the Lewis House. As our rear was approaching the top of the hill on the south of Holkum’s Branch, and old or elderly man called out: “General Johnson says ‘the cavalry must halt.’” We stood there some time. At length we were ordered to take position in a kind of natural amphitheater on the west of the Lewis House. While stopping on this hill several of our horses were wounded by bullets from parting shots of the retreating foes.

The tide of battle was now changing rapidly and our spirits were rising correspondingly. Cheer after cheer went up as Adjutant Burks told us that the “Sherman” and “Ricketts” batteries which had just worried us so much, had been captured. Then other and louder cheers when he told us a Virginia regiment had captured them. Presently Lindsay Walker and his “derringers,” as he called them, passed and took position on the hill northeast of the Lewis House, whence they fired with deliberation and regularity. In a short time, we were ordered to charge.

As we reached the top of the hill at the Lewis House and galloped down to the Lewis Ford, we could see the road to Centerville lined with the retreating enemy, whose pace was rapidly hastening to a run by the balls from Walker and the other batteries. The exultation of the moment reached the utmost limit of human endurance. Our men yelled and cheered as they galloped and the horses shared in the enthusiasm of their riders. As we came to the Warrenton pike a few scattering enemy were seen scampering about, and our men began to fire their shotguns, some at random into the air and some taking aim. The men so nearly beside themselves that I had to watch those behind me, to prevent being shot myself. Many men left the ranks to ride down those who were trying to escape. While I gazed on the confusion around me, I asked myself mentally, “Why all of our drilling and study of the ‘Manual’ if we were to do this way in battle?” Suddenly before I could make reply, in clear and clarion tones, the command was given by our Colonel, to “form and charge that battery.” About thirty men promptly took their position in line – the rest were too much occupied in chasing the fugitives. They did not hear the command. I looked up the road toward Stone Bridge and saw several pieces unlimbered. One or two were pointed toward us; the others down the pike toward Centerville. We were within a hundred yards, and they overshot our little knot of men. A terrific report like the noise of a train of cars passing over our heads almost deafened us and we left in full gallop. A run of half a mile brought me to the squadrons under our Lieutenant Colonel Munford, who was to strike the pike farther east. I took my place at the rear of his column and we advanced but the enemy finding that our cavalry had cut them off became panic-stricken and were scattered to the four winds [?] so we did not find any more of them in ranks. I captured a tall, lean and lank Irishman of a New York regiment and ended the day escorting him back to the provost guard. It was raining as I went back to camp the next morning. My “mess” were glad to see me for I had been reported killed. I learned with sorrow, that our noble captain Winston Radford, and our Color Sergeant the manly Edley Irvine were among the slain. Painful, indeed, was the loss of those princely spirits which went out with our first triumphant shouts of victory. But, “Their glory dies not and the grief is past.”

St. Louis Sunday Republic, 1900

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

* Unit designation determined by the narrative, which identifies the colonel as Radford, and the captain as Winston Radford. The 2nd Virginia Cavalry, while formed in May of 1861, was known as the 30th Regiment Virginia Volunteers until the end of October, 1861.

** Linstocks are rods, the ends of which can be fitted with lighted fuses, used to fire a cannon when friction primers were not available or otherwise not used. While we imagine their use in artillery of an earlier time, linstocks were part of standard U. S. artillery equipage as late as 1890. Hat tip to Craig Swain.