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General Ewell at First Manassas.

Colonel Campbell Brown's reply to General Beauregard.

[note.—The following letters appeared in the Century for March, 1885. They are reprinted for circulation among the friends of General Ewell, especially those who were associated with him during his long service in the armies of the United States and of the Confederacy.

Many of these will be interested to know that the close of our great civil war (which he survived something over six years) by no means ended his usefulness or extinguished his patriotism. Accepting frankly the results of that contest, he gave his energies and his influence to restoring the arts of peace and building up a new South. With characteristic modesty he avoided publicity, but his quiet example was widely felt. His Tennessee farm soon became known as a model of judicious and progressive management, and one of the very earliest centres of the new agricultural methods which are regenerating the South. Upon this farm, in January, 1872, he quietly met the end of an unselfish, noble, and useful life.

General Ewell was scrupulously careful of the military reputation of his associates in arms, and doubly so when a subordinate was concerned. These feelings, combined with his genuine modesty, led him, on more than one occasion within my knowledge, even in his official reports, to claim less than his due share of honor, and do less than justice to his own merits, and on other occasions caused him to remain silent rather than impute blame to a dead comrade. Had the same moderation and self-restraint influenced General Beauregard, this publication would be unnecessary.

In General Beauregard's article on Bull Run, on page 101 of the November Century, is this severe criticism of one of his subordinates:

‘The commander of the front line on my right, who failed to move because he received no immediate order, was instructed in the plan of attack, and should have gone forward the moment General Jones, upon whose right he was to form, exhibited his own order, which mentioned one as having been already sent to that commander. I exonerated him after the battle, as he was technically not in the wrong; but one could not help recalling Desaix, who even [42] moved in a direction opposite to his technical orders when facts plainly showed him the service he ought to perform, whence the glorious result of Marengo, or help believing that if Jackson had been there, the movement would not have balked.’

The officer referred to is the late Lieutenant-General R. S. Ewell, and the censure is based on the following statement on page 95:

‘Meanwhile, in rear of Mitchell's Ford, I had been waiting with General Johnston for the sound of conflict to open in the quarter of Centreville upon the Federal left flank and rear (making allowance, however, for the delays possible to commands unused to battle), when I was chagrined to hear from General D. R. Jones that, while he had been long ready for the movement upon Centreville, General Ewell had not come up to form on his right, though he had sent him between seven and eight o'clock a copy of his own order, which recited that Ewell had been already ordered to begin the movement. I dispatched an immediate order to Ewell to advance, but within a quarter of an hour, just as I received a dispatch from him informing me that he had received no order to advance in the morning, the firing on the left began to increase so intensely as to indicate a severe attack, whereupon General Johnston said that he would go personally to that quarter.’

These two short extracts contain at least three errors, so serious that they should not be allowed to pass uncorrected among the materials from which history will one day be constructed:

1. That Ewell failed to do what a good soldier of the type of Desaix or Stonewall Jackson would have done, namely, to move forward immediately on hearing from D. R. Jones.

2. That Beauregard was made aware of this supposed backwardness of Ewell by a message from D. R. Jones.

3. That on receiving this message he at once ordered Ewell to advance.

The subjoined correspondence, now first in print, took place four days after the battle. It shows that Ewell did exactly what Beauregard says he ought to have done, namely: move forward promptly; that his own staff-officer, sent to report this forward movement, carried also to headquarters the first intelligence of the failure of orders to reach him; that no such message was received from D. R. Jones as is here ascribed to him; and that the order sent back by [43] Beauregard to Ewell was not one to advance, but to retire from an advance already begun.

These mistakes, I am sure, are unintentional; but it is not easy to understand them, as General Beauregard has twice given a tolerably accurate, though meager, account of the matter—once in his official report and once in his biography published by Colonel Roman in 1884. Neither of these accounts can be reconciled with that in The Century.

Upon reading General Beauregard's article, I wrote to General Fitzhugh Lee, who was Ewell's assistant adjutant-general at Manassas, asking his recollection of what took place. I have liberty to make the following extracts from his reply. After stating what troops composed the brigade, he goes on:

These troops were all in position at daylight on the 21st of July, ready for any duty, and held the extreme right of General Beauregard's line of battle along Bull Run, at Union Mills. As hour after hour passed, General Ewell grew impatient at not receiving any orders (beyond those to be ready to advance, which came at sunrise), and sent me between nine and ten A. M. to see General D. R. Jones, who commanded the brigade next on his left at McLean's Ford, to ascertain if that officer had any news or had received any orders from army headquarters. I found General Jones making preparations to cross Bull Run, and was told by him that, in the order he had received to do so, it was stated that General Ewell had been sent similar instructions.

Upon my report of these facts, General Ewell at once issued the orders for his command to cross the run and move out on the road to Centreville.

General Lee then describes the recall across Bull Run and the second advance of the brigade to make a demonstration toward Centreville, and adds that the skirmishers of Rodes's Fifth Alabama Regiment, which was in advance, had actually become engaged, when we were again recalled and ordered to ‘move by the most direct route at once and as rapidly as possible, for the Lewis house,’ the field of battle on the left. Ewell moved rapidly, sending General Lee and another officer ahead to report and secure orders. On his arrival near the field, they brought instructions to halt, when he immediately rode forward with them to General Beauregard, ‘and General Ewell begged General Beauregard to be allowed to go in [44] pursuit of the enemy, but his request was refused.’ General Lee adds: ‘That this splendid brigade shared only the labor, and not the glory of that memorable July day was not the fault of its commander; and when General Beauregard says that he cannot help believing that if Jackson had been on his right flank at Manassas the “movement would not have balked,” he does great injustice to the memory of a noble old hero and as gallant a soldier as the war produced.’

As to the real causes of the miscarriage of General Beauregard's plan of attack there need be little doubt. They are plainly stated by his immediate superior in command, General Joseph E. Johnston, in his official report, as being the ‘early movements of the enemy on that morning and the non-arrival of the expected troops’ from Harper's Ferry. He adds: ‘General Beauregard afterward proposed a modification of the abandoned plan, to attack with our right, while the left stood on the defensive. This, too, became impracticable, and a battle ensued, different in place and circumstances from any previous plan on our side.’

There are some puzzling circumstances connected with the supposed miscarriage of the order for our advance. The delay in sending it is unexplained. General Beauregard says it was sent ‘at about eight A. M.,’ but D. R. Jones had received his corresponding order at ten minutes past seven, and firing had begun at half-past 5.

The messenger was strangely chosen. It was the most important order of the day, for the movements of the army were to hinge on those of our brigade. There was no scarcity of competent staff-officers, yet it was intrusted to ‘a guide,’ presumably an enlisted man, perhaps even a citizen, whose very name was unknown.

His instructions were peculiar. Time was all-important. He was ordered not to go direct to Ewell, but first to make a detour to Holmes, who lay in reserve nearly two miles in our rear.

His disappearance is mysterious. He was never heard of after receiving the order, yet his route lay wholly within our lines, over well-beaten roads and far out of reach of the enemy.

Lastly, General Beauregard, in his official report, gives as his reason for countermanding the movement begun by Ewell at ten o'clock, that in his judgment it would require quite three hours for the troops to get into position for attack. Had the messenger dispatched at eight been prompt, Ewell might have had his orders by nine. But at nine we find Beauregard in rear of Mitchell's Ford, waiting for an [45] attack which, by his own figures, he should not have expected before twelve.

It is not for me to reconcile these contradictions.

Campbell Brown, Formerly Aide-de-camp and Assistant Adjutant-General on General Ewell's staff. Spring Hill, Tenn., December 29, 1884.


sir,—In a conversation with Major James, Louisiana Sixth Regiment, he has left the impression on my mind that you think some of your orders on the 21st were either not carried out or not received by me.

My first order on that day was to hold myself in readiness to attack—this at sunrise. About ten, General Jones sent a copy of an order received by him, in which it was stated that I had been ordered to cross and attack, and on receipt of this I moved on until receiving the following:

10 & 1-2 A. M.
On account of the difficulties of the ground in our front, it is thought advisable to fall back to our former position.

(Addressed) General Ewell
. (Signed) G. T. B.

If any other order was sent to me, I should like to have a copy of it, as well as the name of the courier who brought it.

Every movement I made was at once reported to you at the time, and this across Bull Run, as well as the advance in the afternoon, I thought were explained in my report sent in to-day.

If an order were sent earlier than the copy through General Jones, the courier should be held responsible, as neither General Holmes nor myself received it. I send the original of the order to fall back in the morning. The second advance in the afternoon and recall to Stone Bridge were in consequence of verbal orders.

My chief object in writing to you is to ask you to leave nothing doubtful in your report, both as regards my crossing in the morning and recall, and not to let it be inferred by any possibility that I [46] blundered on that day. I moved forward as soon as notified by General Jones that I was ordered and he had been.

If there was an order sent me to advance before the one I received through General Jones, it is more than likely it would have been given to the same express.


Manassas, Va., July 26, 1861.
General,—Your letter of the 25th inst. is received. I do not attach the slightest blame to you for the failure of the movement on Centreville, but to the guide who did not deliver the order to move forward, sent at about eight A. M. to General Holmes and then to you—corresponding in every respect to the one sent to Generals Jones, Bonham and Longstreet—only their movements were subordinate to yours. Unfortunately no copy, in the hurry of the moment, was kept of said orders, and so many guides, about a dozen or more, were sent off in different directions, that it is next to impossible to find out who was the bearer of the orders referred to. Our guides and couriers were the worst set I ever employed, whether from ignorance or over-anxiety to do well and quickly, I cannot say; but many regiments lost their way repeatedly on their way toward the field of battle, and of course I can attach no more blame to their commanding officers than I could to you for not executing an order which I am convinced you did not get.

I am fully aware that you did all that could have been expected of you or your command. I merely expressed my regret that my original plan could not be carried into effect, as it would have been a most complete victory with only half the trouble and fighting.

The true cause of countermanding your forward movement after you had crossed was that it was then too late, as the enemy was about to annihilate our left flank, and had to be met and checked there, for otherwise he would have taken us in flank and rear, and all would have been lost.

Yours truly,

P. S.—Please read the above to Major James.


N. B.—The order sent you at about eight A. M. to commence the movement on Centreville, was addressed to General Holmes and yourself, as he was to support you, but being nearer Camp Pickens, the headquarters, than Union Mills, where you were, it was to be communicated to him first, and then to you; but he has informed me that it never reached him. With regard to the order sent you in the afternoon to recross the Bull Run (to march toward the Stone Bridge), it was sent you by General J. E. Johnston, as I am informed by him, for the purpose of supporting our left, if necessary.

G. T. B.

Do not publish until we know what the enemy is going to do, or reports are out, which, I think, will make it all right.


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