New York times narrative: editorial correspondence.
Washington, Sunday night, July 22, 1861.The battle yesterday was one of the most severe and sanguinary ever fought on this continent, and it ended in the failure of the Union troops to hold all the positions which they sought to carry, and which they actually did carry, and in their retreat to Centreville, where they have made a stand, and where Gen. McDowell believes that they are able to maintain themselves. As I telegraphed you yesterday, the attack was made in three columns, two of which, however, were mainly feints, intended to amuse and occupy the enemy, while the substantial work was done by the third. It has been known for a long time that the range of hills which border the small swampy stream known as Bull Run, had been very thoroughly and extensively fortified by the rebels — that batteries had been planted at every available point, usually concealed in the woods and bushes which abound in that vicinity, and covering every way of approach to the region beyond. These are the advanced defences of Manassas Junction, which is some three miles further off. Until these were carried, no approach could be made to that place; and after they should be carried, others of a similar character would have to be overcome at every point where they could be erected. The utmost that military skill and ingenuity could accomplish for the defence of this point was done. Gen. McDowell was unwilling to make an attack directly in face of these batteries, as they would be of doubtful issue, and must inevitably result in a very serious loss of life. After an attack had been resolved upon, therefore, he endeavored to find some way of turning the position. His first intention was to do this on the southern side — to throw a strong column into the place from that direction, while a feigned attack should be made in front. On Thursday, when the troops were advanced to Centreville, it was found that the roads on the south side of these positions were almost impracticable — that they were narrow, crooked, and stony, and that it would be almost impossible to bring up enough artillery to be effective in the time required. This original plan was, therefore, abandoned; and Friday was devoted to an examination by the topographical engineers of the northern side of the position. Maj. Barnard and Capt. Whipple reconnoitred the place for miles around, and reported that the position could be entered by a path coming from the north, though it was somewhat long and circuitous. This was selected, therefore, as the mode and point of attack. On Saturday the troops were all brought closely up to Centreville, and all needful preparations were made for the attack which was made this day. This morning, therefore, the army marched, by two roads, Col. Richardson with his command taking the southern, which leads to Bull Run, and Gen. Tyler the northern — running parallel to it at a distance of about a mile and a half. The movement commenced at about 3 o'clock. I got up at a little before 4, and found the long line of troops extended far out on either road. I took the road by which Colonel Hunter, with his command, and General McDowell and staff, had gone, and pushed on directly for the front. After going out about two miles, Colonel Hunter turned to the right — marching oblique toward the run, which he was to cross some four miles higher up, and then come down upon the intrenched positions of the enemy on the other side. Col. Miles was left at Centreville and on the road, with reserves which he was to bring up whenever they might be needed. Gen. Tyler went directly forward, to engage the enemy in front, and send reinforcements to Col. Hunter whenever it should be seen that he was engaged. I went out, as I have already stated, upon what is marked as the northern road. It is hilly, like all the surface of this section. After going out about three miles, you come to a point down which the road, leading through a forest, descends; then it proceeds by a succession of rising and falling knolls for a quarter of a mile, when it crosses a stone bridge, and then rises by a steady slope to the heights beyond. At the top of that slope the rebels had planted heavy batteries, and the woods below were filled with their troops, and with concealed cannon. We advanced down the road to the first of the small knolls mentioned, when the whole column halted. The 30-pounder Parrott gun, which has a longer range than any other in the army, was planted directly in the road. Capt. Ayres' battery was stationed in the woods a little to the right. The First Ohio and Second New York regiments were thrown into the woods in advance on the left. The Sixty-ninth New York, the First, Second, and Third Connecticut regiments were ranged behind them, and the Second Wisconsin was thrown into the woods on the right. At about half-past 6 o'clock the 30-pounder threw two shells directly into the battery at the summit of the slope, on the opposite height, one of which, as I learned afterward, struck and exploded directly in the midst of the battery, and occasioned the utmost havoc and confusion. After about half an hour, Capt. Ayres threw ten or fifteen shot or shell from his battery into the same place. But both failed to elicit any reply. Men could be seen moving about the opposite slope, but the batteries were silent. An hour or so afterward we heard three or four guns from Col. Richardson's column at Bull Run, and these were continued at intervals for two or three hours, but they were not answered, even by a single gun. It was very clear that the enemy intended to take his own time for paying his respects to us, and that he meant, moreover, to do it in his own way. Meantime we could hear in the distance the sound of Co.