Capt. Albert Gallatin Brown, Co. H, ,18th Mississippi Infantry, On the Battle

18 12 2022

Battle of Manasseh – Governor Brown’s Narrative.


The interest of our readers in the subjoined account of the action of Gen. D. R. Jones’ Brigade in the battle of Manasseh, will be heightened by the knowledge that it is from the pen of Ex-Governor A. G. Brown, and was written in a letter to Hon. W. P. Harris, only a few days after the battle. As Captain of one of the companies composing the 18th Mississippi Regiment, Gov. Brown was an eyewitness of the occurrences which he describes; and, though his letter was private, Judge Harris has permitted us to extract the following details, because they will deeply interest our readers who have friends in the 17th and 18th Mississippi regiments, and because he is assured, from numerous other sources, that this account is substantially accurate.

Gov. Brown states that, about half past 11 o’clock, on Tuesday before the battle, “the 17th and 18th Mississippi Regiments, and the 7th South Carolina Regiments, constituting the 3d Brigade, under Gen. D. R. Jones, were marched a distance of about two and a half miles from their encampment near Manasseh to McLean’s Ford on Bull Run, the point at which it was apprehended the main attack would be made.” After giving the occurrences of the several days intervening before the battle, the letter proceeds:

Sunday morning was ushered in by the roar of artillery. Our position was very nearly the same it had been from the beginning. The first gun was heard at a little after six by my time; and soon the rattling of musketry in long lines, and the loud thundering of artillery, assured us that both armies were hotly engaged. It was next to certain that the day of battle for us had come; and yet their was no blenching. Shells and heavy cannon balls came over us and about us only to excite the mirth of our men, so harmless had they come to regard them.

At eight or nine o’clock, we were ordered to cross Bull Run, and, in conjunction with Gen. Ewell’s Brigade, attack the enemy’s forces at Blackburn’s Ford in the rear. The men obeyed the order with alacrity. As we emerged from the wood, shells exploded over the very spot where we lay only a minute before, showing that the enemy had a last got our range. The boys laughed and said, “You are a little too late.” We advanced to the position we had been told to occupy, but Gen. Ewell did not come up. After reconnoitering the enemy, finding them in stronger force than was supposed, Gen. Jones ordered us back to our intrenchments. While we were thus marching and countermarching the battle raged with tremendous force along a line commencing within half a mile of us, and extending some six miles up Bull Run.

At about half past two o’clock, we were again ordered as we had been in the morning. It was now understood that the mistakes which led to our return in the morning, had been corrected, and that we were able to be led to the attack, sustained on the enemy’s rear by Gen. Ewells; while Gen. Longstreet was to engage them in front. Their strength was said confidently to be two pieces of artillery, supported by not more than twice our number of infantry and cavalry. Our men were thus encouraged to hope for a victory, though there was no attempt to disguise the fact that it was to cost some of us our lives. We had been shot at on our march over the same ground in the morning, the enemy’s balls striking close to our lines, right and left. Prompted in part by this fact, but mainly to prevent our being discovered until we should be in position to make effective the blow we were about to strike, we marched to the attack slowly and cautiously, covering our advance as best we could by a forest intervening between us and the enemy. We were discovered, however; and the enemy again fired across the rear of our column as it advanced, distant from their batteries, say three quarters of a mile on an air line. Our march was by a circuitous route; so that we passed over a line, I should think, of near four miles, to get within a quarter of a mile of the enemy. The ground upon which we were sent, no officer our soldier in the whole Brigade had ever seen before. We passed down a sinuous ravine with rugged bottom and uneaven banks until e were brought directly under the unseen guns of the enemy.

When we had reached the point where it was expected the forces under Gen. Ewell were to join us, we were again disappointed. Nothing was heard of him or his command. We had two pieces of light artillery, but they were left in the rear. We had also two detachments of cavalry, certainly not more than seventy-five men in all, perhaps not so many; and these, too, were left behind; so that in fact three Regiments, averaging not more than six hundred men each, and armed, with rare exceptions, with second class muskets, were thrown forward to sustain a conflict which had been appointed for three Brigades, supported by both artillery and cavalry. Instead of being sustained in front by Gen. Longstreet, and in the rear by Gen. Ewell, and on both sides by field batteries and a strong cavalry force, we were not sustained at all. Instead of attacking two pieces of artillery, and some three thousand infantry, in their rear, we were suddenly confronted by the muzzles of eight pieces of artillery, and not less than ten thousand infantry and artillery.

After a little delay, during which we received the enemy’s fire, our Brigade (Gen. Jones’) was pressed forward, and, in the very teeth of the enemy’s strength. made as bold a charge as was ever made by mortal men; and we continued to charge until we found ourselves on the brink of a precipice impassable to us, and where we were within range of the enemy’s guns, while they were without the range of ours. The 18th Regiment were in a hot place, as is evident from the fact that we lost, in this brief conflict, twice as many men as both the 17th Mississippi, and the 7th South Carolina Regiments; and as many as our entire army lost in the battle on Thursday, which lasted nearly five hours. yet many of our men did not see one of the enemy all day, so closely were they hid from our view.

The precipice being impassable, as I have said, the three Regiments abandoned their position and retired until we were partially covered by a hill, and undertook to reform our lines; but finding the ground impracticable for this purpose, we fell back; and the 18th Regiment first formed in a wood, within gun shot of the enemy. The 17th, and a portion of the 18th, had advanced some four hundred yards, or a little over, to an open field in a plain, and drawn up in battle array, where we soon after followed in good order. This was half a mile back of the field where we engaged the enemy, and was the first ground on which a Brigade could be displayed in line of battle. Here the line was formed, and every thing done that was necessary to be done for renewing the attack. The rolls were called, with what results in other companies I know not; but in my own, every man, with a single exception, answered to his name, or was satisfactorily accounted for. One had been killed, others dangerously wounded, and some had been sent back with their wounded friends.

I ought to mention that during our entire stay on Bull Run we had kept out strong picket guard day and night. Those of the 18th Regiment specially entitled to credit for discharging this dangerous and disagreeable duty, are the Confederate Rifles, Capt. Jayne, of Rankin; the Hamer Rifles, Capt. Hamer, of Yazoo; and the Burt Rifles, Capt. Fontaine, of Jackson.

It is apparent that for the failure of the movement on the right, the Regiments of Gen. Jones are in no way responsible. The error if there was error, was not in abandoning the position they took, but in being directed or permitted to take it at all. Under the circumstances retreat was an imperative duty.

Military critics will find much room for comment on the inactivity of the right wing of our army, since it is now apparent that better concerted and more active operations by that wing would have lead to more decisive results. Gen. Ewell’s report will doubtless explain the causes which paralyzed his command. In the mean while it seems that the well aimed attack by the main body of the enemy on our left was pressed with such success, in the early part of the day that our Generals were compelled to suspend or modify the plan marked out for the right wing. Gen. Ewell’s motions were doubtless materially influenced by orders from, or events occurring on the left wing.

The Weekly (Jackson) Mississippian, 9/18/1861

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