The Second Wisconsin at the First Battle of Bull Run – Thomas S. Allen

10 04 2010




WHEN the shot fired at Fort Sumter “was heard around the world,” an uprising of the loyal people of the country took place, which for numbers and unanimity of purpose had never been equalled since the time when Peter the Hermit issued his call upon the faithful to rise in their majesty and wrest the scepter of tyranny in the Holy Land from the grasp of Moslem usurpers. Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers touched the chords of patriotism, which for years had been lying dormant, as the appeals of Peter waked up the religious sensibilities of the faithful of the middle ages. The one, addressed to uneducated masses of the old world, was tinctured more or less with fanaticism; the other, addressed to the masses of an intelligent nation, was an “appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity and the existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of popular government, and to redress wrongs already long enough endured.” As is well known the famous Crusades were doomed to ignominious failure, although attended with wonderful acts of heroism, leaving the fields of Eastern Europe and Western Asia strewn with the bodies of millions of warlike but deluded knights and peasants; while the proclamation of President Lincoln resulted in military organizations of a peaceful people, which, after a terrible four years’ contest, established “Liberty and Union” on a foundation so firm that nothing less than the degeneration of a race of patriots can cause or permit its destruction.

Wisconsin responded to the call of the War Department for a single regiment, by the tender, in less than seven days, of thirty-six full companies. The 1st Regiment, enlisted for three months, and the 2d Regiment, organized as a three years regiment, went into camp—one at Milwaukee and the other at Madison—at about the same time. The former was sent to the Shenandoah Valley and the latter to Washington, it being the only Wisconsin regiment present at the first Bull Run. Although I had enlisted and drilled with company “H” of the 2d, and intended to serve in said company, having been asked by the Miners’ Guards, of Mineral Point, to take command, I accepted, and left the state with the regiment as captain of company “I,” reaching Washington on the 25th day of June, 1861. It is safe to say that not a man in the regiment knew anything of actual warfare, although nine companies, including mine, were organized from as many independent companies of state militia, actuated by a common motive and by similar patriotic impulses, yet differing as to policies and parties. And yet, perhaps, some of us had felt somewhat of the martial ardor of the old cripple, who, after a long service, “hobbled home on crutches,” singing as he drew near the old homestead:

“My father was a farmer good,
With corn and beef in plenty;
I mowed, and hoed, and held the plow,
And longed for one-and-twenty.

“For I had quite a martial turn,
And scorned the lowing cattle;
I longed to wear a uniform.
Hear drums, and see a battle.”

As was the ease with the first regiments to respond in other states, so our ranks were filled with the best young blood of Wisconsin, and officered by men, many of whom subsequently, in their present and higher stations, made their mark on various fields of action. Among them, without disparagement to others, may be named Capt. George H. Stevens, promoted to lieutenant colonel, and killed at Gettysburg; Capt. Wilson Colwell, killed at South Mountain; Capt. David McKee, promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 15th Wisconsin, killed at Perryville; Capt. Gabe Bouck, promoted to colonel of the 18th Wisconsin, commanding that regiment through the Vicksburg and other campaigns; Capt. Wm. E. Strong, promoted brigadier general, by brevet, served on staff of Gen. McPherson; Capt. Randolph, killed at second Bull Run; Capt. John Mansfield, promoted to colonel of the 2d Wisconsin, and brevet brigadier general, commanded the Iron Brigade, and was subsequently lieutenant governor of California; Lieut. John Hancock, promoted to colonel of the 14th Wisconsin. The regiment numbered a trifle over one thousand men. Our field officers were Col. S. Park Coon, Lieut. Col. Peck, and Maj. Duncan McDonald.

On our way to Washington we drew seven hundred and fifty muskets at Harrisburg, and marched through Baltimore at about ten o’clock at night. A howling mob of rebels and their sympathizers crowded the streets, uttering the wildest imprecations on the men who dared to desecrate the soil of “My Maryland.” It was with difficulty that our men were restrained from opening fire. During the march I walked for several blocks on the flank of my company with City Marshal Kane, who was a good conversationalist, and pretended to be a loyal citizen. He certainly performed his duty that night. Shortly afterwards, however, his sympathies drove him into the ranks of the rebel army. Arriving at Washington we went into camp on Seventh Street, next to the 5th New Hampshire, whose leading fifer used to charm us with his wonderful rendering of the reveille (our drum corps couldn’t play). Besides, our brass band afforded us daily exhibitions of tunes of excruciating melody, and of marching time, to which no man, excepting a broken-legged cripple, could possibly keep step. It was here that we had our first experience of regular army inspection. All our field officers, including the adjutant, had gone down to the city early one morning to see that the Capital was properly protected, and that the President and other officials were performing their duty. I was officer of the day in camp. All went on swimmingly during the day. Pie-women, and smugglers of the army fluid which sometimes inebriates, had been duly examined, and passed or bounced, as the case might be, while the several companies had been through their regular drills, and the camp guards been scientifically relieved. It had been ascertained that for one day at least a regiment could be run without a colonel or adjutant. But about twelve o’clock at night, a call was heard ringing out on the night air: “Officer of the Day! Post Number One! ” Supposing, of course, that our out-posts had been attacked by a force of rebels from the other side of the Potomac, the officer of the day, who was making his rounds on the opposite side of the camp, clad in all the habiliments and trappings of war, including sash, hastened to the post designated. There he found the sentinel and officer of the guard contending with Gen. Mansfield, the old veteran who commanded the Department of Washington, who, accompanied by his staff, demanded admittance to our camp. He was making the “Grand Rounds.” The General appeared to be very angry at the refusal to admit him. He said that on demand of the sentinel he had given the password, but was still refused at the point of the bayonet, and he had threatened to put the sentinel under arrest—all to no effect. I saw the situation at once, and informed him that owing to the absence of the field officers and adjutant, I had received no password for the day, and was compelled to use that of the preceding day; that I presumed his password was correct, but that, as I did not know either himself or the password, he could not be admitted. Assuming to be indignant, he rode along the whole line of sentinels, trying his password on each one, without success. What passed between him and the field officers was never confided to me; but that was the last time we were ever without the proper password.

Gen. Mansfield, his hair already silvered, as he sat on his horse that night, was an officer of distinguished appearance, and being the first general officer we had ever seen, for the time he became our beau-ideal of a soldier. He was killed at Antietam while bravely pushing the 12th Corps into action. Having displayed our prowess in conquering the rebellion in Washington, we moved on the 2d day of July across the Potomac, and planted ourselves on the sacred soil of Virginia, some two miles in front of Fort Corcoran, doubtless for the protection of that fortress. That this movement was a success, is proved by the fact that the fort was never captured by either rebel cavalry or infantry, even though Beauregard’s whole army was within thirty to forty miles of it at the time, and never dared to come much nearer so long as they knew the 2d Wisconsin was there. Such is the respect shown by an honorable enemy to an invincible foe.

We remained in this camp two weeks, learning camp duty, tactics and field movements, under our lieutenant colonel, who had studied at West Point for two years, varied by an occasional drill under two young lieutenants of the regular army. How the boys wished they had one of them for colonel! for the recent defeat of Gen. Butler at Big Bethel and the ambush of Gen.Schenck near Vienna, had already filled their heads with imaginary “masked batteries,” and their own observations suggested the advantage of having educated officers. They had not, however, learned that with a little hard work, natural capacity, and study and pluck, the volunteer officer soon became as successful a regimental commander as the most cultured graduate of our military academy.

Under pressure of public opinion, voiced by Brigadier Generals Horace Greeley, Murat Halstead, and other generals of the editorial profession who laid out all the great campaigns of the war in their dingy sanctums, Gen. Scott, with the sanction of President Lincoln, ordered Gen. McDowell to move “on to Richmond by way of Manassas with such forces as were present in front of Washington,” guaranteeing that Gen. Patterson should prevent any junction of Gen. J. E. Johnston with Beauregard; assuring him that “if Johnston joins Beauregard he shall have Patterson at his heels.” McDowell showed great energy, and a week later, on the morning of July 16th, ordered a general movement of his army to the front, to begin that afternoon. Without going into details, it is enough to say that that part of the army which marched towards and reached the front amounted to less than 28,000 men with 49 guns, to encounter an army at Manassas of over 32,000 men and 57 guns. (See Nicolay’s “Outbreak of the Rebellion,” page 174.)

At about two o’clock P. M. of the same day we were moved out of camp on the road to Vienna, leaving behind us about one hundred men unfit for duty, under Lieut. Hunt, whose obesity was a guarantee of his inability to march. Recognizing the at-that-time uncontrollable habit of the men to fall out of the ranks for water, I had caused the canteen of every man in the company to be filled with strong, cold tea, which greatly lessened their temptation. After a march of twelve miles, at sundown we bivouacked for the first time without tents. Our march was resumed early the next morning, under strict orders from the War Department against foraging, issued to us by Gen. Wm. Tecumseh Sherman, our brigade commander, subsequently the commander of the “March to the Sea,” now one of the few great generals living, whose name is a household word in almost every family of this country, and whose fame is wide as the world. General orders had also been issued forbidding the harboring of fugitive slaves in our camps, and ordaining that all such as might escape into our lines should be returned to their masters. This was a concession made with the vain hope that the rebels of the South and pro-slavery copperheads of the North might be induced—the one to lay down its arms, and the other to stand by the Union as patriots. Both orders met with the disapproval of the men in the Union army, who declared that they did not propose to go hungry with provisions in sight, nor to become “nigger-hunters” to placate those who were fighting to destroy the government.

It was not very late in the afternoon when one of my men, Budlong, who stood six feet four inches in his shoes, and who had been missing for an hour or so, came to me and said: “Captain, Gen. Sherman orders me to report to you under arrest.” “Why? what have you been doing?” “Oh, nothing but helping myself to rations. You see our meat is so salt I cannot eat it, and I thought fresh mutton would taste better. I had a quarter on my shoulders, making my way to the regiment, when the General happened to ride along with his staff, and caught me.” “Didn’t you know the orders against foraging?” said I. “Yes, but I was hungry, and it was rebel mutton, anyhow.” “Well, what became of the mutton?” “Why, the General told one of his orderlies to have it cooked for his (the General’s) supper. He then said he would attend to my case after we had whipped the rebels at Bull Run.” This was the last ever heard of the matter officially. I never doubted that Gen. Sherman sympathized with the men then as always on this question.

We bivouacked the next night near the old Fairfax plantation. About dark the same culprit came to me, saying: “Captain, there is a nice lot of sheep up on the plantation. Our boys are terrible hungry, and as our muskets are all stacked under orders not to let them go out, I don’t see what I am to do.” “Have you forgotten the orders?” “No, but it is too bad that we should fare worse than the d—d rebs who are trying to destroy the government we came down here to save.” “Well, Bud, it is against orders to shoot anything but rebs.  My pistol hangs on my belt on one of the stacks, but you must not touch it.” I walked off, and what was my surprise and indignation, an hour or two later, to find that my whole company were feasting on the sacred mutton of one of the F. F. V.’s of Virginia.

The march to Centerville was a delightful one, although many, unaccustomed to marching, and especially to carrying knapsacks and “forty rounds,” fell to the rear to come up later in the day. It seems almost like yesterday that, on reaching the crest of a hill, the long column of troops with its batteries of artillery in advance of us, could be seen for a mile or two, colors flying, arms glistening, drums beating, bands playing, and war putting on a holiday attire. The thought then arose—can it be possible that such an array of brave men, so well armed and equipped, and so enthusiastic, should suffer the disgrace of defeat, and ever be compelled to halt on its way to the rebel capital? The idea was preposterous, and the thought that such a result was one of the uncertainties of war was not without its pain. The experience was new, and doubtless many besides myself were reflecting on the possibilities and impossibilities. That most of our regimental officers possessed confidence in the result was attested by the fact that they had hired a private wagon to carry their trunks containing their best uniforms and clothing; for we were all dressed in the dilapidated gray with which we left our state, while the officers had provided themselves with the regulation blue, to be used only on dress occasions. For myself, some bird had whispered into my ear that it would be just as well to leave baggage in camp. The result will be seen hereafter. But the spirits of all were gay, as is usual with men in the presence of novelty, especially when cheered by hope, and the feeling that they are serving a cause just in the sight of Heaven.

During the day a young mounted officer rode past us, who attracted general notice. He wore long, flowing locks, a hat and plume, a la Murat, and was uniformed in a royal purple silk velvet jacket, brilliant with gold trimmings. His cavalier style caused admiration and wonder, being so different from anything we had ever seen. “Who is it?” was the universal interrogation. It was soon known that it was young Custer, fresh from West Point, who had been sent forward by Gen. Scott with dispatches for Gen. McDowell. From that time forward his course was watched with peculiar interest. It was his cavalry that came up to us just after my regiment, the 5th Wisconsin, had captured Maj. Gen. Ewell at Sailor’s Creek, April 6th, 1865, three days before Lee’s surrender.

On the evening of the 18th, Gen. Tyler, commanding 1st Division, was ordered to make a reconnoissance towards Blackburn’s Ford, some three miles south of Centerville, on the road to Manassas, and not to bring on an engagement. Taking Col. Richardson’s brigade and a light battery he pushed forward, attacked and drove back a division of Longstreet, who, being reinforced by Early’s brigade, in turn advanced, driving in and disorganizing the 12th New York. An order by Tyler to fall back, was executed. Sherman’s brigade, with the 2d Wisconsin, had been sent for, with orders by some ignoramus to double-quick to the field, only a short three miles from our camp. The day being excessively hot, it may be easily imagined that green men with knapsacks tried the experiment for a few rods, and then eased off into a rapid march. As we approached the top of the hill overlooking the ford, we were met by a stream of fugitives, who were subjected to a storm of raillery by our boys. “Where are you going?” “What is the matter?” The invariable reply was: “We are all cut to pieces! ” Considering the fact that the total loss of that regiment was only five men killed and nineteen wounded, the nature of the terrible tragedy may be surmised. However, we pushed on, and in a short time filed off into the woods on the right, forming line of battle. The fight continued for some time, being simply an artillery duel. Shell and solid shot crashed through the trees over our heads, and frequently close enough to keep the men dodging long after danger was past.

This was our first experience under fire, and our “first baptism of blood,” but not a man left the ranks. Only one man was killed and two wounded by the bursting of a shell in our left company. The total losses of the day were: Union, 56 killed and wounded; Rebels, 63 killed and wounded.

As to the particular feelings or impressions of being under fire for the first time without an opportunity of returning it, each man has his own. I can only remember that a sense of my responsibility as captain of a company overpowered whatever feelings I might have had of personal danger, even though the sound of the shrieking shells was anything but agreeable. This first lesson taught us, as did the lessons of four years afterwards, that while the sound of big guns was more terriffic, the real danger in battle was the whistling “minnie,” which reached one without note or warning.

Gen. McDowell was anxious to make his attack on Beauregard on Saturday, the 20th, before assistance could reach him from Johnston’s army. But it was not until Saturday evening that he and his engineer officers could find a ford, which was not strongly entrenched and guarded, by means of which he could surprise and attack the rebel army in flank and rear. To attack in front would have been a useless massacre. On that evening he issued his orders for the forward movement at two o’clock Sunday morning. The divisions of Hunter and Heintzelman were to move to the right and cross Sudley Springs Ford, attack the rebel flank and rear, driving Evans’ brigade from the Stone Bridge, while Tyler’s division was to demonstrate in front. Sherman’s and other brigades, were to cross at or above the Stone Bridge as soon as the road was clear, or the enemy driven from our front. McDowell’s strategy was perfect. Gen. Sherman afterwards said it was “one of the best-planned battles of the war, but one of the worst-fought.” Gen. Johnston, who was in command of the rebel army during the fight, said: “If the tactics of the Federals had been equal to their strategy, we should have been beaten.”

But, leaving details of the battle behind, simply stating that, owing to the lack of promptness on the part of one division, the attack was necessarily delayed for two hours, the loss of which was one of the prime causes of our final defeat.

At two o’clock on the morning of Sunday, the 21st, we moved out of camp, marching and halting, mostly halting, as usual on night marches, for somebody to get out of the way, until after daylight, when we crossed Cub Run, and, ascending a hill overlooking the Bull Run valley and the Stone Bridge, we filed to the right of the road, and formed line of battle. Ayres’ battery was with us, and kept up a random firing on the batteries defending the bridge. We had a magnificent view of the historic stream and of the battle grounds beyond, which was a high plain, steep bluffs along the bank, the plain broken by ravines. Here we waited for several hours, momentarily expecting to see the smoke and hear the guns of our attacking divisions. It was not until eleven o’clock that the ball opened, and the sun was pouring down its fiercest rays. Hunter and Heintzelman had crossed the ford, and rattling musketry and puffs of smoke indicated that the skirmishers were at work. Soon the advancing lines came into view; our lines, preceded by the skirmish line, pushing forward, and the rebels as rapidly falling back. What a shout went up from our brigade! It meant, “Hurrah, boys; we have got ’em!” On and on press our troops, who continued to draw nearer to the bridge and to us, in perfect lines of battle. Soon the rebels took to their heels and Stone Bridge was ours. It looked then as though the whole rebellion was conquered. Now was our time. Knapsacks were thrown into a heap, and guard placed over them. Gen. Sherman had discovered a ford half a mile above the bridge, passable for infantry, but not for artillery. To this he directed his brigade, the 2d Wisconsin leading. Marching to the ford under fire from a rebel battery, we waded through, climbed the precipitous ascent to the field above, and pushed forward in pursuit. How different was the scene presented to us, thus far, from that of a few hours later!

Having crossed the Warrenton pike, we were halted and ordered to lie down. The rebels had been driven across the pike and had made a stand on a hill running from the Henry house northeast to Bull Run. What happened there, not being all within the range of my view, I quote from Nicolay’s account, the briefest as well as one of the best written, as follows:

“When, at about half past two o’clock, the batteries of Ricketts and Griffin were ordered to move forward from the Dogan Heights across the valley to the top of Henry Hill, they did so with the feeling that the two regiments ordered to follow and support them were tardy, inadequate and unreliable. Other regiments, moving forward to the flank attack, could not well be observed because of the uneven ground and the intervening woods and bushes. The rebels had disappeared; there was a complete lull in the battle. But danger was no less at hand. Hardly had Ricketts taken his post before his cannoneers and horses began to fall under the accurate fire of near and well-concealed rebel sharpshooters. Death puffed from bushes, fences, buildings, and yet the jets of flame and wreaths of smoke were the only visible enemy to assail. Officers and cannoneers held on with desperate courage; some moved to new positions to foil the rebel range. Griffin’s battery came and took place alongside; eleven Union guns and thirteen Confederate guns were confronted at short range in a stubborn and exciting duel. But now the rebel regiments, seeing the dangerous exposure of the Union batteries, were tempted to swarm out of their cover. They pressed cautiously but tenaciously upon Ricketts. Griffin, absorbed in directing the fire of his guns against the rebel batteries, was suddenly startled at seeing a regiment advancing boldly on his right, in open view. Their very audacity puzzled him. They could hardly be friends, he thought; yet was it possible that foes were so near and would take such a risk? Instinctively he ordered his guns to be charged with canister and trained upon them. Yet at the dreadful thought of pouring such a volley upon a Union regiment, he once more hesitated and held a brief colloquy with Major Barry, chief of support. ‘They are Confederates,’ replied Griffin in intense excitement; ‘as certain as the world they are Confederates.’ ‘No,’ answered Barry, ‘I know they are your battery support.’ Griffin spurred forward and told his officers not to fire. The mistake proved fatal. During this interval of doubt the Confederate regiment had approached to point-blank range and levelled their muskets just as Griffin gave his order to desist. Griffin’s canister would have annihilated the regiment; but now the tables were turned, and in an instant the regiment’s volley had annihilated Griffin’s and Ricketts’ batteries. Officers and men fell, smitten with death and wounds, and horses and caissons went tearing in wild disorder down the hill, breaking and scattering the ascending line of battle. Under this sudden catastrophe the supporting regiments stood a while, spellbound with mingled astonishment and terror. They were urged forward to repel the advance on the guns, but the unexpected disaster overawed them; under the continued and still advancing volleys of the same rebel regiment, they fired their muskets, turned and fled.

“These disabled batteries, visible to both armies, now became the center and coveted prize of an irregular contest, which surged back and forth over the plateau of the Henry hill; but, whether because of confusion of orders, or the broken surface of the ground, or more probably the mere reciprocal eagerness of capture and rescue, the contest was carried on, not by the whole line, but by single regiments, or at most by two or three regiments moving accidentally rather than designedly in concert. Several times the fight raged past and over the prostrate body of Ricketts, lying wounded among his guns, and who was finally carried away a prisoner to Richmond. The rebels would dash forward, capture the batteries, and endeavor to turn the pieces on the Union lines; then a Union regiment would sweep up the hill, drive them back, and essay to drag the guns down into safe possession. And a similar shifting and intermitting fight went on, not merely on this single spot, but also among the low concealing pines of the middle ground in front, as well as in the oak woods on the Union right, where at times friend became intermingled with foe, and where both sides took occasional prisoners near the same place.

“In this prolonged and wasteful struggle the Union strength was slowly and steadily consumed. Arnold’s battery crossed the valley to the support of Griffin and Ricketts, but found itself obliged to again withdraw. The Rhode Island battery took part in the contest as well as it might from the hill north of Young’s Branch. Brigade after brigade—Sherman’s, Franklin’s, Wilcox’s, and finally Howard’s reserve, were brought forward—regiment after regiment was sent up the hill—three times the batteries were recovered and again lost.”

The above corresponds with my own observations, excepting that we were the last on the right of the line to make the charge. As we moved forward I distinctly saw two pieces of Ricketts’ battery, over which the forces on each side were contending, hauled to the rear. Men from some of the repulsed regiments, which had charged before us, straggled through our ranks, while others remained with us. Just then, too, on the hill, beyond range of our guns, we saw the famous but somewhat mythical Black Horse Cavalry rushing across our front, after a futile attack on the New York Zouaves to our left. This cavalry consisted of only a few companies raised in the vicinity of Warrenton, and was valuable only as scouts, or for the purpose of picking up stragglers. Its success in the latter direction was demonstrated before the day ended.

The crest of the hill in front of us, upon which the rebels had massed their infantry and artillery, was of a semi-circular form, so that when our regiment pushed on to the summit our left and center was facing south, while the four right companies faced east and south-east, our flank not far from the Sudley Springs road. This was an obstacle in the way of any concerted action, since no command could be heard along the whole line, nor was more than half the regiment visible at the same time. Col. Coon had been temporarily transferred to Sherman’s staff, leaving Lieut. Col. Peck in command. For some reason known to himself, the latter had dismounted and sent his horse to the rear, thus rendering it impossible for him to command so large a regiment, especially in such a position. Capt. Stevens’, Ely’s and my company were on the extreme right of the line; at least no troops were visible on our right, nor was any firing heard in that direction.

As we mounted the crest we were met by distinctive volleys of musketry, which were promptly returned, but it was impossible to push our line forward against the evidently superior forces massed in our front. The fire had continued for some time, when an officer on foot, dressed in blue uniform, ran down the rear of our line exclaimingly wildly: “For God’s sake, stop firing; you are shooting your friends.” Fearing this might be true, many of our men hesitated to continue firing, until by orders and appeals they were induced to begin again. Not long afterwards the same, or another, officer repeated the performance, with precisely the same exclamations. Whether this was a ruse on the part of the rebel officer, or whether he really supposed from our being dressed in gray that we were also rebels, may be a matter of doubt. But taking into consideration the ruse by which our batteries had just been captured, and subsequent attempts to deceive our troops by hoisting the Union flag, I am satisfied that it was a premeditated piece of iniquity. Whatever may be thought of it, the effect on our men was the same. They were certainly confused by doubt. To satisfy them, I picked up the musket of a wounded man, advanced to the front, saw distinctly a rebel flag, fired at the color-bearer, and induced my men to re-open fire. I continued to fire for some minutes, or longer, until my attention was called to an enfilading fire from the woods on our right. The fact that Johnston’s troops from Winchester were expected, and that this was in the direction of the railroad by which they would arrive, explained our view of the situation. About this time Col. Peck appeared on foot and asked me what I thought of this flank fire. My answer was that we could not maintain ourselves very long unless we were reinforced in that direction. He replied that that was his opinion, and left. Not very long after this, but how long I do not know, as the flight of time in a fight is a matter of conjecture, the Colonel appeared again in our rear and gave the order: “Fall back to re-form!” This was an indication that the left and center of our line, which we had neither seen nor heard from since the fight began, had met with no better success than the right, which turned out to be the fact.

An extract from Gen. Sherman’s report is as follows: “This regiment (the 2d Wisconsin) ascended to the brow of the hill steadily, received the fire of the enemy, returned it with spirit, and advanced delivering its fire. This regiment is uniformed in gray cloth, almost identical with that of the great bulk of the secession army, and when the regiment fell into confusion, and retreated toward the road, there was a universal cry that they were being fired upon by their own men. The regiment rallied again, passed the brow of the hill a second time, but was repulsed in disorder.”

Whether Col. Peck’s order to fall back was given to the whole regiment or not, I cannot say. But, so far as the right companies were concerned, they began to fall back without waiting for orders from their company officers. It was then the confusion began, and owing to the mixture of men of the different companies it was impossible to maintain order or discipline. The result was that the whole regiment fell back across the turnpike, where there was a rally around the colors and a movement with nobody in command toward the ford by which we had crossed. This must have taken place about four o’clock, as it was dark when we reached Centerville some five or six miles away, every man on his own account, owing to confusion and strife in crossing the fords, Stone Bridge and the bridge at Cub Run, which were blockaded by broken-down teams. On reaching Centerville I was informed by our hospital steward, in charge of the field hospital at that place, that Gen. Sherman had just passed through towards Washington, giving him orders to tell such of the 2d Wisconsin as passed, to make their way back to their old camp on the Potomac at once.

The general description of the retreat is too well known to be repeated. Members of congress, newspaper reporters, soldiers and spectators of the fight formed a confused mass of humanity. Just at the rear of Centerville, at the camp we had left at 2 o’clock in the morning, Capt. McKee and myself gathered together some two or three hundred men, and under the command of the former, marched in good order to our camp near Fort Corcoran, arriving there about twelve o’clock the following day, having marched and fought some thirty-six hours without rest or sleep, probably not less than fifty miles, the last twelve hours in a soaking rain.

Here we found Lieut. Hunt had orders from Gen. Sherman to burn our tents and move immediately to the fort. After consulting together, we concluded to have some dinner, and take a rest; and finally moved to the fort, shortly before dark. The wagon containing the officers’ baggage never returned.

The loss of the 2d Wisconsin in this campaign was 24 killed and 103 wounded, a total of 127. The loss of Sherman’s brigade was 317, killed and wounded. Our army lost an aggregate of 1496, killed and wounded. The loss of the rebel army was 1969, killed and wounded.

The first great battle of the war was fought and lost. The reasons need not be repeated. They are fairly stated in the report of Gen. McDowell, and in the various histories of the war.

I cannot refrain from saying that, in my humble opinion, Gen. McDowell was among the most capable of our army officers. His failure at Bull Run, however, aroused the ghouls of the press to charge him with incapacity, with disloyalty, and with drunkenness—three as baseless charges as were ever aimed at the reputation of a capable, loyal and temperate man. But for these vile slanders he might have had command of the Army of the Potomac, which under him would not have fought only to be repulsed or defeated through all its campaigns until it held its own at Gettysburg. His brilliant strategy was imitated by Gen. Hooker at Chancellorsville, who, with ten times the odds in his favor, failed in his tactical movements. Three days before the opening of the second Bull Run fight, in 1862, while we were camped near Warrenton, Gen. McDowell rode along our front. Acknowledging my salute, and after a short conversation in which he referred to the charges against his loyalty, he asked: “Well, Major, how would your boys like to have another fight on the old Bull Run battle ground?” To this I replied that they would appreciate highly a chance to pay off old scores. He then remarked very decisively: “We will meet the rebels on the same ground within a week and we shall win.” It was not his fault that the prediction was not fulfilled.

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Recollections of the Bull Run Campaign after Twenty-Seven Years – Henry F. Lyster

9 04 2010



BY COMPANION HENRY F. LYSTER, M. D., formerly Ass’t. Surgeon, 2nd. Regt. Michigan Infantry, and Surgeon 5th Michigan Infantry, and Acting Med. Director 3rd. Corps, Army of the Potomac


The 2nd regiment of Michigan infantry had been encamped below the Chain bridge on the Maryland side of the Potomac since the 12th of July, 1861. Col. Israel B. Richardson was in command, although Mrs. Richardson, his wife, who accompanied him, was the power behind the throne. It was not until the Colonel had become a general of division, that he outgrew his better half and bossed things generally himself.

Lt. Col. Henry L. Chipman had accepted a captaincy in the 11th Regiment U. S. infantry, Adjutant Wm. J. Lyster had gone to the 19th U. S. infantry.

Major Adolphus W. Williams, who later to the surprise of many of us, became the colonel of a high number Michigan regiment, and was breveted a brigadier general of volunteers was with us at this memorable time. The major had invited the adjutant and myself to join his mess, which had been organized by purchasing through Higby and Stearns, a mess-chest duly furnished with stores, and by obtaining the services of the major’s nephew and brother-in-law as cooks and skirmishers. We were soon reduced to the point of starvation, although in camp. When a polite inquiry would be made as to whether dinner was ready: “Well it aint, you know,” would be the somewhat unmilitary reply. Any ordinary cook would have been dismissed, or sent to the guard house, but from a nephew of the major it had to be condoned. At last after a few weeks experience, Harve, the cook, was noticed kneading some flour and water upon the head of a barrel, and was asked by the Adjutant what these preparations meant, replied, “I’m building up some pies that will make your eyes stick out.” And they did.

About this time the Regimental Quartermaster used to spend the greater part of the day in Washington, nominally on business, but he too frequently neglected to order up the wagons with the soft bread and fresh beef; and when night came on apace, and he was warned to return to the command, his short comings began to loom up before his anxious mind and lie heavily upon his conscience. He would approach cautiously the outer boundaries of the camp, and preserving a strict incognito, with faltering accents and disguised voice would enquire whether the bread wagons had arrived. If they had, he rode gaily into camp, but if they had not, he faded from view, and did not return to meet those who were hungrily lying in wait for him. It was while in camp at the Chain bridge that we made out our first muster rolls. Those who have been engaged in this work will appreciate the service so kindly and politely rendered by Major Brooks, U. S. army, now retired, and living on second avenue in this city. Verily in these matters “a soft answer turneth away wrath and pleasant words are of more value than pearls and rubies.” The recollections of Major Brooks and of the very agreeable and courteous Capt. Charles Gibson, ass’t com. of subsistence on duty in Washington at that time, have remained as pleasant memories with those volunteers who came in official contact with them.

The soldiers of the 2nd regiment were greatly interested in a resident near the camp known as Bull Frizzel. He kept himself saturated with a country liquor called peach brandy, which rendered him very inflammable and caused him to give utterance to a good deal of “secesh” sentiment, and kept him in the guard house most of the time. As he was the only rebel in sight it was frequently proposed that we begin our work by shooting him, but calmer counsels prevailed, and we left him to the slower, but not less sure course, marked out by himself, and the worm of the still.

On the 4th of July the non-commissioned officers obtained permission to drill the regiment in battalion drill— 4th Sergt. Wm. B. McCreery acted as colonel. Col. Richardson watched the manoeuvres from the front of his tent with much pleasure and interest. Turning to me he enquired the name of the sergeant commanding, and said in his peculiar drawl, “Dr. Lyster these non commissioned officers drill the battalion better than the commissioned officers can do it.” He made McCreery 1st Lieut, and Quartermaster in less than a month from that date.

Our first march to meet the enemy began July 16, 1861, when we crossed over the Chain bridge to the sacred soil of Virginia. We were brigaded with the 3d Michigan infantry, the 1st Massachusetts infantry and the 12th New York infantry. Col. Richardson was put in command of this brigade, and Surgeon A. B. Palmer was acting brigade surgeon. We had marched five or six miles towards Vienna Court House where Gen. Schenck of Ohio had not long before run a railroad train into a masked battery, and we were all on the qui vive regarding masked batteries, and unusual things of that sort.

The sun was yet in the meridian when I heard a commotion near the head of the brigade and upon riding up was astonished to find that Dr. C, acting at that time as hospital steward of the 2d, was chasing a small rebel pig and firing his revolver at it while in pursuit. The soldiers cheered lustily and the doctor hotly followed the squalling porker intent upon having a spare-rib for supper. All this unfortunately attracted the attention of Dr. Palmer, who was riding with the Colonel at the head of the brigade. Dr. Palmer, with an eye to the preservation of good order and discipline in his department, drew his sword, and galloped after Dr. C. and the pig. The soldiers cheered down the whole brigade still more vigorously appreciating the added comic element in the affair, and warning Dr. C. of his danger watched the unequal chase with increasing interest. The pig escaped for the moment, and Dr. C. mixed up with the column somewhat crest-fallen, but was later restored to his usual equanimity when a hind quarter of the pig was sent him in the evening.

Nearly a year later, after the battle of Charles City crossroads, June 29th, 1862, on McClellan’s retreat, Dr. C. remained with the wounded and was taken prisoner, and went to Richmond. In this he showed the highest appreciation of the professional relation, but as a non-commissioned officer at the time, he ran an undue risk of being detained indefinitely in the military prisons; almost equivalent to a death sentence.

To the surprise of everyone, he was almost immediately exchanged. His long deserved commission of ass’t surgeon, came to him soon after, and when he resigned to accept a desirable professional alliance in Detroit, in April, 1864, the regiment lost one of its most efficient and highly respected officers.

Dear Dr. Palmer, who only a month ago covered with professional honors, went over to be mustered into that growing army of veterans in the silent land, was so elated with his success in this first march, that he confidently assured me as we lay in bivouac that evening, that he felt within him those martial qualities which would give him command of troops in case he should determine to substitute the sword for the lancet.

That night the stars were out, and the uncertain moon was low in the western horizon, the darkest hour just before the dawn was on us, when the nervous strain of the pickets post could hardly be expected to resist the extreme tension of the first night out. The imagination turned some unoffending object into the stealthily approaching foe, and the musketry began to rattle with a liveliness that seemed very like active work. I shall never forget how long it seemed to take to lace up those balmoral shoes, to don my uniform, and get the horse unpicketed and saddled, so as to be able either to pursue or fly as might seem most sensible. The next night I slept with my shoes and hat on, and with old Dan tied to the wheel of the ambulance.

It was about this period of the march that the star of the regimental Quartermaster began to wane. It was all about some honey. Mrs. Richardson had gone up to the command of the brigade at the same time that the Colonel had, and a hive of honey had been added to the headquarters stores. Most of us had had some of it, but it had been expected to last like the widow’s cruise of oil through the campaign. It was observed that the Quartermaster had some honey after it had suddenly disappeared at headquarters. Nothing that he had failed to do hitherto was equal to this new offence. The next day the men began to get out of rations and the wagons were slow in getting up. The Quartermaster was found late at night asleep in the train. Dr. Palmer again drew his sword and pricked around with it into a wagon in the dark, and roused him. He fled before the wrath of the command and never stopped until he had reached Battle Creek, Mich.; and McCreery reigned in his stead.

On the 18th of July we were halted about half a mile beyond Centreville, having a nooning, when the enemy were reported a mile and a half in front of us at Blackburn’s ford. We fell in at once, and marched forward through some intervening woods, formed in line behind Lieut. Ayres’ regular battery, which opened upon the woods across Bull Run to the west of us about a quarter of a mile. We soon drew the fire of a rebel battery, which turned out to be the Washington Light Artillery from New Orleans. The first shot fired at the army, afterwards known as the Army of the Potomac, was at this time, and it took the leg off of a sergeant of artillery in Ayres’ battery on our front, and knocked a log out of a house in the yard of which the battery was stationed. The effect of this shot was not observed by the enemy, and the range was altered, and the other shots were not so effective.

It fell to my lot to attend the first Michigan soldier wounded by the enemy in the war. We were moving down as a support to the 1st Massachusetts and 12th New York, who had been sent down to the ford to “feel the enemy,” which they succeeded in doing to the extent of losing 40 wounded and 12 killed. The bullets and solid shots were passing over us, when a rifle bullet struck Mathias Wollenweber of company A, 2d Mich. infantry, in the left side, and he fell upon the sod. I tried to probe the wound with my little finger, and held my horse with the bridle rein thrown over my left arm. Every time a shot passed over us, old Dan would toss up his head and pull my finger out of the wound, and I concluded that while like Mercutio’s wound, “it was not as deep as a well, or as wide as a church door, it was enough;” and so it proved, for it finally “let out his sweet life” twenty years afterwards. Vickery came over with a four wheeled ambulance and picked him up and carried him back to Centreville, where he was afterwards captured by the enemy.

Vickery was a tall, raw-boned Irishman from county Cork, who followed Surgeon Palmer from the University of Michigan, to look after the regimental hospital. He was clever, well educated, with plenty of wit and a large heart. The Second loved Vickery more, I believe, than they ever did anyone else, and with good reason too. He rose to be assistant surgeon Aug. 8, 1862, and surgeon Sept. 1st, 1854. He jumped up upon the earthwork at Petersburg, June 29th, 1864, to see the colored troops charge at the Burnside mine explosion, when a bullet cut one of the femoral arteries. Surgeon Hamilton E. Smith, of the 27th Michigan was beside him at this time, and performed the most valuable service of his life in checking the hemorrhage, as these wounds are usually fatal on the field. Vickery is now a surgeon in the regular army, and is in charge of the army and navy hospital at Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Colonel Richardson shortly after came over from the front, and in a scornful sort of manner, suggested to the regiment, that we had better be getting back or the enemy’s cavalry would cut us off. Upon this we moved back into the woods. Loss in the 3d Brigade, 19 killed; 38 wounded; 26 missing. Rebel loss, 15 killed; 53 wounded. It was upon this occasion that Major Williams, after having moved the regiment well into the woods, formed them into a hollow square to resist an expected charge of cavalry. How well I can remember the beautiful appearance the regiment presented in the timber, with fixed bayonets. In the movement I was left on the outside, and tried in vain, to get into the place where the Adjutant and Major seemed so safely protected. Colonel Richardson’s remarks to the Major, when he discovered our position, and proceeded to unravel us, were not of a character to be repeated, even at this late date.

It was on our way in from the place where Wollenweber had been wounded, and at the edge of the woods, that I found one of our lieutenants lying at the foot of a large oak tree, quite white and limp. He had been in the Mexican war and we regarded him as an experienced soldier. I stopped an army wagon and tried to load him in, supposing he had been taken seriously ill. Colonel Richardson, who seemed to be ubiquitous, ordered him out, and spoke very harshly to him, and took quite an unprofessional view of the case. After the Colonel had gone on, I ordered the Lieutenant loaded in again, and as the last order is usually the one obeyed, we carried him back in safety. He disappeared like the Quartermaster, and we never saw either of them any more.

The Colonel had not gotten quite as much work out of the 1st Massachusetts and 12th New York, as he had expected, and he reared around a good deal during the next two or three days.

For two or three nights before the memorable Sunday, July 21, 1861, picket firing had been very constant, and the details from the regiment had pretty generally tired off their pieces a good many times. The grand rounds at night by the officer of the day was considered little less than fatal. He usually proceeded with a sergeant on each side as flankers, all with pistols at full cock. After having made the circuit of the pickets, this officer lay down to sleep with his flankers on either side, in order to prevent so important an official from being captured.

We held our position between Blackburn’s ford and Centreville along the line of the Bull Run during the battle on Sunday, the 21st. It was quite a commanding position, and we could look off to the north and west, and get some idea of the plan of the battle

We came near being the centre of the fight ourselves. It seems, that Beauregard intended to deliver battle on our left, and cut through to Centreville and get in the rear of McDowell, but the aide de camp who was sent with the final order, stopped to get a drink at a spring. The farmer, upon whose land the spring was located, being an ardent rebel, would not permit him to go on his way with only this cold cheer, but insisted upon pledging him in a glass of peach brandy. The excitement was so great, and the importance of the occasion so supreme, that the aide took several drinks of this apparently harmless beverage. Upon remounting and galloping off he accidentally struck his head against a tree, and became insensible, so the order was never received by Ewell, the general in command on the Rebel right. In the meantime, General Hunter’s column was pressing the enemy’s left so hard that they were forced into a defensive battle.

During all this day, we, at Blackburn’s ford, heard the heavy firing beyond the stone bridge, and hoped that the Union forces were winning a great victory, and that we should be in Richmond within five days. It might have dampened our ardor somewhat had we known that nearly four years of hardship were to intervene before we should realize the fulfillment of that “hope deferred.”

During the afternoon, about 4 P. M., Colonel Davis, of the 2d brigade of Colonel Miles’ division, made a very creditable defense of our left. Colonel Richardson’s brigade, the 4th of Tyler’s division, was making a demonstration at Blackburn’s ford by throwing out heavy skirmishers, as if to cross over. Colonel Jones was ordered by General Johnson to cross and attack our left, in order to prevent the division from joining in the battle on the Warrenton pike, which was at that time very hotly contested. Colonel Jones crossed at McLean’s ford, with three regiments and formed in line intending to flank Captain Hunt’s field battery of four guns. Colonel Davis, noting this movement, changed his front unobserved and waited for the attack. When Jones’ brigade came within five hundred yards Captain Hunt opened upon his line with cannister, and Jones’ Brigade simply disappeared.

As Colonel Nicolay says, in his “Outbreak of the Rebellion,” Jones modestly reported a loss of 14 killed and 62 wounded. The loss in Davis’ brigade was trifling. What would have been the result of throwing the brigades of Richardson, Davis and Blenker, over the stone bridge not more than a mile distant, to meet the forces of Ewell, Early and Holmes, as they came up from our left to join the battle at the Henry house. Can anyone imagine what would have been the effect upon the long victorious Union troops, who had marched so many miles, and fought so many hours, and charged again and again, by regiments, up the Henry house hill?

I remember to this day, how much solid satisfaction it gave us that evening, when we first began to realize that we were defeated, to hear that General Scott was hurrying up from Alexandria with a 50 pounder seige gun, manned by the marine corps from Fortress Monroe.

The medical men of our brigade and General Miles’ division, were in a large farm house on the left of the Blackburn’s ford pike.

I had just made my first amputation, and was examining the bones of the amputated arm, when Colonel Richardson rode up and reiterated his warning of three days before, that “you had better be getting out of here or the enemy’s cavalry will cut you off.” Complying with this apparently well founded order, and with the aid of Vickery and Cleland, loading up my solitary patient, I was about to mount my horse and move back towards Centreville, when Colonel Richardson asked me if I would be obliging enough to let Mrs. Richardson have my horse, as she could not find hers, and he was about to send her back to Alexandria under the escort of Captain Brethschneider and his two conpanies of flankers. Of course, however much I felt that I needed a horse at that moment, to avoid the charge of black horse cavalry, momentarily expected from the left, I acceded to the Colonel’s request, assuring him that I considered it a privilege to render any service to either the male or female commander of our brigade.

Reasoning that if I was obliged to walk, I had better not stand upon the order of my going, but go at once, I started off at a fair, brisk, shooting gait of some four or five miles an hour, expecting to join the column moving back on the Blackburn ford pike to Centreville. I had not proceeded more than a hundred yards, when, like Lot’s wife, I looked back, only with more fortunate results, for I spied old Dan eating clover, and Mrs. Richardson mounted upon another horse, and starting off under Captain Brethschneider’s escort. I turned back, mounted old Dan, and rode down to Centreville, and up on to the Rebel earth-works, which overhung Fairfax pike.

It is not often in a lifetime that one is permitted to see such a sight as I then witnessed. A retreating, uniformed, unorganized, unarmed crowd, poured down towards Washington at a steady unhalting pace. The men who had borne the burden and heat of the day, the camp followers, the friends of the several regiments who had come along to see the victory. Every now and then a wounded officer or soldier, assisted by his comrades, went by. Here appeared a couple of Zouaves riding on an artillery horse, with the broad, flat harness on, as it had been cut out of the traces. I remember seeing a Zouave officer walking along, slightly wounded, and hearing him say to those with him, that he would go no further, here he would stand and fight to the last, and just then a gun from one of our field pieces was fired off in an unmeaning manner, over into Virginia from near Centreville. The sound of that gun sent all his military resolutions to the winds, and he passed along with the steady current of the retreat. On looking down into the lunette, I saw a number of open carriages, and standing up in one of them was Zach Chandler, looking off towards Bull Run (for Centreville was on a hill,) into the red dust which formed the horizon toward the battlefield. This must have been near nine o’clock in the evening, at that season of the year about the time that the growing twilight takes the place of daylight. I had sent on the regimental ambulance, and rode back to the 3rd brigade, which lay with Tyler’s and Davis’s brigades, to the south and south-west of Centreville, in line of battle, waiting for the long expected attack of Beauregard.

It was a relief to see the quiet composure of these troops after having witnessed the confusion of the retreating mass surging towards Washington.  After the darkness fell, these three brigades covered the retreat. Richardson’s last.

Col. Miles had been suspended by McDowell on account of drunkenness and inefficiency, Colonel Richardson having complained to McDowell that he had been constantly interfered with by Col. Miles, commanding the 5th division; that Miles was drunk and incapacitated for duty, and it was by his orders Richardson had been withdrawn from holding Blackburn’s ford.

It was here that Richardson lost his sword, and his wife’s horse and side-saddle. The sword he had left standing against a tree, and forgetting it there when he moved on. He borrowed mine, greatly to my relief. It was a heavy cavalry sabre which had been issued to me by the State—for ornamental purposes, I presume—and was a counterpart of the one lost by the Colonel. He applied for permission to send a flag of truce, hoping to have the horse and side-saddle returned, but was refused by General Tyler, very curtly. Richardson had known General Bee, and he told me he knew that if Bee was able to do so, he knew he would send them back. Poor Bee had hummed his last note, and was no longer a worker in the hive of the Confederacy. He had been killed in the hot work on the Sudley road, on the 21st.

The 3rd Michigan of our brigade, had about the same experience that the 2d had in this campaign; and to the 1st Michigan belong any laurels won by hard fighting. This regiment made four charges at the Henry house hill in the hottest of the battle, and lost 6 killed, 37 wounded, and 52 taken prisoner. Here it was that General Wilcox was severely wounded, and that Captain W. H. Withington was captured.

We believed that a stand would be made at Fairfax Court House, and no one in our division imagined we would go further back. As I rode into Fairfax Court House that night, a rather warm-looking individual in a rumpled linen duster, and with a straw hat well pushed back on his head, rushed down into the road, and seizing me by the hand, fervently exclaimed, “Thank God! Govenor, you are safe.” I said, I was, just as thankful as he appeared to be, and appreciated it quite as much as if I was a govenor, as it did not make much difference, so long as you were safe, what your rank was. It seemed he had mistaken me for Govenor Sprague of Rhode Island. I did feel flattered for the moment.

At this place I saw an anxious looking elderly man leaning over a gate, who asked me whether the army would make a stand here. His youngest son was in the house, mortally wounded; in the retreat a black horse cavalryman had ordered him to surrender and upon his refusing had shot him, the ball passing through the spine. The father had followed his son in to the tield. He was from Ohio. His name was McCook, and he was the father of those gallant sons, afterwards known as the “fighting McCooks.” His son died that night. McCook found out the name of the rebel cavalryman, who came from Warrenton, Virginia, and hunted for him in and about Washington and Alexandria for a long time; coming on his hot trail several times. By a strange coincidence, two or three of the McCook brothers were killed upon different anniversaries of this same day. I remember one, a general officer, was killed by guerillas, who took him out of an ambulance in Tennessee. And this old gentleman himself was shot by Gen’l Morgan’s men, in the raid through Ohio.

We did not halt at Fairfax Court House, but kept right on to the Long bridge at Washington, by way of Munson’s hill and Arlington. In this battle of Bull Run the Union army lost 481 killed, 1011 wounded, and 1460 missing. The Rebel loss was 269 killed, 1483 wounded, no missing mentioned.

It was in many respects a grand battle, and was well conceived and well fought on both sides. And there were as valorous deeds and as good work done on this open field by the raw toops, as were done in any battle of the war. The mistakes were chiefly tactical, and could hardly have been separated from the conditions which at that time existed; who knows what might have been the result had the battle been set 24 hours sooner, or before General Joe Johnston had added his 8,884 men and 22 guns, to Beauregard’s army. As it was, this army from the valley of the Shenandoah, which did most of the fighting on the Rebel side, and the arrival of its last brigade on the flank and rear of the Union lines decided the contest. Military critics are agreed that in many points. Bull Run, was a battle which the more it is studied the more it will redound to the military credit of both sides engaged in it. While the troops were not handled with the same firmness as Grant, Sherman, or Sheridan would have shown later, the material was there in as good quality as when its commanders of regiments and brigades, such as Richardson, Keyes, Sherman, Porter, Burnside, Hunter, Heintzleman, Ricketts, Franklin, Griffin, Wilcox and Howard, later rose to the command of Divisions, Corps and Armies.

This campaign occurred in what might be designated as the “romantic period” of the war. Who that was in field and camp in the summer of ’61, does not realize the truthfulness of this distinction as compared with the sledge-hammer work under that modern Charles Martel, General Grant, in’64 and’65?

We were all young then—and the imagination was more active, the ambitions were greater, the pleasures and disappointments keener. Every man carried a baton in his knapsack, and Hope, the enchantress, was clad in the most roseate hues. Who can look back after these long years, when all of us have drunk the cup of experience, and have in too many instances found it far different from the nectar of our youth, and not sympathize with the thrill and enthusiasm of those earlier days of the war ?

The soldier of ’61 was full of life and patriotism, his ardor undampened by the stern discipline and reverses of the war. The soldier of ’65 was inured to hardship and adversity, and hoped less, but fought and accomplished more. The period of romance had changed to a period of system and endurance. Individuality had given place to mechanical action, and what was lost in enthusiasm and animation, was made up in concert of action and confidence in method. The military machine ran more smoothly and with less friction, and inspired greater confidence. The history of these four years of war has its counterpart in our own lives. In our youth, we acted upon impulse regardless of consequences, now we think before we act: “then we saw through a glass darkly, but now we see face to face; then we knew in part, but now we know even as we are known.”

Life is easier at fifty than it was at twenty, but as a rule it is not more delightful; and so it was with the war. In ’61 it was pic-nic, and a theatre ; in ’64, and ’65 it was a business, and a circus.

The story of the Bull Run campaign which I can recall is no fable, nor is it the vain imaginings of a cavalryman, it is the veritable truth. That campaign had every adornment of high coloring, it was gotten up regardless of expense, and the music and scenic effects were magnificent. It needed the brilliant tinting of a Turner to paint it true to life, and the pen of a Mark Twain to record its vitality and expression. With its unhappy termination, went out forever the effervescence and impulsiveness of the service in the war. And with the disappearance of the baggy red breeches and the havalocks, and the pell-mell marching, came in the forty rounds in the cartridge box, the three days rations in the haversack, and the sharper lines of rout and battle.

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A Volunteer at the First Bull Run – H. Seymour Hall

5 03 2010


BY COMPANION H. SEYMOUR HALL, Brevet Brigadier General U.S.V. May 4, 1892


On Wednesday, April 17, 1861, after attendance at morning prayers in the chapel of Genesee College, Lima, N. Y., Truman L. Bowman and myself, both student boys who expected to graduate at the June commencement, challenged each other to enlist as soldiers in a regiment which Prof. Quinby, of Rochester University, had begun to organize at Rochester, N. Y., twenty miles away. We discontinued attendance on our recitations and imparted the project to our fellow-students, a number of whom were eager to follow our example, thus threatening to demoralize classes and considerably diminish the somewhat slender attendance in the college, so that on Monday, April 22d, the college president, Rev. J. Morrison Reid, D.D., late missionary secretary of the Methodist Episcopal Church, called a public mass-meeting of students and citizens in college chapel to capture and control these prospective soldiers. The chapel was crowded with people, and amid the most intense excitement, Doctor Reid was chosen to preside, and my friend and classmate, Charles H. Hickmott, secretary. After a most fervent and patriotic prayer, President Reid made a speech, advocating the organisation of a company to remain at home, complete our college course, drill for exercise, so as to be ready when needed; which time of need had not, in his opinion, yet come, though President Lincoln had called for 75,000 men.

The next speech followed a similar line of argument, the speaker being one whom I most admired and respected, our professor in French and German, William Wells, Ph.D., now filling the chair of modern language at Union College, Schenectady, N. Y. Others followed in the same strain, but all failed to touch the hearts of the people. Hall and Bowman were then called for, and both briefly and emphatically announced their purpose to become soldiers at once, at which the wildest enthusiasm was manifested. This was embarrassing to Doctor Reid, who looked over the audience for someone to call to his relief; observing Mr. John Mosher, the only banker in the village, the doctor asked him to give his views. Mr. Mosher rose deliberately, the people eagerly listened as he said with marked emphasis, “I have $100 to help fit out a company for immediate service.” There was small solace in this for our president, so again he sought for reinforcements, this time calling on Colonel Alexander McCane, of the War of 1812. The colonel promptly stood up, towered majestically above his fellows, planted his cane on the floor as if obeying the command, “Order arms,” and said with military brevity and vim, “I have another $100 to put with Mr. Mosher’s.” Utterly routed by this combination of finance and military strategy, Dr. Reid sought to rally his forces behind that honest farmer, Squire Calvin E. Vary, who had given several thousand of his hard-earned dollars to endow the college, was then one of its trustees, and had driven in from his farm to witness the proceedings. Says the doctor, “What does Squire Vary think?” Up rose the stalwart squire, showing his tall and massive form, and enunciated as his proposition, “All I have to say is, that I have another $100 to help those boys along, and will put with that just as much more as is necessary to organize the company. I move that this meeting be now adjourned.” Those three gentlemen then came to me and said, “Come down town with us; to-night we will hold a meeting in Concert Hall, and organize a company for immediate service.”

A meeting was held, rousing speeches by men who staid safely at home, encouraged the boys to join the company which it was resolved to organize, and while the meeting was full of enthusiasm and patriotic ardor, it was lacking in information. No one knew how to proceed or what were the pay and allowances of a soldier; none of us had ever seen a muster-roll nor a volume of tactics. The next morning I wrote out a brief pledge of enlistment, took it to a teacher of penmanship, had it beautifully copied at the top of a half-sheet of foolscap paper, pasted other half-sheets to it, and we signed our names to this, the first muster-roll of the “Lima Volunteers.” My roll filled up rapidly, and those under twenty-one years of age were required to bring the written consent of their parents before signing the roll. I find on my memorandum-book used at that time thirty-one names of boys for whom I had written out these certificates of consent for their parents to sign, and remember many others to whom I also furnished them, one-half the company at least being minors. President Reid had sent me a summons to resume attendance on my classes, to which I paid no attention, so he repeated it, coupled with the notice that I would be expelled if I did not comply, to which my reply was more emphatic than courteous; but I was not expelled. My friend General Horace Boughton, lately buried at Arlington, came out from Rochester recruiting for General Quinby’s regiment, into which he was mustered as captain. T. L. Bowman enlisted with him, and I saw Bowman no more till 1866, when he came to St. Louis, Mo., with Stilson Hutchings, as one of the Times editors, when Hutchings and Hodnett established the St. Louis Daily Times. When our ranks were full, the local citizens’ committee proposed that we elect officers, and they said that Colonel James Perkins was an experienced military man, who, in addition to his exhaustive knowledge of military science, would with his sixty years be like a father to us, and as some of us were orphans and strangers in the town, except for our few months’ residence there as students, we gladly ratified their choice.

They then proposed as lieutenant, Philo D. Phillips, who had commanded a company of “Wide-Awakes,” armed with torches, in the presidential campaign of 1860—so of course he knew all about war. As none of us knew anything about it, we also confirmed this selection, and were proud of our acquisition. Now our college, through its president and others, showed its deep interest in our welfare; not deep enough, however, to confer the degrees upon those of us who would have graduated in June had we not enlisted, as all other colleges in the North did on their students under similar circumstances, but deep enough to recommend as third officer, commissioned by the State as ensign, Thomas D. Bancroft, a student who it was claimed had served in Jim Lane’s thirty-day company that General Lane organized at Washington in March; hence Bancroft could allege experience as well as knowledge. But the boys knew Bancroft and drew the line there. They came to me and said: “You were the first one to enlist and interest others to do so, you have done all the business; the men whom we have elected captain and lieutenant have not taken part with us, nor done anything to entitle them to the places to which we have elected them; you ought to have had first place, all we can do now is to give you the next position, and we propose to make you ensign.” Knowing my entire lack of experience, I was entirely willing to remain in the ranks as I had begun, and so stated to my comrades, but they unanimously elected me. The ladies made a beautiful United States flag and presented it to the company in the Methodist church, which, large as it is, was much too small to hold the audience that gathered to witness the scene and hear the service of religious and patriotic prayer, songs, and speeches. As the ensign was supposed to have something to do with the colors, and for other reasons, it devolved upon me to receive the beautiful emblem from the hands of the ladies and to respond to the presentation speech. We soon learned that our company color could not be carried, but I kept it with the boys in every campaign and adorned our company headquarters with it in every camp, as long as I served with the company.

The ladies also made havelocks out of fine white flannel and gave each of us one to wear to protect our heads from the hot sun, and they supplied each soldier boy with an elegant pocket needle-book of their own handiwork, so liberally furnished with pins, buttons, needles, and thread that if we could have caught the Rebels asleep, we could have sewed them up so tight that they could not have fired a gun. The committee gave each man a blanket, which was trimmed and bound by the same fair hands.

When our .company was filled up to the maximum, Esquire Vary took our foolscap roll to Albany to have our company accepted by the State. Governor Morgan had called some of the members of the military committee of the Senate to advise with him, among them Dean Richmond and Erastus Corning, and when our services were tendered, all were of the opinion that no more men were needed, and that those already accepted by the State of New York could alone put down the Rebellion.

The squire was about to telegraph to us to disband, when he met Captain Joseph J. Chambers, who had recruited a company in Westchester County, and was now at the capital tendering its services to the State. Captain Chambers, whom I afterwards knew well, went before the Governor and the committee, to urge the acceptance of his own and the few other companies whose tender of service had not been accepted. He had been private secretary to Governor Myron H. Clark and was well known to Governor Morgan and his advisers. Having failed to change their decision by argument, and he could make a strong one, and was a ready speaker when aroused, though he stammered very badly at other times, he picked up a heavy chair and backed against the door of the executive chamber, saying, “B-b-b-by G-G-od! you d-d-d-don’t get out of this room t-t-t-till you accept these co-co-co-companies.” Whether for this or for some other reason, our company was accepted, and about the 30th day of April, 1861, Major C. E. Babbitt, a State officer, mustered the company into the service of the State of New York, and on the 7th day of May we were ordered to rendezvous at Elmira. I had procured a copy of Hardee’s Infantry Tactics and studied and practiced drilling, so that when thousands of people came to see us off, we could march quite like soldiers. We rode in wagons and coaches seven miles to Avon Springs, where a crowd so large and enthusiastic awaited us that we could hardly make our way to the cars. At Corning orders were received to stop off and quarter in the State Arsenal there, as there was no room for us in barracks at Elmira. By order of Captain Perkins, I proceeded to Elmira, to arrange to unite our company with some regiment, where I found several already containing five to eight companies each, their full complement of field and staff officers chosen, which gave companies joining later no voice in the selection of the regimental officers. This was not satisfactory to me, and I soon found representatives of other companies who took the same view of it that I did; consequently we formed an organization of our own, called ours the ‘”Union Regiment,” agreeing that no one should be selected for any field or staff position till ten companies were admitted. We made up that number about May 18th, near which time occurred my first meeting with General H. W. Slocum. He was in Elmira at the request of some gentlemen of another organization, expecting to be their colonel, but the election was delayed by officers who had other views. Learning something about him, and that he was a graduate of West Point, had seen service, and afterwards successfully engaged in business, I sought an introduction to him, and, without his knowledge, heartily pressed the suggestion that the officers of our regiment meet to elect a colonel. We did so, elected Slocum colonel without a dissenting voice, and sent a committee to notify him; he came in with them on their return and at once accepted.

The ten companies composing the regiment were organized in different counties of the State, as specified, and commanded at that time by Captains Joseph Chambers, Westchester County; Joseph J. Bartlett, Broome; Peter Jay, Broome; A. D. Adams, Wayne; C. C. Gardner, Dutchess; James Perkins, Lima, Livingston; C. E. Martin, Mt. Morris, Livingston; G. G. Wanzer, Monroe; H. L. Achilles, Orleans; and S. M. Harman, Allegheny. The regimental organization was then completed by our election of Captain Chambers as lieutenant-colonel and Captain Bartlett as major. Our company was ordered to Elmira and mustered into the service of the United States with the regiment for two years from the 21st of May, 1861, and Colonel Slocum at once began regular instruction and drill. This was the 27th Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry, and we were Company G. We learned our camp duty and the drill quite easy, but were somewhat particular about our rations in those days, and on one occasion when the beef was a little too fresh and lively, the boys of Company E securely boxed their dinner allowance, formed a procession, to the tune of “The Rogues’ March,” to an improvised cemetery in the orchard, and after a moving funeral oration by Judge Albion W. Tourgee, then a private in the company, buried their beef with all the honors of war. General Slocum, who was absent from camp, heard of it on his return. Tourgee says: “Some very strong language was indulged in, and afterwards a very nice fellow—one of those genteel fellows with a gun—came to me. He was very polite to me, and stated that the colonel wanted to see me at his quarters. I didn’t want to be rude, so I went. The colonel was smoking, not very quietly, and was talking to himself quite emphatically. He asked me if I had anything to do with ‘that operation.’ I did not know exactly to what he referred, but finally admitted that I might have been there. Then he asked me if I did not know that my conduct was derogatory to good discipline and in defiance of authority, and that upon me rested the fate of the country. I had never looked upon it in that light, and remarked that I never knew that beef had any particular rank, and that I thought it ought to be confined. He gave me a kind lecture, for which I was very thankful, and afterwards I found him a kind commander.” Our drill, spiced with similar incidents, went on till about the 8th of July, when we started for the front. At Williamsport, Pa., we found a fine supper prepared, and the enthusiasm of the people and the eagerness of the ladies to serve us with every delicacy of the table are yet well remembered. We arrived in Washington on the 10th and were quartered on Franklin Square, where were just barracks enough for our regiment. Guard-mounting, drill, target practice, and dress parade kept us busy by day, while the study of tactics and Army Regulations was the chief occupation of some of us when off duty. 

Our regimental quartermaster had been a village hotelkeeper at Lima, whose business experience in other directions was limited. When I called on him for company books and blanks, he said he had tried to get them, but they were not to be had. In looking around the city I had been to the War Department, and again I called on General George D. Ruggles, then a captain in the Adjutant-General’s office, and told him what Lieutenant Hamilton.said. He replied that car-loads of such supplies were on hand, suggesting that if I would send a man from each company, he would send the regiment a full supply. I reported the matter to Colonel Slocum, and we were soon supplied with books and blanks.

We left Franklin Square at 2 p. m., Monday, July 15th, crossed Long Bridge into Virginia, bivouacking at midnight, after what then seemed to us a tremendous march, six and one-half miles east of Fairfax Court House, momentarily expecting to meet the enemy. Under Colonel Andrew Porter, as brigade commander, we pushed on at 7 a. m., July 16th, toward Fairfax Court House, finding our road obstructed by fallen trees, which we had to remove, so that we did not reach the enemy’s works at the Court House till noon, when we found their works deserted, took possession, and remained for the night. On the morning of July 17th we advanced about half a mile beyond the village toward Centerville, where we came upon abundant evidences of the hasty flight of the enemy, blankets, tents, and arms being found plentifully strewn around in the vicinity of our camp. At this place one of our boys, a very young and slender freshman, a good soldier, found and brought to me an ancient and curious saber; the sharply curved blade is finely tempered, the ebony grip is clasped in the middle by a band of silver enlarged on one side into an oval plate bearing an eagle supporting a shield, in his talons arrows and olive branch, all beneath a constellation of thirteen stars, the silver guard terminating in a finely engraved eagle’s head of the same precious metal. I carefully preserve it, and have endeavored in vain to learn its history.

From this place we moved at 3 p. m. to within three miles of Centerville, where I made use of a tent which fell into my hands at Fairfax, upon which was marked, “Major Cabell, C. S. A.” Two hours after midnight the long roll called us out in the rain, but no enemy appeared. We remained in this place until we advanced to the attack. Our division commander, Colonel David Hunter, having his carriage and headquarters under a tree just across the road, where we saw squads of prisoners occasionally brought in. Saturday, July 20th, we received three days’ rations, with orders to cook and take them in our haversacks, and be ready to move at 2 a. m., Sunday, July 21st. Saturday night was a warm, beautiful moonlight night, and as the boys lay grouped around, they speculated whether the enemy would not retreat as he had done from Fairfax Court House, and some expressed doubts of our ever getting sight of him. I said to them that, having some acquaintance with Southern people, my opinion was that our desire to meet them would be fully satisfied.

Our discussion was closed by the first notes of the opening performance of the famous Marine Band of Washington, which accompanied our brigade, and just on the eve of battle their exquisite music was listened to in silence, and when the band finally closed with the familiar and touching strains of “Home, Sweet Home,” the eloquent silence remained unbroken till Sunday morning, July 21st, at half past 1, when we quietly aroused the men from their dreams of home and friends which many of them would never realize. Our division was the flanking column, which was to turn the enemy’s left by way of Sudley Springs and Ford, our brigade being second in line, the order of march being Griffin’s Battery; Battalion of Marines, Major John J. Reynolds; Twenty-Seventh Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry, Colonel H. W. Slocum; Fourteenth New York State Militia, Colonel A. M. Wood; Eighth New York State Militia, Colonel George Lyons; Battalion Regular Infantry, Major George Sykes; one company Second Dragoons, two companies First Cavalry, four companies Second Cavalry, Major I. N. Palmer.

The road was obstructed by the troops en route to their position at the stone bridge, so that we did not cover the three miles to Centerville till 5, and it was nearly 7 when our brigade filed to the right at an old shop four miles beyond Centerville, and one-half mile beyond Cub Run Bridge on the Warrenton Turnpike, at which point the flanking movement really began. We followed an old abandoned road through the woods, which meandered somewhat near the general course of Bull Run, about two miles from it, till we came to Thornton’s, where our course changed to the southwest directly to Sudley’s Ford, which we reached about 10, having marched since 2 a. m., twelve and one-half miles only, though it seemed a great achievement at the time. Colonel A. E. Burnside’s brigade had crossed and were resting; we halted for rest and to fill our canteens before crossing Bull Run, and half an hour later, as the enemy was discovered, we crossed the ford while Burnside’s brigade was deploying. Our captain fell out exhausted as to the double quick we passed in rear of Burnside’s line, now hotly engaged, to take our place on his right. The shells of the Rebel artillery fell around us, damaging and demoralizing us slightly, the first casualty that I saw being the killing of two men of Major Sykes’ battalion by one shell. As we moved out across the open fields an incident occurred that I have a vivid recollection of, which was also witnessed by others, and which is so well recounted by Dr. W. H. Coe, now of Auburn, New York, that I will quote it from his letter to me:

“Auburn, N. Y., April 23, 1888

“General H. S. Hall:

“My dear Sir,—You will no doubt remember me as one of the original members of Company G, Twenty-seventh Regiment New York Volunteers, enlisted on Seminary Hill at Lima, April 23, 1861, nine days after the fall of Sumter. I was only a lad then, and was required to get the written consent of my parents allowing me to enlist. I attended a reunion of the Twenty-seventh at Mt. Morris last fall, at which only seven or eight of Company G were present. General Slocum was present, now slow in his motions, stocky in person, and getting white with age. I find on inquiry for this one or that one, that I am oftener answered ‘Dead’ than otherwise. I have been told that you went well up in the service after the Twenty-seventh boys came home, and that you left an arm down South. But I want to refer back to 1861, and our march from Centerville to Bull Run, and as we went on double quick across the fields in rear of the line of battle to take our place near the right of the line in such a position that we could see the hard fighting going on as we passed along, and knew that we were going into the same; then where was Captain Perkins? Poor man, he had tired out, and was not fit at his age to endure such marching; the company being led by First Lieutenant Phillips; then I well remember seeing lieutenant Phillips step back from the head of the company and say, ‘Lieutenant Hall, will you lead the company?’ ‘Yes, sir,’ said Lieutenant Hall, and immediately exchanged places with Lieutenant Phillips; and so Lieutenant Hall led the company through the first great battle of the war. I want your boys to understand this, and remember it as a bit of military history. You may have forgotten this item in the rush of changes of those days, but I distinctly remember it.”

The direction of our attack was nearly south along the Sudley and New Market Road, and as we advanced the enemy on the east of that road, under Bee, Bartow, and Evans, gallantly held their ground till our regiment was ordered to charge down the road upon their supports and turn their position by their left and rear.

Without halting, we rushed down the hill, driving infantry and artillery from their position near a stone house in the angle formed by the road we were on and the Warrenton Turnpike, and as they fell back to the heights across the turnpike we filed around the stone house facing to the rear of and advancing upon General Bee’s position, up the hill towards a grove of oak trees in which his.left was posted. At this moment the enemy, finding their left turned by us, retired by their right, and we saw them moving out of the grove parallel to our front, deliberately making signs, as if they were friends. Their colors were furled, and their gray uniforms did not sufficiently designate them, as many of our own troops wore the same color. We were yet lacking in discipline, so while some of us shouted, “Fire!” others yelled, “Don’t shoot; it is a Massachusetts regiment, or the Eighth New York.” Tall Bob Frazee at my elbow on the right of my company, with a voice like a fog-horn, shouted to them, “Show your colors,” when they shook out the Rebel flag and opened a terrific fire of musketry on us. That settled it, and gallantly and coolly directed by Colonel Slocum, Lieutenant-Colonel Chambers, and Major Bartlett, we gave them the best we had. Their batteries and reserves on our right rear across the Warrenton Pike joined in the fight, and when one company seemed somewhat nervous, Lieutenant-Colonel Chambers encouraged them by saying, “Ne-ne-ne-never mind a f-f-few shells, boys; G-G-G-God Almighty is m-m-merciful.” One lieutenant, with the large whites of his eyes showing like saucers, manfully stood his post and fired his revolver in the air. Riding up and down the rear of the regiment, the lieutenant-colonel continued his Scriptural injunctions, and noticing my company doing the most telling execution, said, “G-g-g-give it to ’em, b-b-boys; God l-l-loves a cheerful g-g-giver.” The troops that engaged us soon passed over Young’s Branch and across the Warrenton Turnpike out of sight near the Robinson house with their main line and batteries, and as our regiment was without support, Colonel Slocum withdrew it up the hill into the grove from which the troops we had encountered came, receiving a bullet through the leg while directing the movement. Major Bartlett then assumed command of the regiment, he says by order of Colonel Slocum, and gallantly commanded us during the remainder of the action. An ambulance was brought to the grove, the colonel was put in, and, accompanied by the lieutenant of the elevated revolver, started for Washington. We were next formed in line on the ridge from which we had charged down upon the enemy around the stone house, this time advancing to the assault of the enemy on the Henry House Hill, south of the Warrenton Pike. There had been very little concert of action in the earlier part of the battle, and there was still less now, seeming to be no simultaneous advance of lines, divisions, or brigades, regiments going in here and there singly and being repulsed one by one. We advanced to the turnpike for the second time, now to the west of Sudley Road, crossed it and Young’s Branch, and moved up to the assault just as Ellsworth’s Zouaves and other regiments gave way, when we were retired in good order under a heavy fire, in rear of the ridge from which we had set out. A large body of disorganized men had gathered there, and General McDowell, accompanied by Major Wadsworth of his staff, rode up to Major Bartlett, and the general said that our regiment was so steady and reliable that he desired us to move upon the crest of the ridge as the foundation of a new line, which should show a firm front until we were relieved, and I have always thought he added, “by General Patterson, who will soon be here.”

We obeyed the order, other troops forming on our right and left, and off to the west we could see columns of soldiers moving towards us, which I supposed to be the expected relief. Soon without any apparent cause the troops on our extreme right began to pass in our rear as if of a common impulse, neither did I hear any orders for the movement, and when it reached our regiment we went with the rest. There were no signs of fright or panic, but soon ambulances, wagons, aid artillery became intermingled with the infantry, and very little semblance of organization remained. I had urged the company to keep together, and succeeded in keeping about twenty with me. We followed a road that led to a ford near the stone bridge, and forded Bull Run in plain sight of that bridge, just as the enemy’s artillery opened on the throng of men and teams crossing it, breaking down a loaded wagon almost on the center of the bridge obstructing its passage. Many of the drivers and some of the troops were seized with panic, and some teams and men wildly took to the woods. The cry of “Black Horse Cavalry!” was raised, which added to the confusion. The artillery fire did very little damage, nor did any cavalry appear to me, though I looked carefully in all directions.

As our little party was making its way steadily along near the road, an ambulance dashed past us, at the rear of which we saw our captain hanging on for dear life with one hand, his long legs flying in the air as he ran in his desperate efforts to keep up, while with the other hand he held on his shoulder several officers’ sabers. We soon came up with him lying exhausted by the side of the road, when Bob Frazee and I took his sabers, and, supporting him on each side, helped him along till two mounted officers overtook us, when I appealed to them, saying, “Gentlemen, for God’s sake can’t you give our captain a lift; he is old and completely exhausted?” One of them said, “I will,” dismounted, and we lifted Captain Perkins into his saddle. I inquired his name, which I have forgotten, but think he was assistant surgeon of the 79th Regiment, New York State Militia. Some distance further on we again came up with the captain, when Captain Seymour Pierce, then our first sergeant, and Lieutenant J. E. Briggs, then sergeant, helped him along till they got him into a wagon which took him to Washington. Our quartermaster had gone out with his horse and buggy, and Captain Perkins was riding with him when the stampede began; before this some officers of the regiment had asked to have their swords carried in the buggy, so Captain Perkins had taken charge of them. When the shelling began and the cry of “Black Horse Cavalry!” was raised, the quartermaster took through the timber with his buggy, soon broke an axle, setting our captain afoot, his appearance clinging to the ambulance being the first we had seen of him since he dropped out near the Sudley Ford in the morning. We halted at Centerville soon after dark, and lying down on the ground, I soon fell asleep. When I awoke, the sun, shining full in my face, was over an hour high. Not a sound was to be heard, so stirring myself, rising and looking around where an army was bivouacked when I had lain down the night before, not a human being, friend or foe, was in sight, except Captain E. H. Brady, then one of my sergeants. Gathering up the swords that the captain had left with me, Brady and I did not stop to pay our bill, make our toilet, or order breakfast, but steadily advanced backwards in good order towards Fairfax Court House.

We were soon overtaken by two men of the Second Wisconsin Regiment, mounted double on a confiscated horse. Seeing my extra equipment of swords, one of the men kindly offered to carry one of them for me, and I gladly handed him the first one that came to hand without noticing which or whose it was. Unfortunately, I never could remember his name, and the sword never was restored to its owner, who proved to be Lieutenant Coan, to whom it had been presented by Albion, N. Y., friends, hence its loss by his voluntary abandonment of it to the care of another was quite mortifying to him. The others I brought into Washington and restored to their owners, who seemed to take it as a matter of course that some brother officer should load up with the side-arms that they had divested themselves of on the field of battle. I never constituted myself an armor-bearer to any of them thereafter.

At Fairfax Court House many teams and wagons were abandoned; public, regimental, and officers’ property strewed the ground on all sides, in the midst of which we saw a mounted officer, whom as we came nearer I recognized to be General James S. Wadsworth, of Geneseo, N. Y., then a major of militia, serving as volunteer, aide-de-camp to General McDowell. I approached him and said, “Sir, we belong to the Lima Volunteers, from your county; can we be of any service to you?” He replied that we could help him make a train of the abandoned wagons, by getting the soldiers that were occasionally coming in to hitch up and take charge of teams, which we did, and made up quite a train, which we took into Alexandria, sending the wagons to their proper regiments. When we left Fairfax Court House, it was fully 9 a. m. of July 22d, and there was as yet no sight or sound of pursuit by the enemy. General Wadsworth was still there without one single orderly, guard, or escort, engaged in his efforts to save property and to forward such soldiers as had been left behind. It was characteristic of the man, who with his great wealth, which he had used freely to send supplies into Washington at an earlier day, never availed himself of it to avoid service, but bore a gallant soldier’s part, did a soldier’s duty, and died a soldier’s death at the head of his division in the Wilderness. We went into Alexandria without further adventure, where several men of the 27th Regiment had made their way, whom I gathered together, drew rations for, and put them in temporary quarters, reporting to the regiment by telegraph, started for our camp on Franklin Square, Washington, at 4 p. m., and reached there with thirty-five men of the regiment at 7 p. m., July 23d.

The loss of our regiment at the battle of Bull Run, in killed, wounded, and missing was 130, 60 of whom were missing. Thirty-five returned to us from Libby Prison in January, 1862, among them seven belonging to my company. The fate of the other twenty-five missing men I never knew.

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The Regular Infantry in the First Bull Run Campaign – Dangerfield Parker

3 03 2010




UNITED SERVICE – Volume XIII (1885), pp. 521-531

The rays of the afternoon sun of the 16th of July, 1861, were brightly reflected from the rifle-barrels of a compact little battalion of infantry just about to move from camp at Arlington Heights, Virginia, and take its place in the heavy column already beginning the march toward Fairfax Court-House. The battalion consisted of Companies C and G, Second, B, D, G, H, Third, and G, Eighth United States Infantry, under the command of Major George Sykes, Fourteenth Infantry (afterward major-general of volunteers, and in command of the Fifth Corps), who had recently been promoted from captain Third Infantry. Captain N. H. Davis, Second Infantry (now inspector-general United States Army) was the acting major. There were but few of the remaining officers who had had much experience in the field, they being for the most part either fresh from West Point or civil life.

It is not my purpose in this article to attempt an elaborate description of the campaign ending in the disastrous battle of Bull Run, for this has been done by far abler hands, but rather to relate the part taken in it by the little force to which I had the honor to belong, together with such incidents as will be likely, I trust, to interest the general reader. In order, however, to render my narrative intelligible, it will be necessary, here and there, to describe with as light a touch as I may, such dispositions of troops, etc., as may be requisite to throw into relief the role performed by the actors in my little drama.

Five companies, only, of the Third Infantry had succeeded, a few weeks previously, in withdrawing from Texas (where they were stationed before the war), the remaining ones having been taken prisoners at Indianola by an overwhelming force of Confederates, and afterwards paroled. They rejoined the regiment the ensuing year. I afterwards heard some of the older officers say that when this was effected, the enlisted men of these paroled companies were reported “Present or accounted for,” though many received tempting offers of commissions in the Confederate service.

The battalion which we have just seen as about to commence its march (1) formed a portion of the First Brigade (Porter’s), Second Division (Hunter’s). The troops composing the remainder of this brigade were: a battalion of seven companies of regular cavalry, belonging to the First and Second Regiments, and Second Dragoons, under the command of Major (now General) Innis Palmer, a battalion of marines under Major Reynolds, the Eighth, Fourteenth, and Twenty-seventh New York Infantry, and Griffin’s battery of the Fifth United States Artillery.

Before proceeding with our narrative it will not be amiss, perhaps, to take a glance at the city of Washington as it then appeared. But for the handsome public buildings scattered here and there, the place presented all the characteristics of a southern town,—and a second-rate one at that,—and bore no resemblance to the beautiful city of to-day. The streets were wretchedly paved and lighted, and, in spots, an air of shabbiness—not to say dilapidation—prevailed.

The troops that since the “call” of the President had been pouring into the city were, in part, the organized militia of the different States, and, in part, volunteers. All having been mustered into the United States service, however, this distinction was but a technical one. The streets of the city fairly swarmed with these troops; mounted orderlies galloped hither and yon, the music of the bands of incoming regiments filled the air, the hotel corridors were filled with embryo brigadiers, and all was excitement, bustle, and seeming confusion. I remember, but a few brief weeks before the period of which I write, to have met daily, General (then major in the adjutant-general’s department) McDowell on his way to muster in the latest arrived battalions. He was always in the full dress of that day,—i.e., the soft felt hat with ostrich feathers, epaulets, and sash; and I recall the impression made upon me by his fine physique and soldierly appearance.

So far as I am informed, the First Bull Run campaign was the only one in which the troops represented—regulars, militia, and volunteers— preserved their distinctive names, and, to a certain extent, uniforms. The last-named feature gave to the columns rather a parti-colored, not to say variegated, appearance. I recall that the Fourteenth New York, for instance (familiarly known as the Fourteenth Brooklyn), wore a semi-zouave uniform. The Twelfth New York Volunteers wore the full-dress hat of the regular infantry. There were a few regiments uniformed in gray,—Wisconsin and Minnesota troops,—and this fact gave rise during the battle to the report that one or more of these organizations were fired upon by our own men. I am under the impression also that some of the companies wore the old-fashioned “swallow-tail.”

But to resume. The march to Centreville was necessarily a tedious one. The troops were, as a body, raw, and almost all of them inexperienced in field service. So far as drill was concerned, most of them had some knowledge of company and battalion movements. But in regard to marching, target-practice, and the thousand and one details of practical soldiering, they were utterly, and necessarily so, uninstructed. The regular troops had quite a number of old soldiers in their ranks, with the usual sprinkling of recruits. The paucity of their numbers—so far, at least, as the cavalry and infantry were concerned— prevented their being an important factor in the attack, but it was far otherwise, as we shall see, in the retreat.

Leaving out the element of inexperience—or rawness, if you will— of the volunteer troops engaged in this campaign, I have always been of the opinion that they were an exceptionally fine body of men, and that their conduct on the field of battle was, under the circumstances in which they were placed, all that could possibly be expected of them. They only did, indeed, what veteran troops had done, upon occasion, in similar cases from time immemorial.

Of the battalion of marines, consisting of about three hundred and fifty, rank and file, all, excepting about a dozen non-commissioned officers, were raw recruits; and of the commissioned officers there were comparatively few of experience. Their veteran major (Reynolds), being keenly alive to this fact, let no opportunity slip of endeavoring to get them into shape, and the novel spectacle of battalion drills by moonlight, after a tedious day’s march, was presented several times, much to the interest and amusement of our men. The good result of this, however, was satisfactorily demonstrated on the field of battle.

The march of the 16th was necessarily a short one, the evening of the 17th finding us in the vicinity of Fairfax Court-House. During this day’s march—a hot and dusty one, I remember—a private belonging to some organization ahead of us passed us at “double-quick” on his way to the front. I have never forgotten his appearance. Like many another commencing his campaign experience, he had prepared for the march by literally packing himself, and beside the regulation knapsack, haversack, canteen, blanket, and rifle, he appeared to carry an assorted cargo of “a little of everything.” As he passed us with pots rattling, etc., he turned a jolly red face toward the column and exclaimed, “Lord, Jee! I wisht I was a mule!” The roar of laughter that followed seemed greatly to refresh and speed him on his way.

The close of the day’s march on the 18th found us in bivouac near Centreville. I cannot now recall whether it was during that night, or that of the 19th, that the following incident occurred: As a distinguished general officer, describing the rout of the Eleventh Corps at Chancellorsville, said, “somebody fired a gun” (but not the enemy, who was some distance away), and straightway such a fusilade across our camp began—apparently from every direction—that we were fain to look about for any shelter that might present itself. One of the officers’ “strikers” who was leisurely crossing the camp-ground, apparently oblivious to the fact that anything unusual was going on, had his march suddenly arrested by Captain D , who shouted “Lie down, you d— fool!”—which he proceeded to do instanter. He had been taught to obey orders, but not to avoid friendly bullets in an enemy’s country. It was one of the hottest fires I ever experienced.

While here, also, we witnessed a scene novel to most of us, and probably the last of its kind that took place in our army. It was the punishment, by whipping, of two deserters. Before the war this was the penalty prescribed for desertion in time of peace, and these criminals had committed the act some time previously. The battalion was drawn up in square, the punishment taking place within it. I will not enlarge on this scene further than to say it was a very painful one. A young officer, who displayed conspicuous gallantry in action a couple of days thereafter, fainted in ranks. One of the volunteers inquired of an officer of the Third, “If I, too, should desert, would I receive such punishment?” He was answered, “No, you would be shot!” But he did not seem to think this would be an improvement.

Having previously had many associations with the navy, I had a personal acquaintance with several of the older officers of the battalion of marines, from whom I received numerous invitations to meals, which, as they lived very well, to say nothing of their genial manners and hearty hospitality, I was very glad to accept. No one had tents, of course, but in some mysterious way they had been able to carry along tables. Though we dined and supped, therefore, alfresco, these appliances of civilization—with the addition of real tumblers, etc.— were most acceptable. I remember that at Centreville, after supper one evening, having permission to be absent from our own tattoo, I remained to hear the half-score or so of little marine drummers and fifers “sound off” that call. The field music of the corps used to be (and I presume still is) excellent, and during the two or three days we were at Centreville the performance of tattoo attracted crowds of volunteers, who evinced their appreciation of the music by loud clapping of hands, etc.

Major (afterwards General) George Sykes was an officer for whom I have always had an ardent admiration. He was a born soldier, and displayed conspicuous ability in every position in which he was placed. He possessed in a high degree that union of soldierly qualities that, while holding his men well in hand and under perfect control, enabled him to effect some decisive stroke with the least possible damage to his command. Thus his troops were in course of the war frequently called upon to enact upon the field of battle a dual or triple role,—to assist in opening the engagement, then to be withdrawn to the reserve, and finally (as at both Bull Runs, first and second) to make the final charge of the day. His troops seemed imbued with something of the order of his own daily life and demeanor, influenced by the same regularity and discipline, of which the ever-buttoned coat and spotless white glove were the outward symbols. As a man, he was upright and chivalrous; as a companion, courteous and—to his intimates—genial.


Day had not yet broken on the morning of July 21,1861, when our little force was paraded in readiness for the march to the battle-field; but, owing to the tardy march of troops in front, our division did not reach Centreville, about a mile distant, until after four o’clock, and it was some time after sunrise before we crossed Cub Run, on the Warrenton turnpike, and turned to the right on the “wood road” leading to Sudley Ford, with the “objective” of turning the Confederate left. This delay in the movement of the column in our front was particularly unfortunate, as the result proved, as this circumstance, coupled with the fact that the distance to be traversed was greater than the general-in-chief was led to expect, and the impossibility of concealing the movement of so large a column on a dusty road not especially favored topographically for this purpose, turned what had been intended as a “manoeuvre-march” into a simple “manoeuvre.” It will be remembered that McDowell’s original plan was to attempt to turn the Confederate right, and that this was abandoned for the reasons, as he himself says in his official report, that, upon examination, the roads on that flank ” were too narrow and crooked for so large a body to move over, and the distance around too great to admit of it with any safety.” Further, that the affair at Blackburn’s Ford, on the 18th, showed the enemy was too strong there to admit of forcing a passage without great loss, and if successful “would bring us in front of his strong position at Manassas, which was not desired.” And again, it has been stated that a demonstration in any direction was delayed by the non-arrival of subsistence stores (rations), which did not arrive until the night of the 19th and were distributed on the 20th.

The weather was extremely hot, and although the wood through which we now marched furnished here and there some protection from the fierce rays of the sun, yet its very denseness shut out the breeze and made the heat almost intolerable. The Second Brigade (Burnside’s) slowly preceded us under these circumstances, and it must have been fully ten o’clock before we arrived in the vicinity of Sudley Ford, probably eight or nine miles from our point of departure on the Warrenton turnpike. Turning south we speedily saw the smoke from the fire of the troops on the Confederate left, resting at that time on the Sudley road and the high ground north of the valley of Young’s Branch. The troops engaged were afterwards understood to be South Carolina and Louisiana regiments under General Evans, and opposed to them was Burnside’s second brigade of our division, which “opened the ball.” Just at this time an order reached Sykes to bring his battalion forward in support of Burnside. Before doing so he made us a short address. It was to the point, and gave us to understand that there would probably be some work for us to do. Shortly before this time, also, the first soldier I ever saw wounded in action passed us,—a cavalryman shot in the sword arm. The Sudley and Newmarket road, by which the column was now marching, was thickly wooded between the command and the creek (Bull Run) for a distance of about a mile, and then the country becomes more open on both sides of the road, gradually clearing into a series of undulating or rolling fields extending as far as the Warrenton turnpike, distant from the ford about two miles. Young’s Branch crosses the turnpike near the intersection of the two roads named, and it was in the more or less open space in this vicinity that the battle raged the fiercest.

We moved along at double time until, striking the open space referred to, we formed line, and swinging forward our left, charged through a belt of timber, taking several prisoners. Just previously we passed Rickett’s splendid battery, belonging to Franklin’s brigade of the Third (Heintzleman’s) Division. It was drawn to one side to allow us to pass, (2) and poor “Dang” Ramsay attracted our attention by waving his cap which he had placed on his sheathed sabre. He was killed shortly after this.

It was upon emerging from this wood, as I remember, that the battalion found itself opposite a masked battery posted near a house in the vicinity of the junction of the Warrenton turnpike and the Sudley road, and supported by an infantry force in position among the trees around it. The three left companies of the battalion were deployed as skirmishers under Captain Dodge, Eighth Infantry (now colonel Eleventh Infantry), and gallantly advancing to the attack were soon hotly engaged. The remainder of the battalion advanced across an open plain, the right skirting a belt of heavy timber. Having arrived at the apex of the angle formed by the southern limit of this wood with its eastern side, we changed direction to the right, and wheeling into line took up position to support the Rhode Island battery. This battery was served and handled with marked gallantry.

The troops on the Confederate left at this time consisted, as afterward appeared, of Evans’s demi-brigade, supported by Bee’s brigade posted near the historic Henry house, and afterward further strengthened, when the Confederate left fell back, by Hampton’s Legion and other troops.

By some Confederate writers the “turning column” has been estimated as about eighteen thousand strong. The official returns for July 16 and 17 give the total strength of the Second and Third Divisions as twelve thousand four hundred and twenty-five, from which it is to be presumed that on the day of the battle the usual number of non-effectives (the sick, etc.) must be deducted, as well as one entire regiment of the Third Division (the Fourth Michigan) not engaged.

The position of affairs on our right at this time was about as follows:

The Second Division (Hunter’s) hotly engaged; the Second (Burnside’s) Brigade on the right; the Third (Heintzleman’s) Division rapidly taking position on our left. The Rhode Island battery, which was the first one in position, was on the right, the two boat-howitzers attached to the Seventy-first New York Regiment on its left. A few hundred yards to the left, at intervals, Griffin’s and Rickett’s batteries were posted in the order named. Arnold’s battery came into action a little later, and was posted on the left centre. From the position, of affairs, the brunt of the fighting was sustained, so far as artillery was concerned, by these batteries, and nobly they did their work. They were superbly handled.

Griffin’s battery was supported by the marines, and Rickett’s by the Fire Zouaves (Eleventh New York), with the Fourteenth New York as a reserve support.

The battalion of regular cavalry—all there was of this arm in the column—was posted slightly in rear of the extreme right. History recounts the distinguished part played by this little force—seven companies—both in the action and in assisting to cover the retreat.

The First Division (Tyler’s) was posted as follows: Richardson’s brigade at Blackburn’s Ford, the other three (Sherman’s, Schenck’s, and Keyes’s) at or near the Stone Bridge. The Fifth Division (Miles’s) was held in reserve, and at no time engaged, except in slight skirmishing on the retreat. The Fourth Division (Runyon’s) was several miles to the rear.

It was originally intended, I believe, that the Third Division should turn off to the left, by a road supposed to be about midway between the Warrenton turnpike and Sudley Ford; but as such a road did not exist, this division followed the Second to the ford. This suppositious road was to lead to an equally suppositious ford east of Sudley’s.

After a stout resistance the Confederate left gave way, and was pressed back with such energy as speedily to throw it into confusion.

Meanwhile, Sherman’s and Keyes’s brigades having, accidentally as it appeared, discovered a ford on the run above the Stone Bridge, advanced and took an active part in the conflict.

The engagement now became general along the line. Griffin’s and Rickett’s batteries were brought farther to the front. The arrival of Jackson’s command, and of some of the fresh troops of the Army of the Shenandoah just arrived, enabled the Confederates to rally their shattered battalions, and by taking the offensive in turn, to pierce our centre and recover some of their lost ground.

It was now after two o’clock. Our right, though checked, was readily rallied and put in order for another forward movement. The delay required to effect this probably enabled the Confederates to have at hand, an hour later, Elzey’s brigade and the other fresh troops, now rapidly advancing from Manassas Station. Our line again advanced, and recovered the plateau upon which were situated the Henry and Robinson houses, but was again repulsed, with the loss of nearly the whole of Griffin’s and Rickett’s batteries, the intrepid cannoneers being mostly shot down at their guns, while their supports fell back in disorder. The strong flanking position held by us on the right, however, enabled us still to hold our grip there, until the troops on our left were relieved and put in order for what was to be the final charge of the day on our part.

Up to this time, I believe it to be generally conceded that the fortunes of the day were in our favor. Even with the last advantage gained by the Confederates, we still retained our hold on the right so tenaciously as to enable us to reform a line of battle, presenting a firm and bold front. But the accession of fresh troops to the Confederate ranks afforded them the means of renewing the offensive so energetically that the result was inevitable. Moving around our right, under cover of the woods there, our flank began to yield, and before an advance of the whole Confederate line our men at length gave way, and in a twinkle were seized with a panic that, beginning in a retreat, degenerated into a rout.

Our battalion, which had remained under a hot fire for over an hour in support of the Rhode Island battery,—many of our men assisting in working it,—gradually worked its way farther to the right, the necessity for its longer stay in support of the battery having ceased, as the fiercest fighting was now developing in that direction. The line on this flank had extended somewhat in the manoeuvre for position.

Sykes now received an order to advance and cover the retreat of the troops in this part of the field. Shortly after getting in motion our little force was joined by a small detachment of what I now believe to have been Minnesota troops. They evidently must have been “spoiling for a fight,” at any rate, and had just left friends not so anxious for another round or two as they were. These men (uniformed, singularly enough, in gray) fell in on our left, and gallantly advanced to the front with us, and remained until we were ordered to form square. I then lost sight of them.

Though the number of troops engaged in this movement was insignificant, I have often thought that the order and regularity in which the men marched, and their gallant and determined bearing, must have excited the surprise, if not admiration, of our foe in the light of the events that preceded.

All was lost! The whole field, so far as the eye could reach, was covered with panic-stricken and flying men. The battalion advanced to the hill opposite, one upon which a house stood (probably Chinn’s, to the right and rear of the Henry house), where, being threatened with cavalry, it formed square. It remained in that position until, all of our men having fallen back, it was withdrawn in line-of-battle, suffering meanwhile severely from the fire of a section of artillery which was particularly attentive so long as it had a knowledge of our whereabouts. Being, on its march, still threatened by cavalry, the battalion, upon reaching the crest of another hill, faced about, opened fire, and held them in check. By this time the guns of the Confederates seemed from every height to converge their fire upon us, but by avoiding the road, the dust raised by the little column was so inconsiderable that our march was masked, and we were thus enabled to reach Centreville without further loss.

The reports of the different military commanders, as well as the accounts given by historians, agree in warmly praising the conduct of the regular infantry in this action. General McDowell says, “The battalion of regular infantry alone moved up the hill opposite to the one with the house, and there maintained itself until our men could get down to and across the Warrenton turnpike,” etc. General Barnard, the Compte de Paris, Swinton, and General Beauregard mention the conduct of the battalion in substantially the same terms.

The loss to the battalion, considering the small number engaged, was heavy, aggregating (killed, wounded, and missing) eighty-three. Lieutenant William Dickinson (now captain retired), acting adjutant of the battalion of the Third Infantry, was wounded and taken prisoner, as was also Lieutenant (now major Fourth Infantry) Jacob F. Kent.

I recall—the outcome of my inexperience—that in passing through these woods, I turned to Sykes and asked, “What do you make of this, major?” “Looks very much like a rout, lieutenant!” he replied, in the dry and somewhat nasal tone habitual to him.

Truly there is scarcely a step from the sublime to the ridiculous. I never think now of this incident without amusement: when the battalion formed square, as has been related, one of our friends in gray— apparently about six and a half feet high and slim in proportion— jumped up in the air and exclaimed frantically, “They’re trying to flank us! they’re trying to flank us!” His manner was so excited, and his appearance so outre (I think he wore a shako, which had slipped to the back of his head) that, if I had not been in a slightly mixed state of mind myself, I think I should have laughed outright. As it was, he made such a row that I felt strongly inclined to use some strong language. But all the same, he was a gallant fellow.

As we marched through Centreville we met the Fifth Division drawn up and seemingly in perfect order. I recollect that one regiment was singing “John Brown’s body.”

The fatigue of that terrible march, the gloom that settled like a pall upon the participants, can never be forgotten by them. General Sykes says in his official report, “Our officers and men were on their feet from 10 P.M. on the 20th until 10 A.M. on the 22d.” I must have fallen asleep (3) while marching, for I found myself with a strange regiment (I think the Twelfth New York Volunteers) when day broke. My command had halted for a short rest at Fairfax Court-House, and soon overtook me, after I had “fallen out” upon discovering my mistake.

The sun was high in the heavens when our worn-out officers and men reached camp at Arlington Heights, and after breaking ranks,— for the battalion had come “all the way through” in perfect order,— just threw their exhausted bodies down in the nearest shade that could be found.

Although, after the final charge of the Confederates on our right, with its attendant circumstances, there was no doubt in the mind of our leaders as to the final result, it would appear that the Confederate commanders were not at first prepared to decide upon the character of the reverse. So far as the disaster on our right, with its attendant circumstances, was concerned, there could be but one opinion. But was it a bona fide rout? It was, unquestionably. But were the Confederate leaders sure of it at first? We had heavy columns—of which fact they were doubtless aware—in reserve, as has been seen. The hardest part of the fighting had been done by the “turning column” and Keyes’s and Sherman’s brigades of Tyler’s division. Mr. Jefferson Davis writes to General Beauregard, under date of August 4, 1861, “You will not fail to remember that, so far from knowing that the enemy was routed, a large part of our forces was moved by you in the night of the 21st to repel a supposed attack upon our right, and the next day’s operations did not fully reveal what has since been reported of the enemy’s panic.”

So far as an advance upon Washington was concerned, it seems to have formed no part of the plan of the Confederate general-in-chief, nor of Mr. Davis,—at any rate at that time,—and this for what appear to have been good strategical reasons. Indeed, General Johnston makes a statement to that effect. He says, in his official report of the battle, “The apparent firmness of the United States troops at Centreville, who had not been engaged, which checked our pursuit; the strong forces occupying the works near Georgetown, Arlington, and Alexandria; the certainty, too, that General Patterson, if needed, would reach Washington with his army of thirty thousand men sooner than we could, and the condition and inadequate means of the army in ammunition, provisions, and transportation, prevented any serious thoughts of advancing against the capital.”

As to the numbers engaged on both sides, the official returns of the troops composing General McDowell’s army reported an aggregate of thirty-five thousand seven hundred and thirty-two. Of these about eighteen thousand—or let us say, at the outside, twenty thousand— were actively engaged. The Confederate field-return of the First Corps (Army of the Potomac) reports an aggregate of twenty-one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and the number actually engaged as nine thousand nine hundred and seventy-seven; but the return of casualties shows losses in organizations not embraced in this return. Of the Army of the Shenandoah engaged, General Beauregard reports the number as eight thousand three hundred and thirty-four. The reader can draw his own inference.

A few days after the battalion of regular infantry was re-established in camp, President Lincoln, accompanied by General McDowell, came over to review it. In their passage down the line they drew rein in front of the colors, when the general, turning to Mr. Lincoln, said, “Mr. President, these are the men who saved your army at Bull Run,”—doubtless an extravagant compliment. The President, looking keenly up and down the line, replied, “I’ve heard of them.”

This was all; but it made a powerful impression upon all present, as it more than compensated for the effect of the injurious reports rife in Washington upon our arrival there after the battle, viz., that “the regulars had run.”


(1) This force was characterized by General Beauregard in his article in the November (1884) number of the Century as “a small but incomparable body of regular infantry.”

(2) If I remember correctly, it was this battery that was drawn by West Point horses.

(3) I believe this is not a very uncommon circumstance. I had done the same thing once before (in the “Patterson Campaign”) on the return march from Hagerstown to Williamsport.

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Virginia Scenes in ’61 – Constance Cary Harrison

2 03 2010



BATTLES AND LEADERS OF THE CIVIL WAR – Volume I: From Sumter to Shiloh, pp. 160-166

The only association I have with my old home in Virginia that is not one of unmixed happiness relates to the time immediately succeeding the execution of John Brown at Harper’s Ferry. Our homestead was in Fairfax County, at some distance from the theater of that tragic episode; and, belonging as we did to a family among the first in the State to manumit slaves,—our grandfather having set free those that came to him by inheritance, and the people who served us being hired from their owners and remaining in our employ through years of kindliest relations,— there seemed to be no especial reason for us to share in the apprehension of an uprising of the blacks. But there was the fear — unspoken, or pooh-poohed at by the men who were mouth-pieces for our community—dark, boding, oppressive, and altogether hateful. I can remember taking it to bed with me at night, and awaking suddenly oftentimes to confront it through a vigil of nervous terror, of which it never occurred to me to speak to any one. The notes of whip-poor-wills in the sweet-gum swamp near the stable, the mutterings of a distant thunder-storm, even the rustle of the night wind in the oaks that shaded my window, filled me with nameless dread. In the daytime it seemed impossible to associate suspicion with those familiar tawny or sable faces that surrounded us. “We had seen them for so many years smiling or saddening with the family joys or sorrows; they were so guileless, so patient, so satisfied. What subtle influence was at work that should transform them into tigers thirsting for our blood? The idea was preposterous. But when evening came again, and with it the hour when the colored people (who in summer and autumn weather kept astir half the night) assembled themselves together for dance or prayer-meeting, the ghost that refused to be laid was again at one’s elbow. Rusty bolts were drawn and rusty fire-arms loaded. A watch was set where never before had eye or ear been lent to such a service. In short, peace had flown from the borders of Virginia.

Although the newspapers were full of secession talk and the matter was eagerly discussed at our tables, I cannot remember that, as late as Christmastime of the year 1860, coming events had cast any definite shadow on our homes. The people in our neighborhood, of one opinion with their dear and honored friend, Colonel Robert E. Lee, of Arlington, were slow to accept the startling suggestion of disruption of the Union. At any rate, we enjoyed the usual holiday gathering of kinsfolk in the usual fashion. The old Vaucluse house, known for many years past as a center of cheerful hospitality in the county, threw wide open its doors to receive all the members who could be gathered there of a large family circle. The woods about were despoiled of holly and spruce, pine and cedar, to deck the walls and wreathe the picture-frames. On Christmas Eve we had a grand rally of youths and boys belonging to the “clan,” as they loved to call it, to roll in a yule log, which was deposited upon a glowing bed of coals in the big “red-parlor” fire-place, and sit about it after-ward, welcoming the Christmas in with goblets of egg-nog and apple-toddy.

“Where shall we be a year hence?” some one asked at a pause in the merry chat; and, in the brief silence that followed, arose a sudden spectral thought of war. All felt its presence; no one cared to speak first of its grim possibilities.

On Christmas Eve of the following year the old house lay in ruins, a sacrifice by Union troops to military necessity; the forest giants that kept watch around her walls had been cut down and made to serve as breastworks for a fort erected on the Vaucluse property as part of the defenses of Washington. Of the young men and boys who took part in that holiday festivity, all were in the active service of the South,— one of them, alas! soon to fall under a rain of shot and shell beside his gun at Fredericksburg; the youngest of the number had left his mother’s knee to fight at Manassas, and found himself, before the year was out, a midshipman aboard the Confederate steamer Nashville, on her cruise in distant seas!

My first vivid impression of war-days was during a ramble in the neighboring woods one Sunday afternoon in spring, when the young people in a happy band set out in search of wild flowers. Pink honeysuckles, blue lupine, beds of fairy flax, anemones, and ferns in abundance sprung under the canopy of young leaves on the forest boughs, and the air was full of the song of birds and the music of running waters. We knew every mossy path far and near in those woods; every tree had been watched and cherished by those who went before us, and dearer than any other spot on earth was our tranquil, sweet Vaucluse. Suddenly the shrill whistle of a locomotive struck the ear, an unwonted sound on Sunday. “Do you know what that means?” said one of the older cousins who accompanied the party. “It is the special train carrying Alexandria volunteers to Manassas, and to-morrow I shall follow with my company.” Silence fell upon our little band. A cloud seemed to come between us and the sun. It was the beginning of the end too soon to come.

The story of one broken circle is the story of another at the outset of such a war. Before the week was over, the scattering of our household, which no one then believed to be more than temporary, had begun. Living as we did upon ground likely to be in the track of armies gathering to confront each other, it was deemed advisable to send the children and young girls into a place more remote from chances of danger. Some weeks later the heads of the household, two widowed sisters whose sons were at Manassas, drove away from their home in their carriage at early morning, having spent the previous night in company with a half-grown lad digging in the cellar hasty graves for the interment of two boxes of old English silver-ware, heirlooms in the family, for which there was no time to provide otherwise. Although the enemy were long encamped immediately above it after the house was burnt the following year, this silver was found there when the war had ended; it was lying loose in the earth, the boxes having rotted away.

The point at which our family reunited within the Confederate lines was Bristoe, the station next beyond Manassas, a cheerless railway inn; a part of the premises was used as a country grocery store; and there quarters were secured for us with a view to being near the army. By this time all our kith and kin of fighting age had joined the volunteers. One cannot picture accommodations more forlorn than these eagerly taken for us and for other families attracted to Bristoe by the same powerful magnet. The summer sun poured its burning rays upon whitewashed walls unshaded by a tree. Our bedrooms were almost uninhabitable by day or night, our fare the plainest. From the windows we beheld only a flat, uncultivated country, crossed by red-clay roads, then ankle-deep in dust. We learned to look for all excitement to the glittering lines of railway track, along which continually thundered trains bound to and from the front. It was impossible to allow such a train to pass without running out upon the platform to salute it, for in this way we greeted many an old friend or relative buttoned up in the smart gray uniform, speeding with high hope to the scene of coming conflict. Such shouts as went up from sturdy throats while we stood waving hands, handkerchiefs, or the rough woolen garments we were at work upon!  Then fairly awoke the spirit that made of Southern women the inspiration of Southern men throughout the war. Most of the young fellows we knew and were cheering onward wore the uniform of privates, and for the right to wear it had left homes of ease and luxury. To such we gave our best homage; and from that time forth the youth who was lukewarm in the cause or unambitious of military glory fared uncomfortably in the presence of the average Confederate maiden.

Thanks to our own carriage, we were able during those rallying days of June to drive frequently to visit “the boys” in camp, timing the expeditions to include battalion drill and dress parade, and taking tea afterward in the different tents. Then were the gala days of war, and our proud hosts hastened to produce home dainties dispatched from the far-away plantations— tears and blessings interspersed amid the packing, we were sure; though I have seen a pretty girl persist in declining other fare, to make her meal upon raw biscuit and huckleberry pie compounded by the bright-eyed amateur cook of a well-beloved mess. Feminine heroism could no farther go.

And so the days wore on until the 17th of July, when a rumor from the front sent an electric shock through our circle. The enemy were moving forward! On the morning of the 18th those who had been able to sleep at all awoke early to listen for the first guns of the engagement of Blackburn’s Ford. Deserted as the women at Bristoe were by every male creature old enough to gather news, there was, for us, no way of knowing the progress of events during the long, long day of waiting, of watching, of weeping, of praying, of rushing out upon the railway track to walk as far as we dared in the direction whence came that intolerable booming of artillery. The cloud of dun smoke arising over Manassas became heavier in volume as the day progressed. Still, not a word of tidings, till toward afternoon there came limping up a single, very dirty, soldier with his arm in a sling. What a heaven-send he was, if only as an escape-valve for our pent-up sympathies! We seized him, we washed him, we cried over him, we glorified him until the man was fairly bewildered. Our best endeavors could only develop a pin-scratch of a wound on his right hand; but when our hero had laid in a substantial meal of bread and meat, we plied him with trembling questions, each asking news of some staff or regiment or company. It has since occurred to me that he was a humorist in disguise. His invariable reply, as he looked from one to the other of his satellites, was: “The —-Virginia, marm?  Why, of coase. They warn’t no two ways o’ thinkin’ ’bout that ar reg’ment. They just kivered tharselves with glory!”

A little later two wagonloads of slightly wounded claimed our care, and with them came authentic news of the day. Most of us received notes on paper torn from a soldier’s pocket-book and grimed with gunpowder, containing assurance of the safety of our own. At nightfall a train carrying more wounded to the hospitals at Culpeper made a halt at Bristoe; and, preceded by men holding lanterns, we went in among the stretchers with milk, food, and water to the sufferers. One of the first discoveries I made, bending over in that fitful light, was a young officer whom I knew to be a special object of solicitude with one of my comrades in the search; but he was badly hurt, and neither he nor she knew the other was near until the train had moved on. The next day, and the next, were full of burning excitement over the impending general engagement, which people then said would decide the fate of the young Confederacy. Fresh troops came by with every train, and we lived only to turn from one scene to another of welcome and farewell. On Saturday evening arrived a message from General Beauregard, saying that early on Sunday an engine and car would be put at our disposal, to take us to some point more remote from danger. We looked at one another, and, tacitly agreeing the gallant general had sent not an order but a suggestion, declined his kind proposal.

Another unspeakably long day, full of the straining anguish of suspense. Dawning bright and fair, it closed under a sky darkened by cannon-smoke. The roar of guns seemed never to cease. First, a long sullen boom; then a sharper rattling fire, painfully distinct; then stragglers from the field, with varying rumors; at last, the news of victory; and, as before, the wounded, to force our numbed faculties into service. One of our group, the mother of an only son barely fifteen years of age, heard that her boy, after being in action all the early part of the day, had through sheer fatigue fallen asleep upon the ground, where he was found resting peacefully amidst the roar of the guns.

A few days later we rode over the field. The trampled grass had begun to spring again, and wild flowers were blooming around carelessly made graves. From one of these imperfect mounds of clay I saw a hand extended; and when, years afterward, I visited the tomb of Rousseau beneath the Pantheon in Paris, where a sculptured hand bearing a torch protrudes from the sarcophagus, I thought of that mournful spectacle upon the field of Manassas. Fences were everywhere thrown down; the undergrowth of the woods was riddled with shot; here and there we came upon spiked guns, disabled gun-carriages, cannon-balls, blood-stained blankets, and dead horses. We were glad enough to turn away and gallop homeward.

With August heats and lack of water, Bristoe was forsaken for quarters near Culpeper, where my mother went into the soldiers’ barracks, sharing soldiers’ accommodations, to nurse the wounded. In September quite a party of us, upon invitation, visited the different headquarters. We stopped overnight at Manassas, five ladies, sleeping upon a couch made of rolls of cartridge-flannel, in a tent guarded by a faithful sentry. I remember the comical effect of the five bird-cages (of a kind without which no self-respecting young woman of that day would present herself in public) suspended upon a line running across the upper part of our tent, after we had reluctantly removed them in order to adjust ourselves for repose. Our progress during that memorable visit was royal; an ambulance with a picked troop of cavalrymen had been placed at our service, and the convoy was “personally conducted” by a pleasing variety of distinguished officers. It was at this time, after a supper at the headquarters of the “Maryland line” at Fairfax, that the afterward universal war-song, “My Maryland !” was put afloat upon the tide of army favor. We were sitting outside a tent in the warm starlight of an early autumn night, when music was proposed. At once we struck up Randall’s verses to the tune of the old college song, “Lauriger Horatius,”—a young lady of the party, Jennie Gary, of Baltimore, having recently set them to this music before leaving home to share the fortunes of the Confederacy. All joined in the ringing chorus; and, when we finished, a burst of applause came from some soldiers listening in the darkness behind a belt of trees. Next day the melody was hummed far and near through the camps, and in due time it had gained the place of favorite song in the army. Other songs sung that evening, which afterward had a great vogue, were one beginning “By blue Patapsco’s billowy dash,” and “The years glide slowly by, Lorena.”

Another incident of note, during the autumn of ’61, was that to my cousins, Hetty and Jennie Cary, and to me was intrusted the making of the first three battle-flags of the Confederacy. They were jaunty squares of scarlet crossed with dark blue edged with white, the cross bearing stars to indicate the number of the seceded States. We set our best stitches upon them, edged them with golden fringes, and, when they were finished, dispatched one to Johnston, another to Beauregard, and the third to Earl Van Dorn, then commanding infantry at Manassas. The banners we’re received with all possible enthusiasm; were toasted, feted, and cheered abundantly. After two years, when Van Dorn had been killed in Tennessee, mine came back to me, tattered and storm-stained from long and honorable service in the field. But it was only a little while after it had been bestowed that there arrived one day at our lodgings in Culpeper a huge, bashful Mississippi scout,—one of the most daring in the army,—with the frame of a Hercules and the face of a child. He had been bidden to come there by his general, he said, to ask, if I would not give him an order to fetch some cherished object from my dear old home—something that would prove to me “how much they thought of the maker of that flag!” A week later I was the astonished recipient of a lamented bit of finery left “within the lines,”a wrap, brought to us by Dillon himself, with a beaming face. Mounted on a load of fire-wood, he had gone through the Union pickets, and while peddling poultry had presented himself at the house of my uncle, Dr. Fairfax, in Alexandria, whence he earned off his prize in triumph, with a letter in its folds telling us how relatives left behind longed to be sharing the joys and sorrows of those at large in the Confederacy.

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The Confederate Commissariat at Manassas – L. B. Northrup

2 03 2010



BATTLES AND LEADERS OF THE CIVIL WAR – Volume I: From Sumter to Shiloh, p. 261

Generals Beauregard, Imboden, and Johnston in the foregoing articles [see pages 221, 239, and 250] criticise the management of my department in the matter of supplies for the Confederate army at Manassas either before or after the first battle. In the statements of these generals, there is some conflict, but they all concur in making me appear a preposterous imbecile, whom Mr. Davis was guilty of retaining. General Imboden in effect charges Mr. Benjamin with suppressing, in order to shield my incapacity, an official report of a board of officers convened by Johnston.

July 29th, 1861, General Beauregard wrote to his aides, Colonels Chesnut and Miles,—the latter read the letter in the Confederate Congress,— about his vision of capturing Washington, and thus laid the foundation of the cabal against Mr. Davis which made the Confederate Government a ”divided house.” It produced a resolution of inquiry, followed soon by a standing committee, and afterward, in January, 1865, by a unanimous resolution, in secret session of both houses, to appoint a joint select committee to investigate the condition and management of all the Bureaux of the War Department. The session of this committee on commissary affairs was held January 23d, 1865. During the war the investigations of the standing committee into my policy and methods were frequent; several were long taking testimony, for one member, H. S. Foote,—who when I was myself in prison published me as cruel to Federal prisoners,—was ever zealous to attack. Every investigation ended in approval. I have a letter from Mr. John B. Baldwin, chairman of the joint select committee, stating that he had declared in Congress, as the result of their examination, “that the commissary department of subsistence, under the control of Colonel Northrop, the Commissary-General, had been managed with a foresight and sagacity, and a far-reaching, comprehensive grasp of its business, such as we had found in no other bureau connected with the army supply, with perhaps a single exception.”

The facts are that the engineer, General Beauregard, neglected his communications, so that “troops for the battle” and “supplies” were “retarded”; but the supplies were at the depot. “Eighteen heavy cannon, called for two weeks before,” occupied unloaded cars at Fredericksburg, where there was a large supply of flour that had been accumulating since early June. Numerous cars were retained as stationary storehouses ”for provisions,” “useless baggage,” and “trunks”; one hundred and thirty-three cars were abstracted by the “military” power from the use of the railroads for two weeks and more before the battle until returned by the Quartermaster-General and Mr. Ashe, the Government agent. There was plenty of lumber available to construct a storehouse. General Beauregard was not “urgent on the Commissary-General for adequate supplies before the battle,” for there was no ground of complaint. It was after the battle, when the vision of capturing Washington had seduced him, that he tried to construct a ground of complaint anterior to the battle.

General Beauregard made but one demand on me (July 8th, by a telegram which I have) for a commissary of the old service. Lieutenant-Colonel Richard B. Lee was added; no one was removed. On the 6th day of July I ordered Fowle to buy all the corn-meal, and soon after all the bacon, he could. July 7th, Beauregard ordered him to keep in advance a two weeks’ supply for 25,000 men, and Major Noland was ready to supply any number of beeves. The findings of the Board (on which Colonel Lee sat) are incoherent as stated by Imboden. The interdictions alleged by him are refuted by Colonel Ruffin (my chief assistant), and by all the letters sent officially to me in August, 1861. I have Fowle’s detailed report of the rations at Manassas; there was plenty of provision for a march on Washington. If I had removed his commissaries as he alleges, or had “interdicted ” them as General Imboden states, General Beauregard need not have been hampered, in a country which all the generals have declared abounded in the essentials of food.

General Johnston’s comments on the commissariat are unfounded. He “requested” an increase of provisions which his commissary alone could determine, and allowed the accumulation to go on for twelve days after he knew that he had more than he wanted. When I was informed, I did what he should have done — telegraphed the shippers to stop. Two weeks before his move he promised my officer, Major Noland, the transportation deemed sufficient, and of which he had assumed direct control. Empty trains passed the meat which had been laid in piles, ready for shipment. Empty trains lay idle at Manassas for days, in spite of Noland’s efforts to get them. General Johnston says the stores of the other departments were brought off. Eight hundred new army saddles, several thousand pairs of new shoes, and a large number of new blankets were burned — Quartermaster’s stores then difficult of attainment.

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General Ewell at Bull Run – Campbell Brown

28 02 2010



BATTLES AND LEADERS OF THE CIVIL WAR – Volume I: From Sumter to Shiloh, pp. 259-261

In General Beauregard’s article on Bull Run, in “The Century” for November [1884], is this severe criticism of one of his subordinates, the late Lieutenant-General R. S. Ewell:

“Meanwhile, in rear of Mitchell’s Ford, I had been waiting with General Johnston for the sound of conflict to open in the quarter of Centreville upon the Federal left flank and rear (making allowance, however, for the delays possible to commands unused to battle), when I was chagrined to hear from General D. R. Jones that, while he had been long ready for the movement upon Centreville, General Ewell had not come up to form on his right, though he had sent him between 7 and 8 o’clock a copy of his own order, which recited that Ewell had been already ordered to begin the movement. I dispatched an immediate order to Ewell to advance; but within a quarter of an hour, just as I received a dispatch from him informing me that he had received no order to advance in the morning, the firing on the left began to increase SO intensely as to indicate a severe attack, whereupon General Johnston said that he would go personally to that quarter.”

This contains at least three errors, so serious that they should not be allowed to pass uncorrected among the materials from which history will one day be constructed:

1. That Ewell failed to do what a good soldier would have done — namely, to move forward immediately on hearing from D. R. Jones.

2. That Beauregard was made aware of this supposed backwardness of Ewell by a message from D. R. Jones.

3. That on receiving this message he at once ordered Ewell to advance.

The subjoined correspondence, (2) now [March, 1885] first in print, took place four days after the battle. It shows that Ewell did exactly what Beauregard says he ought to have done — namely, move forward promptly; that his own staff-officer, sent to report this forward movement, carried also to headquarters the first intelligence of the failure of orders to reach him; that no such message was received from D. R. Jones as is here ascribed to him; and that the order sent back by Beauregard to Ewell was not one to advance, but to retire from an advance already begun.

It is not easy to understand these mistakes, as General Beauregard has twice given a tolerably accurate though meager account of the matter — once in his official report, and once in his biography published by Colonel Roman in 1884. Neither of these accounts can be reconciled with the later attitude.

Upon reading General Beauregard’s article, I wrote to General Fitzhugh Lee, who was Ewell’s assistant adjutant-general at Manassas, asking his recollection of what took place. I have liberty to make the following extracts from his reply. After stating what troops composed the brigade, he goes on:

“These troops were all in position at daylight on the 21st July, ready for any duty, and held the extreme right of General Beauregard’s line of battle along Bull Run, at Union Mills. As hour after hour passed, General Ewell grew impatient at not receiving any orders (beyond those to be ready to advance, which came at sunrise), and sent me between 9 and 10 A. M. to see General D. R. Jones, who commanded the brigade next on his left at McLean’s Ford, to ascertain if that officer had any news or had received any orders from army headquarters. I found General Jones making preparations to cross Bull Run, and was told by him that, in the order he had received to do so, it was stated that General Ewell had been sent similar instructions.

“Upon my report of these facts, General Ewell at once issued the orders for his command to cross the Run and move out on the road to Centreville.”

General Lee then describes the recall across Bull Run and the second advance of the brigade to make a demonstration toward Centreville, and adds that the skirmishers of Rodes’s 5th Alabama Regiment, which was in advance, had actually become engaged, when we were again recalled and ordered to “move by the most direct route at once, and as rapidly as possible, for the Lewis house” — the field of battle on the left. Ewell moved rapidly, sending General Lee and another officer ahead to report and secure orders. On his arrival near the field they brought instructions to halt, when he immediately rode forward with them to General Beauregard, “and General Ewell begged General Beauregard to be allowed to go in pursuit of the enemy, but his request was refused.”

As to the real causes of the miscarriage of General Beauregard’s plan of attack there need be little doubt. They are plainly stated by his immediate superior in command, General Joseph E. Johnston, in his official report, as being the “early movements of the enemy on that morning and the non-arrival of the expected troops” from Harper’s Ferry. He adds: ”General Beauregard afterward proposed a modification of the abandoned plan, to attack with our right, while the left stood on the defensive. This, too, became impracticable, and a battle ensued, different in place and circumstances from any previous plan on our side.”

There are some puzzling circumstances connected with the supposed miscarriage of the order for our advance. The delay in sending it is unexplained. General Beauregard says it was sent “at about 8 A. M.,” but D. R. Jones had received his corresponding order at 10 minutes past 7, and firing had begun at half-past 5.

The messenger was strangely chosen. It was the most important order of the day, for the movements of the army were to hinge on those of our brigade. There was no scarcity of competent staff-officers; yet it was intrusted to “a guide,” presumably an enlisted man, perhaps even a citizen, whose very name was unknown.

His instructions were peculiar. Time was all-important. He was ordered not to go direct to Ewell, but first to make a detour to Holmes, who lay in reserve nearly two miles in our rear.

His disappearance is mysterious. He was never heard of after receiving the order; yet his route lay wholly within our lines, over well-beaten roads and far out of reach of the enemy.

Lastly, General Beauregard, in his official report, gives as his reason for countermanding the movement begun by Ewell at 10 o’clock, that in his judgment it would require quite three hours for the troops to get into position for attack. Had the messenger dispatched at 8 been prompt, Ewell might have had his orders by 9. But at 9 we find Beauregard in rear of Mitchell’s Ford, waiting for an attack which, by his own figures, he should not have expected before 12.

It is not for me to reconcile these contradictions.

(1) This article appeared substantially as here printed in “The Century ” for March, 1885.— EDITORS.


Union Mills, July 25th, 1861.

General Beauregard.

Sir: In a conversation with Major James, Louisiana 6th Regiment, he has left the impression on my mind  that you think some of your orders on the 21st were either not carried out or not received by me.

My flrst order of that day was to hold myself in readiness to attack — this at sunrise. About 10. General Jones sent a copy of an order received by him In which it was stated that I had been ordered to cross and attack, and on receipt of this I moved on until receiving the following:

10 &1/2 A.M.

On account of the difficulties of the ground in our front it is thought advisable to fall back to our former position.

(Addressed) General Ewell.       

(Signed) G. T. B.

If any other order was sent to me, I should like to have a copy of it, as well as the name of the courier who brought it.

Every movement I made was at once reported to you at the time, and this across Bull Run, as well as the advance in the afternoon, I thought were explained in my report sent in to-day.

If an order were sent earlier than the copy through General Jones, the courier should be held responsible, as neither General Holmes nor myself received it. I send the original of the order to fall back in the morning. The second advance in the afternoon and recall to Stone Bridge were in consequence of verbal orders.

My chief object in writing to you is to ask you to leave nothing doubtful in your report, both as regards my crossing in the morning and recall —and not to let it lie inferred by any possibility that I blundered on that day. I moved forward as soon as notified by General Jones that I was ordered and he had been.

If there was an order sent me to advance before the one I received through General Jones, it is more than likely it would have been given to the same express.


R. S. EWELL. B. G.

Manassas, Va., July 26th, 1861.

General: Your letter of the 25th inst. is received. I do not attach the slightest blame to you for the failure of the movement on Centreville, but to the guide who did not deliver the order to move forward, sent at about 8 A. M. to General Holmes and then to you —corresponding in every respect to the one sent to Generals Jones, lion ha MI. and Longstreet — only their movements were subordinate to yours. Unfortunately no copy, in the hurry of the moment, was kept of said orders: and so many guides, about a dozen or more, were sent off in different directions, that it is next to impossible to find out who was the bearer of the orders referred to. Our guides and couriers were the worst set I ever employed, whether from ignorance or over-anxiety to do well and quickly I cannot say: but many regiments lost their way repeatedly on their way toward the field of battle, and of course I can attach no more blame to their commanding officers than I could to you for not executing un order which I am convinced you did not get.

I am fully aware that you did all that could have been expected of you or your command. I merely expressed my regret that my original plan could not be carried into effect, as it would have been a most complete victory with only half the trouble and lighting.

The true cause of countermanding your forward movement after you had crossed was that it was then too late, as the enemy was about to annihilate our left flank, and had to be met and checked there, for otherwise he would have taken us in flank and rear and all would have been lost.

Yours truly,

G. T. Beauregard

General R. S. Ewell, Union Mills, Va.

P. S. Please read the above to Major James. Ewell, Union Mills, Va.

N. B. The order sent you at about 8 A. M., to commence the movement on Centreville, was addressed to General Holmes and yourself, as he was to support you, but being nearer Camp Pickens, the headquarters, than Union Mills, where you were, it was to be communicated to him first, and then to you; but he has informed me that it never reached him. With regard to the order sent you in the afternoon to recross the Bull Run (to march toward the Stone Bridgei), it was sent you by General J. E. Johnston, as I am informed by him, for the purpose of supporting our left, if necessary.

G. T. B.

Do not publish until we know what the enemy is going to do—or reports are out —which I think will make it all right.


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