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Chapter 15: Bull Run.

At Centreville, on Saturday night, McDowell called his officers together and announced to them his plan of battle for the following day. The Warrenton turnpike ran almost directly west from Centreville to Gainesville station on the railroad. He was yet unaware that Johnston had joined Beauregard, and sought to prevent such junction by seizing Gainesville. Beauregard's army lay in detachments behind Bull Run, at five different fords, along a line of eight miles. His left and northernmost flank was at the stone bridge where Warrenton turnpike crosses Bull Run, though Mc-Dowell supposed it to extend to the first ford above. The bridge was a solid stone structure of two arches, of considerable size and height, connecting the precipitous and rocky eastern bank of the stream with a broad piece of level bottomland on the west. The bridge was thought to be defended in force, and said to be prepared for blowing up. The engineers had information, however, that Sudley Ford, two or three miles above, could be readily carried and crossed by an attacking column. McDowell therefore ordered that Tyler, with the heaviest division, should advance from Centreville directly to Stone Bridge, three and a half miles distant, and make a feigned attack; while Hunter and Heintzelman should make a secret and circuitous night march northward, [182] cross Sudley Ford, and, rapidly descending on the enemy's side of Bull Run, should clear away the batteries at the stone bridge by a rear attack, and thus enable Tyler's division to cross and join in the combined march on Gainesville, or continue the attack on Beauregard's left. If the stone bridge were blown up, the engineers had timbers ready to repair it. The division of Miles should remain in reserve at Centreville, and the brigade of Richardson continue to threaten Blackburn's Ford.

In the rebel camp, the Confederate commanders were at the same time equally intent on a scheme of their own to attack and surprise McDowell. No sooner had Johnston arrived at Manassas with the second detachment of the Army of the Shenandoah, about noon of Saturday, July 20th, than Beauregard explained to him the character and course of Bull Run, and the situation of the five principal fords behind which his various brigades were posted; and since a practicable road from each of these five fords converged upon Centreville, he proposed a simultaneous advance and attack on the Union army, in its camps, early Sunday morning.

Johnston, who now as ranking officer assumed command, adopted Beauregard's plan. Part of the Army of the Shenandoah had arrived before and with him; the remainder was expected that night. He had every reason to suppose that Patterson would promptly follow him to join McDowell. To secure the fruit of his own movement, he must therefore crush McDowell before Patterson could arrive. The orders for such an advance and attack were duly written out, and Johnston signed his approval of them in the gray twilight of Sunday morning.

An hour or two, however, revealed to him the uselessness of these orders, on which the ink was scarcely dry. At sunrise he heard Tyler's signal-guns, and soon received notice [183] that McDowell had taken the offensive. The remainder of his Army of the Shenandoah had not arrived, as he hoped. Under these circumstances his plan of attack must be abandoned. Beauregard thereupon proposed a modification of the plan — to attack with their right from the region of Blackburn's Ford, and to stand on the defensive with their left in the neighborhood of the stone bridge. This suggestion, again, Johnston adopted and ordered to be carried out.

But the Union forces had already taken the initiative. A little past midnight McDowell's army was astir, and the three designated divisions started. Unluckily, at the very outset, Hunter and Heintzelman were delayed two or three hours by the first division not getting out of its camps in time, and failing to clear the road for them. The route proved unexpectedly long; it was nine o'clock when the advance reached Sudley Ford. The crossing, however, was not opposed, and was easily effected. From the ford the Sudley road ran south toward Manassas, crossing the Warrenton turnpike at right angles about a mile and a quarter west of the stone bridge. A little stream, called Young's Branch, also crosses both roads at this intersection, makes a circle to the northeast, and, returning, flows to the southeast into Bull Run. This was the destined battle-field.

It happened that the stone bridge was but slenderly defended. The timber had been felled to form a heavy abattis behind the bridge; but Evans, the rebel officer in charge, had only a regiment and a half, with four guns, for his entire guard. Tyler appeared in force before the bridge, and began his demonstration; but made it so feebly that Evans soon became convinced no real assault was intended; and having learned the actual crossing at Sudley Ford, he at about nine o'clock withdrew all but four companies and two guns from the bridge, and hastened to the rear to throw [184] himself across Hunter's path. The Union approach having become plainly discernible, Evans posted his eleven companies on the ridge immediately north of the Warrenton turnpike and Young's Branch, his left resting on the Sudley road, with one gun at his left, and the other some dis-

Bull Run-battle of the forenoon.1

tance behind his right, on the point of a hill south of Young's Branch. [185]

At ten o'clock Hunter's advance emerged from the woods into open fields, about a mile north of the Warrenton turnpike, the scattering shots of the skirmishers having already opened the conflict. On both sides everything was raw and awkward-officers and men, staff and line. There was undue excitement and impetuosity, mixed with unnecessary confusion and delay. None of the reports specify how the battle began; the mere momentum of the march seems to have carried the advance regiments under the first shower of rebel shells and bullets at distances varying from five hundred to one thousand yards. A preliminary artillery duel sprang up, under which Burnside led his four regiments after his battery into the fields to the left of the Sudley road. With a little more deliberation and a united onset, these would easily have brushed away Evans' thin line; but, in the delay incident to the first actual experiment of battle, the rebels gained opportunity to bring up substantial reinforcements. Four regiments and two companies of Johnston's Army of the Shenandoah, under General Bee, hurried up and formed to the right and a little in advance of Evans' original line, while Imboden's battery of four guns took position on a hill in the rear, south of the Warrenton turnpike. Thus disposed, with little disparity in strength between attack and defence, the first stubborn contest of the day appears to have taken place, lasting perhaps from eleven o'clock till noon. The Union troops pressed forward with determined courage; the rebels resisted with such spirit that Burnside became apprehensive for his Rhode Island battery, and Sykes' battalion of regulars was sent to strengthen his left. By this time Hunter had sent Porter's brigade into the fields to the right of the Sudley road, where Griffin's battery could engage the rebel field-pieces; Heintzelman was hurrying up with an advance regiment and [186] Ricketts' battery. Under this combined pressure the Confederate line wavered, yielded, and finally broke. Their left retreated stubbornly down the hill, and, rallying again, endeavored to make a stand behind a stone house at the intersection of the two roads; but a vigorous Union charge down the Sudley road completed their dispersion. The whole first formation of the enemy was swept southward. more than half a mile, entirely across and out of the valley of Young's Branch. But the advantage was not won without considerable damage to the Union troops, the demoralization of several regiments, and the serious loss of valuable officers. General Hunter himself was wounded by a shell at the very beginning of the action, compelling his retirement from the front, and devolving the command of his division on Porter.

McDowell, who came upon the field by way of Sudley Ford as the battle began, had already sent back word to Tyler to press his attack at the stone bridge. Such an attack, however, was now no longer necessary. We have seen how Evans had withdrawn to oppose Hunter; and the four companies he left behind had also retired southward. Avoiding the bridge with its abattis, Tyler led Sherman's and Keyes' brigades across Bull Run half a mile above, where the stream was fordable for infantry, and, marching over a mile of level bottom-land, so directed their course by the firing that they effected a safe junction with Hunter's division, Keyes remaining on the extreme left. They approached the morning's battle-field from the northeast; Sherman reported to McDowell, and joined the general pursuit, directing his march to the right. Keyes remained on the left, and under Tyler's personal orders; and thus it turned out that this single brigade became and remained an independent detachment during the whole day, separated by a wide interval from the main battle in the afternoon, and not being in a position to receive orders from McDowell. [187]

It has been explained that the first rebel line was composed mainly of Johnston's troops. As they retreated up the hill south of Young's Branch, Jackson's brigade of five regiments, also of Johnston's army, was just arriving there on its way to guard the stone bridge, and only at that moment learning the true state of affairs. This hill south of Young's Branch was a higher and stronger position than that from which Evans and Bee had been driven. Its crest ran in a westerly curve from the Robinson house, near the Warrenton turnpike, past the Henry house near the Sudley road, both being within the southeastern angle of the intersection. The two roads cross in the valley at Young's Branch, and from their crossing ascend gently to the east, west, north, and south.

On this crest, Jackson, with the ready instinct of combat, formed a new line. His five regiments and two batteries, stretched from the Robinson to the Henry houses, formed a solid-looking protection, behind which some of the flying rebels gathered courage and rallied in little driblets. Bee's five regiments had shrunk to about four companies, and the remaining fugitives were moving in hopeless panic down the Sudley road toward Manassas, spreading direful tidings of disaster. Jackson's line was rendered yet stronger by having Hampton's battalion — that morning arrived from Richmond — on its extreme right in the turnpike before the Robinson house; and behind these, Bee's fragments were gathered into a sheltering ravine.

At this period of the day, a little after noon, the advancing Union columns had their best co-operation and strongest momentum. Keyes' brigade was advancing on the left toward the Robinson hill. Sherman was moving diagonally across the centre of the morning's field. Porter's still aggressive brigade was pushing down the Sudley road. [188] The compact brigades of Franklin and Willcox were coming to the front on the right. Moreover, Griffin's and Ricketts' batteries had obtained favorable positions near the Dogan house, with an enfilading fire against Hampton. Toward two o'clock two regiments of Keyes' brigade made a charge up the Robinson hill and drove Hampton out of the tangle of fences and hedges about the Robinson House, though newly planted rebel batteries farther to the rear made it impossible to hold the position. The whole Union line swung forward to the Warrenton turnpike; and while the rebel reports pass it over with the merest allusions, it seems probable that, like Hampton, other portions of Jackson's line were moved somewhat farther back, to find better shelter from the annoying fire of the Union batteries. This midday Union success seemed, and was, sweeping and complete; but it proved seriously deceptive in the further operations of the afternoon, which it naturally suggested and provoked A little before this time the Confederate commanders woke up to the true nature of the conflict. Beauregard was yet waiting impatiently to hear that his right was advancing on Centreville, when, toward eleven o'clock, word came that, through a miscarriage of orders, that enterprise was just being commenced. Realizing now that McDowell's attack was not a mere feint, they countermanded the Centreville movement, ordered all available reserves forward to the main battle, and themselves hurriedly galloped to the front. Here they now put their personal exertions, encouragement, and example, into the somewhat unpromising task of mitigating a disastrous defeat, rather than with even remote hope of turning the scale to victory.

The Confederates had been literally driven into the woods, the edge of which formed a sort of semicircle on the second ridge south of Warrenton turnpike and east of the Sudley [189] road. But this reverse brought certain important advantages. Their retreat not only concentrated their regiments; it also, for the first time during the day, concentrated their artillery, thirteen pieces of which were posted near together to the centre and right, so as to give a partial cross-fire at

Bull Run-battle of the afternoon.

a distance of three hundred to six hundred yards over the whole open plateau or hill about the Henry house and toward the Robinson house. Under the personal directions of Johnston and Beauregard, they now formed their line along this semicircular edge of woods, with the advantage of a fringe of second-growth pines in their front to afford [190] them almost perfect concealment. Their right extended to where the hill descends to Young's Branch; their left reached nearly to the Sudley road. It is needless to specify the several corps in detail; the nearest reinforcements were already arriving; Johnston's report sums up the strength of this completed line at twelve regiments, twenty-two guns, and two companies of cavalry. The formation well begun, Beauregard took personal command, while Johnston, as chief, returned to the rebel headquarters to keep his eye on the entire field.

Reduced by losses, McDowell's numbers were now little, if any, superior to the enemy; for the brigade of Keyes was separated from him, working its way southward along Young's Branch in the hope to make a flank attack on the rebel right; in reality it rendered no further substantial help. Howard's brigade, held back as a reserve, was not yet at hand. McDowell's effective force consisted of the brigades of Porter, Franklin, Willcox, and Sherman, a total of fourteen regiments, but several of which were already seriously demoralized; these were massed in sheltered situations in the valley along the turnpike and Young's Branch, mainly west of the intersection of the roads. All the advantages of position during the day had been with McDowell; now they were suddenly turned against him by the very success he had gained. The enemy was on the height, he at the foot of the hill. The enemy needed only to defend a stationary line; he must move forward under a prepared fire. They were concealed in chosen positions; he must mount into open view. They could repel in combination; he must risk successive assaults. His men had been under arms since midnight-most of them had made a march of ten miles through the sweltering July heat. They were flushed with victory, but also lulled thereby into the false [191] security of thinking their work accomplished, when in reality its sternest effort was merely about to begin.

The situation naturally dictated an attack on the rebel centre and left flank, and, had this been unitedly and solidly made, it must unquestionably have succeeded even against the disadvantage already mentioned. But right here the want of proper staff organization and discipline, and the rawness of the troops in manoeuvre, proved a fatal defect; and the severe conflict of the next hour and a half resolved itself into a somewhat spasmodic and intermittent struggle on both sides.

When, at about half-past 2 o'clock, the batteries of Ricketts and Griffin were ordered to move forward from the Dogan heights across the valley to the top of the Henry hill, they did so with the feeling that the two regiments ordered to follow and support them were tardy, inadequate, and unreliable. Other regiments, moving forward to the flank attack, could not well be observed, because of the uneven ground and the intervening woods and bushes. The rebels had disappeared; there was a complete lull in the battle. But danger was no less at hand. Hardly had Ricketts taken his post before his cannoneers and horses began to fall under the accurate fire of near and well-concealed rebel sharpshooters. Death puffed from bushes, fences, buildings; and yet the jets of flame and wreaths of smoke were the only visible enemy to assail. Officers and cannoneers held on with a desperate courage; some moved to new positions to foil the rebel range. Griffin's battery came and took place alongside; eleven Union guns and thirteen Confederate guns were confronted at short range in a stubborn and exciting duel. But now the rebel regiments, seeing the dangerous exposure of the Union batteries, were tempted to swarm out of their cover. They pressed cautiously but [192] tenaciously upon Ricketts. Griffin, absorbed in directing the fire of two of his guns against the rebel batteries, was suddenly startled at seeing a regiment advancing boldly on his right, in open view. Their very audacity puzzled him. They could hardly be friends, he thought; yet was it possible that foes were so near and would take such a risk? Instinctively he ordered his guns to be charged with canister and trained upon them. Yet at the dreadful thought of pouring such a volley upon a Union regiment, he once more hesitated, and held a brief colloquy with Major Barry, chief of artillery. “Captain,” said Barry, “they are your battery support.” “They are Confederates,” replied Griffin, in intense excitement; “as certain as the world, they are Confederates.” “No,” answered Barry; “I know they are your battery support.” Griffin spurred forward, and told his officer not to fire. The mistake proved fatal. During this interval of doubt the Confederate regiment had approached to point-blank range, and levelled their muskets just as Griffin gave his order to desist. Griffin's canister would have annihilated the regiment; but now the tables were turned, and in an instant the regiment's volley had annihilated Griffin's and Ricketts' batteries. Officers and men fell smitten with death and wounds, and horses and caissons went tearing in wild disorder down the hill, breaking and scattering the ascending line of battle. Under this sudden catastrophe the supporting regiment stood a while spellbound with mingled astonishment and terror. They were urged forward to repel the advance on the guns; but the unexpected disaster overawed them; under the continued and still advancing volleys of the same rebel regiment, they fired their muskets, turned, and fled.

These disabled batteries, visible to both armies, now became the centre and coveted prize of an irregular contest, [193] which surged back and forth over the plateau of the Henry hill; but, whether because of confusion of orders, or the broken surface of the ground, or more probably the mere reciprocal eagerness of capture and rescue, the contest was carried on, not by the whole line, but by single regiments, or at most by two or three regiments moving accidentally rather than designedly in concert. Several times the fight raged past and over the prostrate body of Ricketts, lying wounded among his guns, and who was finally carried away a prisoner to Richmond. The rebels would dash forward, capture the batteries, and endeavor to turn the pieces on the Union lines; then a Union regiment would sweep up the hill, drive them back, and essay to drag the guns down into safe possession. And a similar shifting and intermitting fight went on, not merely on this single spot, but also among the low concealing pines of the middle ground in front, as well as in the oak-woods on the Union right, where at times friend became intermingled with foe, and where both sides took occasional prisoners near the same place.

In this prolonged and wasteful struggle the Union strength was slowly and steadily consumed. Arnold's battery crossed the valley to the support of Griffin and Ricketts, but found itself obliged to again withdraw. The Rhode Island battery took part in the contest as well as it might from the hill north of Young's Branch. Brigade after brigadeSher-man's, Franklin's, Willcox's, and finally Howard's reserve, were brought forward-regiment after regiment was sent up the hill-three times the batteries were recovered and again lost. It speaks volumes for the courage of the raw, undisciplined volunteers, that, in the face of these repeated failures, they continued to go perseveringly against what seemed to them a hidden and unattainable barrier, until a stronger wave of rebel bullets or bayonets, surging suddenly [194] forward in the pine thicket, would meet and force them back.

In the endeavor to outflank and envelop the rebel left, the Union right had become so strongly turned southward that it was nearly parallel to the Sudley road. Near the beginning of this final contest, Johnston received notice that the long-expected remainder of his Army of the Shenandoah had at length come; and before it was half over, Elzey, with Kirby Smith's brigade of three regiments, arrived near the battle-field from Manassas by the Sudley road. By this time, too, four other regiments, two from Cocke's and two from Bonham's brigades, also came up from the nearer fords. These seven fresh regiments, thrown opportunely by the rebel commander into the woods west of the Sudley road, directly against the exposed Union right flank, created a numerical overweight, which affords sufficient explanation of the Union repulse at that point.

But now, at half-past 4 in the afternoon, when the Union reinforcements were exhausted, the rebel accessions still continued: Early with three regiments arrived from the lower fords; Holmes with two regiments, and Ewell with three others, were rapidly approaching. Before the arrival of these last the battle was already decided. Early's brigade was sent cautiously through the woods, still farther to the rebel left, and suddenly appeared with Beckham's battery on the heights near the Chinn house, three-quarters of a mile west of the Sudley road, and entirely beyond and in the rear of the Union right.

The Union troops, having approached the second stage of the battle in such a flush of success, and with such an apparent assurance of victory, could not for a time realize the stern fact that the contest was turning against them. Officers of experience and sagacity, indeed, became seriously [195] alarmed for the final result, when Griffin's and Ricketts' batteries were destroyed; but for the greater part it was looked upon as an untoward accident, and operated rather to inspire the already related efforts for their recovery. The feeling of course gradually changed with the successive failures to gain and permanently hold the hill. As brigade after brigade melted away in the repeated efforts, even the men in the ranks could not omit to note the rapid diminution of the available strength. Some of the repulsed regiments kept their organization and returned heroically to the charge. Others, on the contrary, not having that slowly acquired force of discipline which makes cohesion a second nature of the soldier and creates an instinctive reliance on mutual support as the surest means of safety, considered their duty done with a single charge, and, once driven back, went to pieces like the adjournment of a mass meeting. In this shortcoming, officers were as culpable as the men, for war combines art with science, and the superior work of the veteran comes through long years of practice. It must be remembered that these were only three months volunteers, and besides, as such, the most impulsive and independent men in their several communities, whose innate promptness of thought and action had brought them to the very forefront of the civil war. Lacking long drill and discipline, they acted upon individual judgment and impulse, rather than as organized bodies merely executing the orders of their officers. This explains to us the remarkable statement of Captain Woodbury, that , “at four o'clock, on the 21st, there were more than twelve thousand volunteers on the battle-field of Bull Run who had entirely lost their regimental organization. They could no longer be handled as troops, for the officers and men were not together. Men and officers mingled together promiscuously; and it is [196] worthy of remark that this disorganization did not result from defeat or fear.” One other fact must be remembered in extenuation: that with the long night march, the burning heat of the day, and the new and intense excitements of the battle-field, the men, famished with hunger and thirst, were becoming physically exhausted.

When, therefore, at half-past 4 o'clock, the two fresh Confederate brigades had repulsed the Union flank attack west of the Sudley road, and Early's rebel brigade with Beckham's battery suddenly burst through the woods near the Chinn house, still farther to the west, with a vigorous and startling attack on the Union flank and rear, throwing into quick confusion and retreat a detachment of Union cavalry stationed in apparent retirement and safety, the battle came to a speedy termination by a sort of universal consent; a realization and acknowledgment of coming defeat pervaded the whole army, and found instant expression in increased disorganization and immediate movement toward a general retreat. Whatever may have been the other discouragements, the main impulse of this movement came from the universal belief that Johnston's army had now arrived, and that success had thereby become hopeless. The question of Johnston's possible presence in the battle had run through the Centreville camps, and there were rumors of his coming on Saturday night; but the army apparently had no suspicion that it was fighting him all day Sunday, till the moment of the attack on the extreme left by one of Beauregard's brigades. That attack from an unexpected quarter seemed convincing proof of the presence of a new and additional force, and therefore roused the quick instinct of retreat, not so much in acknowledgment of actual defeat, as in prudent avoidance of irresistible slaughter or capture by overwhelming numbers.

1 in these maps the topographical features are copied from the accurate official maps published by the Engineer Bureau of the War Department. The position of the troops is of course only conjectural, but based on the descriptions and inferences in the official reports of both armies.

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