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Chapter 6:

  • The pursuit
  • -- immense booty -- our prisoners and their behavior -- a ride over the field of action -- incidents of the fight -- arrival of President Davis during the action, and its effect -- behavior of the New -- York fire Zouaves -- the victorious army did not advance upon Washington or Maryland -- Reconquers on the field of battle -- personal appearance of President Davis -- sketches of Evans and Longstreet.

Though a general pursuit was ordered, it was found impossible to overtake the enemy, so precipitate had been their flight; and as we advanced, the signs of the dreadful combat of that day seemed to multiply at every step. The dead and dying are common to every battle-field; but here were broken cannon-wheels, deserted camps, overturned caissons, large supplies of commissary stores, files of prisoners, captured wagons, maimed and staggering animals, dead horses, cannons in the mud — innumerable proofs of the haste, confusion, and discomfiture of the enemy. Now small squads of cavalry dashed in advance, then scattering musketry could be heard faintly in the distance; now a line of Federal wagons were found blocked up in the road, the traces cut and horses gone; again we came up with squads of red and blue-legged Yankee Zouaves marching good-humoredly to the rear; now a captured battery jingled along in the same direction; and as for the procession of stores, tents, wagons, ambulances, and private carriages, they seemed endless in number and variety. Completely exhausted with our labors, the regiment countermarched and bivouacked in one of the deserted camps, where barrels of excellent fresh crackers, hogsheads of hams and bacon, boxes of cheese, raisins, white sugar, coffee, tea, macaroni, well-fitted mess-chests, blankets, mattresses, and whiskey in abundance, soon made us forgetful of our late privations.

Our men were frantic with the glory of the day and the opportune discovery of such plentiful supplies. The Yankees [53] had been lavish of expense in preparing for the “trip to Richmond,” and their accumulated luxuries had fallen into the hands of those who could appreciate them. We found large numbers of beeves slaughtered and ready for butchering in their camps, but all the animals had been stolen from neighboring farms on their march. In fact, the destruction of private property, generally, was so great, that farmers were raving — they had been despoiled of almost every thing, and nothing was paid for. Hedges and fences were all rendered unserviceable; stacks of hay and straw were carted off or burned, and the inhabitants had to flee to the woods to escape insult or violence. Not a horse or mule was left in the country for miles around; the fugitives had seized and driven them off to Washington — as many as three being often seen bestraddling one poor, jaded beast-so anxious were these invaders to escape us. Coats, hats, boots, muskets, and accoutrements lined all the roads, and every by-path leading northward; remnants of clothing hung on every bush; and over all dense clouds of dust arose, blinding and choking every one. As the last rays of the sun shone upon the neighboring hills, we could plainly discern, with the aid of glasses, the roads of retreat marked by dense lines of dust rolling over the dark green landscape in the distance.

The prisoners taken were more dead than alive-men so pale and exhausted I never saw. Their uniforms were in tatters; they were, for the most part, shoeless, hatless, and literally gasping for water. With hair dishevelled, powder-begrimed and dusty faces, bloodshot eyes, and unstrung nerves, they were more the objects of pity than derision. As night came on, bodies of troops were moving in all directions; cavalry jingled by with strings of prisoners, and such were their pitiful appeals for water in passing, that several of our negroes were constantly employed in drawing it for them. Many of the wells we found choked up with all kinds of rubbish — some being filled with ammunition boxes, offal, and earth. Standing on the heights of Centreville the entire plain was made visible by the large number of camp-fires and bivouacs; and over all arose the busy hum of voices. Everywhere lanterns and torches flickered in the gloom, while Manassas Junction seemed to be in a blaze from the multitude of lights and fires. Every [54] house in Centreville was converted into an hospital-long lines of wounded were carried in mournful procession, while in retired spots fatigue-parties were opening trenches for the dead. But all were thoroughly exhausted; few were tempted by pleasure or curiosity to move, and about nine P. M. our men were sound asleep in their tents or around their watch-fires, and the sentinels themselves stood as stationary as statues.

The incessant rumbling of batteries, wagons, and ambulances broke my slumbers, while ever and anon I started up half in fear: I was fighting the battle over in my dreams, and in this state of semi-consciousness experienced far more danger and adventure than I had done in the actual engagement. Aroused by the crowing of cocks at twilight, I refreshed myself with a bath in Bull Run, and found all kinds of clothing floating past, torn, muddy, and bloody. Then, having received orders to proceed to Manassas, I procured a good mount, and chose the most circuitous route, by Stone Bridge and Sudley Ford. My course was for some distance parallel with the river, through scenes of carnage and destruction indescribable. Near the bridge crossing Cub Run there were not less than a dozen wagons overturned; wounded men were sheltering themselves under trees from the heavy rain; tents were torn and flapping in the wind on every hand, and the mud was almost impassable. Approaching Stone Bridge, my sight was pained by cornfields trodden down; meadows trampled to mud; farm-houses riddled by shot and shell, and orchards destroyed forever; chimneys and gables, stone fences and walls, were crumbling in ruins, while the dead, and sometimes the dying, lay in heaps as they had fallen.

Having crossed Stone Bridge, I perceived that the face of the whole country in front was disfigured, if not destroyed; and here numerous mounds of newly-turned earth bespoke the labors of fatigue-parties. The scene was too melancholy. Recrossing, I proceeded up the stream, and passed the large and beautiful fields over which the Federals had marched in their flank movement and line of retreat. As much as possible, this movement had been concealed from us by marching through the woods; but as I approached Sudley Ford, the proofs that great bodies of men had passed here were multiplied. The Ford was not more than knee-deep; and as I crossed, every [55] step convinced me that the combat had begun in earnest the moment it was attempted by the enemy. The old Stone Church and all the neighboring houses were perforated with shot, and the ground was thickly covered with branches of trees cut by shot and shell. All the houses, barns, and out-houses, and also the church here, were used as hospitals, not less than five hundred of the enemy being under the treatment of their own and our surgeons.

Hastening towards Manassas, I came upon the fields where the enemy's flanking column had been routed on the previous afternoon. The ground was excessively heavy from the fall of rain, and I did not examine it minutely; in fact, the sight of the wounded — of headless and limbless trunks, and all the sad aspects of war — was too revolting, and I passed hurriedly by without numbering or examining the large pits newly opened for the reception of the dead. This was the spot (about two miles from Manassas) which the closing scenes of the day had rendered forever memorable, some additional particulars of which may here be given.

From a distance, on the day of battle, I had observed the gradual lengthening of a large black line from Sudley Ford towards Manassas, but: until the afternoon could not comprehend it. This, however, was the brigaded force of the enemy preparing for the final struggle; and about three P. M., not fewer than twenty-five of our pieces opened fire upon it. Our scattered infantry, at the same time, were re-formed and reenforced, but so steady was the progress made by the enemy, that Beauregard had thought it prudent to call up Colonel Jackson with the reserves to protect the retreat that seemed inevitable. Colonel Evans had not proceeded many yards on this errand when he was recalled, our general having been warned by the field telegraph that troops were approaching on the left. Whether they were friends or foes could not be determined, till an orderly, dashing forward, resolved all doubts. “Colonel Terry,” said Beauregard, his face lighting up, “ride forward and order General Kirby Smith to hurry up his brigade, and strike them on the flank and rear.”

This important episode in the events of the day occurred in front of the enemy. At the same moment, Manassas station was the scene of a transaction not less memorable for its [56] bearing upon the final issue of the struggle. The Richmond train, which had started at seven A. M., but from various accidents did not arrive sooner, was drawn into the station, and from it President Davis instantly alighted, and, mounting his horse, galloped towards the scene of action. The first person he met was his own brother, Colonel Joe Davis. “Return, brother,” said the latter, “the day is lost — they have outflanked us, and will be here in less than half an hour.” “If that be true,” the President replied, “our right place is on the field with the boys.” Rapidly galloping towards the line of fire, he discovered Kirby Smith's brigade advancing at the “double-quick,” in obedience to the order just received from Beauregard, and the President being recognized, a wild, enthusiastic yell burst from the men as they furiously dashed on the Yankee flank, and instantly broke it! The scene of confusion that then ensued was truly appalling, Believing that the whole of Johnston's army was in the rear, the right wing of the enemy broke and fled in inextricable confusion, crossing the Run at different points, and infusing a panic into whole brigades and divisions, as already related.

To return to my remembrances of the field after the battle. Manassas Junction, when I reached the spot, resembled a vast fair. Hundreds of persons were moving about from enclosure to enclosure, viewing the parti-colored prisoners, who were temporarily confined in sheds. In one place were several hundreds of muscular fellows in red trowsers and caps, blue jackets and white gaiters; these were the famous Fire Zouaves of New-York, about whom so much had been said and written by the whole North. Their behavior was scandalous, and outraged all decency; it being incredible that troops who had behaved so cowardly before an inferior force, should still be so full of bombast as to insult the very men who had voluntarily deprived themselves of food and blankets to feed and warm them. But let this pass. In all directions were prisoners of every grade, of every corps, and every imaginable style of uniform. Around the depot were piled immense stores of flour, rice, sugar, coffee, clothing, medicines, ammunition, and, conspicuous above all, thirty pieces of cannon. Other pieces were in our hands, but had not yet been brought in. The rain pouring in torrents, rendered walking impracticable; so, having fulfilled the orders [57] intrusted to me, and satisfied my curiosity, I remounted, and crossing the fields south of the Run, rejoined my regiment, now snugly encamped in the Yankee tents beyond Centreville.

It would be difficult to. imagine any thing more dreary than the face of the country over which I had journeyed. The rain was pouring in torrents, thunder rolled and crashed in every direction, and stately trees were struck down by the lightning. Conveyances were sunk in mud up to the axles; horsemen picked their way as best they could; the whole army was wet, dreary, drowsy, dirty, and mud-locked. It was physically impossible for troops to advance in such weather, and not all the ingenuity of man could have moved an army over such a country. But even had this been possible, the army was totally unfit to move. We had gained an important victory by accident, but our troops required far more experience than they then possessed to commence siege operations and beleaguer the capital of a numerous and opulent people. Small as our army was, it was deficient in every thing but courage: the quartermaster's, commissary, and other departments were in the hands of inexperienced civilians; the cavalry was totally inadequate to our necessities; the artillery weak and unorganized, imperfectly supplied with materiel of the worst description, and indifferently disciplined. It was impossible it could be otherwise in an army so hurriedly formed as ours had been; and hence, having a fair knowledge of the facts, I cannot but fully concur in the majority vote of the council of war which decided against an advance on Washington. Besides military, there were doubtless cogent political reasons for this decision; but though partially informed, it is not my province to speak of them here.

Leaving the direction of affairs to those responsible for them, and with unbounded confidence in their ability, our men betook themselves to gayety on a small scale, or occupied their leisure hours in writing home; the daily mail occasionally weighing not less than one ton. Strangers poured into Manassas daily to see the “sights,” and carry off “relics.” Uniforms, arms, buttons, caps, and even skulls were seized with avidity, and where Bartow, Bee, Fisher, and other heroes had fallen, the woods were stripped of every branch that could be converted into a walking-stick or cane. The vitiated tastes and vulgar curiosity of these people were disgusting. Hundreds of non-combatants [58] daily trudged through the mud from field to field, examining localities with intense curiosity and loquacious patriotism. Even when, during warm weather, the effluvia from graves and unburied matter was unbearable, these relic-mongers might be seen, hovering over the fields like carrion crows, carrying off all kinds of trifles, including twenty-four pound shot and shell; any imaginable article, heavy or light, that could, with any show of reason, be called a “relic.”

During the week, when the weather had cleared and the scorching July sun blazed again as of old, by common consent we all took to the woods, and encamped there. As for “Jeff. Davis,” it appears that when the rout of the enemy was complete, he had ridden without escort along the lines ; but his features and figure were so well known that he was quickly discovered, and loud yells of delight rang out from our whole army. Taking advantage of the fall of evening, he “dropped in” upon our officers, (many of whom were fellow-townsmen, or ex-members of the U. S. branches of Legislature,) to have a quiet chat. As I had never seen a live President, my curiosity was on the qui vive, and when his presence was whispered to me, I found him sitting at our colonel's tent-door, with a circle of captains and lieutenants, conversing very quietly on State affairs, but with no more animation or sign of pleasure than if a victorious army was not around, or a beaten one flying from, him. In citizen attire, with beaver hat, and smoking a cigar, he listened to all that was said, assented or dissented with a nod of the head, and some time afterwards, mounting his grey mare ambled off to Manassas, as unostentatiously as if he were the least person in the Confederacy. Since then I have seen the President frequently on different fields of battle, and have observed little change in his habitually modest and thoughtful demeanor, although on many occasions his proud and victorious troops, unconscious of his presence, were rending the skies with their shouts or charging the enemy with unexampled fury.

The brigadier under whom we had hitherto served pleased the men so little that it was deemed advisable to appoint in his stead Colonel Nathan Evans, whose generalship and gallantry at Stone Bridge and Sudley Ford had won for him universal esteem. We had been informed that our command was under marching orders, and parade was just over when three [59] horsemen galloped into camp, and saluted the colonel. These were none other than Evans, Longstreet, and Ewell-names that are now forever hallowed in the hearts and history of our gallant army. From their style of riding and peculiar seat in the saddle, I at first sight took them for dragoons, and was not mistaken. Evans was very restless, and his horse reared and chafed, and plunged to the right and left all the time he staid with us. He is about forty years of age, with a head of the cast of Tom Moore's; slightly bald; small restless black eyes; heavy black moustaches; and when he smiles, displays incomparable teeth; but has a quick, cunning, and snappish look, although his manner is polished and polite. His countenance looks like one who dissipates occasionally; he is of medium stature, angular in his movements, never happy but when in the saddle — a perfect soldier in every thing, and “swears like a trooper.”

Longstreet is a powerfully-built man, somewhat bald, about five feet ten inches high, with sandy hair and whiskers-the latter allowed to grow untrimmed. He possesses a fine bluish-gray eye, of great depth, penetration, and calculation; seldom speaks unnecessarily, seems absorbed in thought, and very quiet in manner. Ewell I did not see distinctly; he was continually moving about, prying into our camp arrangements, and looking towards Manassas with his glass. All three were dressed as citizens, with heavy black felt hats on, and except pistols in their holsters, were unarmed and unattended. These officers have since acquired immortal fame. I myself have been witness to their achievements, of which more anon.

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