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Chapter 3:

  • Arrival at Manassas
  • -- appearance of things by night -- operations of our army opposed to Patterson around Harper's Ferry -- forward movements of the enemy -- Jackson opens the Ball -- Colonel Maxey Gregg attacks the Northern troops on the railway at Vienna -- earthworks at Manassas -- strength of our troops -- scouting parties -- letter from a friend, giving details of the action at Carthage.

Our engineless train lay along the track, with others in the rear; no one was stirring; the stars shone out in the clear cold skies with unusual brilliancy. To amuse myself, I spoke to the nearest guard, and gleaned scraps of information regarding the topography of the country. “Do you see yonder chain of hills rising in the south-west, and running north? Well, that is a spur of the Blue Ridge; and where you now see the moon rising, and those flickering lights, that is the ‘Gap,’ through which the railroad runs from here to Strasburgh. From the latter place to Winchester, twelve miles, there is a break in the track. From Winchester, however, the road runs to Harper's Ferry, and there joins the Washington and Baltimore roads to the east, and with the Western Virginia and Ohio Railroads to the west. General Joe Johnston is at the Ferry with a small force guarding the passage; for if General Patterson and his forty thousand men pour across from Maryland and Pennsylvania into the Shenandoah Valley, they can march on this place by the flank, while Scott moves down from Washington in our front. 'Tis fully sixty miles, however, from the Ferry here, and if we hadn't so many traitors and spies around at all points, night and day, our boys wouldn't be obliged to guard the ‘Gap’ yonder this cold night,” (May first, 1861.)

The troops were nearly all from the far South, which accounted for their chilliness. Giving the guard a drink of brandy, we became friendly in a short time, and he continued: [21] “Yonder black streak you see rising from the south south-west, running north, and turning off due east, is the timber around Bull Run; 'tis about three or four miles distant from here to any point, and the high grounds you observe rising abruptly beyond the stream — the table-land I mean, northward-and shelving to the east across the track, is Centreville. A small detachment and military telegraph post is stationed there watching the roads from the Upper Potomac and Leesburgh, coming in west, and keeping open communication with General Bonham, who holds Fairfax Court-House and the railroad station midway between Washington and this place. Trains run there night and day. See yonder” said my companion, pointing towards Centreville. “They are working the telegraph! See them repeating the signals on yonder hill? Wait a minute, and you'll perceive the answer given from Beauregard's quarters.”

In a few minutes, one of the men sitting around the large fire in front of the General's quarters, seized a long red fagot from the flames, and going to the north end of the house, began swaying it to the right and left, according to directions; now horizontally, again perpendicularly, and seemed to be cutting an imaginary circle at different angles. The signs were instantly repeated from post to post, and thus traversed fifteen miles within a very few minutes “General Bonham's got his answer before now, I know,” said the sentry; “I wonder what it is all about, though? There'll be hot work, shortly, or they wouldn't be working that machine so often at night.” In a few moments I heard some distant voice shout out: “Third Relief. Turn out, Third Relief !” and after a little bustle, jingling of accoutrements, and a hurried calling of the roll, I saw bayonets glistening and advancing in the distance, to relieve my agreeable companion; so, giving him another drink of brandy, I bade him good night, and picked my way back again to our cattle-cars, to sleep as best I could for the rest of the night.

When morning came, we all thought that Beauregard and other generals would call and inspect or review us; but our vanity was not so flattered. We were marched some two miles past the station; our baggage was brought down by an [22] engine and cars, and before we could well recover from a journey of thirteen hundred miles, we were unceremoniously marched into some large open fields parallel with the railroad, and about two miles from Bull Run. Camps being formed, drill was commenced and proceeded with incessantly. Little could be gleaned regarding Federal movements. General Joe Johnston had evacuated Harper's Ferry, we knew, and the act was much censured by non-military critics; as for the troops, they said nothing, but reposed implicit reliance in the wisdom and skill of our generals.

Patterson was massing his troops for a descent into the Shenandoah Valley, but at what point to expect his crossing no one could tell. Colonel Jackson (subsequently named “Stonewall” by way of distinction) was second in command under Johnston, and guarded the Upper Potomac with great vigilance. It was evident the Federals did not intend to force a passage at the Ferry, for we held the town and heights above it, and could defy all their attempts. It was soon apparent that they intended to cross higher up; so having no means or force to garrison the place, we destroyed the works, removed all materiel, and evacuated it; advancing higher up the river towards Martinsburgh, and for the most part lying in ambush. When their advance had crossed, Colonel Jackson's force (about three thousand) assailed them vigorously, took many prisoners, a few arms, and drove their main body back to the river. They had crossed, however, in such strength, that it was impossible to inflict any decided punishment with the few troops under his command; Colonel Jackson, therefore, retreated slowly and orderly towards Charlestown, (midway between Harper's Ferry and Winchester,) whither Johnston's main force had retired. While Johnston's and Patterson's forces were thus facing each other near Charlestown things were unchanged at Manassas. Reports, indeed, were circulated daily regarding the enemy's movements, but nothing of consequence transpired.

While seated by the tent-door one afternoon in June, I heard three distinct reports of light field-pieces from the direction of Washington, but did not attach any importance to the fact. Next day we learned that one of the Federal generals (Schlich by name) had been out on a reconnoissance, and met with a [23] serious reception from a handful of Confederates. Schlich, or Schlick, had novel notions of warfare, and intended to carry on operations in a free-and-easy style: so embarking two or three Ohio regiments on a long train; with two field-pieces, he proceeded down the Orange and Alexandria road, with the engine in the rear. Colonel Maxey Gregg, with the First South-Carolina Volunteers, was guarding the road; and his scouts reporting the approach of the train, he prepared to give it a warm reception, and placed two field-pieces on a wooded eminence commanding a long curve in the road. Leisurely approaching, Schlick and other officers were enjoying themselves with champagne and cigars, unconscious of danger, when, as the train entered the curve mentioned, our guns opened with such destructive effect that seven cars were detached from the train, smashed to pieces, and nearly every occupant killed or wounded. The engine was instantly reversed, and disappeared in a few moments, leaving hundreds of killed and wounded behind. Unaware of their force or intentions, Colonel Gregg changed his position and retired towards General Bonham at Fairfax Court-House.

This incident was the origin of those wonderful stories manufactured at the North about “masked batteries,” etc., and which served for a time to create hobgoblin notions regarding us, and to account for any reverse they might meet with at our hands.

As the month of June drew to a close, our preparations in and around Manassas began to assume a formidable appearance. Heavy guns were brought up, and earthworks began to rise in different directions around the station, but nowhere else; woods were felled by the acre to give free range for artillery, and troops were placed in different directions, but with what design I could not imagine. The strength of our forces, and the number of guns, were not generally known. Quartermasters and commissaries seemed to be the oracles in such matters, and as they were supposed to be acquainted with the secrets of headquarters, the majority seemed to place implicit reliance in their statements. As might be expected, these important individuals were in great request, and answered the most simple interrogatories with great solemnity and caution. Our strength [24] from such sources of information was put down at from seventy-five thousand to one hundred thousand; while the truth was, our whole army there assembled did not muster more than twenty thousand men, and twenty guns; Johnston having ten thousand men and twenty guns with him in the Shenandoah Valley.

Daily reports now began to possess interest. Pegram had been surprised and defeated by McClellan, at Rich Mountain in Western Virginia, (July twelfth,) and from reports of killed and wounded, it was very evident the Federals had no idea of amusing themselves by throwing snowballs at us. Scott began to push his outposts towards Fairfax Court-House, and sharp skirmishing was of daily occurrence; but with little damage to either side. We learned that our independent scouts around Alexandria caused much annoyance and loss by their unerring aim; and judging by the exploits of some few of those adventurous individuals who visited us in camp, I can not wonder that the Northern press was so bitter against them. They were well mounted and accoutred, and dead shots at five hundred yards. Most of them were gentlemen of means, who took delight in the work, and were as crafty as Indians in their movements.

In the beginning of July, scouting companies, mounted and foot, daily scoured the whole country, within and without our lines to the front; while lines of picket guards dotted Bull Run, and watched all the fords with such vigilance that several cows advancing to drink as usual, were mistaken for spies crawling among the bushes in the dark, and met an untimely fate. When one fired, some other feverish guard would follow suit from force of imagination, and within a few moments a succession of “poppings” could be heard along the whole picket line. This carelessness of the outposts caused us all much annoyance.

A company of Virginians held the railroad bridge over the Run, when about two A. M. their advance fired three shots in rapid succession. The nearest regiments beat to arms, and within two minutes drums were sounding in all directions while the only words spoken were: “They are coming! It is a surprise! Old Scott is advancing over the hills with fifty [25] thousand men” Thump, thump, sounded the big drums, bugles called the “assembly,” while the incessant rattle of small drums was alarming. “They are coming-fall in, boys, quickly” were the only words passed from one to another. “Fall in” we did, and in an immense hurry: some, without boots, hats, or coats seized their arms, and the regiment was formed and drawn up ready for action within five minutes from the first alarm. Many were on the sick list, and had not been out to drill for days; yet out of two hundred who had thus shunned duty previously, not one was out of place in line of battle. Captains might be seen in their shirt-sleeves smoking cigars, men sat on the grass, expecting orders every minute, but after standing shivering in the cold morning air for an hour, all marched back to quarters, much disappointed and annoyed.

Alarms of this nature became frequent, and were often resorted to by our Colonel when desirous of ridding the doctor's list of a few score of those playing the “old soldier.” For be it said, to the credit of our men, that, although many counterfeited sickness or ailments to escape drill, marching, or police duty, I knew none who would not turn out with alacrity whenever there was any prospect of a fight; some, indeed, who were really sick had to be forced out of the ranks, so anxious were all to do their duty, and render service in our common cause.

About this time I received the following letter from a friend in Missouri, descriptive of the battle of Carthage, and the uprising of the people in that State. It is inserted here as an authentic account of the incidents leading to the engagement, and of the rout of the Federal troops:

Dear Tom: I suppose the heading of this letter will surprise you, for I am no longer in my comfortable office in the good city of St. Louis, but one of Price's “rebels,” camped in this out-of-the-way place, near the Indian nation. As you desire to know every thing regarding our movements, I will narrate things as they occurred since I last saw you. [26] When the Border States found that a coercive policy was determined upon, Missouri was one of the first to oppose it. We had no arms, but were certain the sympathies of our people would sustain us. Lincoln's hirelings were stirring up the German element in different parts of the State, trusting by the distribution of arms in abundance, to overawe any expression of feeling in favor of our sister Southern States. Governor Claiborne Jackson, feeling that delays might prove dangerous, ordered (in May) the State Guard to go into encampments for their customary annual drill. Brigadier-General Frost pitched his camp in the outskirts of St. Louis, and called it “Camp Jackson;” a full regiment of the city companies assembled, and daily went through the customary exercises. The Abolition German element was opposed to this, and unknown to the majority of us, Captain Lyon led them in great numbers around our camps, and forced our men to deliver up their arms and disband. This was a piece of treachery we did not expect from Frost, our general, who we thought was favorable to sustaining State right principles. The cowardly Germans, however, were not content in thus humiliating us, but on some slight pretext, fired upon the assembled crowds, killing and wounding many; and getting drunk on lager beer, committed all manner of depredations in and around the city. The arsenals, and all the railroads, were in their possession, and as the city was watched from several points, citizens being arrested, arms seized, houses searched, etc., it was soon perceived that Lincoln and Lyon were determined to suppress, by force, any Southern feeling existing in the State, and to spare, none that opposed them. As nine tenths of our State, to your own knowledge, was soundly Democratic and Southern, we awoke to find ourselves under the iron heel of tyranny.

Determined that the State should not be manacled without a struggle, and fully informed that Lyon meditated seizing the capital at Jefferson City, Governor Jackson, in June, issued a call for fifty thousand volunteers, and transferred the archives to Boonville, about eighty miles above, on the Missouri River. Ex-Governor Sterling Price was named general in chief of these forces, whenever they could be gathered, and seven or eight brigadiers appointed to assist him, including Rains, Parsons, [27] and others.1 The call was immediately responded to by three or four hundred men, myself among the number; for I was tired of witnessing the tyrannical acts of Lyon, and his friends the Dutch Abolitionists. On arriving at Jefferson City, I found that all the State officers had gone to Boonville, with boat-loads of books, papers, and other property, and proceeding there I found that our collective force did not exceed seven hundred men, armed with such weapons as they could find, and attired in every variety of costume. Some had fine clothes and “ stovepipes,” 2 some were ragged, if not totally destitute. Altogether, I felt discouraged, as you may suppose; for I knew that Lyon, at St. Louis, had thousands of men, well armed, well drilled, and uniformed; and, being in possession of the railroads, could throw a heavy force in our route whichever way we moved.

The “Southern question” by this time seems to have aroused the rural population, and they swore that the Dutch in the river cities should not rule the State, even if supported by all the wealth and power of the Lincoln Government. We had not been at Boonville long, ere it was ascertained that Lyon and Blair contemplated a movement upon that place, in order to crush the rebels the instant they stirred. At this critical moment, Price being sick and unable to attend to business, Colonel Marmaduke took command of our force, if a body such as I have described deserves the name. But their strength consisted in the fact that a pure patriotism had caused them to take the field.

It was soon ascertained that Lyon was approaching up the Missouri with several thousand men and half-a-dozen field-pieces. Colonel Marmaduke3 was fearful of the disparity in [28] force, and wished to retreat, but the men under Lieutenant-Colonel Brand were determined to “fight” When the enemy appeared, therefore, our handful of volunteers drew up in battle array and confronted them, and within two hours killed and wounded more than two hundred, our loss not amounting to a dozen. We then gave up the fight, and retired towards Cole Camp, where, it was said, a force of the enemy were stationed to intercept us; these were attacked during the night by Colonel Kane with a small body of rebels, and defeated, with a loss of more than two hundred men killed, one hundred taken, and five hundred stand of arms. This capture assisted in arming hundreds who were flocking to us on our line of march towards Warsaw, on the Osage River.

Though pursued by Colonel Totten and a thousand cavalry, Governor Jackson safely reached Warsaw, where we rested, and began to look about us. Our case was desperate; we were but a few ill-armed men of all ages and all sizes, unaccustomed to military service, and less used to privations and sufferings. We had no tents, no commissary or quartermaster's stores, few wagons, and those of an inferior kind — in truth, we were a small band of patriots vastly in need of every thing but “ pluck.” As the enemy were making dispositions for our capture, and had full command of the railways, word was sent to General Price at Lexington to hurry along with his recruits, so as to form a junction with Jackson's small force, and, by common consent, both little wings met and joined in Cedar County, July third.

Information was now received that Sigel had been despatched from St. Louis with over three thousand men by the south branch of the Pacific Railroad, and was actually in Carthage, not many miles distant in our front, while Lyon, Lane, and others were rapidly approaching on the flanks and rear! For a little army of not over three thousand badly equipped men, this was a sad situation, and all began to prepare for the worst; nevertheless, on the fifth of July, at two A. M., we boldly began our march towards Carthage. After a march of seven hours, word was brought by our scouts that Sigel was in front, with the number of troops first reported, and eight guns. Still we moved on, until between ten and eleven A. M. we came in full view of the enemy drawn up in three detachments, posted on a rising ground in the prairie, ready to [29] dispute our passage. Although much tired with our long march, and although several hundreds in our command had no weapons of any description, we instantly prepared for the attack, and, pushing ahead, drove in the enemy's pickets. We had several old cannon, which had been picked up here and there on our route-pieces which had done no more than fire salutes on fourth of July celebrations and the like-but we were deficient in ammunition: these guns we were careful to place in commanding positions. Our small force of cavalry, after much discussion, was placed upon the wings, and hardly were these dispositions made, when Sigel's guns opened on us with great fury; nor was it possible for our cavalry to attack them either in flank or rear, as intended, for their constant cannonade frightened the horses and made them quite unmanageable.

After more than an hour of indecisive fighting and “bushwhacking,” our officers, who were determined to bring the affair to a crisis, ordered a “charge.” As soon as we began to advance at the “double-quick,” the enemy broke and ran, crossing a broad creek in their rear, and destroying the bridge, leaving many score dead and wounded behind. They halted after a run of about two miles in the direction of Carthage, and many of us having crossed on logs and floating timber formed line, and followed in pursuit. We were badly circumstanced; for the enemy had obtained a splendid position; being concealed in the woods, their artillery could play upon us as we advanced through the open fields. Our cavalry, finding their horses of little value in such an irregular fight, dismounted and assisted us as infantry. Again closing up with the enemy, we fought them for about two hours, when they gave way, and made a running fight of more than four miles. We had thus driven them before us into Carthage, where they made a third stand on the edge of the town, and from behind houses or barns maintained a hot fire upon our advance. After some time, our numbers began to increase, and we determined to drive them from the town. Collecting all our strength, we again succeeded, by superior shooting, in driving them before us, and in our progress through the town captured many hundred stand of arms. Still following close after them, we chased them for several miles on the road to Rolla, and continued the pursuit until long [30] after sunset! Their killed and wounded amounted to six hundred men, scattered up and down the road for a distance of twelve miles or more. The people of Carthage rendered us all the assistance in their power, furnished accommodations for our wounded, and provided us with refreshments, of which we were much in need.

This victory caused great rejoicing, especially among the farmers, whose sons now came forward “to help fight the Dutch,” and were anxious that other opportunities might soon offer for whipping the Abolitionists. For myself, I know not where all this is to end, or how we are ever to succeed in Missouri, where the river, the cities, and the railroads are held by the enemy. In other parts of the South our friends have railroads at their command, and manufactories of different kinds in their midst, to “create” supplies; but here we have no commissary or quartermaster, no doctor, and but few arms, while the enemy have abundance of all things, and can collect any number of men from neighboring States to hurl against our little band of adventurers. Nevertheless, we shall prove tough subjects for Lincoln's minions to control, for we are hardened, and know the country so thoroughly, that not a ford or mountain pass but is well marked by scores of trappers and hunters in our ranks. We know that all the weight of the North and North-West will be thrown against us, but if their troops are to succeed they must be made of better metal than that we lately encountered at Carthage.

The day after the battle, General McCulloch, of Texas, and General Pearce, of Arkansas, arrived to our aid with about two thousand men. It appeared that our forces and theirs were advancing to the same place, to prevent either little band being overpowered by a sudden dash of the enemy, who is said to have already an army of forty thousand men in the State. These are not Missourians, but a mixed crowd of Germans and others who have volunteered from every State, under German leaders. There are not five hundred Missourians arrayed against us, and St. Louis to-morrow, together with all the river cities, would carry any election in favor of the Southern cause, if uncontrolled by Federal bayonets. More of this soon.

Yours, Polk.


1 Brigadier-General Gabriel J. Rains is a North-Carolinian, and has greatly distinguished himself throughout the Missouri campaign. He is about fifty years of age ; entered the U. S. service as brevet Second Lieutenant First Infantry, July first, 1827 ; Brevet Major, August twentieth, 1847, and held that rank in the Fourth Infantry when he joined Price in June, 1861. He was immediately appointed Brigadier General by Governor Jackson, and has been present in almost every fight.

2 Dress hats are so termed.

3 Colonel John S. Marmaduke is a Missourian: entered the service as brevet Second Lieutenant First Infantry, July first, 1857; was Second Lieutenant Seventh Infantry, August first, 1857; joined the Missourians at Boonville, with rank of Colonel, and on account of services is now Brigadier-General, acting in the same State.

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St. Louis (Missouri, United States) (5)
Manassas, Va. (Virginia, United States) (4)
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