were torn in pieces by a single round of grape shot, and their blood was flung in great splashes over all who stood near.
The carnage around seemed more terrific than it really was, so hideous was the nature of the wounds.
A few minutes later, and the great peril of our division, that which should have been foreseen and provided against, was upon us. The enemy appeared upon the left flank, between us and our way of retreat.
Why they failed, having once secured it, to pursue this enormous advantage, it is impossible to conjecture.
I am inclined to believe that the coolness and precision of Col. McCook
of the 1st Ohio regiment saved us from this disaster.
It is certain Col. McCook
displayed a firm resistance to the charge which menaced him, and that the enemy wavered, and then withdrew.
But, at this time, the first proofs of the panic which had stricken the army were disclosed.
From the distant hills, our troops, disorganized, scattered, pallid with a terror which had no just cause, came pouring in among us, trampling down some, and spreading the contagion of their fear among all. It was even then a whirlwind which nothing could resist.
The most reluctant of the officers were forced from the valley up the hill, in spite of themselves.
Whoever had stood would have been trodden under foot by his own men. Near the top of the hill a like commotion was visible, but from a different cause.
The rebel cavalry, having completely circumvented our left, had charged in among a crowd of wounded and stragglers, who surrounded a small building which had been used for our hospital.
Nothing but the unexpected courage of a considerable number of unorganized men, many of them civilians, who seized the readiest weapons and repelled the enemy, saved that point from being occupied.
If I could learn the names of that brave handful, I would be glad to set them down as shining lights amid a great and disastrous gloom; and I will say that if our flying army could have forgotten for a moment its affright, and paused to see what those true men could do, the nation might still have escaped the saddest disgrace which stains its history.
The secret of that panic will perhaps never be known.
All essay to explain it, and all fail.
Whether Gen. McDowell
did or did not give an order to retreat I cannot say of my own knowledge.
I am assured by one who was with him that he did; and by others that he also failed to preserve his self-control.
If this be so, we shall know of it in time, but all we can now be sure of is the afflicting fact of our utter and absolute rout.
How nearly one great object of the day had been accomplished may be understood when it is known that Gen. Tyler
and Gen. McDowell
had actually met. Many who came into the battle with Col. Heintzelman
and Col. Hunter
fled by the road over which Gen. Tyler
In the race from a fancied danger, all divisions and all regiments are mingled.
There was not even an attempt to cover the retreat of Tyler
's it was better: Lieut. Drummond
's cavalry troop keeping firm line, and protecting the artillery until its abandonment was imperatively ordered.
The extent of the disorder was unlimited.
Regulars and volunteers shared it alike.
A mere fraction of our artillery was saved.
Whole batteries were left upon the field, and the cutting off of others was ordered when the guns had already been brought two miles or more from the battle-ground, and were as safe as they would be in New York at this moment.
A perfect frenzy was upon almost every man. Some cried piteously to be lifted behind those who rode on horses, and others sought to clamber into wagons, the occupants resisting them with bayonets.
All sense of manhood seemed to be forgotten.
I hope, and I am sure, there were exceptions, but I am speaking of the rule with the mass.
Drivers of heavy wagons dashed down the steep road, reckless of the lives they endangered on the way. Even the sentiment of shame had gone.
Some of the better men tried to withstand the rush, and cried out against the flying groups, calling them “cowards, poltroons, brutes,” and reviling them for so degrading themselves, especially when no enemy was near.
Insensible to the epithets, the runaways only looked relieved, and sought renewed assurance that their imagined pursuers were not upon them.
Every impediment to flight was cast aside.
Rifles, bayonets, pistols, haversacks, cartridge-boxes, canteens, blankets, belts, and overcoats lined the road.
The provisions from the wagons were thrown out, and the tops broken away.
All was lost to that American army, even its honor.
The agony of this overwhelming disgrace can never be expressed in words, or understood by those who only hear the tale repeated.
I believe there were men upon that field who turned their faces to the enemy, and marched to certain death, lest they should share the infamy which their fellows had invited and embraced.
The suffering of a hundred deaths would have been as nothing compared with the torture under which the few brave soldiers writhed, who were swept along by that maniac hurricane of terror.
But suddenly their spirits were revived by a sight which so long as God lets them live, they will never cease to remember with pride and joy. Stretching far across the road, long before the hoped — for refuge of Centreville
was reached, was a firm, unswerving line of men, to whom the sight of the thousands who dashed by them was only a wonder or a scorn.
This was the German rifle regiment, and to see the manly bearing of their general, and feel the inspiration which his presence gave at that moment, was like relief to those who perish in a desert.
At least, then, all was not lost, and we knew that, let our destiny turn that night as it should, there was one man who would hold and keep the fame of the nation unsullied to the end.
I need not speak much in praise of the action of Blenker
and the officers who served him so