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Chapter 14: Manassas.

On the 23d of May, 1861, according to the conspirators' programme, Virginia was put through the dumb show of indorsing the Secession Ordinance by a nominal popular vote; and almost immediately thereafter, about June 1st, the Confederate seat of government was transferred from Montgomery to Richmond. The reasons for this course were palpable; it gratified the local pride of the Old Dominion secessionists; it gave the reins of local military domination definitely into Jefferson Davis' personal grasp; it placed him on the most advantageous frontier to meet the expected Union advance from Washington. This, as previously related, had already seized upon Alexandria and Arlington Heights, which were now being extensively fortified. Making a short speech to a serenade on the evening of June 1st, the rebel chief announced that Virginia was “to become the theatre of a great central camp, from which will pour forth thousands of brave hearts to roll back the tide of this despotism.”

The local campaign had already taken shape before his arrival. Since Lee was placed in command he had followed a policy which looked less to the capture of Baltimore than to the obstruction of the Potomac. His first and principal task had been to organize the volunteers which Governor [170] Letcher called into service; and the earliest levies of Northern Virginia were posted at Manassas Junction, where railroads from Richmond, from Alexandria, and from the Shenandoah Valley met. On examination, its strategical value was found to be much greater than was suspected at the beginning; Colonel Cocke, the local commander, first pointed out to Lee its important relation to the Shenandoah Valley. “These two columns,” he writes, under date of May 15th, “one at Manassas and one at Winchester, could readily co-operate and concentrate upon the one point or the other, either to make head against the enemy's columns advancing down the valley, should he force Harper's Ferry; or, in ease we repulse him at Harper's Ferry, the Winchester supporting column could throw itself on this side of the mountains, to co-operate with the column at Manassas.”

With the great increase of Federal troops at Washington, and their seizure of Alexandria and Arlington Heights, the post at Manassas Junction became of such prominence and importance, that Beauregard was sent to take command of it about June 1st. Beauregard was an officer of curiously unequal merit: thoroughly educated, and highly skilful in the science and art of military engineering, he had little capacity for administration, or sound judgment in the conception of large field-operations. Giddy to intoxication with laudation for his cheap victory at Sumter, he now invited upon his own head the contempt of the world, and of history, by publishing a proclamation in which, without provocation, he charged the Union armies to have abandoned “all rules of civilized warfare,” and to have made “Beauty and Booty” their war-cry. His next exploit was to excite the distrust of the Richmond authorities upon his military ability, by proposing a series of aggressive movements intended to annihilate the Union armies and capture Washington; liable, however, [171] to the objection, noted thereon by Jefferson Davis, that “the plan was based on the improbable and inadmissible supposition that the enemy was to await everywhere, isolated and motionless, until our forces could effect junctions to attack them in detail.” Meanwhile he rendered his superiors a real service in pointing out that the defence of his position should be made, not with earthworks at Manassas, but with troops on the line of Bull Run, and for this he was urgent in demanding large reinforcements.

As has been already mentioned, it was General Scott's opinion that the Government ought not to engage in any military undertakings with the three months volunteers, beyond those to which these forces had been already assigned and distributed, namely: to protect Washington and fortify Arlington Heights; to garrison Fort Monroe and, if chance should offer, recapture the Gosport Navy Yard at Norfolk; to hold Baltimore and Maryland; to prosecute Patterson's campaign against Harper's Ferry; to recover West Virginia through McClellan's campaign; to guard the Ohio line, and control Kentucky and Missouri. Larger and more distant operations, he believed, ought to be undertaken only with new armies formed of the three years volunteers, giving the summer to drill and preparation, and entering on combined movements in the favorable autumn weather.

Important reasons, partly military, partly political, conflicted with so deliberate a programme. As events had shaped themselves, it seemed necessary to aid Patterson. The possibility that Beauregard and Johnston might unite their armies was clearly enough perceived; hence, a column to threaten Manassas was proposed. Indications were also manifesting themselves that rebel batteries at narrow places might soon seriously embarrass the navigation of the Potomac. Chiefly, however, the highly excited patriotism of the [172] North, eager to wipe out national insult and vindicate national authority, was impatient of what seemed tedious delay. The echoes of the Sumter bombardment were yet in the air; the blood on the Baltimore paving-stones was crying loudly to heaven. For half a century the nation had felt no close experience of war. The conquests of peace had grown almost miraculous in speed and certainty. Rivers and mountains, distance and time, had become the obedient ministers of creative ingenuity and bold enterprise. Forgetting that the achievements of peace encountered the opposing obstacles, not of man, but of nature alone, the North demanded speedy as well as signal redress. It saw rebellion enthroned in the capital of Virginia; it saw a numerous Union army gathered at Washington; the newspapers raised the cry of “On to Richmond;” and the popular heart beat in quick and well-nigh unanimous response to the slogan. Latterly a detachment sent out by General Butler from Fortress Monroe had met a repulse at Great Bethel, and near Washington a railroad-train under General Schenck had run into an ambush at Vienna station; both were trifling losses, but at the moment supremely irritating to the pride of the North, and the fires of patriotic resentment once more blazed up with fresh intensity.

General Scott's first project of an expedition against Manassas was made about the beginning of June, the object then being not to fight a battle, but merely make a threatening diversion to aid Patterson. There were at that time only some six thousand rebels at Manassas, according to Beauregard's report. Before the design could take final shape, Johnston had evacuated Harper's Ferry, and Patterson's first movement was thereby terminated. This occurred about the middle of June.

From that time on, the plan grew into the idea of a larger [173] and more decisive movement. Beauregard was receiving large reinforcements; nevertheless, the strength of the Union army at Washington was such that it seemed entirely possible to provide every chance of success. McDowell, raised in rank from the grade of major to that of brigadiergeneral, and placed in command at Arlington Heights, submitted a formal plan, at the request of the General-in-Chief, about June 24th. His plan assumed that the secession forces at Manassas and its dependencies would number twenty-five thousand; that they would unavoidably become apprised of the movement, and every effort would be made to increase Beauregard's strength; but that “if General J. E. Johnston's force is kept engaged by Major-General Patterson, and Major-General Butler occupies the force now in his vicinity (Fortress Monroe), I think they will not be able to bring up more than ten thousand men.” Against such an array he proposed to move with a force of thirty thousand of all arms, and a reserve of ten thousand.

The project was elaborately discussed, and finally agreed upon, at a council of war at the Executive Mansion, on June 29th, in which President Lincoln, his Cabinet, and the principal military officers took part. As already mentioned, General Scott was opposed to the undertaking; but, after it was once resolved upon, he joined with hearty good — will in every effort to make it a success. McDowell was emphatic in his protest that he could not hope to beat the combined armies of Johnston and Beauregard; uponwhich Scott gave him the distinct assurance: “If Johnston joins Beauregard, he shall have Patterson on his heels.” With this understanding, the movement was ordered to begin a week from that day.

The enterprise did not escape the usual fate of unforeseen delay; it marks great energy in McDowell that his expedition [174] was only deferred a little over a week beyond the appointed time. On the 16th of July he issued his orders to march that afternoon. His army was organized as follows:

First Division, commanded by Tyler: an aggregate of 9,936 men, divided into four brigades, respectively under Keyes, Schenck, Sherman, and Richardson.

Second Division, commanded by Hunter: an aggregate of 2,648 men, divided into two brigades, under Porter and Burnside.

Third Division, commanded by Heintzelman: an aggregate of 9,777 men, divided into three brigades, under Franklin, Willcox, and Howard.

Fourth Division, commanded by Runyon: an aggregate of 5,752 men; no brigade commanders.

Fifth Division, commanded by miles: an aggregate of 6,207 men, divided into two brigades, under Blenker and Davies.

Thus, the total of his command, not including four regiments left in the Alexandria and Arlington forts, was 34,320 men. From this number, however, Runyon's division may at once be deducted; it was left behind to guard his communications, its most advanced regiment being seven miles in rear of Centreville. McDowell's actual moving column may therefore be said to have consisted of 28,568 1 men, including artillery, a total of forty-nine guns, and a single battalion of cavalry. [175]

Of all machines, an army develops, perhaps, the greatest inefficiency from mere friction, or the greatest usefulness from action and thoroughness of organization. The value of a veteran consists as much of his habitual expertness in the routine of camp and march, as of coolness and confidence under fire. Two principal causes rendered the advance very slow. The first was the want of practice in marching. “They stopped every moment to pick blackberries or get water,” says McDowell; “they would not keep in the ranks, order as much as you pleased; when they came where water was fresh, they would pour the old water out of their canteens, and fill them with fresh water; they were not used to denying themselves much; they were not used to journeys on foot.” The second cause was, perhaps, yet more potent. “The affair of Big Bethel and Vienna had created a great outcry against rushing into places that people did not know anything about. I think the idea of every one was that we were to go into no such things as that — that we were to feel our way,” again says McDowell. Precaution on this point was particularly emphasized in his instructions. “The three following things,” says his marching order, “will not be pardonable in any commander: 1st, to come upon a battery or breastwork without a knowledge of its position; 2d, to be surprised; 3d, to fall back.” Moving forward with such painful wariness, a surprise of the enemy was, of course, equally out of the question. In obedience to Beauregard's orders, his outposts everywhere retired, though, in several instances, with such precipitation as to leave their tents, knapsacks, and even their freshly cooked rations behind.

Manassas Junction lies thirty-five miles southwest of Washington, on a high, open plateau; there the rebels had some slight field-works, armed with fourteen or fifteen heavy guns, and garrisoned by about two thousand men- [176] Bull Run flows in a southeasterly direction, some three miles east of Manassas, with wooded heights coming generally close up to its west bank. The stream is winding and sluggish, and, though here and there it has steep, sometimes precipitous and rocky banks, it is fordable in many places. Beauregard's main army, increased now to over twenty thousand, was posted at the various fords of Bull Run, in a line some eight miles long, and extending from the Manassas Railroad to the Stone Bridge on the Warrenton turnpike.2 [177]

It was McDowell's intention to turn this position on the South. To conceal his purpose, and create the impression of a contemplated attack in front, he directed his march upon Centreville on the Warrenton turnpike. On Thursday morn-

Bull Run-the field of strategy.

ing, July 18th, Tyler moved upon Centreville, but, arriving there at nine o'clock, he found that it, too, had been evacuated, and that Beauregard's entire army was behind Bull Run. Centreville being situated on a hill, Tyler could see the whole valley spread out before him, with Manassas on [178] the high plateau beyond. The main body of the enemy, he learned, had retired down the road running directly toward that point, crossing the stream at Mitchell's and Blackburn's fords.

Tyler's unopposed advance had perhaps inspired him and his officers with an over-confidence or undue elation; perhaps it suggested the belief that the enemy did not feel strong enough to make a stand. Under instructions to “observe well the roads,” but to bring on no engagement, it occurred to him to make a reconnoissance in the direction of the retreat.

As often happens under such circumstances, the spirit of combat overcame discretion. Accompanied by Richardson, one of his brigade commanders, Tyler first went out with a squadron of cavalry and two companies of light infantry. Finding a favorable situation to try artillery, they sent back for a battery, and Richardson's brigade to support it. About noon of the 18th they were within a mile of Blackburn's ford. Then followed the ever-recurring experience of such affairs. First, an experimental cannonade from a couple of fieldpieces, before which the enemy's guns retired; next the advance of a skirmish-line, before which the enemy's skirmishers retired; then an advance of some of the field-pieces and the planting of a stronger battery; the posting of a regiment to support the skirmishers, and, soon after, the posting of the entire brigade to support the regiment, followed by calling up a reserve brigade to support the first. Thus the afternoon's work drifted quickly from a reconnoissance to a skirmish, and from a skirmish to a preliminary battle. It was not until some sixty men had fallen, until the two exposed field-pieces were with difficulty extricated, until one regiment had retreated in confusion and the other [179] three were deployed in line of battle to make a new charge, that Tyler heeded his instructions, and withdrew his reluctant officers and men from the fight, partly demoralized and generally exasperated, and returned to Centreville. In point of fact, the loss, the damage, the demoralization, had been equal on both sides. The rebel reports show that three regiments of Longstreet's brigade, which bore the first assault, were so much shaken that Early's reserve brigade of three fresh regiments was called up and relieved them, that one of these regiments was thrown into confusion, and that the rebel loss was sixty-three killed and wounded. Undecisive as it was, the battle of Blackburn's Ford had an important effect. It confirmed Beauregard in his previous impression that the principal Union attack would be made at that point on the centre of his long line. On the other hand, McDowell, receiving from his officers reports of rifle-pits and breastworks, became convinced that a direct assault was unwise. The affair of Blackburn's Ford thus proved something more than a preliminary defeat; it augmented the causes of a great disaster. Upon hearing the cannonade, McDowell had immediately ordered all the divisions forward to Centreville. He had already in his own mind given up the plan of turning the enemy's right, because of the unfavorable nature of the ground and roads. The necessity of finding an unfortified crossing seemed now also demonstrated. Meeting his division commanders at Centreville, that same night of Thursday, July 18th, McDowell informed them confidentially that he had abandoned his original plan, and had resolved to make the attack by marching northward and turning Beauregard's left flank instead of his right.

As an incident of this resolve, however, it was even more essential than before to continue to threaten the enemy's [180] centre; and thus Richardson's brigade was once more posted in the direction of Blackburn's Ford. Meanwhile the engineers were busy all of Friday and Saturday in efforts to find an unfortified ford over Bull Run. They were not successful till a late hour on Saturday; and this delay deferred the main battle till Sunday, July 21st. Could a similar attack have been made a day earlier, the result would probably have been altogether different.

1 From this number it is entirely just to make yet another deduction. The period of enlistment of the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment, and of Captain Va-rian's Battery of (New York) Light Artillery having expired, they were dis-charged by official order at Centreville, July 20th, the day before the battle.

It will thus be seen that, instead of the thirty thousand he asked for, McDowell had, perhaps, less than twenty-eight thousand men, with forty-nine guns; and official reports show that, instead of the thirty-five thousand rebels he expected to meet at Manassas, there were on the field thirty-two thousand men, with fifty-seven guns-less than his estimate, but about four thousand more than his own army.

2 At Union Mills Ford, Ewell's brigade of three regiments; at McLean's Ford, Jones' brigade of three regiments; at Blackburn's Ford, Longstreet's brigade of five regiments; above Mitchell's Ford, Bonham's brigade of five regiments; at Lewis' Ford, Cocke's brigade of portions of six regiments; at Stone Bridge, Evans' demi-brigade of a regiment and a half; Early's brigade of four regiments was posted as a reserve in rear and support of Longstreet and Jones. All the above, together with some seven other regiments and portions, not brigaded, con-stituted Beauregard's “Army of the Potomac.” His official report states the total effective, on the morning of the battle (July 21st), to have been 21,833, and 29 guns, Holmes' brigade, an independent command ordered up from Acquia Creek, consisted of two regiments, reported by Beauregard at a total of 1,355, and 6 guns. It was posted as a support for Ewell.

Johnston's Army of the Shenandoah consisted of Jackson's brigade of five regiments, posted as a support for Bonham; and Bee's brigade of four regiments, posted as a support for Cocke. These had arrived and were in camp on the morning of the battle (July 21st). Beauregard reports their round numbers, ready for action, at 6,000 men and 20 guns. In addition, there arrived at Manassas about noon, and on the battle-field between two and four o'clock, Fisher's Sixth North Carolina, 634, and Kirby Smith's brigade (afterward led by Elzey), of 1,700 men and 2 guns; and also Hill's Virginia Regiment, 550.

Beauregard's army21,83329
Johnston's army8,88422
Holmes' brigade1,3556

To which may be added sundry detachments, the numbers of which are not given in official reports.

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