previous next

[97]

Another South Carolina report.

army of the Potomac, camp Pickens, Monday, July 22, 1861.
I gave you yesterday, as well as the circumstances would permit, my first impressions of the great battle at the Stone Bridge, and, after a day of constant inquiry, and as much reflection as was possible, I will attempt to give a more perfect outline of that most brilliant military achievement.

As I stated, the battle was expected. All things indicated the approach of an impending crisis. The moral atmosphere was heavy with its awful import, and without being able to say what it was precisely that induced conviction, yet conviction of the contest had become a faith with all, and men rose in the morning to a day pregnant of death to men, and of the fortunes and the fate of the Republic.

Nor did the realization of this conception depend upon the action of the enemy. They took the initiative, and came to meet us; but if they had not, we would have gone to them. It is now reasonably certain that matters here were so matured that the military authorities were ready and determined to advance, and it was with a feeling of relief, perhaps, that the first booming of the cannon at McLean's Ford removed from us the responsibilities of that movement. We were not entirely prepared — as well prepared, at least, as we might have hoped to be. The forces of Gen. Holmes, from Fredericksburg, and of Gen. Evans, from Leesburg, were in the battle; and so, also, were the most of those from Gen. Johnston. But two brigades of Gen. Johnston's force--Gen. Smith's and Col. Elzey's — had not arrived. Hampton's Legion and Wynder's Sixth regiment of North Carolina had not arrived the night before. Many that had arrived from the sources mentioned above were without the provisions of a military life, and were too wearied for the most efficient military service; but still our forces had been greatly strengthened. At least 15,000 men had been added to our too small force. The enemy, in not renewing the attack, or offering to bury their dead, would seem to have been demoralized; and under the circumstances, therefore, it would seem that our generals had resolved to strike and drive the invader back, or challenge fate upon the open field of battle.

To this end it would seem to have been their purpose to lead an attacking force directly on the road to Centreville, by Mitchell's Ford, where Gen. Bonham, with his brigade, had been posted, and a flanking force by Stone Bridge, and along the line which the enemy himself selected for a flanking force on us. This action of the enemy induced a necessary change in our plans. From attacking, we were forced to a defence, and it may be a question whether the result was better than it could have been. Our whole available force would then have been in action. As it was, only those were in that could be thrown upon the plain of battle at Stone Bridge. The rest, in reserve at the several crossings for five miles down, were inactive, suspended on contingencies for movement until too late for a direct movement on the enemy's position.

The action, as I have stated, was commenced by a feint on the hills above Mitchell's Ford, upon the top of which the enemy industriously exhibited large masses of his forces; and the demonstration was followed up, as I have stated, by a movement round by Stone Bridge to our left flank. This movement was anticipated by a like movement of ours to take him upon his right flank; and thus the two flanking forces meeting, monopolized the interest, and became the leading actors in the splendid military drama. Our force, however, was a detachment; theirs was their main body. They had determined to force a crossing at that point — to conquer fate to that object; and to that end they had sent forward, it would seem, their entire force, beyond that necessary for the demonstration, and as the letter which was found on a prisoner, and a copy of which I send you, states their force at 130,000--too much, perhaps. It is certain it was large, and that not less than 80,000 were despatched upon this mission. To meet this, we had only the brigade of Gen. Evans, consisting of the Fourth South Carolina, and Wheat's Louisiana Battalion, and two guns of the Washington Artillery, sustained by Col. Cocke's brigade, consisting of Cols. Cocke's Nineteenth Virginia regiment, Wither's Seventeenth Virginia, and Preston's Twenty-eighth Virginia. The disadvantage, therefore, was in the fact that the great disproportion of our column left it exposed to an accumulated and concentrated fire, which occasioned a mortality disproportioned to what might have been anticipated from a more equal number. In addition to this, the enemy had posted his column with all the available regulars in the service. The Second and Third Infantry, at least, and Doubleday's battalion, late of Patterson's column, it is believed, were in the action, as also some three three thousand collected at Washington for service. [Not one of these men were in the action.--ed. Times.] Staking the fate of his army on this attack, it was truly severe. Never did men fight as our men did. The Fourth regiment and Wheat's battalion stood until almost cut to pieces under a concentrated fire from flank and front, and they did, in fact, as I thought they did, force the enemy to recoil; but the utmost they could expect was to induce but a temporary check to such a moving mass. It still rolled on, and, as brigade after brigade was subsequently thrown in, it but sustained the check; and, as they were successively cut up by the more abundant ordnance of the enemy, they still left to him the advantage of his numbers.

To exhibit the circumstances under which reinforcements were effected, I would state a little more explicitly the position of our forces.


Creative Commons License
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.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Wheat (2)
Joseph E. Johnston (2)
Nathan G. Evans (2)
Cocke (2)
Wynder (1)
Wither (1)
William Smith (1)
Robert Patterson (1)
James G. Holmes (1)
Arnold Elzey (1)
Doubleday (1)
M. L. Bonham (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
July 22nd, 1861 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: