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Chapter 10: engagement at Bull Run, and battle of Manassas.

The Federal Army under the command of General McDowell reached the vicinity of Fairfax Court-House on July 17th, and General Bonham, commanding that advanced post with a brigade of South Carolina troops, fell back and took position behind Bull Run, where, in line along that stream, were located the different regiments, batteries, and brigades of General Beauregard's army. The line extended a distance of eight miles from Union Mills on the right, to the stone bridge over Bull Run on the left, where it is crossed by the Warrenton and Alexandria turnpike.

McDowell, arriving at Centreville, threw forward, on the 18th, a division under General Tyler, to “feel” General Beauregard's line, but “not to bring on an engagement.” But General Tyler, brought forward a battery of the Washington Artillery and opened fire upon the Confederates. After a sharp fight his forces were withdrawn with loss.

This affair, being one almost exclusively of [93] artillery, was a notable event, and gave assurance that our volunteer artillery could successfully cope with the regular batteries of the United States.1

This battalion of veterans formed the guard of honor which followed my husband's remains twenty-eight years afterward, when he was laid to rest in the Tomb of the Army of Northern Virginia, at New Orleans.

General Johnston arrived at General Beauregard's headquarters on July 20th. While on the march, Beauregard sent him a suggestion to march by Aldie and attack the rear of the Federal right at Centreville, while his troops from Bull Run assailed that army in front. Johnston did not agree with this plan, he considered it impracticable to direct the movements of troops so distant from each other, by roads so far separated, in such a manner as to combine their action on a field of battle.

Early on July 21st, a cannonade was opened by the enemy from the opposite bank of Bull Run, and it was evident that he was marching against the left of the Confederate line of battle, at and beyond the stone bridge. [94] The troops there stationed met the advance with great steadiness, but were outnumbered, and fell back to the plateau around the Henry House.

The battle raged with varied success upon the Henry plateau until after four o'clock, when the Federal army yielded to a flank attack of Generals Kirby Smith, with Elzey, and later Early, and were routed.

Around the house of Mrs. Henry the fight raged the fiercest, and here were stationed the Federal batteries. Mrs. Henry, old and bed-ridden, was caught between the cross fire of the artillery and was killed in her bed.

The details of the great battles of the war I will not attempt to describe, leaving that duty to the participants, and refer my readers to the many able historians who have depicted them, and to official reports now being published by the Government.

Where Mr. Davis was present, I will record his connection therewith. He thus wrote of this battle:

After the delivery of the message to Congress, on Saturday, July 20th, I intended to leave in the afternoon for Manassas, but was detained until the next morning, when I left by rail, accompanied by my aide-de-camp, Colonel J. R. Davis, to confer with the generals on the field. As we approached Manassas [95] Railroad junction, a cloud of dust was visible a short distance to the west of the railroad. It resembled one raised by a body of marching troops, and recalled to my remembrance the design of General Beauregard to make the Rappahannock his second line of defence. It was, however, subsequently learned that the dust was raised by a number of wagons which had been sent to the rear for greater security against the contingencies of the battle. The sound of the firing had now become very distinct, so much so as to leave no doubt that a general engagement had commenced. Though that event had been anticipated as being near at hand after the action of the 18th, it was both hoped and desired that it would not occur quite so soon, the more as it was not known whether the troops from the valley had yet arrived.

On reaching the railroad junction, I found a large number of men, bearing the usual evidence of those who leave the field of battle under a panic. They crowded around the train with fearful stories of a defeat of our army. The railroad conductor announced his decision that the railroad train should proceed no farther. Looking among those who were about us for one whose demeanor gave reason to expect from him a collected answer, [96] I selected one whose gray beard and calm face gave best assurance. He, however, could furnish no encouragement. Our line, he said, was broken, all was confusion, the army routed, and the battle lost. I asked for Generals Johnston and Beauregard ; he said they were on the field when he left it. I returned to the conductor and told him that I must go on; that the railroad was the only means by which I could proceed, and that, until I reached the headquarters, I could not get a horse to ride to the field where the battle was raging. He finally consented to detach the locomotive from the train, and, for my accommodation, to run it as far as the army headquarters. In this manner Colonel Davis, aide-de-camp, and myself proceeded.

At the headquarters we found the Quartermaster-General, W. L. Caball, and the Adjutant-General, Jordan, of General Beauregard's staff, who courteously agreed to furnish us horses, and also to show us the route. While the horses were being prepared, Colonel Jordan took occasion to advise my aidede-camp, Colonel Davis, of the hazard of going to the field, and the impropriety of such exposure on my part. The horses were after a time reported ready, and we started to the field. The stragglers soon became numerous, and warnings as to the fate which awaited us [97] if we advanced were not only frequent, but evidently sincere.

There were, however, many who turned back, and the wounded generally cheered upon meeting us. I well remember one, a mere stripling, who, supported on the shoulders of a man, who was bearing him to the rear, took off his cap and waved it with a cheer, that showed within that slender form beat the heart of a hero-breathed a spirit that would dare the labors of Hercules.

As we advanced, the storm of the battle was rolling westward, and its fury became faint. When I met General Johnston, who was upon a hill which commanded a general view of the field of the afternoon's operations, and inquired of him as to the state of affairs, he replied that we had won the battle. I left him there and rode still farther to the west. Several of the volunteers on General Beauregard's staff joined me, and a command of cavalry, the gallant leader of which, Captain John F. Lay, insisted that I was too near the enemy to be without an escort. We, however, only saw one column near to us that created a doubt as to which side it belonged; and, as we were riding toward it, it was suggested that we should halt until it could be examined with a field-glass. Colonel Chesnut dismounted so as the better to use his [98] glass, and at that moment the column formed into line, by which the wind struck the flag so as to extend it, and it was plainly revealed to be that of the United States.

Our cavalry, though there was present but the squadron previously mentioned, and specified in a statement of the commander from which I will make some extracts, dashed boldly forward to charge. The demonstration was followed by the immediate retreat of what was, I believe, the last, thereabout, of the enemy's forces maintaining their organization, and showing a disposition to dispute the possession of the field of battle. In riding over the ground, it seemed quite possible to mark the line of a fugitive's flight. Here was a musket, there a cartridge-box, there a blanket or overcoat, a haversack, etc., as if the runner had stripped himself, as he went, of all impediments to speed.

As we approached toward the left of our line, the signs of an utter rout of the enemy were unmistakable, and justified the conclusion that the watchword of “On to Richmond” had been changed to “ Off for Washington.”

On the extreme left of our field of operations, I found the troops whose opportune arrival had averted the impending disaster, and so materially contributed to our victory. [99] Some of them had, after arriving at the Manassas railroad junction, hastened to our left; their brigadier-general, E. K. Smith, was wounded soon after going into action, and the command of the brigade devolved upon Elzey, by whom it was gallantly and skilfully led to the close of the battle; others, under the command of General (then Colonel) Early, made a rapid march, under the pressing necessity, from the extreme right of our line to and beyond our left, so as to attack the enemy in flank, thus inflicting on him the discomfiture his oblique movement was designed to inflict upon us. All these troops and the others near to them had hastened into action without supplies or camp-equipage; weary, hungry, and without shelter, night closed around them where they stood, the blood-stained victors on a hard-fought field.

It was reported to me that some of the troops had been so long without food as to be suffering severe hunger, and that no supplies could be got where they were. I made several addresses to them, all to the effect that their position was that best adapted to a pursuit of the enemy, and that they should therefore remain there; adding that I would go to the headquarters and direct that supplies should be sent to them promptly. [100]

General (then Colonel) Early, commanding a brigade, informed me of some wounded who required attention; one, Colonel Gardner, was, he said, at a house not far from where we were. I rode to see him, found him in severe pain, and, from the twitching visible and frequent, seemed to be threatened with tetanus. A man sat beside him whose uniform was that of the enemy; but he was gentle, and appeared to be solicitously attentive. He said that he had no morphine, and did not know where to get any. I found in a short time a surgeon who went with me to Colonel Gardner, having the articles necessary in the case. Before leaving Colonel Gardner, he told me that the man who was attending to him might, without hindrance, have retreated with his comrades, but had kindly remained with him, and he therefore asked my protection for the man. I took the name and the State of the supposed Good Samaritan, and at army headquarters directed that he should not be treated as a prisoner. The sequel will be told hereafter.

It was late, and we rode back in the night, say seven miles, to the army headquarters. I had not seen General Beauregard on the field, and did not find him at his quarters when we returned; the promise made to the troops was therefore communicated [101] to a staff-officer, who said he would have the supplies sent. At a later hour, when I met General Beauregard and informed him of what had occurred, he stated that, because of a false alarm which had reached him, he had ordered the troops referred to from the left to the right of our line, so as to be in position to repel the reported movement of the enemy against that flank. That such an alarm should have been credited, and a night march ordered on account of it, shows how little the completeness of the victory was realized.

The army under McDowell numbered, present for duty, 34,127.

The Confederate force present at the battle and engaged, was 13,000.

When the first telegram came to Richmond announcing the victory, the President said: “Several cannon were captured.” A less reliable report said two, but I felt sure, with his habitually cautious habit of under-statement, he would have said two, if there were not more, and so it proved to be. He was the only person I have ever known, who, in moments of triumph, or while moved by personal distaste, or violent anger, habitually understated what was achieved, or the provocation offered.

1 General Beauregard, in his official report of the engagement, says: “The guns engaged in this singular conflict on our side were three 6-pounder rifled pieces and four ordinary 6-pounders, all of Walton's Battalion, the Washington Artillery, of New Orleans.”

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