Those Plans (Plural) of June “24,” 1861

24 10 2020

Today’s update to the Correspondence – USA Official page of the Resources section is Irvin McDowell’s June 24th response to Winfield Scott’s June 20th request for a plan for his force to cooperate with that of Maj. Gen. (of PA Militia) Robert Patterson’s force to “sweep the enemy from Leesburg to towards Alexandria.” A few things to keep in mind:

  • McDowell took four days to respond to Scott’s request. Patterson’s response came in just one day.
  • Neither man seemed very enthusiastic about the project, to put it lightly.
  • McDowell’s response to Scott’s request should in no way be construed as having anything at all to do with his plans to move against Beauregard at Manassas Junction. In my opinion, some historians have done exactly this, particularly pertaining to McDowell’s plans against Bory having some sort of “requirement” regarding Patterson’s responsibilities. McDowell clearly cast out that excuse after the fact and the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War (JCCCW) took the bait, but I see no validity in it whatsoever.
  • McDowell’s plans for the movement against Manassas is dated by the compilers as “about June 24, 1861.” This seems odd because McDowell sent his plan for the Leesburg/Alexandria proposal on June 24th. So why was he sending another plan on the same day? I suspect it was written later, but perhaps it was written after some discussion with Scott on the 24th (the second plan was submitted, McDowell says, “in compliance with the verbal instructions of the General-in-Chief”). If so, McDowell sure came up with that plan fast. Another possibility is that he didn’t like the plan to co-operate with Patterson and anticipated that he would be asked for an alternative, and so came up with one in advance. Maybe that’s why it took him four days to respond. Would love to know the compilers’ reasoning for the assumed date. Guess I’ll need to see the actual document. (Keep in mind that the published Official Records – the “ORs” – are NOT in and of themselves primary documents. They’re transcriptions of primary documents.)




Col. Ambrose Burnside to Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott on the Progress of the 1st Rhode Island Infantry to Brig. Gen. Patterson’s Command

23 10 2020

CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN MARYLAND, PENNSYLVANIA, VIRGINIA, AND WEST VIRGINIA FROM APRIL 16 TO JULY 31, 1861

CORRESPONDENCE, ETC. – UNION

O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, pp. 715-716

Camp Sprague,
Washington, D. C., June 22, 1861.

Lieut. Gen. W. Scott, Headquarters U. S. Army:

Sir: I have the honor to report that the regiment under my command, in pursuance to orders from headquarters of the U. S. Army, departed from Washington on Monday, June 10, for the purpose of joining the column of Major-General Patterson, then moving from Chambersburg upon Harper’s Ferry. The battery of artillery attached to the command, with the baggage, preceded the main body of the regiment twelve hours.

Early upon Monday morning we left camp, and, marching to the station of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, entered the cars prepared for our transportation, and were carried to Baltimore. The command was composed of 1,128 men and 117 officers, accompanied by a long wagon train. The passage through Baltimore was peacefully made, and, taking the cars of the Northern Central Railroad, the entire regiment reached Chambersburg, Pa., on the morning of Tuesday, June 11, when I immediately reported to Major-General Patterson for duty. Still proceeding by rail, we reached Greencastle at noon, and encamped. The command remained in camp at Greencastle until Saturday morning, when, in conjunction with the First Brigade of Major-General Patterson’s column, under command of Colonel Thomas, the line of march was taken up for Williamsport, Md. That place was reached at noon, and occupied by the force of which this regiment formed a part.

On Sunday a portion of the battery of artillery was ordered across the Potomac to Falling Waters; but, in accordance with orders from Major-General Patterson, it was recalled on Monday, and the regiment, once more complete, commenced its march at an early hour for Frederick City. The route lay through Hagerstown, Boonsborough, and Middletown, and in these places the command was received with enthusiastic demonstrations of favor. The march continued through the entire day and a part of the following night, with an interval of three hours for rest at Boonsborough.

At 12.30 a. m. on Tuesday the regiment bivouacked in the immediate vicinity of Frederick, having accomplished a march of thirty-three miles. Soon after sunrise the regiment marched into the city, and remained there through the day.

At 7 p. m. we left Frederick by rail and proceeded to Washington, arriving at 6 o’clock on Wednesday morning, June 19. It gives me pleasure to assure the General-in-Chief of the gratification which I feel at the bearing and conduct of the command during this expedition. The fatigues of the way were endured with fortitude, and had any danger threatened I have no doubt that it would have been bravely met. As it is, I cannot avoid the expression of my satisfaction that the object of the expedition in which this regiment participated was attained in safety and without the loss of life. The command is now in an effective condition for the further service of the Government of the United States.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

A. E. BURNSIDE,
Colonel, Comdg. First Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers.





Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson’s Plan for the Proposed Movement from Leesburg to Alexandria

21 10 2020

CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN MARYLAND, PENNSYLVANIA, VIRGINIA, AND WEST VIRGINIA FROM APRIL 16 TO JULY 31, 1861

CORRESPONDENCE, ETC. – UNION

O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, pp. 711-712

Hagerstown, Md., June 21, 1861.

Col. E. D. Townsend,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., U. 8. Army, Washington City:

Colonel: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the telegram of the General-in-Chief calling for a plan of operations with a portion of my force to sweep the enemy from Leesburg, &c. Inclosed is a copy of my telegraphic reply. The following is my plan more in detail:

To carry out the views of the General-in-Chief I propose—

First. To occupy the Maryland Heights with a brigade (2,100 men); fortify and arm with Doubleday’s artillery, and provision for twenty days, to secure against investment.

Second. To move all supplies to Frederick, and immediately thereafter abandon this line of operations; threaten with a force to open a route through Harper’s Ferry, this force to be the sustaining one for the command on Maryland Heights.

Third. To send everything else available (horse, foot, and artillery) to cross the Potomac near Point of Rocks, and unite with Colonel Stone at Leesburg. From that point I can operate as circumstances shall demand and your orders require. If no blow is to be struck here, I think this change of position important to keep alive the ardor of our men as well as to force an enemy.

The reasons for this change of depot will be so apparent to the General-in-Chief that I need not refer to them. By the employment of the local transportation of the country I can soon make the necessary changes, and will hasten to carry out your orders.

I have many reports in regard to the movements of the force opposite us in Virginia, and have reason to believe that when the regulars were withdrawn, General Johnston, with thirteen thousand men and twenty-two pieces of artillery, was marching to the attack, and that night posted his force, expecting from us an attack the following morning. I regret we did not meet the enemy, so confident am I that, with this well-appointed force, the result would have been favorable to us, and that this portion of Virginia would now be peaceably occupied.

Reports of the enemy having returned to Harper’s Ferry and had driven the occupants to this shore reached me yesterday. I immediately dispatched a strong force to take position in the vicinity of Sharpsburg and protect all parties on this side of the river, and drive back any force which may attempt to cross.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. PATTERSON,
Major-General, Commanding.

[Inclosure.]

Hagerstown, Md., June 21, 1861.

Col. E. D. Townsend, Washington City:

The telegram of the General-in-Chief of yesterday was received at midnight. To carry out proposed plan I think involves a change of depot to Frederick and evacuation of Williamsport and Hagerstown. With an enemy close at hand, a move suddenly, with present amount of transportation, necessitates sending a large mass of stores back to Harrisburg or their abandonment.

Maryland Heights can be secured, and Frederick also, and a strong force of infantry, some cavalry, and artillery sent via Frederick to Leesburg to sweep the enemy from that point to Alexandria. If no blow is to be struck here, and this meets the views of the General-in-Chief, I will at once commence moving, and be in position to act at the earliest practicable moment. I send a regiment to-day to Frederick at the urgent solicitation of the governor. I shall write in full by mail. Reconnaissance of heights being made. Send your telegrams via Harrisburg, Chambersburg, &c. Frederick line cannot be relied upon.

R. PATTERSON,
Major-General, Commanding.





Army A. A. G. E. D. Townsend to Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell on Proposed Movement from Alexandria to Leesburg

21 10 2020

CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN MARYLAND, PENNSYLVANIA, VIRGINIA, AND WEST VIRGINIA FROM APRIL 16 TO JULY 31, 1861

CORRESPONDENCE, ETC. – UNION

O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, p. 711

Washington, June 21, 1861.

Brigadier-General McDowell, U. S. A.:

Sir: The General-in-Chief sends you the inclosed copy of instructions to Major-General Patterson,* and desires you to propose a column to co-operate from this end, according to the outline plan indicated.
I am, &c.,

E. D. TOWNSEND,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

*See Scott to Patterson, June 20, p. 709.





Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott to Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson on Proposed Movement from Leesburg to Alexandria

21 10 2020

CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN MARYLAND, PENNSYLVANIA, VIRGINIA, AND WEST VIRGINIA FROM APRIL 16 TO JULY 31, 1861

CORRESPONDENCE, ETC. – UNION

O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, p. 709

Washington, June 20,1861.

General R. Patterson, U. S. A., Hagerstown, Md.:

I desire you to cause to be examined the Maryland Heights, overlooking Harper’s Ferry, with a view to a battery sufficient to hold the same, and also without delay to propose to me a plan of operations with a portion of your force to sweep the enemy from Leesburg towards Alexandria, in co-operation with a strong column from this end of the same road. Of course it is designed that you should absorb the column of Colonel Stone, now covering the fords and ferries on the Potomac below Leesburg; the remainder of your troops (how many?) to be left to cover the detachment on the Maryland Heights. Reply promptly.

WINFIELD SCOTT.

(Copy to General McDowell.)





McDowell is Informed of Patterson’s Delay in Proposed Movement

14 10 2020

CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN MARYLAND, PENNSYLVANIA, VIRGINIA, AND WEST VIRGINIA FROM APRIL 16 TO JULY 31, 1861

CORRESPONDENCE, ETC. – UNION

O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, p. 690

Washington, June 15,1861.

General McDowell, Arlington: General Scott says, whether Harper’s Perry is evacuated or not, General Patterson cannot cross the river before Wednesday next [19th]. This in reference to a proposed movement of yours, on the expediency of which events must now decide.

E. D. TOWNSEND,
Assistant Adjutant-General.





McDowell’s Estimate of Required Force for Proposed Movement

10 10 2020

CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN MARYLAND, PENNSYLVANIA, VIRGINIA, AND WEST VIRGINIA FROM APRIL 16 TO JULY 31, 1861

CORRESPONDENCE, ETC. – UNION

O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, pp. 664-665

Hdqrs. Department N. E. Virginia,
Arlington, June 4,1861.

Lieut. Col. E. D. Townsend, Asst. Adjt. Gen.,
Headquarters of the Army, Washington, D. C.:

Colonel : I have the honor to report as follows, in compliance with your telegram of the 3d instant requiring me to submit “an estimate of the number and composition of a column to be pushed towards Manassas Junction, and perhaps the gap, say in four or five days, to favor Patterson’s attack on Harper’s Ferry.”

In view of the number of the enemy supposed to be at Manassas Junction, at Centreville, Fairfax Station, Fairfax Court-House, and other places this side of Manassas, and of that at places beyond Manassas, but within a few hours of it by rail, and of the possibility of troops coming from the valley through the gap, I think the actual entire force at the head of the column should, for the purpose of carrying the position at Manassas and of occupying both the road to Culpeper and the one to the gap, be as much as 12,000 infantry, two batteries of regular artillery, and from six to eight companies of cavalry, with an available reserve ready to move forward from Alexandria by rail of 5,000 infantry and one heavy field battery, rifled if possible; these numbers to be increased or diminished as events may indicate. I propose that this force, composed mostly of new troops, shall be organized into field brigades, under active and experienced colonels of the Army, whilst their regiments are being recruited, aided by a few regular officers. This is made the more necessary from the fact that the presence on this side of some corps indifferently commanded has led to numerous acts of petty depredations, pillage, &c., which have exasperated the inhabitants and chilled the hopes of the Union men, and show that these regiments should all of them be restrained as well as led; and where, as is the case with many, they are not so by their officers, they must have some one immediately over them who can and will. I do not propose to have a supply train of wagons for the main body, but to use the railroad, which makes it necessary that every bridge or other important point be guarded, and have either a block-house or field-work. This will require several Engineer officers, and a full supply of intrenching tools, axes, &c.

I have now, perhaps, done all that the General-in-Chief desires of me, but I will take the liberty of adding a few remarks, if not even some suggestions. As soon as we commence to move they will do the same, and as their communications with their position at Harper’s Ferry, which they evidently cherish, will be threatened, they will do as they did when we first came over—hurry forward from all the stations at the South—and the question arises as to the best point or line it is advisable to hold, even for defensive purposes. This, it seems to me, is the line of the Rappahannock, which, if occupied in force, will effectually free all Northeastern Virginia, without coming in contact with the inhabitants, and also free the Potomac. It will be necessary to hold the Aquia Creek Railroad, which, if done in large numbers, would make a powerful diversion in General Butler’s favor. It is true the foregoing is not directly in answer to the question of the General-in-Chief, but I think it flows from it. In relation to the number of troops to be used, I have only to say—what, perhaps, is evident enough, however—that in proportion to the numbers used will be the lives saved; and as we have such numbers pressing to be allowed to serve, might it not be well to overwhelm and conquer as much by the show of force as by the use of it?

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, colonel, your most obedient servant,

Irvin McDowell,
Brigadier- General, Commanding.





U. S. Army HQ Requests Estimate of Force Required by McDowell

9 10 2020

CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN MARYLAND, PENNSYLVANIA, VIRGINIA, AND WEST VIRGINIA FROM APRIL 16 TO JULY 31, 1861

CORRESPONDENCE, ETC. – UNION

O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, p. 662

Headquarters, June 3, 1861.

General McDowell,
Commanding, &c., Arlington:

General Scott desires you to submit an estimate of the number and composition of a column to be xmshed towards Manassas Junction, and perhaps the gap, say in four or five days, to favor Patterson’s attack on Harper’s Ferry.

The rumor is that Arlington Heights will be attacked to-night.

E. D. TOWNSEND,
Assistant Adjutant-General.





Bull Runnings at West Point

6 11 2017

On Friday, October 20, my family toured the grounds of the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. Thanks to our mutual friend Dr. Carol Reardon, we were given a guided tour of the post cemetery by military history instructor Lt. Col. David Siry (Dave’s efforts bring us the wonderful West Point Center for Oral History features, which you can also follow on its Facebook page). It was all a little overwhelming – in such a small plot of land, you’re pretty much tripping over U. S. Army history with every step. Cemeteries have the most significant emotional impact of any historic sites for me – not only are they the resting places of the mortal remains of the people I’ve read so much about, but the gravesites were often the last place where loved ones gathered with them, where they were remembered and “sent off” to, well, wherever we think they go. I could have spent a week in the West Point Cemetery. But, of course, I couldn’t. Now, we only had the one day, and it was a football weekend (Army beat Temple on a pass play the next day…A COMPLETED PASS!!!), so before you say “Oh, you should have seen X, Y, or Z” we saw as much as we could see in the time we had. Below, I’ll recap the day via photos of First Bull Run related items. (I took about 275 photos, and they’re not all BR1 related, but this is a First Bull Run site. I’ll post other Civil War related shots on the Bull Runnings Facebook page if you’re interested.)

First thing, if you want to visit the Academy, you’ll need to get clearance and an ID at the off post visitor’s center, where the museum is (we didn’t get back there until after 4:00, when the museum closed.) It’s not too bad – you need your driver’s license and your social security number. Our process took a little longer because it was a football weekend, and alumni and cadet parents get preference. The photo ID is good for up to a year, and it makes a cool souvenir too. Just be patient and don’t try to make too much small talk with the processors.

We picked up Dave near his office in Thayer Hall, and it was off to the cemetery, with our guide describing points of interest along the way. One thing’s for sure: the Academy is very, very gray. Gray, stone, imposing buildings predominate. This stood out in stark contrast to the amazing Fall colors of the Hudson Valley. And we had a beautiful, clear day. (Click on any image for a great-big-giant one.)

IMG_20171020_115040957.jpg

Gray – I think that is Thayer Hall to the right.

IMG_20171020_125311467_HDR.jpg

Not gray – The Hudson Valley from Trophy Point

Here are the Fist Bull Runners as we came across them in the cemetery:

IMG_20171020_102652857.jpg

Alonzo Cushing, who was with Co. G, 2nd U. S. Artillery. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in June, 2014

IMG_20171020_102657869.jpg

IMG_20171020_102807294_HDR.jpg

Erasmus Keyes, Brigade Commander, Tyler’s Division

IMG_20171020_102744788_HDR.jpg

Keyes rear

IMG_20171020_102908768_HDR.jpg

George Sykes, commanded the U. S. Regular Battalion

IMG_20171020_102927052_HDR.jpg

IMG_20171020_102942053.jpg

General-in-Chief Winfield Scott

IMG_20171020_102950273_HDR.jpg

IMG_20171020_103059843_HDR.jpg

Mrs. Scott

IMG_20171020_103019192_HDR.jpg

Sylvanus Thayer – 5th Superintendent and “Father” of the U. S. Military Academy

IMG_20171020_103524671_HDR

Joseph Audenried – ADC to Brig. Gen. Daniel Tyler

IMG_20171020_103651733.jpg

IMG_20171020_103634933_HDR.jpg

George Armstrong Custer – 2nd U. S. Cavalry

IMG_20171020_103621319_HDR.jpg

George Armstrong Custer – 2nd U. S. Cavalry

IMG_20171020_103611805_HDR.jpg

IMG_20171020_103547197.jpg

IMG_20171020_103602111.jpg

George Armstrong Custer – 2nd U. S. Cavalry

IMG_20171020_103554385.jpg

George Armstrong Custer – 2nd U. S. Cavalry

20171020_103449_001[4216]

Elizabeth Bacon Custer

 

20171020_103437[4215]
Lt. Col. Siry and I discuss the history of the Custer memorial as my son listens in

Dennis Hart Mahan and his ideas on engineering and military theory had perhaps the greatest influence on the cadets at West Point. In 1871, after the Board of Visitors recommended he retire, he leapt into the paddlewheel of a Hudson River steamboat.

IMG_20171020_104200313_HDR.jpg

The Old Cadet Chapel served as the Academy’s place of worship from 1836 until it was replaced by the current Cadet Chapel and moved to the cemetery from its original location, brick by brick through the efforts of alumni, in 1910. It was in this building that cadets gathered in 1861, in the wake of resignations of cadets from southern states, to take a new Oath of Allegiance to the United States and its constitution. Mounted on the walls inside are war trophies and plaques to various individuals, including past superintendents, the first graduating class (2 cadets), and one plaque that lists no name, in non-recognition of former post commander Major General Benedict Arnold (the day before, in Tarrytown, NY, I visited a couple of sites pertaining to the capture of the treacherous Arnold’s British contact, Major John Andre).

IMG_20171020_112341785.jpgIMG_20171020_112856937.jpg

IMG_20171020_112624587.jpgIMG_20171020_112631631.jpg

IMG_20171020_112606998.jpg

IMG_20171020_112526171.jpg

IMG_20171020_112435000.jpg

Winfield Scott’s pew used in his retirement. He sat next to a column at the far end, which obscured his often dozing form from the view of the officiant.

The new (107-year-old) Cadet Chapel is adorned with representative flags of various Civil War regular units, some of which were present at First Bull Run. It’s also home to the world’s largest chapel pipe organ, with 23,511 pipes. Despite having played – in church, no less – as a youth, I was not going to embarrass myself…

IMG_20171020_151926659_HDR.jpg

IMG_20171020_150041245.jpg

IMG_20171020_145716471.jpg

IMG_20171020_145514726.jpg

IMG_20171020_150450082.jpg

This pew is not used, and the candle remains lit in remembrance of those cadets who did not return home (per an overheard tour guide)

Trophy Point overlooks the Hudson Valley and offers one of the most scenic views in the nation. For many years it was the site of graduation ceremonies, and now is home to a large artillery display (many prizes of war, hence “Trophy Point”) and one of the tallest polished granite columns (46 feet tall, 5 feet in diameter) in the world, the Battle Monument. Designed by architect Stanford White, the Battle Monument displays the names of regular army officers and men who perished in the Civil War. The column is topped by the figure of “Fame.” The names of fallen Regular officers encircle the column, first those on staff, then those in the regular regiments and batteries. Enlisted men’s names are inscribed around eight globes placed around the column.  There are over 2,200 names in all. Each of the eight globes is adorned with two cannons, each muzzle inscribed with the name of a Civil War battle. Here are a few shots of the monument, with particular attention to First Bull Run related items.

IMG_20171020_124723352_HDR.jpg

IMG_20171020_121930205_HDR.jpg

IMG_20171020_122918588_HDR.jpg

IMG_20171020_154422751.jpg

IMG_20171020_122718508_HDR.jpg

IMG_20171020_122336465.jpg

IMG_20171020_122407289_HDR.jpg

IMG_20171020_122545641.jpg

Capt. Otis H. Tillinghast, Acting Assistant Quartermaster, McDowell’s Staff, mortally wounded at First Bull Run

IMG_20171020_122613319.jpg

Lt. Patrick H. O’Rorke, ADC to B. G. Daniel Tyler; Cadet John R. Meigs, attached to staff of Maj. Henry Hunt, 2nd U. S. Artillery

I’m sure there are names I missed, but again, this was on the fly. Maybe next time.

All-in-all, a great trip. We saw a great deal in addition to what I included above, yet I can’t imagine leaving this place, particularly on such a beautiful fall day, without wishing I had more time. Thanks so much to Lt. Col. David Siry for his fine tour of the cemetery. If you get the chance to visit the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, definitely do it. And give it as much time as possible. It’s an informative and even moving experience.

IMG_20171020_105436765_HDR.jpg

Lt. Col. David Siry at the grave of Capt. Ronald Zinn, Class of 1962, whose unusual gait led him to race walking and the 1960 & 1964 U. S. Olympic teams

 





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

20 09 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 2
Part 3