This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
 assistance. Major Sykes brought his men up at a run, and, with a deafening shout, they charged upon the enemy's skirmishers, who fled before them several hundred yards. Forming in column of divisions Sykes' battalion advanced a considerable distance, until they drew upon themselves an intensely hot fire of musketry and artillery. This was a trying moment. The volunteers expected much of the regulars, and gazed upon them as they stood in unbroken line, receiving the fire, and returning it with fatal precision. Impressions and resolutions are formed on the battle-field in an instant. The impression at this moment was a happy one, and Heintzelman's brigade coming up into line, our forces steadily advanced upon the retreating rebels. The batteries, which had been meanwhile recruited with men and horses, renewed their fire with increased effect, and our supremacy upon the field was apparent. The enemy's fire was now terrific. Shell, round-shot, and grape from their batteries covered the field with clouds of dust, and many a gallant fellow fell in that brief time. At this juncture the volunteers, who hitherto had behaved nobly, seeing their ranks thinned out, many losing their field and company officers, lost confidence, and in a panic fell back. Three fresh regiments coming on the field at this time would have formed a nucleus upon which a general rally could have been effected; but while the enemy had reinforcements pouring in upon them momentarily, our entire force was in the field, and badly cut up. Thus was our action maintained for hours. The panic was momentarily increasing. Regiments were observed to march up in good order, discharge one volley, and then fall back in confusion. But there was no lack of gallantry, generally speaking, and not a great many manifestations of cowardice. Our artillery, which made sad havoc upon the rebels, had spent their ammunition, or been otherwise disabled by this time, and in the absence of reinforcements a retreat was inevitable. The time for the last attack had now come. Nearly all of the rebel batteries were in place, though silent. There was a calm — an indescribable calm. Every man on the field felt it. I doubt if any one could describe it. Gen. McDowell was near the front of our lines, mounted on his gray charger. And here let me say emphatically, that, whatever may be the criticisms upon his conduct by the military or the abominable stay-at-home newspaper scribblers and politicians, no braver man trod that turf at Manassas than Gen. McDowell. Major Sykes' battalion of eight companies, five of Third Infantry, two of the Second, and one of the Eighth, were marched several hundred yards to the right, and formed the right flank of the line. Several volunteer regiments were deployed as skirmishers on the centre and left. Thus they advanced to the crest of the hill. The enemy met them with batteries and musketry in front, and two batteries and a thousand cavalry on the right. The fire was terrific. We maintained our position for a half hour. Then it was discovered that the rebel cavalry were attempting to outflank our right. We had no force to resist them, and the bugle of the regulars sounded the march in retreat. This, so far as they were concerned, was conducted in good order. On Major Sykes was imposed the responsible duty of covering the retreat of the army. In this he was assisted on part of the route by the United States cavalry under Major Palmer. The enemy followed us with their artillery and cavalry, shelling us constantly, until we reached Centreville. Here we bivouacked for an hour, and then again took up the line of march. But of the retreat let me say a word, and pardon, my dear fellow, this incoherent letter, written in an excited Centreville bivouac, on my sound knee, the other severely scratched. As I said, Major Sykes, with his Third, Second, and Eighth Infantry, in all but eight companies, and they decimated, conducted the retreat. Three of his officers had been wounded, and one killed or captured. Several of them were detached, endeavoring to rally the volunteers in front, and have them march off in some sort of order, so as to protect themselves against the enemy's cavalry, known to be in rapid pursuit. On this duty, I recognized his special aid, Lieutenant McCook, of our State, I believe, and another infantry officer, who was also mounted. The road by which the retreat was conducted, the same as that by which we advanced, had been, I think, discovered by the rebels a day or two since. The engineers, in reconnoitring the enemy's position, had been accompanied by a body of troops, who caused such a dust to rise from the road as to make their march easily observable from the heights at Manassas. Retreating by this route, no difficulty occurred in ranging their guns directly upon our line. Major Sykes quickly discovering this, and the cavalry advancing to reconnoitre the pass near Centreville, and charge it if necessary, obliqued the column, getting them upon the turf perfectly protected from the enemy's shell, which were continued to be fired upon the line of dust which was raised in the wake of the galloping cavalry. It was an admirable piece of strategy, reflecting great credit upon the gallant Major, whose conduct in the entire action, to my knowledge, drew forth the most enthusiastic expressions of admiration from both volunteer and regular officers. Were the infantry my arm, I could ask no braver or more capable commander than he. But we are about to renew our march towards Washington, and entrusting this note to the driver of an ambulance in front of our line, in the expectation that it will reach you early, let me say that if we halt near Alexandria or Arlington, and my horse can stand the pressure, I will not be long in grasping your hand. Till then, my dear fellow, believe me your disgusted and worn-out friend, * * * * --Philadelphia Press, July 24.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.