Research Assignment: Why Were Ricketts and Griffin on Henry Hill?

24 07 2015
"The Capture of Rickett's Battery" by Sidney King, 1964 (oil on plywood). On display in the Henry Hill Visitor Center at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

“The Capture of Rickett’s Battery” by Sidney King, 1964 (oil on plywood). On display in the Henry Hill Visitor Center at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

This will either be fun, or go over like a lead balloon. As you may or may not know, one of the things I find most interesting in researching the First Battle of Bull Run is the fact that contemporary documents do not always support the contentions – statements of fact, even – of historians of the battle. The other day, friend and artillery guy Craig Swain and I were discussing the move of Ricketts’s and Griffin’s batteries from their positions north of the pike to Henry Hill. This move has often been criticized over the years, sometimes even described as a turning point of the battle. But, why exactly did McDowell send his artillery there? What was he thinking? How did he want to uses them, as flying artillery, in place of infantry, as what?

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to take a look at the evidence. Were written orders issued? What did the actors say about the move later? What have historians said? I’ll even help you out. Below are the reports and testimonies of the four individuals who may or may not have known. Read them over. Look for the why. Check what they presented against what historians have written (you’ll have to use your own resources there.) How have the historians substantiated their assertions? Discuss in the comments section.

BG Irvin McDowell, who issued the order (Reports and Correspondence #1, and #2, and JCCW testimony #1, and #2.)

Maj. W. F. Barry, to whom McDowell issued the order, and who forwarded it to the battery commanders (Report, JCCW testimony)

Capt. Charles Griffin (Report, JCCW testimony)

Capt. James Ricketts (Report, JCCW testimony)



Medal of Honor Ceremony for Alonzo H. Cushing

6 11 2014

Pvt. Theodore Reichardt, (Reynolds) Battery A, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, On the Battle

6 01 2014

Thursday, July 15. – Great excitement in camp; order was received to get ready for a forward movement; ammunition packed; haversacks and canteens were issued.

Tuesday, July 16. – The morning of that day found us marching across the Long ridge, directly through Fort Runyon, on the Virginia side; did not march over seven miles; after which we formed in line of battle and prepared to camp for the night, this being the first night in the open air. All quiet during the night.

Wednesday, July 17. – Resumed our march soon after break of day, and entered Fairfax Court House, contrary to our expectations, towards one o’clock, at mid-day, the rebels having evacuated the town shortly before our entrance. Their rear guard could be plainly seen some distance off. Our battery formed in park near the court house. Some of the boys were lucky in finding a good dinner served on a table in one of the houses, besides some articles of value, undoubtedly belonging to some confederate officers. Some picket firing during the night.

Thursday, July 18. – Advance at daylight. A part of the Union army, Gen. Tyler’s troops, engaged. This conflict the rebels call battle of Bull Run. While the contest was raging, our division halted two miles to the left of Fairfax Court House, at a place called Germantown. We could plainly hear the distant booming of artillery, and were impatiently waiting for the order, “forward.” Towards four o’clock P. M., we advanced again; preparations were made to get in action; sponge buckets filled with water, and equipments distributed among the cannoniers. But when we approached Centreville, intelligence came that our troops got worsted and the contest was given up. Our division went to camp within a mile and a half of Centreville. Strong picket lines were drawn up.

Friday, July 19. – Camp near Centreville. The troops remained quiet all day. Fresh beef as rations.

Saturday, July 20. – Quiet during the day. About six o’clock in the evening the army got ready to advance; but after council of war was held by the chief commanders, they concluded to wait till the next day.

Sunday, July 21. – Battle of Manassas Plains. This battle will always occupy a prominent place in the memory of every man of the battery. They all expected to find a disorganized mob, that would disperse at our mere appearance; while, to the general surprise, they not only were better disciplined, but also better officered than our troops. We started by tow o’clock in the morning, but proceeded very slowly. Passed Centreville before break-of-day. When the sun rose in all its glory, illuminating the splendid scenery of the Blue Ridge mountains, though no sun of Austerlitz to us, we crossed the bridge over Cub Run. By this time, the report of the 30-pounder Parrott gun belonging to Schenck’s command, who had met the enemy, was heard. Our division turned off to the right, and marched some miles through dense woodland, to the Warrenton road. Towards ten o’clock, nothing could be seen of the enemy yet, and the belief found circulation that the enemy had fallen back. Experience proved that, had we remained at Centreville, the rebel army would undoubtedly have attacked us; but hearing of our advance they only had to lay in ambush, ready to receive us. At the aforesaid time, the Second Rhode Island infantry deployed as skirmishers. We advanced steadily, till arriving at the Bull Run and Sudley’s Church, a halt was ordered to test the man and the horses. But is should not be; the brave Second R. I. Regiment, coming up to the enemy, who was concealed in the woods, their situation was getting critical. The report of cannon and musketry followed in rapid succession. Our battery, after passing Sudley’s Church, commenced to trot in great haste to the place of combat. At this moment Gen. McDowell rode up in great excitement, shouting the Capt. Reynolds: “Forward with your light battery.” This was entirely needless, as we were going at high speed, for all were anxious to come to the rescue of our Second regiment. In quick time we arrived in the open space where the conflict was raging already in its greatest fury. The guns were unlimbered, with or without command; no matter, it was done, and never did better music sound to the ears of the Second Regiment, than the quick reports of our guns, driving back the advancing foe. For nearly forty minutes our battery and the Second Regiment, defended that ground before any other troops were brought into action. Then the First Rhode Island, Seventy-first New York, and Second New Hampshire, with tow Dahlgren Howitzers, appeared, forming on the right and left. The enemy was driven successfully in our immediate front. Our battery opened on one of the enemy’s light batteries to our right, which left after a short but spirited engagement, in a rather demoralized state. Griffith’s, Ayre’s and Rickett’s batteries coming up, prospects really looked promising, and victory seemed certain. The rebel line gradually giving way. Gen. McDowell, seeing the explosion of perhaps a magazine or a caisson, raised his cap, shouting, “Soldiers, this is the great explosion of Manassas,” and seemed to be highly pleased with the work done by our battery. Owing to different orders, the battery, towards afternoon, was split into sections. Capt. Reynolds, with Lieuts. Tompkins and Weeden, off to the right, while the two pieces of the left section, to the left; Lieuts. Vaughan and Munroe remaining with the last mentioned. Firing was kept up incessantly, until the arrival of confederate reinforcements, coming down from Manassas Junction, unfurling the stars and stripes, whereby our officers were deceived to such a degree as to give the order, “Cease firing.” This cessation of our artillery fire proved, no doubt, disastrous. It was the turning point of the battle. Our lines began to waver after receiving the volleys of the disguised columns. The setting sun found the fragments of our army not only in full retreat but in complete rout, leaving most of the artillery in the hands of the enemy. Our battery happened to be the only six gun volunteer battery, carrying all the guns off the battle-field, two pieces in a disabled condition. A battery-wagon and forge were lost on the field. Retreating the same road we advanced on in the morning. All of a sudden the cry arose, “The Black Horse Cavalry is coming.” The alarm proved to be false; yet it had the effect upon many soldiers to throw away their arms. But the fears of many soldiers that the enemy would try to cut off our retreat, were partly realized. Our column having reached Cub Run bridge, was at once furiously attacked on our right by artillery and cavalry. Unfortunately, the bridge being blocked up, the confusion increased. All discipline was gone. Here our battery was lost, all but one gun, that of the second detachment, which was carried through the creek. It is kept at the armory of the Marine Artillery, in Providence. At the present time, guns, under such circumstances, would not be left to the enemy without the most strenuous efforts being made to save them. We assembled at the very same camp we left in the morning. Credit is due to Capt. Reynolds, for doing everything possible for the comfort of his men. At midnight the defeated army took up its retreat towards Washington. Our battery consisting of one gun, and the six-horse team, drove by Samuel Warden.

Monday, July 22. – Arrived at, and effected our passage across the Long Bridge, by ten o’clock, and found ourselves once more at Camp Clark, where we had a day of rest after our debut on the battle-field yesterday, under the scorching sun of Virginia.

Wednesday, July 24. – Lieut. Albert Munroe addressed the battery in regard to the battle, and attributed our defeat to the want of discipline. The men felt very indignant at his remarks. “We had to come down the regulations, the same as in the regular army, and should consider ourselves almost as State prison convicts.” We have since seen that he meant no insult towards the battery; but have found out to our satisfaction that he spoke the truth, for we have seen the time that put us almost on the same level with convicts.

Diary of Battery A, First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery (Kindle Version, location 66 to 123)

Theodore Reichardt at

While the above was published as a diary, it is apparent from the text that it was at least edited in retrospect.

Hains Related Questions Answered?

24 06 2013
Hains Gun

Illustration from 1911 Cosmopolitan article

As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, I’ve been s-l-o-w-l-y annotating a 1911 Cosmopolitan article written by Peter Conover Hains, The First Gun at Bull Run. Fresh out of West Point, at First Bull Run Lieutenant Hains was in command of a 30-pdr Parrott rifle, detached from Company G of the 1st U. S. Artillery. The gun, generally referred to as Long Tom, was chosen to fire the opening shot of the battle of July 21st, and did so right around 6 A. M. (accounts of the precise time vary.) While just about every study of the battle written after 1911 relies to varying degrees on Hains’s memoir, there’s a lot wrong with it; some things just don’t jive with the facts. So I’ve decided to not take anything Hains writes in this piece at face value. Including this:

I was assigned to train a gun-crew over at what is now known as Fort Meyer, Virginia, just across the river from Washington.  It was a great gun – a thirty-pounder Parrott rifle,  drawn by ten horses as green as could be, horses from the farm that had not been trained even to pull together.  There were five riders or drivers, one man to each pair, and six men rode the caisson and limber as cannoneers.  Two wagons followed, carrying the ammunition.   Some two hundred men were attached to the gun to escort it, to help it along, and to render whatever aid I needed.  In all two hundred and fifty men filed out with the gun in July when I received orders to report to General Tyler  at Alexandria, Virginia.

Two hundred men attached as escort? Why so darn many? Well, it’s not as odd as it may sound, all things considered:

We sallied forth.  The roads promised much, and at first the gun behaved very well indeed.  But we soon came to a hill.  The ten horses threw themselves into their collars.  The gun started up a bit, then the pace slowed, paused, and – then the giant gun began slowly to drift backward down the grade.  We quickly blocked the wheels , and there were no brakes.  I rode up and down the line, cheering on the men.  The drivers yelled, and lashed their horses; the ten animals strained and tugged – but the gun remained motionless.

“Get out the prolonges ,” I ordered, and these lines, of about three-inch rope and knotted together to about a hundred feet in length, were quickly hooked to the axle of the gun. Two hundred men instantly trailed onto them.  With wild yells and cheers they started that gun forward, the ten horses and two hundred men soon dragging it upward to the crest.  It was great.  And most of us were very young indeed.

That makes sense. But, who were these 200 men (though I can’t figure out how you get 200 men to pull on a 100 foot rope)? It’s likely they were infantry. So, from what regiments were they detached? I’ve been keeping an eye out in letters for some mention of the detachment here and there of small groups, or even one or two large ones. But I did stumble across one reference, in Alan Gaff’s history of the 2nd Wisconsin at First Bull Run, If This is War pp. 186-187:

Captain Ayres’ battery unlimbered well in front of Captain Stevens’ Company A behind a screen of bushes and trees, while the thirty-pound Parrott rifled cannon, manned by a detachment under Lieutenant Peter C. Hains, was positioned right in the road. The Parrott gun had proved to be almost impossible to manage, requiring large detachments of horses and men to manhandle it over the hills and valleys. While the Wisconsin regiment occupied the position in support of the artillery, Lieutenant Tom Bishop and thirty men from Company I were detailed to assist Hains and did not serve with the main body during the remainder of the day.

Image of 30-pdr blatantly stolen from

Image of 30-pdr blatantly stolen from

Gaff cites the Daily Wisconsin 8/21/1861; Milwaukee Sentinel 7/30/1861; Wisconsin State Journal 7/30/1861; Mineral Point Tribune, 8/6/1861; a letter in a manuscript collection; and Tyler’s report (which doesn’t mention the detachment) for the above. I’ll try to find the two newspaper letters, maybe in the Quiner Collection. But it would appear that detachments of infantry were assigned to assist Hains at various points. But in the case of the 2nd WI, it was as support.

Also in If This is War I found a reference to another nickname for the 30-pdr Parrott, The Baby-Waker. I first heard the term during a tour years ago, but haven’t run across any other use except for this in Gaff, p. 187:

“At precisely 6 o’clock” Lieutenant Hains ordered his gunners to fire the monster Parrott rifle, dubbed “President Lincoln’s Baby-waker” by the Badgers.

The sources for the above paragraph are the Wisconsin State Journal of July 30, 1861 and the Milwaukee Sentinel of the same date, and a letter in a manuscript collection. More work to do!

UPDATE: Reader Jonathan Soffe, who hosts a great site on First Bull Run, contributes the following:

Two companies of the 11th Massachusetts Infantry, under the command of Captain J H Davis, Company B, were assigned to escort Hains on the march to Centreville on 16 July, 1861.

[This is from] A Narrative of the Formation and Services of the Eleventh Massachusetts Volunteers, from 15 April, 1861, to 14 July, 1865, by Gustavus B Hutchinson [p. 22]

“When the regiment arrived at the road leading to Fairfax, Companies A and G were left, under the command of Capt. Davis, to escort a detachment having in charge a thirty-pound Parrott gun, which, on account of the bad road, they were unable to bring up until the next morning.”

“Sergeant”, 2nd Rhode Island Battery, On the Battle

14 09 2011

Letter from the Second Battery

Camp Clark, Washington
July 27, 1861

Messrs. Editors: – With your permission I will endeavor to give some account of the part taken by our battery in the battle of Bull Run.

Saturday, July 20, we were encamped near Centreville, with the regiments of the brigade. In the evening we received orders to march at half past one o’clock the next morning. We were ready at that time and proceeded to the encampment of the Second Regiment, where we halted until Col. Slocum’s voice was heard forming the regiment into line, and in a few moments we were on the march for the battle field. The road was very rough indeed, and quite hilly – so much so that we had to chain the wheels on the gun carriages as we descended. When we came to the bridge over Bull Run Creek, the order was given for one carriage to pass at a time, as it was very weak. Soon after daylight we left this rough and dusty road, and turned to the right in through the woods, and came out upon a large field or plain. Here the cavalry advanced and the picket guard extended some half a mile to the right and left of us. While we were crossing this plain, or soon after entering upon it, we heard the report of a large gun, and the explosion of a shell, as many thought a signal. The cavalry galloped alongside the wood, on the opposite side of the plain and pointed out the path for us to pursue.

After marching some four or five miles we seemed to bear to the left towards Manassas Junction, and soon entered the woods again and marched in a Southerly direction some two or three miles. I heard no one caution us that we were near the battle field; but was somewhat startled by two reports of cannon and then by volleys of musket bullets flying all around us. I looked ahead for orders, thinking that it was time we should receive them. I saw our General and the Engineer Corps as I supposed coming as fast as their horses would carry them, and soon one of them said “Forward, Battery.”  I heard Capt. Reynolds ask “In what position,” and again came the order “Forward, Battery.” I cautioned my men to keep cool, and whip their horses into a run, for it looked like warm work. In going some ten or twelve rods, we came out into the main road; our men dismounted, and tore down the fence and turned to the left into an open field amid the shower of bullet and cannon balls. Then came Capt. Reynolds’ order, “Forward into line of action, front.” We got into action very quick, some twenty yards from the edge of the woods on an elevation, and within thirty yards of several regiments of the rebels, (who were firing upon us as fast as possible) and a battery about one and half miles directly in front of us on a high elevation of land.

My lead horses on the guns were somewhat frightened when we came on to the field, and I took the reins of my lead horse to get him at his post. About the same time a cannon ball went through my blanket that lay across the shoulders of my own horse, and entered the breast of my leader, killing him instantly, and about the same time, the driver, Joshua Brown, was shot, one ball entering his thigh and another the calf of his leg. He was left on the field, but not dead. Before I could get my horses in position three of them were killed, my own horse shot in the hind leg by the explosion of a shell, but as for myself I did not get a scratch. I dismounted my own horse and ran to the fun. Within twenty yards of us were the rebels, advancing. I thought for a moment our Battery was lost; but the 2d Rhode Island Regiment made a fearful charge and gave a most hideous scream, and never will I forget how that rebel flag looked as it bobbed out of sight under the hill.

We opened fire first upon the rebel infantry and then upon their battery. The latter was silenced in something less than an hour. Again a reinforcement of the enemy’s infantry advanced, and the day looked dark. But a regiment from Maine was ordered to protect our battery, and came up to the rear of our caissons in the utmost confusion. I ran up and asked for the Colonel. No one knew where he was. I asked for the Captains of companies but there were none in front. I said your officers are cowards. Why don’t you come support our battery? Some of them said they would if they had any one to lead them. I then said, “Follow me,” and they did so. As we came near our guns on the right, the Colonel came running up and said, “Halt, Maine regiment; I have command here.” I said “Why don’t you take it then.” He gave the order to march to the right flank. Then came Gen. Burnside and ordered to march to the left flank and support the Rhode Island men.

Gov. Sprague was foremost in the fight, and inspired the men with coolness and courage. When asked about the character of several regiments that were coming up on the left, he said, “Give them a shot and make them show their colors.” The shot and shell were falling around him thick and fast, and his horse was shot under him as he was leading his men into the battle.

The loss of our brave Colonel Slocum, Major Ballou, Captain Tower and Lieutenant Prescott, enraged the soldiers so much that we gained our position and held it. After we ceased firing, Col. Hunter came up with the blood running down his neck, and said, “Well done, Rhode Island, you shall be remembered forever.” We thought we had won the battle, but the enemy were reinforced, and we were ordered to assist Ricket’s Battery, some twenty rods to the right. Here we were so much exposed that we were ordered to a concealed position some sixty rods nearer. We soon silenced the masked battery to which we were opposed.

It was soon discovered that our army was falling back. I asked a regiment of Regulars that lay flat on the ground in the rear of our Battery to relieve my men, who were perfectly exhausted. I begged and entreated them, but it was of no use. We fixed the last shot of shell, when the Colonel of the Regulars marched them from the field. We did not leave this position with the Battery until our support was gone. We fell in the rear of the retreat. Regiment after regiment and other batteries passed us. The field and the road were strewn with provisions, muskets, blankets, pistols, swords, axes, shovels, wagons overthrown, and everything you can imagine, while the wounded were begging in vain for a chance to ride. The enemy here brought their artillery to bear upon our rear. On arriving at the bridge they commenced to shell us. One horse was killed near me, and several men, and I told my command to get away as best they could. There were about forty killed at the bridge. The rebel cavalry charged on Sergeant Hammond, as he was bearing a wounded man, but he escaped them with the loss of his cap. We arrived at our camp of the night before about 8 o’clock and, after resting awhile, took up our march to Washington. The streets were crowded with citizens, although it rained hard as we marched through, and many eyes were dimmed with tears for the loss of the Rhode Islanders.

Yours, truly,

Providence Evening Press 7/31/1861

Clipping Image

Unknown, 2nd Rhode Island Battery, On the Battle (1)

14 09 2011

The Second Battery

The following extract from a letter of a member of the second battery tells very clearly the part that battery played in the battle. Having described their march to the forest beyond Centreville, the writer says:

“The axmen of the 2nd New Hampshire regiment, some 25 strong, led the way; then followed the 2nd Rhode Island regiment, the light battery being immediately in the rear of the regiment, and the 1st regiment in our rear. We marched slowly but steadily, gradually working around to the left and rear of their batteries at Sutter’s Mills, till 11 o’clock, when upon the head of the column appearing through a grove, they were greeted with the compliments of a 10 gun battery on a hill to their left. ‘Forward’ was the word now, and forward we went, the horses on the jump, and came into ‘battery’ in a field on the left of our line of march, under a heavy fire from their battery and from a body of infantry concealed in a wood just to the left of our position. It was rather nervous business for one who had never seen anything but ‘muster day’ encounters to find the balls flying round his head, perfectly regardless of whom they might hit, and to see one of our horses shot dead before the gun he was harnessed to could be turned round and brought into position. The 2d regiment deployed  and drove the enemy’s riflemen from the wood, so that we could confined our attention to the battery in front, which we silenced after firing some 250 shell into it. Gen. McDowell came up just as they stopped firing, and said ‘Well done, Rhode Island boys!’. We were next sent to an open field on the right to engage another battery, and after firing a short time, the left section, under Lieut. Monroe, was sent to the extreme right to support Griffin’s and Rickett’s batteries, while the right and centre sections were ordered to the front to support the battery of Captain R. Arnold.

When the left section reached its position, they were within 40 yards of the enemy’s lines, and their men and horses  completely exhausted. Capt. Reynolds seeing the enemy were about to charge, and the artillery being without support, ordered a retreat, and brought off both guns and one caisson. The other caisson was taken, the horses being killed. Our boys were particularly fortunate in saving their guns, for Griffin’s and Rickett’s batteries were both taken at this time, and our guns were placed between theirs.

The other sections were busily engaged all this time with a battery of much heavier calibre, until their ammunition was nearly expended, when they were ordered to fall to the rear. One of our gun carriages was shattered, and we were obliged to have the piece slung under the limber to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy. We then formed our battery in regular column of sections, and moved off in the rear of the regiment. At this time our troops had been driven back at every point, and the order was given to retreat. Our column moved back over the road they had  travelled so proudly in the morning, in great confusion. Lieut. Col. Wheaton rallied the 2d, and Col. Burnside the 1st, and marched them off in good style.

When we reached the bridge across the Bull Run, the enemy opened on us a terrible fire of shot, shell and musketry, which caused a perfect stampede among the troops. The teamers on the government baggage wagons upset their wagons across the bridge and entrance to the ford, and we were obliged to abandon our guns. We only saved one piece, which was carried over just before the fire commenced. I was at the rear of the column when they opened their battery. The second shot they fired took off the head of a soldier who had his hand on the bridle of my horse. From the bridge we moved on the ‘double quick’ to Centreville, where we met the reserve column under Gen. Runyon, who protected the retreat of the flying troops. At Centreville I took —— on my horse and rode ‘double’ to our old camping ground, where we rested for a couple of hours and then turned towards Washington. We found our baggage wagons, three in number, at Utterbachs, and throwing out all the baggage, put our men in them, and so brought them through in quite good shape. I was glad enough to get some sleep when I reached camp. Twenty-six hours in the saddle and four on the battlefield is rather harder work than I have been accustomed to.

Lieut. Weeden had his horse shot under him. The ball struck about six inches from his leg. I was hit four or five times by spent balls. One dented my field glass so that the lower slide won’t work.

All our men worked like heroes, and one of their officers, who was carried to our hospital to have his wounds dressed, said ‘that Rhode Island battery cut up our men terribly.’
We are ready for another dash at them, and to morrow we start for Harper’s Ferry to take the place of the first battery.”

Providence Journal 7/31/1861

Clipping Image

Capt. James B. Ricketts’s Capture by the 7th GA

13 09 2009

Capt. Maddoe letter*

The 7th Ga. Inf. was the regiment that took the first battery of the enemy on position in the field – capturing the battery of Capt., since Mag. Gen’l., Rickett, U.S.A.  It was stationed near the Henry house.  Gen’l. Bartow was leading the regiment at that time, and was shot through the heart while he had the colors of the 7th Ga. in his hand. 

We  (illegible word) found Capt. Rickett in the rear, shot through the leg & very much frightened, thinking that we would kill him, as he had reportedly told his men we serve them, if we captured any of them.

He immediately denounced his own cause & justified ours by saying he was an honest man, because he belonged to the Regular army and was honor-bound to obey orders, no matter what the cause. 

“Have you had any water, sir?”

“Yes thank you, I am an honest man.”

Others came up

“Gentlemen, I am an honest man.”

An old comrade came up, dressed in Confederate uniform.

“Why Cap’t. Rickett!  How do you do, sir?”

“You know I am an honest man.”

The Capt. Was nearly frightened to death & in momentary expectation of being bayoneted.

From South Carolina Department of Archives & History, Columbia SC.

Misc. Records

1864-1903  Box 9

[Contributed by Dr. Thomas Clemens, Keedysville, Md]

[*The writer may be Captain Charles K. Maddox of the 7th Georgia]


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